Saturday, June 30, 2012

Integrating An Adoptive Child's Culture Into Your Family

Whether your child hails from Rhode Island or Russia, or is of
Asian or African-American or Latin-American descent, odds are,
his heritage is different from yours. You know that your child
needs to understand where he comes from to build a strong sense
of self, but it's often hard to figure out exactly how to do this
-- and how to walk that line between "too much" and "not enough."
While culture camps and heritage tours can help kids feel proud
of their history, these activities are the proverbial icing on
the cake; your child will build pride in his heritage based on
his family's everyday attitude toward it. How do you mix your
child's background into your family's life? Here's how to get

Make connections with other adoptees.Whether through a culture
camp, a playgroup, or a dance class, it helps to bring your child
together with other kids who share his life experiences. "It
doesn't matter what the activity is -- they could be knitting
together," says Deborah Johnson, a social worker and director of
Kindred Journeys International, a heritage tour company, and a
Korean adoptee. "It helps them to see kids who have the same
questions they do, and whose families look like theirs." For many
children adopted transracially or transculturally, finding a
place to "fit in" is hard, but regular meetings with others like
them will help. [Find a listing of camps, tours, and other
heritage events at]

Make cultural activities a normal part of life.Cultural
activities shouldn't be reserved for holidays or special events.
"It may feel forced at first, but you need to make culture a part
of the fabric of your daily life," says Johnson. There are many
ways to do this -- put ethnic dishes on your weekly menu, display
artwork or crafts that you purchased or photos you took on your
adoption trip, watch movies and TV shows that include characters
who share your child's background, or have your child play with
dolls and toys that reflect her heritage.

Most children go through a phase when they want to deny their
heritage -- they want no reminders that they're "different."
Often, this phase comes during the late elementary-school years,
when teasing and cliques begin, and "being like everyone else" is
the key to popularity. Continue to make your child's heritage an
active aspect of her life by saying it is a "family" thing --
"Our family always goes to culture camp," or "Our family always
eats at Ethiopian restaurants on special occasions." But don't
force it. "I think you have to be in tune with your kid on the
too-much or not-enough issue," says Pam Sweetser, director of
Colorado Heritage Camps. "My daughter doesn't want to go to
Korea, but she likes her Korean friends from the camp. If I had
forced her to do more, she would have rebelled against her

Explore the current culture."Many families focus on dressing up
and eating traditional foods," Johnson says. "Don't fall into the
trap of just talking about what life was like there -- talk about
what's going on in the culture now, or the American version of
the culture." Find ways to connect the culture to your kid's
personal passions. "Take what your child is interested in --
music, movies, fashion, food -- and use that to introduce the
culture," Johnson says. "If he loves movies, show him Bollywood
movies, or take him to an African-American film festival. Take an
artistic kid to a gallery that's exhibiting a contemporary artist
who shares her heritage." And remember: Your child won't be
living in Africa or Asia, so he needs to understand what it means
to be African-American or Asian-American.

Blend a family culture.While cultural education is valuable,
sometimes parents can be too passionate about connecting their
child to his or her heritage. If your child's schedule is filled
with cultural activities and classes, you may need to add a
little variety to the mix. "Some people go too far, and it starts
to displace everything else," Johnson says. "It's important, but
you need to customize it to your child's needs and interests."

Along with teaching your child about his own background, you
should celebrate the customs from his birth culture alongside the
traditions you cherish from your own heritage. "Just as we have
integrated African-American culture into our lives, we have also
expected our children to embrace the parts of our cultures that
we hold dear," says domestic adoptive mom Gaby Johnson, who
writes the "Familia Means Family" blog on "For example, my children speak both
English and Spanish, because their mother is Hispanic, and they
attend a mostly white church, because their father is the
pastor." By teaching children to respect and value different
cultures in the world, you can help your children -- and
yourselves -- to become more compassionate world citizens.

Lisa Milbrand

If you are considering adoption, please contact us at
908-444-0999, or check us out online

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