I’m a South Asian American woman married to a white man. I have worked for people who were fascinated by my interracial relationship and have asked a few too many personal questions. I’m an adult and people I barely knew felt like they could say these things to me and about me, and it made me concerned for the children we may one day add to our family.
While the worry has always been in the back of my mind, it was elevated when my husband and I started our TTC journey. Now that we have decided to foster and/or adopt, we are realizing a conversation about the different races within our family is going to be necessary no matter what. Too many people I know who look like me have been mistaken for the nanny when they have mixed children. We still live in a time where people associate race with family.
I decided to sit down with a few mothers with first-hand experience to find out what kinds of conversations they were having with their kids and how they navigated the inevitable questions from their children. It gave me comfort to know that there were many families dealing with the same struggle and they shared some great tips to navigate the conversations with generosity and compassion. Here are some of the insights they shared with me:
1. Questions don’t always start with your child
I spoke with Rebecca of Chicago, and she mentioned her child’s questions didn’t necessarily come from their own curiosity, but something that someone else in their circle had said. Comments from a toddler friend or even a cashier asking if her daughter was her child would often prompt a follow up question: “Why am I Black and you are white?” These moments were conversation starters for her family.
No matter how much we normalize different types of families, people are still going to ask questions or make comments. We cannot keep our children in a bubble forever, so being there to answer their questions and teach them self-love will help them learn to handle the curious (or sometimes rude) people they may encounter in the future.
2. Let children steer the conversation
I know I’m historically guilty of wanting to do the most in every conversation about social justice. I used to try to fit EVERYTHING into one conversation—then it spirals.
It can be better to start by asking what questions your kids have (and if you’re like me, you save yourself the drama of trying to fix racial issues in the U.S. through one conversation). Instead, you can listen to your kid and figure out what information they need.
Christina of Chicago also mentioned that you need to be aware of how you’re thinking about the issue. For example, I know I can get really ahead of myself with “what if” scenarios. By letting children lead with their questions, then you don’t have to get caught up in situations that may never play out.
3. Remember, it’s not just one conversation
It may be scary for us adults to try to navigate all of this because we are so aware of the fraught history of race in America. Our children don’t have that baggage, so it’s natural to not want to foist that on them. And you don’t need to.
A South Asian mother I spoke to from Texas said that the important part is to remember that if you don’t make the conversation into something painful, then your child can follow your lead.
The goal is not to scare your children, but rather fortify them for harder conversations down the road. If they feel like you are on their side and you are open and able to have conversations, even if you mess up this time, there are more opportunities to keep the conversation going. It’s not just one shot.
4. Disrupt the ‘colorblindness’ mentality from our own childhood
Many of us parenting now grew up with the idea that the world was ‘colorblind’. This is something I was told by my parents when I was a kid, that no one ‘saw’ color. These days, we know it’s absurd to pretend we don’t see color or that race doesn’t exist.
For some, this idea of ‘colorblindness’ still needs to be unlearned. So in raising children, it does no one a service to say that you are the just same as your children, regardless of race, or to sweep these conversations under the rug.
5. Remind them families of different races is not new
Researchers have found customs around adoption in Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, and in Polynesian, Indian, and Chinese cultures. Conquering armies have long taken wives of the conquered, so interracial marriages are not new either. How we have talked about them has, of course, changed over the years. But it’s important to remind your child that your type of family is nothing new and instead focus on what makes your family special.
As the primary grownups in your kids’ lives, normalizing the family you have and being open to their questions and conversations along the way is really important. Children internalize things deeply and are learning how to process their feelings. If we can help them early, they’ll be more empowered down the road than we ever were.