Multiracial Parenting: Challenges and Opportunities

Multiracial Parenting

Until 1967, you could be arrested for marrying a person of another race. It was not until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Loving v. Virginia that intermarriage became legal for all Americans. Just 47 years later, America elected its first multiracial president. Today, multiracial families and multiracial children are a growing part of America. You may see them in your town, on your television, and – as in my case – in your own family.

It is only natural that multiracial dating and multiracial marriage leads to multiracial parenting. Multiracial parents face a unique set of challenges. Although times have changed, America still suffers from deep-seated racial divides and prejudice. But change tends to keep moving forward, and multiracial families offer America a unique opportunities to evolve into a more just, open, and equal society.

Multiracial Moves Mainstream

In the past 30 years, marriages between black and white Americans increased 400 percent; marriages between Asian and white Americans increased 1000 percent. In 1980, just five percent of babies born in America were multiracial. In 2015, 14 percent of babies were multiracial. Here are some other statistics from the Pew Research Center that show how America is changing:

  • In 1967, three percent of marriages were interracial. In 2015, one in six marriages (17 percent) were interracial.
  • Nearly 30 percent of Asians and Hispanics now marry outside their race. Eighteen percent of blacks and 11 percent of whites marry outside their race.
  • Nearly 40 percent of adult Americans now say that multiracial families are good for America.

Challenges of Multiracial Parenting

A study of multiracial parenting reviewed by the American Psychological Association identifies three main challenges: racial discrimination, pressure to choose a racial identity, and few resources for support.

Although racial discrimination is declining, especially among younger Americans, parts of America are behind the curve. For example, over 30 percent of marriages in Honolulu and Las Vegas are multiracial, but in Asheville, North Carolina, only three percent of marriages are multiracial. Intermarriage is much more common in metropolitan areas than in rural areas.

Some interracial families do face discrimination. Some multiracial children report teasing, whispers, or stares.

Pressure to choose a racial identity takes place in the home and in society. A child’s racial identity choice can be influenced by skin color, hair type, or facial characteristics. Children become aware of these differences at an early age. Racial identity is also influenced by the friends and family members the child spends time with. Choosing one racial identity over another can be painful for a parent and a child. A child may feel guilty about favoring one parent over another. Pressure to choose also comes from society. It was just recently that the U.S. Census allowed people to choose more than one race. Children may be forced to choose one race for school enrollment. There may be just one race on a birth certificate.

Although many multiracial families can benefit from support groups and support organizations, these groups and organizations may not be available. Organizations like the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have recognized the need for organizations to meet this need.

These organizations are growing. They need more recognition and funding. The Mavin Foundation and the Association of Multiethnic Americans are two examples.

Opportunities of Multiracial Parenting 

One of the keys to multiracial parenting is forming a strong, united, interracial family. What a great example this can set for the rest of society. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, research shows that multiracial children tend to have very good self-esteem and tend to be high achievers. The research also shows that children with a healthy multiracial identity tend to be happy, proud, and resilient.

Some parenting tips for parents of multiracial children have been shown to promote a healthy multiracial identity:

  • Parents should help their children by establishing open communication around issues of racial culture and racial differences. Children become aware of racial differences at an early age.
  • Parents should teach their children coping skills and anticipate how they can deal with questions about race or exposure to discrimination.
  • Parents should teach their children about the cultures and traditions of their racial backgrounds and participate in these customs at home and with extended family and friends.
  • If possible, families of multiracial children should choose to live in areas where diversity is common and accepted.
  • Parents should anticipate that children might feel guilty about favoring one racial identity over another and that these identities may shift over time. The goal is to help the child embrace a multiracial identity.
  • Parents should expose their child to books, movies, TV shows, and events that feature multiracial families and diversity.
  • Parents and children should take advantage of multiracial support groups and organizations.
  • Children who seem to be struggling with their racial identity may benefit from working with a therapist who is familiar with multiracial issues.

According to a recent survey, about 50 to 60 percent of black and white teens and about 90 percent of Hispanic teens report that they have dated outside their race. It may be that in the future, a majority of American children will be multiracial. If the research holds, these children will grow up to have a healthy multiracial identity. They will be proud of their racial identity, open to diversity, adaptable, and self-confident. They have the opportunity to change the culture of America. That would be a good thing for all of us.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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