In the world of adoption and foster care, we often talk about transracial and transcultural families; those families made up of members representing different ethnic groups or racial backgrounds. But, in truth, while many adoptive families are transracial, all families are transcultural. Even in families where there is no history of foster care or adoption, no two individuals are identical (not even “identical” twins!).
There may be overlap, at times, in the way family members think about or respond to something, or how they identify themselves (e.g., “We’re Smiths!”), but each person’s individuality sets them apart.
For families who have adopted, the cultural differences are sometimes subtle, as in the case of a family who has adopted a child of the same race as their own. While they may share the same race, there are often differences in socioeconomic status, ethnic background, or customs and traditions. In other families, those differences may be more apparent, say, for example, when a family has adopted a child of a race or ethnic group that is visibly different from their own. While race, heritage, and ethnicity are all components of culture, there is much more to the definition of culture.
Culture is something that is crafted by and comprised of people. A nation can have a culture, as can a religious group, a business, or a family. Culture can include language, food, art, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among other things. It is the structure that forms how a particular group of people behave or live.
With a definition so broad, it is safe to conclude that culture is all around us. It is in the way we speak, how we approach adversity or happiness, and it helps to define the way we carry ourselves day in and day out. Culture can look different depending on where we are and who we are with. Cultural differences are not always tangible, but they can be. And there may be times when we need to step back to explore how we can understand and embrace differences between our own culture and the culture of another.
So, where do you begin to explore culture with your own children and family members? While there is truly no “right answer,” it’s often recommended to introduce the topic as soon as possible. There are so many points of exploration when it comes to culture, you will likely spend a great deal of time exploring together as a family, in addition to the time you each may spend individually. You could use a variety of methods to explore culture, both your family’s as well as others, including books, movies, food, discussion, visiting familiar spaces and places, creating new traditions, or recreating and incorporating celebrations of other traditions
In the pages of this issue of Partners, we hope you’ll find stories and ideas that will help you and your family begin to explore more about your own cultural roots – as individuals, and as a family unit. Together you can all learn to embrace your individuality, your family culture, and the cultures of others. Be prepared to be surprised, inspired, and to let your
children and family lead and teach you new things. Just as, in the words of Ghandi, “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and soul of its people,” so does a family’s culture reside in the hearts and souls of each family member – birth, foster, or adopted.