by Sheryl Salloum
As adoptive parents who began our journey with our application to adopt almost 25 years ago, we’ve seen some changes along the way. One of those changes has been regarding the adoption of children of First Nations ancestry into non- First Nations homes.
Our first adoption was a child of First Nations ancestry, and we were given very little information about his birth mother’s community, or even about how to support his culture. Fast forward a few years and his half brother joined us.
When Kelly Martin brought home her 21-month-old daughter, Kendall, there were all the common new-parent concerns: “How will I ever cut such tiny nails?” laughs Kelly. But Kendall is Haitian, and caring for black skin and hair was to be an additional learning experience for Kelly. Undaunted, she says, “I knew it was something I would have to learn.”
Having grown up in a multiracial family, multiculturalism has always been a part of my life— and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. My parents have always encouraged us to develop individual identities and to stand tall and proud of who we are. It is true that every member of my family has a different self-identity; however, that is something that contributes to our family interactions and understandings. My family deeply loves one another and our differences have made us more accepting and liberal people.
Incorporating cultural traditions in your new family
Adopting a child is a time to celebrate. But beyond the initial celebration of the arrival of your new child, how can you incorporate new traditions and celebrations into your life? If your child has another country or culture in their background, it is important to share the learning experience of exploring their culture with them, through their own eyes. These experiences provide adopted children with a stronger sense of social and cultural identity.
Heritage camps for adoptive families
“There’s lots of brown people here!” exclaimed a 5-year-old Ethiopian girl upon arrival at E Camp last summer, an Ethopian heritage and culture camp. And as the weekend came to a close and everyone was leaving for home, that same the little girl told me, “I wish I could stay here forever.”
Last spring my daughter, Bethany, was 15 years old and loving “all things Asian.” It seemed a good time to visit her birth family in China. Armed with a powerful appetite for dim sum, and a shopping list of Anime titles (Japanese animation) she hoped to find in Hong Kong, Bethany joined me on her first visit back in 10 years.
Last week, my husband and I hosted a dinner with our extended family to celebrate six different birthdays that occur during the months of January and February. At this dinner, as at all of them, my sister and I look around at the 15 people there (it’s sometimes 20 or more) and marvel at the relationships around us.
It's the annual Vietnam Connection Christmas party, and we've invited new families with small children adopted from Vietnam to join us. Bemused, fellow adoptive parent David Kuefler Ter Weeme and I watch the chaos. Our group is, after all, a wildly improbable group of people. But for adoption, we'd certainly never have met. After seven years, the only common trait we’re sure of, besides children of Vietnamese heritage, is stubborn individuality.
Generally, grown men shouldn’t cry in public. Particularly not in Tim Hortons on a Friday night. But here I am, holding back tears with my laptop open and my coffee cooling. Five minutes ago I was typing away happily, and now, here I am, writing this.