Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sense of Belonging in America part 3

I believe, whole heartedly,  that part of my job of being a parent  is to pay close attention to my own learned  judgments and prejudices to do with race, ethnicity and any ‘isms’ that you can think of, so that my daughter can understand the power of prejudice. And the power of tolerance and acceptance.
This is even more important to me as my daughter is Chinese and she is adopted.  When I decided to adopt my daughter most of my friends were very supportive of the decision.  However, there was one ‘friend’ in particular who had very strong opinions, which caused her to emphatically not tolerate the idea let alone the decision to adopt a child from China.  Needless to say, we had to part ways.  We have all grown up with our learned inherited prejudices.  I am not immune to prejudice. However, I find it very liberating whenever I  see my learned familial and societal prejudices limiting my thinking  and I am able to broaden my mind’s eye from what I assume that person to be to who that person truly is in the moment.

The deep seated need to belong, I have come to realize, brings with it an implied element of exclusion and tribalism. So recently, I have been asking myself some deep questions. And as usual the questioning has been more productive than the correct answers!   If I belong to this particular group, then what does that mean to those people outside of the group? Ie. What does it mean to me to be American? What does it mean to be British? What does it mean to my daughter to be American or Chinese or adopted?  Once I have that ‘sense of belonging’, how does it influence my identity or  my relational experiences of competition or collaboration?

How can I help my daughter cultivate both a sense of belonging as well as a tolerance and acceptance of being different and unique?  How can I help her to grow up in an imperfect and at times intolerant world and still maintain feeling confident and good about who she was and who she is and who she will become?

Maintaining ground and balance in all I do and practice every day as a parent, is tiring and at times messy. As a single parent there is no one else to bounce off those important questions regarding raising my child.  Sometimes I can get exhausted and lost and I have to sit down quietly at the crossroads to be able to see what would be most helpful given the circumstances.  Life  is imperfect, and finding some kind of map that works for you is very important as a parent and particularly an adoptive parent. It does not really matter what map you use as long as it provides guidance, sustenance and a way to go forward and it works for you and your child.

My daughter is at that age, where she is most sensitive to wanting to be the same, and fitting in. and she is also aware of  ‘differences’ and the  judgmental opinions of others that threaten separation and can cause a life time of prejudice.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sense of belonging in America (2)

I will be honest, I feel at my core, English, even though I have now done more of my growing up in America! My daughter, because of emigrating here when she was 16 months, does not have such a challenge in being American.  For her it is more of a challenge to keep alive her Chinese culture, or keep the desire alive to participate in her Chinese roots while living her American  life. 

Then there is the English part.  My daughter calls her grandmother's house in England 'home'.  She loves England and Ireland. When she first started speaking English, she pronounced words with a 'proper English' accent!  When she first started writing she used certain English words and English spelling. I will be honest, there was part of me that was happy that she was learning to speak  'proper English'. My daughter who was born in China and lives in America is speaking her adopted mother's English!. It was a validation to me that we were deeply connected.   I also love creating with words and I love the English language and no excuses, I recognize, I have a strong judgement and prejudice about how many ‘Americans’ bludgeon their way through the beauty of  putting words together to communicate! So, taking all this into consideration, when the teachers started to mark words as mis-spelled and my daughter  got comments from class mates  about how she had a wrong pronounciation and laughed,  I took it personally!
Fortunately,  it did not take me long to recognize my own part in this mix of judgement and prejudice and how my own attachment to ‘being English and proper’ was causing a potentially painful situation for my daughter.  
Now, my daughter writes and speaks American- English because that is how everyone else communicates in her environment at school.  At home and in England she takes on English words spontaneously while speaking American, and gets affectionately irate with me when I correct her grammar!.
To reciprocate, she is now teaching me the language of texting – abbreviated communication - and I have to admit part of me is enjoying it!
I still love my Birth place, England and I consider America my home, the place where I have spent a longer period of time in my adult life, growing up.  I have at times a love - hate relationship with both my Adopted country and my Birth country and the integration of both these cultural identities continues.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sense of Belonging in America (1)

I am an immigrant, just like my daughter. How do Internationally adopted children integrate their sense of cultural identity? How can their parents help with this integration?  As an immigrant myself, I have somewhat of a unique perspective as a parent of an internationally adopted child.  I can identify with being 'different' - being from somewhere else, and understand how that feels.  I see how my own sense of belonging in America and how I have integrated,( or not ),  my own cultural identities can  impact my daughter in both a negative and a positive way.

As I write this, I am also aware that I am still in process of integrating a sense of belonging in America, even after 30 years. My daughter is Chinese and I know she will encounter prejudice for being Chinese or adopted or.......?  I see my daughter has her own unique path.. For each of us, as human beings, Cultural identity  is at the core of learning to;  tolerate differences; being aware of  prejudices and strong judgements and being aware of the climate of hate, fear and exclusivity that can be created  inside ouselves and in our societies, if left unchecked or unexplored. How else can we experience compassion and be at peace with ourselves and recognize that ultimately we are all human beings, no matter how we  look or speak?

As a parent, all I can do is try to keep the door open to different parts of my daughter's cultural identity, even when she says she is not interested, so that at some point she can return to explore those parts of herself. For instance, when opportunities arise,  I may talk about her connection to her Chinese parents, and culture or listen for opportunties to discuss prejudice.  My own personal work as her parent, (which I hope will benefit both of us),  is to stay alert to  my own prejudices and judgements about the English, American and Chinese cultures and also recognize the power of fear and sense of separation that can arise out of  prejudice and judgement in myself. This is a life long venture of accountability and exploration and integration.