Families where an adopted child comes from a different cultural or ethnic background from their parents are faced with the opportunity and the responsibility to offer their children the chance to explore those parts of their identities. For many adopted children, ethnic differences from their parents are clear based on appearance, and offering a child a kid-friendly way to engage with their cultural background, and to feel that difference as a positively-associated thing that the whole family supports, is a great way to start to talk about those differences.
Connecting with your child’s birth culture doesn’t have to happen in a series of big, dramatic events. During childhood, some of the things that have the biggest impact are often the quiet, everyday associations and interactions. Some different ways parents can help to normalize and celebrate their family’s differences include seeking out diverse groups of friends, living in a diverse areas, and celebrating the differences of other members of the community, as well as their family’s own differences, as much as possible.
Seeking out adult role-models from your child’s cultural or racial background, either as personal friends or as more distant role models like writers, fictional characters, or historical figures, can be helpful for young children whose self-esteem and sense of self is still developing. Some families choose to host an international student from their child’s culture of origin as a way of offering this kind of connection and role-modeling.
Even choices that don’t seem relevant, like including art and other objects from a child’s birth culture in the family home can help to normalize that culture in the context of the family, and make it feel familiar, rather than just something that you think or talk about on special occasions. Adding stories, songs, and picture books from a child’s culture of origin is another way to offer this kind of casual, low-key connection. In reading, it’s always helpful to let a child’s interests guide what families read together, and this is no different, but just having songs and stories from a child’s birthplace or heritage make it into the rotation can give your child a base-line of cultural awareness to build off of later.
It’s no secret that the best way to get children excited about new ideas is to make them fun, and what’s more fun than an additional set of holidays? Incorporating birthday traditions, special meals, and other holidays associated with a child’s culture of origin certainly shouldn’t be the only way they connect with their heritage growing up, but it can be a great place to get started.
Classes and activities, like dance classes or language classes, can also be fun ways for kids to connect with a culture, but the best way to make this connection a positive part of your child’s life is to let these classes and activities be driven by their interests – connecting with their cultural background shouldn’t feel like work. As your child grows, they’ll be able to tell you more about the parts of their background that they most want to explore.
Taking care about tokenism
Foods and holidays can be great ways to introduce young children to traditions associated with their cultural background, but it’s important to remember that these are just one part of a larger cultural landscape. Focusing too closely on holidays and foods without taking in the cultural context that these traditions come from gives children only a surface feeling of connection to the culture you’re hoping to help your child explore.
For families who don’t live in culturally diverse areas or areas where their child’s cultural heritage has a strong presence, eventual trips to a country of origin, or summer camps designed around offering adoptees a chance to connect with their specific cultural backgrounds can be great resources, but if these are also out of reach for your family, that doesn’t have to be a problem. The most important part of connecting young children to their cultural backgrounds is making a thoughtful effort to understand the culture as a whole, and to introduce the parts of it that are accessible, like food, language, books, games, songs, or holidays, with as much of an appreciation for the context these cultural traditions came from as possible.