Wednesday, July 4, 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
started: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 culture."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
MilbrandIf you are considering adoption, please contact us at
908-444-0999, or check us out online

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