Remember the story of The Ugly Duckling, in which a baby swan was hatched and raised by a duck? The mother duck could teach the ugly duckling everything there was to being a duck, but she couldn’t teach him about being a swan.
The baby swan was perceived as an outsider and, therefore, believed he was ugly. He didn’t realize he was a beautiful swan until he was an adult, but he had already suffered so much.
The story of The Ugly Duckling is about how a creature feels when he is not connected to his birth heritage or culture (FTYI, there is no inference to birth mother/parents/family in Hans Christian Andersen’s story). The Ugly Duckling is a tale about a swan in search of his place and his identity.
Upon reading The Ugly Duckling to my children, I took away a deeper message as an adoptive parent. The story of the ugly duckling is similar to adoption and what needs to happen within the adoptive family.
I have found that one of the biggest challenges as an adoptive parent, especially as a parent to internationally and transracially adopted children, is that I cannot address all of their needs, specifically the desire to know and understand their birth culture first-hand.
Like the ugly duckling, each of my children is in search of self, their identity. I can teach my kids about being the duck—sharing my history and heritage, what it is to be part of our family and what it means to be an American. And I can share our values and beliefs with them.
How my kids feel, what they think about adoption, their races, ethnicities, and birth cultures is important to me. I can’t teach them what it means to be a swan, because I’m a duck. Heritage and culture are lived. But I can offer them opportunities to become as familiar and embrace their birth cultures. What I can do is guide and support each child as they work towards discovering and creating their identities, including any search for birth parents/family members.
While my children search for themselves, it is imperative that they do not feel like an outsider, but feel that they belong, that they matter to us and to each other. We make a point of claiming them at every opportunity. Each of my children understands that they hold a special and unique place within our family and are deeply loved.
Parents: What other stories or movies come to mind that illustrate the importance of being connected, the importance of belonging? How can you use these as a springboard for discussion or as a parenting “tool”?