Satellite babies in transnational families: A study of parents' decision to separate from their infants

Infant Ment Health J. 2009 May;30(3):265-286. doi: 10.1002/imhj.20214.


This study examines a practice which is characteristic of an era of intensifying globalization: As part of a transnational lifestyle, an increasing number of immigrants to North America send infants thousands of miles back to their country of origin to be raised by members of their extended families-a culturally sanctioned tradition. After several years of separation, the children return to the biological parents to attend school in the adopted country, a custom which, according to Western mental health models, could have significant sequelae for attachment relationships and other facets of development. This practice is particularly prevalent among immigrants from the People's Republic of China, but a modified version of it can be found in other groups as well. The work described here is the first phase of a longitudinal project that explores the advantages and potential repercussions, for both infants and parents, of a transnational lifestyle. The current study reviews the decision-making process of a group of Chinese Canadian immigrant parents who are considering a separation from their infants. Preliminary findings show that the expected concerns about disrupting attachment relationships are embedded in more salient considerations of economic need and cultural perspective. These exploratory data exemplify an emergent field of culture-focused research and practice in infant mental health, and support the call for innovative models to situate infant developmental pathways in global and transcultural contexts.