Our Family Tree

By |2017-05-08T18:29:40+00:00May 8th, 2017|Parenting After Loss|6 Comments

Just this week it happened for the first time, and I’m still not sure how to respond.

My daughter was asked to take her brothers out of the family tree project at school.

We were walking home from the bus stop. She is in grade 2 and has been working on a family tree project for months. This week were the big presentations, and the teacher would be recording them to send to us. I had not seen hers yet, but knew that her presentation was coming up when she told me: “Mom, the teacher told me I shouldn’t include Nate and Sam on my family tree because they’re dead.”

“Oh…” I struggled with what to ask next. “How does that make you feel?”

“It isn’t fair. Nicholas included his grandpa on his family tree, even though he’s dead.”

“Well, yes, but I wonder if your teacher didn’t want the other kids to ask about your brothers. Maybe she doesn’t feel comfortable answering their questions about death.”

And with that she just shrugged and skipped on ahead to catch up with her little brother, who was already running up the street.

Diagram of a family tree with the baby crossed out.

Lots of family trees are messy, but only one kid has to pretend some of the branches were never there.

So maybe the question is how does it make me feel? And I’m not sure yet. On the one hand, leaving her brothers out of her family tree means my daughter isn’t exposed to additional ridicule. Kids know when someone is different, and anything that can give them cause to poke fun at someone might be seized upon. The teacher might be justified in saying that because Nate and Sam died before she was born, she didn’t really know them, and so only family members that are known to the kids count. After all, the family tree project did not include great grandparents, just the most recent generations. On the other hand, there is a little girl one year behind my daughter at school who lost a sister after she was born. Will the same rule apply next year? You can keep your dead baby sister in, because you knew her and loved her and remember her. Sally’s grandma died before she was born so she needs to be removed, but Bobby’s great-grandma is still alive, so she’s in?

But I’m also a little bit angry. My daughter goes to a French-language school, which we chose intentionally to have her learn the language of her grandparents and great-grandparents. From 1919 to 1969, French was illegal in Maine schools. Children were made to feel ashamed of their heritage. Living here in Canada, we’re blessed with the opportunity to have our children grow up proud to speak French, and the family tree project is also an opportunity to show the wealth of nations where French speakers come from. There are kids in my daughter’s school from Quebec and France, yes, but also Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Haiti. Asking my daughter to remove her brothers from her family tree feels the same way. There is something about your past that you should feel ashamed of in the same way kids in Maine were made to feel ashamed that they spoke French. Your family is weird. Acknowledging your brothers makes me feel weird. And it would just be easiest on everyone if you didn’t include them.

I haven’t said anything to her teacher yet, and I’m not sure if I’m going to. I’m still not sure if I’m not overreacting. But even though keeping her brothers off the family tree makes things easier for the teacher, and isn’t really a big deal for my daughter, it makes it harder for the next family who might just lose a baby while school is in session. What do you say to that little child? Death doesn’t always happen in convenient prepackaged curriculum sessions.

See also: Addressing Grief: Tips for Teachers and Administrators


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About the Author:

Amanda Ross-White
Amanda Ross-White’s first pregnancy ended in the stillbirth of her twins, Nathaniel and Samuel, in 2007. Since then, she has had two miscarriages, and two successful pregnancies, her daughter born safe in 2009 and her son in 2012. She is also the author of Joy at the End of the Rainbow: A Guide to Pregnancy After a Loss.


  1. Kitten May 8, 2017 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    That is tough. I would need to know why the teacher wanted her to leave them out of the tree. Even if she has good reasons, you have better reasons for keeping them on.

  2. Amie May 8, 2017 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    I would take this opportunity to educate the teacher. She may not know, or understand, that your boys are very much part of your family, living or not.

  3. Jessi May 8, 2017 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I’d be extremely angry at this teacher. The brothers are just as much family as deceased grandparents are.

    Family tree projects are so problematic. Schools really ought to stop them.

  4. Tari Poulda May 8, 2017 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    I much as I would like to be nice to the teacher. I believe she is wrong. It was your daughter’s assignment. You and your daughter define family for her, not the teacher. Those boys are her brothers, her older brothers that are deceased, but still her brothers. I talk to my children about the boy I lost. I talk to his older and younger siblings about him. It is a decision my husband and I made. It is not the teacher’s decision to make. When you choose to talk to the teacher is your business but I think you should and I believe she will be better for it. I am sorry for your loss.

  5. Orvie Dingwall May 8, 2017 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    This makes me ANGRY! I would definitely follow-up with the teacher. You don’t just edit out members of yiur family tree, for any reason! Families are complicated and messy and provide excellent learning opportunities for children, and their families. I would ubderstand if you as a family didn’t want to discuss Nate and Sam – but they continue to be a very big and important part of your family that you talk about openly. So I would definitely speak with tge teacher. Hopefully it’s simply a misunderstanding. But otherwise, they belong. Otherwise this is (in my opinion) an exercise in sensoring uncomfortable and painful feelings and memories.

  6. Lola May 12, 2017 at 3:11 am - Reply

    I am so sorry this happened. I would almost venture to say that since your daughter brought it up it is a big deal to her. Just like it is to you. I lost two babies before my children were born. They don’t have names as the miscarriages were early, but my 5 year old still knows about them and talks about seeing them in heaven. So I believe with all my heart children can have relationships with the siblings they have never known and learn to care about their memory. I urge you to do what you think is right, whether it is what everyone on here suggests or not. But as a teacher myself I would say you have every right to at least meet with the teacher and ask her what her reasoning is behind this. See if it makes sense or not to you and then decide what of your viewpoints to share. Good luck momma. This is a terrible situation that no parent or child should be put in. It seems very insensitive.

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