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When Connecting with Your Birth Culture Isn’t Easy: Adoptees

The complex journey of an adoptee can be challenging for anyone else to understand. The issues surrounding identity, history and your sense of self are unlike what most will experience in their own lives. 

It’s not all hard, of course. There can be love, happiness and opportunity for anyone with a loving family. Still, it’s important to acknowledge and discuss the more difficult aspects of being adopted. For a child in a transracial family or one who came into their family through international adoption, one of those difficult things can be connecting with birth culture.

We want to say, upfront, that we understand how sensitive this subject is. We acknowledge the unique experience of every person. You may not resonate with what this guide has to say. If so, that’s okay. 

If you are searching for answers about your birth culture and having a hard time connecting with it, then this article is for you. Our goal is to give you helpful tips that point you in the right direction toward growth, happiness and a more secure sense of who you are.

Why Connecting With Your Birth Culture May Be a Challenge

Culture is an ambiguous term. There’s American culture, but within that there is also Southern culture, Midwestern culture and California culture, to name a few. Within each of these there are even more distinct societal tendencies defined by age, race, gender and other demographic identifiers.

One reason you may find connecting to your birth culture difficult is that it’s not entirely clear what your birth culture is. Perhaps your adoption is closed, with no information about your birth parents, or perhaps you’re unsure of which small region in a large country you were adopted from.

This can leave you feeling a bit lost from the outset. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. It may help to know that this is a common problem, and what you are feeling is normal. 

Being adopted at a very young age presents another obstacle to connecting with birth culture. While our early years are subconsciously formative, we don’t retain too much literal memory from that time. Even if you experienced one or two years in your country of birth before being adopted, you likely don’t remember what that was like. 

There may be one feeling that is especially challenging on your journey to connect with your birth culture, and that is feeling like an outsider to your own heritage. Many adoptees struggle with feeling like a “fake,” as their whole life (at least everything they can remember) has been shaped by a culture that is drastically different from their biological heritage. 

This odd sensation can produce strong feelings of detachment and shame that are difficult to overcome. First, we want to tell you that you are not alone and that there is no reason for you to be ashamed. Second, along with the practical advice below, you should know that seeking out adoption counseling can be very helpful as you process these challenging emotions.

Practical Actions to Help Connect with Birth Culture

There are different ways to connect with your birth culture. What works best for you will depend on the unique circumstances of your life. We’d recommend the following approaches as a place to start. 

Read Books

Education is never a bad place to start. Whether your culture is a national identity, a racial heritage or an ethnic history, you can find plenty of reading material on any subject. Many books address the topic of cultural ambiguity. The more you learn, the less lost you feel. 

Watch Documentaries

Some of us are visual learners. If you find it challenging to stick with a book, take advantage of Netflix and other streaming services that have made thousands of documentaries widely available. There are plenty of lists for the best documentaries focusing on any given culture, like:

Engage in Faith Practices

Only do this if you are comfortable exploring some sort of faith. While it is becoming less and less common for Americans to identify with a specific religion, faith is at the heart of most cultures around the world. Religion has played a central role in shaping most of world history, for better or worse. 

Does your birth culture have a strong connection to a specific faith tradition? You could find a connection through learning about, and even practicing, this faith.

Travel

Travel is one of the most experiential ways you can connect with your birth culture, if you have the time and resources to visit your birth country. You may feel like a tourist in the place you were born, which is a strange sensation and somewhat unique to the adoptee experience. Still, immersion in your birth culture may bring you closer to the sense of identity you are seeking.

More Resources for Adoptees

Life as an individual who was adopted is full of joys and challenges. You’ll likely discover new impacts of adoption all the time. When you’re processing these things, it can help to have professional resources at your disposal

Below you will find links to more helpful articles, books and organizations:

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