For Dr. Jennifer Noble, a clinical psychologist and parenting coach, the best way for kids to figure out their individual identities, particularly if they’re mixed-race, is through informed parents.
“Dr. Jenn,” as she’s known online, is a licensed psychologist and coach for parents of mixed-race children. She’s the creator of the Mixed Life Academy, an online coaching community for parents of mixed-race kids, helping them raise confident, resilient children.
Noble has a private practice in Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.A. where she works with teens, their parents, women of color and other marginalized groups. She’s taught collegiate-level psychology for 15-plus years. Her passion for identity freedom and the mixed-race experience is fueled by her lived experience as an African-American and Sri Lankan-Tamil-Malaysian woman (she considers herself “Blasian”).
“There’s so many ways to tackle a problem, if you will,” she says. “And for me, I love identity development and that’s what I kind of studied in my work as a psychologist. And so a lot of the earlier work that I would do, like in a nonprofit-type setting was often with other mixed-race adults.”
Noble says she kept finding that those mixed-race adults were saying, “‘Oh, when I was young — this, or my parents never said that, or my parents never’ — And so I … was like, who is out there, directing the help at the parents? I certainly can identify with what a lot of adults have said, and I can talk with my own parents and discuss what they maybe could have said more of or done more of as I was growing up.
“So yeah, my angle at helping the children is by helping the parents,” Noble continues.
THE MIXED LIFE ACADEMY
The Mixed Life Academy is focused on helping a parent get insight into what their child is going to experience in the world, according to Noble. “It’s a whole different experience than either of their parents, and I don’t think parents really wrap their mind around it,” she adds.
My angle at helping the children is by helping the parents.Dr. Jennifer Noble
Noble talks about cases where one parent might be Cuban, thinking they’ll raise their kids to be Cuban, while the person they eventually marry is, say, Filipino with aims of raising their kids to be Filipino.
“And the kid’s like, um, I’m not sure if you guys thought about how will you teach me to be both? And then how will you teach me to integrate the two into one person? Because that’s really what’s happening,” she says. “Lots of parents can address the thing that they know, which is their own background, but because that parent has not lived what it’s like to be more than one at the same time, they struggle to do that.”
Consequently, that’s what Dr. Jenn does in the academy: “I kind of teach them, here’s what your kid is gonna face. Here’s some of the experiences they’ll have. Here’s how you understand their outlook and experience in the world and meet them where they’re at and help them navigate it.”
PARENTS EXPLORING THEMSELVES
Additionally, Noble says she would love for a parent to start with themselves, i.e. their own introspection on their own racial identity journey.
“I do give a couple exercises where I try to get parents to sit back and just be like, OK, what was it like [growing up]? What is the most salient part of my identity? Is it race? Is it ethnicity? Is it religion? What were my experiences? How do people treat me when I walk out into the world? And what do I think about that?” according to Noble.
“I would love for them to start there because it really does tell a big part of the story of how they’re probably gonna parent their mixed-race kid in regards to racial identity, not necessarily anything else,” she adds.
For example, Noble says, suppose there’s an Indian-American person whose parents were born in India, who grew up in the United States, and maybe they had a lot of maltreatment where other people told them they weren’t “white” or “pretty.” That person might have tried to blend in with their white friends “and they’re like, ‘Yes, I know I’m Indian. But also I just, I just really want to be American. Like, can you just let me be American? Then maybe they choose a partner and have a kid.”
That new parent may have disconnected themself so much from their Indian heritage and culture that then when it’s time to present it to their kid, “they’re kind of like stuck or it just brings up their old stuff of like, ‘Oh man, how is my kid gonna be received in the world?’
“So I really would want a parent to start there and just be like, ‘OK, let me just do my own digging,'” she continues. “‘How do I feel about being in the body I’m in and the skin I’m in?’ But because parents don’t always start there, I start them with the basics of essentially the mixed-race experience: Just what are some concepts and themes that you just need to know, kind of like the umbrella frameworks so that when a kid brings an issue home, you can be like, ‘Oh, I know this or I know what’s going on here because I was presented with this theme or this concept, and now I can meet my kid where they’re at, rather than dismissing it or trying to fix it.'”
What is the most salient part of my identity? Is it race? Is it ethnicity? Is it religion? What were my experiences?Dr. Jennifer Noble
PARENTING THROUGH THE PHENOTYPE
A lot of us tend to define people by how they look, by what their phenotype is, according to Noble.
“If a parent could understand [that], then when a kid comes home and says, ‘Oh, I’m not Costa Rican, because I don’t look that,’ then the parent can be like, ‘All right, I know that’s a real thing. Let me not dismiss it. Let me not try to fix it. Let’s just sit in that,'” Noble says. “‘Let’s look at the reality of, yeah, they said, what? Because your skin color is too light? Oh, well, do you think there are lighter Costa Ricans? Well, let’s look at that and let’s challenge whatever they’re presenting,’ but you get a chance to validate that kid’s experience.
“The parent is now able to say, ‘You’re getting comments on your phenotype. I’m gonna go there with you. Let’s talk more about phenotype. Let me educate you about phenotype. Let me let you be OK with phenotype because it’s not tied to your culture. You still can have access to all your cultures, you can still do all the things. We’re still gonna be your parents and those are still gonna be your ancestors,'” she says.
Tools like those give the parents some “fighting material” to work with for their kids, which helps empower the child, according to Noble. “And that’s where you build that resilience and the confidence.”