When Your Adopted Child Denies Her Heritage

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DSC_0608As a parent of transracially adopted children, it is my (and their dad’s) job to foster authentic connections with people and role models who share their ethnic and racial backgrounds. These individuals can inspire our adopted children to continue exploring and learning about their cultures of origin. We have made building cultural competency a priority since our kids were infants.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this and say that it was always easy to get my kids to embrace their individual heritages. It was a piece of cake when they were young, but as they moved into adolescence, it wasn’t, and sometimes it was awful. I think back to when my daughter was eight-years-old. She was adamant that Asians were ugly, stupid, and smelled. (I have no idea where she came up with these superlatives.) She didn’t want to be Asian.

My daughter stood in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing her long dark locks angrily, almost ripping her healthy hair from its roots. I stood behind her, so sick-at-heart to see how unhappy she was.

My smile, big hug, and, “You’re beautiful, honey,” was met with sobs.

She threw the hairbrush down on the counter and stormed out. “I don’t want to be Chinese!” she screamed before slamming her door. Her cries wailed.

I looked into the mirror, seeing my blond waves through the tears for my daughter. Among my daughter’s pile of losses was that of genetic mirroring—of seeing her features in the face of a sibling or parent. And I thought, “That is what it feels like not to see yourself reflected back. Our physical differences remind her of her adopted status.”

There were many more instances and bouts of tears through early adolescence. She also dug her heels in about being with people who looked like her. Attending Chinese events and being with Chinese people was painful, but we continued to build and broaden cultural connections. I was pretty sure that she would lose too much if I allowed her to opt out of connecting.

Eventually, my daughter did an about-face. She petitioned to be admitted into a Mandarin language program taught by a native Chinese speaker (woman). On the application, she shared that she wanted to embrace her culture of origin (the program director showed me her application). Other things happened, too, such as she began to read about Chinese history and the province where she was born.

She continues to hone her Mandarin and eagerly looks forward to visiting China shortly. She finds Asian women to be stunning and uses Asian skincare. One of her closest friends is Vietnamese.

Her father and I continue to talk about differences, as well as similarities. We talk about the injustice of adoption, race, racism, and marginalization of adopted people. We discuss how to recognize and stand up to racism. We talk about our kids’ birthparents and their rich cultures of origin. But, these conversations are not enough. Our kids must talk to other adopted people about growing up adopted (transracially adopted), spend time with role models and others who share their ethnic background, and continue to explore and embrace their cultures of origin.

It’s your job, to help keep the connection strong. Evolve before your adopted child does. Be proactive.

For discussion: What aspects of cultural competence do you do well? What aspects of cultural competence do you not do so well? Why the differences?

~ Photo Credit NliveN, LLC

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