Family Portraits in Changing Times

Nancy Husari

Family Portraits in Changing Times is a book of photographs and stories of non-traditional families. "The families in this book represent a variety of interpersonal, interdependent relationships, including households in which the parents and/or children may be multiracial, multi generational, divorced, single, step-family, physically disabled, adopted, gay, or lesbian. Seven of the families were first photographed in the 1970s, and rephotographed more than a decade later, offering a striking visual comparison of the considerable changes a family experiences over the years." I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the issue of "alternative families."
With the permission of the author and photographer, Helen Nestor, I have adapted the descriptions of some of these families for use by ESL teachers and students. Last names have been eliminated and first names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the families. Below is a lesson that I did with a Level 6 class:


Family Portraits in Changing Times is a book of photographs and stories of non-traditional families. The families below are all real, although their names have been changed. Read about the families and discuss your reaction with a partner.

1. Joan asked her friend, Peter, to be the father of her child. Peter agreed, with the mutual consent of his partner, Seth, who is now Quincy's (the child's) "Uncle Seth". Quincy lives with his mother and visits his father, who lives in another city, on alternate weekends and holidays and half of the summer.

2. After living together for two years, Winnie and Tim were married in 1987. Their daughter, Martha, was born in 1990, and their daughter Jennie was born in September, 1991. Winnie and Tim call their relationship a "fifty-fifty marriage," sharing parenting, household work, and earning an income. Winnie got a masters degree in creative writing shortly after the birth of Martha, and teaches at a community college. Tim works full time as an editor of a magazine and they both share childcare.

3. In 1965, Rosa chose to become a mother and gave birth to her daughter, Jill. As a single parent, Rosa worked full time as a teacher to support herself and Jill. Rosa is now a retired high school teacher, and Jill recently graduated from college and works in a store.

4. Robert and Bonnie raised seven children, both adopted and biological. After having four biological children--Chris, Ann, Emma and Sam--they adopted Mary from Vietnam when she was 4, and Mona and Toka from Korea when they were 5 and 4 . Bonnie is a homemaker, refugee worker and a nurse. Robert is a doctor.

5. Donna and Ned both have cerebral palsy (a very serious disease, which makes them unable to walk; they are both in wheelchairs). They adopted Dan when he was a newborn baby. At first, they believed that Dan also had cerebral palsy; however, Dan is healthy and has no disability. Donna is a writer, and Ned works with computers.

Notes: The class found the family in the first example to be a little shocking and confusing. They did seem receptive to the idea of talking about different kinds of families, however. One student thanked me at the end of class for bringing up the topic. I gave the students an impromtu writing assignment after this lesson. I told them that they could write about their reaction to the lesson, or about anything related to "non-traditional families."

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