Everyone wins when a child’s culture is acknowledged and embraced
Cross-culture adoption is common, yet it brings with it some uncommon complications. When a Solo Mom adopts a child whose culture is different from hers, she has quite a bit of homework to do. Before you can teach your child about his culture, birth country, or other traditions, you need to understand them first.
As your child gets older, she will start showing you, either through words or emotions, which parts of her culture she wants to incorporate into her life. By explaining her cultural background to her, you’ll give her the information she needs to make these decisions. Until then, however, you should try to incorporate as much as you think is right for your particular situation.
Having children from several different cultural backgrounds is a great opportunity for them to learn about one another and to develop appreciation and respect for others from an early age.
Here are 10 ways you can help your adopted child feel connected to his culture.
1. Have books handy. Have children’s books easily available that show different races and cultures. There is definitely a bias toward white, traditional families in children’s books. It is incredibly important to offer a range of books so that children can identify with the characters and family makeup. When selecting children’s books, keep an eye on the illustrations, stereotypes, relationships, and the messages about different lifestyles.
2. Create a space for your child. Celebrate your child’s heritage when decorating her room, and incorporate all cultures represented in your family in the main areas of your house. When your child is old enough to start expressing interest in things, let her choose a few pieces or designs or even colors with which to decorate her room.
3. Attend cultural events in the community or start some. If you live in a culturally diverse area, be sure to frequent the many events that are available and open to the public. If there is nothing like that currently in your area, start something. All children need to learn about other cultures, and there are probably more families like yours who are seeking a place to do so.
4. Volunteer at your child’s school. For school-aged children, ask about volunteering in the classroom to raise awareness. Teachers love help, and they especially appreciate it when you come in with a plan in mind. Consider reading some of your favorite books about other cultures. Celebrate a new holiday with the class. Organize a virtual field trip to learn about the region where your child’s culture is most prevalent. The possibilities are endless.
5. Incorporate ethnic food into your cooking. Cooking multicultural foods with your kids is super fun, and what better way to learn about a culture than through food? Most grocery stores have a decent selection of spices, foods, and ingredients to make dishes that are indigenous to other regions of the world. You could even put together an international meal to incorporate all the cultures represented in your family.
6. Discuss current events in that country/region. World events can be scary, but children today are learning about them at a young age. I distinctly remember the first time my son read the caption on the news channel. Now my kids, ages six and eight, ask me to turn up the news when we’re in the car so they can hear what is going on. They want to learn about what is happening in the world. Keeping up with current events and talking about them with your children in an age-appropriate way will help them learn about their culture.
7. Make culturally religious and educational options available to your child. This one may be difficult, especially if you are a devoutly religious person. But it is incredibly important that your child learn his religious history. Religion has played such a large role in every part of the world that to ignore it would be robbing your child of her history. For those who have culturally specific educational opportunities, they should be considered as well. Start out by teaching small phrases in her native language, encouraging the whole family and extended family to learn them as well.
8. Live somewhere rich in diversity. Just as you want your child to be able to identify with characters in books and television shows, you also want her to identify with real people. Does your area predominately comprise one race or ethnicity? Maybe it is time to move or switch schools so that your child benefits from meeting all types of people. The other children will also benefit from meeting your child.
9. Take a field trip. In a perfect world, you’d be able to take your child and other children in your family to an area that identifies with that child’s culture or home country. Perhaps that’s just not possible, but there are other ways to immerse him in his heritage. Consider museums, exhibits, and seminars as he gets older. As he learns about his own culture, you will want to as well. It can become something that bonds you together as he ages.
10. Be open to conversations and discussions—both in and outside the home. Talking about differences is one way to learn enough to put them behind us. While a single discussion is not going to be enough, there are some great ways to discuss cultural differences and help your family merge several backgrounds together. Your children may not thank you for these types of ethnic conversations when they are teenagers, but they will thank you later in life when they’re adults.
Even as your children grow and develop their own lifestyle, there are ways in which you can help them maintain a connection to their culture.
Research shows that knowing about your cultural roots increases strength and confidence. Conversely, growing up without a cultural connection can lead to alienation and confusion when entering the teen years and adulthood. It may take some extra effort, but the rewards of cultural connection are more than worth it for you and your child.
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military-family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY magazine and a regular contributor to several online publications, including the Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, and ESME. She also has been published in Ms. magazine and the Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com and on Twitter and Instagram.