We are a family…not an “alternative” family

Janet Alperstein, Raising Race Conscious Childrenby guest blogger Janet Alperstein, Ph.D

I have heard that my son and I are an “alternative family” too many times. It was said by people who meant well, but it hurt. While my son didn’t overhear many of these comments, I have always talked to him about our family, our forever family—and how there are all kinds of forever families—whenever possible.

“Some children have siblings, some live with a grandparent, some have step-parents, some have two dads…” (Click here for previous blog post on this topic.)

Now there are glimmers of hope everywhere I turn in the communities in which we affiliate and in society at large that families do not need qualifiers.

On June 26, 2015 after reading touching and poignant news and social media posts about the landmark Supreme Court decision, I found myself sitting in a cafe waiting to meet my son’s camp bus. I opened an email from the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) where my son’s picture is part of the permanent collection in the museum “to illustrate and underscore Judaism’s growing heterogeneity and diversity.”

The email asked if we would be willing to be featured in the museum’s Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) mailing. Later that evening, my son and I made a family decision to participate which led to his first ever conference call with two museum staff. The call began when one staff member asked: “¿Como estás?” My son responded without skipping a beat: “¿Bien. Y tú?” He happily spoke about his favorite activities at his Jewish day camp including swimming, gaga, etz (woodworking), shiur (class) and more.

Later, I learned that one of my son’s favorite counselors is from Colombia. After I discovered this, I commented,

“How cool is it to have had a counselor who speaks the same three languages you do!”

“Yeah,” my son proudly replied. “One time I asked him ‘¿Dónde está el baño?’ and found out what I needed to know!”

I had waited to discuss the Supreme Court decision with my son the next morning as we read the New York Time’s headline together.

“Look at the couples happily getting married across the United States yesterday.”

“Momma, they’re older,” he said pointing at one picture. “They’re younger,” he pointed at another.

“Yes, now everyone can marry who they love.”

I told him about the couple from Ohio who married in Maryland and the struggle to receive the rights and benefits as a surviving spouse in Ohio.

“Momma, did he get his money now that he won in court?”

“That’s a great question. I would think he will receive his husband’s benefits but it will take some time.”

The decision resonated with him at least in part since he has long had classmates and friends with same gender parents and we had lost a close family friend to ALS. I expected to wait awhile to see how much he really understood, but later that day, he showed me how much he had taken in.

He was sitting at the kids table at kiddush after synagogue, and asked me to come over to retell the story of James Obergefell and his late husband John Arthur to his eleven-year-old pal because he couldn’t remember their names and he wanted his friend to know the story behind yesterday’s news about gay marriage.

The Supreme Court decision was a wonderful connection for my son that, as in Judaism, there is a growing heterogeneity in what it means to be a family.

Love and family, most definitely win.


Janet F. Alperstein is the proud mom of a eight-year-old boy born in Guatemala City and raised in New York City where their gender, racial, ethnic and religious identities are an important part of their everyday lives. Dr. Alperstein has worked in higher education for just over 20 years with a focus on international education and has taught a graduate sociology class on gender and the role of schools for 15 years.

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