Child of Interracial Marriage Struggles With Issues of “Color”

How can I help my granddaughter who is struggling with her racial identity? She's the child of an interracial marriage - her mother is white, her father black. Her parents have now divorced and her dad is no longer in the picture. On top of the many other problems that go along with being a child of divorce, she often struggles with issues of her "color." I'm not sure how to help.

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In the first place, don’t be afraid to talk about race with your granddaughter. There’s no reason to avoid this topic or cover it up in a shroud of silence and shame. She needs to know that it’s okay to be herself, just exactly as she is, and you can help encourage this attitude by being free and frank in your discussion of the subject.

You and the girl’s mother should both communicate openly with her about her “color”-related feelings and experiences. It’s particularly important to spend a lot of time listening and attempting to understand her situation from her point of view. Ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me what you like or don’t like about the way you look” or “Describe a time when you felt different from the other kids at church.”

In addition to these conversations, provide your granddaughter with opportunities to interact with children and families of various ethnic backgrounds. This may be difficult to achieve if you live in a community that doesn’t have a large minority population, but it’s vital to the process of helping your granddaughter develop healthy attitudes toward race and ethnicity. If experiences of this kind aren’t readily available in your town, there are online support groups across the country for interracial families and biracial children. Information about these groups can be found on the Internet.

You can also make an effort to expose your granddaughter to multicultural media. This could include books, television shows, videos, toys, dolls, games and artwork that feature multicultural characters and themes. This will help supply her with the positive role models she so desperately needs. It’s important for her to see examples of beautiful, talented, successful and happy people who, like her, come from racially mixed backgrounds.

Along with all this talk about race, be sure to teach her about the many other kinds of distinctions and likenesses that exist among human beings. People are similar and different in a variety of ways – race isn’t the only distinguishing element. After this, point out to her that, below the surface, people all have similar needs and feelings. Everybody wants to be loved and accepted. When your granddaughter is able to grasp this, explain that, while she may look different from many of her peers, she is also very much like them. Race is only one small part of who she is. It’s not the defining factor.

Don’t shy away from the subject of racism, but remember to talk about it in an age-appropriate way. At this stage in her life your granddaughter may not be able to grasp the complexities of slavery, but she does need to understand that some people strongly dislike others who are different from them, and may even treat them unkindly. She’ll also need to learn how to respond to the comments or questions of others. Both children and adults can sometimes be rude with their remarks about race, but there are also many occasions when their words and behavior are simply the result of ignorance or curiosity.

If you would like to discuss these issues at greater length, call our Counseling department. Our counselors would be more than happy to serve you in any way they can. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified child and family therapists in your area who specialize in dealing with issues of this nature.


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