What Is A Family?
A recent conversation with a single mother about her, and her daughter who was adopted, and the absence of families like theirs in children's books, has me thinking about how to talk to children about what is a family?
One of the annual traditions at the Little Folks School where I was the Director for many years, was the drawing of a family portrait to present to parents at conference time. It provided an opportunity to discuss families.
In this short video about the Little Folks School, three and four year olds were asked to answer the question, “What is a family?”
Here are some of their spontaneous, unprompted answers:
A family …
… “ a thing with grown ups and kids”
… “it’s a place where you stay and you’re not alone”
… “it’s people who give you hugs and kisses”
… “it’s someone who loves you and takes care of you and reads you a bedtime story at nighttime and gives you a stuffed animal to sleep with”
… “important because they keep you safe”
You can see that for children, families are about being loved and cared for, not a father, a mother, and 2.5 children.
As is typical in most nursery school classrooms, there was a bulletin board display in my classroom with pictures of the children and their families. What was included were photos of other families, not necessarily in the school, but that reflected non-traditional families as well: images of a family with two moms or two dads, or one of each, or families with a grandparent present. When learning about families, it is crucial for children to see a visual representation of their family, but equally important is to see a visual representation of families that don't look like theirs.
A recent New York Times article "What's A 'Normal' Family Anyway?", written by Claire Haug, is a wonderful reflection on what it was like growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area with two mothers and a father. Her mother and her half-sibling’s mother were friends, and both wanted to start families but were not in long term relationships. Her father, a friend to both, agreed to be their donor and remain in their lives to be a parent to their children. While unusual, this arrangement has worked for them to create a family of loving and caring connections. The author's homage to her unconventional background is inspiring and enlightening.
My suggestion to the single mom was to collect photographs of her friends and family to share with her daughter. Also, to be sure to include not just images of a family like hers, but other groupings as well.
The lesson is that families come in all shapes and sizes and that it isn’t who is in a family that makes it a family, it is love that makes it a family.