Parenting a Multi-Racial Child in A One Dimensional World
"I must take to heart that, as someone who is different from me, my child will have a different experience of the world and I won’t always be able to relate. I must trudge forward anyway."
- Chelsea Tubbs
"Where did you get her?," "Is she yours?," "Is she adopted?"
These are just a few of the questions thate plagued our first forays into the world with our daughter, Lo, in tow. I would be lying if I said that those microaggressions didn’t coame as a shock and knock me, a new parent, off kilter.
In one instance, taking in the weekend and browsing a local art gallery with a toddler on my hip, I was hounded by a woman excitedly demanding to know which agency we had used and insisting that a) I shouldn’t be ashamed to tell people that my child was adopted and b) her friend “wants one just like that”. “Are you kidding me!?” I thought, as I bid the woman farewell and kept plowing through the world as the mother of a mixed-race child. Another time I watched countless concerned white women clamor, beside themselves with worry as my strapping black husband hoisted our fair-skinned three-year-old (in the midst of a tyrannical temper tantrum) into his arms, beelining for the exit of Target. I felt compelled to follow closely behind, even though his stride is much longer than mine, to assure them that yes, this man does have my permission to be leaving the store with his daughter.
In those first couple of years, living comfortably in the bubble that we had created for ourselves, not much thought went into the differences between us and our offspring. Hell, we were lucky if we could make time for the truly necessary things like cooking a warm meal, washing last week’s laundry, or sleeping. There was no room for ruminating on the complexities of race and the myriad of intricacies that awaited having a multi-ethnic child, nor were we equipped to help her forge her own racial identity in a world that places a lot of value on which box you mark during standardized testing.
Our daughter is six-years-old now and often talks about being “brown”
She makes off-handed comments while playing with her dolls . . . most of whom are white because, on the sliding scale that is skin color represented by twelve-inch plastic dolls on the shelves of the toy store, white heavily outweighs brown and black. She casually talks about the color of her skin in reference to why she’s not quite like the other kids in her class. I don’t think she has yet to fully understand what goes into making her different from her peers but something tells me she’s on the cusp of identifying it. You see, it was easier to parent a child of multiple ethnic backgrounds until the age of six. There were few instances of racism, despite the fact that we spent these years living in the Bible Belts of Florida and Alabama. Nevertheless, at that age, few children even realize that they can be different from one another unless they’re home-schooled. I fear now, with Trump- era chats about racism taking place in the first-grade classroom and a clear divide echoing its way throughout the homes of our neighbors, that this time is coming to an end.
As the act of parenting transracial and biracial children becomes even more common, I realize that there is a huge lack of references that exist to dole out advice to eager yet naïve parents of all creeds. We’re left to wonder how best to navigate the knottiness that is the race-identity of school-aged children. How do we relate to and parent that which is unlike us? And with little help from the outside world, it seems.
Biracial identity development is something that’s been playing on a loop in the background of my thoughts for years. I’m aware that my child, as is the case of so many other children, faces specific challenges to which neither my husband nor I can necessarily relate. She is a unique mixture of ethnicities and identities that are completely foreign to our respective frames of reference. The 2000 census showed that there are more than 4.5 million married and unmarried couples in the United States of whom the two members were from differing racial or ethnic groups. (Hud-Aleem & Countryman, 2008). If the census were to come knocking on our door, Lo would fit squarely into the “other” category (she is parts African American/Caribbean, Pacific Islander, Asian, Hispanic and Caucasian). There are only two percentages that matter to me, though: … she is 100% human and 100% ours.
Because I am the mother of a multiracial child, I am tasked with the lofty ambition of raising a well-adjusted, confident child that who feels she is both understood and represented. One who celebrates the best of all of the cultures that came together in her making. It is my responsibility to make sure that she does not exist in a constant state of identity crisis, though I’m not sure anyone can protect her from that fate. I, with the help of my husband and our families, must teach her that love knows no bounds… not even skin color. I must take to heart that, as someone who is different from me, my child will have a different experience of the world and I won’t always be able to relate. I must trudge forward anyway. As I set out to accomplish this I will need to remember (and I urge you to remember) tips we will be sharing in the second part of the series.