Category Archives: Parenthood

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

Preparing your Children for Racist Bullying

Reading posts from a few Mama bloggers this week, the subject of racist bullying seemed to come up a lot. A black teenager who retaliated when she was called the ‘n’ word and the school/ police’s unequal response. A Mum whose mixed race daughter was asked (twice in one week) if she was adopted and “is that your real mom” because she has dark skin.

Real racism or blatant bullying hasn’t happened to my kids… yet. But I’ve witnessed hints of kids becoming ‘aware’ of difference.

At 4 years old, I could see the children already noticing skin colour and how it relates to them and their friends.

But racist bullying isn’t anything new, surely?

Children noticing difference and singling out other kids for looking or acting a certain way is nothing new. I remember being picked on and even doing the picking- for all sorts of things: glasses, red hair, short, fat, hairy, long nose, short nose, names… the list goes on. But what I don’t remember and what I’ve never had to experience is racist comments about skin colour.

Though I was born into a mixed family, my father a milk chocolate colour, I am by far the lightest in my family- easily able to pass as white. I could float between my identities at will, embracing more of my Iranian background as I grew older but wanting nothing to do with anything foreign in my pre-teen years. True, my name often gave me away but I was able to shorten it to a westernised version that allowed me to pass.

So I’m new to this territory. I remember when my daughter was barely 1 year old and my husband and I took her to a local park in a very white middle class area. A child came up to her and stuck his tongue out, then tried to tell her she couldn’t come to the part of the climbing frame where he was.

Perhaps we were sensitive as new parents but I remember feeling rage at the other child for excluding her or being mean to her. She was oblivious of course, as most babies would be. But looking around the park with so many white children and their blue-eyed- blonde- haired parents in groups, it played into the feeling we already had of feeling isolated and sensitive to a world that might judge our beautiful child on the basis of her skin.

Like any mother I desperately want to protect my children. I don’t want to be over sensitive but…

Why then does racist bullying hurt so much more than just plain bullying?

My guess is it’s because we know it won’t end when the children grow up and realize glasses can be cool, being short is pretty common and having a different name isn’t something to make fun of someone for.

Most people grow out of bullying. But racism is something that will and can continue for a lifetime. It may take a different form but the hurt caused whether you’re in the playground or grown up and working can be just as painful.

So to have it start at such an early age is heartbreaking. Because if you’ve given them the best start, you know they’re confident, even proud of who they are, soon, very soon, they’ll understand not everyone thinks that way.

I do realize that nothing could happen as many mixed friends can recount not having encountered any negative experience because of their skin color. If so, my daughters may just escape the large chip many of (we and many generations before us) us have been forced to carry and have a pretty good shot at happiness.

Be Ready…

But if comments do happen, I hope I’m ready for it. Ready to maintain my cool and hold down the rage that I can imagine I’ll feel at even the slightest hint of racist bullying. I hope I can talk to my daughter about how and why it happened, how it made her feel and how some people may see things that way. What I hope more than anything though is that if it does happen, my daughters will be secure enough in who they are to be able to dismiss such comments as they would any other.

Is there any way a parent can prepare for when their child gets bullied? Perhaps not. I can’t do anything about the way the world sees her, but I hope I can be a positive influence in the way she sees herself.

LIFE AFTER BREXIT: LET’S DO THIS FOR OUR CHILDREN

Since the Brexit referendum, I’ve not written much, choosing instead to sit back and understand how the results will play out.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity. Almost comical at times watching politicians one after the other, most of whom supported leave, back out of the deal they so vehemently supported. Unfortunately, however, the results have not been so funny.

I voted remain. I made no secret of this fact.

And for the first time, my 5 year old was watching.

I explained to her, in the simplest of terms what we were voting for, making sure I played it as neutrally as possible knowing full well there were people she knew and loved who sided with the leave campaign.

I explained to her that our country was deciding whether it was better to be in a team or to play on our own. That some people thought the team made decisions that may not always be best for our country but that we were united in our end goal to fight for what’s best for all of us.

She understood. And she came with me to the polling station, as did my two younger girls. I showed her the ballot paper. I made her read the question. (I didn’t go so far as to let her do the X fearing perhaps she’d ruin my ballot paper=). And she carefully folded the paper and inserted it into the ballot box. With me all the while, explaining that although it seems simple, this is an important decision that many people around the country will be deciding on.

We woke up the next morning and heard the news. The same news that shocked a Nation. I knew very few people who had voted leave. And so, living within my bubble, I had thought it was in the bag. How I react from this point onward is exactly what my children are now watching.

Never before (at least in my lifetime) has a nation been so deeply divided. Never before, have so many people been so politically engaged. Never before has politics drawn so much discussion, heartache and emotion.

And yet, the divisions run deep- perpetuated perhaps by the relative ease at which we all have access to a keyboard and the internet to jot down random thoughts and dig at others without any thought to consequence. It’s highlighted the deep divides between class, London vs. the rest, England and Wales vs Scotland and Northern Ireland, young and old and immigrant vs native.

I didn’t like the outcome, I still don’t. But this was and is the ultimate show of democracy. A result where there are winners and losers and where division of opinion exists in its extreme.

So isn’t this exactly how we show our children that there will be setbacks? That we may not like the outcome of certain things that happen?

We have a choice here. We can choose to be one of the sore losers who are still angry and calling for a second referendum despite the millions- 52% of the country- who clearly said they wanted change. We can direct our anger toward the racists that choose to lash out at hardworking migrants and immigrants and we can live in denial, supporting politicians who are looking for a sneaky way out.

Or, we can choose to get on with it. This is a lesson in life. An opportunity to show how we can take lemons and make lemonade. Particularly where difference of opinion divides families, couples and friends right down the middle. I was raised to understand that healthy debate and difference of opinion challenges you. I want that for my daughters as well. I choose to react differently. I choose to move on. I choose to abandon my hope for another referendum and understand the protest that the have-nots have stood for.

Our nation will be great. And it’s those who called on all of us, just hours after the results came in, with tears in their eyes to work together and make this work for all of us- that’s what I have admiration for.

With all that is happening across the globe, our world is divided like never before. With a new PM about to take charge and a woman at that, we have an opportunity to start over.

So let’s do this Britain. For our children.

Why Walking to School is So Important

Why Walking to School is So Important

We’ve been looking at moving house and deciding how close to the school we actually need to be. Move further out and you get more for your money. Be within walking distance and well, you definitely get less but what you do get is difficult to put value on.

Our walk to school is perhaps my most favourite moment of the day. When it’s not fraught with chaos and shouting to get us all out the door on time, it is a walk that takes us past some of the most beautiful parts of London- narrow canals lined with house boats, tree-lined streets, green spaces and multi-coloured houses offering us all sorts of treasures along the way.

At the moment, I take my three girls to school and nursery via pram, buggy board and scooters. It’s a 15-20 minute walk and often at a brisk pace. But the thought of giving it up for a bigger place, and a commute by car, well, it just can’t be worth it.

When I think of how much learning our children get just by being in the outdoors, I’m grateful that we have this space… this time that captures the girls’ imaginations. Walks become adventures to find secret passages, the biggest leaf…seeds that look like acorns, sticks, squirrels, foxes and cats along the way litter our path. Pidgeons who raid the bins on the corner and ants, ladybugs, worms and snails that stop us to examine each and every one.

If you think about it, every moment in nature offers a different opportunity to learn and to teach our children.

I had a bee on my leg yesterday. Of course, my instinct was to flick it off but (luckily it didn’t sting me), we got the kids over to show the pollen it had stuck down its leg to carry back to its hive. Ants who march all in a row following a trail of sticky ice-cream, squirrels scurrying to and fro in the autumn trying to gather as much food as they can before winter.

My daughter even had a dead mouse left in her nursery playground! Disgusting yes, but instead of tossing it straight away, the children’s fascination led the teachers to tell them about the cats who might have caught it, why and the cycle of life.

Though I’ve not got a green thumb, I’ve appreciated the many opportunities planting and growing and maintaining greenery our children have had and continue to have both at school and elsewhere. My two year old knows how to plant a seed, dig up a potato and pull up carrots when ripe.

Physically, our walk to school offers opportunities to practice balancing along the walls, learn about traffic safety, point out tree types, birds and flowers, with the chance to pick up flowers that have fallen for craft-time later.

It’s 15 minutes of peaceful joy as we start and end each day. It’s a wind down before we get home to make dinner, finish homework, bathtime and bed. It’s short but it’s physical activity and fresh air that makes me feel less guilty at the end of the day if we’ve not had time to go to the park. And it’s a chance to talk about our days, holding each other’s hands as we go. Singing songs and laughing at each other’s knock knock jokes. I don’t always appreciate it as much as I should but when I’m faced with giving it up… I hope not.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS WHEN YOUR KIDS ARE BACK AT SCHOOL

For millions of kids around the world, it’s the start of the school year.

And for just as many mums used to knowing every detail of our children’s lives, we are now left standing at the entrance of the school gate wondering just what the heck they get up to for those 6 hours away from us.

It’s a new year, a new class and for some, even a new school so it’s normal for parents to worry about how their child is faring and what the teacher is like?

The transition from reception to Year 1 for us has been especially challenging as the kids have reported feeling like there are more rules and definitely less playtime.

It’s been hard knowing we’re entrusting our kids with teachers whom we know very little about and how they interact with our children. Hence, the end of the day debrief is so important.

If your kids are anything like mine, getting them to tell you about their day is exhausting. I’ve tried everything- from bribery to punishment (yes, I said it!) just to get some answers!

But I’ve found that if you ask the right questions, you can get something… Just don’t make the rookie mistake and ask them about their day. Even I can answer that one. “Fine, Mum. Can I go play now?”

So I thought I’d share a few of my favourite questions which have gotten somewhere with my daughters.

  • What was your favourite part of your day?
  • What didn’t you like about today?
  • Did you get into any trouble? What did the teacher do?
  • Was anybody mean? What did you do?
  • Did you do anything extra nice today?
  • Was anybody else extra nice to you today?
  • Who did you play with at lunchtime? And what did you play?
  • Did anybody else get in trouble today? What did the teacher say?
  • What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  • What did you have for lunch? And who did you sit beside?

For me, I love to hear about the social dynamics at school as well as what they learned. I want to know that my child didn’t feel bullied, what the teacher’s approach to bad behaviour might be, who she plays with and how she relates to others…

If there is something you want to know about such as how the phonics lesson was taught, think of a way to ask it that isn’t, “what was your phonics lesson like?”

Just remember, keep it short because your kids will lose interest pretty fast so get the key questions in there fast and save the rest for later. Vary it up each day if you can and add your own!

I’m trusting you, my faithful readers to come up with much more ingenious ways to ask your kids about their day. Please share them here in the comments and I might even write a follow up later in the year!

CHOOSING STATE SCHOOL OVER PRIVATE, WHY WOULD YOU DO IT?

We all face the dilemma whether to send our kids to private or state school.  However, for most people it’s not a dilemma. Paying out on average £6-8k a term- perhaps triple that if you have more than one child- is simply a privilege reserved for the better off.

And yet, there are people surprisingly, for whom funds are not an issue and yet they still choose state school over private. This surprised me, I have to admit.

When most independent schools boast better facilities, smaller class sizes, extensive extra-curricular activities…  Who would really risk their children’s success knowing all of that? Whereas less than ten per cent of our population actually attends private school, the stats show a disproportionate percentage represented in top positions. 71 per cent of senior judges attended private school, 50 per cent of the House of Lords and 44 per cent of The Sunday Times Rich List. I always thought if the funds were there, it would hardly be a question.

And yet, here are five successful families who can arguably afford the fees, the lifestyle and whose social network perhaps has more in common with most private school parents than at our school which has a high proportion of Free School Meals pupils. I’d never heard of this phenomenon before but it got me thinking…

If money was not an issue and setting an individual’s politics aside, why would you choose state school over private?

Their answers surprised me.

  1. “Because it gives our children a false sense of reality”. Number one on parents’ list. One set of parents I spoke to (both of whom went to private school themselves) claimed “ps offers a mind-numbing environment and a false sense of security that children are ‘entitled’ and ‘deserving’ of all their privilege”. It fails to equip their children for the realities of the world, which they subsequently will have to learn at University. I don’t want my children to be surrounded by people who are only like them and have lots of money”, said one parent. “Not sure it makes them a nicer person.”
  2. Ethnic diversity. A no brainer I suppose. Most people know private schools are not as ethnically diverse as state schools though some are better than others. Outside London it is possible to have a diverse intake – in London it seems more polarised. For children who come from non-white backgrounds, this can be an important factor that is overlooked for the sake of achievement but confidence and identity can suffer. On the other hand, even children who are not from an ethnically diverse background, surrounding them with children and families who are ethnically similar gives a false sense of reality for when they enter the working world. The world is a melting pot and (think Made in Chelsea), having friends of different backgrounds can show children different ways of working and compromise.
  3. It can give kids a false sense of entitlement and achievement.Knowing that your parents paid for your education and that you got to where you are because of help can also affect confidence. Many parents don’t want their children to feel that they’re entitled to a ‘leg up’ and feel that they should work hard to get to where they want to be.
  4. “I can think of better ways to spend £350k (a lifetime of school fees)”. Well, so could I when you put it that way. Parents I spoke to said it’s important for them to give their children experiences outside of school which will enrich their learning. For example, they took them on holiday to Kenya where they got to see animals in the wild and visited a local village and an orphanage. Still a privileged lifestyle but they argued they may not have been able to afford those trips if the children were in private school.
  5. Higher expectations. It never occurred to me that there was more pressure from universities if your child attended private school. Some universities will ask for higher exam results from certain private schools than from some state secondary schools.
  6. Private schools in the area only offer single sex education. Many private schools are single sex but state primaries and secondary’s are co-ed. Depending on the child, this can be a big factor for parents making that decision.
  7. No need. Many parents look for private schools to fill in the gaps of parenting,  But if you are hands on and  supportive of your children’s schooling, it is possible to make up the difference. It can be expensive but less so than private school if you enrol your children in music/sport/drama/languages and tutoring in areas of weakness. And still have plenty left over to help them through university and setting up a home or career.
  8. Life is not purely about academic achievement. Yes, private schools can guarantee better results and they will challenge your children to do their very best but for some parents, it’s about providing a happy home, making sure they get jobs they enjoy and are good at but which they can leave behind at the end of the working day. Achievement and results are part and parcel of most academic private schools. And that’s not a bad thing but perhaps not what’s right for all children or all parents. “I want to support my children in their ambitions”, said one parent. “That’s more important than an Oxbridge degree or friends in high places.”
  9. Depends on the child. Some children need that extra push that a private school can give- they’re much more hands on. Some children will get lost in the academic pressure that governs many independent schools. So it really can be about what would suit your child best.
  10. The state school down the road is simply better than the private ones. Like state schools, there are good independent schools and poor ones. Given how much is at stake, choosing your local state school is not necessarily about choosing the lesser school. Both can vary and it’s important to do your research about whether your local state school can do just as good a job if not better.

10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Heritage 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 heritage kids but there are some things we as parents need to make priority when raising kids of dual or multiple cultures.

  1. 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 son or daughter could and should be bilingual. Even if you don’t speak it well, passing down any culture often goes hand in hand with language. Your son or daughter 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 history as well as that of your homeland will do wonders in opening up all sorts of discussions with your children. 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. Emphasise both Cultures– Make sure you talk about both parent’s  cultures to your children. So easy is it for parents to get caught in the trap of emphasising 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 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 racism– Even if you’ve never fell victim to 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 but either way they need to be able to talk about it and understand it even if you’re uncomfortable talking about it.
  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 again to understand where you come from and the parts of their culture which 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 children 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 is as authentic as it was for us growing up with the real thing.
  7. Demonstrate the importance of traditional greetings– Greetings are so important in today’s globalised world where countries, people and cultures emphasise different things in their greetings. 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. It’s important that our 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.
  8. Visit your home country with your children– Even if you’ve never been 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 children spend their summers there to know just how you grew up and how you actually lived.
  9. Foster close relationships with your children’s Grandparents– Grandparents are so important to imbibing your culture in your kids. They carry with them all of the above- history, traditions, language. Developing that relationship and ensuring your children 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 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

10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial Marriage

If you’re planning to have children and you’re in an interracial relationship, consider these most common complications every parent of mixed heritage children has faced at one point or another.

There are so many amazing things that being part of a mixed family can bring to your life but of course like anything, beauty is complex. These are simple reminders to make you aware of what is coming and what you may need to discuss with your partner beforehand. As your children get older, try understanding each issue with as much openness and understanding as you would any other.

  1. Your child may have a different accent/ culture to you

“Mama, say ‘water’”, my oldest daughter pleaded. She laughed as I repeated the word with my heavy-Canadian accent, “waaaderrr”. I never thought my kids would be making fun of my accent. I just assumed we’d all speak the same, we’re a family, after all.  Growing up first generation British and the daughter of mixed parents, (Nigerian and Canadian/Iranian/British), my three daughters are bound to have different accents, cultural experiences and different identities. As parents, it’s something you know that will happen when you have mixed race kids, but it’s tough when you realise they’re having completely different cultural experiences than you did growing up- even opting to adopt one culture or identity over another. As mixed kids, it’s their prerogative. Their language, accent, home, even their look is different to yours and though that may be the case with all kids, being of mixed parentage, it’s even more pronounced. Hey, some may even switch between accents depending on who they’re with. Accents, like any other part of their identity, can become fluid for mixed kids.

  1. Consider that this is new territory for both you and your partner

Let’s face it, most parents of mixed children are of one heritage themselves and so finding themselves in this unknown world of mixed parenting is a minefield. It’s the constant arguments over whose childhood was better versus what is best for the child all the while both you being able to pass on your cultural identity in the process… It’s hard and neither of you is experienced in this area. You’re both so different and coming from such different backgrounds, you’ve never had to compromise on culture before. And inevitably you’ll both probably feel quite strongly about passing on your traditions and values.

Like anything, keeping the lines of communication open is the best way to deal with these discussions. I remember the discussion my hubby and I had about piercing our firstborn’s ears. In Nigerian culture, it was commonplace, even expected- so much so that despite our little one decked out in frilly dresses, relatives and friends would often insist they couldn’t tell she was a girl or not because she didn’t have pierced ears. We kept that conversation going for a long time, raising it at various times until we both came to an understanding about why it was important (or not) and what she (our daughter) would miss out on without it. It may seem trivial now but it took on more significance because we were so new to the interracial parenting scene.

  1. Your child may adopt one identity over another

Being biracial black and white, identity is and will be fluid. Associating different aspects to each cultural background, our kids are likely to adopt one over the other at different points in their lives. If they can pass as white, they might only identify as white. As they get older and they start to understand skin colour and race on a deeper level, they may identify more with their black parent, even going so far as to say they are not white (at all). Another thing to consider is that siblings may identify differently from each other because of how different they look and their experiences as a result. My oldest daughter is darker skinned, looks much less ‘mixed’ than my other two and the only one with an identifiable Nigerian name. She will, inevitably have a different experience than the younger two- even opting to identify as black ‘like Daddy’ instead of being mixed. Be ready for it all and accept your children for who they are and where they’re at.

  1. You’ll feel pressure from family about how to raise her/him

After the joy of having a new grandchild wears off, pressure will set in from family about how to raise your child. Starting from discussions about circumcision, ear piercing, the list goes on. Be prepared. Parents are likely to get involved in any family but when it comes to identity and culture, families can come from a place of fear of losing their cultural traditions when it comes to your children. Older relatives may even be stuck in a different generation where things were done for hygienic, economic or practical reasons. Those reasons might not exist today and may not apply to your home country so decide whether these traditions are still right for you and your children.

By the same token, don’t just discount it just because it’s not practically relevant; it might still be important to your partner because of its cultural implications. The first bath in Nigerian culture for our little ones was a great example of this. It was important back in the day because midwives performed many procedures that we replicate in today’s Western hospitals. Hence, its significance is not practical anymore but the cultural value I could recognise, was still relevant and important to my husband.

  1. You’ll need to go with the times

Your kids are going to take on some aspects of your culture, but not all. Just as you probably did growing up and then going on to have your own family. Even as they grow, they might not think that going to mosque is that cool or they may turn a cool eye to the traditional stews you slave over every night, preferring instead fish fingers and fries because that’s what their friends are eating. I remember that feeling well, wincing in shame when one of my friends commented that my house always smelled like exotic food. I hated being different. I now try to make a fusion of food so my little ones can experience it all. As they get older though, trust that your children will be proud of who they are. Maturity brings with it pride in being able to be different and feeling comfortable. Keep that in mind when you’re having that argument with your little one over whether they can wear their superman outfit over their agbada (Nigerian traditional garb).

  1. Adapt to the country you’re living in

Kids just want to fit in with their friends-especially when they get to the teenage years. Evaluate very carefully how important it is for your child to miss out on the biggest high school event of the year for a cultural event or insisting on traditional or cultural wear. Our children just want to be themselves, and I agree there is a fine line between wanting to imbibe important values, morals and ethics onto our children and imposing our own ideas. Finding the balance, through talking it out, explaining your reasons and not dogmatically insisting without allowing for dialogue is easier said than done but necessary if you want to pull them along. Explain the reasons behind such practices, and don’t just assume they’re going to do them because you said so.

  1. Encourage bilingualism but don’t make it torturous for them

If your child is resisting speaking his/her mother tongue – don’t get upset. Keep up with it, encourage it in gentle ways. You don’t really want your child to hate your language, do you? In reality, there WILL be a time when the need will arise to learn and to speak it. And your child WILL show more interest. Saturday schools are just as common as they were when we were growing up and I don’t know how I feel about them yet. I’ve read about grown-up children who hated it and still today don’t speak a lick of their language despite the torturous 3-4 hour lessons they were forced to go to every Saturday. I’ve also read about people who hated it growing up and now really value that they can speak, read and write their native language. Make decisions based on what you and your partner believe is right but keep your minds open as they get older.

  1. The ‘homecoming’ you had in mind for when you bring your kids back to where you grew up may not be what you were expecting

It’s not just that they might not be feeling it but your expectations of bringing your kids, your offspring, your legacy back to where their roots are might be too much given the fact that your kids are mixed. They’re likely to have different accents, dress differently and even may be perceived as completely foreign. All of this will make them feel unable to relate to how you grew up and may make them feel like a tourist in your home country. Don’t take it hard or feel like they’re nothing like you.

  1. Expect that your child will question, even doubt or be ashamed of certain cultural practices

Be open minded- if your child comes home questioning something that you take for granted is cultural, allow him/her to explore it with you. Don’t just shut it down because you think it’s disrespectful. It may not be the right time at that moment when you’re at a traditional burial or wedding but remember these events and milestones are important markers of your culture and great ways for you to explain certain things. Many old traditions are built around births, deaths, weddings and milestones such as coming of age.

My husband recently took my daughter to one of his family naming ceremonies for a new baby. Naming ceremonies are important in Nigerian culture and depending on the families’ circumstances when the child was born, they can be quite emotional, marking the families’ joy after years of trying for another child or after losing a parent recently. The ceremony became quite emotional and the scene brought up many questions for our little one.  My husband was able to explain what was happening and why- giving her context and insight into the emotions of the night.

  1. Having children of your own will force you to confront your own childhood issues

Don’t assume that because they’re yours, they’re an extension of you. They’re going to have different experiences and therefore different issues, if any. So don’t make the bullying about racism if it’s not for them. If they do experience racism, take it in your stride and explain it to them, talk about it and don’t assume that this is going to be a major issue just because it was for you. I know plenty of mixed or lighter skin black people who say they never had to experience racist bullying.

  1. Your children have the chance to embody the best of both of you

Finally, remember that growing up in a mixed family is one of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences your child could ever have. Without even trying, your children will grow up with a healthy sense of diversity, tolerance, open mindedness, awareness and the potential for multiple languages. Being mixed allows your child to bridge gaps and embody diplomacy, with the ability to switch between multiple spheres and cultures.

So good luck raising your global citizen! For more about raising mixed heritage kids, click here…

DREADING THE END OF SUMMER? HERE’S WHY YOU SHOULD LOOK FORWARD TO THE SCHOOL RUN

Look Forward to Kids Going Back to School?

I’ve been enjoying hearing my Mum friends dread the end of the summer when the children go back to school. We’ve all enjoyed the holidays and missing your children when they go back is understandable.

Me, on the other hand, I can’t wait. Not because we haven’t enjoyed the summer, or because we haven’t loved getting up late and planning our days with the ease and casualness of vacationers. But for a number of other reasons, I am happy to see the summer come to an end.

Here’s why:

  1. Free time. Well, here’s a no brainer, you get your free time back. Again, I must reiterate, I love having my kids around but to be switched on all day everyday is exhausting. I’m looking forward to having at least 2.5 days where I can catch up on tasks I’ve been putting off and go shopping without 3 kids whining that they ‘want a treat’.
  2. Back to routine. Let’s face it. Kids thrive in routine. It’s nice for us to have breaks from it but, as a Mum who borders on Type A personality, I also thrive in routine. Knowing they’ll be in bed from  7pm onwards and that they’ll wake up refreshed is comforting in many ways. I’ve witnessed far too many a yawn from kids this holiday to know that my kids are not getting enough sleep.
  3. They’ve gotten lazy. That brings me to the third point. Out of routine with loads of free time. Mine at least, are getting harder and harder to cajole into doing their chores or even (gasp) doing ten minutes of learning a day.
  4. They might actually learn something. I’m no teacher (as the above attempts at getting them to do homework have demonstrated). Although I’d love to homeschool, teaching my kids is not my forte. So I’m happy to hand the children over to qualified teachers for 6 hours a day so they can learn something about adding and subtracting numbers.
  5. It’s expensive! Our summer has been jam packed with activities and on top of holidays, transport costs, food and entry fees, it’s not been cheap. I’m looking forward to getting back to budget and reigning ourselves in a bit more before the next holiday begins.
  6. The house is a tip. My girls have loved having so much free time and many lazy mornings have been spent playing with play-doh, crafts, sand and baking. I’m so sure much of it is stuck in the corners and under furniture.  But without the time or energy to do a proper clean, it’s stayed there for much longer than I’d have liked.
  7. Seeing friends again. And this goes for both parents and kids alike. My daughters are keen to see their friends at school and I’ll admit, I’ve built up a nice community of Mums and parents at school as well. It’s been nice to see those I don’t see normally at school but I’m looking forward to catching up with those I’ve missed.
  8. Too much of a good thing. Like all good things, the holidays must come to an end. We’re already looking forward to half term because their Grandma is visiting from Canada. Only six weeks to go!

Perhaps I should return to this post two weeks in when the school run has gotten tiresome once again, birthday party mania sets in and I’m once again missing my kids. For now, though, I can’t wait for school to start!

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama, click here to find out how to help your kids manage their emotions.