Reconciling realities, adapting expectations, and reframing “success”: Adoptive parents respond to their children's academic interests, challenges, and achievement

Document Type



Adoptive parents are often well-educated, and potentially highly involved in children's schooling. At the same time, adopted youth tend to struggle more academically than non-adopted youth. Amidst this reality, of interest is how adoptive parents perceive and make sense of their children's academic performance, and form expectations for the future. This study of 63 parents in 33 families (11 lesbian mother, 11 gay father, 11 heterosexual parent) with school-aged children (mean age = 10) adopted via private domestic, public domestic, and international adoption, explores parents’ ideas about (a) children's academic functioning, (b) the relative role of “nature” versus “nurture” in their abilities and challenges, and (c) children's educational and vocational futures. Findings indicated a typology of parents: “inspired,” “pragmatic,” and “concerned.” “Inspired” parents described their children as bright and high-performing and were generally optimistic about their educational futures. Parents often acknowledged the positive contributions of birth family to, and downplayed their own role in, their children's talents. “Pragmatic” parents described their children as academically average but bright, and as possessing learning or behavioral challenges. They acknowledged the role of birth family and genetics when describing their children's aptitude, and also emphasized their own role in shaping and hopefully improving their children's academic performance. “Concerned” parents had significant worries about children's self-esteem and emotional/behavioral challenges, and these often outweighed academic concerns. Concerned parents tried to provide adequate supports to their children, but, unlike pragmatic parents, perceived an upper limit to how much school interventions could optimize their children's abilities. Across the sample, as parents’ concerns about their children's challenges increased, parents were less focused on academic success (e.g., college) and more on them living a happy, independent life. Some parents—especially male parents—struggled to adapt to or accept the reality that their own academic interests, orientation, and/or achievement were fairly different from those of their children. Results have implications for teachers and therapists who may need to help adoptive parents reconcile their perspectives on and experiences with school with those of their children.

Publication Title

Children and Youth Services Review

Publication Date









academic achievement, adoption, expectations, genetics, parents, school