The Beginner's Guide to Raising a Multicultural Child

As parents, we all want our children to be successful. Not just in school or in their communities but in life. In today’s world, one of the key skills children need in order to achieve life-long success is to accept diversity as a part of life. Therefore, as parents we need to be intentionally raising multicultural children.

Unfortunately, I learned this fact the hard way.

Teaching Children to Embrace Diversity

I am blessed to have a biracial marriage and be raising a biracial, bilingual, multicultural son. Since all he’d ever known was the “mixed” life, I assumed that he’d just accept our lifestyle as normal. I forgot that we are not his only point of reference.

One day, on the way home from school, my three year old son inquired, “Mommy, why is Papi brown?” I explained that he is from Mexico, just like abuelita, and many people from Mexico have brown skin. It is warmer there so their skin is darker to protect them from the sun.

His response broke my heart and rocked my world.

“Mommy, I don’t want Papi to be brown. His skin looks so yucky. I want him to be grey like us.” (He confuses the colors grey and white.)

My mind raced, “What did they say to him at school? Who taught him to think like this? Why is this happening? He is only three! What the heck do I say?!”

I uncertainly explained, “You are brown on the inside just like Papi. You are Mexican like Papi and American like Mommy. Mommy’s heart is brown because she loves Papi, and his brown skin, very much.”

Our Family: Photo credit Shannon McMahon

I thought it was a beautiful answer but it didn’t do the trick. The questions just kept coming. Day after day.

That was when I knew that I couldn’t just passively raise my child and hope he’d learn to love diversity through osmosis. I had to intentionally teach my child to embrace diversity.

Even after ten years as an educator immersed in multicultural contexts, I had no idea how to instill this value in my child. So, I did what nerdy teachers do best. I hit the books with fervor.

I quickly learned that this isn’t just an issue for families like mine. Every child needs to learn to embrace diversity. We all need to raise multicultural kids. The future of our world, and our children, depend on it.

[bctt tweet=”We all need to raise multicultural kids. The future of our world, and our children, depend on it.”]

What does raising a multicultural child mean?

Raising multicultural children means trading our natural parenting tendencies for intentional parenting. Many of us live with the, “well my parents did it this way and I turned out just fine” mentality.

Unfortunately, just fine is no longer good enough. Our children need to be more than just fine. They need to be prepared, equipped and enabled to overcome any obstacle or comment that comes their way. They need to know deep down, in the core of their being, that people are just people, regardless of the color of their skin or origin of their birth.

[bctt tweet=”Children need to know deep down, in the core of their being, that people are just people, regardless of the color of their skin or origin of their birth.”]

The world has forgotten that message. It is our job as parents to keep it alive.

Wh0 are Multicultural Children?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to live in foreign country, speak multiple languages, or have a spouse with a different cultural background to raise multicultural kids.

Simply put, a multicultural kid is a well-rounded child who is aware that the rest of the world exists. A multicultural child knows how to react to diversity and does not shy away from differences.

Why Raise Multicultural Children?

We live in a very diverse world. Our children are surrounded by people who speak different languages, practice various religions or whose skin is a different shade than their own.

Have we prepared them for it? Or were we just hoping they wouldn’t notice?

Chances are you were counting on the second option. I know that was my plan.

Culture, race, and linguistic diversity, are issues most of us were taught to ignore. You probably have memories of your parents shushing you when you curiously, but all too loudly, inquired about the language spoken by the family ahead of you in line. “Not now!” your parent hissed, “I’ll tell you in the car!”

Since many of us were taught not to talk about diversity, we don’t; leaving our kids just as lost as we were. Yet, our children are living in a world where diversity cannot be ignored. Diversity is more prevalent than ever. In America, 10% of marriages are bi-racial. The US Supreme court has declared same-sex marriage constitutional and 13.7% of the US population are immigrants.

And that is just the US, which does not even make the list of the top 50 most diverse countries in the world. This study comparing cultural and ethnic diversity by country clearly shows that diversity is truly all around us, regardless of where you live.

We live in a beautifully diverse world and we have to stop ignoring it. Instead, we need to learn to embrace it.

What is diversity?

I’ve been throwing around the word “diversity” a lot. You may be wondering, what is this diversity thing we are supposed to be teaching our kids about?

The dictionary quite literally defines diversity as “being composed of different elements…the inclusion of different types of people.”

Queensborough College does a much better job of defining diversity in its truest sense, “The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences….”Diversity” means more than just acknowledging and/or tolerating difference. Diversity is a set of conscious practices.”

Those conscious practices are the very things we have to develop, together as a family, in order to raise a multicultural child. I call this families embracing diversity.

What does it mean to be a family embracing diversity?

In short, raising children with the world in mind.

Families embracing diversity, i.e, families raising multicultural kids, are willing to explore our differences with curiosity, We assume the role of a life-long student, the world is our teacher.

Instead of just parenting the way we were raised, we seek to parent in a way that creates successful world citizens.

This could mean using parenting techniques you have adopted from another culture, exposing your children to different cultures and languages or just emphasizing acceptance of all people-regardless of the origin of their birth, color of their skin, or language they speak.

However, please keep in mind that you have to practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. Therefore, if you tell your children everyone is equal regardless of the color of their skin but then shy away from your African American neighbors, your child will notice. (Trust me, mine did.)

To raise multicultural children you have to make a commitment to live outside of your comfort zone and confront differences with curiosity instead of fear. Your job as a parent is to model the same attitude you want your children to have toward humanity.

[bctt tweet=”To raise multicultural children, you have to make a commitment to live outside of your comfort zone and confront differences with curiosity instead of fear.”]

Who can raise multicultural children?

You! Literally anyone can choose to embrace diversity in their family life. You do not have to be a mixed family, an expat or a serial world traveler. All you have to do is commit to instilling the love and acceptance of diversity in your child.

Why do we need to raise multicultural children?

We live in a world where churches are no longer sacred places. We need a reminder that #blacklivesmatter, really that all lives matter. The US government would rather build a wall to keep our neighbors out than recognize that we are stronger together. We are living in a world characterized by fear of all things “different”.

I do not want my child to grow up in a world characterized by fear and hatred. Do you?

If we want a better world for our babies, we have to be willing to be better parents and be brave enough to do things differently.

How to Begin Raising Multicultural Children

I hope you are sitting with whatever device you are reading this on vigorously nodding your head yes, your heart burning with excitement. If so, welcome to multicultural parenting, my friend. Let’s dive in.

What do you need to get started?

An open mind, curiosity, and a willingness to embrace differences. Really, that’s it.

Sure, there are some items that may help expose your children to other cultures and ideas, but you can successfully raising multicultural children with what you already have.

5 Steps to Begin Raising Multicultural Children

  1. Find your community. Connect with like-minded people who can support you along the journey.
  2. Frequently expose your child to different cultures, lifestyles, languages, etc.
  3. Talk openly about the differences you observe.
  4. Gently correct exclusive (i.e. racist or biased) thoughts and comments. Offer an alternative train of thought.
  5. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Tips for Success Raising Multicultural Children

  • Remember, this is a lifelong journey (for you and your children).
  • You are your child’s first and most important teacher. If you don’t teach them how to see the world, someone else will.
  • Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Your child will thank you later.
  • Approach the world with curiosity.
  • Don’t parent alone. You are choosing to do things differently, find other like-minded people to support you.
  • Be patient- with yourself and your children.

Common Questions About Raising Multicultural Children

Do I need to live in a diverse community?

No! You can teach your child to value diversity regardless of where you live.

Do I need to travel overseas with my child?

Travel definitely helps to widen world views and experience the beauty of diversity first-hand. However, it is in no way a requirement to become a family embracing diversity or to raise a multicultural child.

Do I need to speak another language?

Language is another great way to open doors to other cultures and communities. Like travel, learning another language is a wonderful addition but it is in no way a requirement for multicultural parenting. Remember, truly all you need is an open mind and willingness to embrace differences.

Can’t I just ignore diversity and tell my child we are all the same?

Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. You can try but your child will look for answers elsewhere, just like mine did. It is better to acknowledge the differences and intentionally learn to see the beauty within diversity together.

At what age can you begin raising a multicultural child?

There is no age limit. You can begin exposing your child to other cultures, world views and ideas from birth. The earlier the better.

Will embracing diversity cause my child to have an identity crisis?

Not at all. Embracing diversity does not mean ignoring or giving up your own culture and traditions. It is about willingness to explore differences.

What are the benefits of raising multicultural kids?

Not only will your child be better prepared for life, he or she will be more compassionate and accepting. Multicultural children approach the world with curiosity and flexibility. They enjoy exploring new cultures and languages instead of passively observing them with fear.

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Raising Multicultural Children

  • Teaching our children to embrace diversity is an important goal for all parents.
  • All you need to become a family embracing diversity is an open-mind, willingness to learn and accept that which is different.
  • You can’t become a family embracing diversity alone. Sign up below to join a community of other like-minded parents.

Are you raising multicultural children? What has been the best part about your experience so far? Tell us about your awesome multicultural kids in the comments below!

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