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I really enjoyed reading about the ins and outs of international adoption. I've often wondered how these children cope and how the parents do too. It was really fascinating. Clearly there's not one right way but a lot of swinging back and forth.
Just as with the decision to adopt in the first place, interracial, multicultural adoptive families need to be open to figuring out how to incorporate their child's birth culture into their family as they go, and they need to be open to adjusting that plan over time. There's no way to know early on if birth culture will be important to a child when he or she grows up or not, but parents can make some culture available and be responsive if the child at some point wants more. As for racism, it would be great if we could control that for our kids, but we can't, and I suspect the biggest problems arise when white parents deny that race will be a problem for their minority kids. Unfortunately, that's just not the world we live in. In all cases, the most important message from adoptive parents to their kids is that we are open to hearing about their feelings and experiences, that we will work through those feelings and experiences with them, even if they come from a place that we have trouble understanding. It's like with almost anything else in parenting: our kids need to know that we are there for them, regardless of who they turn out to be or how they get there.
Thank you for an article that explores the complexity of these issues!!
As the mother of an adoptee from China (1998) I enjoyed this article tremendously, especially the way it acknowledged that this task is open-ended, partially dictated by the child (eventually completely driven by the adoptee). A couple of things to add: I think agencies should be more pro-active in helping prospective a-parents be reflective about the community in which they live. This is so critical that if there is a total absence of the child's culture in the local community, moving to a more diverse community or neighbourhood would not be out of the question. It would be great if this could be acknowledged and talked about upfront without defensiveness. Second thing is that the deepest type of connection doesn't come from us teaching stuff "about their culture" but through the learning our children absorb from other kids and adults who share their background (see point #1). I liked how the article broached the subject of culture consumption, a non-starter. Our contribution--save facilitating help language learning--is always shallow at best (unless, of course, se share the child's culture). It always comes down to the difference between teaching *about* and *learning with* or absorbing at-the-side-of, which is the way culture is transmitted.
I'm a white mother of two half white and half East Indian children (my biological children). My husband was born and raised in England, but makes an effort to keep his children in touch with Indian culture. I think there are some aspects that are common to our situation and the situation described in this article. From my perspective, the main purposes of "culture keeping" would be to:- Familiarize the child with basic facts about and cultural aspects of their birth country. - Get them accustomed to eating some typical foods of their birth country, and basic utensils or table manners, etc.- Have them feel comfortable or used to being around other people who came from their birth country. - Teach the child to be proud of their heritage.- For the child to know that his/her parents are interested in and positive about the child's birth country.- If possible, teach them some of the language of their birth country (even if just a bit). I think this should be all done in a way that is as enjoyable as possible, for the children. If the language lessons are traumatizing them, by all means stop the lessons. Some words of the language can be introduced in a fun way, in order to make them have a positive feeling towards the language, and even just a very elementary concept of the sounds of the language, the appearance of the writing, etc. Then when they are older, they can make the choice to take up language lessons or not.My children are 10 and 14, and we still have not visited India. However, they love Indian food and know a few words of Punjabi language. They are proud of Indian culture, and familiar with some basic aspects of it. When they tell others that they are Indian, they should hopefully be able to do so with a feeling of pride and some knowledge of what it means. Indian people from India can easily see that they are not really culturally Indian, but still appreciate our efforts to make them closer to Indian culture. It may be wondered how this could be relevant to a child who has two white parents, but as someone said in the article, "You can't change the skin you're in," and I would think that, generally speaking, most people would eventually want to feel proud of and at least a bit familiar with the culture that they were born into.
Thank you for a very interesting article. I'm a white adoptive mom of a 5 year old from China, so much of this is familiar to me. There is so very much ground to cover in this area, and the article covered it quite well, but I wonder if any of this makes any sense to someone who is not involved with international or transracial adoption or at least part of a multiracial family. I'm glad the article stresses that being aware of racism is very important - though I wonder how aware of it most white people can really be - it is easy to have it slip off your radar when it isn't directed at you. That is why it is so important for transracially adopted children to have many different friends and older role models of their same race, so that they will have someone to talk about these things in addition to mom and dad (and/or when mom and dad just don't get it). I'm also glad that she talks about how important it is to learn from the experiences of adult adoptees - they are the real experts on what adoption means. In the end, though, no matter how much we think about all of this stuff and try to walk the fine line between helping our children have pride in the culture into which they were born and the culture into which they were adopted, and to feel comfortable in their bodies and in their world -- in the end we will screw it up, at least some of the time. We will make big mistakes, like all parents. We will try to learn from them and do better, but still we will not get it and will try too hard or not hard enough. But then, isn't that what parenting is about?
BTW, it was just Andrea writing this; darn those different account names anyway!
The comments here offer so many good insights that they've sparked other thoughts for me. Is the situation of international adoptive families hard to fathom if you're not part of one? Quite possibly, but I guess that's why I wanted to write about it for Brain,Child. I know from the many people I talked with in researching this story that those who came from immigrant or other bicultural families--like Christie D. -- found many parallels.And yet at least one close friend of mine, a non-adoptive parent, responded to the article with little understanding of the public nature of transracial adoptive families. She said she thought culture-keeping had become the latest hair shirt for some parents. She related a story in which she'd told a young Asian adoptee, who was helping her white mother pick corn at a farmers market, "what a lucky little girl you are." My friend had meant the girl was lucky to be helping her mom, but that mother snapped back, "No, *we're* the lucky ones!" This was an obvious misunderstanding, but my friend had little patience with a white adoptive mom reacting in that way. But I do. Media portrayals of our families are often bufoonish or overly sentimental (check out "Away We Go" for its depiction of one Happy Rainbow Coalition of kids). And the PC rhetoric of the adoption community, forged with the best of intentions, tends to make many of us parents feel inadequate. So I'm "outing" myself as a mom who's gone to extremes and made mistakes, because adoptive parenting, like all parenting, is a daily, frustrating, joyful, and constantly evolving process.
I enjoyed the article for its thoughtfulness and coverage of successes and mistakes. My children were adopted transculturally/internationally from Kazakhstan, a multi-ethnic society, and we are not obviously a transracial or adoptive family. My kids' differences are almost all on the inside. It is a different twist on culture-keeping and identity, and I'd be interested in research or writing on this aspect of international adoption.
I too am an adoptive parent & greatly appreciated the author's informed discussion of the complexities of international adoption and her sympathetic dissection and dismantling of the various formulas and coping mechanisms popularized at one time or another within the adoptive community. I do have some quibbles, including the following lines: 1) "The experience of being abandoned in a developing country, and then folded into a wealthy American family, is complex." The larger point is unassailable, of course, and "wealth" I take to be a relative proposition, but this sentence reflects a stereotypical view of adoptive families that is simply not born out by reality. Many of us are far from wealthy, and indeed turned to international adoption in part because it was less costly than the domestic avenues available to us. 2) "Jacobson and other observers point out that white parents often celebrate a child's birth culture in lieu of dealing with a child's race. They want a formula, not daily dissonance."There are several questions here. Frankly, I'm not sure how much any of us "want" daily dissonance in our lives, other than those arising from the usual dualities of existence. More substantively, the notion of "dealing with a child's race" is never to my mind satisfactorily explained in this article, and that strikes me as problematic. In the US, we are habituated to relying on racial categories in accounting for difference, even when other questions, for example ethnicity, are often more influential in the making of identity, whether communal or self. For example, in America's meat-grinder classification system, one is "black" whether US-born, West Indian, African etc. This approach does a real disservice to the varieties of culture and experience that make people what they are, suggesting that the only categorical boxes that matter are those involving outward appearance -- surely the least interesting and informative part of anyone's story. Similar dynamics inform the construction of Asian American identities -- an important topic in its own right, but not quite the issue I wanted to raise here. What I do want to pose are more general questions: just how do we understand "race" and what we and our children are to make of it? Mostly, racial categories have traction in human affairs only inasmuch as certain hereditary features lend themselves to stereotypical imaging. The question as to what people then make out of these images is of course another matter; racism, whether as full-blown ideology or casual prejudice, of course lies in associating certain qualities of character, aptitude and ability with this stereotypical imaging. But how much emphasis are we (parents & children alike) to place on racism in its various forms? I think the answer cannot be given in absolutes, but depends very much on the climates of opinion out there. We should anticipate racism, certainly, and help prepare our children for its various manifestations (even as we acknowledge that growing up involves our kids learning to do this themselves). But we shouldn't allow the idiots of this world to set our agendas for us either. Obviously, "race" will be an issue for our children so long as some people continue to find this way of thinking of some value, however dubious, in negotiating their world. That much I think we can say, and that in itself is important enough. But I see this as a more circumstantial than existential problem. Those circumstances range from everything from the kinds of communities we live in -- as measured by their degrees of diversity and inclusiveness -- to the future of U.S.-China relations. In any event, I see race in this situation as something imposed upon us by others far more than any meaningful or helpful point of reference we choose for ourselves. Our children may not agree, of course, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to argue the point with them.
My husband and I are American-Armenians. In 1998 Armenia opened it's doors to allow adoption and we were one of the first couples from the US to do so. Although we do not have the challenges of multicultural adoptive families, our concerns do not diminish to having our daughter know her birth culture.We made the decision to have her attend an Armenian pre-school and elementary school, receiving an education in her own culture. Yes, we are fortunate to have a school but if our community did not provide an educational institution we were committed to teaching her on our own. Two years ago we went back to Armenia it was our intent to have our daughter meet and visit with friends that helped us to be a family by adoption. I can't say enough positive things about the journey, our daughter got to see and experience all that we had describe to her. Trust me, my daughter is as American as Mom's Apple Pie but we are taking the extra steps to give her the opportunity to be educated in both cultures. As parents we try to stay focused on our child and strive to create a good citizen of the world.
To Martha:I want to thank you for writing this wonderfully honest, balanced, insightful piece about the challenges of supporting your child while attempting to understand their losses, straddle two cultures, and navigate life as a mixed race family. As you put it, for "outing" yourself. I am a single, caucasian mom with a 9 year old daughter I adopted from China in 2001. My daughter is, for the most part, happy -- I'd even say joyful -- and well adjusted. She's the best thing that ever happened to me. She is also bright and highly sensitive and has, at times, struggled mightily with her losses, cultural, familial, or otherwise. This past year she posed a number of heart wrenching questions as she tried again to make sense of her story. Some of her questions challenged me to my core. At one particularly painful point, she speculated if I might have perhaps stolen her from her birth parents. Parenting -- and adoptive parenting -- is not for the faint of heart. I began writing about our journey this past March to share our story and connect with other adoptive parents. I'd love it if you stopped by and would also, assuming you have the inclination and time, enjoy hearing from you. With best wishes,Lisa http://apackof3.blogspot.com
My parents adopted twin boys and a baby from Korea in the 80's. They were very well prepared by the adoption agency to transition the kids into American culture. My parents kept photo albums for the boys...but the Korean Culture Project wore off after a couple of years and now they proudly walk around with their Italian/American names and don't miss their Korean heritage. Maybe they will as they become fathers, but for now? Not too much.
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