Foster and adoptive families are far from the traditional family unit in many ways. The biggest difference is that our children come from two families. How do we help them embrace their own identity as they grow into adulthood?
We are a multiracial, multigenerational, multicultural family. We have our own identity as a family, and it is unique to us. It includes the things we laugh at, the movies we watch, our traditions, and our inside jokes. It includes a set of values and expectations we live by. This is a very important part of our identity, but it is not our entire identity.
In any family, two separate units join under one roof. In an adoptive family, each person brings a little piece of something else to the table. In our home, we are African, Scottish, Irish, German, and Italian. We have lived in trailers, apartments, large homes, and tiny homes. We have lived in rural areas, urban areas, and suburban areas. When we come together, each person brings his or her own history. Our identity is a compilation of all that makes us who we are. It is the label we put on ourselves.
All children are trying to find their place in the world. It is in our DNA to discover who we really are. For children who are adopted, the possibilities for identity are endless. All people tug and push and pull at the things that define us throughout life. My identity is different than it was when I was twenty, and it is different from when I was ten. Parents can support children as they find and embrace their own identities. We can empower them to see value in themselves in all circumstances. Here’s how:
- Ask. We empower our children by asking questions that help them think on their own. A simple question, such as “What do you think about that?” allows our children to value their own opinion. Asking “Why do you think that?” helps your child stretch their ability to think through things.
- Listen. Listen to the answer even if it is not exactly what you want to hear. Listen even if it’s not exactly who you are. If your child embraces the culture of their birth, listen. If they are walking, talking, dressing, or thinking like a group of people they identify with, listen. Be open as they find where they fit in.
- Offer exposure to like-minded people. Especially in transracial adoptive families, exposure to people who are similar to our children is vital. Our children should see themselves reflected in the people around them. We can help by exposing our children to people who look and talk like them. If your child speaks a different first language, provide a place for them to use the language of their birth. If your child is from a rural area and you have moved to an urban area, allow your child to spend time in the country.
- Embrace them. Children learn self-empowerment when the adults in their lives embrace them. If the child loves science, embrace that. If the child is a social butterfly, embrace that. Let your child know you delight in them no matter what. Assure your child that no matter where they fit in society, they will always fit in your home and your family. A solid identity comes first from a solid foundation at home.
The most important thing you can do (if you’re wondering what to do now) is start! Even if this has slipped off your radar in the past, or not even shown up, that’s okay. Open your heart and mind. Listen and learn. And start today!
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