Different Worlds, One Family by Kristin Orphan

Different Worlds, One Family
by Kristin Orphan

When you say “football,” a
very different image comes to mind depending on who you are.  What about the term vet?  What do you think of? You may have thought of
a veterinarian or someone who served in a war.
It really depends on your
perspective and where you came from. 
What do you think or feel when you hear the term “forever family.”
Consider a foster or adopted child who just joined your family.  What might they think when they hear that
same term?
We each view life from a
unique lens.
We often think of culture in
terms of ethnicity or country of origin. 
This is a key influencer and very important part of our identities.  Culture also refers to other influential social
factors.
Culture is a term used by
social scientists for the way people live. 
It includes art, beliefs, customs, institutions, inventions, language,
technology and values. 
People learn a culture by
growing up in a particular family and community.  Culture includes all areas of life and every
person has a culture.  Each aspect of a
culture is developed by people, overtime and in response to needs and
stress.  (Family Wellness).
When you welcome a child or
youth home from a different family of origin, really no matter the age, they
bring with themselves the different aspects of the culture they were born in
and raised in up to this point. 
Sooner or later these aspects
will emerge and create tension in the family. 
Ultimately, I believe that differences can produce strength and enrich a
family.  This takes time and work in
bringing together different worlds into one family.
As foster adoptive parents,
we all come with expectations, world-views and hopes.  It is perfectly natural.  It is also very important that we examine the
origin and purpose of those expectations.
Expectations and cultural
perspectives are powerful.  We are the
only ones who can identify what our expectations truly are, and look for ways
of either satisfying them or learning to let them go. 
The first step in this
process is to be aware of who we are and where we are coming from: our
culture.  Having perspective on the
origin of our values and expectations is a crucial element in being a confident
individual who can relate to another person in a respectful, healthy way.
What do we think is the right
way of doing something?   Why do we
respond the way we do to certain situations or comments? What are the core
values that are informing these strong opinions? 
Human beings are complex,
dynamic creatures.  We are influenced by
our DNA, environment, and experiences.
What seems typical and normal
to one person may be foreign and strange to another. 
Food and language are just
two examples of characteristics that may define our culture.  I’m not only referring to different ethnic
languages, like French or Spanish, but also what we consider acceptable
language.
My son is going to the
University of Alabama in the fall.  He
will be expected to say, “yes, sir and yes, ma’am” when addressing his
elders.  Try that in New York or
California and most people are going to think you’re being sarcastic. 
What about the words, “I love
you?”  Some people say them very easily
and often.  Like, “Bye mom, love
you.”  Others may be just as close in
relationship, but these words are reserved for more intimate, special occasion
settings.
Once we have had the
opportunity of reflecting on who we are and how we’ve been influenced, it is
very important that we also discover who our children are and what have been
the influences in their lives. Many times we relate to our children based on
our illusions or expectations of them. We want to see in them the person we
hoped for, not taking into account the person they really are. 
Our children live under the
heaviness of this disappointment in addition to their own grief from losing
their biological family.  In this hectic
life it is worth it to stop and reflect on who each one of our children are,
and most importantly, listen to them telling us who they are.
Where they are coming
from.  What have they experienced?  What did their world look like and feel like
before?  What was their neighborhood
like? 
Growing our families through
foster care or adoption will change our family culture.  I had the naïve idea when we entered this
journey many years ago that I was bringing children into my culture and that
they would adapt accordingly. 
I’m glad I was wrong, but the
shift in mindset has rocked my world. I had to choose to step outside of my
cultural norms, family traditions and even my natural personality traits, in a
pursuit to provide a home where each person is taken into account and everyone
makes a contribution to the whole.  My
values have not changed, but many of my methods have. 
We are most successful when
we make these adjustments as a whole family, rather than placing unrealistic
expectations on our kids to do all of the changing.  Sometimes, due to traumatic past experiences
or development delays, they simply cannot. 
We have to look for new and
creative ways to satisfy our values and take into account their special
circumstances.  The more flexible we can
be, the less we risk breaking.
We have to look for new and
creative ways to satisfy our values and take into account their special
circumstances.  The more flexible we can
be, the less risk of breaking.