It was one of those odd fragments of conversation that never leave you, for whatever reason. I was chatting with a college friend about his wife’s sister, who was adopted from Korea. “My in-laws didn’t want to shove (Korea) down her throat, so they didn’t really talk about it.”
Casual conversation, yet it bugs me to this day. What kind of crazy perception is this–that talking about an adopted child’s home country is somehow shoving it down their throat?
Makes me feel like doing some shoving myself!
That rankled, obviously, but so did this snippet from a lady who used to go to our church: “I just don’t want to get into all that China stuff,” she said, regarding her two children, their home country, and how her children didn’t have Chinese names, not even in the middle slot. “I mean, they are American now, so what’s the point?” She wrinkled her nose as she spoke. She really did.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
Where do I even start?
I’m glad this conversation took place years ago, before I had audacity and chutzpah and guts–a little more Teflon coating, so to speak. Today, I would have done more than just nod and let it pass.
Today I’ve had a decade of parenting a Korean child, and I have pretty strong opinions about keeping her linked to her native land.
P is growing up here, in the US, as an American with a Canadian mother. The vast majority of her cultural messages and content will be North American. This will shape her, and she will feel overwhelmingly American in nearly every way.
But it’s up to me and Doyle to instill pride in her homeland, to bring it up in conversation and look for chances to deepen that primal connection to her beginnings. I believe that one key to our daughter’s wholeness lies in helping her piece together her puzzle, in integrating her Korean identity with her American identity.
It’s all about helping her tell her story, because as my brilliant writer friend Mary DeMuth says, “an untold story never heals, it just festers in unwanted behavior.”
She didn’t write these words about adoption (actually, it was about the whole Josh Duggar scandal, Part 1, and well worth the read). But they popped out at me in neon.
How can I help my 10-year-old girl tell her story?
How can we as adoptive parents help our kids tell their stories?
One big way is build bridges for our kids to their mother countries.
WE set the tone in our homes on how our child will regard Korea, China, Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia etc. If we sweep our child’s culture under the carpet (which can be tempting), we are doing our kids a disservice. This sends a message that there is something bad or uncomfortable about where they came from, and that means there’s something bad or uncomfortable about them.
“We always speak our first language forever. We always reach for home.” (That’s a loose quote from AOGGMDAM.) Let’s help our kids do the same.
The best way in the world to connect your child to their home culture is to make friends within that culture. That doesn’t always present itself as an option, however much we want that to happen. “Are you Korean and will you befriend our family?” doesn’t seem to be the best opening line.
Soooooo, here are some ideas about how to be a cultural ambassador for your child’s home country. I’d love to hear more from you about what’s worked in your family!
1. Send them to Heritage Camp!
If you have the privilege of living near a “Heritage Camp,” or camp for internationally adopted kids, send your child. They may feel weird and out of sorts for the first couple of days–all of the sudden I’m this VERY SPECIAL adopted kid, surrounded for once by people who look like me–but it’s worth it. Phoebe has been attending since she was three, and this year, her eighth, she was 100% enthusiastic about it all–the Taekwando, the Bulgogi, the Korean games etc. Her non-Korean brothers also attended for years, which made it a cool thing to do for her. (Google “Heritage camp” and a bunch of options pop up!)
2. Display things from the home country in your house
We have Korean Jade pottery and a Korean coffee table book on our bookshelves, kissing ducks on our door frame, and over-sized hot pink cushions with Korean embroidery in P’s room. It’s not a Korea museum by any means, but little decorative touches add a Korean flavor. They send a message that we Crakers embrace Korea as one of our homelands.
3. Cheer for the home country in international sporting events
This is so easy, yet easily overlooked. Sure, cheer for Canada in hockey and the US in the 100 meters, but be sure and point out athletes and teams from your child’s COB and cheer them on. We heartily root for Korean athletes every Olympics, FIFA, PanAm games etc, and now P only cheers for them!
PS: Here’s Stanley Cup winner Jim Paek, a parent at P’s school, who has been entrusted to raise up a hockey program in Korea to prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This whole thing makes me ecstatic–hockey + Korea? Two of my favorites.
Nothing teaches culture like food, and so we try to eat out at Korean restaurants or order Korean food from Asian menus. WE love it–P, not so much. In fact, her favorite restaurant, XO, features Chinese, Japanese, Thai–everything BUT Korean food.
(I’m trying not to regard this as a huge parental failing on my part.)
I do believe she will learn to love the food of her people someday–I have no doubt. But in the meantime, we show her that mom and dad and Ezra have great enthusiasm for it (Jonah’s more of a steak tacos man). I also make fabulous Korean Food Truck Shredded Beef Tacos in the slow cooker quite often, and one of these weekends Doyle and I will be undertaking The Making of Kimchi!
Phoebe has already told us she is not interested–“bleh-Kimchi!”–but we will go for it anyway. (This from the child that, as a baby, eagerly slurped up pickled radish juice in spoonfuls from her foster mother’s hand!)
Because you know what they say–the family that ferments together…
We’ve watched Japanese films with subtitles with our Japanese exchange students, and now it’s time to watch appropriate Korean shows (there are a million addictive series, I’m told) with Phoebe. A friend of mine is heavily hooked on Korean dramas, and she’s promised me that one of these weekends (another one from the Fermenting Weekend), we will plunge into “One Sunny Day” or “Flower Boys From Next Door.” I can’t wait! There are shows available from all over the world–check it out!
How have you incorporated your child’s home country and culture into their lives and yours? I would relish some new ideas!