Raising Mixed Race Kids: The Moment They Wake Up to Their Own Identity
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 4 year old daughter’s life as she’s become more and more aware of both her own colour and that of people around her. We’ve talked 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.
Where do you go next when your children realise they’re different?
I tried hard not to be heartbroken but I knew that I was completely unprepared for this this morning. I sighed with despair that she should have to feel this way, that this should be important and the meaning we attach to skin colour.
I wondered also what could have contributed to this feeling that mother and daughter have to match or, even more heartbreaking, did she think that if I was black or if she was white we wouldn’t have had such an argument?
It also begged the question at what age children start to assign characteristics to colour? I assume that with everything else our children witness, people (no matter what colour or creed) will be judged on what children see.
If our children mostly see black people who are homeless, guess what? That’s what they’ll believe. If all of the men in their life are abusive, you can bet your children will probably steer clear of most men.
This follows in a positive way as well. If most old ladies are nice to them, they’ll gradually associate kindness to old women. The list goes on.
It also means, then that surrounding our children with images and experiences of people with different skin colours and characteristics is so important.
It means then, that there are a multitude of stories out there that your children will assign meaning to- women can be kind and unkind, children with black hair can be quiet or loud, and families can be of all different skin colours.
Slowly, I turned to my daughter and 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 most importantly, 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 tender age of 4.
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.