Biracial Families Embrace Uniqueness
"She can't be your mom. She's white."
"Why is your dad so dark and you're blond?"
"How can you be brother and sister? You're different colors!"
Children of biracial families hear comments like these much too often. Even President Barack Obama most likely heard similar remarks growing up as the child of a white mother and black father. Still, such comments can cause hurt feelings and confusion for kids on the receiving end.
Cynthia Hooten, a mother of eight, including six biracial adopted children, says, "The key is just to matter of factly answer questions and don't be offended. We just say, ‘This is how God built our family.'"
'Don't Judge a Book By Its Color'
Rona and Joe Machicote of Charlotte say their two sons were most bothered by having a white mom and a black dad when they were younger. "Our oldest son was sitting at the table at a restaurant, and he looked at me then looked at Mom and said, ‘Mom, you're pink and daddy's brown,'" says Joe Machicote. "We asked, ‘But do you love us anyway?' And he said, ‘Yeah,' and that was the end of the conversation."
Carol White, a licensed professional counselor and the mother of a biracial daughter, says her daughter's challenge was a bit different. When she was younger, the kids at her school would say she couldn't be biracial because she didn't "act black," says White. "Sam would come home and ask what that meant, and I'd explain that growing up in different households and different environments leads to different personalities."
As parents of three children, Juan Carlos and Hillary Moreno aim to dispel myths and stereotypes about Latinos. Juan Carlos says too many people base their opinions on a person's skin color. And often, skin color doesn't even "match" the ethnicity. "Given that my skin color is lighter and that I grew up in Alabama ... until someone hears our name, they wouldn't even look twice at us," says Juan Carlos, who is Colombian.
"I want to be bold and show people that what they think of Latinos or Hispanics is not correct," he explains. "Just like any group, you're going to have good and bad, fat and skinny, smart and dumb. So anyone who thinks all Hispanics are illegal or this or that, I say, ‘I'm Latino, and the image you have is not correct.'"
Blessings Come in Many Packages
Life as a biracial family, however, isn't all about challenges, most say. Blessings are plentiful, too.
Growing up as part of two cultures expands kids' knowledge of world and other people. The Moreno children are growing up speaking two languages and learning the customs of Juan Carlos' Colombian parents, who have been U.S. citizens for 35 years.
"Our two girls are proud of the fact that we all speak two languages at home," Hilary Moreno says. "I've never seen it be anything other than a thing of pride for them. The girls get to participate in family activities. His parents are here, and they are much more involved in the girls' lives."
Meanwhile, Hooten's son, Elliott, and daughter, Zoe, both born in Haiti, have shown an interest in learning more about their country of origin. "After my older son and daughter-in-law went on a mission trip there, Elliott and Zoe have been extremely interested in pictures and information they brought back. Elliott also has read about the Creole language, which is what they speak in Haiti. We're a go-with-the-flow family - if the kids have questions, we'll check it out."
For the Machicotes, the boys get to experience two faiths: Rona and their two sons are Jewish, while Joe is Christian. "One of the challenges (when they were young) was that I wanted to convert, but the boys didn't want me to because they'd lose Christmas," Joe says with a laugh.
White says it's important for families to find a supportive community - whether that's a neighborhood, house of worship or social group. "Find a church that is diverse and look for community activities that support and celebrate cultural and racial differences," she advises.
The Machicotes say their church and neighborhood have been especially supportive. "Attending Temple Beth El Synagogue has been one of the most incredible experiences in Charlotte," says Joe Machicote. "I have never seen a synagogue that reaches out to every aspect of a city. I'm openly welcomed, and I'm Christian."
Jennifer Johnson of Charlotte, mom to a biracial toddler, says the area is very accepting of nontraditional families. "We feel perfectly comfortable. Just go to the YMCA in University City, and you will see a refreshing representation of the diversity in the area. Drew is in good company of several mixed-race children."
Rona Machicote urges parents to teach their children to respect others. "I've always said to my kids, ‘You just need to treat people the way you want them to treat you. Everybody's different. If you want respect and acceptance, you have to give it.' I hope others treat our kids the same way."
Joe Machicote adds, "I think the opportunity for learning is still there. People are becoming more open to learning and a little less quick to judge."
Tips for Adoptive and Biracial Families
White offers these suggestions to help parents talk to their children about nontraditional families:
- Read books that celebrate differences.
- Watch movies that bring different kinds of people into a family. "Tarzan" is a favorite.
- Celebrate holidays and traditions of the child's cultures.
- Seek opportunities to socialize with other nontraditional families.
- Enlist the help of your child's school and participate in school activities. This allows your child's peers to become accustomed to any unique qualities your family may have.
- Give your child words to use when friends make weird comments. Come up with catchphrases to answer the most common questions. My favorite is, "Is that your mother?" My child's response in first grade was, "Yes, silly. You don't have to look alike to be family."
- Teach your child that not all people who stare or ask questions are doing so because they are unkind. Often they are just curious or are seeking to understand.
- Create new traditions that are reflective of the particular dynamic of your family.
- Seek out role models and expose your child to adults of his/her race, or his/her cultural identity, who you admire and respect.
Tiffani Hill-Patterson writes about parenting, fitness and health. She also blogs about her daughter's hearing loss and cochlear implants at http://soundcheckmama.blogspot.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://tiffanihillpatterson.