10 Things EVERY Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Race Kids
Take two parents, two entirely different cultures, traditions and perspectives and you get a family with some pretty tough discussions, strong opinions and choices ahead. We can’t do it all and we certainly won’t do it perfectly when it comes to our mixed race kids but there are some things we as parents need to prioritise when raising mixed kids of dual or multiple heritage.
What makes me an expert?
I’m not, in fact nobody is. We’re all learning as we go along. Having said that, I’ve lived with this experience of being mixed all my life. I was raised in a mixed race family, Iranian and English and grew up in Canada after our family moved from Iran to England to Alberta following the Iranian revolution.
We moved to a very white middle class suburb and, as an immigrant family, we were reminded daily about our immigrant and multicultural heritage. That wasn’t a bad thing necessarily but as a child, I wasn’t prepared enough to navigate the challenges that lay ahead.
I’ve since married a Nigerian man, and we have three beautiful children together whom we are raising in London, England. We talk to them a lot about their multiple heritages, ethnicities, skin colours and cultures. We’ve both learned a lot and want to share what we’ve learned along the way.
Of course there are never any hard and fast rules but there are always things we can learn from each other. I’ve put together 10 tips that will help you in raising kids of multiple or mixed race backgrounds. Read on and good luck on your journey! For extra tips on how to celebrate and make being in a multicultural family fun, click here!
Speak your language
If one of you speaks another language or originates from another country where English isn’t the first language, that means your mixed race son or daughter could be bilingual. That’s an amazing opportunity to give your children! Even if you don’t speak it well, passing down your culture can often go hand in hand with language. Basic greetings are sometimes all a child needs to feel part of or included amongst relatives or friends. And yes, your mixed race kids may resent having to attend language school every Saturday now but they’ll thank you for it later on when they’re able to converse with friends and family from your native country.
2. Talk about your history
History can tell a thousand stories and telling your own family history as well as that of your homeland will do wonders in opening up all sorts of discussions with your children.
For myself and my siblings growing up with a Persian father, I learned fast that the Iranian Revolution marked a major historical upheaval and explains a lot about modern day Iran, its people, its diaspora and its politics. Pre-Revolutionary Iran and the ancient civilisations and dynasties also shed light on who and why Iranians are such a proud people. I don’t know if I would understand my Dad’s culture and origins if I didn’t have this perspective.
3. Emphasize both Cultures
Make sure you talk about both parent’s cultures to your mixed children. It’s so easy for parents to get caught in the trap of emphasizing only the culture that is ‘exotic’ or foreign that the partner who hails from the country in which you reside or one that is more common, gets forgotten. Make sure both of your mixed race kids’ cultures and traditions are valued and explained and talk about it with each other to ensure you’re both on the same page.
4. Talk about race and racism
Even if you’ve never fell victim to racism, (in fact, ESPECIALLY if you’ve never been a victim of racism), this is a must-must discussion parents need to have with their children. Your children will have different experiences from you and they may have darker or lighter skin. (Just helping your child to decide how they identify is a discussion that will probably run throughout their lives).
Either way they need to be able to talk about and understand race and how it relates to themselves even if you’re uncomfortable talking about it. Raising kids who are conscious about discrimination and injustice can only be a good thing. (Read on for more about how to talk to your kids about racism)
5. Pass on your traditions
Traditions are so important in passing down one’s culture. You don’t need to do everything your parents did but highlighting the important ones, in discussion with your partner, will help your children to understand where you come from and the parts of your culture that are important.
In our family, we have chosen to continue the traditional Nigerian greeting but have chosen not to pierce our newborn daughters’ ears. We have made these choices consciously and with intention about what we wish our mixed race kids to take from Nigerian culture.
6. Mark your cultural festivals
With so many cultures to choose from, we’re never at a loss to have a reason to celebrate. From Canadian Halloween, to Nigerian Independence Day to Nowrooz (Iranian New Year) Festival, we seem to have it all covered.
Each one gets as much attention as the next and we even try to ensure we can attend a community gathering to make it as authentic as it was for us growing up with the real thing. Your children will remember these times and may even choose to pass them down to their children one day. (Marking your cultural traditions can be a fun way to pass down your heritage, here are 9 more ways you can make being in a multicultural family fun!)
7. Demonstrate the importance of traditional greetings
Greetings are so important in today’s globalized world where countries, people and cultures emphasize different things in how they greet each other. In Nigeria, greeting an elder is a very formal affair involving a bow or a curtsy along with lowered eyes to show respect. In Persian culture, men and women typically kiss each other on the cheek three times to show affection and respect. While in England, women typically kiss one cheek.
It’s important that our mixed race kids understand how and why we greet each other in each setting so they can navigate their way around each cultural setting when they’re older. What a gift they’ll have when they’re older and want to travel the world!
8. Visit your home country with your children
Even if you never travelled to your home country and you’re a third culture kid yourself, at least you had the benefit of being raised by parents who grew up there. Your children will need to see the real thing before they can understand your culture (and you) completely. The people, the cultural norms, complexities and weirdisms that make it up. Don’t let it become just a vacation spot either. Let your mixed race kids spend their summers there to know just how you grew up and how you actually lived.
My oldest had the benefit of living in Nigeria for two years of her early life. She still remembers the smells, the sights and little things she sees today trigger those memories. The best part is, she remembers our time there with so much happiness and can’t wait for us to bring her back.
9. Foster close relationships with your children’s Grandparents
Grandparents are so important to instilling your culture in your mixed race kids. They carry with them all of the above- history, traditions, language and so much of the cultural norms.
My mother in law has started teaching my eldest Yoruba (the local dialect where my husband is from). There are a lot of intricacies associated with Yoruba but what my daughter, (and her grandmother) are getting from it, goes beyond just the language.
It’s quality time spent together, it’s pride on my mother in law’s part in being able to pass down her language and culture, it’s empowering for daughter’s that she’s able to converse and speak to people in their native tongue and it’s educational for both of them to be able to see from an outsider and insider’s perspective of learning a language.
There are so many benefits that these small interactions can bring. Developing that relationship and ensuring your mixed race kids get to know their grandparents will have a huge impact on them in years to come.
10. Give your children the freedom to adapt culture to who they are as third culture kids
Your mixed race kids are not you and their experience is going to be different from yours as children of an intercultural family. When they’re old enough, allow them to explore their culture for themselves and decide which parts they can identify with and which parts they don’t. This may change again when they have families of their own but it’s important that you let them be who they are and not decide for them even when they’re old enough to decide for themselves.
As featured in the Huffington Post