‘You don’t belong.’ I can’t tell my children I understand how they feel, and it destroys me.’: Mom to biracial, neurodiverse family talks dealing with racism, ableism

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“My name is Jenn, and I am an avid Ohio State Buckeye. I was born in Ohio and resistance to this fandom seems to be futile. I also love all things baking-related, and ice cream is my favorite food group. I am a former high school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher turned stay-at-home mom, and am dabbling in the world of writing.

My husband, Young-Min, balances me perfectly. We met in college where he, unintentionally, serenaded me with his electric guitar. I was instantly drawn to him—like a moth to a flame, people! He is the most freeing breath of fresh air and is always reminding me to live life with my hands open and not closed tight.

couple standing together outside
Mallory Drazin Photography

We dove headfirst into our relationship and never looked back. 14 married years later, we’re still swimming.

We also somehow managed to create the three most beautiful and loudest children on the planet. Don’t believe me? You’re welcome to come over, any day, around 4:30 p.m. and see for yourself.

Our children’s ages range from 3-9 and they are always living their best lives. Right now, as I write this, there are about 50 random Pokémon cards spread all throughout our house (I have no idea what any of them mean), along with triple that number in loose LEGOs. Your chances of stepping on one and experiencing earth-shattering pain are roughly 50/50. Peppa Pig, Bluey, and every member of the Paw Patrol are beloved in our household, and I’ve learned more about dinosaurs in the last five years than I ever did in school.

family portrait outside
Mallory Drazin Photography

I absolutely love the life we have created.

There is a lot that makes us who we are, but two things that tend to stick out, whether we want them to or not, are that we are a biracial and neurodiverse family. Just having one of these identifiers strays from what’s deemed, ‘normal,’ but I’m here for anything that challenges the status quo.

I am a white woman, and my husband is a Korean man. We have three biracial children, and one of our children is neurodivergent. These are things that really shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but because we live in a world flooded by many toxic ‘-isms,’ they are.

My family experiences racism and ableism often. There are countless stories my husband could tell you. They range from mild to severe, but the degree doesn’t matter. It’s all abusive and each one sends the same message, ‘You don’t belong.’ My children have also experienced this, sadly but not surprisingly, even at their ages. But unlike their father, I can’t tell them I understand how they feel, and it destroys me to see them go through it. But we are both there for them. We listen to them. We identify the racism and reassure them that it’s wrong and not okay. And we make sure we are their safe space to land, always. Because even when the world isn’t kind, their family will be.

Our neurodivergent child experiences ableism every day of their life (to be fair, we all do, neurotypical people just benefit from it). It’s gut-wrenching every time I think about them having to mask (a term where neurodiverse people try and hide or limit their neurodiversity in order to fit into a neurotypical world). Our child has to work so hard just to get by because the world is constantly telling them it’s not acceptable to be who they really are. They doubt all their instincts and are often confused by life because it just doesn’t make sense to them. And it’s even harder for them as they watch as everyone else seems to not struggle the way they do. They are the most honest and funny and creative person I’ve ever known, and the fact that the world will never fully embrace and accept them is not just devastating, it’s infuriating.

I think it’s important to note here that I am intentionally vague about any specifics for my neurodivergent child. It is a conscious choice to use non-binary pronouns and to not name them or any diagnoses, in this piece or anywhere, out of respect and privacy. It is not my information to divulge, and it is their story to tell. I’ve seen too many parents exploit their neurodivergent child(ren), usually unintentionally, so I try and be as cognizant of this as possible. Whenever I speak about them, I try and toe the line of being an ally and an advocate, and nothing more. This can be so hard to do if I’m not careful, and what helps me is making sure I’m centering neurodivergent voices more than mine, always. That’s not to say I can’t use my voice—I’m doing that right now, after all—but it’s more about making sure I’m not speaking for or on behalf of my child.

I also think it’s important to note that I recognize, as someone who is white and non-disabled, that I am not immune from sometimes being the one who is the perpetrator of these ‘-isms’ just because it’s my family. You can be married to a Korean man and have biracial children and still have internal racial biases. You can have a neurodivergent child and still be ableist. Of course, it’s never on purpose, and yes, I am devastated when it happens, but that’s not the point. The harm happens whether a person has good intentions or not. I can’t escape the privileges that I have, but I can try to learn and work from them.

Before meeting my husband, I didn’t know much about Korean culture. I come from one of those small, rural towns where everyone knows everyone…and everything…and almost everyone is white. It was all I had ever known before I went to college.

couple posing together
Courtesy of Jenn Kim

But marrying my husband felt like the most natural thing to me, and it was. We were the best of friends, we loved living life with each other, and we wanted to spend the rest of our time together—regardless of race. The fact that he was Korean wasn’t any more significant, except now I get to learn all about a beautiful culture I didn’t previously know.

It wasn’t until I started hearing about all the racism my husband has endured throughout his life, (and I started seeing my own privilege, contribution, and complacency in it) that my worldview started to shift. It didn’t just start to shift, it started to expand, and vitally so. I started seeing things with clearer eyes and a privileged veil was lifted.

This led me to understand just how meaningful interracial relationships can be, especially considering that just 54 short years ago, our marriage wouldn’t have even been legal. It’s hard to comprehend that when my parents were children, they lived in a country where, had the law never changed, their future daughter and son-in-law would have been, at the very least, jailed for simply loving each other. How unbelievably backwards. To think of all the relationships and children that were never created out of fear, and the ones that did happen were brutally punished for it—it’s overwhelming and heartbreaking.

family posing outside
Mallory Drazin Photography

Now, none of this makes our marriage any more or less important than homogeneous marriages, but it does make it different. And I do believe there is something so beautiful, so special, about marginalized relationships thriving and claiming their place in this world, something which everyone deserves. Our life together is beautiful—partly because we are interracial, but mostly because we are two people who love each other very much.

As a family, we talk a lot about the ‘-isms’ our world has. It’s for two reasons: 1. Our kids don’t have the privilege of not experiencing these things for themselves and 2. I don’t want them having to deconstruct in their twenties and thirties like I’ve had to (and still am). Children are not too young for these topics. Sure, you can tailor certain things based on age, and we do, but we do not shy away from hard topics, because if we did, then we wouldn’t be honest with them. And we don’t just want them to be prepared—we want them to be a part of the progress forward.

Often, I think about the analogy, ‘square peg in a round hole,’ and that has provided me a lens in which to see the world for how it operates…and for who it operates.

Being biracial is a square peg. Being neurodivergent is a square peg. And in order to fit into this world, you have to somehow change your shape or force yourself through. That’s not what I want for my family. No one should have to change themselves to belong. The fact that we’re here should automatically grant us that belonging.

This is what inspires me to act.

couple smiling together
Courtesy of Jenn Kim

Doing something about these round holes is something I now find myself focusing on constantly. I don’t want people to just scoot down to make room at the table for my family or my child—I want to build a new table where everyone can fit and belong.

Having a biracial family poses challenges that my white privilege never had me think about until I married someone who wasn’t white and gave birth to three gorgeous children who also weren’t white. Having a neurodiverse family poses challenges that my ableist privilege never had me think about until I gave birth to a neurodivergent child. Both things have been the biggest gifts because now I get to see the world beyond myself and my own limitations.

I am cautiously optimistic about the future. I know I’m not alone in this, and I am excited about the work ahead of me, ahead of us.

Just think what this round world can become when everyone is truly able to be who they are meant to be.”

couple smiling together
Mallory Drazin Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenn Kim from California, USA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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