We’re a multi-racial family. My husband, my daughter and I are white, and my two boys are Chinese. Our family was formed through adoption. Although adopting our boys was very deliberate, my husband and I didn’t give much real consideration to what parenting children of a different ethnicity would be like day-to-day.
We thought we were well-prepared. Our pre-adoption education covered parenting children of other races and stressed the importance of learning to accept and embrace another culture. No manual can really prepare you, though. Sometimes, it’s complicated. We hear things like:
“We don’t see color”
“People are just people…I don’t notice race.”
The people saying such bone-headed things are usually well-intentioned. Still, I respond to comments like these by hoisting the BS flag. Everyone notices racial differences, regardless of how we react to them. It’s the rare person who’s truly colorblind and honestly, I’m skeptical of those who say they are.
Our family is sometimes treated differently. It can be subtle, but I notice, even when I pretend I don’t. We get stared at more than your average family when we’re out and about. Sometimes, strangers ask questions about our family makeup, like if I’m the babysitter or if my husband is Asian. Our family is the subject of curiosity in ways that families who “match” don’t have to deal with. I’m guessing white moms with white kids probably don’t get asked about genetics at the supermarket.
While nosy adults annoy me, curious children don’t. One little boy tried to initiate a conversation with me about why my son’s eyes were shaped differently than his. He was probably just old enough to understand that we inherit things like eye color and hair texture from our parents. He was trying to process information by asking questions, because that’s what kids do.
I started to give this boy a simple explanation on Asian physical traits when his embarrassed mom halted the conversation by shushing him and apologizing to me without making eye contact. She seemed uncomfortable that her child was drawing attention to our family's differences.
My kids have already been the victims of some stereotyping. Like any mom, I’m totally convinced my kids are brilliant, but it’s a little weird when someone else assumes it because of ethnicity, for example: “Chinese kids are so smart, aren’t they? He’s going to get really good grades!”
While I hope the part about the grades will be true, what if my kids break the stereotype? What if they want to play football or basketball? What if they struggle academically? What happens when they don’t fit someone’s preconceived notion of what a Chinese boy should be?
There may come a day when my kids will get picked on because of the shape of their eyes or the color of their skin. I worry that I’m ill-equipped to prepare them for discrimination because I don’t know what that feels like first-hand. But I think I’ve experienced enough of life to be confident I can guide my kids through things that haven’t happened to me personally.
Although it seems strange that my sons will grow up having to put the “race/ethnicity” checkmark in a different box on their job applications than my daughter will, we work to find ways to embrace the multicultural aspect of our family. We’ve taken some time to learn about Chinese culture and have added some different holiday celebrations to our family traditions.
As the kids get older, we’ll seek out more opportunities for them to interact and connect with other people they could racially identify with. We’ll strike the right balance of acknowledging our family diversity and giving our boys what they show us they want and need. And, like any family, we’ll figure out the rest as we go along.
I’m not sure if I can prepare my kids for the discrimination they may face. But I can teach them that racism is all about people being afraid of what they don’t know, and that’s at least a starting point. One thing I am sure of is that I can be a strong, tuned-in, self-aware woman who will always be there to hold my kids’ hands as they navigate through the parts of life that will sometimes just suck. Regardless of color, that’s what being a mom is about.
Jill Robbins writes about adoption, motherhood and midlife on her blog, Ripped Jeans & Bifocals. She lives and works in sunny San Antonio and enjoys dry wine and dry humor.