Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Helping children process being biracial and bicultural

Over the years, my daughter has expressed a variety of feelings about being biracial.  Her reality is compounded by the fact that we currently live in a very white town and until she went to school (in a more diverse setting about 30 minutes away), she was often the only child of color.  She’s been processing again this week – this time about not being the only ‘brown kid’ because the new girl in class is Indian.

“I kind of liked being the only kid from another country, mama,” she told me last night. “Everybody asks [the Indian girl] about India and I want people to ask me about Sri Lanka.  Now that she’s here, I don’t feel special anymore. I wish I were just from one place like she is.”

This was a sentiment I hadn’t yet heard from her.  Most of our previous conversations about race have been bemoaning the fact that there is no one like her.  Thankfully, our conversation got distracted, so I had some time to ponder how I would respond (I don’t particularly think quickly in these situations).  In reflecting, I realized a few things:

  • My daughter was feeling insecure about not feeling ‘whole’. Her listening brother even made the comment, “You’re half and half – you’re not ‘whole’ anything!”
  • She needed her feelings of inadequacy to be heard.  To clarify – I don’t view her biracial-ness as inadequate at all.  I think it makes her strong, beautiful, and wise. However, even if they’re inaccurate, her feelings are her feelings.  My interpretation of her reality is just that: my interpretation, not hers.
  • She needed to hear her questions about her identity are normal.  “You have a great little mind at work in there, sweetie,” I told her as I tucked her in last night.  “You ask such great questions.  Some kids don’t ask these questions for a long time – it’s good you’re letting them out as they come up.  Keep asking, it will help you understand who you are.”  She grinned, looking relieved that she wasn’t crazy for the feelings she was having.
Working with college students, I see a variety of biracial young adults processing their identities.  Every so often, I encounter students who have never thought about the fact that they come from two worlds – it never occured to them that they weren’t white.  This causes a pretty significant level of angst and crisis in their lives.  Who am I?  is a question asked by all college students, but it’s even more acute from biracial students who’ve never grappled with this question.
The students I see with in-tact, healthy identities are usually those who grew up discussing the layers of their racial and cultural realities with people older than them.  Of course our children might feel ‘inadequate’ if they are different from those around them, and so many parents try to just sweep that ugliness under the rug by not talking about it.  In reality, our biracial children will never understand the beauty, strength, and perspective that forms their identity if we don’t talk with them about it.  Playing it safe leaves kids feeling isolated and confused.
How do you talk with your children about race? What kinds of questions do they face about their identities?

12 thoughts on “Helping children process being biracial and bicultural”

  1. Hi Jody, I just discovered your blog and am loving it!! I read about your daughter feeling insecure about not feeling whole, and immediately wept. That describes SO WELL the journey of my own identity development — learning what it means for me to be half Mexican/Latino and have White. I often feel as if I am split right down the middle, and don’t know which “half” to identify with. Some people ask me, “But which ethnicity do you IDENTIFY with?” as if that is supposed to solve it. What if I identify with BOTH?! I also often feel “between worlds” — and I know that I am really going to enjoy continuing to follow your blog. Thank you dear kindred spirit.
    P.S. I used to live in Covina! 🙂


  2. Love this! My oldest is only 3, so we haven’t had any identity conversations, but I think about it a lot. And we work hard to expose her to both of her cultures (I’m from the US and my husband is Guatemalan). I love forward to it and am intimidated by it. But, like you, I also worked with college students who had never considered their ethnic identity and I was struck by how important this is.

    So glad I found your blog (thanks to Christena Cleveland!). I also blog about our multicultural life at, if you’re interested! 🙂


  3. this is a interesting post! im half white n half chinese n i remember as a little kid i was teased a LOT for being white. haha! (live in asia, all my friends are asians) 🙂


    1. The topic you are into in this post is very important. Me and my husband don’t have children yet, but we observe other families like our who let their children to blend and to adapt both cultures and races. I wish when when we have a child we made him/her understand that he/she is unique and so much rich in a sense of being able to “soak” two different worlds. Great blog and so much helpful 🙂


  4. Of course my ethnic origin affects me on a daily basis, and the reality of how people tend to perceive me (see my 2nd § above). I think it’s about balancing the outside (of how people perceive you, what their behaviour, reactions, preconceptions are towards you) and the inside (awareness of your own FULL identity, rather than people’s ‘ideas’ about your identity). Also, I think to be content, it’s about building up a social circle of friends, who simply take and see you as the person you are. But there will always remain a difference in how people perceive you inside and outside that social circle.

    [In true accordance with my social science background I believe ethnicity is a more suitable term than race ;)]


    1. While I see your point, racism and the concept of race are still a historical reality that we can’t afford to ignore. It’s short-sited to take the perspective of “I don’t see color, I just see a human being” ( I’m curious – what countries are you from? So much of this conversation is influenced by the cultures where we interact…


  5. Interesting to hear all your experiences and thoughts. I think its definitely safe to say that everyone processes their identity in a unique way based on their own context. It is surely a gift to connect people who process the world in similar ways, even if only digitally! Its one of the great gifts of blogging to me (Susie, for one!) – let’s me ‘connect’ to people who have a shared experience!

    I’m glad to hear from Mizhi and S. that race has not been such an issue for them. I completely agree with the notion that race is an outdated term, but also am forced to live in the reality that many people where we live still see it quite clearly (or, ironically, choose not to see it AT ALL, consequently forcing everyone into a generic, one-size-fits-all category defined by the dominant culture). In my experience, there’s often a great gap between the ideal and the real, even if I prefer the ideal…


  6. Well put Mizhi :). I see it the same as you do.
    Everything is much more nuanced than what it appears to be.

    The topic of identity will always accompany me because of the way others will always perceive me in their own distinct way (according to their own exposure, surrounding, attitudes & the amount of information they have on me).
    But everything is so much more nuanced than what MOST people tend to perceive.

    Whereas from my side, I don’t see people’s skin, I see the people, i.e. their personality and their behaviour (their own personality-distinct behaviour as well as culturally, socially & educationally influenced behaviour, values & norms).

    I agree with Mizhi, it’s having multiple identities at the same time, which together constitute a whole. Of course there is a ‘whole’ (- reply to the brother 😉 ). It’s a whole person, being constituted of multiple, different (and colourful) facets. Like a mosaic. Differently coloured stones give a whole picture (with a distinct shape and form).

    ((I’m biracial and MULTIcultural. One of my parents is European, the other South East Asian, I grew up in both my parent’s countries as well as in other host countries, both in more and less culturally diverse settings as well as in international expat settings, went to three different educational systems, i.e. each taught in a different language and in line with different country-specific educational systems, and manage to understand and get myself understood to varying degrees in six languages)).


  7. Wow – thanks Jodie, I hadn’t even thought about that step ahead – my daughter’s almost 7, but tends to internalize, and hasn’t asked those curly questions yet.


  8. Having grown up bi cultural (even if not biracial), the thing is if ur an x y then if u go the x group they will view u as a y and if u go the y group they will view u as an x.
    that’s just the way most people are.
    however since u are as much x as u are y, why shouldn’t you be able to choose what u want to identify urself as.the whole “bicultural people are torn between the 2 cultures” is usually coming from “mono-cultural” people that instead of excepting people rather like to exclude instead of from bi cultural people themselves. any rate, i would see it as giving you options that other people don’t have in the same manner rather than limitations.

    another thing is, identities aren’t set in stone, instead they are very flexible. people where both parents are from the same culture and they grow up in a different country usually also get the cultural identiy of their “host” (there def is a better word to describe it, i just cant come up with it now) country as well. in some cases its even stronger then the identity that they got from their parents.
    Its possible to have several identities at once, and thats what kids that grew up in different cultural environments often time do. they identify themselves as this as well as that. its just like white babi said, whats really really important is not what you are, but who you are. the personality thats in you.

    otherwise, i would just like to say i find the notion of “race” being quite outdated. it seems to be an artifact of like 19 th and early 20 th century. I thought we have moved on but im still surprised at the importance that skin tones seem to have in some places.
    my bf is also dark skinned, but i would somehow never consider him of being a different race than me? different culture yea sure, but otherwise?
    in lots of cases, i think that instead of going on skin tones (you cant really tell the ethnic mixup of people by that accurately anyway), its probably more important to focus on what is the cultural stuff. the food, the rituals, the stories etc and share those with ur kids. those family traditions that you and ur spouse enjoyed when u were children.

    in school i guess, since she used to be the only kid from an “exotic” place, people thought it was cool because it was different from all the “boring” same background. now theres someone with an “exotic” background as well, so attention shifted.
    maybe it would be good to explain that actually india and sri lanka are almost neighbors and have lots in common (maybe they could be great friends or maybe not), and by the looks the india girl “isnt from once place only”. because after all she is growing up in a different country just like ur girl.
    gosh i think i just wrote too much, sorry


  9. I wish I could be more helpful about this topic but in my case my children are Native American and I’m from a mix of white races. They never even think about being mixed. I think maybe pointing out to your daughter that she may not have been the only one mixed all along may help her realize that it wasn’t being mixed that made her special. She was already special just because of her personality and her fantastic social demeanor. The fact she loved talking about her heritage with others and seemed like an inviting personality is what made her special, not the being mixed factor. Not all mixed children are approached in a positive manner or receive the kind of attention she had enjoyed. Many tell stories of horror and not being accepted. Maybe she’s been thinking about this wrong all along. And remind her she can still share, just now she has an Indian girl to compare notes with to see how different they both are.


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