Learning about your culture causes bad identity issues

Don’t you just love these kinds of comments? This was in response to "Beyond the Lion Dance" on the Relative Choices blog.

I think that overemphasizing the fact that they came from China, taking them to Chinese classes for the purpose of learning about ‘their own culture’ is a disservice to them and to because it undermines your parent-child relationship with them and will ultimately cause bad identity issues as time passes.

On the other hand, there is nothing inherently bad about learning Chinese, in fact in this day and age, the fact that your daughters are learning Chinese from a young age will most likely benefit them in the long run.

Well which is it? Beneficial or a disservice?

How much you wanna bet this guy knows nothing about adoption? Or race? Or being non-white in America?

What is it with John Q. Public and others who feel the need to use scare tactics by saying that teaching their transnationally adopted children about their culture will "undermine the parent-child relationship"?

Identity issues are a normal part of life. We can look at Erik Erikson’s developmental stages and see that adolescence is a time when most human beings go through some kind of identity "crisis." And this is an important and integral part of growth. "Growing pains" means many things. We may physically experience them in our joints and limbs when we encounter a big growth spurt. We often learn a lot about who we are and what we are capable when we encounter crisis or hardships of some kind.

I think that we are living in a time of parental hypervigilance and hypersensitivity to the dangers our children are going to face in their lives. But we just can not protect them from everything – nor should we. We can’t be running after them with mattresses in order to prevent them from experiencing any pain if they fall. Some day our kids are going to experience pain. What we need to be doing is allowing them to experience painful things and be there for them to support them and teach them about how to handle adversity.

Transracial adoptees will likely face identity crisis at some point in their life, if not at several different points. Frankly, I think adoptive parents should expect it to happen and be prepared for it to show up at different times in their kids’ lives – adolescence especially but also when they leave the home, get married, and if they have children.

When I read research studies that show that transracial adoptees have "positive adjustment outcomes" or do not have "identity issues regarding racial identity" I am immediately suspect. I think it is NOT "normal" for transracial adoptees to come through their childhood and adolescence completely unscathed from feeling like an "outsider within." That is not to say that they must be screwed up or have psychological problems – but I just don’t believe it’s "normal" to grow up, regardless of adoptive status, without any identity growing pains.

Adoptive parents who adopt transracially should expect that their child will have some "growing pains" regarding racial and adoptive identity. Growing up without growing pains suggests – to me – stunted growth.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

7 thoughts

  1. The last line is this post is so powerful.
    I think you’ve touched upon so many critical issues in this post. One of the parts that resonated with me the most was about parents taking extreme measures to try and protect their children from getting hurt. I recently read on an adoption forum where an AP wrote about how she hoped that her 1 year-old daughter (adopted transracially) would never get teased, feel “that” out of place or be the target of racism, discrimination or prejudice – and that she (the parent) would do her best to prevent all of it. At the risk of sounding judgemental, I can’t help but think that her energies and efforts would be better spent trying to face the realities that her daughter WILL inevitably face and to actively work towards giving her child the language to be able to recognize, address and validate any and all situations she finds herself in throughout her life.
    It’s odd for me to reflect back and think about how much praise I’d get from others about hardly acting adopted or Asian and how prevalent that kind of praise still is. . .gee, talk about some serious internalized identity confusion. 🙂
    Great post, Jae Ran.

  2. They fool themselves! It has nothing to do with “undermining the parent-child relationship”. I think the motives of a parent with this sort of mentality are to (even if subconsciously) assimilate the child into “their OWN in every way” by ignoring their inherent differences. As if that were even remotely possible. This mentality is dangerous, particularly for a transnationally adopted child but really for ANY adopted child.
    Have a great day Jae Ran!

  3. I heard an AP once say “we are colorblind in our house ~ we don’t even notice she is Chinese anymore” WHAT???? Oh my gosh…do you think by pretending that she will not notice either and no one else will. And are they in fact saying there is something wrong with being Chinese?? In our house we are certainly not colorblind….why would we want to be when there are so many beautiful colors out there!!
    Great post as always : )

  4. I thought it was so sad that people just don’t get it. My daughter may not be accepted to actually live in China, but she is very accepted by the Chinese people here where we live. She loves going to the Chinese church and playing with her Chinese friends. She doesn’t have the discomfort around Chinese adults that other Chinese adoptees do. And she loves being in dances in the big Chinese New Year festival they have here, and seeing her picture in the paper. Yes, its not always convenient for me, but she is happy, and feels content in herself as a Chinese person. She has a “self- identity’ as Chinese. Many Asian adoptees avoid other Asian kids because they don’t feel “real.” My daughter feels “real.” And regardless of what anyone says, when they move out of their own town, Asian adopted kids are still seen as “foreign.” I look “foreign,” and people are forever asking me “What are you?” Chinese people here think it is a good thing what we are doing for our daughter. She feels good about it. That is what is important. You can’t do it in a once a year festival. It has to be a day in /day out thing.

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