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Ask Sahaj: White single mom worries about raising her Latina daughter

Dear Sahaj: How do I raise a Brown baby girl as a very, very White woman? My daughter is Latina. Her father is an Indigenous man from a South American country and is not considered White in his country. I sponsored him to come to the U.S., but he ended up leaving after 90 days because of massive disagreements we were unable to work out. People are already commenting on my daughter’s skin color. For now, it is mostly how beautiful it is (it is!!!) or how she could not have gotten that skin color from me.

How can I support her as a Brown person in the U.S. without the culturally similar parent in close proximity? I support their relationship and facilitate daily calls, and I encourage her to talk to him briefly even when she does not want to. I’m also teaching her Spanish so she can have the opportunity to connect with her culture that way if she chooses. Any recommendations? Books to read? I’m aware that I’m a privileged White individual and I will never fully understand the experience of being not White in the U.S., but I want to make sure I do as little harm as possible, and protect her in the ways that matter.

— Single White Mom in Utah

Single White Mom in Utah: The fact that you are asking this question is a positive first step. It’s not clear how old your daughter is but there are different ways you can support and nurture her bicultural and biracial identity. You’ll want to have explicit, age-appropriate conversations about how her biracial identity affects her without it being the only part of her sense of self you nurture.

As I wrote in a previous column, there are identity development models, and even bicultural identity development models, that focus on the developmental stages of experiencing race and ethnicity that you can use to understand where your daughter is on her journey. You certainly don’t want to ignore the fact that your daughter is Latina or pretend her differences don’t exist, but you also want to be careful not to exoticize her differences.

For instance, she can have beautiful skin and you can make sure she does not learn her worthiness is tied to it or her beauty. When people make comments about her skin, you can respond with something like, “She does have beautiful skin, and she is very brave too.” This encourages her to feel good about who she is as a person, not just how she identifies or what she looks like.

Do you have a question for Sahaj? You can ask for her advice here.

If she is still young, make sure you expose her to various types of stories, experiences and people. Pay attention to the toys you buy her or the media and books she consumes. These can be an introduction into her culture and heritage, and they can be reminders that looking or being different is not bad, which will strengthen her own sense of self. You want to encourage your daughter’s identity exploration, while also giving her the agency to choose how to appreciate and integrate them in her life.

You seem to have an awareness of your own racial identity as a White woman and the privilege that comes with it. Continue to grow that awareness by constantly questioning your own assumptions and checking your own biases and how these may be showing up in your life and in your relationship with your daughter. You’ll learn to discern between what your fears or assumptions are and what your daughter’s actual experience is. Be thoughtful about what you project onto her because it is likely that she will be learning what to feel and how to perceive her experiences from you.

You’ll also want to be mindful of not overgeneralizing her Latina identity and try to understand the diversity of South Americans and Indigenous folks in that area. Be intentional about modeling behaviors such as curiosity, openness and vulnerability in your friendships and within your community. You don’t have to do this alone.

Look for people who support and nurture you while being diverse, inclusive and positive role models to your daughter. You can turn to local or virtual parent groups for parents raising kids of a different racial or cultural identity or look into American Psychological Association parenting resources for additional support. Or you can get involved with your daughter in community cultural groups or centers. Your daughter will be paying attention to what you do, what you say and what you focus on.

It’s not about being faultless, but it will be about how you encourage open conversation, take accountability, and repair in times where you may have made a mistake. It’s about being present. You can do all the reading and learning you want, but it will come down to what you practice. No matter how much you want to, you can’t totally protect your daughter from questioning, feeling confused about, or navigating pain due to her identity. But you can empower her to have knowledge of who she is and where she comes from while being a soft place for her to return to when she needs support.

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