Meet Evan and Kathleen Caliento, a Chicago based couple with a 14-month-old daughter.
Prior to becoming a parent, what were the concerns you had about raising mixed race children?
Kathleen: I was concerned that we wouldn’t have the resources to support the identity development of a biracial child. I was concerned that we wouldn’t celebrate her two races equally. I was concerned she would be only labelled by her visibly dominant race, causing her to feel conflicted about her identity.
Evan: To begin with, I wasn’t worried about it at all. I was more worried about how I was going to raise a child, any child and how I would do at it. As we’ve becoming parents and made it through the first 14 months, I still am concerned at how people may treat our daughter because of her being a mixed race child. I worry that she will be ridiculed or just given a hard time and it breaks my heart. She is really the sweetest little girl with the most amazing personality and I can’t bear the thought of someone intentionally trying to hurt her.
Are your families supportive of your union? If they aren’t, how do you address this with your children? If they are supportive, describe the ways in which your families made a positive impact on your children.
Kathleen: We are lucky in that both of our families are very supportive of our union. I am a black mother, and my mother is married to a white man (my dear stepfather), as is my sister. Our families make a positive impact on our daughter by celebrating her for who she is.
Evan: They are absolutely supportive. We live pretty far from both sets of grandparents and my parents are not able to travel due to health concerns so their support is not at the level that they would like. Both sets of grandparents are involved though, and we do our best to keep them up to date and to schedule video chats so they get to interact with their grand daughter. She definitely is aware of who they are.
Some parents in interracial marriages worry that their children will favor one parent’s heritage over the other. What steps did you take to encourage your children to embrace both heritages?
Kathleen: Our daughter is too young (14 months) for us to get a sense of whether she has favored one heritage over another. We are being sure to buy her books about diverse families and children, so that she grows up with diverse examples. We have taken her to England and Italy (her father’s heritage), but also teach her French (my heritage). We also moved from a homogenous neighborhood to one that was more diverse in terms of culture.
Evan: As my wife said, I think we are both in tune with our own culture, but also have wide interests so have embraced the opportunity to learn about our partner’s heritage. I think our daughter will experience that through us growing up and hopefully that will instill a genuine sense of curiosity that will lead her down a path of discovery.
What beliefs did you have about biracial children’s experiences in this society? Has any of that shifted upon becoming parents?
Kathleen: My thoughts were that they very often grow up conflicted about how to identify themselves. I haven’t got a sense yet if this will be the case with our daughter. Right now we try to shower her with love and the desire to be strong and confident. Hopefully, we are also providing examples of how to celebrate heritage.
Evan: I always had the sense that they were somewhat of a target and not necessarily with always bad intent, but in a way that could cause them to question themselves. I imagined they get lots of questions about their heritage would could lead them to really struggle to understand who they are if they weren’t given the tools to thoroughly think through and discover this for themselves.
Do your children look racially similar to or different from you? Describe interactions you’ve gotten from strangers while out in public and how you reacted.
Kathleen: My daughter definitely looks biracial. The most extreme example (which I predicted would come at some point) was the time I was asked if I was the nanny. My assumptions were taken to task when the question came from a black woman (I definitely assumed it would come from a white woman). I had build up all these response I would say when asked (“Why do you ask?”), but in the end froze at the surprise and reality of the question, that I just ended up saying very directly, “No, she’s my daughter.”
Evan: Racially I would say my daughter does not look similar to me, but overall we do look very much alike so most people realize I am her father I think. I did have one incident though where someone asked me if she was adopted or a foster child. I didn’t even know what to say to them. It wasn’t until I mentioned that my wife is black that the lady finally understood. It was a very odd situation and I wasn’t mad about it when it happened. She hadn’t said it maliciously, but when I thought about it later it really struck me as so strange to even think like that. I feel like I pay very close attention now to what people say in those situations.
Kathleen, how has the issue of colorism impacted your child?
Kathleen: I am not certain that I have seen the impact of colorism yet, or if I will. I do hear often how beautiful she is (which I think to be true), and just hope people would say that about a child of any hue.
Evan: We have not reached the point where I think it has affected our daughter in any way yet.
Do you find that your own experiences with colorism impact how you raise your children?
Kathleen: For sure. I am darker skinned and have often felt a sense of inferiority, even within my own race, because of how dark my skin is. I want to raise my daughter to appreciate and embrace all people, no matter what their skin color.
Evan: To mirror my wife’s comments; I don’t want our daughter to have any feelings about anyone of any particular skin color and I wouldn’t want anyone making any decisions about her based on her skin tone either.
Evan, describe the limitations you feel you may have as a white parent raising mixed children? Explain how you overcame those limitations.
Evan: I really don’t feel much in terms of limitations. There are other mixed race relationships in the family so I don’t think it is something that our daughter will question. In a perfect world, the things I worry about won’t be an issue ever, but as a white man, I probably won’t ever be the victim of any sort of attack based on my race. My daughter might have to face that issue and I struggle to see how I’d really be able to connect with her about it and really help without having that life experience. I hope it is never part of her reality.
What have you learned about racism as a result of parenting mixed children?
I am much more aware of it and it is a lot more prevalent than I thought. When I started dating my wife, who is black, I think I became much more aware as well, but now that we have a daughter, I’m much more aware. The increase in awareness probably stems from our daughter’s age. While I was a lot more aware when we started dating, I pity anyone who got into any racial issues with my wife. They would get what they had coming. Our daughter, on the other hand, is only 14 months old so as she grows, there will be more and more chances for someone to attack her based on race.
What advice would you give to new parents of mixed children?
Kathleen: Learn about and teach each other’s cultures to your children so that it’s not always the black parent teaching black history, for example.
Evan: Definitely learn about both parents’ cultures. If you have the opportunity to engage with other mixed couples or children or any other ethnicity do it. Show your child that the world is not just some homogeneous place. Try and travel to the best of your ability to let your child experience other cultures first hand that are different than what they normally experience
Lorraine M. Nowlin
Staff Writer, Beyond Black & White Kids
Independent Consultant at Touchstone Crystal by Swarovski
Consultant, Rodan + Fields