Parenting

Daddy's chocolate and Mommy's vanilla: Raising mixed kids

Ian wonders how other interracial families raise their children

The Mendes family take in a hockey game.

Every interracial couple has the same thought once they start getting into a serious relationship: “I wonder what our kids will look like?”

Sixteen years ago, when Sonia and I first started dating, we had a very limited idea of what our children would look like because “mixed” dating was a fairly new phenomenon. There weren’t any interracial couples strolling around the park and starring in cellphone ads like you see today.

In the past, whenever we saw a couple who bore even the slightest resemblance to our skin tones, we immediately scanned below to see if they had children. We were so eager to find out what our kids would look like that we even went into a special booth in Las Vegas in the summer of 2001. It was called ‘Your Future Kids’ and it was a photo booth that took pictures of each person and then merged them to show your potential offspring. However, we were greatly disappointed to learn that our child would be a spitting image of Tattoo from Fantasy Island.

But now, interracial couples are everywhere. Our children are really the first generation of mixed kids; at least in the accepted sense. It’s hard to believe this but, in 1991, less than half of Americans approved of interracial marriage. Today that number of acceptance sits closer to 90%, so nobody really looks twice when our family walks down the street.

We do still get some confused looks when we walk into restaurants together. The hostess will look our family and usually has a very puzzled expression on her face. She never says, “Ah yes, a party of four” with any conviction in her voice. It’s always a very quizzical, “Is this a party of four?” Apparently we look like a pretty good collection of misfits, not unlike the entourage from Ice Age.

But if dealing with apprehensive waitresses at Denny’s is our biggest problem, then we’ve really come a long way in the past 20 years. So now, our biggest issue as an interracial family is figuring out how to raise our children so that they have a healthy and positive view of our ethnic backgrounds.  

When our kids were really small, we tried to keep things in very basic terms for them. We started with things like, “Daddy is chocolate and Mommy is vanilla.”  While it was overly simplistic, this approach not only defused any racial tensions in the house, it also increased our consumption of Oreo cookies. (Because obviously, the kids needed to see how well chocolate and vanilla went together).

We’ve also told them their skin colour is “lightly toasted”, because we’re not sure what we should tell them. They’re not really brown and they’re not really white. Are they beige? Taupe? Sienna? We need the best and brightest minds at Crayola working on this so we know what we should tell our kids.

But as our children get older, it’s increasingly important that we tell them about their cultural roots in more serious terms. We need to stop dumbing things down for them and start telling them the truth about our backgrounds.

Sonia’s roots are German — with a trace of Russian ancestry — and her parents are strong Mennonites. My parents were born in Tanzania, with my grandparents coming from a Portuguese colony on the west coast of India known as Goa.

Now re-read that last paragraph and try to imagine us designing our family crest. Maybe we would have a picture of an elephant eating some borscht on one side, while a young boy in lederhosen played cricket on the other. I can’t wait for them to fill out their first census form in 20 years and they have to figure out what box to check off for ethnic background.

I would love to hear from other interracial families about how they are raising their children. What do you tell them about skin colour? How do you decide on which cultural holidays to celebrate and how do you deal with religious differences?