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Doing our best as a multiracial family.

When the twins were infants, people would stop us admiring the babies. All babies draw attention and when you have two at once, they get even more attention! We would get a lot of nice comments such as they’re cute and they’re adorable. Then, we’d also get the inquiring mind comments from people who we assume had good intentions but said all the wrong things. These people would say “are they twins or are they brothers”? Well, yes, they are, they are just not identical. Their skin doesn’t match. Their eyes are not the same color. Their hair is not the same. Then, the most offensive question of all to me is “what are they?” I’ve had to learn to handle and respond to in a way that I want my children to hear, learn and grow from in a positive way that builds their confidence not hurts it. The first time I heard “WHAT ARE THEY” I was absolutely appalled. The question is no less offensive to me today, however I have learned that it is just what some people say. My answer use to be … they are HUMAN or they are baby boys. It took me several years to be able to not let that question bother me so badly and to respond better to it. Now, I’ll still play it off but in a kinder way such as “he plans to be a doctor and he plans to be a race car driver.” I believe the people asking it are just curious and are ignorant in wording their question.

 

We experienced an interesting situation at church which I found challenging. Families were “assigned” to groups to “connect”. We were assigned to a group where all of the other families had biracial children too. At first, I was excited. Then, I went to the first meeting and I found it challenging because none of the families had anything in common other than being a mixed race family. We had no commonality of likes, dislikes or career. There was no effort made to put us together in a fun way or help us connect. I personally find this pathetic even though I think it is incredible for my family to be friends with a diverse group of people from all walks of life including but not limited to skin color. I have made a decision to believe their motives were good but the way they went about it is bothersome as I would have loved to connect with other families where we had something in common in addition to the color of our skin.

 

We are hopeful as parents that we are doing some things right. We believe racism is taught. We believe love and acceptance is natural. We feel we see successes as our boys love and accept other children despite color or disability. They have no idea about rich and poor at their young age however we believe they will embrace everyone despite social status. We teach them to say “I’m not interested in that” when other children ask them to do something that isn’t nice, is against the rules or that they simply do not want to do. We want them to know that everyone makes good and bad choices no matter who they are, where they live or what they do. We hope they will understand good and bad is not related to the color of skin.

 

One of my biggest fears as I parent our biracial children is “am I doing this right, are we making the right decisions and the best choices” to help them succeed, be happy, and live at peace in this world?” We live in suburbia. There’s MORE diverse areas to live in but we chose to live in suburbia as it is what we know, where we are comfortable and where we live and enjoy life together. We believe getting to have love, give love and be loved and have numerous positive experiences is a good thing. We control what our young children view on all different media types and what and who they are exposed to or around. We believe we are doing the right thing by living in suburbia. It was a tough decision for us and we looked around in a lot of areas before making this decision. We do have friends of all different backgrounds and colors. We know we are doing the right things to help them succeed in other areas of parenting as it’s just “normal”. They love to go to the zoo, take a horseback ride, go camping or to a ballgame. If we leave out the biracial part of parenting, we’re just like everyone else. We just have an added thing mixed into parenting to think about. Actually, maybe we shouldn’t think about it. Maybe we put too much thought into it.

 

A friend went with us on a recent bargain hunting trip and she commented about the people staring. I said, oh, I don’t pay any attention to it anymore. The stares are meaningless to me. Occasionally, one of my sons will notice and say “why is she staring at us?” I use to get by with an answer of “because you are so cute” and now, that doesn’t work anymore. I’ve had to be more honest and say, “she could be looking at me because of my age, us because we are all different colors or she might be admiring how handsome you guys are, how well behaved you’re being or she may have noticed your incredible sense of style!” I can handle the stares and am teaching the children to do so also. It’s the words that hurt. It’s the words that I have worked hard to be able to laugh off otherwise they are very painful. So, I have put a lot of effort into finding humor in the ugliness so that we can have peace in our hearts. It’s not worth letting someone’s insensitive comments, ignorant comments, rude or racist comments impact our hearts in a negative way. I typically keep walking or walk away from such comments. When the twins were infants, I was more likely to say something back but today, because of their young impressionable age, we typically decide to walk away. I tell our sons not everyone is kind, not everyone is nice and that unfortunately, this world is not a perfect place.

 

We do not view ourselves as different and our children are not told they are different. As they ask the tough questions, we answer honestly. Our sons are happy and healthy. Our sons run, play, learn, grow, develop and love to create, build, explore, go on adventures and play, play, play! Our family has love and that’s the greatest gift of all. We all love each other and keep family first. Maybe, just maybe, I need to think about it less. Hopefully, I’m doing more things right than wrong. Ideally, the world will get better instead of worse. I dream of it being kinder and more embracing where everyone is truly equal. Today, I deal with the awkward, well intended, rude, racist comments a bit better than I did when the twins were infants! While those comments are still very wrong to me, some people aren’t bothered by them and the people saying them often, do not know they did anything offensive! So, either I have to believe they are ignorant instead of rude for my own heart. I also have to wonder sometimes if I’m wrong or if I am being too sensitive. We’re just a family doing our best and we don’t match.

 

Francine Dylan is a writer who understands invisible battles and is a family girl who is high maintenance but worth it, has a happy hubby and is a momma bear blogger who writes about marriage, parenting, real life and almost anything under the sun.
http://www.francinedylan.com/
https://www.facebook.com/francinedylan/
Twitter: @francinedylan4


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Meet our Family!

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Hi! I’m Mrs. S! I’m a 29 year old former pediatric nurse turned full-time wife and mama (and occasional birth doula)! I’ve been married to my fire fighting hubby, Mr. S, for almost 6 years now, and we have 2 sweet little ones. Miss E is 2 ½ years old and joined our family as a newborn through domestic adoption. Little C is 21 months old and joined our family just days before Miss E’s first birthday through a miraculous surprise pregnancy. When we were struggling with infertility, pregnancy loss, and failed adoptions, we certainly would never have imagined we’d end up having two babies 12 months apart, but now we wouldn’t change our story one bit!

 

When Miss E was born, we not only became a family of three, but we also became a multiracial family. Although she has pretty light skin, Miss E is actually biracial (half Caucasian/half AA). We were open to welcoming a baby of any ethnicity into our family, but we knew that adopting transracially would mean a lot to learn! Both Mr. S and I are Caucasian, so we’ve never experienced firsthand what it’s like to not be part of the racial majority. We also both have straight brown hair, so we had to do our homework on how to care for Miss E’s beautiful curls! During the adoption process, I was fortunate to connect with other moms who had adopted transracially. I learned so much just hearing about their experiences and challenges.

 

Facing Challenges
One of the first challenges we experienced as a multiracial family was dealing with uncomfortable questions while out and about. As a newborn, Miss E had straight jet black hair that curled only when wet. By the time she was 2 months old, though, she had some pretty obvious curls whether her hair was wet or dry! Typically I would be walking along at the grocery store and curious people would ask, “Where does she get that curly hair?” or “Does your husband have curly hair?” In those early months, I often felt the need to explain that we adopted her, but I quickly realized that not every stranger we encountered in the store really needed to know her whole story. Instead I began to answer, “You know, we’re not really sure.” I’d then smile politely and keep shopping.

 

The questions got even more interesting when Miss E was about 6 months old and my baby bump began to show! Then the most common question became, “How old is she?” quickly followed up by “How far along are you?” I would try to hold in my laughter as I watched them doing the math. Again, I was initially bothered by it, knowing that people were probably making assumptions about me and my family, but quickly learned to brush it off and go on about my business. Fortunately, no one was so bold as to ask me if I knew what caused that!

 

Once Little C was born, people got even more confused. Miss E was a petite one year old who could easily pass for a 9 or 10 month old. And she and her brother looked completely different! Little C came out with straight light brown hair and skin noticeably lighter than hers. We rarely thought about it at home, but were reminded of it often when out and about! I began to notice interesting looks, and then occasionally someone would make a rude comment insinuating that I had children from two different fathers. Initially it would catch me off guard, but now I just politely answer that they have the same father (Mr. S, of course!) and let them decide whether or not they believe me. I’m learning that people are going to think what they want to think, and it doesn’t change the truth about our family!

 

Learning Hair Care
One of my favorite things about having a biracial daughter is her gorgeous curly hair! It’s taken many, many hours of trial and error and lots of time watching YouTube videos and reading blogs to learn how to best care for it. But I have genuinely enjoyed the learning process! It’s been so interesting to read about all the different types of hair products and curl patterns and to hear from other moms about their different methods of washing, detangling, moisturizing, and styling. Miss E’s hair gets dry and frizzy so much easier than mine does, so I underestimated the amount of moisturizing and conditioning products she really needed to keep her hair healthy. Now I feel much more comfortable teaching grandparents and friends as I detangle and style that “Yes, you really do need that much conditioner on your hands!”

 

Now when another mom (particularly a mom of a biracial or AA child) comments on how healthy my daughter’s hair looks or how moisturized it looks, I feel overjoyed! I’m realizing that how I care for Miss E’s hair has greater significance in the biracial and AA communities than I previously understood. Hair is a big deal and taking good care of it reflects not only my willingness to learn and to step outside my comfort zone, but also communicates my respect for unspoken curly hair culture. This was so foreign to me in the beginning because I don’t think anything of going to the store with messy hair. But I am now aware that my daughter’s healthy, moisturized curls demonstrate far more than just a good hair routine. And a messy hair day could send the wrong message to someone who already has concerns about the appropriateness of transracial adoption.

 

Looking to the Future
As I think about what lies ahead for Miss E, I know that learning to care for her own hair is, unfortunately, not going to be the most difficult challenge she faces. Right now at 2.5 years old, she knows that some people have curly hair and some people have straight hair. But she doesn’t seem to notice yet that people come in different shades of pink and brown and yellow and white. Someday, of course, she will better understand the concepts of race and skin color, and my husband and I will have to help her navigate where she fits in. I was born white to two white parents, so there has never been any question in my mind about which box I needed to check on a survey form. But Miss E may face more confusion about who she is and what racial “group” she belongs in. She’s not white, but she’s also not black. She may identify with both or may prefer to think of herself as one race over the other.

 

My hope is that no matter what happens Miss E will know that she is fully part of the S family and that her skin color and her ethnicity do not define who she is as a person. I am so thankful that our community of friends is a diverse group of skin colors and ethnicities!   I hope as she gets older and recognizes these differences we can celebrate with her that God made us all different colors and shapes and sizes and that those differences are a really good thing! I pray that she grows to love the beautiful brown skin God gave her. We think she’s absolutely beautiful inside and outside, and I pray that she will never doubt that!

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rachel“Let’s hit the gringos (Americans)!” Said my 3 year old, giggling with his cousins as a group of tourists walked by the house in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala where we live. My mother in law asked him if he’s a “gringo”. “No, I’m David,” he said. The aggressive joke he made with his cousins comes from a place of innocence. He’s too young to come up with that sort of joke on his own. He was probably repeating what another cousin said, and he seems completely clueless that his mother is a “gringa.”

 

This has been his first expression of himself and his background. I can just imagine the adventures and questions that are to come.

 

 

 

 

I’m one of the only Americans who live in this fairly small Guatemalan town. And definitely the only American that goes to the local church. I stick out like a sore thumb with light hair in a sea of dark-haired heads. Since my husband and I were dating, I’ve become accustomed to the questions that naturally arise from his family, friends and even shop owners about where I’m from, if I speak English and sometimes if I’ll teach them.

 

Since having children, David,3, and Sarah, 5 months, there are more questions and comments: What color are his eyes? Does he speak English? Oh, her skin is so light! Her hair is dark, like her fathers! Oh I thought she’d be blonde! Does he understand you? Are you going to move to the USA? Can your children travel to the USA?

 
The questions and comments bubble and gush out of people – they just can’t resist wondering aloud. They are made out of genuine curiosity and are well-intentioned. However, considering my children and their growing up with these questions and comments, I can imagine that it will initiate questions about their identity.

 

 

We’re learning how to walk down the road of being a multi-cultural family in the midst of a town where Americans or “gringos” have often been seen as strange at the best, scary at worst and almost always as a source of money. I want their sense of their American side of the family to be familiar. I want them to feel connected, supported and loved from that side of the family. I don’t want them to feel like all Americans fall into the strange and scary category that the tourists are usually grouped into. We have frequent visits to and from Grandma and Grandpa and other family members, so I know that their sense of the American side of the family will be well nurtured and appreciated. Our visits to the States also help. Although my 3 year old has already tapped into this differentiation and negative image of Americans, I have faith that this will change. His growing contact with Americans in his family and life will help him overcome this image created for him.

 

As I imagine my children’s and family’s future, I envision some of them moving to the USA to study for a few years or all of us moving there for a number of years. My family in the USA is quite diverse. Although my parents’ immediate background is Mennonite and everyone before my parents’ generation was white, things have started to change. My sister is dating a Filipino. My aunt married a Tanzanian. Three cousins on my paternal side are married to non-white men. One of the families of my cousins is also bilingual. In that family environment, I know my kids would fit in and feel right at home. The fact that their mom is American and their Dad is Guatemalan would seem normal rather than strange.

 

However, here in Guatemala, it’s different. In this culture, those who have lighter skin than most or brown hair are called “canche”. My children’s caramel skin and brown to blonde hair draws attention. In many ways it’s considered beautiful – but I worry about attracting all that attention. Will it cause them undue pressure? Will it cause them to become heart-breakers in their teen years?

 

It leads me to reflect on my own childhood. I was the only white girl in my class during my elementary school years and one of few white students in middle school as well. I quickly learned that I was different. However, it didn’t stop me from having friends or participating. In some ways I think it did mean I was shier than I could have been and felt awkward at times. But at the same time I believe it was character building for me. It meant my parents worked hard to instill a sense of self and pride in me. Knowing the way they managed this sets a challenge before me. I must parent my children in a way that they know who they are and have self-confidence in it. That they are ok with being different. That they appreciate the richness of their family’s history. And the counter-balance…that others have rich and beautiful family histories and backgrounds too. That others are valuable and special too.

 

 

Knowing that I’ll have to work hard to instill a sense of confidence and belonging for my children has made me think more about our family’s traditions and celebrations. Our sense of belonging doesn’t need to be lost across cultures, races, languages and skin tones. Our family has begun traditions that cross these barriers and mix things together. We celebrate Thanksgiving in Guatemala and Grandma and Grandpa eat tamales too. We make a manger scene each year for Christmas and hang ornaments on a rosemary plant in the yard. We celebrate birthdays and do skype dates with Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Anna. When we’re in the States, we call Guatemalan Grandparents and take gifts home. We take gifts from Guatemala to Grandma and Grandpa. I will make sure examples of mixed families are available for my children and discuss their questions openly with them as they grow. I assume that most people have good intentions and try to ignore those who clearly don’t. I stand up for myself when necessary. This modeling will give my children the strength to do the same – wherever they are.

 

Considering the challenge my children face, I believe they are up for it. Most of all, I hope that they will find a place for themselves in this world and be happy.

 

When I was pregnant with my son, colleagues joked with me that I was going to have a “chapingo”. Guatemalans call themselves “chapines” and since Americans are called “gringos”, the term for my child who is half-Guatemalan, half- American became “chapingo.” Today, my son occasionally refers to himself as a “chapingo.” He’s heard his uncles and aunts refer to him this way. Although in life if he chooses to identify himself as a “chapingo” most people won’t know what he’s talking about, it will give him a funny story to tell and a way to explain his background.

 
Our family is “Chapingo.” We are a beautiful mix of two cultures, countries, races, peoples and languages. We are a bit of everything. We love both sides of our family and appreciate the richness that it adds to our lives. We can overcome the challenges together.

 

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brittanyMy name is Brittany Smith, I am Italian, Irish, and Panamanian, but my skin color is very pale. I am the wife of an African American man, and we have one biracial son and soon to be daughter together. I also have an older biracial half-brother, Jonathan. We share the same mother, but have different biological fathers, although my father adopted him before he was a year old.

 

My personal struggles growing up were that my parents had never informed me that my older brother and I had different fathers. I distinctly remember being 7 years old and someone had asked me why I looked so different from my brother, “Aren’t siblings supposed to look alike?” they questioned. Children are too honest sometimes and that honesty made me aware of something I hadn’t realized before. My father and mother are both of Italian decent with dark curly hair and wonderful olive skin that can get very tan (unfortunately, the Irish gene was strong with me and I burn!). I had no question in my mind that my parents were also Jonathan’s parents. To be truthful, I had been wondering if I was adopted. My hair wasn’t curly yet at this point in my life and was very blonde. That and the fact that my skin was so pale made me wonder if they were truly my parents. Jonathan and I had a conversation and he informed me that he had a different biological father. I just remember crying with relief that I wasn’t adopted. We laughed together once I confessed what had been going on in my mind.

 

This story is one that I often tell close friends and family because it is so humorous, but now that I am older I realize the responsibility of our family history shouldn’t have been my brothers. We both should have known from a young age what was going on. He obviously knew, but I didn’t and it caused me to question where his “real” father was and why he wasn’t ever around.

My parents also failed to acknowledge that as my brother and I would get older that people can have negative opinions about our family dynamic. That people will often say terrible things to those who are unlike them without just cause. However, being a mother myself I understand the struggle of trying to protect your children from the cruel world. I feel as though they were just hoping that nothing bad would ever be said to us.

 

We grew up in Jacksonville, FL until I was almost ten and my brother twelve. The elementary school we attended was pretty diverse, my best friend was Asian and many of my childhood crushes were African American. My brother has explained that he experienced getting picked on often because he didn’t necessarily fit in with any one group. The black kids would say he wasn’t black and the white kids would say he wasn’t white. If it wasn’t for his skill in football, he doesn’t feel like he would have had many friends at all. We then moved to Sturgis, MI and lived with my grandparents on my father’s side until my parents had sold the house in Florida.
Sturgis is a small town and in 1997 it wasn’t ripe with diversity. There were many Amish riding around in their buggies and only one well known black family in the town. My brother and I were the new kids; we would sit together on the bus because we didn’t know anyone else. That’s when the negative comments came rolling in. Children would claim that we were dating (which grossed us out completely). My brother got annoyed and started sitting in a different seat than me. When my brother started getting attention from girls in school the boys started to attack him on the bus. The “N” word was thrown at him on more than one occasion. It was the first time I had ever heard it and I had to ask what him what it meant.

 

 

There were kids in my class that started calling me an “N lover” because of my brother and my new best friend in class being black. I was completely appalled that anyone could be so cruel and wasn’t prepared for it emotionally. My grandparents didn’t really have the best advice because they never had dealt with the situation themselves. They just told us to ignore it. Once my parents finally got back to Michigan they wanted to know who said what and when. My father was in defense mode and my mother was worried. They also told us to ignore it, but to tell anyone in an authority position (teacher, bus driver, etc.) if it was bothering us.
We did learn to ignore those ignorant individuals, we grew up, but as the years went on, I noticed that in the predominantly white town my brother was now often a target with both parents and police.

 

Now that I am married to someone with a race different than my own and am a mother of a biracial child I realize the experiences that could lie ahead in our future. Being a military family we will likely move several more times before my husband retires and I want to be prepared. My husband and I met in Colorado and there we had continuously received stares, glares, and opinions. I had many coworkers question why I dated outside my own race and wondered how my family felt about it. Thankfully, my immediate family and my in-laws have no issues with our relationship and are extremely supportive of us.

 

However, I have begun to notice that since our move to Texas I have become the minority. My son, Noah (2 years old) gets millions of compliments on how beautiful he is and many people love his hair, but I get a glare as though it’s a disgrace that I am his mother. I can handle the rude looks and the disapproving shaking heads when my husband and I go places, but I pray that my son never has to experience any ridicule for his mother looking different than him.

The struggles haven’t gotten easier. Whenever we go out as a family I have received multiple disgraceful looks for being a white woman with a black man. I’ve even had women intentionally not help us at stores or restaurants. They will avoid eye contact with me or rush off to the back. There was one woman who failed to serve us at a restaurant because they were having a “shift change”.

 

However, not everything has been a bad experience. With differences comes pride and laughter. My brother and I are more alike than people realize. Our hair texture is now pretty similar since we have gotten older and I was the only one who was able to help him learn how to take care of his hair when he first wanted to grow it out.

 

Jonathan and I were blessed to realize that we were special, that our parents were so much more open minded than most, and I think that has led us both to an adulthood that has allowed us to be completely independent in our choices of who we date and what race they might be.

 

I would like for my son and future daughter to know that they can lean on each other for support as well as sites like Biracial Boom. That being biracial is a benefit more than a hindrance and more importantly it can be a stepping stone to open someone else’s eyes that people aren’t meant to be alike, that we should embrace the differences and find beauty in them.

 

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