Maybe I’m just not the type of parent who likes unsolicited advice or people getting in my personal space, but one of the things that I’ve noticed about parenting a mixed-race child is that the general public seems to have no boundaries.
When you become a mother, you notice that the boundaries people usually have when dealing with others start to chip away. It begins in pregnancy when you may start to hear an onslaught of unsolicited advice from strangers, about everything from your diet to the probable sex of the child you’re carrying. Not to mention the complete strangers who come up and put their hands on, around and under your pregnant belly.
Then you have the child, and you become used to the “how cute” comments. Not a big deal. It’s not uncommon for people to comment when they see what looks to be a “brand-new” baby in front of them.
I understand that all parents experience this kind of attention, and it’s not necessarily negative. But after your child begins to grow, that attention usually wanes. As a mother of mixed-race children, I have yet to experience this “waning.” Maybe people have no boundaries when it comes to kids in general, but in my experience, having mixed-race children turns it up a notch.
My children essentially “belong” to both cultures, but there is a real gray area that exists in the boundaries people have when they identify something as their own.
My partner and I have two children together. He’s African American and Laotian; I’m Greek and Italian. One of the things I’ve learned while raising these beautiful kids is that the general public feels very obligated to comment on the way they look. White women pet my kid like he’s a show pony. Black women offer me endless, unsolicited advice on how to care for his hair. What’s the deal?
There are plenty of children I see that I find gorgeous and pinch-worthy. Call me crazy, but I recognize that actually pinching them would be odd—because they are strangers. They are someone else’s children. I would never walk up to someone else’s child and run my hands through his hair. Ever.
For some reason, white women I do not know occasionally think this is an OK thing to do. If we lock eyes, there is usually something uttered about “his hair.” I get it: His thick, curly locks spring high off his head. They stand out. Parents who have children with really brightly colored eyes or other distinguishable characteristics probably experience the same thing.
It’s the crossing over from complimenting to actually reaching out and touching that I find really odd. Do white women do that to black mothers, too—walk up to their children and stick their fingers in their hair? Something tells me that in that situation, they would realize they were crossing a line: that they would see that they were fetishizing curlyheaded babies, and maybe that’s not OK?
Then there’s the endless, unsolicited advice I get regarding how to do my child’s hair. It’s as if the black women who give it to me think I don’t have eyes. I do. And I like how my child’s natural hair looks. I’ve been on the receiving end of statements like this:
I’m going to snatch him up and braid his hair!
Oh, God—white women are always running around with mixed babies with frizzy hair.
My choice to leave my 4-year-old son’s hair in its natural state may seem like a cry for help to some women: Somebody get this woman some Bronner Brothers, quick! I assure you, it’s not. I like it this way. He likes it this way. I imagine when my 2-year-old daughter’s hair starts to grow out, there will be even more “helpful” interventions.
There are deeper implications to both of these responses, which is probably why they bother me so much. For the former, the implication is that mixed-race children are some kind of novelty, as if it’s not 2015 and people of different races aren’t falling in love and having children together all the time. Births of mixed-race babies have been steadily increasing for years. For the latter, the implication is that I don’t understand how to do my black baby’s hair because I am a white woman—so clearly I need help. It assumes ignorance, rather than a choice that my partner and I have made together.
How do I respond to either of these situations without looking like a jerk? Do I tell the mother at the park not to touch my kid’s “amazing” hair? Do I tell the woman threatening to “snatch up” my kid and braid his hair to mind her own business? I’ve never given another mother unsolicited opinions regarding her kid’s appearance or attempted to touch a stranger’s child. These are boundaries that shouldn’t be so easily crossed.