Before I went on maternity leave, I did all my homework. Apps and books kept me updated on what to expect and friends gave me tips. I was incredibly confident that I was fully prepared for motherhood. Today, two years later, I don’t feel that same way. I find myself doubting my parenting abilities and it’s not because of problems with feeding or potty training. What shakes my confidence today is the fear that I can’t protect my son from judgement. I can’t force other children to play with him and I can’t make other parents treat him the way they treat other kids. You see, my son is biracial.
Birthing wasn’t painless or easy, but I got through it using the techniques I had learned from my 36 weeks of research. Then as quickly as he was born, he was also breast-feeding. I can’t say it was enjoyable having a tiny human attached to my nipple after the trauma my body had just experienced, but I was prepared for it and I continued on confidently. The next few months went on without a single blow to my ego. I changed diapers, swaddled, fed and even handled his first cold without a shred of doubt that I was going to make the right choices.
My son is a normal 23-month-old. He loves to play, he loves to dance, and he loves to kiss and cuddle. He also gets tired, hungry, frustrated, and loud – just like any two-year-old. What I have found though is while attending play group, Kindergym and even the library, he is treated differently than his peers. Whether positive or negative words are used, he is told he is different everywhere we go.
Positive comments like “black babies are always cute” or “you got your dance moves from daddy” or “your curls are so tight” may seem harmless, but isolate him from his peers. Negative comments like “is his father in the picture,” “are you going to teach him to rap” or “he is learning to be rough from someone” subject my two-year-old to harmful stereotypes. Even people I considered friends have surprised me with jokes about various stereotypes and a few have even attempted calling my son nicknames derived from the n-word.
As a white woman I cannot say I have ever faced the problems that my son faces now, but I am the mouth that speaks for my biracial son, even when I can’t find the words to handle these situations. I’m not alone – according to the 2011 National Household Survey 360,045 Canadian couples are in mixed unions and according to Statistics Canada more than 340,000 children are from mixed-race families.
Part of me wants to raise a gentleman who brushes off ignorance with grace, but another part of me wants to show him that it’s not okay to allow people to define him. Mostly I want him to stay my little boy so I can always protect him. My husband listens as I vent and tears fill my eyes describing the really bad days like when he and another child run into each other in the bouncy castle and the mother sneers and loudly whispers to the other moms how “rough that black kid is.” My husband always reminds me that our son doesn’t understand yet and that he doesn’t know other kids are treated differently. What hurts me is that I do.
I watch him, watching me, when people ask about where his dad is (he’s at work like the other parents). I watch him, watching me, when people jokingly ask if he likes watermelon. I watch him, watching me, while people stereotype our family, my husband and him. I don’t want him to watch me accept it.