Raising a Child of Color with Grace

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Sometimes I linger….

As I pull the blanket over my sleeping little one and stand in the doorway, sometimes I linger…

I listen to his breathing.

I take in his peacefulness.

Our bundle. Our joy.

I’m thankful and sometimes I wonder…

I wonder do we have all it takes to help shape this little life?

I wonder what he will encounter and volly between the bittersweetness of it all.

The potential for the blessings that will unfold in his life and the reality of the valleys that may befall him.

Oh, but grace…

Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.

-John Stott

If not for grace, I can’t fathom how we could even navigate our day to day as it is such a lifeline; especially in parenting. While we have not been on our parenting journey long, I am reminded that it will continue to be multi-faceted. Not only will we walk the same parenthood paths as others; we will also have an additional consideration as parents raising a child of color.

Unfortunately, race adds an extra layer in the raising of our son. 

I know what it’s like to grow up as a child of color, especially in spaces where you aren’t likely to see yourself represented. You learn to live with a dual consciousness, knowing that you must interact in the world differently because of others’ perceptions and bias. I also remember the first time I encountered racism. 4th grade. 9 years old. I vividly recall being called “a monkey who should go back to Africa” when I ran over to play. I don’t think in that moment my friends knew of the context. I think they felt that being called “a monkey” was just rudeness from an unruly kid. However, I knew. I knew because my parents told me long before I encountered racist comments. “The talk”, for most, is often associated with the birds and the bees; however, many children of color receive an additional talk. The talk about…

  • race and our world
  • derogatory names you will be called (because it’s one of those inevitable realities that will come)
  • how much harder you have to work to be just as good as another
  • microaggressions and how they seem harmless, but are really the subtleties of bias and ignorance- and can cut your heart the deepest.

Currently, the talk has even expanded into how to interact with law enforcement because someone’s bias or even misconception about your appearance/actions can cost you your life…..often without reason.

Oh, but grace…

Now that I am a mother, I frequently think about how we will address these same areas with our son. While we want to mirror the care and truth that our own parents passed along to us, we also want to be able to balance this nuanced road with grace. I know that I am not alone. Mothers of color and mothers who are of different racial backgrounds than their children may also find themselves traveling similar roads. 

 I wanted to lengthen the table and pull up chairs for every mama that wonders and even fears parts of this journey.

Grace is about acknowledging all the brokenness within us and around us…and loving in spite of it.

-Rachel Held Evans

I reached out to a couple of friends who are a part of this village. Haley, mother of four, just recently adopted a beautiful baby boy. Now, a transracial family, she shared with me some of her thoughts as a mother of a biracial child:

“I definitely walk around with a much heavier heart than I knew possible with my other children. We get looks at the store when they see he looks different than the rest of us. I’ve had people question which of my children were my REAL children which is heartbreaking as my babies are getting old enough to hear the comments. 

I worry that because of his brown skin, he will be judged differently than my other kids- and that he will have to fight harder, think faster, and work twice as hard to prove his worth to the world. No one can get enough of his cuteness right now, but will strangers still think he is just as precious when this brown skinned/brown eyed boy grows up to be a brown skinned/brown eyed man?  Will the tables turn on him?

Often biracial children struggle with feeling like they have to choose one culture over the other. So, to honor both, we are intentional about having positive African-American role models in his life (pediatrician, teachers, friends) and choosing a city and a school with diversity. We will continue to listen and learn while praying that the Lord instills a strong sense of self confidence and identity in him-no matter what society tells him.”

Haley, inspired and strengthened by her adoption journey, is also the founder of Restoration Threads, whose mission is to raise awareness and provide support for foster care organizations. Haley’s journey as a mother is also creating awareness around the experiences in raising a child of color.

Her sister Sydney, mother of six, also shared her encounters with race in raising her sons:

      “Raising a child of color is beautiful and brutal at the same time. We have learned so much about race and culture, especially our older White kids who sometimes weep as they realize that their reality is so different than their brothers’ and their friends of color. My sons also experience a different racism in that they are Ethiopian and orphans. While I want to change the world and be angry at the injustice everyday, we also want to try to do our best in instilling confidence in our boys for who HE created them to be. I’ve been asked many questions from strangers ranging from “Is my husband Black?” to “Why are those boys with a White family?” Additionally, we received a comment that our sons are basically “White boys growing up in brown bodies.”

I don’t want our sons to feel homeless in their race and culture.

We want our sons to be planted in their culture and to keep them educated in their birth country by visiting whenever they are ready….holding loosely to the reality that they may want to remain in Ethiopia one day.

I can’t understand, from the first person, the full experience of being Black in America because I will never walk those shoes- and I get that. However, I want communities to understand that our family is actively making conscious efforts to change the mindset, common narrative, and future for the better. We are so grateful for the books, blogs, and friends of color that allow us to learn and continue to engage in important dialogue. It’s important to intentionally work to hear and understand the voices of the marginalized (so that we can help better train ourselves and all of our children).”

       Sisters, Sydney and Haley, and their children

One thing that was clear as my friends shared their thoughts: our hearts hold similar weights and worries. We are all trying to chart the choppy waters and unclear paths as best we can, and our experiences cannot all be painted with broad brushes. 

So, how can we beautifully navigate these roads and raise children of color with some much needed grace?

  • Balancing truth with hope– being honest with our children about experiences they may encounter and also ensure that they are edified, affirmed, and strengthened as to not be overcome with what may come
  • Refrain from passing along fear– as a mama this is difficult because we don’t want to see our hearts (children) hurt in any way. Nonetheless, we must be honest but measured in our truth as to not pass along crippling fears to our children. The variances and atrocities of racism and racial trauma is a tough burden to bear….often one that is far too heavy for the shoulders of our children.
  May my fear not bind your purpose here. Scared moms raise scared kids. Brave moms raise brave kids. Real disciples raise real disciples.”
                                   ― Jen Hatmaker
  • Give children the space to be vulnerable– It’s important that we let our children know they don’t have to bear the weight of discrimination and acts of racism alone. It’s okay to be righteously angry at the ignorance or even silence when racism rears its head. It’s ok to not accept the treatment and desire better. It’s ok to feel all the feels. Children need the space and tools to articulate their emotions in a healthy way. 
  • Stay informed and be the change– It’s important to stay informed on issues that affect communities of color (particularly if you don’t share the same background, as each culture’s experiences are not monolithic or one dimensional) and to assist in dismantling systems and behaviors that are inequitable. For our family, this is automatic as what will affect our son in America has also affected us as Black parents. Additionally, we also want to ensure that we are the change we would like to see by continuing to expose him to other cultures and people in efforts to ensure he is culturally responsive to others….even if he may not experience the same. 

Parenting is a beautiful yet challenging task, and this added layer can often seem heavy. For ALL the mamas who are part of this delicate village where race has a significant impact on your parenting, there is room at the table. There is space for you to be heard, to feel, and to speak of your experiences. There is freedom here, to be honest, to ask questions, to express fears and even missteps along the way. There is grace.

This grace gives me hope for us all as we continue to guide and help shape our children; who will hopefully be the change we all want to see in our world.

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