Embracing Your Adopted Child’s Heritage

Illustration of a father with adopted son teaching him to play cricket
Jojo Ensslin

The house lights dimmed, and my son wiggled anxiously in his seat. Though in a typical week I can't convince him to change his socks more than once, for this special evening he requested a haircut and dressed in his finest. His beautifully embroidered garment, stitched in his native country of India, matched the ones donned by the South Asian performers onstage.

The prayer of my heart for my dark-skinned son, who is surrounded at home by paler people, has always been that he would know that the way God made him is good. These, of course, are "put your money where your mouth is" prayers. As parents, we partner with God in communicating this foundational reality.

Since our son's adoption eight years ago, I've become convinced that healthy self-acceptance develops when the reality of his experience is recognized, embraced and celebrated within our culturally blended family. Because the families who sit beside ours in church look a lot like my own pale- and dark-skinned brood, our children regularly see the beauty of cultural diversity reflected in those families as well as ours.

When an Indian-American family in our community learns all the dance moves in a Bollywood film, my son sees that being Indian is fun. When a dad at the park is teaching his kids to play cricket — a popular sport in India — my son notices that his heritage is being honored. When our family celebrates the birth of an Indian baby born to our neighbors, my son learns that the arrival is worth celebrating.

Admittedly, we've been surprised to find such a rich cadre of companions through our church and neighbors. Culturally blended families without connections to families that look like theirs, though, can honor their children's heritage in a variety of ways: intentionally choosing dolls, toys, entertainment and friendships that reaffirm cultural identity. Though it requires a bit more creativity, parents looking for these opportunities are discovering and embracing them.

Before the curtain rose on the big South Asian performance at Duke University, I'd taken my son to QuickCuts, where an Indian undergraduate student was getting a trim. I whispered to my son, "Do you want your hair cut like that cool guy?" Unremarkably, he did. At the show that evening, the crowd roared with applause for the South Asian university students. Peeking over, I saw my son being reminded again that the way God made him is good.

This article appeared in the August/September 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "Bollywood, Cricket and Barbershops." Copyright © 2012 by Margot Starbuck. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.

© 2012 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.