International adoption

Exploring Your Family’s Culture

Cultural Competence Continuum, Understanding and Connecting with Birth Families

That’s just the way it’s done in my family.”, is an oft repeated phrase whether people are talking about the way to cook chicken or celebrate their favorite holiday. Our “family culture” is a unique blend of influences, culled from family history, our geographic location, our race and ethnic make up and our religious community.

In open adoption, two family cultures come together to provide for the needs and to shape the life of an adopted child. Differences in these family cultures can sometimes cause confusion and mis-communication if they are not explored and acknowledged. The following questions are to help you understand your own family culture.

1. How do you define your family’s race?

  • Are there any traditions, customs, holidays or social norms/expectations that you feel are defined as a part of your race?
  • Are there foods that you eat that are unique to your race?

2. How do you define your family’s ethnic heritage?

  • Are there any traditions, customs, holidays or social norms/expectations that you feel are defined as a part of your heritage?
  • Are there foods that you eat that are unique to your heritage?

3. What area of the country did you grow up in?

  • Are there local traditions, customs, holidays or social norms/expectations that are a part of your family’s make up?
  • Are there local foods that are part of your regular diet?

4. What is your religious background?

  • Do you feel it effects how you view the world?
  • Are their holidays/days of observance that are specific to your religion?

 5. How do you define “family”?

  • Do you include aunts, uncles and cousins? Just your siblings and parents? Do you include close friends?
  • How often do you see your family?
  • How often do you call one another?
  • What is your family’s size?

6. What were the most important values you were taught growing up?

  • Are they the same values you hold today? If not, how do they differ?
  • Do they still effect how you view the world?

7. How does your family celebrate birthdays?

  • Do you send cards? Get together? Give gifts?
  • Are there any birthdays that get “special attention”?

8. How are holidays celebrated?

  • Are there some holidays that are extra special in your family? If so, what do you feel you do that sets it apart?
  • Do you have any holidays that are unique to your family?

9. How is gift giving handled in your family?

  • Do you give homemade presents?
  • Do only the children receive presents?

10. How would you define your family’s way of communicating?

  • Quiet, and polite?
  • Loud and boisterous?

11. How are conflicts settled in your family?

  • Are conflicts talked about openly?
  • Are they kept between the two people in conflict?

12. How are family difficulties handled?

  • Does your family have a lot of secrets or are they discussed openly?
  • Have you seen this change over time or generations?

13.  How is affection expressed?

  • Are you a “huggy” family?
  • Is affection expressed by word or action?)

14. What role does humor play in your family?

15. Is your family competitive?

  • If so, in what ways is this expressed? (sports, intellectually?)

16. How does your family handle loss?

  • Is it grief expressed and supported?
  • Or are you expected to keep a stiff upper?
  • Are children included in funerals, serious illnesses, even the loss of a family pet?

17. How were “difficult” emotions, like anger, jealousy, sibling rivalry, and sadness handled?

  • Where there acceptable ways to express these emotions?
  • Were there some emotions more acceptable than others?

18. Where there any special challenges that anyone in your immediate or extended family faced?

  • Mental or chronic illness, substance abuse, legal difficulties, disability?
  • How did your family respond to these challenges?

19. What kinds of behaviors, accomplishments and activities were honored in your family?

  • What extra curricular activities were encouraged?
  • What was your family’s philosophy about education? Were good grades rewarded? If so, how?
  • Were family members allowed to have things they did not excel in?

20. If you are a part of a blended family, were all connections honored and respected?

  • Did you ever feel like you had “split-loyalties”?
  • Was there ever any confusion or distress over where you “belonged”?
  • How do you feel being part of a blended family has enriched your life?

21. How does your family talk about money?

22. How does your family talk about sex?

23. If you are married,

  • What is one adjustment you have had to make with your spouse or their family?
  • What is one way your life has been enriched or broadened from your spouse or their family?

Source: Brenda Romanchik (adapted from Carol Demuth), AFFCNY Workshop presentation by Sue Badeau.

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