Talking Identity with Mixed Heritage Kids

This week my daughter’s teacher announced the children would be talking about identity and where they and their families are from. She encouraged parents to talk to our children beforehand so the children can positively contribute.

As the parent of a mixed child, I was excited that my daughter would be having this conversation in school. Her background is, at best, interesting and layered but at worst, it’s complicated and confusing. So, as a person of mixed parentage myself, I have to admit my heart did skip a beat.

I remember being a teenager and cringing from those conversations about where I was from. Do you mean where do I live now? Where are my parents from? What culture do I identify with most? What languages do I speak (or, in my case, not speak well enough). When it came to my Iranian side, I often felt confronted about laying claim to a culture I knew so little about. And coming to England as a young adult, I couldn’t have felt more like an outsider if I tried. What basis did I have for identifying with any of these cultures?

When it comes to my daughter, I wonder what she might say in such a conversation. First of all, would she remember all the places/races and cultures that make up who she is? Does she identify with all of her heritage? Of course, these questions of a 5 year old were bound to fail. But I couldn’t help feeling conscious that I may not be doing enough to educate her. Or worse, that she may end up as confused or as pressured as I felt during these conversations.

When hubby originates from Nigeria, and I hail from Canada/ England and Iran, the story can be complicated. Particularly for a 5 year old who now lives in the UK but spent a good part of her short 5 years in Nigeria and Canada.

Her looks, race and accent will further put pressure on her to identify as either Black, Black British, African- British or just Naija. If her skin is darker, she may be questioned if she tries to identify as hyphenated or mixed race as people will argue her intentions. “Why don’t you just admit you’re black”, I can see her mates saying.

By now, she can reel off the list of countries, and can even tell people a few words from Yoruba and Farsi. But whether she truly identifies with any of these (or all), I guess only time will tell.

I do plan to show her a map of the world and to help her identify where each of these countries are located. But what I’ve realised is that any depth of association to these countries lies in her relationships.

As long as Grandma and Grandpa, cousins, Aunts and Uncles are in her life, she will hopefully always feel connection to where she’s ‘from’. And yet, her everyday experience and friends will connect her more than anything to the UK. And I’m okay with that. Being mixed, the ultimate positive is that she has options.

One reader commented that by the time our little ones grow up, their world will be a blended mix of all different backgrounds and cultures. So perhaps her experience will be different than mine. All I can do is prepare her as best I can.


Mixed Chicks Giveaway *Updated!

They say good things come in threes.

Then… the unthinkable happened and my blog vanished.

I did say good things come in threes didn’t I?!

Okay, yes, I still have all these awesome products to give away and my blog is back! Two wins!

The next great thing is that I promised two lucky readers would win and receive some of these products. If you liked Mixed.Up.Mama on facebook and shared our giveaway post, you are in it to win it! 

I will draw the lucky winners on Friday. In the meantime, like and share!

A Mixed Race Mama Morning: I Want a Mama Who Looks Like Me…

We were running late. After 2.5 weeks off, it was back to school last week and back to getting 3 kids out the door- on time.

On day 1, I got overwhelmed, frustrated that I couldn’t find one of DD1’s take-home reading books. Costing a small fortune to replace, I shouted at her that she should take better care of them.

We got out the door but she refused to talk to me. I tried the usual cajoling and apologised for shouting but she refused to smile. Guessing she was overwhelmed by the roller coaster of emotion she was probably feeling over seeing her friends and teacher after so much time off, I left her.

We’d spent a lot of time together over the holiday including having my Mum over from Canada. I stopped though, weary of being late but feeling guilty because I knew I should have kept my cool. Leaning down I looked her in the eye and asked her what was wrong.

Then she said it. “I wish I had a Mama that looked like me”.

This year has been huge in my daughter’s life as she’s become more and more aware of both her own colour and that of people around her. We only talk about race and colour in a positive way, acknowledging the differences but recognising that people are all the same inside.

My heart dropped- sensitive to the hurt I might have caused her but devastated as well that she would think skin colour would mend her broken heart.

I tried hard not to be heartbroken but I knew that I was completely unprepared for this this morning. Gradually, we each took a turn to say what makes us mother and daughter. Not the colour of our skin. The fact that she has my mouth and my eyes and that she’s good at certain things and not so good at others. But our love for each other. And how that will never change… Even when I’m shouting.

We arrived on time.  And she’d forgotten about it when I raised it again after school. Flippantly, she said, “we already talked about this Mum”.

What made her feel this then… on that particular day, I’ll never know.  Perhaps she had been feeling it all this time. The feeling that perhaps we don’t match or she doesn’t fit in… or that someone who looks like her might not shout?! All at the age of 5.

I imagine her older, walking beside me and feeling the same thing but perhaps more equipped to be able to dismiss this feeling of matching skin colour as unimportant because well… it just is.

Read more from Mixed.Up.Mama “Brown Skin and Blonde Girls Only”…

A Mixed Race Family’s Love of London

Why do you Love London?

Someone asked me today, why do you love living in London? I admit it has taken us years to get where we are, to feel settled in a way where both of us can admit this feels like ‘home’- for awhile at least.

Our journey around the world to get here has been interesting, though restless. Starting out in Wales where my husband and I met, we felt out of place, alone and often resentful at having to drive to London so often to visit friends and family. South West England was better but it too had different issues that niggled at us. Its segregated feel, drawn along false economic lines made us feel uncomfortable as a mixed family, knowing our loyalties lay on both sides but our economics pushed us to one more than another.

Our journey to Edmonton, Canada (where I grew up) and then eventually Lagos, Nigeria (where hubby grew up) were both attempts for us to feel grounded and settled. And though both were satisfying in many different ways, the pull was always back to London.

So what is it with this place that keeps us coming back? And what has finally made us feel like this has more of what we’ve been looking for? As a mixed family, I’ve always been told it’s important to find somewhere neutral for both partners- a place that isn’t home for either of you and that you can both forge an identity starting from scratch.

Starting out…

And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Starting out in London has been an entirely new beginning, from finding schools for our daughters, to researching areas to live, tradespeople for jobs and transport to get places, all the knowledge we’d built up as a couple over time was wiped for us to start again.

We don’t complain though. For me, it’s been exhausting with three kids but strangely enjoyable. From the smog of Lagos to the emptiness of Edmonton, London has offered us more than we could even imagine.

But the most important thing I love is its diversity. Not just from a race point of view but from every different angle, you see people doing their own thing.

Not only that but Londoners are even trying to be different so they can stand out from the crowd. Sure, you get that everywhere but perhaps not on the scale that you do in a big city such as London.

I love that the guy who helped me pull my pram onto the bus the other day was black transvestite male. I love that my daughter asked out loud whether he was a girl or boy and he answered her with a smile.

I love that my eldest daughters’ class has at least six kids from mixed black/white families, that there are over 15 different languages spoken in the class and that my daughter actually wants to speak a different language so she can be like her friends.

I love that our friends consist of families of all different colours and mixes, even with seemingly monoracial families, the mixes span cultures and religions and this is normal.

I love that I can point out beautiful, smart, curly-haired women everyday to my daughters on our way to school.

I love that my daughters’ friends include kids of all different abilities and this is also normal..

I love that the tube was filled with blue and purple haired girls the other day inspiring my daughter to imagine her own self with purple hair.

I love that the bus journey into the city is littered with shops selling all sorts of wear such as elaborate costumes, beautiful wooden instruments and ornate, kitsch furniture that looks as if it belongs in a palace.

I love that my daughter thinks every ornate gate in London is Buckingham Palace.

I love that police officers ride horses and wear funny hats.

I love that the Science Museum is free, workshops are led by young diverse students and that we’ve been three times in three months and each time we’ve had a completely different experience- all positive.

I love that my daughters have seen a West End show already once in their life.

I love that hubby and my date night was at a restaurant that is filled floor to ceiling with beautiful Victorian paintings-and it wasn’t pretentious.

I love that Chinese New Year wasn’t just celebrated at my daughter’s nursery, they actually paid a visit to Chinatown to get the real experience.

There is more I could list but I think you get the picture. It’s not perfect I know but I’m enjoying it for now as I show my Mum around this beautiful city.

I just wanted to appreciate out loud that the last three years have been up and down but we are here in this place, at this time for a reason and as I contemplate ‘home’, I realize it is here.

Read more from Mixed.Up.Mama about why walking to school is important…

A Letter to My Husband, Daddy to My Three Little Girls

Daddy’s Girls

“My turn!”, my eldest daughter screams as the three girls (well, two with one sort of crawling) clamber to climb on top of your back. “One at a time!”, you laugh gently, taking each one by the hand, bowing and spinning them in a sort of ballet waltz that mirrors that of the prince’s ball attended by Cinderella.

I’m watching our 4 year old as she becomes completely captivated.  No smile, only a look of pure intense concentration to dance as gracefully as she can. It doesn’t matter that it’s with you, her Dad.

In fact, it’s better because she knows she can be whomever or whatever she wants to be in this moment. Bossy, clumsy, even slightly dominating as she tries several times to lead the dance. She’s entranced by the magic of her imagination in a world where Daddy has made real the moment where the prince falls in love with the princess.   Still spellbound, she whispers, “Make me fly Daddy”. You dutifully lift her above your head and spin her around and around in the ultimate dance finale.

It’s their magical reality and it’s always been this way. Our daughters occupy that place in your heart that embodies pure love. That feeling of absolute adoration and infallible love that no other could replace.

It’s true that you rarely say ‘no’ to our girls and I can’t lie and say it doesn’t bother me sometimes when bedtime routine takes 3 times as long as it does with me because they need ‘one more story’ or want you to lie with them for ten more minutes. It sometimes means I have to be the bad guy who insists they eat their vegetables or refuses “one more sweetie”.

Inevitably as they grow, this relationship will change. Feasibly from the more physical play to more difficult, emotional needs. And it’s not easy with three daughters who all regard themselves as Daddy’s girl. As the youngest gets older, she’ll become more demanding. And so your attention will be split in yet another direction.

But I’ve come to appreciate the space you represent in our daughters’ lives. It’s different to mine. In a world where insecurity and self-doubt plague so many women, it’s so important for girls to know they have a safe space in a man with whom they can say anything and be loved no matter what.

You make sure each of them feels special, so conscious are you that they’re all different and need different things that although I’m the main caregiver, I appreciate the parenting example set by you.  You’re no push over but you always bend over backwards to make sure they’re happy. It means they go out with Daddy in mismatched clothes- often dress up outfits-, scooters, bicycles, whatever (could be both).

I know you didn’t foresee the changes that having children, particularly daughters, would have on you. What is it with a man and his daughters? And three at that.  Yes, we’ve both felt the pressure to have a boy and still the comments from other people about what it will be like when they’re all teenagers suggest an adverse future for you.

It’s not always easy coming from the Nigerian culture where the father’s role is the career go-getter and little importance is placed upon ‘playing’ with your children. I too notice the looks you sometimes get when we’re in some people’s presence.

Despite that, I have a feeling nothing will shift for you and your girls even when they’re moody teenagers who’ll inevitably push back and turn their back for a few moments. You’ll be right in there the way you already are when they want a side ponytail, baby doll to stop crying or the chance to play “Peppa Pig” with you.

For them, their first encounter and most important relationship with a man is and has been with their Dad. Add in the complexity that you are black, our daughters mixed and the media’s f***ed up representation of black men in our society, you represent so much more than just their Daddy.

If it’s true that little girls choose their future partners based on their fathers, having a Dad who is as adoring and absolute in his love for them is so precious. So today I count my blessings to have a husband who is the father to my daughters that they’ll always need. If I could choose a partner for my daughters it would be with a man like their Daddy. Thank you.

Love always,

Your wife

10 Best Extra Curricular Activities for Raising a Well Rounded Child

Let’s face it,  the time your child spends outside of school is coveted by a million and one things that seem at odds with each other. In today’s world, the typical parent is hit with a barrage of choices over how to ensure our children grow up to be the most well rounded, secure, loving people that every Mum wants.

That means decision- making and getting the balance right between after school clubs, extra curricular lessons, time with friends, family time and of course just plain down- time. It’s never an easy decision and of course who and how your child is and their likes and dislikes will pre-determine a lot of these answers.

But get it right and your child will be thanking you in years to come for exposing them or teaching them life’s skills by getting them involved early in the right activities.

You will know your child best with how tired they are when they come home from school, how much ‘extra’  they might need on top of school and how filled up their weekends are with the likes of birthday parties, family time and friends’ play.

With that in mind, there are at least ten activities that your child should try out at least once in their life, if not master by the time they reach adulthood. You don’t have to choose all of these at once and certainly not every child will like everything on this list but it’s broad enough that the essence of each is important for every child to grasp what they need and why before deciding whether it’s right for her or him.

In no order of priority:

  • Play a team sport– Like I said, not every child is going to be sporty and not every child will even like sports. But what I gained from playing team sports was not about whether I was good at them but about learning how to be on a team. Team motivation, cooperation, playing your position, encouraging each other, receiving encouragement, listening to the coach and even team letdowns are all essential skills that will get you far in adulthood. And it’s not like there aren’t a whole lot of these on offer. If your child isn’t a good runner, try something more low key like doubles badminton, volleyball or ultimate Frisbee. There are so many new sports popping up everyday that you don’t need to feel tied down to the usual football, rugby or netball.
  • Learn to swim- If you can do one thing for your child it is to teach him/ her how to swim. Under 8’s have the highest statistics for drownings occurring in both the UK and the US. It happens so quickly. Whether you’re a family that likes to take trips to the beach or go on holiday abroad, this will save you countless headaches and hours knowing your child is competent in the water by herself. I hated going to swimming lessons growing up and always drank too much water but my Mum insisted that we all learn until we reached lifeguard level. Today, I’m not a super strong swimmer because I still don’t particularly enjoy it but I’m competent and that’s all I need. I don’t begrudge my Mum’s insistence on this- in fact, I appreciate this skill now and it’s a lesson I will pass down to my daughters.
  • Enrol your child in Scouts/ Girl guides/ Beavers/ Brownies– Whatever the age, these groups are invaluable for teaching your child values, making friendships, life skills, charity, being part of their community and about the outdoors. There may be a time when they feel like they’ve outgrown it and it’s not so cool anymore and that’s also ok. It’s nice when they’re young to feel part of something that they can wear a uniform and earn badges for good work.
  • Get your child into the outdoors– This can be as general as you want it to be but just because you’re not into camping or hiking, it doesn’t mean your child couldn’t be. Being comfortable and appreciating the outdoors is again a gift that your child will thank you for years later. If you live in a city, this may not be so easy but structured activities can help with this. Enrol your child in a local canoeing, sailing, bird watching, or hiking group and watch his/ her appreciation for the outdoors soar. But really, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a club, simply taking regular walks in the woods is a great way to cultivate a love of the outdoors.
  • Learn to play a musical instrument- Again, this is not something I particularly liked nor found myself good at when my Mum insisted my siblings and I all try to learn a musical instrument. None of us was particularly musical but we endured it for at least a year before packing it in. It was enough time for me to understand how to read music, how crescendos and fortes work and the notes on a scale. I hated practicing my trumpet and I’m sure it was torture for both my Mum and I but I don’t regret having the experience. Who knows? Your child may show some talent and really flourish!
  • Learn another Language- Expose your child to at least one other language besides English. If you don’t speak another language at home, make it a priority for your child to attend a class once a week with other children so he/she doesn’t feel isolated. It might even be fun and they’ll be stoked the next time you go abroad and they hear the new language being spoken everywhere.
  • Teach your child to play chess or backgammon- Not all of these have to be taught in an extracurricular setting. This is probably something you could teach your child at home. Chess is one of the most strategic, methodical games you could teach your child and also requires a great deal of concentration. It can be helpful in brain development, particularly when it is played regularly from a very early age and can even help a child improve their learning, thinking, analytical power, and decision-making ability. Something they will value later in life. The game of backgammon also requires strategy and is great for younger childrens’ maths skills.
  • Value the Arts- Teach your children to appreciate art- whether it’s in a class, at home or at half term visiting art galleries. If you live in London, you can even take advantage and take your young ones to a West End show, a musical or the Ballet. They might even be begging you next time to start attending ballet class.
  • Take a drama class- There’s nothing like a drama class to help a child’s confidence. Done well, even the shyest child will learn to come out of their shell and step into the freedom of acting. By encouraging children to ‘act out’ a range of emotions in drama class, children are better able to understand their own emotions and develop empathy with others.
  • Get involved with volunteering or fundraising- This kind of goes without saying but the benefits of volunteering are endless. Besides being able to put this on your child’s cv, volunteering can give a child that feeling of giving back and being part of something bigger than themselves. Teaching a child to help others, not because they’ll receive something in return but just to be able to give back can bring endless benefits. Fundraising too can get your child thinking about goals, pushing past obstacles, developing skills around marketing and even logistics. You can even make it something you do together as a family. Whether it’s a one off fundraising activity or a regular volunteering role, make sure you get involved as well.

‘What are you on about??’: Focus on Intercultural Relationships

“Clear!”, he shouted as I clutched the wheel heading into more oncoming traffic. “What are you saying?! What does that mean?”, I shouted back. In desperation, the two of us just looked at each other, dumbfounded that the other seemed to be talking a different language.

“Pull over!”, my-then-boyfriend-now-husband said in exasperation as he realised I had no idea what he was on about.

Dutifully, I pulled over. Why didn’t he just say that? I remember thinking.

That was 10 years ago, our first realisation that although both of us spoke the same first language, lived in the same country and had many things in common, our upbringings were hugely different. And despite all of our commonalities, our differences were a much bigger challenge than we’d thought. “Clear”, I soon discovered, was a Nigerianism meaning pull over or pull to the side.

My husband and I originate from four parts of the globe as far apart from each other as you can get. My father is from Iran, my mother from England and I grew up in Canada. My husband was born and raised in Nigeria, with exposure to British colonial and cultural norms.

In any relationship, the challenges of ‘getting serious’, considering where is ‘home’, family, finances, gender roles, religion and raising children are all big questions. Throw cultural differences into the heap and you can almost feel as if you’re speaking different languages.

For us I think those big questions were obvious and we did tend to talk about them a lot before we said the big ‘I do’. But it was the little things that we didn’t consider and that we’re still discovering about each other. Things that research on this subject just doesn’t seem to explore.

It’s how we both think, the inherent ‘street wise’ instinct hubby has just from living in a country where ‘hustling’ is the norm. I lived the stereotypical suburban life in small town Alberta where locking our door during the day was unheard of. As a result, my husband is much more observant of people and things and subtleties than I am. Whether that’s just our personalities, I hasten to guess. But after travelling to Lagos and being chastised for handing over my passport to a customs officer in uniform and not keeping my eye on what he was doing with it, I realised I have much to learn about being streetwise.

I am also much more verbal than my husband. Again, this could just be down to personality because I know I am definitely more into chatting than he is.  But again, after spending some time in Nigeria, I realised people are expected to learn by observing rather than by explanation or asking questions. In my early twenties, I lived in Ghana and was so curious about everything I was experiencing. So I asked. It was my friend who was showing me the ropes who finally explained, ‘stop talking and just watch’. I often think back to that moment when my hubby and I are arguing over something I don’t understand.

Raising children in the way we were both brought up can become another battleground. Questioning what one partner might take for granted as normal becomes an accepted part of your everyday. Simply because ‘that’s how I was brought up’ and ‘how can you question it?’ just doesn’t cut it.

Take our debate about piercing our daughter’s ears when our eldest was born. I knew it was a cultural tradition and pretty much every Nigerian girl has their ears pierced when they’re born- including all my nieces. But cultural tradition wasn’t enough for me. He wasn’t able to give an answer as to why it was important and in the end, he conceded it might be better to wait. We then faced the often unpleasant comments from other Nigerians questioning ‘why aren’t her ears pierced’ and ‘how can we tell if she’s a girl or not?’ I wasn’t too bothered about being asked.

More than 10 years later, our lives have taken us to Nigeria and back, to Edmonton, Canada for long extended stays and now back to London, England. It’s been good for us to spend time in each other’s ‘homes’- learning more about each other than we ever could have just through communication. But England offers us something neither of these countries can. A neutral ground for us as a couple where we’re both just as lost as the other trying to decipher things like ‘what is the real pronunciation of ‘neither’?

We’re making choices as we go and sometimes the simplest of tasks or events can lead to debate. It’s often exhausting and I have to admit I do sometimes envy marriages between people who’ve grown up together in the same town and who can relate on so many levels.

But as time goes on, I think my husband and I are both beginning to grow having been confronted with the question ‘why?’. Consciously unravelling and exploring exactly who we are and why we believe in certain things can be uncomfortable. But isn’t all growth?  And with more consciousness comes understanding, empathy and compromise. Characteristics that hopefully our children will learn to value.

For more about intercultural relationships, read 10 Things to Consider Before Having Kids in an Interracial Relationship