Guest Author: Honoring Our Children's Culture

Last month Lori asked a great question in our Tuesday Topic series:

I would love to hear from your readers how they incorporate their adopted children’s culture in their family life. How do they affirm the country/culture and teach their children about it?

One issue we have in this regard is that our children are from India, a culture that involves Hinduism in a significant way. Since we are a Christian family and desire to teach the girls our values – how can we incorporate, celebrate, and teach our girls’ (and soon our son as well!) culture in a way that is honoring and respectful to their country of origin, but still teaching them our beliefs? It gets tricky!

I wondered what my blog friend, Heidi, might say to this question. She and her family are missionaries in Asia, as well as parents both by birth and adoption. I asked if she would respond to this question, and she graciously wrote this response. Be sure to visit her blog at Moms, Ministry, and More. Heidi writes beautifully and has lots of great thoughts to share.

I’ll let Heidi take it from here.

I have to tell you I felt like a celebrity when Lisa asked me to be a guest here at A Bushel and A Peck. That was until I re-read her email and discovered I had overlooked the invitation was for a serious topic (I would most rather post about my sqatty-potty-while-pregnant experiences.)

Nonetheless, I’ve (questionably) risen to the challenge to use the adult side of my brain.

I am certainly no expert. What I share comes from our unique perspective and hopefully will serve as good food for thought. I recognize these ideas are not comprehensive and space does not allow for full discussion of each “side,” but I do hope that each of us continues to broaden our perspectives as we seek to raise our precious children.

Thought 1: Incorporate culture without compromising truth…

…to the extent you can do so in good faith. We take the approach that culture is something to be celebrated. Just because something has “pagan” roots or comes from a culture that isn’t Christian does not mean that it is off-limits.

Directly across the street from our apartment building is a large and beautiful Confucius Temple complete with idols, incense, and other worship paraphernalia. The temple grounds also include a beautiful fish pond and shrubbery where I frequently take my children to play.

While at the temple, we talk to the kids about the beautiful architect of the buildings, the wonder of God’s creation, and the fact that some people worship gods not in accordance with the Bible.

We enjoy the beauty to God and enjoy the talent of man, but draw the line at burning incense to statues and participating in other idol worship. This is an example of how we are able to incorporate culture into our lives without compromising the truth.

However, we have friends who feel that being on temple grounds is wrong, so we would never ask them to go with us or do so ourselves if it caused them to stumble.

Thought 2: Be cognizant of how you assign value.

Our oldest son takes Tae Kwon Do lessons here where we live. It is not only culturally fitting but it has allowed us many inroads to share our faith with others who believe differently than we do.

At one point, another foreigner warned me that pagan ideas might be taught during the classes and I needed to evaluate whether or not it was appropriate for my child to be there. While we found no “pagan” teaching going on, we did discover that people often run from things they fear.

By running from cultural differences because of fear, we assign value to those things. We in essence tell our kids “This thing holds power and therefore should be esteemed.” As parents, we all do this and the first step is to recognize where we assign value.

With the Tae Kwon Do example, if we choose not to participate because there is an idol at the front door, then we model to our son that idols are worthy of being feared. (Plus that means we would never go out to eat, get our hair cut, go to the flower shop, etc, because idols are everywhere!!)

The same is true when my children experience discrimination and outright rejection because they are foreigners. If I model behavior that assigns value to what other people think of us and how they treat us, then I am teaching them that the acceptance and approval of people is important. I teach them that their identity is in what others think, not in who God created us to be.

Whether it be the concept of meditation or wearing certain clothing or caring what others say and everything in between, we can unconsciously and erroneously teach our children all sorts of false fears and assign value in the wrong places.

I try to be aware of my tendencies to attribute false value and instead model that culture is to be celebrated; that we can engage in cultural activities without being un-Christian; and that we don’t have to avoid false religions or intimidating circumstances and people out of fear. It all boils down to the truth that God is the only One who holds real power.

Thought 3: Don’t allow fear to make your choices.

One of the things I have encountered in the world of parenting and adoption is the thought that our children will be scarred for life if we don’t……(fill in the blank.) There are a thousand hoops we feel we have to jump through to help our kids turn out okay.

There is one simple principle my husband and I try to live our lives by and it applies to this realm of parenting too: Don’t make choices based on fear.

Wisdom? Yes.

Sensitivity? Yes.

Age-appropriateness? Yes.

BUT NOT FEAR. Period.

Thought 4: Expose all your kids to all cultures.


Because we live overseas, we try very hard to teach our children American culture. Sounds weird I know. We celebrate American holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, even though they are not celebrated here.

But we also recognize the importance of teaching each one of them all sorts of culture and religion. While I homeschooled our son, we used Sonlight curriculum (www.sonlight.com) which exposes children to the world in age appropriate ways. Even though I am not currently homeschooling, we still use the Sonlight readers to keep the world in front of our kids.

If we focus on just one or two cultures or pick Chinese culture for our adopted daughter and American culture for our biological children, we believe this singling out is one of those ways we assign value in harmful ways.

Thought 5: Help your kids establish their Identity.

We see this as really the core issue for all of our children. Since we live in a culture outside of our “own,” each of our children deal with their ethnic identities.

Our oldest son has told us that he wants black hair, not blonde, because no one else here has blonde hair.

Recent studies show that an adopted child’s ethnicity is an important part of their identity.
Okay, so it’s a fact. Ethnicity and culture play a role in who we are.

HOWEVER…

There are factors that go deeper than ethnicity in a child’s identity. Rather than focus on the ethnicity card, we try to focus on those deeper factors. (Our 4 children are all under the age of 8, so we have a head start on this one. If we were starting later in their lives it would not be so easy or clear cut.)

One way I do this is by explaining why we live overseas and telling them frequently that God wants to use them for His purposes, even now.

Another way I do this is by prayerfully selecting scriptures for them and in the morning when they wake up I “bless” them with it. For example, with my adopted daughter, I am currently using I Peter 2:9 with her. Although she is only two and a half, she knows whatever it is I’m saying is a good thing!

Here’s how I do it: I sit on the floor and draw her to me, look her in the eyes and say, “Hadassah, YOU are a chosen race. YOU are a royal priesthood. YOU are a person for God’s own possession! So that YOU, Hadassah, may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. YOU Hadassah!”

(By the way, this one verse alone is teaching me how to instill identity in my children. I’ll be sharing about that soon on my blog.)

I want my children to know that no matter where they are in the world, no matter what their skin looks like in comparison to those around them, their identity is wrapped up in a Creator God who made them for a very special purpose. He placed them where they are for a special task that only they can do.

In the meantime, it is my job to show them that in Him they are chosen, they are nobility, they belong, and they have purpose. And they need not fear!

~Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

0 Comments

  1. Luke
    December 14, 2009

    Sonlight's books are fantastic, aren't they? [smile] And yes, giving your children "a heart for the world" has been one of the major thrusts of Sonlight from the beginning.

    ~Luke

    Reply
  2. Lisa H.
    December 14, 2009

    LOTS of wisdom here! Thank you to you both!

    Reply
  3. Chris
    December 14, 2009

    Thank you Lisa! for having Heidi on your blog. Gave me lots to think about and I will be adding her blog to my growing list of BTDT's

    Reply
  4. Anonymous
    December 14, 2009

    I'm a Chinese American Christian (not adopted but hoping to adopt one day), but can I add that you might consider joining a local church that has members/families who are Indian-American? I don't know where you live but a quick search on google led me to http://www.christchurchofindia.net/in the bay area.

    While there are many aspects of Chinese culture that involve Buddhism/ancestor worship, I certainly don't find any conflict of interest in celebrating Chinese customs and being Christian. On the Chinese "Tomb sweeping day", we go to my grandparent's grave but pray and thank God for their lives instead of burning incense for them. Yet, the media seems to portray China as this big scary pagan country. The truth is, when I went and lived in Beijing for 2 months several summers ago, I met more passionate, committed local Chinese Christians than I know here in California. I suspect the same is true in India. 🙂 If you get the chance to travel there, I would suggest asking your adoption agency to find you a local church in India that you can visit on a Sunday.

    peace,

    dorothy

    Reply
  5. Stonefox
    December 14, 2009

    Some great thoughts, Dorothy. We have learned so much from the local believers here and watch how they adopt Christian practices for "pagan" holidays. The body of Christ is truly world-wide and we can pick up so much from peering in on them.

    And Lisa, you rock!

    Reply
  6. Mamita J
    December 14, 2009

    Great post.

    Reply
  7. lorismusings
    December 14, 2009

    Heidi,
    Thank you so much for your great ideas! I think I struggle because I am a very black and white person, which I think makes it hard for me to think outside the box. You know, things are either "right" or "wrong".

    I appreciate your suggestion that celebrating the holiday or visiting a place doesn't have to be about the truth someone of that faith might place in it – that it can be a beautiful part of their cultural background and a teaching opportunity.

    I asked the question because I truly want to know how to teach my Indian children about their culture and to see value in it, not just for them, but for our entire family.

    We are nearly two years into our adoption journey with the girls and there are still so many things that we need to learn about!

    Thank you Dorothy for the idea of finding believers of their ethnicity. We actually have pursued that a bit, but need to more. We didn't have a chance to visit a Christian church when we were in India the last time, but we will make it a priority this time when we go pick up our son.

    Heidi, I absolutely LOVED your idea of blessing your child with a scripture every morning! I am going to have to do that.

    Thank you Lisa for pursuing this topic even further – I REALLY appreciate it!

    The one thing I have loved about adoption is how much is stretches us and teaches us in ways we never would have guessed. They don't cover all this in pre-adoption education!

    Reply
  8. Jen
    December 15, 2009

    I just clicked over from Heidi's blog. Your blog interests me in many ways. We are Americans who live in S. Africa working with orphans who have been affected by HIV/AIDS.

    We are in the states right now enjoying a bit of a sabbatical. Right before we left SA we found out that adoption laws are changing there and might be opening up for us to adopt. When we go back in a few months, I'm excited to explore it more!

    Reply
  9. thedomesticfringe
    December 17, 2009

    Wonderful words of wisdom for us Heidi!

    -FringeGirl

    Reply

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