When I was little, I would entertain myself for hours playing make believe with my barrettes. My mom loves to tell this story, but I actually remember it quite vividly. I would make the blue barrette the daddy, the pink barrette the mommy, and the rest were the children. The daddy barrette would go off to work every day, while the mommy barrette stayed home with the kids.
I always thought it was a charming story of independent creative play. More recently, it has come to have more significance for me. I find it both fascinating and disturbing that I chose a “traditional” family structure, especially because it didn’t reflect my reality as a child. My parents separated before I was born, and my mom, sister, and I lived with my grandparents. Both my grandparents worked outside the home, as did my mom at least part of the time.
I clearly got the message, whether from TV, books, preschool classmates, or just being out in the world, that there was a right kind of family…and mine wasn’t it. Our students get this message, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, too. As teachers, we can be on the front lines of ensuring that students feel good about their families, an essential part of their identities. That’s why I love The Great Big Book of Families, a must-have for any elementary classroom. It is a beautifully illustrated book that starts out by explaining that books used to show a family as a daddy, a mommy, a little boy, a little girl, a dog, and a cat. It goes on to explain that families can look any myriad of ways. It describes and depicts family diversity in terms of members, homes, holidays, pets, and more.
I wish I’d had this book as a kid. I loved my family, but I think positive messages about family diversity would have gone a long way toward boosting my confidence as a shy little kid who played by herself. And just maybe I would have been content to make a barrette family that looked just like mine.