Meeting the In-Laws

Even at a happy occasion like a wedding, adoption can be a tricky topic. Here's what adoptive parents need to know, especially when race and culture is involved.

Korean couple preparing for an adoptive wedding

Our daughter, adopted from Korea as a baby, is engaged to a Korean-American man. We have not met her fiance or his family. Can you advise us on the first meeting and on what we should know as we plan the wedding festivities?


First, congratulations to you and your daughter! This is an exciting time, but wedding plans, new in-laws, and family dynamics can mean an emotional rollercoaster, so get ready.

This is a family-focused time, and you and your daughter may need to explain your family to these intimate strangers. Although adoption probably seems mainstream to you, that may not be the way your in-laws-to-be see it. You may be the first adoptive family they have met. Usually, it is best to address the topic right away. You may want to use humor as you introduce yourselves. If humor does not suit you, just mention your daughter’s arrival, how it “seems like only yesterday that she arrived at the airport from Korea.

In-Law Relations

Your new in-laws may ask detailed questions about the family adoption story, and about your daughter’s biological family. Adoption is not discussed much in traditional communities, so don’t be surprised if the questions you get seem intrusive or if the language used is not adoption-sensitive. Don’t let this deter an open discussion of your adoption story.

In preparing for this talk, you and your daughter should discuss all the information you have about the circumstances of her adoption and/or her birth family. Then, before meeting her fiance’s family, agree as a family what information you should share and who should share it. Don’t be surprised to learn that your daughter has not yet told her adoption story to her in-laws and is relying on you to deal with the details. After all, it may be simpler for you to explain why you adopted her, and to describe the conditions in Korea at the time of her adoption, than for her to do it.

Some adoptees, consciously or unconsciously, seek out a spouse from their culture of birth as a way of connecting to their emerging identity. Your daughter has chosen to marry a Korean American. This is not a rejection of your family and its culture, but a redefinition, or broadening, of your family’s culture.

Your new in-laws may be as culturally “American” as you are. Don’t be surprised if they do not speak Korean, own a hanbok, or eat Korean food every day. Check your stereotypes at the door before you meet them. If, however, the family turns out to be “traditionally Korean,” you should know about customs in Korean weddings and families. Weddings bring out the traditionalist in all of us.

Your conversation in the first meeting may not go beyond niceties and small talk. After you get to know one another, questions will flow both ways. Showing childhood photos of your daughter and her fiance can be a good way for your families to share the stories of their past. Adoption can be easily introduced and discussed with photos in front of you.

Incorporating New and Old

Another ice-breaker may be the story of your own weddings, complete with pictures and videos. Sharing your family traditions presents your family values and those that you want to see honored in your child’s wedding. Ask your daughter what plans she has already discussed with her in-laws, and remember that they will have their own ideas about the wedding, just as you do.

Remember that this is your daughter and son-in-law’s wedding. Their values should be central to the wedding ceremony. Many adoptees find beautiful ways to weave the traditions and cultures of their families. Clothing, food, music, vows — all can be influenced by the couple’s roots. Your daughter may want to honor both her adoptive and birth family cultures in the ceremony.

Be willing to share your daughter on this special day with all of the people who care about her and who made this day possible. An open mind and an ongoing dialogue will ensure that everyone who attends the ceremony will respect, honor, and love both of your cultures.

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