If you are an adoptive parent, you are not alone if you dread school Family Tree projects or “When I Was a Baby” assignments.
When my oldest son Keith started Pre-K, I thought we would have a little grace time before we ran into one of those. But the very first week, my husband and I were asked to make a poster with a photo of Keith from the day he was born, and to describe the day in detail at a presentation for the class. We started our family through open adoption and Keith was born at 31 weeks. We are proud of every aspect of his birth story, but his first day was, well, complicated to explain to room of 4-year-olds.
And that’s important: You can completely value and honor the way you started your family, but still have a hard time fitting into the boxes that these assignments put you and your child in. I think we owe it to our families to suggest alternatives to these school projects. Ones that allow the full spectrum of loved ones, whether they be birth families, sperm donors, surrogates, foster figures, or a whole host of caretakers.
Family Tree Alternatives
Family/Care Garden: A garden literally levels the playing field, allowing each flower to have a place without a hierarchy of lineage. If there are people who mean more to the child, he or she is empowered to make their flowers bigger.
Rooted Tree: This set-up would be for children who came to their loved ones through adoption or foster care. The child is the important trunk of the tree, while his or her birth families are the roots and his extended adoptive family make up the branches.
Birth Story Alternative
All About Me: Encourage your teacher to open the assignment for kids who either don’t know about — or don’t feel comfortable talking about — their birth stories. (And also know that your child is not alone if you don’t have baby photos.) Instead, it could be about the student’s current life, valuing the present.
Nationality/Heritage Assignment Alternative
My Favorite Country: This allows your child to choose a country from his or her history “map,” whether it be a genetic link or a cultural one. Or frankly, it could be Iceland. Because maybe your kid thinks Iceland is cool.
You could be proactive and discuss these possibilities with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year. And remember as you do that they may not be the experts you have become in whatever way you built your family. This is an opportunity to educate them, not put them on the defensive.