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JoAnn Deak, Ph.D. is author of Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain. She's leading a discussion about helping children reach their potential brain power. Read and Comment »
Chris Winston is the founder and former president of the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network (KAAN). Read more »
Sorry, Chris Winston with Deann Borshay Liem is no longer taking questions.
Twenty years ago when my husband and I adopted our children from Korea, it was suggested that if we loved them enough they would not crave missing identity elements from their past. Somehow this advice didn't seem right. We wanted to acknowledge our children's experience of often being the only Asian faces among their peers. So, we decided to be the only Caucasian faces among many Asian ones in the Sacramento, California Korean-American community.
We didn't stay on the surface; we dove in deep to form friendships with first-, second- and third-generation Korean Americans, as well as Koreans living in Korea. I made my first Korean-American friend by walking into her dry cleaning shop. I spent hours manning the front counter of her store while she took her children to the doctor and attended school conferences. She spent hours teaching me to cook Korean food at her house or simply talking to me while my children played with hers in the back of her store.
The latest expert advice is to expose adoptees early and often to their cultures of origin. On the Internet, I see many discussions revolving around the question "How much culture is too much?" People ask, "Should children be forced to learn about their countries of origin?" To me, these don't seem to be the relevant questions. This type of experience is different from having family friends to whom children can relate as little or as much as they like. Korean and Asian Americans are often in our homes and in our lives. They are not our "Korean friends." They are our friends. As they grew, our children related to these family friends almost casually. Because they were readily available, my children asked our friends questions about Korea and got ideas about how to handle racial incidents as they arose.
Even with many resources available identity formation is not easy. In addition to parenting, children are influenced by many factors, including their innate genetics, the communities in which they are raised, the friends they make and the resolution of unexpected experiences that arise in their lives. For many adoptees there is the additional layer of an unknown birth family. And for interethnic adoptees, there is another culture and another ethnicity to add to the mix when forming a sense of self. A good relationship between parent and child helps. As parents the best thing we can do is to show our children that we value all the elements of who they are. Having friends from our children's ethnic background makes a strong statement of our willingness to love what is not inherently within ourselves.
Friendships are best when they include reciprocity. In order to give as well as get, here are some ideas to make friends from your child's ethnic background. We don't become friends with everyone we meet, so it may take many encounters to find good friends.
If you've adopted a child from another ethnicity, how are you connecting him with his culture?
Sorry, Chris Winston with Deann Borshay Liem is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.