For the past 6 years, my husband and I have been navigating the multiracial parenting world together. We have two daughters, a 6 year old and a 6 month old. We have had to learn to parent children that will have different experiences than our own childhoods. There are so many issues I could touch on, but I will share only the biggest issues that we have faced in our family. Raising Multiracial Children: A Parent’s Guide is my perspective on how to navigate issues that arise in a multiracial family.
“Having a first child is like swallowing an intoxicating drink made of equal parts joy and terror, chased with a bucketful of transitions nobody ever tells you about.”
― John Medina, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
Raising Multiracial Children: A Parent’s Guide
To give you a background of the specifics of our family; my husband is African-American and he is from a small town in North Carolina. He has moved all over the United States in the military as an adult. I am Caucasian and grew up in San Diego. I did my undergrad in Los Angeles and my teaching credential in northern San Francisco before I moved overseas. So not only are we multi-racial, we are a multi-cultural family as well. Most of what we knew about each other’s hometowns was from stereotypes portrayed on television.
Our Family Story
My husband and I met in Turkmenistan (Central Asia). He was the only African-American in the city we lived in. He was treated well for the most part, but everywhere we went people stared, took pictures, and asked if he knew Michael Jordan. Most attention was harmless curiosity, but the color of his skin was not ignored. We continued to move around the world together for work, and had our first daughter in Cairo, Egypt.
In Cairo, my husband’s dark complexion meant he was treated with great respect. His features were considered to be from the royal line of Upper Egypt. As we walked around the bazaars and streets of Cairo, we were stopped by many with comments about us as an interracial couple. They were all positive, but again, the color of my husband’s skin and the fact he had a Caucasian wife was a reason to be stopped by strangers and asked very personal questions every single day.
Being “Colorblind” is Not Acceptable
Once we had our oldest daughter, the issues that we would face as an interracial couple increased. My husband and I were confronted by an onslaught of issues that we had never navigated before. We also were living in post-Soviet countries where the majority of the population was white. Many people we encountered had only seen an African-American on television, never in real life.
When we moved to Eastern Europe to Ukraine and Latvia with our daughter, everyone wanted to touch her curly hair, ask if she was adopted, or if she was REALLY our biological child. There was a night where a group of teenagers made monkey noises at us when we walked through the park. I was once even asked if I was raped by a black man.
While many still say they raise their children as “color blind”, that is not the reality for me and my family. I was confronted with race on a daily basis, and was forced to figure out how to have courageous conversations about race long before I wanted to with my daughter.
Global Experiences with Race
Then we moved to Mauritania in West Africa. I had the false expectation that we would not have to deal with racism as often. The majority of people living there were my daughter’s complexion (called White Moors). I was dead wrong. Kids 3 and 4 years old told my daughter her dad was ugly because he was too dark. These awful assumptions were due to the caste system where dark-skinned people were slaves and light-skinned people were slave owners. No one crossed the line. One day, while walking with my African-American friend in the grocery store, the cashier gave her my bags at the checkout because she was assumed to be my slave. Yes, in 2017 there are still countries where slavery exists.
Even when we moved back to the D.C. area, we lived in a mostly African-American suburb and I was aware of the looks and stares I got every time I walked outside with my mixed child. It was very apparent that our family dynamics were noticed and we were treated negatively. People ignored my questions in the grocery store, parents in the park would not let their kids play with mine.
From living in these places, I got a small taste of the issues my husband has faced his whole life. I had a new level of empathy to the subtle and overt ways he experienced racism or microaggressions on a daily basis. I had new admiration for him as well as friends and family to see how resilient and patient they must have to be in situations I will never have to experience as a Caucasian. It crushed me to know that my daughters would also experience this kind of hateful behavior and there would be nothing I could do to stop it.
Teach Your Kids their History
Family relationships and structure have changed drastically in the past 50 years, however there are still very real stereotypes that need active work to change. If you Google the “All-American couple” or watch popular movies and shows, they refer to an “All- American” as a person who is blond and blue-eyed. The same is true overseas; as we lived and traveled all over the world, people were shocked to meet an American who is a person of color.
My husband and I have both done our research for our ancestry. My family comes from Germany and England. When my maternal ancestors came to the United States, the came to Lancaster, PA, then moved to New Kent County, VA. New Kent County had one of the highest populations of slave owners in America. Sometimes the truth is ugly, but it must be a part of our conversations with our multiracial children.
Tracing Your Ancestry
My husband’s ancestry can be traced back to 1805 to the slave owner that first owned his relatives in North Carolina. A DNA test shows that 80% of his DNA comes from Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire where his ancestors were taken on slave ships to America.
When we lived in West Africa, we visited Goree Island in Senegal and Juffereh, Gambia (from Alex Haley’s Roots). As we walked through the slave holdings where so many Africans lost their families, their dignity, and for many their lives, I experienced great shame, while I could see my husband was angry. Even now it brings me to tears to experience such a divide in our relationship, and then have to explain these conflicting emotions to our daughter.
Fast forward to last year when our family attended the Grand Opening Ceremony of the National African American Museum of History and Culture. There were so many “why” questions in seeing the art, the displays, the graphic details of the stories. As difficult as it is to travel to slave holdings, we face it head on. We follow up those hard conversations with positive stories about those who fought for abolishing slavery and civil rights. We will teach our girls about the freedom fighters who gave their lives so that our multiracial family can exist safely today. There is still so far to go in diversity and equality and the world is not “colorblind” as so many people love to project. I know my daughters can affect change like so many of the heroes and sheroes of the past.
Children Should Not Have to Choose A Side
Here is where reading books, going to cultural events, after school activities are all SO important. Representation matters so when choosing books, toys, movies, etc., we actively seek out biracial characters that look like my daughters. We do this so our children are not forced to “choose a side”. I want my daughters to see role models, book characters, classmates, after school activity groups look like them. My girls are mixed, so are their dolls.
Getting Help from Mixed Families in Hollywood
Thanks to one of my favorite television shows of all time, the I Love Lucy show, interracial couples were first shown in Hollywood. Now they are commonplace in television (Modern Family, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, etc.) The I Love Lucy show was ground breaking for many reasons. One being the premise of a normal married couple who happened to be interracial. They went to work, argued over dinner, got into predicaments that made us all laugh, but they also navigated through struggles due to their race.
For example, Lucy didn’t want Ricky teaching their child “a poor English accent”. They talked about the difficult issues their particular marriage experienced, even though it was uncomfortable. But then they went back to normal day-to-day issues like all married couples do. I cannot wait for the day when “diverse books” are not a niche, but marketed to the mainstream audience.
Teaching Kids to Be Resilient
We are not going to require that EVERY book our daughters read or friend they choose to play with has to be focused on race. We want to show them how to be empathetic, strong, wise, and responsible global citizens, while also giving them the tools they need to encounter the struggles that their ethnicity will bring them. An article I read a couple of years back by Lara Dotson-Renta really spoke to me about teaching our kids how to straddle two cultures. A wonderful read about preparing a child for what is to come.
Discuss the Important Topics
Kids raised in two-parent households have two different parenting styles to deal with. This is true of any home, regardless of race. The number of issues you face increases when you are in an interracial relationship. Based on the many differences in our backgrounds, my husband and I are CONSTANTLY having parenting style conversations. We agree on the big issues, but navigating the small things is where we have to really communicate. This prevents undermining each other in front of our kids.
Plan Ahead for Who Will Take Responsibility
My husband is going to take care of topics like “driving while black” or how to handle being followed in a store by a store employee. The hardest issue for me is having people assume I am not the mother. I hate having to explain to my daughter why the store keeper said “follow your mama”, and pointed to an African-American woman next to me.
However, this is crucial that you discuss how to handle sensitive topics BEFORE they happen if possible. Yes, there are times where one of you may be left out. It will probably result in hurt feelings with one of you. I am so thankful for shows like “Black-ish” showing how other families tackle the issues they face in their family, while simultaneously using humor and resistance.
I know we are not alone when our family makes decisions based on demographics in mind. This includes schools, neighborhoods, playgrounds, parks, after-school activities, travel destinations, church, etc. Honestly, I dread having to drive an extra 20 minutes to Taekwondo. However, I do it for the sake of my daughter not being the only black girl in the room. We chose a diverse school for Kindergarten further away instead of the “better” school around the corner that is 80% Caucasian. This was key after years of assignments in countries that were not as diverse as we would have hoped. We finally have control over my daughter fitting right in with her classmates.
The Importance of Food
I am VERY serious when I say a lot of challenges in our interracial family are solved with food. Food is the ultimate comfort in difficult or stressful times. It releases so much negativity when you smell a home cooked meal that makes you feel right at home.
I wish you could have seen my face the first time I ate pig’s feet. When I told my husband I loved fish tacos, he looked at me like I had two heads.
Now fast forward 8 years; he knows how to pronounce and cook enchiladas. He can make California burritos, carne asada fries, apple pie, etc… The same goes for me. I can cook a whole southern Sunday dinner. My collards, hush puppies, punch bowl cake, chicken pastry, creamed corn, and Carolina BBQ are on point.
We both took a great deal of time learning what made the other person feel like home. This is true even when our palettes begged us to stop. It is no small thing to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Had you told me Macaroni and Cheese was mandatory for special occasions when I was growing up, I would have laughed. The same goes for my husband learning that fish goes on top of tacos. When we see our daughter loves pork ribs as well as guacamole, we know we have done something very right.
Teach Your Kids How to Defend Themselves
I believe teaching your multiracial children to be resilient is a must. We started this when my 2-year-old was asked her if her daddy was “burned”. Not all questions are so black and white, and most are out of curiosity or ignorance when kids are young. But as kids get older, they will encounter harsh words and actions. It can make a child angry, or they can be taught to rise above. Children are watching how you respond when you are treated badly.
“When they go low, we go high.”
We have taught our daughters that they are not required to answer a question/respond to comments. If it is inappropriate, they can ignore the questions completely. They can say “that is very rude” or “that is none of your business” and then walk away. This applies to adults or children. Just because someone is a grown up, does not make them right.
I hope Raising Multiracial Kids: A Parent’s Guide has resonated with you on your family’s journey. I also invite you to join our Facebook group dedicated to multiracial and multicultural books so that we can use literacy, education, and activism to change the future for our multiracial children. The group is full of children’s book activists waiting to welcome you with open arms.
Your turn. What issues do face in your multi-racial families? Tell us in the comments how you handle the discussions of difficult topics? What do you say to those ignorant strangers? We want to learn from you!
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