Love and life means that we usually find ourselves in situations we haven’t quite thought through. At least, for me it does. I fell in love with someone who looks different than me and speaks a different language than my native tongue – but I never stopped to really consider our differences and the effects on our future children.
As with many couples, we got to know each other and fell in love. We didn’t have to wonder whether or not we would be able to embrace each other’s cultures and if we’d be accepting of each other’s different backgrounds. Although a few others did criticize our choice and question the cross-cultural love, we, like most interracial couples, decided to ignore others and enjoy our happiness together.
Not even after we were married and I became pregnant did I consider what growing up in a multi-cultural family might mean for our little ones. Sure, I thought about practical things like which language to speak to them and how often they would be able to see their grandparents – but I didn’t consider the impact of our mixed background on their IDENTITY until it started coming up.
It started coming up in little ways. The odd comments from strangers, things my 3-year old would say and things our extended family asked would leave me feeling unsettled and confused at times. If you’re the parent of a biracial child, you know exactly what I mean. “Oh, what a beautiful child – her skin is darker than yours,” among others are some of the usual comments.
Slowly, over time, I’ve realized that yes, I do need to do something about the fact that my children are biracial. The fact that my husband and I are comfortable with our identities, doesn’t mean our children won’t experience any struggles. I’ve founds some helpful resources and information that has given me some direction.
Parents Can Help Their Children
Parents have a great role to play in helping their children form their identity. I found the following excerpt from Dr. Francis Wardle’s article quite helpful. The father of a biracial child himself, Dr. Wardle is the director of the Center for the Study of Biracial Children in Denver. He states:
“Interracial parents tend to view the identity of their children in one of four different ways (Morrison and Rodgers, 1996): 1) my child is black (or the identity of the parent of color); 2) my child is a human being with no specific racial identity; 3) I’m not sure, so I’ll let my child decide; and 4) my child is proudly multiethnic or multiracial.”
This short excerpt inspired me to consider how I view my children and how I want them to view themselves. When I imagine what I’d like for my children and how I would like for them to identify, I fit in best with answer number 4. It’s my hope that my children proudly identify with both of our backgrounds.
Recent research has pointed towards helpful benefits for young children who identify with both of their parent’s heritage and culture. It’s believed they’ll have fewer identity struggles later on in life. In order for this to occur, parents must actively teach their children about both of their cultures and prepare them for difficult moments in life when their belonging to either group may be questioned. For example, feeling empowered to tick off more than one box when identifying themselves. In addition, as children grow they will be faced with people who’d like to place them in categories they are not comfortable with. Biracial children should feel confident to answer back and express who they are.
Biracial Kids Are Not Half and Half
Children do not need to feel like they are not full members of both of their parent’s ethnicities or cultures. They can embrace both sides of their identity wholly. Parents can make a point to tell children this – because others in their environment may do the opposite. Have you ever noticed how people remove this right to embrace both ethnicities and cultures? It even existed legally through laws that used to require people to choose one race when filling out forms, indicating that people with “one drop” of African heritage should mark themselves as “Black” or “African American.” Now that’s changed and it’s legally possible to tick off more than one box when filling out such forms. However, life is more complicated than filling out forms, and although the law supports biracial people to identify with their full heritage, many others do not. Nosy questions asking, “What are you?” and “Is that really your Mom?” deny this right.
Celebrating both cultures within the family is important to show children that they can indeed participate in more than one culture’s traditions as full members. It’s important for children to learn as much as possible about both sides of their family’s history, culture, and traditions.
Children Will Find Their Own Answers
As children grow and change, they may choose to identify with one part of their heritage more than the other due to social interactions and their friendships. This is a natural process and parents need to take care to respect it and not be offended by it. Adolescents in particular are prone to experience struggles. Teens may find greater acceptance in one group over another due to their appearance. Throughout these processes, parents can continue to discuss belonging to a race or culture. They can also emphasize that belonging is much more complex and involves more than physical appearances.
So, does having biracial children mean you have to do something more? Yes, for me and my family, it does. We need to show our children the way. We need to show them that they are full members of both of their parent’s backgrounds. We need to provide them with rich experiences and the ability to participate in traditions that celebrate both of the cultures they are part of. We need to prepare them for the questions, difficulties and struggles that will arise. –Guest Blogger, Rachel
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