By Alexandra Madhavan
With summer approaching, I often take my daughter to parks and playgrounds to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and get some outdoor time. Other mothers, nannies and grandparents are usually there watching their kids play. And then the inevitable comes…”Are you the nanny?” So far, it has happened four times this month, each time more unexpected and unpleasant than the last. Unfortunately, this has become my new normal as I’m in a mixed marriage.
Sometimes it is said more discreetly like, “Are you her mother?” Or people will just suspiciously stare when I kiss or hug my daughter, as if I’m not supposed to be doing that – as if I’m not her mother. Like any child, my daughter calls out to me, “MOM! MOMMY! MOMMA!” about five million times a day, and sometimes it shocks people when they realize that she’s talking to me. That yes, I am in fact her mother.
It’s a strange thing to have your parenthood questioned or doubted by strangers. I grew my daughter inside me for 9 long months, gave birth to her, fed her, bathed her, played with her, shared sleepless nights, taught her how to walk, talk, write her letters and use a bicycle. I have held her close to me for her entire life. And yet, some people think that I’m not her mother just because we have different skin colors.
When you start a family with someone, you eagerly dream about what your child will look like. This is especially true for mixed couples, because we look so different as it is. Some mixed children look like one parent or the other, some look like both, some look like neither, or some look like every family member combined. Just like the average same-culture child, some years they look more like mom and other years they look more like dad. It’s just that mom and dad don’t look alike.
Personally, I think my daughter looks just like me and her dad. She shares so many of our features. But people don’t see that because they don’t look closely enough. They are just blinded by skin color and see nothing else. My husband has never been asked if he’s the nanny, but instead people have asked him, “Are you the father?” as if I have remarried and he adopted my child. That my child couldn’t possibly be from his DNA.
It is a unique experience too, since we both grew up in same-culture families, where nobody ever questioned if our parents were, in fact, our parents. We can’t really pull advice from elders on how to deal with this kind of unpleasantness, since we hardly know anybody who has faced this.
The hardest part about being a mixed couple is that people doubt your togetherness. At first, it was when we were dating. People thought that we were not serious – just because we had different skin colors.
People thought that we wouldn’t last – just because we were from two different cultures. But we did, we got married and started a family together. 10 years later, we still get it at the grocery store or restaurants. People will think we’re not together and automatically separate the bill. Just like they separate our skin colors. And now, as a mixed parent, people doubt that I’m the mother of my own child.
I wish people would re-assess their idea of what families are supposed to look like. Before assuming if someone’s a nanny, take a minute to ask yourself if that person could be that child’s parent. Rather than assuming if someone is the nanny, instead assume that they are the parent – unless they correct you otherwise. Asking someone if they are the nanny might not be offensive to you, but it is to mixed parents – especially if we get it frequently. Imagine how it would be to be on the repeated receiving end of that. There have even been more serious instances of well-meaning Samaritans calling the police on mixed parents. Imagine how that would feel – to explain to the police that you really are your child’s parent.
While the idea of family has changed over the years, people’s perceptions of families remain the same. Matching skin colors, a mom and a dad, and a picket fence. Times have changed – some families have two moms or two dads; single parents; blended families by re-marriage; adopted or foster parents; and cross-cultural families like ours. And guess what? We’re all the same – we’re all parents. We’re all families. Period.
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