How well does your family navigate diversity?
Written by: Charlotte Bieldt
Is it biology, fate or even proximity that makes a family “real”? How do we help our kids navigate real differences with real compassion?
There are a growing number of parents whose journey to parenthood and indeed the resulting family units look different than the traditional ‘norm’. From blended, interracial and adopted families to everything in between, our world is increasingly reflecting the diverse and often complicated experiences of people finding and giving love in a world where the majority of inherited social parameters have been removed.
My husband and I, both white Afrikaans speaking South Africans, became an interracial family when we adopted our Xhosa daughter four years ago. Since then our knowledge and experience of parenting in this ‘other space’ has grown tremendously and so have the challenges and joys.
Our biggest parenting challenges revolve around listening (or rather nót listening), sharing is caring and God-forbid, rectangular food that was OBVIOUSLY meant to be triangles! In that sense, we encounter all the ‘normal’ parenting challenges and we deal with them in the normal ways (wine and secretly consuming carbs and sugar; no?).
The specific challenges we encounter because of our unique family setup actually occur in, and are because of, the public spaces we occupy. My hope is that parents whose families look different to mine will do the ‘heart work’ of confronting their own biases and participation in prejudiced systems in order to grow and foster inclusion, respect and love in the next generation.
Our challenges usually fall into one of two categories: The obvious challenges and the ‘are you kidding me?’ challenges.
When choosing to adopt interracially the question was never if we had the capacity to parent outside our own race but rather if we were willing to redefine what race meant to us and how we frame our experiences. We chose to open our eyes and hearts to incorporate a wider view of culture and practice within our most intimate spaces. With this choice comes a 100 other daily and intentional choices to help create a sense of self, pride and community for our girls that is separate from us -but of which we can still be a part of. Things like incorporating traditional dress elements into our clothing choices, choosing books by black authors, buying and listening to African music, making the effort as a family to learn Xhosa, going to church both in Cape Town and Gugulethu are all examples of things we do daily to overcome exclusion and stigmatising.
Are you kidding me?
The challenges here mainly revolve around strangers, often well-intentioned, asking inappropriate questions or using insensitive language in front of our children. (Quick tip: It’s never okay to ask about a child’s “real” parents. This undermines and discredits us, their parents, as well as their place in our family. If you have to ask, please use the term ‘biological parents’ –thanks). Fortunately, our experience with subtle and blatant racist remarks or biased attitudes have been far and few in between; but it’s always devastating when it happens.
On the upside
Looking visibly different as a family affords us the opportunity to teach our girls about leadership and our shared humanity. We get to experience how hurtful ignorance can be, which in turn has humbled us to not only educate ourselves about other cultures, beliefs and customs, but also to educate those around us in love and grace.
What can you do?
All parents, regardless of their specific family dynamics, can choose to live with eyes and hearts wide open to the world around them. Adoption, interracial families or differences of faith may not be a part of your immediate family reality, but it is the reality of the world your kids grow up in. You are responsible to equip them with knowledge, love, tolerance and compassion.
Just as we pre-emptively teach our kids about safety, because we live in a dangerous world, we also need to teach our kids that there is no one or right way to exist in the world. There is a wide range of interesting people who came together in interesting ways. You can do this by being intentional about exposing your kids to books, movies and shows with racially diverse protagonists and storylines. Make a point of learning about world cultures in fun ways and encourage controversial conversations in your family.
But most importantly, teach your kids through your daily words and interactions with the world that it is not a race, biology, same-same skin colour or proximity that makes a family, but it is love that makes us belong. LOVE is what makes a family.
Charlotte Bieldt is a writer, mom of two and founder of Rae & Reign through which she creates various physical and digital products to celebrate and commemorate every part of the adoption journey for both parents and their adopted children. You can connect with Charlotte on Instagram at @CharlotteBieldt
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