Nine panelists shared their perspectives, opinions, and experiences about growing up in non-traditional families at last week’s Davidson Day Diversity Forum, the sixth forum of the 2020-2021 academic year.
The prevalence and cultural dominance of the traditional “nuclear family,” explained Head of School Pete Moore, is actually largely a myth, as for at least the last 15 years, less than 50 percent of families are structured a nuclear family composition.
That may be surprising for many in our Patriot community to learn, especially because in wider society, cultural representations of family environments have tended to reflect a nuclear family, and people in nontraditional families still face judgment and false assumptions from others, said Moore.
“The goal for the night is for people to gain a better understanding of the word “family,”” said Moore, and to move past the idea that “family” is narrow and/or traditional.
“Knowing my family did not look like what I thought it was supposed to look like was a big deal,” said Sydney Brown ‘21, emphasizing the importance of teaching kids that a family should be based on feelings of love, trust, and acceptance more than structure. Sydney relayed that as a child, she did not understand why having two moms was so bizarre to the other students, nor why her moms did not get married the way other parents did.
Jake Breunig ‘22 lives in a “classic divorced parent household situation,” as he described it on the virtual forum, living some days at his mother’s house and some days at his father’s. Breunig reported feeling that he doesn’t have a lot of people to whom he can relate, because most other students at Davidson Day don’t live in a similar situation, nor is family structure and composition an oft-discussed social topic. Yet, for Jake, having two separate families has been beneficial, including now calling two step-sisters his family, and with whom he cannot imagine living without. “I believe that people need to try and understand different people’s living situations better,” he said.
Audrey Hanson ‘21, Jessica Hallman ‘22, and Ella Grace Wolfe ‘22 all spoke about their experience in living in two households simultaneously and the assumptions that others make when they come to learn that fact. For example, Hanson shared that people assume she receives twice the number of presents during the winter holidays than they do, or at birthdays. Hallman shared that one of the only things that feels consistent is the constant unpacking of suitcases between houses, and Wolfe shared that she’s lived nearly her whole life in two households, and relates to the experience of feeling as though there are two different lives lived.
“Saying the words, ‘I’m adopted’, had more of a meaning than what I thought it meant and now is now such a personal part of me,” said Rachel Brown ‘18, who currently attends Virginia Tech. Rachel’s parents adopted her from Romania and wrote about learning more about that process in her college essay. In coming to learn more about the tragic history of Romanian orphanages and adoptions, said Brown, she raised her awareness of her own privilege in being raised by loving parents.
Mallorie Haines ‘21 shared how she came to realize that her biological father didn’t deserve to be a part of her life anymore. Once referred to as “Disney Dad” due to the large expenditures on trips and stuff when he would swoop in, she came to realize that he did not deserve to be a part of her life, ultimately bringing her closer with her mother.
The environments in which students live can affect identity, said Steve McGill, a member of the English Department at Davidson Day, and the faculty liaison and advisor for the Student Diversity Council, which sponsors the Davidson Day Diversity Forums. McGill recounted the story told in a personal essay from a former student, noting that through that assignment, he came to understand how important understanding how students experience their lives, and how they come to identify themselves, beyond the boundaries of a school campus or a school day, really is.
The next Diversity Forum, with the topic of multi-racial perspectives, will be held on Thursday, March 18.