Originally guest-posted at A Child Chosen.
When my husband and I set out to adopt our children in 1989 and 1991, we knew our children’s Korean heritage would become a part of our family. But I never anticipated that the journey would bring us to the lives we’re living today. It has defined us as parents, and has touched us far more deeply than I ever imagined it could.
I spent a lot of time thinking about Korea and our son’s Korean family as we wound our way through the adoption process in 1989. My visions of both were abstract, however, and I was unprepared for the force with which they became real in September 1989 when The Boy was placed in our arms for the first time. It changed everything. By the time The Girl arrived in 1991, we had figured out that one of our greatest parenting challenges would be to find ways we could teach our children how to belong to the Korean American community.
Like all families, our multiracial family was viewed by the mainstream to be culturally white. But common sense told us that this wouldn’t be the case when they were grown. On their own, society would view them as Asian Americans, Korean Americans, and would expect them to understand the culture that matched their faces.
And that, of course, is why the effort has been so important. I sometimes hear parents say, “My children aren’t interested in their culture, and we believe they should make the decisions about this.” But think back to when you were a child or a teen: Were you ready and able to make decisions that might have repercussions throughout your life? I think most of us would answer no. The problem with allowing our children to decide whether or not they should connect with their culture is that they may not know the impact of that choice on their future lives.
I’m glad my husband and I decided to make our children’s culture and community a priority in our lives. Today, our kids have strong Korean American identities. They’re proud of who they are, and can function comfortably within the Korean American community. It has taken a long journey to get to this point, one to which we’ve happily given our time and efforts.
Such a journey takes commitment, plus a desire to learn and willingness to get outside of our comfort zones. There are challenges along the way, no question. Adoption-related issues, peer relationships, family dynamics and conflicts, and racial attitudes within the family, community and society all play into our children’s willingness to actively connect with their heritage. We parents need to be sensitive to the ebb and flow of their interest, and alter our approach accordingly. What we shouldn’t do, however, is abandon our efforts. That will send our children the message that we don’t care enough about their heritage to make it a priority in our lives.
So how do you start this important journey? Like every other: by taking your first step, which in this case is making the commitment. After that, just jump in. Start reading and researching if you feel you need more facts at your fingertips; remember that the embassy of your child’s country will be an excellent source of information about their country, and the internet is a wealth of information. Find an organization that represents your child’s community and join; most have websites and e-newsletters to keep you informed. Subscribe to a contemporary magazine, which is also a great way to keep up with current events and issues. If programs and activities take place in your child’s community, go – that’s how you’ll meet people, including other adoptive families who may want to share the journey with you.
None of these may be too appealing to your children, however, so while you’re expanding your knowledge, look for ways you might involve your kids in ways they’ll enjoy. In our family, sports and music were the way to do that; our son enjoyed studying Korean drumming, and our daughter fell in love with taekwondo. Local adoption agencies and family support organizations offer cultural activities that are fun for younger children; older kids can often be persuaded to help out and earn their community service hours in the process. Culture camps, weekend culture schools and homeland tours also offer opportunities to immerse our children in their cultures, if only for a few days or weeks. With the cost of travel rising, the time to start thinking about a homeland tour is when your child arrives. Start a homeland tour fund: it’s a good way to save for the trip, and allows your family to plan for it together.
I sometimes marvel at the crazy experiences my family has had along the way, and the kids sometimes roll their eyes. But each experience connects our kids a little more firmly to their community and heritage; none is wasted, every one contributes to our children’s sense of self. And that makes this journey one of the most important ones your family will ever travel.