When we talk about someone’s heritage, we are referring to anything that can be passed down from one generation to the next. Physical possessions, genetic traits, historical landmarks, special ways of preparing food, customs, and beliefs can all be part of someone’s heritage. Traditions are specifically the customs and beliefs that are passed from generation to generation. Traditions are especially important for adoptive families. They help create bonds between family members and keep our families tight knit throughout the years.
Some adoptive families choose to integrate their children into pre-existing family traditions. The adoptive family’s heritage and traditions become the child’s new heritage. Other families choose to incorporate elements of the heritage and traditions of the child’s birth country into their family traditions.
Incorporating traditions from your child’s birth country
One New Beginnings mom who brought her two sons home from Poland said, “We want to embrace our sons’ Polish heritage as well as teach them our heritage and creating new family traditions that we can share.” Choosing to share ethnic traditions from their child’s country of origin can be great ways for your child to learn more about his unique adoption story and can also help your child connect his past with his present.
However, incorporating these traditions can be a bad idea if it makes the child feel different. Some children don’t want to be treated differently than their peers. They want to wear the same clothes, eat the same foods, and have traditions similar to those of their friends. Also, it’s important to remember that some of these children don’t have fond memories of their birth countries. These were the places they were abused and institutionalized, and we don’t them to be bombarded by those painful memories, especially during our family bonding time.
Bringing your child into pre-existing family traditions
Grafting your child into your own holiday traditions can establish a sense of belonging by communicating that you see him as no different than your other children. He can be at peace knowing that the orphanage he grew up in and everything else about his old life is far away on the other side of the world.
However, some children may be sensitive to the fact that they were not part of your family’s past. Your child may regret that he was not able to share in those past experiences. After all, he wasn’t there when Aunt Laura came to visit and you all played Old Maid three years ago. He was also very far away when his brother got a bike for Christmas last year. The fact that he missed out on these family times may make him sad.
What’s important is that you are sensitive to your child’s needs. Ask your child what traditions you should add or whether the traditions you have need to be altered. If your traditions need to change, be flexible enough to let them go. Traditions are meant to strengthen the bonds between family members and that can only happen if everyone is safe and happy. So our advice is, do what you feel is best for your child and your family. Put their needs before what others say you should do and before your own desires.