11 Struggles Moms Raising Multiracial Kids Know All Too Well
I honestly didn't think I would ever find myself raising a kid, so I didn't think about all the ways my journey as a mother would be different because my kid would be multiracial. I am 1/2 Puerto Rican, 1/2 white. My father was born in Puerto Rico, while my mother was born on a farm in South Dakota. If I was going to have kids, regardless of my potential partner's ethnicity, they would be multiracial. Still, it didn't cross my mind, so the struggles moms raising multiracial kids know all too well were struggles I didn't anticipate, were forced to learn on the fly and are definitely struggles I'm still learning about today (even though, as a kid, I experienced them in a somewhat different way).
Of course, my family is unique and while we do face many of the following issues, we do have the ability to "blend in" much easier than other multiracial families. While I am 1/2 Puerto Rican, you wouldn't really know it, and because many people just assume I'm a "tan white girl," I don't have to worry about my safety, my security, or people even listening to me the way women of color do. While that means my identity is often whitewashed or disregarded (which, you know, sucks) I know that I get to enjoy so many privileges that other people don't, simply because people assume I'm a white woman. I'm stuck in the middle of two cultures and, in turn, so is my son.
So, while my son is only two-years-old and will pass for a white man for all if not most of his life (unless we misgendered him and he isn't a man at all, or unless our culture decides to change how it views race and we just trash stereotypes entirely) there are few struggles I will continue to experience because I'm raising a multiracial son. Make no mistakes, these struggles are in no way instances I would "wish away." In fact, I am proud of my heritage and hope that my son grows up to love the fact that he is 1/4 Puerto Rican. I want him to speak Spanish without so much as a second thought and I want him to eat pernil and mofongo without worrying if someone thinks it's "gross." While these struggles vary and can be experienced on a number of levels depending on everyone's unique experiences, they are very real.
Making Sure Your Kid Is Experiencing Both (Or All) Cultures Adequately
This is something I struggle with on a near-daily basis, as I want my son to know every aspect of his wonderfully complex heritage. I didn't grow up exposed to much of my Puerto Rican heritage (as my father and mother lived in a world where being a "mixed-race" couple wasn't celebrated or even particularly accepted), so I have spent much of my adolescent and adult life reconnecting with half of what makes me, me.
I don't want my son to feel lost, and though he is a 1/4 Puerto Rican, I want him to be proud of that part of himself. I want him to know about Puerto Rican culture, appreciate his heritage and be thankful all that his great-grandparents endured to provide his grandfather (and his mother, and him) a better life. Thankfully, after moving to New York City, it has been much easier to find ways to experience and celebrate what it means to be Puerto Rican.
Hearing People Say "But Your Kid Doesn't Look..." If Their Skin Color Doesn't "Match" A Person's Perception Of A Specific Ethnicity...
I've heard, "But you're not dark enough to be Puerto Rican," all my life and, at just two-years-old, my son is already hearing it, too. While I am aware that my perceived whiteness gives me so many privileges in this world, I am also sad that it whitewashes away a big part of who I am. I'm sad that I don't fit some stereotype that this country has attached to the Puerto Rican culture and the people that have created it and continue to cultivate it. Alas, because I don't look like Jennifer Lopez, I am constantly having to assure people that, no, I am not just a "tan white girl," but am, indeed, Puerto Rican.
My son will face this more frequently, especially because (unlike mine) he has a very white last name. He took his father's, who is a wonderful European blend of cultures, so I can imagine my son will spend some time trying to convince people (if he feels like it's worth his time, which I'm hoping he doesn't) that he is 1/4 Puerto Rican.
...Or Asking What Your Kid "Is"
I don't hear this very often, because my son just looks white. I just look white. People automatically assume our ethnicities because, well, this country has some preconcieved notions when it comes to people and how they look.
Still, I know so many friends with mixed raced children, who hear something this degrading and rude on a pretty regular basis. A kid is a kid is a kid. Their ethnicity, while a very important part of them, cannot and should not be whittled down to a "what" or an "it." Nope.
When Their Friends Think Certain Meals Are "Gross"
I remember inviting people over to my house only to have certain friends turn their noses up at the food we were having for dinner. Lengua, arroz con gandules y lechón and pastelón all made my friends cringe, and it was hurtful (if not, you know, also a little hilarious because all of those dishes are freakin' delicious).
My son is too young to have friends over for dinner, but that day will come and I'm sure some of those days will be filled with raised eyebrows and turned noses. I don't want my son to be ashamed of his culture or the delicious dishes that go along with it. I hope that, like me, he laughs and tells his friends they're "missing out" on some amazing food, instead of insisting that I make a more well-known and widely-accepted meal.
Family Names. Family Names Are A Big Deal.
While my son took his father's last name, I still have mine (after all, we're not married). My last name is significantly harder to pronounce than his, but family names are important and my son has a strong name that resembles the many heritages that make him who he is.
Family names are a big deal in most Spanish cultures, Puerto Rican culture included. I know that my son won't have to worry about every teacher completely dismantling the pronunciation of his last name, but I did when I was in school and I know that it can be somewhat embarrassing (kids are mean).
One Set Of Grandparents Not Understanding The Other Set...
My mother's parents didn't really understand my father or his parents, and my partner's parents don't really understand myself or my mother. While my mom is white, being married to a Puerto Rican man for over twenty years changed her, and she adopted so many parts of the Puerto Rican culture in an attempt to raise her children to understand half of who they are (and to celebrate her then-husband for everything he is).
I know how to make certain meals because of my mother's (and my father's) efforts, and those meals can seem strange to people who aren't Puerto Rican or were raised around Puerto Rican people. Same with certain cultural choices, like the choice for parents to pierce their daughter's ears when they're babies. My father and mother pierced my ears when I was just a few months old, and my mother's parents were not OK with it. Like, at all. While I won't be doing that to any daughter I may or may not have, I could understand why my partner's parents wouldn't be OK with it either. Cultural differences are difficult for so many people to understand, so when you blend families there's bound to be some, um, confusion.
...Or Thinking That Your Parenting Decisions Are "Weird"
For me, personally, my parenting choices are critiqued by my son's grandparents for a number of reasons, and very few have to do with my son being 1/4 Puerto Rican. Mostly, it's generational differences (like my son playing with dolls or wearing pink or us co-sleeping).
Still, hearing something being "weird" just because it's part of a different culture someone hasn't experienced or wasn't raised in, is never fun. When you're blending cultures and ethnicities to make a family, however, certain people are probably going to start thinking how you raise your kid is "weird." Oh well. I mean, as a millennial feminist mother, I would get that, regardless.
Finding Toys, Books And Mainstream Television Shows That Encompass Both Cultures
The media has come a long way in terms of diversity, but it still has a hell of a long way to go. So, sometimes my partner and I struggle to find toys, books and television shows that aren't completely whitewashed. I want my son to learn Spanish; I want him to see different people doing things together; I want him to see diversity as the "norm," and not something "strange." I want him to experience complete, complex representations of women and people of color, and not some quintessential stereotype thrown around because writers and directors and producers are lazy. I know that what he is exposed to, even at a very early change, can alter his perception of not only the world around him, but of himself.
Visiting Family Can Get Expensive
This one is pretty damn self-explanatory. If I want to take my son to visit some family members in Puerto Rico, it's going to cost us a pretty penny. Yikes.
Teaching Your Kids About The Ways They're Privileged And Disadvantaged Can Be Difficult
Honestly, I don't think that showing and teaching my son all the ways that he is privileged will be very hard. Still, I don't want those privileges to keep him from expressing pride about being Puerto Rican. My son will have so many benefits allotted to him because, to many, he doesn't look Puerto Rican. I have been afforded those same benefits, and while it is helpful to not have someone look at me and automatically think "woman of color," it also whitewashes who I am as a human being and an individual. Suddenly, I am stuck in the middle, not "white" enough to be white, but not "Puerto Rican enough" to be viewed or accepted as a "real" Puerto Rican.
Still, it's important to acknowledge that I have benefited from other people's ignorance and assumptions, and my son will benefit in so many of those very same ways. I want him to use that benefit to uplift marginalized voices and people who don't have the luxury of hiding behind perceived whiteness.
People Assume You (Or Your Partner) Aren't Your Kid's "Real" Parents
Again, I don't really have to worry about this doozy because my son looks white and my partner is white. Still, I know so many multiracial families who have to sit through people asking really, really inappropriate questions, all assuming that someone adopted someone else or someone is "stepping up" for someone else's child. Ugh.
This is 2016, folks. There is no "normal" family dynamic anymore. Instead, families come in all shapes and sizes and colors. In the end, it's best not to assume much of anything at all.