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Children of dual heritage: a parent's viewpoint

 

Here a mother (Punjabi English) of dual-heritage children talks about her family's experiences growing without the support of both sides of the extended family. This is essential reading for anyone thinking about starting a mixed family.

The best people to talk about this is mixed race children themselves and adults of mixed parentage. However here goes.........

I have children of dual heritage.The most important thing is that children don't want others to focus on the fact that they are different. As all children are different society at large is continually defining them into categories- you know those forms....ethnic origin, or ethnic group, Race, Religion, other...

To make things even more complicated, schools then have to take the religion of children on board, so what do dual heritage children who are brought up with both do? Its all very well saying that they should put both religions, but it doesnt get over the fact that this focuses on their difference again.

Attitudes are changing but they are slow to come for some of us.

Some couples think that bringing their child up to be confident in all aspects of their lives is the way forward. It has to be. Please, however, don't deny the views of those children who have had experiences  otherwise pertinent to their background. Ask yourself how do THEY see themselves? How do others see them? Look close enough and you will discover that all children want is to be accepted, not reminded of the differences. This is why I believe that dual heritage children can often identify with their white counterparts rather than their other heritage, particularly in this country.

So how do we make to changes? Some say by bringing children up in both cultures as far as possible
so that they respect both sides equally. However we at MixTogether need to recognise how difficult this is sometimes. Extended families are important in influencing the outcome, and where you see it working is where there is a commitment from both sides.

We know from stastistics that children of dual heritage- particularly in inner-cities- can face more disadvantages than other racial groups on a whole range of issues; unemployment, racism and eduacation for instance. Most statistics I am aware of involve comparisons between children from african carribbean / white backgrounds, however I believe that they also apply to the wider diversity of children from other mixed backgrounds. We can see therefore that prejudice is an important challenge. That's why we need our extended families to suport us with our children. You have to put an awful lot of extra effort in where their isn't extended family- remember this.

Where there is not enough support from relatives, families from different backgrounds do have a harder time. I know this has been a issue for us. We did many things to protect our children, and on the whole those things have worked well: talking to the children, giving them a wider culture than just the culture of their 2 backgrounds, encouraging a healthy respect for all people. This is very important. Isolated families suffer the most.

You have to make an effort if you are a couple without extended family, in order to create the platform or framework on which to base family life, events, celebrations, birthdays etc. It can be done without the support of the extended family- we did it, but it took a lot of hard work.

Our children have not had to fight one cultures ideals with another, they are given choice, as they have got older they decide what they feel about it all, and we have to allow them to be whoever they decide to be. I can compare this experience to being an asian youth and living betwen two cultures, we've practiced it, so we should be able to understand some of our childrens' experience.

Our children are not necesarily expected to adopt either of our backgrounds unless they want to now, but what is more important is that they have as much knowledge and opportunity as we can give them to find the answers and be part of something if they need to. Honesty is the best policy.

The other issue I would like to touch on is the sensitivity with which we speak around our children about differences in the way we do things, negative comments about each other's backgrounds: if you can't laugh about it dont say it! I have a friend who is sikh, married to an english man, their daughter aged 19 asked her maternal uncle about an asian magazine she was reading, and he said 'Why do you want to read it? You're not asian.'

She has never forgotten this comment, she didnt know what to say to him. This is the type of thing that really angers me, because the damage this can do is immeasurable. We need as parents to stand up for our children, not saying anything at a time like this is not good, because its an opportunity to show our kids how we deal with these things. Sometimes I think adults choose not to say anything because they feel they will loose their relatonship with others that they question. Challenging with confidence and without anger is really important even if we are angry about things on the inside!

Placing your childen in a situation where they don't know what they are doing is not a good idea. Do it with them early enough and they won't find it so odd later hopefully, but there's no guarantee. Thats why equipping them to deal with these things is really important.



If anyone would like to add to this in any way, please do so- just use the 'Contact Us' button. There are lots of other issues to discuss, but these are the ones that come to mind for me at the moment.

 

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