We had a mixed baby. Sure, it’s not so weird anymore. Mixed babies are everywhere. We celebrate the uniqueness of the Bruno Mars’ and Drake’s of the world. We squeeze their cheeks and dissect them, tell them they’re exotic and try and guess their backgrounds. Yay, mixed people.
But, there are certain challenges with having children racially different than yourself. I know this because I’m a mixed baby. My dad is Chinese and my mother is, well, by all accounts she’s Caucasian, but it’s a blurry mix of European ancestry and Canadian roots. My partner is also mixed: Filipino and Iranian. And as much as our experience gives us a unique perspective on being an unidentifiable beige/brown, our baby is a different mix. Her experience will not be our experience.
She’s in for a lifetime of confused looks and confused thoughts about her roots. She’s going to feel too foreign for some rooms and too caucasian for others. She’s going to feel like she’s always standing out while simultaneously feeling left out when all she wants to do is belong. We can do everything to make sure she always feels like she belongs in our home, but we cannot change the way the world responds.
For all you brave mixers our there making exotic (ugh.) looking babies, here are, to the best of my knowledge, the things to consider when raising your racially ambiguous angel.
Be open about skin colour
Hey white people: it’s fine if you don’t “see colour”. But everyone else does. It doesn’t help to tell your children that they’re just like everyone else. The world isn’t going to treat them like everyone else. They’re in for a lifetime of oh you’re so exotic looking and what’s your background. Prepare them for it. Let them ask questions and answer them honestly. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter. Tell them that it does matter. That yes, people have different shades and different experiences because of it. Validate their experience. Yes, that experience might be different than your own. And no, you might not have all the answers. You don’t have to answer. You just have to listen.
Teach your child to accept their roots. All of them.
In a desire to belong, it’s easy for mixed people to want to hop to one side. They want to feel enough. Black enough, Asian enough, whatever enough. Or, if they’re white enough, maybe they realize life will be easier if they just be white. I mean, who wouldn’t want all that sweet privilege? Sometimes they don’t get to decide. Depending on their shade and features, society will tell them what they are. Oh, you’re dark skinned? You black. Go over there. But it’s important to embrace and celebrate your roots. For me, I’ve never felt Chinese or white enough. I never will. I’m not either of those things. I’m both. And in accepting that entirely, I can feel like me.
Surround your kid with diversity.
Diversity is powerful for mixed people. I grew up in a small city in rural Canada that was pretty white. Even though I had a European heritage, I felt like a foreigner. But I wasn’t like the other immigrant kids. I only spoke English. I ate the same foods, played the same sports, made the same jokes, but I didn’t look like them, which made things confusing for me. I struggled with my identity for a long time until I moved to Toronto. Being around people from all walks of life, with different backgrounds and upbringings makes me feel a lot more at home than my home did. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable in my skin. Less apologies and trying to explain myself. A lot more like me. Do that for your kids. Surround them with people from all places. Take them traveling. Feed them food from every continent. Open up their world and keep it big, colourful and unique. Help them feel more at home.
Teach them to speak up if someone makes them uncomfortable
To be honest, I still don’t know how to manage this one. People continue to ask questions that make me a bit uncomfortable and that’s never going to change. They ask about my background or where I’m really from. Sometimes I don’t want to get into it. I want to have a different conversation. I want to talk about something that makes me feel more than the ethnic puzzle piece that a stranger is trying to figure out. I want to deflect and shift the conversation. But it’s hard for me. Perhaps it’s the part that wants to be liked so badly that I’ll become their petri dish to pick at, as long as they’re enjoying what they’re looking at. But I think it’s important so speak up. To be able to have the skills to say, hey I’m not comfortable talking about that right now, can we focus on this? Or, in more extreme cases, to be able to call out prejudice when they see it.
Learn about how their experience is different from yours. Validate it.
Having a mixed kid means raising someone that doesn’t have the same physical characteristics of yourself. Again, you can’t deny the reality of that. They are not a mini carbon copy of you. This means that they might have drastically different needs and things you need to learn about. For example, your kid might need a different barber than you have. If your white and your kid is black, make sure you take them somewhere that doesn’t butcher their headtop. It’s a different experience. They also might be accepted into social settings you never were. If you’re the minority and your kid is whiter, their experience is going to be completely different. Listen to them, support it and find them the resources they need to thrive as themselves.
What’s your experience been like with having mixed-race kids?
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