I became a parent a little over 9 years ago to the most beautiful little being in the whole world. Ok, maybe I am a bit biased. Big brown eyes, a head of fluffy black curls with a life of its own, and the warmest smile. She has her father’s nose and long fingers and toes, and she has my eyebrows, earlobes. I am incredibly in love with this being I created with my husband. She is perfection! I did say I am biased.
When she was about 5, I had someone I worked with ask me, “What is it like having a child that doesn’t look like you?” Completely genuine and curious was the questioner. I didn’t know how to answer. I know she looks more like her father then she looks like me, which as she has gotten older more of the traits from me are starting to appear. I also know no matter how old she is there will still be people shocked she is my daughter. Maybe shocked isn’t the right word, confused seems to be what her classmates are when they first meet me if there is any reaction. Kids are awesome that way, a brief flicker of a question in their eye and then on to the next thing, and return to what I am, another classmate’s mom sitting at the table with them making paper plate sea creatures.
I have been asked if my children are adopted. I have been asked if I am the babysitter. I have watched people glance around the playground trying to find the adult who goes along with my children and then asking them where their adult is and then get the look when they point me out sitting on the edge of the playground, there is a look that crosses people’s face and they probably don’t realize it.
My children are black. I am white. When people say they don’t look like me it is because they can’t comprehend how a pale, blue-eyed, dark reddish blonde woman can be their parent. This doesn’t surprise me in some places. It does take me aback a bit when it is someone in Denver. I see so many mixed families in the community and at the school my children go to that I guess I figured everyone else notices the variety of families in the area.
As a white momma of black children, I know they don’t look like me. I notice the change in how people look at my children now versus when they were infants. I have had to talk about why I am a different color than my children. They have asked “If I came from you and you are white, how did I get brownish like dad?” I understand when things don’t seem to fit together people get confused. I am all for talking about anything. I would prefer people ask if they have a question and I know many have inelegant words to express themselves because who talks about race elegantly, really.
I am rarely surprised nor do I take what other people do personally because of my experiences as a social worker. I am use to being the only white person in the room, doesn’t make me uncomfortable. My mother-in-law has apparently made comment to my husband about me being more African than he is. My Peace Corps service and working as a bilingual therapist have given me years of code switching from my white Midwest self to whatever community I am with at the time. I know most white people I meet don’t know what it is like to float in and out of your comfort zone to fit with other people’s expectations and comfort level. I know my spouse has had to code switch to survive, and unfortunately most likely my children will have to learn this survival skill too.
With so many of our community members feeling stressed and unwelcome in their own communities and neighborhoods it is important to build trust and safety. I love when my neighbors and parents of my children’s friends don’t show any shock when they meet me. I love it even more when the first thing out of their mouths are the qualities they love most about my children and the adjectives they use are smart, kind, funny, empathetic, and curious. I am not saying that conversations about the culture and race of our family never come up. It is just warm and fuzzy to have people around us who recognize humanity and know how to appreciate the joys of creating relationships with others. This ability to extend acceptance is what makes my world feel safer. It gives me hope my children are surrounded by people who see their strengths and value in the community. It quiets my fears a tiny bit of those who hold my children as suspicious and a potential danger.
When you meet a kid, who doesn’t look like their parents, stop yourself from making assumptions. Notice the strengths and positives about them and say them out loud. We rarely hear enough positive things about ourselves, what better way to start out a relationship than with compliments! Save your inelegant questions until you have developed a relationship. Get to know me first and then when we are at happy hour or hanging out at school pick up, feel free and ask questions. Our family enjoys conversations about politics, religion, race, and other topics inappropriate for casual conversation. We have a good humor about it too, so don’t forget to bring your sense of humor with you as well. It is also great to follow your kid’s lead, if they don’t care my kid looks different than me you don’t need to care either. We miss out on wonderful relationships when we aren’t kind, accepting, and curious.
Originally published at medium.com