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Dealing With The Family Tree Project When You're A Single Parent

When I picked JD up from school last Friday there was a note in his cubby that read:

Dear Parents,

Next week we will be learning about our families. Please bring in a picture of your child’s family by Wednesday. We will be discussing our family members and making a family tree.

And cringe.

This made me nervous for JD. He is already asking independent questions about his father, but I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t feel left out during this project. He’s in a new classroom and I honestly don’t know if he's the only kid in a single parent family. I do know our tree is awesome. It's strong and bright.

I selected a bunch of family pictures for JD to bring in and made a note on the envelope. JD’s teachers know I’m a single mom and his file indicates his father doesn’t participate. However, I know how busy I get at work, so I wanted to make sure that his teachers didn’t forget, slip and ask him about D.A.D., so I made a note on the pic envelope.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with discussing his father and being honest about his whereabouts. When JD and I selected photos over the weekend, the topic came up. “Your dad lives in Indiana and you live here with me. Look at this pic of you on Uncle Carlo’s shoulders!” I was simple, honest—then distracted him. This is how the child psychologist I interviewed told me to handle the question. Read: My June Parenting article on navigating single parenthood.

If you’re a single parent like me, it’s really important to be proactive about what you want or need your child’s teacher, coach or friend’s parents to know. Despite that modern families dominate the majority of households in America, it’s still very common for people to assume that Mom, Dad, two kids and a dog live at home. Just this morning I got a postcard in the mail from a boutique shoe store we shop at. It was addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Coppa" and "our" son was due for sizing. A few months ago, JD came home with a school project for me. It read: “Thank you Mom and Dad for loving me!” I called the school. I wasn’t bothered so much by the words, but wondered if his teacher told JD his Dad loved him (not saying he doesn't) or discussed Dad with him. I was told it was a generic project and everyone in the school did the same one (no one mentioned Dad to JD). I found this kind of…silly. It made my face wrinkle up. Families are not generic. It's like telling kids 1 + 1 = 4, no questions asked. I think we all need to be honest with ourselves and our children about where we come from. I mean this for Dads and Moms who left and have other children with no clue they have a brother or sister from a previous relationship, too. There's no shame. There's PRIDE. We all have pasts. Let your kids see you are human. Read: My exclusive interview with Entourage star Adrian Grenier. He discusses growing up with a single mom and searching for his bio-dad.

In addition to sending in pics of our family, I wanted to suggest some reading for circle time. So, I brought in our favorite book, Who’s in a Family?

Last night over dinner, I asked JD what he did in school. “I learned that all families are different and Miss C read our book, Mom! Everyone liked it! Some kids have two mommies, but I have one!" Beautiful.

Who's in your family? Share! XO

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