Josi recently asked if she could take Mandarin classes. I was glad I was sitting down, because she really surprised me. This request was a BIG deal.
Through no lack of gentle encouragement on our part, Josi has always chosen to keep the topic of adoption, her heritage, and birth culture at bay. Josi has always been our child that was fine with the celebrations and food – and no more. She has wanted no part of the Chinese School, Mandarin lessons, dance, etc. She has asked relatively few questions about her adoption or China.
As internationally adoptive parents, we have assimilated our children’s heritage and cultures, making them part of all of us. For the most part, we feel we are succeeding – as well as white parents of transracially adopted children can.
Sherrie Eldridge has written a wonderful book, a guide for adoptive parents, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. She covers many of the emotional complexities that adopted children and their families deal with.
One such chapter resonates deeply with me. It addresses how the adopted child keeps part of herself hidden in an attempt to integrate all of the biological and adopted elements of her identity to make herself whole. Though Josi appears whole, as her mother, I know she isn’t. She’s eleven; it’s impossible for her to have integrated all of this. She doesn’t verbalize it, but, by pushing away her heritage, culture and the topic of adoption, she is not integrating parts of her.
Eldridge points out, that, as an adopted parent it is your responsibility to recognize what parts of your child’s identity are not well integrated. When you realize what they are, you can then help her towards her goal of inner wholeness. By encouraging self disclosure, showing unconditional openness, support, and love you help her to gain control over the mystery and pain of her past.