Raising Urban Multi-Ethnic Children

kite flying
Traditional summer kite flying

By Kathy Zucker

Becoming a parent changes your entire way of life. Any semblance of control over your schedule, body and money goes out the window.

Planning on breastfeeding? Experience the joys of food allergies that require YOU to stop eating the foods your infant is allergic to. Think you’re going to get the baby on a schedule and go about your life with your older child? That works for about a month, and then the baby hits a developmental spurt and stops sleeping. At all.

You are constantly reacting and adapting to your kids’ needs. It’s a little easier with the second child, since it’s not a total surprise for a curious 12-month-old to make origami out of your glasses while you are in an exhausted coma. Certain experiences are hauntingly familiar (who knew that glasses can be twisted into amazing shapes without breaking?) but others are frustratingly different; one of my kids is a fantastic eater while the other has refused vegetables and meat for the last three years.

When you are raising multi-ethnic kids, you add on an whole new layer of difficulty.

We think my children are Chinese,¬†English, Scottish, French and Jewish. There might also be some Austrian and Portuguese genes in there. Clearly, if we aren’t sure about our ethnic backgrounds (welcome to being third-generation Americans!) then we don’t have much of a handle on the associated cultures and languages.

My husband and I are the entire world to our toddlers. They accept that cars are dangerous just on our sayso, and run to greet us like rock star groupies when we come home from work. Early childhood is an opportunity to shape their life beliefs and values. But how do you accurately impart a sense of cultural heritage when you are making it up as you go along?

I found myself turning to my large extended family for help, asking my mom and grandmother to speak Chinese around the kids (that hasn’t resulted in them learning more than a few vocabulary words, primarily body parts and scolding). We also celebrate Chinese New Year and several other holidays. We take the kids to Chinatown for dim sum and shopping; they are definitely comfortable with their Asian heritage.

We try to repeat the same traditions each year, which has helped the kids retain their memories of special events. They will suddenly start talking about a beach trip from two years ago and the friends they made. I don’t know how lasting these memories will be since my early childhood recollections are distant and faint, but hopefully we will be able to grow new traditions that are anchored in the kids’ existing rituals.

And isn’t that what being an American is all about; inventing new traditions as you go along?

Every week Kathy Zucker, mother of two toddlers, writes about issues and challenges that come with raising children in an urban setting. See what Kathy is up to at her blog and on Twitter.

Tags: , , ,


  1. Kathy Zucker

    I got a reader email asking about how my kids perceive being multiracial and whether they are rejected by different ethnic groups. In the last year (coincidentally also when she started Pre-K4), my 5 year old daughter has become more aware of race. For her, race is about being brown or white (my kids have inherited my ability to tan instantly). So for her, the entire world is brown or white (pink in her dad’s case). What complicates matters is her first cousins are half Indian so they are REALLY brown; she assumes that Latino kids are relatives based on their skin color. My 3 year old is still oblivious to race. Asians tend to embrace both of them, the two of them are constantly remarked upon when we are in Chinatown & getting special treatment (that might also be because they are good-looking children, much more attractive than either me or their dad).

  2. tonight was my first time reading your blog. I have two girls (9and 11)and they are Argentinian,English,Native American,African American,Scottish and a number of other things we are not sure about. They are very proud of the mix of cultures and traditions but, often people who meet them refer to them as just being “black and white”. Neither their father nor I are “100 % anything”. I am so impressed that my girls embrace all of our different cultures and don’t give in to the labels of what people “think” they look like. I know it is easier for people to “catagorize” them into simple colors but, I want peopleto know that ther is more than what “meets the eye” sometimes. As much as we want to place people into certain groups by looks some of us really are a varied rainbow…..It makes the world a colorful and beautiful place to be…..

    • Kathy Zucker

      Hi, Kim,

      Thanks for writing in!

      I find the racial categorization thing annoying too. When I registered my daughter for public school I was shocked to discover that she is listed as white because that’s what her dad is. Um, what if our roles were reversed (e.g. I was the dad) then she would be Asian!?

      My kids are still really young so we are keeping the message simple, but so far they have grasped that they are Chinese and Jewish. We will add on ethnicities as they get older :-)


  3. I have a degree in anthropology and I work with high risk kids.

    I just created a posting on IMBD for some of my teens who like a particular actor who is of multiethnic decent like they are.

    Is is specifically on ethnicity and is pro ethnicity since these Kids already know about race. Some of the kids consider themselves BI Racial but are looking for other ways to express themselves due to bullying.

    you might want to check it out.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *