Inclusive activities, when it comes to your child’s culture, are invaluable. If you’ve found your way to this article, you are most likely an adoptive parent to a child who does not share your ethnic, religious, racial, or cultural heritage. This type of adoption is called a transracial adoption if the child is a different race or ethnicity or a transnational adoption if the child was adopted from another country. Congratulations! You’ve made the choice to become involved in your child’s culture and help become connected to a unique heritage. Accompanying your child through this journey will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have as an adoptive parent.
As an Adoptive Parent…
Before you dive into any sort of cultural activity with your child, take some time to make sure that you understand his culture as best as you can. You’ve probably already done some research, as you might have had to travel to the child’s home country to adopt him or gotten to know his birth family well through the adoption process.
Going through an adoption agency provides you with many opportunities to learn how to prepare to raise a child that is different from you. Examples of what these opportunities may provide are training courses, reading materials, and hearing from other adoptive parents who have raised transracial or transnational adoptees. Joining a support group for transracial or transnational adoptive families can also be a good way to explore any questions or concerns you have throughout your child’s life. Many parents find consolation in these groups because adoptive parents may not know anyone else in a transracial family. Parents get to belong to a community of other like-minded individuals to share stories, bond and figure out life together with. This is also an opportunity for your child to meet other adoptees like herself. Setting up playdates or lunch dates with other families is just one of many activities that could result in joining a support group.
Online forums can also be a great place to get information on how to appreciate your child’s culture and network with other adoptive families. Adoption.com has several adoptive parents of all types where you are able to discuss a specific topic or question without judgment. You also can create your own thread. Additionally, the website features many articles about multicultural families and transnational/transracial adoptees.
If your family and the child’s birth family chose an open adoption, reach out to the birth family to gain an insight into the culture. While this isn’t always possible, having the ability to include the birth family in your child’s life will give him the opportunity to be exposed to his cultural background on a regular basis.
If you are a person who is considering adopting a child who is a different nationality or ethnicity than you, choosing an open adoption should be something you think about.
During early childhood, it is important for you to put your child in educational activities that will help her learn about her culture. Building a stable foundation for your child to develop her cultural identity is crucial to alleviate as many psychological issues she may have in the future.
If you have contact with the birth family, collaborate with the couple to create a “history book” for your child as he grows. Build a family tree as far back as you can go, include interesting and unique stories from his ancestors, and areas in the world where his family comes from. Build another “history book” for your family (the adoptive family) as well. As your child grows, he will always have the ability to know both of his family histories. This is especially helpful when he starts school. We all know possibly every adopted child’s least favorite school activity–creating a family tree. Not many adoptees can have his entire biological and adoptive family history within his reach; for some adoptees, it takes a lifetime to acquire this information.
More and more multicultural adoptive families are blogging about experiences incorporating culture. One, in particular, Kid World Citizen, describes ways to educate children about culture through activities that involve the entire family. This article describes things that the blogger does with her five children who are all of the different nationalities. A few of those activities are described below:
-Find recipes for traditional food from your child’s culture. Cook it with her, explaining the ingredients and how this food is important to her culture.
-Set aside time for reading at some point throughout the day. Collect books about multicultural families and about his culture. Not only will this help with creating a love for reading within your child, but it will also help him learn that multicultural families are no different than any other family!
-Acknowledge and celebrate holidays from your child’s culture. Some examples are Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, Passover, and more.
-If your child likes engaging in extracurricular activities, find one that is related to her heritage, and let her enjoy the class!
Hands-on activities, such as camps or community events, are a more immersive way to help connect your child to his culture. Becoming more popular in recent years, culture camp is an option for young adoptees to either attend alone (in a summer camp like fashion) or with their families. Adoptive sibling programs are also available, which is pretty unique. Some of the most common countries that culture camps focus on are India, Latin/South America, Korea, China, and Haiti. Attendees learn about all aspects of the culture including food, arts & entertainment, language, and more. Located in Rochester, New York, The Heart and Seoul Korean Culture Camp lists one of the biggest benefits for children who are adopted is having an open, safe environment to talk about all things adoption. For kids, especially teenagers, having a way to get out of frustration away from parents can help to reduce anxiety and pent-up anger. I’m sure most people, if not everyone, can relate to this.
Family-oriented organizations sometimes host events geared towards foster or adoptive families. Going to these can provide your child with a chance to interact with other young adoptees from all over the world, potentially even ones from the same culture. When I was young, I can remember going to adoption events at the zoo in Louisville, KY. These events had an entire area where young adoptees could interact and play together, and adoptive parents could mingle. I remember having so much fun getting to be around other Black, Brown, and biracial adoptees.
However, the most important part to appreciate your child’s culture is to keep her traditional name, if possible. Whether you choose to leave it alone, or use her pre-adoption name as a middle or second middle name, retaining that part of herself is something she will appreciate when she gets older. It also creates a sense of unity for your adoption triad–yourself, as the adoptive parent, the birth family, and the adoptee, your child. It shows your child that her history was not erased when she was adopted. This mindset comes from the assumption that when a child was adopted, she became a “blank slate.” Obviously, this isn’t true, but it is something that adoptees have to deal with those who still perpetuate the idea. Reminding your child that her cultural family history is meaningful and is a part of who she is one of the most important things you can do as an adoptive parent.
The level of involvement from adoptive parents lessens as the adoptee grows older. By the time an adoptee enters adolescence, he most likely already began thinking about who he wants to be as he grows up. He is still exploring different aspects of his history, heritage, personality, and interests. Very few things about him are set in stone, indicating that he is still in the process of changing into the person he will ultimately become.
Look for other adoptees in your community or surrounding area that were adopted from other countries, or are a different race or ethnicity than her adoptive family. Connecting your child with someone who has experienced the same thing that she has will help her to identify with another adoptee who can validate her experiences. As we can all remember from our childhood, adolescence is a complicated time for teens. Having to deal with normal issues of teenage angst on top of trying to develop a cultural identity independently from your adoptive family is even more challenging. If your child can have another adoptee to talk to during this time, it can help reduce the anxiety and stress that comes with this period in life.
The Hair Conversation
When adopting a child that is a different ethnicity than you, it is important to know how to take care of his or her hair. While this may seem insignificant, hair can be a vital part of a person’s cultural identity. For this section, we will use children who are from the U.S. that are African-American/Black or are from another country, such as Africa or the Caribbean, as examples. Natural curls and hair braiding are essential to Black children. There is a large stereotype against biracial and Black children who are adopted and raised by White parents–these kids have “bad” hair. To some, this is only a small fraction of being a transracial adoptee. However, this can be devastating to a child when the child is bullied in school for having “nappy” hair.
Like so many other biracial and Black adopted children, my entire childhood consisted of random people touching my hair in grocery stores, malls, movie theaters–anywhere I went, basically. Being petted like a dog in the middle of a restaurant isn’t a great childhood memory. Please, please do not let random people touch your child’s hair. Our hair is intrinsically tied to our identity, so we need to preserve it, keep it healthy, and away from people’s hands.
Fortunately, Black women are stepping up and educating White adoptive moms and dads on how to take care of natural hair. For adoptive parents, learning how to do their child’s hair can save them time, strife, and money. Tamekia Swint owns a children’s hair salon that focuses on adoptive parents learning the secrets of taking care of natural hair. Her efforts in the community were featured on the Youtube channel “60 Second Docs.”
White foster and adoptive mothers are making Youtube videos showing her hair care routines, products she buys, and how to handle different types of curl patterns. Christy Gior, a mother to five children, posts regular videos to her Youtube channel about her transracial family. Here is a heartwarming video about the importance of learning the appropriate hair care for your child. More information about hair care routines and other testimonies from adoptive moms can be found all over the internet–do your research and you will be forever grateful you did.
All in all, doing the hair of your child is a bonding experience. As you figure out the complexities and teach your child how to take care of her hair, you will create memories together that are irreplaceable. I have so many wonderful memories of my mom and I taking care of my hair and straightening it. When I was 3 or 4, it was always a struggle to detangle my hair, but my mom started giving each one a name so it wouldn’t be so traumatizing. Needless to say, I’m not tender-headed and I got to know the name of every hair on my head. Little things like this will stick with your child for the rest of her life, inspiring her to take the same efforts with her children. Now, at age 23 and getting ready to have children, I can truly appreciate the hard work my mom put into raising me–a transracial adoptee.
Hard Work Pays Off
Raising a multicultural family is nothing short of complicated; it requires cultural competence, a lot of research, and a whole lot of love. There will be times where not everyone understands the experiences of one another, especially if there are more than two cultures present in the household. Despite the challenges transracial or transnational families may face, nothing will replace the bond that the families create.
My name is Morgan Bailee Boggess, and I am originally from Owensboro, KY, (where I was raised) and was adopted from Henderson, KY. I currently live in Lexington, KY, with my fiance, our Yorkie (Heidi), turtle (Sheldon), and a variety of saltwater fish. Beginning in 2016, I sought out and met most of my biological family. At the end of my searching, I discovered that I have, in total, 8 brothers and sisters, 20 nieces and nephews, and one godson. I graduated from Georgetown College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and am currently working towards getting my master’s in Social Work (MSW) with plans to get my Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology a few years after that. I am a psychometrist and clinical research assistant at Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. My research focus is looking at how forms of complex trauma (particularly intergenerational) affects the cognition in older adults. In my spare time, I write and read spoken word poetry at events to help benefit local nonprofits. I am also involved with several national diversity organizations and serve on the Board of Directors for Adoptees Connect, Inc.