Hundreds of thousands of Americans identify as biracial. I don’t know the exact number or anything (Google it and get back to me), but I know the number of biracial kids is up — a lot.
And three of those are my own children.
Born to my Mexican-American husband and me, an African-American woman, my three sons have a heritage that is part Mexican, part black and totally American. As my husband and I do not have overtly strong cultural ties to our own heritages, our children are living a similar existence. So they don’t speak Spanish and we don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. But, ask me if they know at least two Mariachi songs by heart and can discern the smell of chitterlings a mile away (who can’t really?), and you’ll have a different response.
Not being a mixed-race person myself, I honestly underestimated some of the issues my children would face as racially-mixed children. I continue to learn as I go, but right now, here’s what I think all parents of biracial children should know:
1. Your kids will see color. They will see Mommy’s color, they will see Daddy’s color and they will see their own. In some families where everyone, including the friends and the neighbors, look alike, kids don’t always notice skin color. My boys had to face their difference very early in life and began asking questions about Daddy’s white skin (he’s a fair-skinned Mexican person) being different from their own light brown. Personally, I think they’re lucky because they get to appreciate the beauty of diversity by living with it every day.
2. Other people will see color, too. And, often they will ask about it. It’s not the normal occurrence for a white person or a black person to be approached on the street and asked about their racial composition by a complete stranger. For us, it is. People are curious about our kids’ hair and their skin color and want to know whether they came from my uterus — and no one seems to think twice about how these questions will be received before asking.
3. Your kids may want to choose. Some days The Dudes want to be Mexican like Daddy. Other days they want to be black like Mommy. We’re just trying to teach them them that they really only have to be themselves. We don’t make a big deal out of it at our house — we just have a sit down about why they’re feeling all choosy, talk up their awesomeness and sign off with a fist bump. Everything at our house ends in a fist bump.
4. They need confidence and understanding. Just like every other kid, but more. Our Dudes have faced numerous situations where an unsuspecting person (surprisingly usually an adult, not another kid) says something insensitive to them about Hispanic people, not realizing that their father is Hispanic. They’ve been complimented on their tans. They’ve had another child tell them that they shouldn’t let other people say they’re black because it’s rude. They hear more than a kid whose race is readily-discernible. We’re teaching them to deal with that with self-confidence and an understanding of human nature (which sometimes doubles as straight-up crazy). We tell them that it’s cool to stand up for yourself, but that sometimes kindness and understanding gets you further in life. (You know, that whole flies-like-honey bit.)
5. They want you to remind them that they are different good, not different weird.
Being different is a hard thing for a kid to accept and they won’t even pretend to believe you when you say they are going to be so happy about their uniqueness one day. Keep saying it anyway: They’ll know you love them and will totally fist bump you for it when they’re, like, 30.
Amanda Rodriguez has been wowing the Internet since 2008 when she launched her pretty- much-useless guide for parents, parenting BY dummies. You can Tweet with her online as @dumbparent, but don’t expect her to be serious. It’s virtually impossible.