Chances are, even if you don’t have mixed-race children, you know a few. According to the Pew Research Center, one in seven U.S-born infants were multiracial just in 2015, so we are everywhere.
And yes, I said “we.” I myself am Black and Hispanic, raising children in Latin America with a man who is as white and European as can be. Which means I completely understand what a juggling act it is to ensure you raise kids who are proud of who they are in a world that insists on categorizing them. It’s not an easy task, but what about parenting is?
Here are a few things, though, that have helped me and my children, and that may help the mixed-race kids you know and love:
Help your kids feel more connected to their backgrounds by making sure they get to see both parents’ cultures often. If it’s an option, urge them to try talking with their grandparents. Teach them about significant meals and holidays, but also offer to invite their friends over during those special times. The more your children feel as if their heritage is woven into the life they’re already leading, the more likely they are to love and welcome it.
When I was growing up, I didn’t have many public figures to look up to. I’m pretty sure I had Black Barbie and Oprah, and that was about it.
These days, there’s an ever-growing number of options when it comes to positive representation. For example, my curly-haired, brown daughter has “The Sea Beast’s” Maisie Brumble and “Jingle Jangle’s Journey.” My Black-Hispanic son has Into the Spiderverse’s Miles Morales, with whom he even shares a name. While we still have a long way to go, I’m now able to show my children that kids like them are just as able to be heroes, storytellers, and movie stars as anyone else, and this makes a huge difference.
Teach Them About Race & Racism
I know this feels counterintuitive, but it’s crucial that mixed children — in some ways, even more than children who are not mixed — understand what race and racism are.
Speaking from experience, they will get questions. Most of the time, these questions won’t be purposefully rude, but they’ll still make things awkward.
“What are you?”
“Where are you from? OK then, where are your parents from? OK then, where are your grandparents from?”
“You’re ___? But you don’t look/sound ____. Are you sure?”
Your children will be best-prepared for this if they’re already aware of what race is, and that racism is a failing of education, not of their existence. The sooner that they hear that these kinds of questions or comments aren’t reflections of them or their uniqueness, the sooner they’ll find confidence in themselves and their backgrounds.
Let Them Find Their Own Identity
I grew up in the United States, listening to the Backstreet Boys and speaking English. My parents often had concerns about whether or not I appreciated where I come from, and they’d occasionally overcompensate by criticizing my interests or forcing me to do things that they felt better aligned with my race.
This concept alone could fill a book, but suffice it to say that trying to push pride on your children will only result in pushback. The best approach is one that’s low pressure and that welcomes synergy. Maybe you celebrate Hanukkah and allow them to take part in a friend’s Christmas party. Maybe you cringe a bit, but you let them put ketchup on their picadillo. Remember that the point isn’t to tell your children where they fit in to their cultures, but to help them understand themselves well enough for them to figure it out on their own.
If you educate them on their heritage and give them a loving, supportive environment, they’ll grow up to love everything that helped to make them who they are.