Cross-Cultural Adoptions Raise Sensitive Issues

Pimples. Braces. Dating. Finding your way through the teen years can be challenging, to say the least.

When you're an adopted child of a different race or culture from your parents, "it adds a whole other layer of challenges," says David Youtz, president of Families with Children from China of Greater New York (http://www.fccny.org). He says that it's vital for parents of children adopted from other cultures to acknowledge that their child is different.

For example, like it or not, children adopted from Asia may be viewed by some as Asian, not Asian-American. The goal, Youtz says, is to help your child feel a sense of pride about his or her culture and race. That in turn will become a positive part of his or her identity.

The colorblind, culture-blind view that love alone can conquer all isn't realistic, experts say. If you live in a rural area with little or no diversity, for instance, you'll need to be creative about connecting with your child's heritage, says John Raible, Ed.D., assistant professor of diversity and cultural studies at the University of Nebraska.

Here are some ideas:

  • Start early. Between ages 3 to 5 is an ideal time to talk about culture in ways that fit your child's age, Youtz says. A growing list of special storybooks can help. The goal is to help your child learn about her heritage.

  • Go beyond dolls and festivals. Dressing your child in a sari, dining on enchiladas, or attending Chinese New Year celebrations aren't enough. Family talks about culture can help. But it's vital that children make friends with other children who share their heritage.

  • Balance differences with similarities. Shared likes of music, sports, or personality traits aid bonding and help counter any "singling out" of your child.

  • Make friends with parents who share your child's heritage. It helps children in cross-cultural adoptions to see up close how parents of their culture raise their children, says Dr. Raible. Kids can see how another family deals with the race issue.

  • Tap into universities. Programs offer calligraphy, martial arts, ethnic dance or music, and language classes. Taking a Chinese language class with your Chinese child, for instance, is invaluable for sharing your child's heritage, says Youtz.

  • Consider a family heritage trip. It can be a life-changing eye-opener for all family members.


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