In this week’s Coalition Connection, one of our staff members shares a personal story about what families can look like after their son’s classmates bullied him, prompted by a school assignment.

We are a “non-traditional,” single-parent, only-child, transracial, adoptive family. I made conscious efforts to minimize and mitigate the challenges my son would face because of our family composition, including moving to a vibrant and diverse community. But you can never prepare for third graders.

Prompted by a “nuclear family” school assignment, my son’s classmates began bullying him about not having a “real family.” And the bullying was unimaginably mean.

I took advantage of an opportunity to do a presentation for the third-grade classes on “What does family look like?” I started by asking the kids to guess which third grader was mine. The majority guessed the boy who looked most like me – white, very short, green eyes, straight brown hair and glasses. The child they guessed least likely to be mine? My extremely tall, African-American, brown-eyed, non-glasses-wearing son. Before I could launch into my carefully prepared talk, one brave little girl raised her hand and said, “My grandma is my family because my mom can’t take care of us.” Just like that, the flood gates opened. One after another, hands shot up. “I live with my auntie …” “I live with my foster family …” “I live with my big sister …” “I have two moms and two dads …” Ironically, even the little boy everyone thought was mine was adopted – by an African-American single dad.

Much to my surprise, our little family was no more “non-traditional” than most. Turns out the real question was, “What makes a family?”

“Family is anyone who loves you and takes care of you.” Just ask Ms. Johnston’s third-grade social studies class.

Recommended Resources

From the Lending Library

  • We’re All Not the Same, But We’re Still Family: An Adoption and Birth Family Story, by Theresa Fraser CYC-P, CPT-S, RPT, MA, RCT and Eric E.W. Fraser
  • The Family Book, by Todd Parr
  • We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families, by Todd Parr
  • It’s Okay To Be Different, by Todd Parr