Love, Culture, and Identity–What’s Really Needed?

After attending our Parents In Process class, my husband and I decided to delve into Korean culture with both feet. Everything we learned in class pointed to the importance of our son being acquainted with his birth culture. So we didn’t hesitate–we began eating Korean food and learning the language. After what we’d learned, we no longer believe that love was enough in parenting our son. He would need us to be more informed, educated, and understanding.

At the time, I had no idea that many would consider our take on adoption parenting “out there.” I couldn’t believe that so many people would still believe that love was enough, that race didn’t matter, that birth culture would be a matter of interest or it wouldn’t, and that speaking the birth language really didn’t matter so much. But truly, I’ve come across more parents who have a “que sera, sera” attitude (whatever will be, will be) than I have parents who are proactive about building cultural foundations for their kids.

And lately, there’ve been a couple of articles that on the surface seem to exempt parents from “doing culture.” (I wrote about one article in my July 2009 post, “What’s an Adoptive Parent to Do?”) One article was in Brain Child magazine; it was titled “What’s My Heritage?” It was written by an adoptive parent. A second one appeared on Boston.com. This one was titled, “Another Country, Not My Own: One overseas adoptee explains, Parents embrae of the ‘home’ culture can have its costs,” and was written by Mei-Ling Hopgood, who also authored the book Lucky Girl.

Some parents have used these articles to say, “See if you go too far with culture stuff it can be just as damaging as doing nothing. Damned if you do, damned if don’t. So why put in the effort.”

But if you really dig into these articles, they’re so saying so much more. They’re saying that culture needs to be more than a once a year culture camp, Korean food on selective Korean holidays, or learning traditional celebrations or dances. These articles are saying that it’s more important for internationally adopted kids to know people who share their ethnic heritage, to have mentors and role models who look like them, and to live in diverse areas.

These articles aren’t talking about doing less, but doing more. And the findings of a recently released study done by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute uphold the need of going further in adoption parenting. The study is titled, “Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption.” The report is 113 pages long, but the institute’s web site has a summary of the report, so you can see the conclusions they came to without reading the whole report. (On the summary page, there is a link to the PDF of the entire report, if you’re interested.)

The conclusion of the report’s introduction says, “The findings of this study reflect the need to go ‘beyond culture camp’ to provide children with ongoing experiences and relationships that promote postivie racial (and adoptive) indentity development. Our respondents valued cultural celebrations and other opportunities to learn about their origins, but such singular events appear insufficient. … Further, there seems to no question about the need to provide transracially adopted children with opportunities to be in diverse settings and have diverse role models.”

This report talks about doing things that might take you, the adoptive parent, out of your comfort zones. Moving to a more diverse area, traveling to your child’s birth country (shown to be very important for international adoptees in learning about their origins), understanding what it’s like to be the only person of color in community.

The conclustion continues, “Commitment and love of adoptive parents, exposure to positive aspects of the child’s culture, and perhaps connection with other families who have adopted from the same country were thought to be enough to support the development of positive identity. As this study demonstrates, the integration of “being adopted,” of one’s racial/ethnic identity and one’s identity as a person adopted from another country is a complex and continually evolving process.” [emphasis added by me]

The findings of this study are nothing new to me. Over the last year and a half, the realities of the what this study concluded have been weighing on me. I’ve come to understand the need of living in a diverse area; of having close family friends who share our son’s ethnicity and who love him and are interested in mentoring him and helping him achieve a healthy identity; of doing more than the surface culture stuff.

And it’s hard. I admit it. I know the importance of it, but achieving those things is hard. It’s hard to make connections. But I know that me not doing what’s hard could make things infinitely harder on my son. So the hard way it is. With God’s help, I know we can achieve the life that will be best for our family.

2 Responses to “Love, Culture, and Identity–What’s Really Needed?”

  1. December 16, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Thanks for clarifying that “What’s My Heritage?” should not be used as an excuse by adoptive parents to drop culture-keeping. It’s an overly simplistic definition of culture that I was criticizing in that piece, and the tendency of far too many adoptive parents to substitute a trip to a Chinatown for honest talk about racism and what it’s like to look different in a white family. White adoptive parents definitely have to step out of their comfort zones. It’s not easy, but it’s eye-opening.

  2. December 30, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I am so glad you posted this! I am walking the same path, though I think I have been on it longer (my kids were born in 1997 and 1999). We are also looked at by some as “out there” for doing so much with Korean culture. We have done Korean school, though we now has a private teacher, we are always seeking out the Korean American community in our larger community, the kids do TaeKwondo, they have Korean student mentors from the local University – in short, we are trying to make Korean culture a complete part of our family life. The articles you bring up and discuss are great examples. I have also been reading and listening to a lot of blogs by 20 something adoptees and the biggest “complaint” they have is not being truly Korean – not knowing the day-to-day culture or the language. How can we as parents of adopted children NOT provide this for them? I think that so many adoptive parents are afraid that pointing out these differences will make their child less their own. How wrong I think they are.

    We traveled to Korea with our kids in April and LOVED it. We are going back for a month this summer. My son met his halmoni (grandmother) and younger brother and we are now even more motivated in our language study as we work to build a relationship with them. I am also looking at trying to find a way for our family to spend a year in Korea… a dream at this point, but we are really thinking about this.

    I enjoy your blog and hope you might check out mine. I like sharing this journey with other like-minded parents.

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My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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