Monday, October 03, 2005

Cross-Cultural Parenting 101

Well, I now know how to say "Where is the lavatory?" in Chinese. I also can say "Where is the" All handy traveler's questions. Now the question is: how will I understand the replies once I ask those questions? Thankfully, there will be a translator with the group of prospective Bethany parents traveling together. But I'm still working on learning a few more helpful words, like "The lavatory is at the end of the hallway" or "Around the corner."

For Lily's sake, more important than my learning Chinese, of course, is learning how to be a good parent...and learning about the specific issues involved in a cross-cultural adoption.

This will be our first parenting experience, as most of you know. (By the way, the symbols you see above are the symbols for "father" and "mother.") How do most people learn how to be parents? I suppose it's primarily from the parental models that they had in their lives. After that, there's probably a bit of "shooting from the hip." But before Julie and I strap on our holsters, we can always look to the wonderful examples our own parents set for us. Both of us were blessed with stable family environments. That will go a long way toward establishing that same type of environment for Lily. And advice is just a cell phone call or email away.

As you can imagine, there are some unique things about our situation. Our child will not look like us. Questions from others will abound. We will be stared at in the mall. We will have to sensitively teach our daughter about why she was in an orphanage in the first place. There may be no background information about her birth parents.

And then there's all the not-so-unique things that every parent in every culture faces as they raise a child.

Julie and I have been reading a number of books for our "coursework" in "Cross-cultural Parenting 101." Some times it feels like drinking from a firehose, but hopefully getting doused with all that information will pay off in the end.

Two of our favorite books so far have been A Passage to the Heart and The Lost Daughters of China. A Passage to the Heart is a collection of newsletter articles from chapters of Families with Children from China. It has a wealth of information about the adoption process, travelling tips, cultural issues, and medical advice. The Lost Daughters of China is journalist Karin Evans' description of her adoption journey, along with a poignant description of the social and political climate that has created such an overwhelming need for homes for so many little girls...and not a few boys with special needs.

Cross-cultural Adoption is a slim but great resource. The subtitle explains its contents: "How to Answer Questions from Family, Friends, and Community." It asks a series of questions, then gives a simple answer geared toward small children, and a longer tactful answer geared toward older children and adults.

We've also read The International Adoption Handbook, Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother, and Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. Attaching in Adoption is still on the desk, waiting to be opened.

Then there's also What to Expect: The First Year and What to Expect: The Toddler Years. If Lily ends up being close to 12 months old when we bring her home, we may not be spending too much time in the former volume, but the latter will probably be a constant reference for at least a few years. Which will probably feel like a whirlwind. Before you know it, she'll be dating...and then that holster will literally come in handy.

And after all this drinking from a firehose, my question is..."Where is the lavatory?"