Creative Family Trees For Adopted Children

We avoided the dreaded project, but not for long...

Jennifer Galan April 15, 2017
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Military life has been hard on my little family for a while, now; we have basically changed states and schools every year for the past five years. While there aren’t many silver linings, I have found a great one: We have somehow skipped the dreaded “Family Tree Project!” Adoptive parents know my irritation—the forms that they are supposed to fill out never have enough lines. Kids feel disloyal to one or more branches of their unique trees. Sometimes we aren’t ready to process that bio family isn’t in the picture right now. Sometimes kids don’t want to share all of their details. All in all, putting together that family tree assignment is generally a great way to trigger lots of big feelings from kids (and moms, in response). Alas, we finally hit the genealogy bingo this year with a sixth grade assignment. Here’s what I learned.

Sixth grade is a great age for being able to process that sometimes accuracy can be sacrificed for the sake of being finished.  After trying to fit names and dates into a form built for half of the people she suggested “How about I just write down what fits and tell my teacher that my tree is too small?” YES. YES PLEASE DO THAT MOMMY IS TIRED.

Teachers who don’t stigmatize adoption are amazing. When she brought back the form, her teacher’s response was “Yes! I love a challenge! Let’s figure out how to get everyone on there!” (At which point I teared up because the solutions are never that easy or accommodating and we take any wins we can get over in attachment kid land.

Keeping the lines of communication open will eventually pay off. This year, for the first time ever, my daughter was able to contact her birth father. We have never known anything about him or his family, and because of her willingness to reach out, and his sweet replies she was able to fill in lines of the family tree she didn’t even know she had. “Mom! Did you know I have so many aunts and uncles?” Nope, I sure didn’t, you lucky girl!

There are lots of creative people on Pinterest these days. We found tons of different formats specifically for blended families, adopted families, traditional families, and all sorts of combinations we had never considered. We looked at one that used the roots of a tree to demarcate the biological family, the branches and leaves to signify the adopted family, and the trunk was all of her information. Another cool idea had two grafted together, with the child in the middle. Both sets of branches covered the sky as they intertwined to make a family. In the end she chose to make her own style of chart, with arrows and lines connecting in ways that made sense to her, and her teacher called it good, and we lived to do homework another day.

How have you navigated the “family tree project” with your little ones? Is it worse than Flat Stanley? (We have also somehow missed that one, too!) Let me know in the comments.

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Jennifer Galan

Jennifer Galan mothers four kids (one adopted, three biological) all while living the nomadic life of a military wife. She is a strong advocate for open adoptions, education reform, feminism, kindness, and naps. Mostly naps. Her favorite Doctor is number ten, and she is a proud Ravenclaw.


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