Lewis Listens: 3 Black + Biracial Moms on Parenting

In our continued desire to share parenting perspectives that are different from our own, we're talking this week with three amazing mamas on their unique parenting journey as Black or Biracial parents.

What a gift these women's words are for us–from what they learned from their parents, to their family traditions, to things that surprised them about parenting. We think you'll be as moved as we are.

Jessica Rice, with husband and two kids, standing in living room, smiling and laughing.

Jessica Rice
Communications Director Renaissance Church - Harlem, NYC

  1. What was one thing you learned from your own parents that has stuck with you as a parent yourself?
    Both of my parents worked outside of the home, which meant that I was a latch-key kid from a pretty young age. And then my parents divorced when I was 12, and it was me and my mom together as she maintained a pretty demanding high-level, corporate job. This meant lots of sacrifices in terms of activities my mom could attend, and she couldn't be the mom packing my lunches and cooking dinners every night. But I never doubted her fierce and devoted love for me. She always made it clear that I was her priority, even if that was in the form of working to support us. We made the most of our times together, she built a supportive village around us, and when she traveled, we'd leave recorded messages for each other in her corporate voicemail box (anyone remember those?!). And so, without saying it explicitly, she taught me that pursuing a rigorous career and being a nurturing mother was possible. That there was no one way to parent well, and that kids can be flexible, resilient, and even build confidence in their independence. I've seen so many women struggle with mom-guilt, and I think we'll all always understand that tension of wanting to be present at work and at home. But I think my mom's example really gave me confidence that my kids really will be alright, as long as I prioritize making them feel loved and secure.

  2. What is one tangible thing that being Black / biracial has shaped in your parenting?
    Being the mother to two black boys means I spend a lot of time thinking about how they'll be perceived in different settings. There's the concern about how they might one day interact with the police, yes, but even now as they run around playgrounds, I can't help but wonder if some non-black parent will perceive their actions or noise level as too rowdy or "aggressive," while white children are seen as "wild and free." As their mom, I walk this fine line of encouraging them to be free, innocent boys, while also needing to protect them from people who won't see them that way. I walk this fine line of trying to teach them that we should treat all people equally, while also -- for their own protection -- having to slowly awaken them to the reality that there are people who will not treat them and others who look like them equally. It's this balance of making them aware of white supremacy, while trying to guard against it creating feelings of inferiority or bitterness.

  3. What's your favorite family tradition?
    A few years ago, my husband and I went through a relationships workshop that highlighted how all of us tend to do a poor job at affirming our loved ones. We'll have the thoughts in our minds of the things we appreciate and value, but whether it's that we think our loved ones already know how we feel, or that they're prone to get a big head, we just don't take the time to clearly state those feelings out loud. So whenever one of us has a birthday, as we enjoy the birthday cake, it's our family tradition to go around the table and each share some of our favorite things about the birthday boy/girl. It's pretty heart-warming. The 2-year-old has very little to offer at this point, but I'm looking forward to how our sentiments develop and change through the years. :-) 

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Ashley Oliver and son praying at Shabbat dinner table.

Ashley Oliver
Doctor - San Francisco, CA

  1. What is one tangible thing that being Black / biracial has shaped in your parenting?
    Because of legacies of slavery in this country, which relied on the racism and the constant recapitulation of a racial caste system, being biracial has come to mean being Black in my experience. As a young child, I had a sense that I was not exactly “Black” like my dad, or “white” like my mother. I remember being in the second grade in the late 1980s and proudly proclaiming “I’m tan!” But as I grew up, it turned out that “tan” did not denote an affinity group that was recognized by any larger body of people. As I grew older, politically, it made sense for me to identify as Black. I was already seen as Black by society – at least, I was decidedly not white. But Blackness (and also whiteness) has always been more diverse than we have been able to admit. There are mixes of people with American indigenous heritage (as I have in my Black family). Similarly, whiteness has evolved to incorporate ethnic groups like the Irish and Italians, who were not necessarily seen as white when initially immigrating to this country. I bring my “biracial is Black and Black is more than just Black” framework to my parenting. I’m married to a man who is also half Black and half white. We raise our child as a Black American, because even though he isn’t very dark skinned, he will be interpreted as Black by society as we have been. But we also are explicit about the many heritages we have in our family.

  2. What's your favorite family tradition?
    One of the things I didn’t do in my house as a child routinely, but that I do as a parent, is to honor my Jewish ancestry by celebrating Shabbat, or sabbath, with a special family dinner on Friday nights. My two-and-a-half year old loves Shabbat (he gets to eat the egg bread called challah that I’ve made, and he gets grape juice with dinner… and what could be more delightful for an almost three year old than bread and juice!) For us as a family, it’s a time to set aside our busy lives and express our gratitude for what the week has brought us. It’s when we can talk about our hopes for the weekend and the upcoming week ahead. For me, personally, it’s very grounding to take a moment to acknowledge and bless the things around us we may take for granted in our daily hustle: the light in our lives (Shabbat candles), the food we eat (the challah), and what we drink (grape juice takes the place of a glass of wine in our family). One Friday night this summer, I got stuck in the hospital late in a case in the operating room, but I deeply moved that my husband (who is not Jewish) and my son carried on Shabbat without me: I even sent transliteration of the prayers so that my husband who does not read Hebrew, could recite the prayers with our kiddo! 

  3. What has surprised you the most about being a parent?
    One thing that is surprising to me as a parent is how culturally in this country, we really don’t prioritize caring for whole families, let alone caring for parents. I think if you look to other historical moments and to other cultures in the world, the care of parents and the support for families is a more integral part of society and how things work. A lot of people espouse things like “family values,” but this is often code for a narrow vision of what a family can be: for example heterosexual relationships with cisgendered people.
     
    We have sold ourselves short in this regard. Actually, true family values could be things like supporting all kinds of family networks and arrangements, valuing things like good prenatal care for women regardless of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity; funding our public schools to do the robust and complicated work of helping to raise and enrich children; better parental leave for all caregivers of children; unimpaired access to nutritious food, universal health care for families and in particular more robust health care for children to mitigate preventable diseases like hypertension, type two diabetes, obesity, and the health risks that come along with them. Because our country doesn’t do a good job supporting parents and families as a whole, it’s up to individual family units to do all the intricate work of raising healthy, balanced children, and as you’d expect this is part of the reason why there are massive disparities in health and welfare which mirror exactly the yawning gaps between parents and families along socioeconomic lines.

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Lauren Roberts holding son on her hip in front of green wall and pink flowers. Both smiling.

Lauren Selmon Roberts
Producer, The Today Show - Harlem, NYC

  1. What was one thing you learned from your own parents that has stuck with you as a parent yourself?
    My parents are filled with a love of God and people. The inclusive community they formed around my siblings and I was a bearer of their message to simply embrace people with love. 

  2. What is one tangible thing that being biracial has shaped in your parenting?
    Close bonds with people with skin tones different than my own has been my norm since birth. Black dad. Brunette mom. Sister with blonde hair, sister with black hair. My little brother. Our friends and extended family are from all walks of life. Togetherness with such a beautiful array of people was so formative for me, and has enriched my life in endless ways. Now as a parent, I hope to build that same foundation for my son through his relationships with people in our community.

  3. What's your favorite family tradition?
    Each Christmas, our family does a service project together. That time of giving is always one of the season’s greatest gifts.

 

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