Navigating Skin Tone Differences in Multiracial Families
Being a parent is hard. Being the parent of a child who has a different or more complicated racial identity than yourself brings additional challenges.
Skin tone is a primary area where challenging emotions arise in parents of multiracial kids. Having a noticeably different skin tone than your child might bring concern about their safety, guilt about your privilege, or sadness from being mis-identified as your child’s nanny, among other feelings.
Chances are you feel pretty lost when it came to navigating your family’s unique experience. Relatively speaking, there’s not a lot of resources out there for parents of multiracial kids. It’s also possible that your other friends who are parents don’t have the multiracial family experience to support you. So if you’ve been lost, overwhelmed, or completely avoiding these emotions, I get it.
Unfortunately, kids are wildly perceptive. Many times, they pick up on our unresolved feelings, no matter how subtle and subconscious. As a parent, you have the power and the responsibility to face your big feelings. When you are able to do so, you are able to show up as a solid and grounding presence in your child's life. As a result, your kids will be better equipped to handle the complexity of their own emotional experience - and they’ll recognize you as a safe and reliable resource when they need help.
I’m a big fan of Internal Family Systems therapy, or Parts Work, for dealing with these big and daunting feelings. These models recognize that we have many different “parts” within us and they may have different or competing agendas! Many people already speak about themselves in parts: “well, a part of me feels this way…but a part of me feels that way…!”
My invitation for you is to think of your big emotion as a part. Anytime this big emotion shows up, it’s this part's attempt at communicating to you. It’s sending out an SOS and it needs support ASAP.
Turn inwards towards this part. Or, if the mindfulness aspect is challenging for you, borrow one of your child's toys and set it in front of you as a representative of this part. This playfulness can actually be a helpful strategy in fleshing out what kind of toy would represent this part. What characteristics of this toy resonate with you?
Try your very hardest to cultivate an open, non-judgemental stance toward this part. If judgment or other big emotions come up, those are other parts popping their heads out, ready for the parts party. Ask them to hold on and step back. The reason why is because you need a safe landing space for your big emotion. No matter how “problematic” it seems, it’s there and it needs your attention.
Get to know the part of you who carries this big emotion. Interview them about their job, their fears, or what they need to settle and trust you more. Let them know you care about them and that their emotions - no matter how challenging - make sense. Speak to them like you would your child. With care and tenderness.
Parts who carry emotions like anxiety, fear, sadness, or guilt can benefit from support. The reason they speak so loud is because they feel alone. See if there are words this part needs to hear. Or something that would feel pleasurable for your body like dancing or getting outside. Maybe this part just needs acknowledgement and for you to sit quietly with it, hugging it tight. You can literally hug yourself and it might help.
You might find that this is a part carrying a burden, whether a personal burden or a legacy burden. Work to release this part from carrying this burden. If that feels difficult, seek support from your partner, a trusted friend, or a therapist. You don’t have to carry this all alone.
If there’s one key takeaway from this piece, it’s to acknowledge your big emotions. They make sense and they deserve the same loving attention you give to your kiddos.