The concept of a family is universally known around the world. Although it’s meaning may vary among cultures and individuals, a family is a support system that is cherished and valued. However, there is no norm of what family structure is, and nor should there be. Families are beautiful because of their abundant diversity and uniqueness. From a young age, we are called to be proud of who we are and to celebrate the lives of those who are important to us. Placing ideals and restrictions on what a family should look like can result in feelings of exclusion and insecurity. Sudie Hofmann provides insight into how schools can foster family diversity and help students recognize and appreciate not only their own family structure, but those of others as well.
As I read “Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Student’s Family Situations” I was immediately able to make personal connections to the stories it shared. Family has always been the most important thing in my life, and this appreciation was only deepened after my sister died. Looking back, her passing and the topic of family in general was a very sensitive subject for me after the accident. For a long time I even struggled with knowing how to answer the question, “how many siblings do you have?” From the age of fourteen to sixteen, any conversation focused around family, with friends or in school, was overwhelming and stressful. However, I am now comfortable and extremely open to talking about my family and my sister whenever I am given the opportunity. I truly believe that the stress I experienced could have been significantly reduced had I been provided with more support and had my teachers and friends approached the subject with more sensitivity.
Hofmann describes family as a grouping of people who the child perceives to be their “family”. I found this very interesting as it leaves room for each individual child’s interpretation. This is important, as it places no restrictions on the children’s view on what family is to them. With family structures being vastly diverse, whether the child may be adopted, be of a same-sex marriage, have stepparents and stepsiblings, or, like me, have experienced the loss of a family member, it is important that all types are recognized and cherished. Hofmann explains that teachers need to alter traditional activities like family trees and Father’s Day gifts to accommodate all family structures. As a future teacher, it has never crossed my mind that issues could arise from small activities such as these. I strongly agree with Hofmann’s notion of teachers and parents supporting each other by being well informed of each child’s family situation and what activities and events will be structured around this topic. For those students who may feel anxiety or embarrassment in regards to their “unconventional” family structure, teachers need to be supportive by using inclusive language and altering activities to reduce these feelings and to promote acceptance.
Although Sudie Hofmann’s story has taught me to be more aware of subjects like family diversity that require a great deal of sensitivity, as well as many strategies to go about this, I am left pondering the grey areas of this topic. During the time in my life when discussing family was stressful, it is difficult to say whether I would have preferred someone to try to talk to me about it in a sensitive way, or to not address the situation at all. As a result of this, I am left wondering whether or not it is best to force this subject on to children who are uncomfortable with it. I agree that it is important to be proud of our family, but is it possible to approach this task without crossing any boundaries, or worsening a child’s anxiety? I strongly believe in acknowledging and appreciating family, especially in schools among our peers, however after reading, “Framing the Family Tree” I am left slightly apprehensive about addressing the situation in my future classroom.