Behind The Scenes Of A Mixed Race Family – Sharon Van Wyk


In case you’ve missed it, we’ve started a new series that will pop up here on the blog every Friday.

Recently I have been inundated with content about racism in every shape and form – from issues with mixed race parents or cross racial adoption to being asked to write about it on Heritage Day.  There is just so much that we could say on the topic as it’s still touches a very raw nerve in South Africa (and rightfully so).

Besides the odd intentional racist, I feel like a lot of the hurtful comments are actually just brought about through ignorance of how their words will affect other people.  Thinking only of our own personal situations with little regard for others, because that’s all that we know. So in an effort to broaden what we know, I thought I would interview a wide range of South Africans that have a variety of different situations – from mixed race couples to single race couples that adopt cross racially to couples that share the same “race” but differ vastly in terms of culture.  A bit of a mumble jumble of everything really.

So let’s get started!

I want this to be a safe space where we can share stories and encourage each other to be more accepting of our fellow South Africans of all races, cultures and situations.  So while I want to encourage you to comment and open a discussion, I will not tolerate any abusive or troll like comments here.

Today we get to dig a little deeper into the behind the scenes life of one of my favourite SA Bloggers.  I love that Sharon says it like it is and doesn’t need to sugar coat anything.  Enjoy!

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Tell us a little bit about yourself – what you do, what you like to spend your time on etc

I’ve been with my current employer for 10 years where I work as a national account manager, but my most important “job” is that of Mom to my two gorgeous girls and wife to my husband and partner in crime of the last 15 years.

What do I like?

So many things, running, I developed this passion just a year ago and now run half marathons. I’m also a morning person, kind of have to be if I want to get a run in before work, I have to be up at 4am to make sure all my responsibilities are taken care of before I pound the pavement at 5am. I am an avid book reader, mostly trashy romances and suspense/thrillers, I love a book that I can get lost in and that leaves me with a sense of sadness when it ends because I want to know more or want the story to go on. I’m a wine connoisseur, actually I lie, I just like drinking wine, any wine, as long as it has a screw cap or comes in a pap sak! I also love blogging & have been blogging for 7 years now & socializing and spending time with friends but one of my favourite past times is teasing my long suffering husband!

(Take a moment to check out Sharons blog, you won’t regret it.)

Tell us a little bit about your partner – what they do, what they like to spend time on etc

Walter is development manager at a company…. That does something in the Telecommunicaitons industry…. Mostly I don’t really know what he does there and when I look at his work I’m not even sure what I’m looking at. When he asked me to read his Thesis for his masters degree I actually cried. So ja, that’s all I can tell you about that.

But I can tell you he is my best friend, with the most out of whack sense of humour ever and he is, in my opinion, the world’s best dad, aside from my dad of course. But in all seriousness, he is an amazing, involved father and his girls adore him. All 3 of us.

He loves rugby, braaing and spending time with us as a family. His favourite thing is standing at a braai, tongs in one hand and a beer in the other. We both share a love of music and our favourite past time is listening to and sharing music with each other.

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• Give us a bit of insight into your racial/cultural backgrounds.

I was raised in Cape Town and come from an English speaking family with a strong Scottish & Nordic history. Walter is an Afrikaans boytjie from the East Rand. We great up VERY differently and somehow this works for us.

Sometimes I think Walter’s family struggles a little bit with my straight talking, take no prisoners, shoot from the hip mannerisms but, we’ve been together 15 years now and they’re learning to deal with me.

• As an avid follower of your blog, I know that you adopted both Ava and Hannah. Tell us all about them – brag a bit – it’s OK 😉

My girls are as different as chalk and cheese and yet they both own my heart.

Ava is my miracle, my little butterfly. Her placement happened very quickly, 3 weeks from starting the adoption process to her birth and taking her home in the midst of still trying to recover from a very recent miscarriage. She is wilful and stubborn, fussy and opinionated, a great big tease, soft and gentle, kind and compassionate. So many things I see developing in her now at age 5. She shares with me, a great love of animals and a deep sense of compassion for their wellbeing. When she grows up, she claims she either wants to be a Vet, a Zoo Keeper or a Pop Star (yes she shares our passion for music) but most of all she really wants to be a Mom to 5 children, 3 boys and 2 girls apparently. Her birth mom is white and her birth father is coloured.

Hannah is 2 and she has crept into my heart in a huge way. I really struggled to bond with her and she was only placed at 2 months old with us and was suffering terribly with the trauma of placement, being separated from her birth mom, then in a place of safety for the consent period and finally home to us. The first year was really tough, especially because she is a DEEPLY sensitive child, soft in every way and so in touch with her emotions. If there is even a hint of irritation in my voice when I tell her to stop climbing on the table for the 500th time that day, she will burst into tears like I have broken her heart. It will be interesting to see how she develops in the coming years as we’re only really now starting to get a true glimpse into who she is. Hannah’s birth mom is coloured and her birth father is white.

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• What kind of role does race play in your family? Does it even feature?

Within the context of our family, it doesn’t feature at all. My daughters are simply my daughters, I don’t think of them as adopted and I don’t think of them in terms of a race. They simply are my heart and soul. They drive me nuts and at times they make my heart melt but they are just two little girls who love their mommy and daddy and who make our family complete.

• Both of your girls are “mixed” in terms of their gene pool – how do you address this with them (specifically Ava who can understand what’s happening)?

The mixed race thing has been less challenging with Ava because she is less obviously mixed race than Hannah is and she was extremely fair as a baby but with the introduction of Hannah into our family, who is darker and more obviously mixed race, there have been some difficult questions to answer, specifically from Ava. It took her a while to understand that her and Hannah are the same, in terms of race, she battled to understand this when Hannah was first placed with us, because she is so much lighter and she kept wanting to know why she was light skinned like Walter and I and Hannah was dark skinned.

It took some careful explaining to help her understand that mixed race is such a broad term and really encompasses mixed cultures too and that’s why the beauty of being mixed race is that no one person looks the same, they are all unique in terms of both race and culture but still the same.

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• How have your families reacted to adopting cross-racially?

I’ll admit… we lied, by omission, when Ava was first placed with us because we were afraid of people’s reactions, but the more she burrowed into our hearts the more we became uncomfortable with the lie we were allowing people to believe. And after coming clean to our families about Ava’s racial heritage, we were both surprised and ashamed to discover that it never changed a single thing. Our girls are so deeply loved and adored by both of our extended families and when Hannah was placed it was not even a question we were asked.

Although, from the older generation, we have been encouraged for example, to keep their racial heritage a secret in case they face judgement or intolerance but neither Walter or I are comfortable with this and so far we’ve not really faced it.

• What kind of experiences have you had when you have been out with your kids (alone with them or together as a family)?

We do get stared at by some people when we’re out as a family. People look but I get that it’s because we make a slightly unusual combination and children can ask inappropriate questions at times, but I totally get that that is out of curiosity and not our of maliciousness.

Interestingly, and perhaps, this is my own racial indoctrination, but I expected it to be white people staring at us and more often than not, it’s actually people of colour who seem to do a double take when they see us.

I have also had one woman, my black (ex) hairdresser, who waved her hand in my face and told me it was unacceptable what I’d done and that in their culture they don’t believe in blended race families. I will not lie, I was rather taken aback and needless to say, never went back to her.

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• Did you have any fears about parenting mixed race children before you had them? Has this changed now that you are their Mom?

I had none what so ever when we first started out on our parenting journey. But as my girls get older, I won’t lie, I have some fears now. Especially for Hannah, because we live in a society that does note racial differences. I worry about them facing prejudice or getting hurt.

With Ava specifically, I worry about when she’s older and starts dating boys, what happens if they start dating and they don’t know she’s mixed race and when they discover she is, will they have a problem with it? Will they hurt her heart?

All of our close friends have no issues with it, but we do have (ex) friends who have made it clear that why they had no problem with us adopting mixed race children, they wouldn’t want their children to be in a relationship with our children when they’re adults.

• Do you have any advice for those new to cross-racial adoption?

I think that raising children, regardless of race, is a tough job, and every child comes with a set of worries or concerns for their parents at the end of the day, race shouldn’t have to be one of them but if we raise confident, strong children, there is nothing they can’t overcome and I have seen in our own families, how my daughters have taken every racial stereotype that we were indoctrinated to believe and turned it on its head.

Go for it. I never understood what complete and utter, all encompassing, lay down my life for you, love was until I had my children and their racial profile does not change that one bit!

Like what you’ve read here?  That’s flipping awesome – feel free to share it with your friends.  Also come hang out with me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram where you can expect to find a whole lot more of this, just shorter.

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Thank you Sharon for joining in on this series!

If you would like to join in and be featured in this series or know of someone that would, please feel free to get in touch with me on cindyalfino@gmail.com.

5 thoughts on “Behind The Scenes Of A Mixed Race Family – Sharon Van Wyk

  1. Love your blog Sharon and I think your girls are absolutely adorable. Just looking at Hannah makes my ovaries go nuts. Haha I cannot believe the reaction from your ex-friends, thank goodness they’re out of your lives. What the hell difference does race make anyway? Looking forward to reading more about your amazing family!

  2. Sharons and your blog Cindy, are the two I follow most so what a perfect post today! From the outside I think you are both awesome moms, and seem like really cool people. Your children all look so happy and healthy and GORGEOUS 🙂 Keep it up!

  3. You have a beautiful family! It’s hard to believe the pettiness of some people, this is a subject that needs more awareness, well done 🙂

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