10 Ways White Parents Can Support Their Biracial or Multiracial Kid
The more you educate yourself, the better the parent you’ll be for your child.
- The fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the U.S. is those who identify with two or more races.
- Racism exists in today’s world and will affect your child (and likely you).
- Educating yourself about their experience, and being open to hearing from them about it, is of vital importance.
This post was co-authored by Samantha Stein, Psy.D., with guest writer Catherine Anderson, an educational facilitator working with individuals, groups, schools, and organizations interested in addressing equity and culturally responsive and sustainable practices. She is also a veteran public school educator and parent of Black and mixed-race children in Providence, Rhode Island.
This means there are a growing number of parents who are raising children who do not share their lived experience of race and ethnicity. This is especially true for white parents who are/will be raising children who are biracial or multiracial and have had no experience of racism. This post can serve as a starter guide for those white parents and caregivers taking on the challenging job of parenting along with the additional challenge of raising kids who will have a very different lived experience than themselves. What follows are 10 ways you can support your biracial or multiracial child.
- Throw away fantasy phrases and beliefs such as “color doesn’t matter” and “there is no race, only the human race.” While that is, in essence, true, it is not today’s reality. We would all like to live in a world that embodies those phrases, but unfortunately that world doesn’t yet exist. Your child will and has most likely already experienced racism. In our world today, color matters.
- Accept that you will never understand what your child is experiencing. You can (and should) be curious and informed but that is very different from having a shared experience with them. You will likely experience some prejudice yourself for having a multiracial family and this may give you a window to their experience, but it is still different. Honor that difference and name it. To say “I understand” can feel dismissive of what they’re sharing and negates their lived experience.
- Shift your perspective about whiteness being the “norm.” Dominant culture views itself as the norm and everything else in reference to it, and whiteness is no exception. Conversations with multiracial children need to center their experience of identity as a legitimate identity in and of itself. Your child’s racial identity must always be discussed as its own unique and complete identity. In other words, it’s not half of whiteness, nor is it ever a degree of less than whiteness. It is an identity of its very own.
- It’s very important for children to have adults in their lives who can understand their lived identities and reflect it back to them. This allows them to normalize and understand their experience in a way that you as their white parent (or other single-race parent) cannot, and they may need different people at different developmental stages. White parents can support this need by actively seeking out opportunities for the family to engage with multiracial mentors. Start early. For example, when investigating day care options, preschools, schools, summer camps, or pediatricians, are there multiracial staff members there?
- Have books at home early and throughout their childhood that celebrate difference and multiracial identities. Surrounding your child with picture books that feature multiracial protagonists can help to normalize their experience as well as your understanding.
- Hair care for a multiracial child is most likely very different from your own. Ask for help from other parents, stylists, or barbers who work with hair textures similar to that of your child. Watch YouTube instructional videos. Additionally, children with very curly hair are often subjected to unwanted attention and touches from other children or adults. Help your child set clear boundaries and ask others, including family members, to honor these boundaries early and often.
- Skin care is different for different skin types, and skin-related medical conditions can look different on different skin colors. Learn how to take care of your child’s unique skin. It’s very important to choose a doctor who has experience working with children similar to your child. Additionally, if discussing a concern over the phone or telehealth call, make sure you mention your child’s complexion and background to make sure the practitioner understands.
- More often than not, kids still segregate themselves by race at school, especially as they get older. Therefore, older multiracial children are often put in a situation where they need to choose between friends of one of the racial/ethnic identities they share or another, which can add to their feelings of exclusion or otherness. They often report that by middle school they have to alternate between spending time with groups of white kids and kids of their other identity to “keep everyone happy,” meanwhile feeling left out of both most of the time.
- Racial discrimination against multiracial children can take many forms. It can be obvious in the way racism often is, but it can also be more subtle and nuanced, such as people praising skin tones or features that are more white. Colorism, shadism, and favoring white features—i.e., “how white you look”—is often associated with higher social value and can be very painful and conflictual for a child. “Passing” as white is not something white parents, family members, or friends should praise or aspire to as it reinforces negative stereotypes and causes a child to feel deep conflict about their already complex identity. Stand up for them, and consider distancing yourself from or even leaving relationships with people who are not able to celebrate and support your child and who they are.
- Educate yourself. This post is a great start but it is only the very beginning. It is your responsibility as a white parent to educate yourself about the history of your child’s other cultures, the racism and prejudice in our society, and how to be their best advocate. Learn about the beauty of their bloodlines. Open up these conversations with your child early and with regularity, so that they can experience pride in who they are and also understand that you are there to advocate for them and learn (but don’t ask them to do this work for you). Also remember their life experience will be very different from yours. Your advice may not work for them. Educating yourself can be helpful in helping them navigate situations in a way that actually works for them. Help them figure out how to respond to racism and to field questions about their race and ethnicity.
Having a biracial or multiracial child as a white parent entails a certain degree of responsibility, above and beyond all of the responsibility of having a child in general. You will likely notice and learn things about yourself and others you’ve never thought about, and some of it might be very uncomfortable. Try to get the support you need to process the feelings and allow yourself to transform your thinking and way of seeing and being in the world. This will benefit not only you and your child, but our society as a whole.
As a parent of a biracial or multiracial kid, you’ve taken a great first step by reading posts such as this. You don’t have to be (and can’t) be perfect for them, but you do have to try your best. Remember: the more effort you put into broadening your understanding of racial identity and multiracial experiences, the easier it will become to do and say the right things and be the parent your child needs. Letting your child know that you are always open to their questions and experiences (that may very well be uncomfortable for you at times) is always worth repeating. Reminding them that you will always be open to learning what is on their mind is critical to their social and emotional safety. You’re on the right track, just keep going: educate yourself, get the support you need, and open yourself as fully as you can to the journey.