Somehow, during January Term, I lucked out and had one of the smartest and most engaging bunch of students in my Family Communication course. They worked hard, keeping up with the grueling “every day is a week” schedule, and did so with grace, intelligence and fortitude.

One of the assignments asked each student to consider what his or her family is “like.” Using a metaphor, they began to analyze how family members interact. By doing so they learned a bit more about their family identity, values, worldviews and communication patterns. The assignment – for those pedagogically interested readers – was situated in our unit on "meaning-making" in families, advancing our understanding of the social constructionist approach to family.

Not surprisingly, I was delighted by the sometimes-simple yet thoughtful word images created by the students about their families. While giving the metaphor assignment to my college students, I thought I would “assign” the same task to my 13- year-old and 9-year-old, too, just for “fun” (insert teenage eye rolling and tweenager’s “Seriously, mom?”).

Here is a sampling of what I read and heard during those intense but delightful weeks of January:

“My family is like a slot machine. Sometimes things don’t line up. But when they do it’s like winning the lottery. … As life throws my family curves, and each of us as individuals experiences bad times and good times, we keep pulling that lever over and over again and seeing what life will bring us next.” – UST student

“My family is like a Dairy Queen M& M Blizzard because we consist of sweet individuals that are even sweeter when blended together. The M&M chocolate ice cream base is created by mixing together vanilla ice cream (my mom) and chocolate syrup (my dad). They form the base of our family, blending their individual cultures together to creating a new unique family culture. We are like the M&M’s in the Blizzard because although we are one family, we still celebrate and recognize our individual personalities. Being a biracial and bicultural family, we have had to find ways to make these different cultures (ingredients) work together.” – UST student

“I see my family as a hockey team because we can be very aggressive when we need to be but we can also slow it down and control ourselves. … We work together as a team and communicate with each other so that everyone is on the same page. We are hard working and motivated and we are not afraid to be assertive.” – UST student

“My family is like a train. Mom and dad are in the front; they are the conductors.  We are all separate compartments of the train but are heading in the same direction. When I’m 18, I’ll break off and go in a different direction!” - 13-year-old boy

“My family is like a pet shop. My dad is the wise grasshopper. My mom is the cow. Just kidding, she is a bird – smart like an eagle and has eagle eyes. I am a mouse because I’m small, smart and tiny. My brother is the bearded dragon because I don’t know. Fred (our dog) is the hamster because he’s snuggly and cute. Tiki (our leopard gecko) is himself.” – 9-year-old girl

My family is like a work of art. … Priceless. Colorful. Multiple interpretations possible. Beautiful to the creators. Not for sale. - Author of this blog

What would your family metaphor be? Would it be similar to those created by other members of your family? Take a moment to jot yours down. Then, why not use it to begin a discussion with someone in your family? Be warned: It can elicit some excellent conversation!