Tag Archives: mixed race kids

Raising a Multicultural Kid in a Mixed Race Family

That first day when I realised my kid was global both in heritage and in mindset was when she was three. My Mum and I were talking at the kitchen table, and the subject of China came up in conversation. My firstborn piped up, “Mama, did we fly over China to get to Canada?”

She’s referring to our move from Nigeria to Canada. And, no, we didn’t fly over China. But to hear the question come from a 3 year old suggested she knew that it was both a country far away and that other places in the world existed outside of her familiar environment. We hadn’t spoken about China before but her exposure, we knew, already included an array of foreign countries.

My daughter began her awareness going to a genuinely international school in Lagos, Nigeria. Friends of hers hailed from all over- South Africa, Netherlands, India, Greece, America, England, Israel, Lebanon and of course, Nigeria. It was and still is normal for her friends to speak two, if not more languages and having parents of different colours/ races was no big deal.

We’re now living in London, England. And as she becomes more aware, she’s also talking more about accents, vocabulary, geography and social norms. Having lived in 3 different continents in her 6 short years, my dd1’s own accent and vocab shifts according to whom she’s talking to. Like any child with access to an ipad, her favourite shows include BBC’s Ben and Holly alongside American cartoons Paw Patrol and Lego Friends. She’s savvy enough to realise the characters speak differently and that “Hi guys” is not common all over the world.

For her, asking Mama where the garbage is and saying, “Odaro” (goodnight in Yoruba) to grandparents via facetime is normal. For her, assuming “Nepa took light” (an affectionate way of referring to the frequent power outages in Lagos) when the phone cuts midway through phone calls with grandparents and cousins that are two shades darker than her, is normal. And showing off her collection of shopkins to cousins three shades lighter, blonde and blue eyed, in Canada where the 15 inch snow glistens off their window is also just as normal.

She doesn’t yet know that friends won’t know what she’s talking about when the day comes she proudly refers to her “Bababozorg” (farsi for her maternal grandfather). Just as it came as a surprise to her recently when her friend asked her why she was referring to the ‘bathroom’. What’s that?, her friend asked.

Games every other day include role play as a waitress carrying a pizza. Not in her hand though. “On my head”, she insists, “like they do in Nigeria”. Dressing up as a princess includes a jewel-like ‘bindhi’ in the middle of her forehead “because it’s pretty”. And books at night spin riveting tales of African villagers, Middle Eastern parables and American kids playing on the ‘teeter totter’ and doing ‘somersaults’.

We didn’t set out to give our daughters such varied exposure. Sure we both love travelling but we thought learning about the world came later, when children are interested in learning about their own history and culture.

But without our intervention, it’s just happened. Our daughter’s everyday exposure and experience is littered with variety. Whether we tried or not, just her being is a mixture of colour, race, history, culture and language. As mixed race kids, our children were bound to be multicultural and perhaps there’s no getting around it these days.

So in that respect the term ‘third culture kid’ is perhaps outdated. Kids can’t help but be soaking up four, five even ten different cultures blended into their little beings. So when their experiences span continents, their loved ones hail from different corners of the globe and their conversations are packed with language, intonation and dialects bridging nations. Well, folks, it gives new meaning to the word ‘globalisation’.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama about raising mixed race kids, read about Preparing your Children for Racist Bullying

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”…

“Brown skin and blonde girls only”, Said My Daughter

It was the moment I dreaded. Today my daughter came home recounting her day with the casual tone she adopts when talking about homework.

At the mention of skin colour, my head turned. But instead of the usual defensive lioness I’ve become so used to at the mention of anyone excluding her for being brown, I had to do a double take.

“What??? Why would you?… Who??….”, my voice tailed off. Realising she’d included blonde girls, I calculated that most of her friends were actually probably included- even with this strange entry requirement.

All except one. “Were all your friends allowed to join then?”, I asked carefully. “Yes”, she said. “Except N…”

My heart dropped. Just as I feared. One of her friends who didn’t play with her that often but who was often on the periphery of her little group was unfortunate to have brown hair.

My daughter was obviously oblivious to her error. In fact, she looked at me curiously to see why I might be so concerned.

What do you do and how do you say it? My automatic anti-racist, discrimination-hating, scary-Mum instinct was about to be unleashed where I lecture my daughter about everything that’s wrong with excluding someone because of their skin colour.

And yet I knew that if I scared my daughter with my reaction, what would be the impact on any future conversations about race?

Would she want to bring up any more moments where race and skin colour come up and would she feel comfortable to know that she can ask anything- even if it is offensive?

Because keeping that conversational door open is one of the most important things to me. That she knows that she can ask anything of us- her parents- even if she suspects it’s not a comfortable subject for many.

We talk about race and heritage and colour because it’s there. Not because we want to make a big deal of it but because it’s there. And we don’t have a choice.

Fortunately, the people who make up my daughter’s entire world are all different colours so I didn’t have to travel far to get her to understand.

“You do know that your rules mean that I couldn’t join your secret club”.

Armed with this new revelation, she seemed to pause and agreed quickly to change the rules so that blonde, brown and black hair, white skin and brown skin could be included.

In Shakil Choudhury’s recent ground-breaking book on diversity, he spells it out for us that our human brain is predisposed to be empathetic to those who are most like us. But as her immediate circle is made up of multiple skin colours and features, I knew that her concept of ‘us’ was unlikely to be limited.

So I didn’t harp on about the colour aspect. The incident that happened today could have happened to any kid, of any colour. For my daughter, it could well have been glasses, no glasses, brown hair, blonde hair or black hair, as long as her chosen friends were included.

In those next few moments, I chose to talk about exclusion as it happens to us all, not about colour specifically.

“Why would you want to exclude N***?”, I asked her.

“Is she mean?”

“No.”

“So, why?”

She didn’t really have an answer. Perhaps because it was easy to exclude N***.  And because her best friends were all blonde-haired or brown-skinned.

I continued. Today, you’re in control of the club but tomorrow, it may be those very same kids who exclude you because of your curly hair or your nose or your shirt or… your skin colour.

“How would you feel if…”

Pausing, she said she understood. And she felt bad, I could tell. She’s not a mean kid and I know she’s been known to stand up to bullies and other kids who turn on others. But what happened today, she was reminded of who she is and what she stands for.

So proud was she of her ‘secret’ club and the fact that she’d come up with rules to make it even more exclusive (probably inspired by the recent episode of Peppa Pig), she’d forgotten how it felt to be left out.

Tomorrow she’ll go in and apologise to her friend. She’s done with secret clubs for now, she says. And she’s got a renewed incentive to be kinder and to ensure everyone gets included in her circle.  Because when encouraged to imagine themselves in the others’ shoes, children don’t need much encouragement to change their behaviour.

I hope that my daughter got the lesson. I certainly did not think I’d be having this conversation with her, especially at 5 years old. But, then again, I’m glad it happened and I can understand better when young children do make judgements and decisions based on skin colour.

Later, it may become more sinister and I’m ready for those conversations. But it’s a reminder that in this racialised world, none of us are perfect and we’re learning along the way. Talking about race is not taboo, nor should we scare our children or run away from such conversations. Even when when they surprise us with the most unimaginable.

ARE MULTIRACIAL FAMILIES THE NEW NORMAL?

The other day I found myself on a 45 minute bus ride with my 3 kids and 4 of their friends. We were all sat at the back.

Their conversations were fleeting, from the lyrics of the wheels on the bus to more serious subjects like what they might order at McDonalds.

At one point, one of the girls turned to the other and they were comparing skin colours- three 5 year olds arguing about who was lighter, hoping, each in turn that they were the darker one.

It was all so innocent but lovely. Lovely that they hadn’t been touched by any of our pollutant societal thoughts about skin colour bias. Lovely that they referred to skin colour as they might any other body feature- like they would the hair on their arms or whose hands might be bigger. And lovely that they were all insisting they were darker so they could match.

Within minutes, a woman on the bus turned to me, as I wiped their mouths, told them off and cuddled the littlest on my lap. “They must keep you busy”, she said.

I smiled. Grateful to hear that in 2016 a family of multiple different skin tones and races can exist in someone’s eyes and be normal.

And although I have somewhat frequent encounters with people who ask whether my children are my own because of our different skin tones,  this experience has given me hope.

As I pondered the woman on the bus’ comment, I thought about correcting her. “Only three of them are mine”, I was going to say. But I stayed quiet, content in the knowledge, that the new ‘normal’ is us.

A Mixed Race Daughter’s Journey From Straight Envy to Curly Pride

Just over a year ago I posted about my oldest daughter’s sorrow coming home from school and crying over not having straight hair like her friends.

Of course I was heartbroken and I knew that I had my work cut out for me.  As her mum, I was/ am her biggest role model and although looks shouldn’t matter, the fact that we (a multiracial family and therefore more pronounced than most mother-and-daughter combos) look so different, it can be painful.

On top of my skin being a whole shade lighter,  my hair is dead straight. And with media, magazines and friends sporting this same look, sometimes the curls can just feel too much.

If only she knew, I kept saying to myself… to others. She is the object of so many admirers when we go out.  Her hair can attract comments from strangers everywhere and yet she doesn’t want unique hair. She wants straight hair.

My daughter’s journey doesn’t end there. I made it my mission not just to subtly show her curly haired role models but I point them out everywhere we go. Beautiful white, black, brown skinned women with short, long and all types of textured curly hair. Her books, music artists and the shows she watches all sport curls. I talk to her about being unique, about having the confidence to be different, to be proud of how God made her. And to be more than just her curls. To be unique in every way because it’s better to be a leader than a follower.

And then…

Today she told me in no uncertain terms she doesn’t want straight hair.

Otherwise she’d be like everyone else. She said she likes her curls and can’t wait to be able to grow them and twist them and try out new hairstyles. She said she likes herself the way she is.

I smiled and knew she is beginning her journey to understanding and loving herself. Curly hair and all.

There is no prouder moment for a mum than when your daughter can look in the mirror and say she loves who she is.  My daughter is ultra sensitive and, I’d like to think, mature for her age. So perhaps it was an early internal switch that just happened at the age of 5. And perhaps she was already on this journey without any intervention. But for any girl, all girls, it’s so important for them to know, love and accept who they are.

The UK’s Best Curly Hair Salons for Mixed Heritage Kids

Because cutting curls is not the same as straight hair and we, as parents, need to recognise that straight away, I’m bringing you part 2 of Mixed.Up.Mama’s guide to curly hair salons.

Following on from the highly sought after and recently updated London guide to curly hair salons, we thought, what about the rest of us in the UK?

So without further ado, here is a list of the UK’s best curly hair salons.

After all, it can’t hurt to consult with a  professional even it’s just to get some advice about hair type, products specific to your child’s hair texture and how to keep it moisturised, how often you should wash it, what products work and what doesn’t…

So give them a call today and make an appointment. And do let me know if I’ve missed any! This list is only as good as you, my readers comments!


Birmingham

Matthew James Hair, 181 Corporation St, Birmingham, West Midlands B4 6RG.

If you’ve got curls, coils or waves, then Matthew James is your go-to stylist!

Matt specialises in cutting, styling and caring for naturally curly hair.
In fact, he loves curls so much he focusses solely on cutting and styling textured tresses – the first stylist to do this in the UK.
Matthew is committed to giving his customers the best experience possible and will always start every appointment with a thorough consultation. If you love colour ask Matthew about the bespoke, curl-by-curl colour service to really make your curls pop!
Curl specific products are used in the salon to cleanse, hydrate and style – so no need to worry about harsh sulphates stripping your curls or silicones sealing out moisture!

Klassic Koncept, 9 Lower Severn Street, Birmingham B1 1PU

At Klassic Koncept we are very happy dealing with all types of mixed race hair and have a wealth of personal experience and expertise to pass on to you,

Mixed race hairin particular and curly hair in general can vary in curl pattern and texture all over the head. Hair at the nape maybe very different from hair at the crown. What is required is attention to detail and careful analysis as the various areas of the hair will need to be treated and conditioned in different ways. We are confident that how we work with your hair will allow you to manage it and wear it with pride.

Whether you want to “Embrace your bounce”, straighten or colour we can guide you in the right direction. We won’t be judgemental about whether you want to be curly or straight – it’s your hair and a beautiful accessory, not a political statement. We also don’t get too hung up on curl types, it makes no sense when the hair varies from one area to the next. It’s sometimes useful as a general description but serves no purpose in the actual decision with what to do with your hair. Far more important is the texture and with mixed race hair a common error is that often density is taken for coarseness, when in fact the exact opposite is true. Each head of hair is individual and what works for one may not work for another.


Bristol

Nuala Morey Hair and Beauty, 178 Gloucester Rd, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 8NU

Need help with your curly hair? Here at Nuala Hair Studio, Bristol’s best hair salon, we love cutting, styling and colouring curly hair. Whether your curls are fine, medium or thick we are here to help. We understand that your hair has different needs to straighter hair. We understand that the shape is very important to you, the texture is doing what you want, and we will listen and guide you through style, maintenance and home care. We can offer excellent curly hair advice using specialist hair products that will work for you. We love to give you great tips on how to get the best out of your curl using good techniques that aren’t difficult!

Cococheno, 17 Nelson Street, Bristol, BS1 2LA

Cococheno hair salon is Bristol’s leading multicultural Afro/European hair salon outside of London. We are a reputable salon committed to providing the best product and excellent service to all our customers.

Our friendly team has over 20 years experience constantly staying in touch with the latest trends and learning new techniques. With a reputation for excellent service Cococheno strives to maintain a high level of customer care with an in depth consultation and achievable styles personalised for you and top tips to maintain your style at home. Experience pure pampering in stylish and friendly surroundings.

Our creative team has a vast knowledge working with Afro, European, curly and multicultural hair. We offer a full range of hairdressing services including styling, cutting, colours, relaxers, texturisers, perms and the Yuko hair straightening system.


Manchester

The Hepburn Hair Project, 340 Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9NG

It is important to take into consideration the individuality of each client, such as their facial and features shape, life style and fashion style. Each cut needs to be made to suit these personal attributions along with an easy styling maintenance to suit a busy life style.


Glasgow

Belle and Blackley, 205 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 2UP

You’d be amazed how often clients with naturally curly hair have come to us in despair of ever finding someone who can deal with their hair type. The level of bounce and the texture of naturally curly hair can throw a few curve-balls at you!

However, we LOVE curly hair and all its challenges. In fact if you know what you’re doing it’s not so much of a challenge.

Scott – our resident curl expert says : ” With curls you have to take into account that the overall shape of the style may change depending on how curly the hair is on that particular day and also that the client might want to also wear their hair straight so you still need precision cutting – I often cut curly hair dry, so I can see the shape that I want to end with – then I get the hair cleansed and treated and go for the detail of the cut.”

Alan Edwards Salon, 56-58 Wilson street, Glasgow, G1 1HD

Building an Artistic Team is something that Elaine and Alan both feel very passionate about. With accolades such as Scottish Hairdresser of the Year and L’Oréal Colour Trophy winner, Elaine’s expertise is paramount to the success of the Artistic Teams shows, seminars and photographic work.

Having great vision and natural ability to create stunning hair whether it be in front of or behind the scenes, Elaine’s Art Direction is second to none within the teams’ international recognition. Latterly, it has found Elaine working closely with Fiona on shows and shoots for Vogue which has created another dynamic duo within the artistic team.


Liverpool

Faye Lawless, 122 South Road | Waterloo | Liverpool

Faye Lawless Hair are the curly hair experts. Frustrated curlies fear no more. We are here to help you manage and celebrate your curls. We offer the complete curly hair care experience from cutting curly hair in the right way, colouring, curl smoothing and the all important home styling and after care advice.


Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Mojo Hair Design, 69 Heaton Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE6 5HH

Our out of town hair studio in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne is a place of creativity and style, and possibly the friendliest professional hair salon in Newcastle. We are confident that you will find no where better for your personal and professional hair design solutions for men and women young and old; hair styled, hair cut, hair up, hair perm, hair straight, hair curly, dry cut, blow dry, roots or hair colour, coffee or tea, at your hairdressers Newcastle.


Leeds

Jon Kinsey Salon, 259 Harrogate Road, Leeds, LS17 6PA

Our style team are chosen for their expertise, passion and creativity. Our hair is as individual as our fingerprints, and we know it is important that you get the cut and colour that enhances your style. Our ladies’ and gentlemen’s hairdressing services are tailored individually to give you beautiful, natural and manageable hair every day.


Sheffield

Made Hair and Beauty, 294-296 Glossop Road, Sheffield, S10 2HS

We are proud to say that we are rapidly becoming the curly hair specialists of the north, with clients that travel far and wide to visit it us. Our main aim is that you enjoy your experience our relaxed, but professional approach to hair and beauty. Lead by multi award winning, and Avlon educator, Serena Giscombe, the Made family are approachable, empathetic and knowledgeable.


Bradford

The Cutting and Colour Room, 36 Sunbridge Road, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD1 2AA

Every client of “The Cutting & Colour Room” is a real life testament to our professional craft of cutting, shaping, and styling hair in way that reveals our clients natural good looks. Curly, thick locks, or fine and straight – “The Cutting & Colour Room” has the creative talent and exceptional skills to help you look amazing.


Cardiff

Michelle Marshall Salon, 12 Beulah Road, Rhiwbina, Cardiff, CF14 6LX

Hair salon specialising in curly hair.


Fareham

Kate Preston Hair, 70 Arundel Drive, Fareham, Hampshire, PO16 7NU

We know what it’s like to struggle for YEARS with curls until you learn how to embrace them and look after them. That is why at Kate Preston Hair in Fareham (Hampshire) we made it a priority to become Curly Hair Cutting Specialists.

We understand curly hair has special needs and it takes a special skill to cut it well. You must know how to look after your curls. So many people just don’t have a clue how to manage them well and are left struggling with their hair!

If you want to trade your frizzy unmanageable curls for drop dead gorgeous sexy curls then Kate Preston Hair and Beauty in Fareham is the place to come.


*Disclaimer: I haven’t tried each and every one of these salons but I did scour the internet for good reviews and recommendations from fellow curlies. Leave your comments below if you’ve tried any of these and what your experience was like.

Help! How to do curly mixed race hair!

I swore I’d never be that Mum. The white mum whose kids’ curly mixed race hair looks like the Mum has no clue and her only attempt at ‘doing’ her daughter’s hair is to brush it– down.

Three daughters later and with all three sporting completely uniquely textured hair, I quickly learned that wash, brush-and-go would not work with my girls’ curly hair. A mountain of research, plenty of questions to friends and family and a motto to ‘learn as we go’ is the only way we’ve gotten this far. Now, with a 3 step routine every morning with each daughter, it’s gotten slightly easier but no less complicated.

So, I feel your pain. Not the pain at having curly hair. Truly, I love their curls. I love how it looks, how it feels and I love that each one is unique in how her hair falls- a lesson I am constantly reinforcing. Curls are amazing.

But what I don’t love is how little I know about how to do it. I have straight hair and before having kids, I’d never heard of co-washing, could never imagine sleeping on satin pillowcases and putting ‘oil’ in my already oily hair was the last thing from my mind. So I’ve done my homework and then some.  But if you love your kids, you’ll only want the best and time is nothing when it comes to doing it right. We’ve now gotten it down to a 20-30 minute routine, depending on how cooperative my girls are and the hairstyle they choose. (I definitely hate braids).

So here I am offering some helpful tips– not as an expert but as a person who has scourged the internet for the best websites that can help all of us parents that start out with no clue.

  1. Figure out their hair texture. I figured out early on there is a whole school of thought about curly girl hair type which, once identified, can open up all sorts of doors in terms of products recommendations and what would likely work on your child’s hair. So, to identify your child’s hair type, check out these sites: 

2.  Follow naturally curly hair blogs. There are so many out there! With so many helpful articles, blogs, styles and tips for toddlers, girls’, boys’, long, short and all kinds of curly hair. Here are the best I’ve come across: 

  • For products, hairstyles and style ideas, visit: Naturally curly 
  • For morning routine tips and knowledge from other parents who can sympathise, visit: Curly Nikki 
  • This Mama of biracial kids features curly girl hairstyles of the week and regular hair tips. Visit:  Weather Anchor Mama

3. Get tips! I’ve gotten so many helpful tips from blogs and articles I’ve read online about hair care. From co-washing to leave-in conditioner, to wetting my daughter’s hair every morning to activate the curls, start with these and you’ll feel like an expert in no time. The best part is that they’re not written for hair experts but cover the basics and give real, non-judgemental advice. 

4.  Use YouTube for hair tutorials! If you’re more visual and crave that hands-on lesson, try these Youtube channels. (And of course there’s a load more links on the right side for you to browse: 

5. Try different products. Although we all wish it was just about the amount of research you do that equals success, it is actually about trying, trying and trying more… And, then, just because it works on one child’s hair, it may be different for your other child. Because it will depend on the season, the weather, the thickness, length and curl size of each hair type- not just their hair texture. For reviews and recommendations for different curly girl hair products, go to:

6.  Ask around. Nothing beats a recommendation from a friend or someone you know. Every time you see another child with curly hair and you like what you see, ask the Mum what their hair regime is. Mums love talking about curly hair as do curly haired girls themselves I’m learning! Particularly if the child has hair similar to your ds or dd, make sure you ask them what products they use, what kinds of hair styles they do and what hair dresser they go to (it’s not every black hair dresser that can do mixed curly hair and the same goes for upmarket European hair salons- they may be expensive but curly hair has its own rhythm and texture).

7. Finally, and most importantly: Embrace the curls!

“I embrace my kids’ curls through praise and curly hair education. It is important to me that they love their hair, so I constantly tell them how beautiful and amazing it is. I never speak negatively about their curls or allow myself to show any frustration when I’m doing their hair. I make it a point to teach them about the products I’m using and why I am using them, as well letting them help me add their conditioner and styling products in anticipation of them one day managing their curls by themselves.” – See more at: https://www.ouidad.com/blog/curly-genes#sthash.isxITl2R.dpuf

If you would like to know more about teaching your mixed kids to love their curls, read on….

Oh, and good luck! Join the Mixed.Up.Mama community today!


The Importance of Reading Books With Our Children

I was recently re-united with my children’s extensive book collection. So what, I can hear you saying.

Okay, so you should know I pretty much harassed my in-laws back in Nigeria every time someone was coming my way so that I could get these back. I’m certain everyone was a bit tired of the requests but I have too polite a family for anyone to say anything.

We disappeared from Nigeria in 2015 after living there for just under a year and half. So, without a planned exit, we left a LOT of our stuff back there. You know the feeling, when you’re looking for things and know you have it but can’t bring yourself to buy it again, it can drive you nuts. Well, it drove me nuts anyway.

So finally, almost 2 years later after we moved to London, a friend was able to bring the lot. So that’s where I am… reunited with my vast collection of books. And there you are, wondering what the…

When I got these back, it was like going through years of memories, moments and experiences my girls and I shared in reading endless stories.

You see, books are not just books to me… to us. They are a way of communicating with my children. With books, we’ve introduced the concept of bullying, sharing, loneliness, and skin colour. With books, we’ve been able to talk about difficult subjects without making it about them.

My daughter’s concept of a bully was defined in a book called “Me and My Dragon” because it featured a bully who was incidentally a chubby boy with a baseball cap on. I remember reading it once and it sparked a conversation about what is a bully. To this day, when we’ve spoken about someone doing something bullying, my daughter protests, “but he isn’t wearing a baseball cap”!

The day identity and my daughter’s skin colour came up one day after school, I swiftly went online and ordered just about 20 books that talk about being mixed, being different, featuring brown skin characters or just about being a girl and being proud of who you are. I was not about to raise a child who was confused or ashamed about who she is and with media and the majority of people she encounters featuring white skin, we knew we needed to be proactive in discussing this important topic with her.

The books were all about being positive about who you are. For my DD to see a little girl featured in the story of Little Red Riding Hood with brown skin and curly hair, she couldn’t hide her excitement. “She looks like me!”, she’d say.

Within three weeks of reading these books, I could see a change in how my daughter talked about and discussed her own identity.

You see, for us, books are instruments. They are windows into important conversations and topics that I know will come up. As our children get older, we’ll inevitably encounter discussions about bodies, sexuality, death, religion, cyber bullying and jealousy, amongst other things.  Without books to turn to, these topics can become abstract. Throw in a protagonist who’s going through it and you have yourself an ‘in’.

Indeed books have already introduced precious memories as our children have grown. We paged through the book “Going on a Bear Hunt” and relived days gone by when our nearly 6 year old was our only child and my hubby and I used to act out the story finishing off with an undercover cave where we’d hide from the bear.

So, today, I am happy to be reunited with my collection. Thanks to my in-laws for putting up with me, I’m content.

Perhaps it was only through missing them that I realised their value. I would encourage every parent, be careful what you’re giving away. I know we can’t keep all the rubbish we collect from our children’s childhoods and by no means am I a hoarder. The day will come when I’ll have to go through their books but hopefully I’ll know these aren’t just pieces of paper we read every night but memories we’ll want to cherish.

For a list of books about multicultural families or being mixed race, visit Colours of Us.

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…