November 12, 2011

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Explore Your Child's Heritage

Whether your child or someone you know was placed by an international agency or even a town just a few hours away, s/he has a unique heritage that could be fun to explore. Teach your child about traditional foods, clothing, and practices. And if you're feeling adventurous, try to learn a few words or phrases of the country's native language.

My Children's Heritage

Exploring my children's heritage has been an interesting endeavor over the years. And if there is one thing I have learned it is that very rarely does it work if I am the instigator. I have bought a couple books about Indian history―one of the eyewitness books on India and another on Mahatma Gandhi, a biography of Indira Gandhi and one on Mother Theresa. They float around the house and occasionally one of the girls will pick it up to thumb through them. I have also asked them specifically if they would like to do some research on India, and sometimes my attempts are met with outright anger. It's as if they don't want to be reminded that they were adopted, that they were born in another place and to another family. (Mind you I only got this reaction from my oldest when she was in early adolescence, and I'm getting it now from my 11 year old.) I think it has more to do with the thought that they don't want to be seen as different from their peers during this period when peers are so important to their identity. So I have mixed feelings when it comes to exploring my children's birth heritage.

During the Revolutionary War period of American history, Ben Franklin made the case that Americans were a new breed, different from their European counterparts because the environment made them so. The wilderness had a profound effect on early Americans' identity and it separated them from those who remained in the Old Country. I've thought about his argument and wonder if it might apply to international adoptees. Granted, adoptees do not arrive willingly, but still their life in America has definitely had an impact on their identity, so is it fair to push various activities that often do not feel authentic?

So, I feel as if I'm on standby, ready with my books and the Internet, and whenever one of them has a specific question, I'm happy to help them answer it and engage them in discussion. Those are the times meaningful exchanges occur and when they learn something about the country of their birth, but more importantly, they learn something about themselves.


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