Reframing the family

I think it’s time schools stopped making a big deal out of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as part of their programmes. Because here’s the thing — it only works for kids who have both a mom and a dad in their lives, and those kids aren’t the only ones in the classroom.

The way we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as a kind of pigeon pair, a positive tit-for-tat, makes life for those kids (and parents) who don’t fit into the nuclear family box, very difficult.

I’ve seen it with my own kids — they have friends who’ve lost either Mom or Dad to cancer. Another’s father was murdered. Or consider the adopted child, who has enough questions about their biological parents to cope with as it is. Or the child with two same-sex parents. Or the child whose mother or father chose to be a parent without a partner. The activities and celebrations at school around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day make life very difficult for those families.

Because what it does, is amplify the “otherness” of those children. It emphasises a void they may already be feeling, or makes them feel like there is a void, when all along they’ve thought their family was perfectly okay. I think it probably makes them feel as if they’re missing out on something, when in fact, families come in all shapes and sizes. And it’s really not the same dragging an uncle or an aunt or some other significant adult of the correct gender along to try to fill that void when your best friend has an actual dad to go with her, for example.

It’s time we stopped looking at families through a particular lens. We can’t stop the commercial celebration of these days; realistically, it’s not going to happen. And there’s no reason a single mom and her kid can’t have a wonderful Mother’s Day together at home, for example. But let’s not make her feel inadequate because her child doesn’t have a dad to drag along to the Father’s Day event at school. Let’s not amplify the sadness in a boy who’s lost his mother to cancer or a car accident.

I know it probably gives teachers some lovely activities to do in class, but it may not be so lovely for many of the children. There must be a better way to acknowledge and thank parents for their role. Perhaps this should be seen, instead, as an opportunity to teach children that your family is your family, whatever form it takes.

And perhaps those of us who are in traditional, nuclear families — a mom, a dad and 2.4 children — need to think about the way we frame what a family is for the children we are tasked with raising. At the very least, I think, a whole lot more sensitivity is required — from schools, and from society as a whole.

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