Questions Asked of Parents of Mixed Race Kids
After realising her staring was bordering on uncomfortable, the stranger sitting at the bus stop beside us smiled and asked, "Are they all yours?"
Out of insecurity I answered quickly, without hesitation. "Yes!, they're all mine." I often feel the stares and see the eyes that (sometimes openly) question whether me and my kids are related.
I can't say it doesn't bother me. It makes me insecure. Particularly because I've been asked it 4 times in one week. I wonder, do parents of non-mixed kids get asked this? What makes this woman doubt our relationship?
Is it not the fact that two of them are climbing all over me; the fact that they all have similar features if you take away the skin colour; the fact that they call me Mama?!!
My patience and understanding of this question has started to wear thin as I've tried not to react to it and give those asking the benefit of the doubt. I get the curiosity, I get that perhaps it's just because they're a cute bunch of kids and people like to make conversation.
But while my children are oblivious to it now, there will come a time when they will start asking me, 'why does everyone ask whether we are yours? Aren't we??'
Whether they are my biological children or not, (and they are, nobody can take that away from me- the nine months of carrying each one and the 1 year of feeding, changing and growing a newborn baby, plus the next 2, 4 and 6 years of cuddling, soothing, protecting and playing with my child) that one question, loaded with ignorance is tremendously powerful in its power to reduce our relationship to carer/ nanny or whatever else is implied.
I wonder, why, in this day and age, people feel that it's ok to ask this question or, even worse, that they assume based solely on the fact that a family has different skin colour? There are so many diverse families out there and so many new shows, books and programmes depicting diverse families, I wonder how people can be presumptuous about what is 'normal'.
It bothers me because it's about me and my family. The relationships I hold dearest to my soul. I know I'll need to have some conversations with my daughters about why and how people might ask this and I'll need to rehearse my own response because my patience is wearing thin. When the world stops asking the questions, I'll stop writing about it.
For more from Mixed.Up.Mama, read Is Interracial Marriage Unfair for Our Children?
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Look Forward to Kids Going Back to School?
I've been enjoying hearing my Mum friends dread the end of the summer when the children go back to school. We've all enjoyed the holidays and missing your children when they go back is understandable.
Me, on the other hand, I can't wait. Not because we haven't enjoyed the summer, or because we haven't loved getting up late and planning our days with the ease and casualness of vacationers. But for a number of other reasons, I am happy to see the summer come to an end.
- Free time. Well, here's a no brainer, you get your free time back. Again, I must reiterate, I love having my kids around but to be switched on all day everyday is exhausting. I'm looking forward to having at least 2.5 days where I can catch up on tasks I've been putting off and go shopping without 3 kids whining that they 'want a treat'.
- Back to routine. Let's face it. Kids thrive in routine. It's nice for us to have breaks from it but, as a Mum who borders on Type A personality, I also thrive in routine. Knowing they'll be in bed from 7pm onwards and that they'll wake up refreshed is comforting in many ways. I've witnessed far too many a yawn from kids this holiday to know that my kids are not getting enough sleep.
- They've gotten lazy. That brings me to the third point. Out of routine with loads of free time. Mine at least, are getting harder and harder to cajole into doing their chores or even (gasp) doing ten minutes of learning a day.
- They might actually learn something. I'm no teacher (as the above attempts at getting them to do homework have demonstrated). Although I'd love to homeschool, teaching my kids is not my forte. So I'm happy to hand the children over to qualified teachers for 6 hours a day so they can learn something about adding and subtracting numbers.
- It's expensive! Our summer has been jam packed with activities and on top of holidays, transport costs, food and entry fees, it's not been cheap. I'm looking forward to getting back to budget and reigning ourselves in a bit more before the next holiday begins.
- The house is a tip. My girls have loved having so much free time and many lazy mornings have been spent playing with play-doh, crafts, sand and baking. I'm so sure much of it is stuck in the corners and under furniture. But without the time or energy to do a proper clean, it's stayed there for much longer than I'd have liked.
- Seeing friends again. And this goes for both parents and kids alike. My daughters are keen to see their friends at school and I'll admit, I've built up a nice community of Mums and parents at school as well. It's been nice to see those I don't see normally at school but I'm looking forward to catching up with those I've missed.
- Too much of a good thing. Like all good things, the holidays must come to an end. We're already looking forward to half term because their Grandma is visiting from Canada. Only six weeks to go!
Perhaps I should return to this post two weeks in when the school run has gotten tiresome once again, birthday party mania sets in and I'm once again missing my kids. For now, though, I can't wait for school to start!
For more from Mixed.Up.Mama, click here to find out how to help your kids manage their emotions.
My oldest daughter can cry. When she starts, my husband and I brace ourselves that she may cry for another half hour if we let her.
I have to be honest. My patience for it wears thin. I've read everything under the sun and do consider myself a good parent when it comes to being understanding and acknowledging feelings.
But sometimes it's hard. It's bloody hard because it doesn't work like the 'guru nannies' describe it. "If your child is sulking or having a hard time with something, acknowledge why she might be upset and validate her feelings on the subject- that, yes, it might be unfair. Then, offer her an alternative."
Sounds easy, right? Well, here's how mine went down.
Daughter finishes gymnastics. Comes outside, plays awhile in the playground, never mentioning anything is amiss. I say it's time to go. Five minutes into walk home, whining starts: "I'm thirsty", she says. I say, "wait ten minutes, we'll be home soon".
Whining gets louder and more insistent. Now turns to cries. We're literally seven minutes from home. "I'm thirsty!," she cries.
I say, "I know, I'm sorry, I should have brought water. You must be thirsty after gym. Can you wait?" "NOOOOOOOO!"
Sobbing starts. Real tears. I try to reason. I acknowledge her frustration, her thirst, I encourage her to hurry and it will take less time. I tell her her crying is probably making her more thirsty. It goes on... and eventually, I get angry and threaten her with all sorts of punishments/consequences if she just doesn't stop.
Not my greatest mum moment. I get it. It's tough when you feel "h-angry"- as we like to call it- a combination of hunger and anger. But this was long. So hunger is a trigger. Now so is thirst. What about when she got home and had some water?
My daughter later confesses she couldn't stop crying. She just didn't know how. Heart brakes. I know she's a good kid. Though I tried to get her to calm down, she just didn't have the tools to manage her emotions.
It got me thinking, what can we as parents do to encourage our children to manage their emotions and calm down in those moments? Just like adults, kids get overwhelmed and don't have the tools or understanding to know that the moment will pass or to put it into perspective. In reality, I've been known to have a tantrum or lose it because I just needed to let it out.
So how can we allow kids to do the same without it getting out of control?
Here are a few tips..
- First step is realising that getting kids to calm down with words or distraction is not always possible. I was on my way home for example and I was doing everything I could to just speed through and try to talk her down. But I've found it goes a long way if I can just stop what I'm doing and hold her. Creating a space where she can feel safe and calm almost immediately helps her to calm down, stop crying and move on. At least until we can sort out the matter that's upsetting her. The sobbing stops and she lets her body fall (literally) into me.
- Listening and responding. If I could, I would have gotten her that water. But I couldn't at that moment and I didn't have access to any. If she had said she wanted it ten minutes earlier, I would have needed to run back inside the gymnasium to get some. Because at that point, I would be able to see it coming. So the earliest signs should have been there to alert me to sort it out before it erupts. We talk about that later, knowing her body and when she might need to drink before it gets that bad.
- That's where the third tip comes in. Recognise and anticipate trigger points. By tracking her meltdowns, we've understood that my daughter gets 'unreasonable' (i.e. not herself) when her blood sugar is low. Carrying around extra snacks or recognising hunger or thirst before it happens is one more way to limit these episodes. Tiredness, attachment to certain things or people can also be triggers that you may wish to avoid if you know your child is triggered. I now make it a point to always have water and a snack. She in turn, is more aware of her hunger or thirst when the crying begins.
- Safe words. When my daughter told me that she couldn't calm down because she didn't know how, it made me realise she needed to tell me something but couldn't. We've since developed 'safe words'. A word she can say to me to let me know she just needs me to hold her, no questions, no debate, even if she's in trouble. It's been mind blowing how much effect it's had in calming us both down when we're worked up.
- Talking about it and discussing it after it happens when the child is calm. We've joked about how, when we're about 50 metres from home, she begins to whine and sometimes cry about being tired or hungry. It's always in the same spot so we joked that it's like the switch has been pushed. It makes her more aware of how she's reacting, what her body is saying to her in that moment and how she can control it knowing it's coming.
- Breathe. I try to remind my daughter to become aware of her breathing, to take in deep breaths. It's a distraction but it's also effective in calming her down. She focuses on breathing in through her nose, out through her mouth and eventually, it works. Mindfulness.
- Let go of expectations. It's not going to sort out every tantrum but it goes a long way in her understanding her emotions. I don't force it, if she needs to cry, I let her cry but she does tend to calm down sooner than she might have before because she is more aware.
We all face the dilemma whether to send our kids to private or state school. However, for most people it’s not a dilemma. Paying out on average £6-8k a term- perhaps triple that if you have more than one child- is simply a privilege reserved for the better off.
And yet, there are people surprisingly, for whom funds are not an issue and yet they still choose state school over private. This surprised me, I have to admit.
When most independent schools boast better facilities, smaller class sizes, extensive extra-curricular activities… Who would really risk their children’s success knowing all of that? Whereas less than ten per cent of our population actually attends private school, the stats show a disproportionate percentage represented in top positions. 71 per cent of senior judges attended private school, 50 per cent of the House of Lords and 44 per cent of The Sunday Times Rich List. I always thought if the funds were there, it would hardly be a question.
And yet, here are five successful families who can arguably afford the fees, the lifestyle and whose social network perhaps has more in common with most private school parents than at our school which has a high proportion of Free School Meals pupils. I’d never heard of this phenomenon before but it got me thinking…
If money was not an issue and setting an individual’s politics aside, why would you choose state school over private?
Their answers surprised me.
- “Because it gives our children a false sense of reality”. Number one on parents’ list. One set of parents I spoke to (both of whom went to private school themselves) claimed "ps offers a mind-numbing environment and a false sense of security that children are ‘entitled’ and ‘deserving’ of all their privilege". It fails to equip their children for the realities of the world, which they subsequently will have to learn at University. “I don't want my children to be surrounded by people who are only like them and have lots of money”, said one parent. “Not sure it makes them a nicer person.”
- Ethnic diversity. A no brainer I suppose. Most people know private schools are not as ethnically diverse as state schools though some are better than others. Outside London it is possible to have a diverse intake - in London it seems more polarised. For children who come from non-white backgrounds, this can be an important factor that is overlooked for the sake of achievement but confidence and identity can suffer. On the other hand, even children who are not from an ethnically diverse background, surrounding them with children and families who are ethnically similar gives a false sense of reality for when they enter the working world. The world is a melting pot and (think Made in Chelsea), having friends of different backgrounds can show children different ways of working and compromise.
- It can give kids a false sense of entitlement and achievement. Knowing that your parents paid for your education and that you got to where you are because of help can also affect confidence. Many parents don’t want their children to feel that they’re entitled to a ‘leg up’ and feel that they should work hard to get to where they want to be.
- “I can think of better ways to spend £350k (a lifetime of school fees)”. Well, so could I when you put it that way. Parents I spoke to said it's important for them to give their children experiences outside of school which will enrich their learning. For example, they took them on holiday to Kenya where they got to see animals in the wild and visited a local village and an orphanage. Still a privileged lifestyle but they argued they may not have been able to afford those trips if the children were in private school.
- Higher expectations. It never occurred to me that there was more pressure from universities if your child attended private school. Some universities will ask for higher exam results from certain private schools than from some state secondary schools.
- Private schools in the area only offer single sex education. Many private schools are single sex but state primaries and secondary’s are co-ed. Depending on the child, this can be a big factor for parents making that decision.
- No need. Many parents look for private schools to fill in the gaps of parenting, But if you are hands on and supportive of your children's schooling, it is possible to make up the difference. It can be expensive but less so than private school if you enrol your children in music/sport/drama/languages and tutoring in areas of weakness. And still have plenty left over to help them through university and setting up a home or career.
- Life is not purely about academic achievement. Yes, private schools can guarantee better results and they will challenge your children to do their very best but for some parents, it’s about providing a happy home, making sure they get jobs they enjoy and are good at but which they can leave behind at the end of the working day. Achievement and results are part and parcel of most academic private schools. And that’s not a bad thing but perhaps not what’s right for all children or all parents. “I want to support my children in their ambitions”, said one parent. “That’s more important than an Oxbridge degree or friends in high places.”
- Depends on the child. Some children need that extra push that a private school can give- they’re much more hands on. Some children will get lost in the academic pressure that governs many independent schools. So it really can be about what would suit your child best.
- The state school down the road is simply better than the private ones. Like state schools, there are good independent schools and poor ones. Given how much is at stake, choosing your local state school is not necessarily about choosing the lesser school. Both can vary and it’s important to do your research about whether your local state school can do just as good a job if not better.
Tried a new hair product recently and I think I’ve fallen in love. This isn’t a plug, don’t worry. But knowing where CurlyEllie came from and that the woman behind this brand is a mum of curly kids too, does help.
As many of you know, I’ve got three girls- each with uniquely textured and different-length hair. It’s difficult finding a product that works for all of them without being full of chemicals.
In the past I’ve used everything from Mixed Chicks to Deva Curl, Curly Q, Argan oil, Coconut oil and even my mother in law’s homemade mixture of shea butter and olive oil. It’s not to say that these products don’t work but I’ve always been on the lookout for a brand that I can trust and that EACH of the products works for my daughters’ hair- not just one.
CurlyEllie products came on my radar through my brother-in-law who knew the founder in Uni. I got in touch and found out a little bit more.
First off, all of the products are SULFATE FREE, PARABEN FREE, NO SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES, NO MINERAL OILS and 100% Natural Fragrance.
For me, it’s important that the products I put into my daughters’ hair are 100% natural. I can see the build-up that results when I use other products and I admit, sometimes products that do contain alchohol or some enzymes can be effective but... not in the long run.
This is about teaching my daughters as well as showing them to value their hair and what they put in it. With so many kids suffering from exzema and allergies, it made me think a little more about what we put in and on their bodies.
Retailing at around £13 per bottle, they may cost more than just buying off the shelf at your local chemist. I have 3 girls, I’ll be honest, I know the costs add up but to me it’s important enough. If you already recognise the importance of buying curl-specific hair products, this is not much of a step further.
CurlyEllie originiated from a Mum. The familiar scenario of “seeing my 2 year old daughter (CurlyEllie herself) wincing as I pulled the comb through her forest of curls each night.”
She says, “Her curls were so beautiful but so difficult and upsetting (for us both!) to manage. I turned to friends, family and social media to find the answer. I would routinely stop other parents of curly haired children and ask for advice on hair care. The only consistent theme in the responses I got was that nobody was that happy with the products they were using. This led me to develop the CurlyEllie Hair Collection.”
The products themselves are easy to use, and come in the form of detangler, shampoo, conditioner and leave-in conditioner. I would have liked some sort of moisturizer to define the curls as well so I added a little oil to keep it moisturized throughout the day. But the shampoo, conditioner and detangler have become an essential part of our morning and evening routine.
I use the leave-in at night after I wash it and it softens the curls- making a huge difference to how they feel in the morning. The picture below shows my daughter's hair after I applied the leave-in and I could run my fingers through her hair easily.
Using a hair product whose only ingredients are plant products such as quinoa, broccoli seed oil and sweet almond oil is fabulous. It means I don’t have to worry about their hair drying out or being damaged by the mess that goes into most hair products nowadays.
I love where it comes from. I love the ethos behind it and I love the products themselves. Definitely a convert for CurlyEllie.Read more