9 Ways To Respond To Intrusive Questions About Your Multiracial Family

A Multiracial Parenting Guide

Welcome!

I created this guide to help you as a parent raising a child in a multiracial family to feel more prepared to respond when a stranger asks a question or makes a comment about your multiracial family. Typically this happens when we are in the middle of doing something. We are often caught off guard and feel at a loss for a response. As a therapist and fellow parent, I want you to feel that you can take control of the conversation and model your response for your child. Too often we leave the situation wondering how else we could have responded and feeling angry and upset that we just had that experience. This guide will show you what you can do and how to respond.

You are out with your kids shopping, eating a restaurant with your family, or walking down the street and a stranger approaches you with an extremely intrusive, ridiculous, and/or even racist question or comment such as:

 

  • What are your kids mixed with?
  • Are those your real kids?
  • What’s their father?
  • Are they real siblings?
  • Are they adopted?

Step 1: Take a deep breathe.

These questions can often catch us off guard and cause a lot of feelings for us as parents especially when asked by a stranger when we are out and about with the kids.

As a parent some of the thoughts that might race through your mind are:

  • How do I respond?
  • Do I tell them even though it’s none of their business?
  • I don’t like the term “mixed.”
  • I don’t want my child to think that they have to hide who they are if I don’t answer it.
  • If I tell them, what might they think?
  • What are they imagining that my answer might be?

Another feeling that may come up with this question is fear or frustration. We may worry that the person who has asked the question may make generalizations or stereotype our child based on our response. These questions often make us feels like people are trying to box in identity instead of understanding the complexity of it.

Step 2: Decide how you will respond.

This can be a really common experience and it’s important that when we think of how we answer it, we do so in a way that we are modeling responses our children can use as they grow up and get asked themselves.

Clarify what they are asking.

Get a better idea of what information they are actually looking for and possibly some insight into why. This also allows you to have more time to decide how you want to respond as well. Here are some examples:

  • What do you mean?
  • I’m not sure what you are asking me.
  • What do you mean by mixed? In our home we often use the word multiracial or multi-identity, is that what you are referring to?
  • Are you asking me what their ethnic background is?

Ignore it.

You could actually pretend you didn’t hear or pretend to be distracted with your kids.

Connect and call them into anti-racism work.

One way to do this is:
Introduce yourself and ask for their name. Explain that you don’t usually talk to people that you don’t know about personal family details but that you always like to meet new people and connect. Share something about your family and ask about theirs. Explain what that type of comment means to you and that you know likely they didn’t mean harm by it. Give them an opportunity to stay connected with you so you can share resources, help them learn, and get more involved in anti-racism work.

Educate them.

Use this as an opportunity to answer it according to your agenda. What information might they need to know about multiracial families? What part of your personal story could you use to help teach them if you choose to? Explain why the question may not have a short answer and provide them with a helpful website on racism, multiracial families, adoption or whatever else you think could help educate them.

Avoid it.

Change the subject it. Start up a conversation with them about something completely different. Complement them on something they are wearing, comment about the weather, point out something in your space like a sign for a sale.

Analyze it.

Take a moment to break down their question. What is the person’s intention of asking it? It could be a person’s way of trying to put people into a box or category. It could also be a way of connecting with someone else who has a multiracial family. Get a better understanding of the intention.

Make a joke about it.

Use humor and laugh about it. For example, I feel like such a rockstar having people so curious about my family. This can also help break any tension and help you shift out of your frustration as well.

Call them out.

Similar to educating them but responding with a more direct comment. Here are examples:

  • It’s really inappropriate for you to ask me that personal information.
  • I can’t believe you just asked that.
  • You may not be aware but that is not any of your business.

Model your answer for your children.

As uncomfortable as these moments may be for us as parents, sometimes looking at it as a teachable moment for your kids where they can see you modeling different responses can actually make it a really important moment. We can model for our kids that it is their decision what they choose to share, with who, and when. It is likely that as our kids grow up they may receive this or a similar question often. We have the opportunity to show them different ways they can respond. We can also talk about it with them after and process what it felt like for everyone. We can also role play that if it were to happen again how might we respond.

Step 3: Process your emotions.

How did you feel about the response you used? How are you feeling about the overall situation? How are your kids feeling about it? Take some time to let yourself feel your emotions. What felt good about it and why? What felt bad and why? Sometimes it can be helpful to process your feelings. Share your experience with other parents who know what it’s like and get support in our Multiracial Parenting Network.

Looking for more help or advice on raising kids in a multiracial family?

Here are some ways I can help:

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Work with me directly

Schedule your free parenting support call to discuss what challenges you are facing, resources that are available, and how I can help you.
Here are some of the common issues that I work on with parents

Here are some of the common issues that I work on with parents:

  • How to help your child embrace their background and develop a positive racial identity.
  • How to navigate challenges related to school or your community.
  • How to have difficult conversations with your child around race and racism.
  • How to feel more prepared in your parenting approach to ensure your child thrives

Rorri Geller-Mohamed, LCSW  

Hi. I’m Rorri.  I help parents raising children in a multiracial family navigate challenges and feel prepared in their parenting approach so their kids can thrive.  I’m a family therapist, parent coach, and the founder of U Power Change. On a more personal note, this work means so much to me because I grew up in a multiracial family and I am now raising my own children in a multiracial family.  My dream is that the next generation can thrive in a safe, equitable, and inclusive world.

Professionally, I’ve been doing this work for over 15 years with youth, parents, and families in a variety of school, community, and clinical settings.  For me, it always goes beyond just working with families, as I see it as a necessity to advocate for racial and social justice often by working with leadership and organizations to create systemic change.   As a white person, I also believes it is part of my responsibility to reach out, support, and organize to bring more white people into anti-racism and racial equity work. I received my Masters degree in Social Work from Columbia University and have post graduate training in family therapy from the Ackerman Institute. I am also bilingual in Spanish which I learned as an adult.