Friday, October 30, 2009

raising bi-racial children

I apparently hadn't given enough consideration to the reality of raising bi-racial children.  By the time my twins were born six years ago we had a truly blended family and home life in quite a quirky way.  I had already six children from my first marriage, my ex's family and I remained very close and they even accepted my new husband as a part of the family; we adopted a barely teenage boy who was half African American and half Puerto Rican; the house was always full of neighbor kids of all backgrounds and cultures. 

My husband is brown and I am white, of European decent.  He doesn't know what nationalites his ancestors are so I use the term brown as it is his preference.  When we became pregnant, the subject had come up of course in conversation between friends and even between my husband and myself out of fear that the children may have issues out in the world with prejudice.  I was told by many that it was certain to happen and to prepare myself for it.  What I wasn't prepared for was that it would sneak into our home.  It entered through what I would have thought to be the most unlikely source...the twins themselves.

It was sorta funny at first with the games they came up with on their own.  I've mentioned before the time we were in the mall and Anthony had to jump onto the light tiles because he's white and Ashley had to jump from dark tile to dark tile because she's brown.  I didn't say anything at the time - it seemed innocent enough, right?  But this game they played at the mall was more and more a way of identifying themselves.  Soon, they decided Ashley would have chocolate ice cream and he would have vanilla.  She'll have chocolate milk 'cause its brown and he'll have strawberry because its not.  By now I've mentioned to them from time to time that everyone is their own color - nobody in our family is exactly the same color, although ironically, Ashley and our "adopted" son are too close to detect a difference. 

Today, we were walking in the store parking lot, the twins; one of their older brothers, Josh; Josh's girlfriend; her nephew, and me.  Anthony announces hey we are five white people and one brown!  Mind you now they are bi-racial TWINS, and the other child is Mexican.  Ok... enough.  Time for me to start asking questions I think to myself.  His skin is pale and hers is carmel colored, true and while they aren't insinuating that one skin color is better than another by any measure, my concern here is that they not make more of an issue out of skin color than it deserves, but they seem to be more aware and focused on this difference between them than I am comfortable with.

I've asked if there has been any conversation in school about people's skin color, or if classmates have made comments.  Their responses were "no".  It may just be a game with them and nothing to worry about because they are also very focused on the differences between boys and girls, even definining certain colors as boy/girl colors beyond blue and pink.  Did you know red is a girl color and yellow is a boy color?  This was decided because red is Ashley's favorite and yellow is Anthony's.

I've only started to investigate this phenomenon that has entered our home.  I've just started reading the book Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria written by Beverly Danielle Tatum, Ph.D.  (I'm so aggravated with myself for leaving it in my drawer at work... I got so busy that I forgot I brought it.)Hopefully that will give me some skills to help to guide them to a healthy way of developing their identity that doesn't focus so much on skin color.  I mean, I want to live in a world where that is only as important as eye color or hair color when describing an individual.  I can't expect that to happen if it's not even happening in my own house... can I?

I'm open to advice and I guess posting this to ask for advice, support, or anyone that can identify and comiserate (sp?).


  1. My kids point out color as well. I have two red headed, very light skinned girls, one dark haired, light but brownish skinned girl and one dark haired light skinned but tanned looking boy. I am white with red hair and my husband is black...brown..whatever. lol. They do not point it out often..but it happens. It happens more with outsiders. For instance, some may think my kids are 1/2 siblings. That is annoying. I mean, I don't go around asking strangers if their children are all from one marriage or one man, do I? Anyway...I think kids just point out the obvious. I don't think there is anything behind it. I think you should just celebrate the differences or talk about how beautiful differen skin tones are..but that's about it. My kids got over the fascination with color as soon as I stopped talking about it or explaining to them why they maybe should be hush hush. I felt as you did. Then I figured...who cares...we do look different. Kids are just pointing it out. As long as they are not saying one color is better...I'd let it go. I would be proud and say things like "isn't it wonderful to have such beauty in many ways in our family." Maybe if we try to keep them hush hush, they may think we think there is something wrong with color. However, let them know that outsiders may get the wrong just to be careful in their wording. Hope I made sense! (by the way, from MBC, biracial group.)

  2. thank you so much for the comment! I just don't want to "mess them up". I wanted to just take it lightly and not make a big deal out of it, but it just pops up in the weirdest places that I need to be sure they're ok :)

  3. Shelley,

    I too have that book and should probably read it (especially since she's the president of my alma mater). I've had it for a few years now.

    Although there isn't a major color distinction between my children (skin tone), there is an obvious one between my children and me. My children point of color too of themselves and other people. Interestingly enough, they don't point out my color as much, but are aware because they have my parents, and other family members and we have even talked about African-American, biracial, etc. distinctions.

    I would suggest that you don't get upset and don't be afraid to talk about each of your differences and not only do so about skin color, but hair color, eye color, etc. likes and dislikes, things that distinguish them as their own person as well as their similarities w/each other. Include dads and your characteristics, etc. too. Children are very perceptive and distinguish by what they see. We teach them their colors and then get upset when they use color to describe people. It too use to bother me, but I am getting a little more comfortable as I learn how to make them comfortable w/themselves as individuals as well as how they are a part of the family. You're not going to mess them up! Continue talking to them as you have been doing.

    There is so much more to say. Hey, if you start reading the book, then let me know. I was interested in sharing ideas w/someone.

    I saw your comment at Mom Bloggers Club/biracial.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I will be back to reading it on Monday and will post lessons I've learned after I get going on it. :)

  5. Wow I give you a medal for raising so many children; finding time for yourself must be hard, and almost impossible. I only have two children, I am white and Native American, and my children have me and their father lol ofcourse and he is hispanic. So I am familiar with raising bi-racial children, it is confusing at times many ask what color they are and for years they said human as their response. I think children should not think of a person as a color, but American's have minds of their own, even when we fill out an application for employement they ask our ethnicity, I am wondering what the point of knowing what our ethnicity is; do they hire based on this?

    Who knows.

    God bless you stay strong and it was wonderful to meet you. Stop over and see me soon I am having a giveaway.


  6. Thank you so much for stopping by to visit. Thank you for your lovely comments.

    Have a blessed day,

  7. my granddaughter is a "mixed" child. the world, and those of us in it, are slowly becoming nonjudgmental of color. i don't expect she will miss all forms of racial prejudice, but i know she will live in a world much more open than it has been. It is about progress, not perfection.

    personally, it took me about 5 seconds to go color blind - something about holding your own...

    peace for your journey.

  8. It sounds like you have a challenge but you are doing a great job....

  9. My oldest daugher is mixed and I raised her for a long time as a single mom. She is dark and I am fair. It has always bothered her to look "different" than me, as well as different from the rest of the family. Although everyone is accepting and we live in a racially diverse area, it has been an issue for her. I'm not sure what the answer is. It's important to celebrate different, not always easy though! Visiting from MBC and following you now!

  10. Shelley,

    What a GREAT question with a pretty simplified answer. First off, it is always a fantastic parent that questions what they do and how they have handled certain situations with their shows so much love and such a desire to do the right thing.

    That said, none of us are perfect, so we always strive to be a "good enough mother".

    Looking at this from a psychological perspective, your kids are totally healthy and EXACTLY where they would be expected to be. In Piaget's psychological constructs, they would be in what is known as the "Concrete Operational Stage"...put in more real terms, they have a need to catergorize things to make sense of them. So clap your hands that they are doing their developmental psychological tasks on time! WOOT! They are noticing that people are different colors...not all are the same.

    It's so interesting, b/c I was just having a similiar conversation w/ my younger kids last night, (we are all Caucasian)...about our skin tones and the fact that our skin color is like our fingerprint...each unique and each special and each just PERFECT for who we are. And since we are close friends with a biracial family, we had in the past had discussions with and about these very issues with them and their children.

    So much more to say on the subject, and I hope to do a post on it someday soon...when I get the TIME...w/ ideas on helping kids celebrate their "YOU-niqueness"...with some fun, FUN activities that recognize differences, but enjoy the kaleidoscope that is our world!

    Keep on keepin' on...I'd say as a mom, you rock!

    Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD

  11. in india we have castes..
    so i raise bi-caste kid i guess..hybrid kid..sounds cooler!!

  12. My children are biracial also their daddy is black and im mexican we knew there would be times where that would matter so i dedicated my entire blog to them and growing up with two cultures. Like you i wish our skin color was just like our eyes and hair color but the reality is some people still today arent ok with interracial relationships so you can only imagine how biracial children are looked at. We've had some situations already and our kids are under 2.
    BTW im following from mbc

  13. Pray about this ; but relax and enjoy your unique family.
    Happy New Year!
    I am following you from the Follow me Club . MBC

  14. My kids are still pretty little so I haven't encountered stuff like that yet. But it seems harmless to me. The fact is their skin is different shades. I think as long as no one gets differently because of it you are ok. :) Keep us updated! Saw your link at MBC! :)

  15. I am Filipina, my husband is American. My skin is moccha, our daughter's skin is vanilla. She has blond haired, white skinned cousins, and by age barely 3, she would compare her hair color to them, which is almost black. As long as they won't say anything bad about those differences, I think it's okay. Kids express what they see. Be there when that comparison gets to hurt someone.

    Following your lovely blog from MBC.

    ----------------------------------, a mom's blog

  16. This was good to read and interesting to read everyone's comments. My oldest son is not very aware of physical differences, but my middle is. He's knows everyone's eye color, hair color, curly hair, straight, freckles, etc....I think there is sometimes fear in saying/noticing differences, but there are differences and it makes us who we are.