Exploring heritage is important for all adoptive families, not just those who adopt internationally. Whether a Caucasian family adopts an African-American child domestically or a family of Western European descent adopts a child from Eastern Europe, chances are that your adopted child will have different cultural roots. Exploring heritage is one way to learn about the country and culture where your child was born, and is also an opportunity for your child to gain a deeper sense of his identity.
There are so many meaningful (and fun!) ways to explore heritage. Language, religion, food, holidays and celebrations, clothing, music, literature and the arts, travel: there is so much to learn about. I have heard of a number of ways that adoptive families explore, and embrace, the culture of their adopted child. Here are ten:
- Celebrate a new holiday: In my opinion, there’s always room for another reason to celebrate. A blog I follow by a mom with two adopted daughters from India writes about their Diwali celebrations with immense pride and joy. Several families I know with children from China make it a point to attend Chinese New Year celebrations every year.
- Make a dinner with food from your child’s heritage: Whether it’s black-eyed peas and collard greens, mango lassi, or pelmeni, cooking is a fun (and tasty) way to incorporate your child’s heritage into daily life.
- Learn a language: Take classes, buy a dvd or find native speakers in your community. I know a few families who have taken language classes together which means you can practice with each other.
- Travel to the country (or region in the U.S.) of your child’s birth! Whether your child was born in another part of the United States, or in another country, go there! There is no better way to get a sense of history, architecture, food, language and people.
- Decorate with culture: Display maps of the country your child was born in, or purchase dolls in traditional dress.
- Attend a cultural festival or program: Every year at the Seattle Center, there are many different cultural festivals: Asian, Irish, Iranian, Croatia, Mexico and West Africa to name a few. Festivals like these are a fantastic chance to sample food, listen to music, watch dance and learn about another cultural heritage.
- Sing a song or play a tune: As a college exchange student, I lived in Amsterdam for six months. My Dutch host grandmother taught me a children’s song and said, “You may forget everything else, but you’ll remember the song.” I can still this song thirty years later! Or, if you’re not musical, buy a CD.
- Join an adoptive family group that shares the cultural background of your child: In our area, I’ve met several local families who are members of FRUA (Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, Including Neighboring Countries), which is a national organization. My sister, and her daughter who was adopted from China, attended family gatherings sponsored by her adoption agency. They are a great opportunity for kids to interact with other adopted kids who share the same cultural heritage.
- Read bedtime stories that are folk tales common to the region or country, OR make a book about your child’s country: I’ve seen some wonderful books of Mayan folk tales, Russian folk tales and folk tales from just about every country on the globe. Or create your own book with pictures of the flag from your adopted child’s country, animals, maps, costumes and photographs.
- As adopted children grow, there are increasingly more opportunities for them to investigate their birth heritage on their own, from the internet to heritage camps to travel in the country of their birth to enrolling in service organizations like the Peace Corps.