Creating and nurturing transcultural families.
Since her arrival in America, Avery Thielman has taken Chinese culture classes at a Central Ohio church.
Avery's parents, Christine and Ron Thielman, want the 6-year-old to maintain a connection with the country where she was born.
The couple, who are Hilliard residents, adopted Avery when she was 14 months old. They are active members in Central Ohio Families with Children from China, a support group that promotes cultural awareness. The group gathers to celebrate important Chinese holidays and other events, said Mrs. Thielman.
"You want your child to grow up proud of their country," said Thielman, whose mother was Japanese. "They should be proud of their heritage."
It's the right approach, said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York. Research shows that children who have connections to their place of birth have a more positive self identity and higher self esteem, said Pertman.
"Everybody needs to know who they are and where they come from," Pertman said. "It's no less true for adopted children."
Families foster those connections by celebrating the holidays of their children's birth country, preparing traditional foods, and learning the stories and traditions of the culture. Some families even send children to culture camps or make visits to their homelands.
The key is incorporating the child's culture into the fabric of their lives, Pertman said. "It's not about one-shot deals," he said. "It has to be part of their daily life."
Adhra Young and her husband work hard to make Ethiopian culture part of the "the air we breathe." The Bexley couple, who are Caucasian, adopted their 5-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter from Ethiopia four years ago.
Young started a support group for families who have adopted children from Ethiopia. The group works together to help their children maintain ties to their birth country. She also has learned to prepare Ethiopian foods and celebrates Ethiopian holidays with her family.
The couple was excited to add new cultural traditions to their family. "We were happy to embrace a transcultural element," Young said.
The family also has made friends within the Central Ohio Ethiopian community and sought out African-American professionals to serve as role models for the kids.
"We make sure they have some allies who look like them," Young said.
Focusing on the culture also creates opportunities for adopted children to make friends with kids who are in the same situation, Thielman said. "Having somebody you can relate to is just as important as learning about your culture."