Family Trees & Half Siblings: Other Out-of-Date Ways to Qualify A Family

Posted on August 16, 2011 by

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family tree

Now, that's a family tree. Just a bunch of people enjoying each other's company and picking fights at Thanksgiving dinner.

If you’re here because you read my story on Lisa Belkin’s New York Times Motherlode blog, welcome. If you arrived on Femamom because you’re a super special person, check out my guest post on Motherlode at the link above.

The school nurse told my son that his sister (my daughter from my second marriage, to a man I’m still married to… follow?) was his half sister. Since this isn’t a word we use in his family, my son was confused about it. Apparently his school nurse had read a book to the kids in a lesson about families and in that book, a mother had children from muliple fathers.

First let me say that fictional mother in the book and I aren’t alone—a recent report released from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research showed that one in five of all American mothers have children with different fathers and that 43 percent of those women were, as I was, married when their babies were first born.

This delineation of “half” disturbed me. A) I didn’t want my son singled out. B) Half is not a whole, and though they are half biologically, and of course they have two different fathers, they are whole in heart.

So I called the school nurse and after politely listening to her list of defenses about her oh-so-fabulous book (e.g., It was in a book, that book, great book, interesting book), I told her, “Maybe it’s time for a new book.”

Here is where I take issue. Nobody should be educating today’s children about their role is in a family unit. The diversity of my family is uncomplicated compared to some of the other families in our town: sperm donors, same-sex parents and surrogates all fall under an intricate family tree that shouldn’t be dictated to by labels or by any educators.

Recently, in a New York Times article, “Who’s on the Family Tree? Now It’s Complicated,” educators and counselors agree. For some kids—like mine—discussing traditional labels, or even family trees, can be confusing, embarrassing, or alienating, causing “the kids pain in unexpected ways.” Who gets a branch on the family tree if roles in families have been upended by the evolution of family?

“Jeannette Lofas, founder of Stepfamily Foundation, a family counseling service based in New York City, eschews the traditional family tree for a network of circles (females) and squares (males), with dotted and straight lines to connect married and blood relatives. A live-in lover or nanny can be included, too, though with no connecting lines.

“That is how complex we have to think,” Ms. Lofas said.”

We’ve all worked so hard to help my son through the transition of divorce, remarriage and then having a sibling that it feels like a giant step backward when an authority figure delegitimizes his relationship with his sister by using the word half. Yes, I do understand that some families use “half”–and that’s their choice. It’s not up to an educator to determine this and, more, when dealing with children, sensitivity stemming from the school should be prioritized.

(Image: gaymay)

Posted in: Kids, Stepfamily