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"Is that Your Child?”: Successful Strategies for Mothering Biracial Children
Marion Kilson and Florence Ladd
“Is that your child?” is a question that countless mothers of biracial children in the United States encounter whether they are African Americans or European Americans, rearing children today or a generation ago, living in cities or suburbs, are upper middle class or middle class. In our forthcoming book we probe mothers’ responses to this query as well as their accounts of other challenges and rewards of parenting biracial children.
We began our conversations about parenting biracial children by recounting our own experiences. Florence Ladd, an African American, and Marion Kilson, a European American, became parents of biracial children in the 1970s and 1960s, respectively. Although we and our spouses have been friends for longer than we have been mothers, we had never conversed directly about racial aspects of our parenting experiences until we began our project.
Curious about the commonalities and differences between our experiences and those of other black and white women with biracial children, we set out to interview black mothers whose children’s fathers were white men and white mothers whose children’s fathers were black men. Some of these women were members of our generation; others were younger. Some women’s childrearing days were well behind them; others were rearing young children or adolescents when we met with them. We talked to women whom we already knew and to others whom we first met during our interviews. All are middle class or upper middle class and live in the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts. All were generously candid with their recollections and reflections.
The biracial parenting experiences of the mothers with whom we talked span a half- century. While certain common challenges occurred across the generations, major sociocultural changes in American society have affected the parenting experiences of mothers nurturing biracial children today. Our conversations about confronting the challenges and rewards of parenting biracial children suggest positive biracial parenting strategies that we believe other parents of biracial children may find useful.
Marion Kilson, who received her Ph. D. in Social Anthropology from Harvard University, was Dean of the Graduate School at Salem State College from 1989-2001. Her publications include Claiming Place: Biracial Young Adults in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Florence Ladd, who received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Rochester, was Director of the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College from 1989 until 1997. Her novel, Sarah’s Psalm received the 1997 best fiction award from the American Library Association’s Black Caucus. This essay is adapted from their forthcoming book, Is That Your Child?: Mothers Talk about Rearing Biracial Children, to be published by Lexington Books later in the year.
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