Diversity in Families and Why That’s a Good Thing
By Jill Samonte, MPA, MS, Accessibility & Inclusion Specialist, DuPage Children’s Museum
Families are everything and everyone. A family may all live under one roof, they may have things in common, or they may just be the ones who are there when times are difficult. A child’s family is who they live with each and every day. That’s my definition of a family. A child’s family will also include anyone who loves that child and supports them as they grow and learn. Family includes teachers, health care providers, neighbors, extended family, family friends, the person who cuts their hair, the person who delivers their mail or picks up the recycling every day and waves. A family may look very different today than in the past.
I was born 50 years ago to a mother, a father, and an older sister. In contrast, my 10-year-old daughter has a mom, a step-dad, a dad, a grampy, a grandma, two half-sisters, three step-siblings, and more aunties and uncles and cousins than she can count. She is blessed and lucky to have so many people in her life that love and support her as she grows and learns each and every day. My hope for her is that her diverse family (in race, religion, ethnicity, sexual identity, income, and education) prepares her to go out into the community and the world, where diversity is growing by leaps and bounds.
My daughter has been learning about differences in others since the day she was born. We lived in Queens, New York (the most diverse county in the United States) for the first three years of her life. A concern I had moving back to the far western suburbs of Chicago was the lack of diversity; or so I thought… We lived with my elderly parents for a time, my mother in an electric wheelchair, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 40 years prior and then ultimately with colon cancer. My sister, a single parent, lives on the other side of town, and her three children have gotten married, dated people of other races, and been in same-sex relationships. Part of my daughter’s family lives in New York and some live down the street. We have family with doctorate degrees and some relatives who never finished high school. We have family making more money than they can spend and some who need to borrow money from us to pay their bills. Some family are alcoholics and some have mental illness. Diversity within our own family is great.
The family a child grows up in, and around, helps to form self-identity. Children will see themselves reflected in others, and the social and emotional feedback they get from these close relationships is the building block for empathy, a vital social and emotional stage in development. Empathy can be defined as the ability to feel or imagine another person’s experience. It affects a person’s behavior towards others and the quality of social relationships.
To prepare children for today’s future, their ability to navigate diverse relationships within families, schools, communities, and workplaces (think classes and work projects that involve students and coworkers via screen time from ANYWHERE in the world) will be critical for their success. And it might just start with an infant being surrounded by lots and lots of DIFFERENT & DISTINCT people who love them.
Jill Samonte has an MS in Counseling Psychology and an MPA in Emergency & Disaster Management. As the Accessibility & Inclusion Specialist, she ensures that all visitors have the opportunity to enjoy our Museum and interact with floor exhibits. Jill also goes out into the community with programming and portable Museum exhibits.