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Acknowledging Birth Culture [From an Adoptee's Perspective]

For parents of transracial adoptees, it can be a challenge learning how to navigate acknowledging or integrating your child’s birth culture in daily life. While some adoptees will want or even need this cultural connection, others may resist it.

As a transracial adoptee myself, here are some recommendations I have for parents in addressing this topic:

1. Encourage but do not force.

Some parents believe it is a best practice to find ways to integrate in their adopted child’s birth culture and, if they do not, they are doing a disservice to their child. In my opinion, there is not necessarily a right or wrong approach, it will be unique to your family and to your adopted child.

You do not have to force it. In fact, I do not think you should. You are not bad parent if you choose not to celebrate holidays or cook certain foods associated with your child’s birth culture. Choosing not to integrate your adopted child’s birth culture into their life in America does not mean you are dishonoring their biological history.

What I recommend is this: Integrate it if your child asks or expresses an interest in it. I also suggest waiting until your child is old enough to process and understand this and ask them how they feel about integrating in their birth culture.

Some adoptees will desire that connection with their culture, as it may be identity affirming to them while others may not feel the need. For me personally, my parents offered opportunities to integrate my biological culture, but I did not feel I needed to nor was I interested.

2. Continue to bring it up.

If your child says they are not interested in integrating or connecting with their birth culture, I encourage you not to shut the door completely on this conversation. As your adoptee grows, matures and reaches new developmental stages their answer may change. I would continue to bring it up periodically and see if their interest changes.

They also may need you facilitate this process which means you will need to come up with ideas of what this may look like. Some ideas could be finding adoptee groups within your local community, cooking cultural foods, or even reading books or watching movies that exhibit your child’s birth culture.

3. Understand that your adopted child may not know how to integrate this into their life.

For some transracial adoptees adopted from outside of the United States, it can be hard to navigate the delicate space of being an American citizen and culturally raised in America but not biologically American. 

When I was growing up, my parents offered me opportunities to be involved in a group in our community that was for adoptees from India. They wanted to make sure that I felt that if I needed this connection that it was available to me. I could not have been more disinterested. I had no idea how to hold space for both my biological Indian culture and American culture, not as a child or even as a teenager.

For me, being a part of these groups felt like another reminder that I was different and stirred up feelings of disconnection for me. I did not know how to belong to my family and also belong to my culture. It is important to recognize that your adoptee may have similar feelings and may not have language to express those feelings.

Every adoptee will have a unique set of needs when it comes to their birth culture. There is not a one size fits all approach to navigating the acknowledgement of an adopted child’s birth culture.

I encourage parents to engage in conversations about birth culture with their adopted child as early as possible while also holding space that feelings and attitudes may change over time.

Ramya Gruneisen is a transracial adoptee living in St. Louis, Missouri. She has found a passion in sharing her story and educating adoption agencies and adoptive/prospective families on adoption. She works in Public Health for the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). She works in the Refugee Medical Screening and Refugee Health Promotion programs where she educates service providers on culturally informed and trauma informed care to refugees and immigrants, as well as monitors and reports on public health data for new arrivals. She has found it to be the most lifegiving and humbling work. She loves spending time with her friends and family, climbing mountains and watching the St. Louis Cardinals and Blues play. 

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