Questions Educators or Parents May Ask

That's a Family!

That's a Family!

That's a Family! is an entertaining documentary that breaks new ground in helping children in grades K-8 understand the different shapes families take today. Part of The Respect for All Project.

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Should I include all the sections in the video if there are no such families represented in my classroom? What if none of the children in my class are in any of the family structures shown in the film?
All sections of the video reflect dimensions of being a family. To leave out any section deprives students of looking through windows to different forms of family life. You can use That’s a Family! to help your students learn about the diversity that exists in the wider community and to help them put their own family experience into a more balanced, inclusive understanding of the world in which we live.

Also, you may not be aware of many children’s true family situation, and children may not be sure whether the classroom is a safe place to share such information. Adoption may be a secret. A female caregiver may really be an aunt instead of a mom. Racial or religious differences within families may not be obvious but still important. Many gay or lesbian parents may not feel comfortable being "out" in our culture. Many students have a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, family friend or sibling who is gay or lesbian, but they may be hesitant to tell you or their classmates.

Why isn’t there a section on "more typical nuclear families"? Will children with that family structure feel left out?
Actually, there are many married parents with kids in That’s a Family! In fact, the first image in the film is of a white heterosexual couple with their two children. Most of the children in the adoption section and mixed-race section live with their married moms and dads. Still, That’s a Family! was created to give voice to the millions of children who grow up in a family structure that differs from the so-called "norm" in some way. There are countless ways that children in "traditional" nuclear families have their reality mirrored back to them. Kids in other kinds of structures often feel invisible or even ashamed. That’s a Family! is an attempt to provide some balance to the plethora of nuclear-family images all children regularly see.

How did you find the children and families in the film? They seem incredibly articulate — how did you get them to share so openly? How did you choose which kinds of families to profile and who would represent them?
All of the children and families in That’s a Family! tell their own real, personal stories; they are not actors! We found the families in a variety of ways — by sending out flyers to hundreds of schools, religious congregations, parent support groups and social-service agencies; by posting notices on e-mail listservs for families and parents; and by taking out ads in family and parenting publications. We were committed to finding a wide cross-section of boys, girls and families of all racial, class and ethnic backgrounds. The most important factor was finding children who were able to articulate their family circumstances. We met with children in their homes and identified those who were able to speak clearly about their situations. We then invited that subset of children to a film studio to tell their stories on camera. Oftentimes, we asked them to do several "takes," and we encouraged them to explain their situation as if they were speaking to younger children. For many of the children in the film, these interviews were the first time they had ever been asked to talk openly about their families, and the experience proved to be extremely validating and affirming. We asked them to tell us what they would like other children to understand about their kind of family; they took that assignment to heart, and the result is what you see in the film.

What if I have a parent who has an adopted child but doesn’t want the situation discussed? Or what if I have a child who’s been through a recent or painful divorce, or a child living in a group home or with foster parents?

Emphasize the following ground rule for class discussion: Every student has the right to pass in class discussions, and no one has to share anything he or she doesn’t want to. Suggest that by hearing students in the class openly discuss adoption, divorce or guardianship, the student might become more comfortable with his or her own situation. Point out to the parent or guardian that this is an opportunity to give important tools to the child and to provide discussion opportunities at home. Silence reinforces the notion that something is wrong with a child because he or she was adopted, has divorced parents or lives in a group home. Also, it is unlikely you would exclude other important classroom topics because of one family’s concerns.

Why talk about adoption with young children? Why draw attention to different ways of bringing children into a family?
Adoption and foster families face a bias in society based on the cultural beliefs that families formed by adoption are less truly connected than birth families; that birth families should be preserved under all circumstances except the most severely harmful; that people who were adopted were first rejected, maybe for a reason; and that all children who were adopted have abandonment issues. Adages such as "blood is thicker than water," or referring to birth parents as "real" parents, leave no doubt that genetic connections are seen as stronger and more legitimate than adoptive ones. No matter what role you have in an adoption process, such judgments are painful. As a society, we tend to understand the dangers of bias based on race, gender or class. "Adoptism" is just as damaging and children are never too young to learn about it.

Are kindergartners, and first- and second-graders too young to learn about families with gay or lesbian parents?
Children who do not see their own families mirrored in the classroom will begin to think that something is wrong with them, and children who see only their families mirrored in the classroom will be denied the opportunity to see themselves as part of a larger, more complex society.

Anti-gay comments and insults start at a very early age; many children use words and phrases such as faggot and you’re so gay as early as kindergarten and first and second grade. They will consider these words to be acceptable put-downs unless they learn that they are hurtful and unacceptable, and that they affect the lives of people in their school community.

I am uncomfortable talking about sex in the classroom. I don’t want to include families with gay or lesbian parents because I don’t know what to say.
Talking about families with gay or lesbian parents does not mean talking about sex, any more than talking about heterosexual parents means talking about sex. Children see many images of families with a mom and a dad, and read and hear many stories with a mom and dad — none of which include or require discussions of sexuality. The same is true of families with gay or lesbian parents. Trust, love and mutual family support are to be stressed, not sexual activity.

What if a parent tells me that homosexuality is against the family’s religion, or what if it is against my religion?
It is the responsibility of educators to create safe, respectful environments for all children. Whatever their other views, all religions teach compassion for others, and That’s a Family! is a useful tool for reinforcing such teaching. Regardless of religious affiliation, it is important to acknowledge and respect gay people — and children with gay family members — as part of our school communities. Students whose families or whose own emerging sexual identities are invisible or misunderstood at school will not be safe from ridicule, or verbal or physical harassment. In fact, families and individuals have successfully sued school districts and administrators who have failed to protect their children from harassment related to issues of sexual orientation.

Stress that anti-gay prejudice is related to other forms of prejudice, such as racism and sexism, and is unacceptable. Emphasize that the safety and well-being of each of us is dependent upon and related to the well-being of all of us. Anti-gay prejudice not only hurts families with gay or lesbian members, it fuels the assumption that one group is superior to another.

Are there legal issues involved when discussing foster children and group homes in a classroom setting?

There are legal prohibitions that kept us from including young people from foster/group homes in the film. The identity of children in custody of the state/county must be kept confidential. However, it is important to talk with students in general terms that some children and youth have to live temporarily with special caretakers who are trained to help take care of them while they can not live with their parents/guardian.