A Lesson from an Eight-Year Old on Defining Family



Sometimes our littles provide us with the biggest lessons.

My heart sank when I opened my third-grade daughter’s school folder to find an assignment on immigration. Students needed to interview mom, dad, grandparents, and other family members to find out where each family came from and why as part of a social studies project.

My side of the family is easy. We can trace our family back generations. We even have photos of my GREAT GREAT GRANDPARENTS. Plus, several of us have taken those DNA tests, and our results match the family’s story.

On the other hand, determining her father’s family’s immigration path is just about impossible. First, he’s dead so we can’t ask him. Second, he never knew where his ancestors came from, and it wasn’t something that was important to his family. When asked where the family came from, his dad would say, “Kentucky” and leave it at that. Third, my daughter’s paternal family opted to not be part of our lives after my husband’s death, so it isn’t an option to get in touch with them.

It’s assignments like these that always make ME feel bad for my kids because we don’t have information for the “dad” portion of the assignment. Some school projects that are based on a mom-dad family dynamic, and that’s just not the reality for every “family.”

I was a mess when I looked at the assignment.

What would we do? Will this trigger a wave of grief and associated behavioral issues? How do I tell my daughter that her father’s side of the family literally unfriended me on social media during his funeral mass? Can I just leave the section blank, send a note to the teacher privately, and make this assignment go away? Do I raise a stink about how not every family fits into this mold? How can I soften this blow for my daughter?

Then my daughter taught me a lesson.

She picked up the paper, interviewed me, and said she’d interview her stepdad when he got home for the dad-part of the project.

To her, it wasn’t an issue at all. She would interview the only dad she’s ever known, biological or not. Family isn’t necessarily blood relatives; family is just…family.

Sometimes, an 8-year-old can teach us a lesson. Sometimes we just need to listen to their wisdom.

As a side note, she got a perfect score on her immigration assignment.


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