Stories for Christmas—Part 2: A Real Family?

Note from Melodie Davis: The writer of this week’s column is Susanne Coalson Donoghue, an author, poet, blogger, spiritual director, mother, and grandmother. This is an excerpt from her book, Meditations for Single Moms, originally written when she was in the thick of single motherhood—a situation so many young women through the centuries have faced. Here’s a story Susanne remembers from one hurtful interchange with her young daughter at Christmas. Excerpt used by permission of Herald Press.


A Real Family?
by Susanne Coalson Donoghue

“Mom,” my eight-year-old daughter said to me one Christmas morning, “we aren’t a real family.”

“Angela lost it and yelled at her kids this weekend. I thought only you did that.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because there’s just you and me,” she replied.


What is a real family? A mom, a dad, children, and a dog? Which part of that formula is essential? I feel strongly that we are a real family, so I told her so. God gave us to each other to exchange love, responsibility, fellowship. She was dubious, although we had family traditions— carols and candlelight on Christmas Eve, stockings and presents on Christmas morning and a phone call to my parents, vacations to see my family each year, birthday celebrations, inviting people who don’t have family nearby for Thanksgiving and Easter, homemade cards for special and ordinary occasions, and Saturday chores. We even invented a ritual of our own, which we called “going on a quest”; we get in the car and go until we arrive somewhere we have never been and stop to explore. We learned how to go camping, sometimes inviting friends along.

Several years later, when she was struggling with how deficient our family seemed compared to others, I prayed for God to show me what more I should be doing for her. The astonishing reply: “She doesn’t need more from you but from others. She needs time with other families.”

So I arranged this, wondering what would happen. Only a few days later, a friend invited her on a camping weekend as a mother’s helper. It so happens that my daughter looked on this woman as an ideal mother, with a real family—a husband, three children, a dog, and a cat. She had babysat for them before and jumped at the chance to be with them for the weekend. When she came back, she had learned something I’d tried to teach her years before. “Mom,” she said, “Angela lost it and yelled at her kids this weekend. I thought only you did that.”

What the Lord knew and I did not was that my daughter needed to know that all real families, even ideal ones, have problems, deficiencies, and struggles, just like us. She could only learn that by spending time with other folks in other situations. When she did, she was glad for the family God had given her. (Meditation for Single Moms, 55–56)


Susanne went on to receive a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, and she and her husband, Vincent, now operate a small fair trade business called “Gracias.”

In any event, I like Susanne’s story for how it reminds us we all fantasize that having other families, other sets of in-laws, or other extended family might make our lives easier or happier. That may be, but I love this story for the way it taught both Susanne and her daughter such a valuable lesson.


As a Christmas remembrance, we’d love to send you a pocket planner calendar from Another Way for 2016. Just write to or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.