You went into things with the best of intentions. You really did. You researched, reached out, readied, and were all set and even more than a little bit excited to incorporate your child’s birth culture into her birthday, holiday celebrations, and everyday life. So why is she looking at you like you have two heads when you bring up her birth culture? Why does she turn her nose up at your latest attempt to whip up a dish native to her homeland? Why isn’t she getting up and grooving to the ethnic music that you bounced her to as an infant? The truth is, you can’t force your child’s birth culture on her anymore than you can force her to enjoy a heaping helping of Friday afternoon homework.
Instead, the exotic culture and rich tradition that you’re trying so hard to impart on your child seems to bore her to death and have her reaching for her tablet in protest. Sort of like when you bring up a family story at the dinner table that the kids have heard you share a dozen times before—to you, where you come from and the quirky family stories you’ve lived through sums up everything good in the world, yes? Think Chevy Chase’s character, Clark Griswold, in Christmas Vacation. To your daughter, it appears to amount to nothing more than another pile of parental blah blah blah.
Despite her protests, there are plenty of studies that reveal a correlation between a strong and positive cultural identity and better psychological development of multicultural and internationally adopted children. It only makes sense, then, to incorporate your child’s cultural identity into her daily life, right? At the same time, other studies show little correlation between the two. She is with you now, where you live, surrounded by others who live similarly, so maybe where she came from really isn’t so important. Right?
Based on my own experiences with my sometimes interested and sometimes eye-rolling twosome is that it’s important to know your child and to let her express to you how much and how often she feels comfortable tuning into where she comes from. This doesn’t mean that you should scrap the whole idea or importance of birth culture—maybe just make it less of a “thing” and more of something you just do—casually and gradually rather than making it feel like an Olympic event.
Yes, my husband and I have played the music, made the food, incorporated native dishes into birthday celebrations, and tried to remember to incorporate cultural traditions into our holiday celebrations as well (in between trying not to forget all of the American traditions that they love and would be devastated if we stopped). They are good sports about it, but sometimes they’d rather just listen to Taylor Swift, eat mac ‘n’ cheese, and do whatever their friends are into at their birthday parties, sans native garb.
Still, we won’t stop introducing and reinforcing their birth culture so long as we have the opportunity—and I suspect that window of opportunity will close more tightly once puberty hits and we, as parents, take second stage to the oh-so-dramatic tween and teen years to come. Aside from what we practice—in a casual, not pushy, way in our home—is encouraging them to participate in meaningful relationships with other adopted kids who share their same background. We are lucky to live in an area with a large population of adopted children and our girls attend several planned events as well as a yearly culture camp, which they love and miss once it’s finished each year. I’ve found, more than anything, this interaction is what they embrace as their own and enjoy the most.
As we grow as parents-in-process with our growing children, I realize that It’s not about us and feeling fulfilled as parents doing our duty—rather, it’s about them and making sure they know that their cultural identity is welcome in the place we call home. Today it may not seem so important, but 10 years from now it may define and direct where their future interests and passions take them.
And just like you don’t stop encouraging her to finish her homework or eat her vegetables or make good decisions—consider her birth culture food for her soul. One day, she will appreciate the results as she grows into her adult self knowing even just a bit more about the rituals, ceremonies, and traditions that she may one day choose to practice and pass down to her own tablet grabbing, eye rolling children—or not.