Normal Families Facing Unique Challenges: The Psychosocial Functioning of Multiracial Couples, Parents and Children

Joshua Wilt


The number of interracial couples in the United States has increased rapidly since anti-miscegenation laws were repealed in 1967. Early stereotypes conceptualized interracial couples as pathological, highlighting the importance of research addressing the psychosocial functioning of these couples and multiracial families. This article provides a summary of research on the psychosocial functioning of interracial couples, multiracial children, and parent-child relationships in multiracial families. Results across these domains suggest that multiracial families are not pathological but rather that they are normal families faced with unique challenges. Counseling options to support multiracial families navigate such challenges are discussed. Themes emerging from research on the psychosocial functioning of multiracial families are identified and avenues for future research are suggested.

Full Text:



AhnAllen, J. M., Suyemoto, K. L., & Carter, A. S. (2006). Relationship between physical appearance, sense of belonging and exclusion, and racial/ethnic self-identification among multiracial Japanese European Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 12(4), 673-686. doi: 10.1037/1099-9809.12.4.673

Beal, A. C., Ausiello, J., & Perrin, J. M. (2001). Social influences on health risk behaviors among minority middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 28, 474-480. doi:10.1016/S1054-139X(01)00194-X

Bowles, D. D. (1993). Bi-racial identity: Children born to African-American and White couples. Clinical Social Work Journal, 21(4), 417-428.

Bradshaw, C. K. (1992). Beauty and the beast: On racial ambiguity. In M. P. P. Root (Ed.), Racially mixed people in America (pp. 77-90). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Brayboy, T. L. (1966). Interracial sexuality as an expression of neurotic conflict. Journal of Sex Research, 2(3), 179-184.

Brunsma, D. L. (2005). Interracial families and the racial identification of mixed-race children: Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Social Forces, 84, 1131-1157.

Byrd, M. M., & Garwick, A. W. (2006). Family identity: Black-White interracial family health experience. Journal of Family Nursing, 12, 22-37.

Cauce, A. M., Hiraga, Y., Mason, C., Aguilar, T, Ordonez, N., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Between a rock and a hard place: Social adjustment of biracial youth. In M. P. P. Root (Ed.), Racially mixed people in America (pp. 207-222). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Chan, A. Y., & Washington, E. (1998). Factors promoting marital resilience among interracial couples. In H. I.

McCubbin, E. A. Thompson, A. I. Thompson, & J. E. Fromer (Eds.), Resiliency in Native American and immigrant families (pp. 71-92). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Cooney, T. M., & Radina, M. E. (2000). Adjustment problems in adolescence: Are biracial kids at risk? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70, 433-444.

Flores, G., & Tomany-Korman, S. C. (2008). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Medical and Dental Health, Access to Care, and Use of Services in US Children. Pediatrics, 121(2), e286-e298. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-1243

Foeman, A. K., & Nance, T. (1999). From miscegenation to multiculturalism: Perceptions and stages of interracial relationship development. Journal of Black Studies, 29(4), 540-557.

Forry, N. D., Leslie, L. A., & Letiecq, B. L. (2007). Marital quality in interracial relationships: The role of sex role ideology and perceived fairness. Journal of Family Issues, 28(12), 1538-1552. doi: 10.1177/0192513X07304466

Frey, W.H. 2003. Rainbow nation: Mixed-race marriages among states. Santa Monica, CA: Milkin Institute Review.

Gibbs, J. T. (1998). Biracial adolescents. In J. T. Gibbs, L. N. Huang, & Associates (Eds.), Children of color: Psychological interventions with culturally diverse youth (pp. 305- 332). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grolnick, W. S., & Gurland, S. T. (2002). Mothering: Retrospect and prospect. In J. P. McHale & W. S. Grolnick (Eds.), Retrospect and prospect in the psychological study of families (pp. 5–33). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Herring, R. D. (1992). Biracial children: An increasing concern for elementary and middle school counselors. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 27, 123-130.

Hughes, L. (1926). The weary blues. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Reprinted by permission of publisher.

Hullum, E. (1982, July). Black and White and wed all over. Missions USA, 67-69.

Jackson, K. F. (2009). Beyond race: Examining the facets of multiracial identity through a life-span developmental lens. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work: Innovation in Theory, Research & Practice, 18(4), 293-310.

Jackson, K. F. (2010). Living the multiracial experience: Shifting racial expressions, resisting race, and seeking community. Qualitative Social Work. Advance online publication, doi: 10.1177/1473325010375646

Jacobs, J. H. (1992). Identity development in biracial children. In M. P. P. Root (Ed.), Racially mixed people in America (pp. 190-206). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Johnson, D. J. (1992). Developmental pathways: Toward an ecological theoretical formulation of race identity in Black-White biracial children. In M. P. P. Root (Ed.), Racially mixed people in America (pp. 37-49). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Kennedy, R. (2003). Racial conflict and the parenting of children: A survey of competing approaches. In Interracial intimacies: Sex, marriage, intimacy, and adoption (pp. 367- 401). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Kenney, K. R., & Lee, C. C. (2006). Counseling Multiracial Individuals and Families Multicultural issues in counseling: New approaches to diversity (3rd. ed.). (pp. 251-266). Alexandria, VA US: American Counseling Association.

Kerwin, C., Ponterotto, J. G., Jackson, B. L., & Harris, A. (1993). Racial identity in biracial children: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 40, 221-231. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.40.2.221

Killian, K. D. (2001). Reconstituting racial histories and identities: The narratives of interracial couples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27, 27-42.

Korgen, K. O. (2010). Multiracial Americans and social class: The influence of social class on racial identity. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Lauster, N., & Easterbrook, A. (2011). No room for new families? A field experiment measuring rental discrimination against same-sex couples and single parents. Social Problems, 58(3), 389-409. doi: 10.1525/sp.2011.58.3.389

Lehrman, S. R. (1967). Psychopathology in mixed marriages. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 36, 67-82.

Leslie, L. A., & Letiecq, B. L. (2004). Marital quality of African American and White partners in interracial couples. Personal Relationships, 11, 559-574. doi: 10.1111/j.1475- 6811.2004.00098.x

Lewandowski, D. A., & Jackson, L. A. (2001). Perceptions of interracial couples: Prejudice at the dyadic level. Journal of Black Psychology, 27, 288-303. doi: 10.1177/0095798401027003003

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). McClurg, L. (2004). Biracial youth and their parents: Counseling considerations for family therapists. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 12, 170-173. doi: 10.1177/1066480703261977

McFadden, J. (2001). Intercultural marriage and family: Beyond the racial divide. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 9, 39-42. doi: 10.1177/1066480701091008

Miller, R. L., & Miller, B. (1990). Mothering the biracial child: Bridging the gaps between African-American and White parenting styles. Women & Therapy, 10, 169-179.

Nishimura, N. J., & Bol, L. (1997). School counselors’ perceptions of the counseling needs of biracial children in an urban educational setting. Research in the Schools, 4, 17-23.

O’ Donoghue, M. (2006). White Mothers Negotiating Race and Ethnicity in the Mothering of Biracial, Black-White Adolescents. Journal of Ethnic And Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 14(3), 125-156.

Renn, K. A. (2008). Research on biracial and multiracial identity development: Overview and synthesis. New Directions for Student Services, 2008(123), 13-21. doi: 10.1002/ss.282

Rockquemore, K. A., Brunsma, D. L., & Delgado, D. J. (2009). Racing to theory or retheorizing race? Understanding the struggle to build a multiracial identity theory. Journal of Social Issues, 65(1), 13-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1540 4560.2008.01585.x

Rosenblatt, P. C. (1999). Biracial families. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), Parenting and child development in “nontraditional” families (pp. 263-278). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum.

Rosnati, R., & Marta, E. (1997). Parent–child relationships as a protective factor in preventing adolescents’ psychosocial risk in inter-racial adoptive and non-adoptive families. Journal of Adolescence, 20, 617-631. doi:10.1006/jado.1997.0115

Samuels, G. M. (2009). “Being raised by White people”: Navigating racial difference among adopted multiracial adults. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(1), 80-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2008.00581.x

Samuels, G. M. (2010). Building kinship and community: Relational processes of bicultural identity among adult multiracial adoptees. Family Process, 49(1), 26-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2010.01306.xShih, M., & Sanchez, D. T. (2009). When race becomes even more complex: Toward understanding the landscape of multiracial identity and experiences. Journal of Social Issues, 65(1), 1-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2008.01584.x

Smith, T. B., & Silva, L. (2011). Ethnic identity and personal well-being of people of color: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58(1), 42-60. doi:10.1037/a0021528

Soliz, J., Thorson, A. R., & Rittenour, C. E. (2009). Communicative correlates of satisfaction, family identity, and group salience in multiracial/ethnic families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(4), 819-832. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00637.x

Solsberry, P. W. (1994). Interracial couples in the United States of America: Implications for mental health counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 16, 304-307.

Spaights, E., & Dixon, H. E. (1984). Socio-psychological dynamics in pathological Black–White romantic alliances. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 11(3), 132-138.

Steil, J. M., Rothman, A. M., Harris, L. E., Kim, G. S., Steil, J. P., & Chin, J. L. (2009). Interracial marriage: Current perspectives and unanswered challenges Diversity in mind and in action, Vol 1: Multiple faces of identity. (pp. 47-60). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO.

Troy, A. B., Lewis-Smith, J., & Laurenceau, J. (2006). Interracial and intraracial romantic relationships: The search for differences in satisfaction, conflict, and attachment style. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 65-80.doi: 10.1177/0265407506060178

Wardle, F. (1992). Supporting biracial children in the school setting. Education & Treatment of Children, 15, 163-172.

Wardle, F. (2007). Multiracial children in child development textbooks. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(3), 253-259. doi: 10.1007/s10643-007-0157-8

Yancy, G. (2007). Experiencing racism: Differences in the experiences of Whites married to Blacks and non-Black racial minorities. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 38(2), 197-213.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 The New School Psychology Bulletin

© The New School Psychology Bulletin |