Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Types of Families

Lately, there's been a wonderful post from a mama blogger circulating the internet, talking about her four-year old son who wanted to be Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween.  He did indeed go as Daphne, and the mom found the biggest challenges he faced came not from his peers, but from other mothers, who were everything from ignorant to flat out rude and insulting to her and her child.  The implication made repeatedly to her was that somehow, by allowing a four year old boy to dress up as a female cartoon character, she was creating a homosexual child.

I applaud this mother for accepting her child for exactly who he is--a four year old who enjoys dressing up.  When my son was four, he came out for school one day looking like he was a member of the Village People (and that is SO not an exaggeration).  I wish I had been comfortable enough to let him go exactly how he was.  There wasn't a single kid in his class who would have cared, but I was worried about what other adults would think of me.  When my daughter was around seven or eight, she went through a period of really enjoying putting together very unique outfits.  Granted, they weren't things I would necessarily wear, but I let it go.  I had learned the lesson with her older brother--it was perfectly okay for her to express herself through her clothing.  She didn't wear anything that was inappropriate.  Who cared if her clothing matched?

But I digress...I really didn't want to talk about how kids express themselves in different ways.  What I wanted to talk about was the kinds of families kids come from, and how different we all can be.  All kinds of families.  Twenty years ago, many of the children I worked with came from two-parent families, and some from divorced families.  Now I've worked with so many types of mixes of adults caring for children, it's impossible to name.  Grandparents who are parenting grandchildren, adopted children, single parents (both mothers and fathers), gay and lesbian parents, and other relatives raising young children from extended family members.

I'm a pretty honest person, and I've struggled with the idea of blogging about this ever since I started this blog.  I believe in honesty but I also believe in a family's (especially a child's) right to privacy.  However, I know myself well enough to know that my views and my writing are strongly affected by my own personal experiences.  And those experiences include raising two children who are not biologically my own.

In the interests of privacy for my children, I will not disclose their names, nor how they came to live with us or specifics of some of the struggles they still have to this day.  Suffice it to say that my experience has led me to be a strong proponent of early intervention and education, parent education, and stability and bonding.

Being the mother in a nontraditional family is usually pretty much how I would imagine being a mother in any other family usually is.  I love my kids, talk with them, play with them, teach and discipline them. I feed them and enforce bedtime, homework, showers, and all that stuff.  There are a lot of extras that go into our situation--which I won't get into--but those extras go to meet needs that stem from early neglect.

One of the things that I think is most challenging for families that are nontraditional is feeling accepted by the rest of the world.  Many of the parents I have spoken with who have nontraditional families worry about their children fitting in and being accepted by other kids.  As an educator, my biggest fear is that my children won't be accepted by adults; that adults in their lives will form preconceived notions about my children's abilities and personalities because of their histories.  We have never made their histories a secret; in our situation it would have done no good anyway since one of them remembers bits and pieces of life before.  We choose to disclose certain amounts of information on a need to know basis.  That includes the children--it is up to them when and if they choose to disclose information about their lives.

I find that often when my children--or other people's children--experience prejudice, it comes out of ignorance rather than malevolence.  Teachers who ask for baby pictures to add to a scrapbook don't think of the fact that not every child has one.  Neither of mine do.  At the end of last school year, my daughter's school included a page of all of the graduating fifth-graders when they were babies.  Parents were encouraged to submit photos.  Although I have seen exactly one photo of my daughter at approximately age seven months, I do not possess any of her prior to nearly her second birthday.  It hurt me, as a parent, to feel that exclusion, and I'm sure it hurt her as she watched her classmates' photos displayed proudly by loving parents.  School projects about families can cause a lot of anxiety for children in nontraditional families--do I have to tell my classmates about how I'm different than they are?  And the questions people ask are sometimes well-meaning but highly inappropriate.  When my daughter was three, she and I had gone to a function with a friend.  As my daughter was standing next to my friend, another well-meaning woman looked at my child delightedly and said to my friend, "She's so beautiful!  Where did you get her?"  (Yes, my daughter is a different race than both me and my friend.)  Situations like these are ones I worry about for my children.  Everyone wants to be accepted, and shouldn't have to hide who they are.

So if your neighbor's kid wants to don a Daphne costume, good for him.  If your cousin and her female partner are raising a child together, more power to them.  If you know the grandmother down the street has full-time care of two little ones, go for it, Grandma.  And if you see some white woman with two beautiful children of a different race with her, it might be me.  And yeah, they're my kids...and no, I didn't buy them at Walmart on Black Friday.

Comments welcome, click the ads, thanks for reading as always!!!


  1. As someone who spent half her childhood as a member of a non-traditional family, it is so easy to see ways society, teachers, and schools exclude without any malicious intent. The popular "parent/guardian" introduction to letters seems very inclusive, but didn't work for my situation. My teachers were mostly supportive of my situation, but coming from a different background themselves weren't equipped to deal with my family.

    The only way I see to learn more about how to deal with these children, how to know what words and phrases are best, and how to work together so everyone's needs are met without any exclusion, is to build strong relationships with all the children we come in contact with, and with as much of their families as we are able. Often in my experience I am not able to contact families with much more than a semi-personal phone call which they may answer twice a year, but I know that I'm doing all I can to find out this child's background.

  2. I agree, Erin. I also think, though, that teachers need to educate themselves about the dynamics that some of these children are going through at different times and how it affects their classroom performance. I have always been very open with my children's teachers but have not always found them to be receptive. It's not that I expect my children to be held to a different standard, but I do expect that teachers utilize multiple strategies when working with different children to create a successful environment...and that sometimes means working with emotional issues as well as intellectual ones.