Parents immersing themselves in adopted children’s culture

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Editor’s note: this story pairs with “White parents raising kids of a different race: an inside look”

Cardell Jacobson has dedicated his professional life to studying interracial relationships, whether in society, between husband and wife or between parents and children.

When it comes to raising children of different races, the BYU sociologist insisted the most important thing a parent can do is immerse themselves in their children’s cultural heritage. He said it can even be harmful to not expose them.

“Here (in Utah), they may be just an interesting kid in the ward, but they’re going to grow up and experience racism in their own culture,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said children require more than just exposure — they require immersion. Parents need to be involved as well, especially when it comes to learning and teaching about racism.

“We don’t understand the pervasiveness of racism (in Utah),” Jacobson said. “They need to become involved themselves, the parents; not just trying to involve their children.”

That dedication to cultural immersion, Jacobson said, is really what cultivates healthy, happy children in transracial families.

“The parents that do it the best are the parents that involve the kids in their own cultures,” he said.

Maia Hardman is African-American and the adopted daughter of Daniel and Linda Hardman. She grew up in Utah, but she spent some time as a teenager living in Oklahoma with a relative. She made a concerted effort to spend time with other African-American teenagers but initially had a negative experience.

Maia did not respond to a call for a comment, but her parents recalled what she told them. Linda said other kids gave Maia a hard time for things like “speaking white.”

Back home, Linda and Daniel tried to help their children feel connected to their different cultural heritages.

“We went to great efforts to take our kids to black hair salons,” Linda said. “We would take them to different places to have it done right.”

As the Hardmans’ kids have grown older, some of them have made a stronger personal effort to connect with their culture, all supported by their parents.

The Hardmans paid for their daughter, Lauren, to take a trip to Haiti, her native country. Since then, Lauren has become much more interested in her culture. She listens to Haitian music and cooks Haitian food regularly.

“As soon as I got home, I wanted to go back,” Lauren said.

However, the experience wasn’t perfect because Lauren couldn’t speak the language. That’s one thing Lauren said she wishes her parents had helped her with.

“I wish they would have made more of an effort (with Haitian Creole) — just some words, at least,” Lauren said.

Of course, not every child has that desire.

BYU social work professor Jini Roby thinks it’s better to not impose any sort of “culture” on an adopted child — whether it’s their cultural heritage, racial identity or the culture of their adopted parents.

“I think that some adopted parents are so anxious for their children to become ‘just like them’ that they really refuse to have the child be exposed in any way to the culture that they came from,” Roby said. “But at the same time, I think that some parents are so anxious for (their adopted children) to keep tied to their culture, original culture, that they don’t allow the child to develop their own independent identity. It doesn’t have to be an either-or kind of scheme.”

Martin and Janet Monks laughed when they recalled their efforts to help their adopted Chinese daughter, Kylie, connect with her cultural heritage.

“We tried with the whole Chinese thing because we thought, ‘Oh, that’s really important,'” Janet said. “It seemed the older she got, the less interested she became in Chinese culture.”

Janet said she spoke with another friend who had adopted a few children from India about cultural immersion. Her friend said some of her children were interested in their heritage, while others wanted nothing to do with it.

For Janet, that was an important lesson.

“She just kind of left it up to the child,” Janet said. “You offer it to them.”

Dylan Hardman, an African-American teenager, is one of Daniel and Linda’s adopted children. He thinks his parents did a good job teaching him about his culture because they gave him the freedom and resources to explore it on his own.

“They let me choose what I wanted,” he said.

Roby, who was adopted from Korea when she was 14, said she picks the best parts from many cultures to adopt into her life and feels she is a citizen of the world.

“I think raising adopted children is raising a whole person,” Roby said, “and I think it’s important that parents give their children the space and freedom to do that.”

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