Ask a Therapist: As an Interracial Couple Expecting Their First Child, How Do We Begin Having Critical Conversations

by Roy Fisher

Question: I’m in an interracial relationship, I’m Black and he’s white. We’ve never explicitly spoken about our racial differences. I wouldn’t say we’ve taken a colorblind approach; I’ve shared many of my experiences as a Black woman, it’s just that we haven’t spent a lot of time talking specifically about race. We’re expecting our first child in a couple of months and with the recent events in our country we’ve realized there are many conversations that we need to have with each other. Any suggestions on where we should start?

Dear reader,

There seem to be a couple of different topics to explore 1) How do my partner and I discuss our racial differences? And 2) How might these differences inform how we parent?

Our parenting choices are often informed by our cultural experiences. The choices our parents made with us set the foundation for how we will parent our kids. Many Black comedians joke about the different ways white folks and Black folks parent. We laugh at the stories they weave about discipline, about how little boys or girls act in different situations. We chuckle when they tell us about kids talking back to their parents and the different responses between Black mothers and white mothers. Whether the jokes are appropriate or an accurate reflection of how people parent their children is secondary to the point that our cultural programming informs our ideas about what is expected or acceptable. 

Coming to an agreed-upon understanding on how to raise a child is not unique to interracial relationships. When we raise a child together, regardless of race, we need to explore many topics, among them … 

  • How were you disciplined?
  • What values would you expect to model and therefore impart to your children?

The answer to these, and other questions, is informed by our racial experiences. While you and your partner might share similar ideas about discipline, the reason you think the way you do will be different. The two of you may share similar values, but the way you model them might be different.

As you embark on these conversations with your partner, I would start with an exploration about why you avoided the subject matter in the first place. Have you both considered why you have never spoken specifically about race? Many of us have been socialized to view talking about race as rude, that there is some kind of shame involved in noticing difference. At its core, our skin color is simply a descriptor. For example, I’m 6’8” and have dreadlocks. The easiest way to describe me to someone who has never met me is, “he’s the tall Black guy with dreads.” Our sense of self is built on our ability to distinguish ourselves from each other; therefore I value the ways in which I am different than you … but if I am not paying attention I begin to devalue the traits that make you distinct from me. Our differences allow us to make distinctions between people — unfortunately, when it comes to race, we have placed a value on, or more accurately, have devalued Blackness. 

I understand why some have chosen to avoid race altogether. Talking about race is often the third rail … danger and pain lurk if we choose to open the door. There is so much room for misunderstanding and hurt feelings that it often feels safer to avoid the subject, but it is imperative that we are comfortable discussing difference. Our current social climate has made it nearly impossible to avoid racialized conversations, especially in interracial relationships. 

An effective way to explore the ways our culture has influenced us is to do a cultural genogram. A genogram is a tool that therapists use with clients to outline the history of a family over several generations. We look for patterns in divorce, family conflict, etc. According to Dr. Kenneth Hardy, the primary goal of the cultural genogram is to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity by a) identifying the influence culture has had on you; b) identifying groups which contribute to the formation of your cultural identity; c) encouraging discussions; d) discovering culturally based triggers; e) exploring how unique cultural identities impact relationships. 

You start the process off by defining your culture of origin, i.e., what are the major group(s) that were the first generation to come to the United States? What is your understanding of their experiences in the U.S.? (Our understanding of and expectations for ourselves begins here, i.e., gender roles, parenting strategies, etc.) Some other questions to consider … 

  • What are the things you treasure/appreciate about your cultural heritage? Why is this important to you?
  • How have you come to understand yourself as a cultural being?
  • Did you grow up in a diverse environment? Who was present/absent?

Specific to race, you may want to explore…

  • What have you been taught about the meaning of race?
  • When did you first notice that race mattered?
  • What did you learn from your community about the meaning of race?
  • What messages have you chosen to accept/reject?

The answers you come up with to these questions, and others that will likely follow, will help you understand each other better and provide clarity about how you will raise your child.

I hope this has been helpful.

Counselors Roy Fisher and Liz Covey answer readers’ questions for South Seattle Emerald’s “Ask a Therapist.” Have a question about a relationship? Wondering about the struggles of being a parent? Others likely have the same questions and Covey and Fisher bring years of professional experience to provide their insights.

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