An Adoptive Parent Writes:
My husband and I (both Caucasian) just adopted a newborn baby girl whose mother is also Caucasian, and whose father was African-American. The only real contact our child’s birth mother had with the birth father was during the time of conception—we (the adoptive parents) don’t know who he is, where he comes from, or what his cultural heritage might be (African-American is, I believe, a very vague term…Both Africa and America are big places with so many different cultures!).
My husband and I value diversity and embrace principles of cultural competency as well. We have sought out diverse cultures, friends and experiences for ourselves and our eldest daughter (by birth). I know that throughout her life, our new daughter will share, for better or worse, experiences with others who have skin of a similar shade. That said, the cultural influences in her family (i.e. her parents and older sibling, their extended families, and the family of her birth mother) are primarily European. My daughter will inherit many challenges because of the genes of her birth father, but it seems to me that she will be missing many of the gifts that might have accompanied these challenges—a richness of culture and a sense of identity being among them. I would like to give my daughter some of these things, but in the absence of real knowledge about who her father was, any attempt at bringing in any African or African- American identity would seem (to me, at least) artificial.
Is it enough to teach, seek and embrace diversity and cultural competency (including care to include others who look like our daughter in our lives) and not forge a more direct link with the African/African-American heritage by which others will identify her? People of all skin colors can be from anywhere in the world—is it more important for our daughter to identify with others of her skin color, or to identify with the culture and heritage of her own family (us)? In other words, should I plan to give our daughter a culture other than my own?
John Raible Answers:
Yes and yes: it is important for your child to identify with the (former) culture of your family AND it is important for her to have ample opportunities to learn about her birth culture(s). I say “former” culture for a reason. Now that your adopted child is part of your family, it might be helpful to start including her birth culture(s) in the way you describe your family’s (new) culture.
Your daughter and her children and future descendants will be able to trace their lineage to both cultures. It’s time for you as parents to embrace your daughter’s culture as every bit a part of your family’s culture, and stop thinking of hers as somehow separate.
Don’t make your child choose which culture to identify with (as if she could). YOU make the choice to become multicultural. Now, how will you do that? Who can coach you, mentor you, and teach you? Where will you find the adults to fulfill the educational need you have identified? The education is not only for your daughter; ideally, it should involve the whole family.