Tag Archives: multiracial families

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

Talking Identity with Mixed Heritage Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Does Racial Identity Change in an Interracial Relationship?

The other day my husband of 7 years asked me ‘do you identify as ‘other’?’ His question was in response to a moment me and my girls had experienced earlier that day. I’d felt defensive and self-conscious while walking through the English countryside and being asked (multiple times) whether we ‘belonged’ there or… “are you lost????” definitely made me feel like an outsider. I knew it was too subtle to call it racism but it definitely felt uncomfortable and something I knew I wouldn’t have experienced if I was on my own.

The topic of racial fluidity has been raised several times in the last couple of years. Recently, Paris Jackson called herself black through her relationship with her tenuously ‘biological’ Dad Michael. And of course the controversial Rachel Dolezal, who has called for black identity to be ‘fluid’ and non-binary in the same way gender is. With more questions being raised about how identity is formed and racial constructs that lie behind it, the question whether it is possible to identify as something other than what you are through one’s relationships has intrigued me.

I am part of a multiracial family, the majority of whom are black, or who will be viewed as black by society. Apart from my daughters and my husband, I am the only white face you see in my family.  So, not to feel any sense of identity by virtue of osmosis or relationship would be impossible. Or, at least for me.

I have heard of other spouses who have non-white partners who become sensitive to the subtle racism that their partners feel on a daily basis. The wake-up to white bias is shocking and infuriating when it comes to the ones you love.

The first time it happened for me was when we entered a jewellery shop early on in our relationship. Soon enough I noticed a security guard as well as the shop floor assistant following hubby closely while he perused the rings. I, on the other hand, was not even noticed. Or, shall I say, after a few minutes, they did offer to help me but completely ignored hubby-to-be apart from the stares. I felt defensive and angered as though it were happening to me.

The experience and many like it have rocked my understanding of our world. Yes I knew racism existed. I wasn’t that naive but when you experience it and you become the object of it through your partnership (that was later on), you start to identify with it.

Since then, my children and I have felt the oh-so-subtle effects of middle class racism. The stares, the indignant looks that you may not belong in ‘this’ park- nothing major but enough to waken me up to the some of the realities of being non-white.

So yes, I guess in some ways I do identify as something other than what I am.  I still have white privilege and I’m not naive as to think I know exactly what it is to walk in the shoes of a black person. But by virtue of my relationship. Because my family is black. Because I am part of a black family. And because my identity is multi- layered, my identity as a mother of mixed race kids and as the wife of a Nigerian man is intertwined.

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…

Is Interracial Marriage Unfair for our Children?

Is interracial marriage unfair for the children?

Appearing on the radio last week to talk about mixed race issues, I realised the most topical question people wanted to discuss is actually the intersection of culture in an interracial relationship. (And just to clarify, being mixed race and multicultural do not necessarily go hand in hand).

In my case, they do. My husband is from Nigeria. I am half-English, half Iranian and I grew up in Canada. So cultural differences play a big part. As does race.

Jenny, the host of BBC’s Women’s Hour host last week asked a number of questions about how my husband and I work out cultural clashes and how our multiple backgrounds may cause confusion in our children.

A minority of internet trolls caught onto this and criticised our choice to ‘interbreed’ as they put it and put our children unhelpfully into a perpetual state of confusion.

It made me think. Is this true? While I didn’t want to give any troll the value of my consideration, I did wonder:

Are we doing a disservice to our children by marrying outside of our culture or race? 

Indeed, there were definitely times growing up where I was confused being half Persian and half English. The question, “where are you from?” often caught me off guard. And other times where, appearing at an Iranian gathering, I longed to speak the language better, to ‘look’ more Persian and to legitimately say, yes I am Iranian. But I always felt unsure or not ‘legit’ enough- whatever that meant.

On the other hand, laying claim to solely my Canadian identity also felt an uneasy relationship, as if I was ignoring the parts of me that were Iranian and mixed and which I knew made me ‘different’ somehow.

How is it Different Today than When We Were Growing Up?

Today being mixed represents a plethora of experiences. When Tiger Woods spoke out in the late 90’s calling himself “Cablinasian”, the world took notice. Referring to his “mix of half Asian (Chinese and Thai), one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American and one-eighth Dutch, he’d adopted the term as a way of honouring his mother Kultida (of Thai, Chinese and Dutch ancestry) as well as respecting all aspects of his cultural and racial heritage.”

Since then, dozens of celebrities have spoken out about their experiences being mixed including actress Meghan Markle, recently featured in ElleUk talking about her identity as a biracial woman and currently dating Prince Harry. Although her mixed race background has, even in this day and age, caused ripples in the aristocratic ‘white’ circles that define the British class system, it’s not made enough headlines to deter Prince Harry from his new romance.

Today, being mixed race or multicultural represents so much more than it did back in my day. Back in the 80’s, people didn’t talk about being mixed. You were either black or white, Canadian or ‘other’. Today, while being mixed can also still be confusing, it also means one person’s own experience can embody the essence of globalisation- diversity, diplomacy, multiculturalism, immigration, tolerance and equity.

My husband and I teach our children about all of their experiences, backgrounds and histories. We celebrate a multitude of festivals- including ones that are not our own- and practice traditions that draw from the best of our childhoods. It means our children are confident about who they are and where they come from. When they perform a traditional greeting for their grandparents just before tucking into Iranian rice and stew, I know we’ve done ok. They are not ‘confused’ but instead proud that they can call many different countries ‘home’.

We’ve Come a Long Way from the Old School Way of Thinking

So, ‘interbreeding’- as my friends the internet trolls accused my husband and I- yes, admittedly may not be as easy as marrying the next Dick who grew up next door. But today it represents so much more. We’ve come a long way from the old school thinking that one must marry within their race. Experience and exposure has done a lot to help that along. Sure, there are challenges but I’m happy in the knowledge that my children are not confused, but ‘enriched’.

Have we done them a disservice? No, rather I would think they will grow up confident and openminded.  And perhaps by the time they do, this question will not even be worth considering.