A Parent Writes:
Does anyone feel like I do that society thinks that my African American baby will love me when he’s a child, but when he’s a grown up that he’d prefer to be with people who look like him? I think about this all the time and it makes me sad.
Michelle Johnson replies:
As a trained Family Social Scientist, I know that many parents who have children with different ethnicities than themselves have similar concerns to yours. This is a natural response to uncertainty in a society that has yet to truly deal with racism and our truly diverse society.
What is important for you, is that this concern does not turn into a fear you negatively act out in parenting your child. There was a woman I interviewed for my master’s thesis whose parents pretended she was European American, because she was light skinned, thus denying her access to the African American community. When she was 14, she realized she was bi-ethnic, and began to understand the racism which her parents had practiced in her life. Her response was to run away from home, straight to the African American community. She is now over 30, has an African American son, and has never been in contact with her parents in the last 16 years.
What you must learn from this tragedy is that your child first and foremost needs love. In cross cultural parenting, this includes understanding, acknowledging, and celebrating your son’s culture with him. Sharing his cultural identity and helping him to form relationships with people who look like him are the best ways of proving you love and accept him as he is.
While children will go through periods of accepting and rejecting being different from their parents, the point is you will have made the efforts, which will be appreciated in adulthood whether successful or not. Your job as a parent is to transform a child who is totally dependent upon you into a healthy adult who has autonomy from you. Ethnic identity is a piece of this transformation, and if you are present in the process before adulthood, you will continue to be a part of your child’s adult life.
Each child makes different decisions about how much involvement they want with their birth culture as adults. While my brother has very little contact, choosing to date European American women, and having only one African American friend, I have chosen to cultivate deep and lasting relationships with African and African American communities. Three of my closest six friends are African American, I have dated African American and Caribbean men, and it is my desire to marry someone of African descent.
My parents have always supported my decisions to participate in my birth community and often instigated contact when we were younger. For both my brother and myself, they remain the foundation of our lives, and regardless of the relationships we now forge with others, they remain at the center of our lives, as loving parents always will. My parents are both my biggest supporters, as well as role models, and these days, as an adult, they are close friends. If you give your son love, support his identity and share his birth culture, he will think the same about you as an adult. Your sadness of today will be replaced by the joy of a parent who has done their job well! Best of luck, Michelle
Cathi Ring replies:
Now that I am grown and out of my parents’ home, it is interesting how I have experienced this sentiment from people.
I am adopted from Korea. When I was growing up, my mother says that I attracted attention, I think primarily because I was a minority in a caucasian family and community. No one has really ever stated so to my face or to my families’ ( I don’t think), but it has been assumed by some that now that I am on my own, I have no need for my family and vice-versa. For some reason, my siblings (biological to my parents) will always need my parents and will always be a part of the family, whereas I have no more need for them; they did their “job” by raising me and now they are done with me. This is so NOT true. In fact, I have a much better and more loving relationship with my parents now than I did when I was growing up.
As for your son….I think that race and culture may play more of a part as he grows up, so he may seek out other people who look like him when he is older. (More so when he gets older than now as he is a child.) I don’t see it as him “choosing” to be with people who are “like” him over being with you. It will be natural for him to wonder who he is and where he came from and about his culture. I would see it as a chance to learn….teach him about his culture…let him know that you love him and support him. And do not be saddened when he seeks out other people to help him learn about his heritage. You cannot be everything to him and he may need other people who look like him to help him appreciate who he is and where he came from.