When parents are from different racial, cultural or religious backgrounds, raising children can come with challenges. Three couples share their experiences with Pearl Rantsekeng
WHILE INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIPS have become a lot more commonplace in our rainbow nation than ever before, interracial couples still face some hurdles.
No one knows this better than Cathy (30) and Joe Muthee (33) from Bedfordview.
Cathy, a stay-at-home mom and piano teacher, is a daughter of a white farmer from Kwazulu-natal, while Joe, an entrepreneur, is an African man of Kenyan origin who moved to South Africa as a child.
The two met through a mutual friend while attending the same church, and Cathy admits that the fact that Joe was black initially prevented her from seeing him as a potential partner, even though Joe was always involved in their social group and at events.
“It’s only when we started spending time together, in the church environment, that I got to know him better. After my 21st birthday he decided to take matters into his own hands,” says Cathy.
Joe says he knew Cathy was the one for him, but realised he would need to get her parents’ consent for their relationship to stand any chance.
Joe picked up the phone to Cathy’s dad and asked if he could drive down to see him in KZN. A whole group of friends spent the weekend on the farm so the family could get to know Joe.
“It wasn’t easy. My family was just not ready for this kind of relationship. Some family flat-out refused to accept my relationship with Joe,” says Cathy. “My dad, on the other hand, as much as it was hard for him to accept, told me that it wasn’t worth losing a daughter over something like this.
“He wanted to know why I hadn’t kept him and my mom up to date about my relationship with Joe and I explained to him that I was afraid of being rejected,” she recalls.
Now, says Cathy, seven and a half years later, the couple are happily married and have been blessed with two beautiful children, Daniel (4) and Victoria (2).
The couple says they’re not traditionalists and in raising their children have decided to do what works for them.
“It’s not like I grew up in Kenya and have certain things that I did that my kids have to do. We are raising our children the Christian way and we try and instil in
them that it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside but it’s the inside that matters,” says Joe.
Cathy says, even after all this time, there are still people who don’t approve of their relationship. But, she adds, she loves her mixed family and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Getting their families on board is the one thing most interracial couples report that they must go through, mostly with trepidation and worry.
Take chartered accountants Simon and Zeenat Wormald from Greenside in Johannesburg, who met at work and have been together since 2011.
“Sometimes people have a tendency to go for partners who are the same race or culture as them because they feel those partners should be a better fit. But at the end of the day your emotional connection is what truly matters. Zeenat and I were a bizarre match on paper, but we had an incredible emotional connection,” says Simon.
Simon and Zeenat met while serving their articles at Ernst & Young in Cape Town. But theirs certainly wasn’t love at first sight. “It’s not like I was looking all sexy! I was always modestly dressed in my long skirts and dresses and scarf,” she chuckles.
Zeenat recalls how when they first got together neither of them thought the relationship would last longer than a few weeks or months. “We were just so different. Certainly neither of us thought we were long-term prospects and definitely not marriage material. But the longer our relationship went on, the stronger our feelings grew. Somehow the differences seemed fewer and fewer,” she says.
“Working together on a project at the firm allowed us to get to know each other better,” says Simon.
Simon says dating Zeenat helped him to be more open-minded. “With each day I’ve come to realise that if you challenge yourself to look at things differently because you can see that your wife sees things differently there is always so much more to learn,” says Simon.
Zeenat says she was worried about telling her family about Simon. But in retrospect, she advises honesty. “It took me about six months but, in hindsight, I didn’t realise that leaving them to be the last to find out wasn’t going to make their reaction any better. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t as hard as I’d expected, either. I guess I needed to get over my own preconceptions of how they would take it. When I grew up there weren’t similar types of relationships around me and it felt as though mine wasn’t normal and would be frowned upon,” she explains.
Zeenat says marrying into a family that has a different background and culture from her taught her that life is about give and take.
“Of course you are not going to abandon your beliefs and values, but you become more open to new and different traditions,” she explains.
Just like Cathy and Joe, Simon and Zeenat agree that most of the time people still tend to preferentially select partners that are of the same race, religion or culture.
The couple married in 2014 and have been blessed with a beautiful baby boy Rayaan (1) who will be raised Muslim like his parents.
Children from interracial relationships get to benefit from being exposed to both the parents’ cultures, something most interracial families know very well.
“People often ask us if we aren’t worried that Rayaaan will grow up confused when our cultures are so different,” Simon recounts.
“But we think this is a conservative view as both cultures have loads to offer. It would be a shame if Rayaan were to lose any of it.
“We want him to grow up with close relations with both families. As much as it is important for him to understand our values as a family, we also want him to have a wide appreciation for the different cultures,” adds Simon. HANDLING THE STARES Judice Newton (29) from Linden is married to Lloyd Newton (35), owner of the Satori Restaurant. She is Angolan and he is South African. She says even today people are still surprised to see them. “People still stop and stare or give you that look of disapproval even to this day,” she says.
Judice met Lloyd through her cousins, with whom he was friends. “They invited me to their home for a Thanksgiving lunch for the family, and I became family,” he adds amid laughter.
Unfortunately, in the beginning the couple had to deal with rejection from both sets of parents. Lloyd says Judice’s parents, especially her mom, at first had to deal with her anger at white people in general for how the Portuguese had treated black people in their colonies. Meanwhile, Judice had to deal with Lloyd’s dad, who is English and based in the UK, who couldn’t see past her skin colour. “We had to be strong and knew that for our relationship to work we had to stand our ground. Luckily for us, both sides of the parents have eventually come round, but we’ve had to exclude other family members from our lives,” explains Lloyd.
The couple has been blessed with two children, Gabriela (7) and Nathalie (1).
They say they’ve decided to take certain things from each culture and create their own new family culture. “What I love about Judice’s family is how inclusive they are and how the cousins do things together. It’s a warm and loving family,” says Lloyd. YB
Simon and Zeenat Wormald with their son Rayaan
Cathy and Joe Muthee and their children, Daniel and Victoria