When I was an elementary classroom teacher, it was common practice to do Mother’s and Father’s Day projects. I can’t say that I gave it a whole lot of thought. It was what my entire team did year after year, and we usually came up with some cute craft or poem that the kids would make and present to their parent on the weekend in celebration.
The year that Meg entered my class, her mother said, “She lives with one office aunt and myself.” I never knew for sure if this was her partner or another caregiver, but I do know that when Father’s Day rolled around, Meg was less than thrilled to come up with a male figure in her life to make this gift for. I remember feeling that perhaps it was slightly insensitive, but truly I didn’t think it was that harmful at the time.
I also remember Robert, a spirited kindergartener with so much energy. He was one of the brightest students I ever had and a single dad and his grandma were raising him. I don’t recall exactly his reaction to the Mother’s or Father’s Day projects, and maybe this was because he did have strong male and female figures in his life.
Another year I remember having kids write Mother’s Day books. On each page, the kids had to write different things they loved about their mom. One of my students expressed that they didn’t like their mom all that much. I was, of course, flabbergasted and poked and prodded about how “of course you can think of some nice things to say about your mom.” But who was I to tell them that they needed to love or appreciate their mom?
These projects follow a heteronormative way of life — which doesn’t accurately reflect the world.
How many of us have parents that we can’t have relationships with as adults because they push boundaries or have parents who mistreated us as kids?
I now realize that these projects follow a way of living that doesn’t include all kinds of family situations and set-ups. By taking time out of the school day to ask kids to do these projects could alienate or make certain kids feel uncomfortable. I always strive to be the kind of educator who truly thinks about each student and what’s good for them, so of course, now I’m smacking my head and wishing I had stopped to think more about this back then.
Maybe it was just because it was what everyone else was doing, but I was a teacher who was also a lesbian. How could I not see this clearly? And why do we think that if everyone else is doing it, it’s okay? There are many times we may be doing things that are problematic in the classroom, and we can’t just shut our doors and say, “Well, everyone else is doing it too.” We all aim to build strong, confident readers, writers, thinkers who go on to make the world a better place. What kind of teachers would we be if we didn’t think about how we could make our classrooms a better and safer place?
I can’t go back, but I can move forward and reflect on harmful practices to get better and hopefully as a way to inform others.
If you still do Mother’s and Father’s Day projects, maybe this will give you pause.
When I was a classroom teacher, I was a closeted lesbian, and I didn’t have any gay or lesbian friends. No one knew I was gay, and I kept it a secret from my kids. They did know that I had a “roommate” that I talked about a lot and did many things with. Back then, I didn’t feel safe being out to my kids or even my colleagues.
In the past 10 years, I’ve come to have many gay and lesbian friends, so this topic of Mother’s and Father’s Day projects have come up quite a lot.
One of my friends told me a while ago that her daughter, who has two mommies, was so upset on the day they did Father’s Day projects. She came home crying. Not only that, but she was pretty young and came home with millions of questions about who her dad was. Her two moms weren’t quite ready to delve into this topic. Now I saw a whole new way of thinking about the problems this can pose for kids with LGBT parents.
Then there are the caregivers, who aren’t moms or dads — how do kids feel about that? I’m sure it brings up questions about their “biological parents” and where they are or why they’re not in their lives?
Consider this: What are you saying when you ask kids to do these projects? Because it seems that in continuing to do them, you’ll be harming certain students and ignoring their reality. It also seems that in continuing to do these projects, we’re making a judgment against gay relationships.
Can these made-up holidays be inclusive?
I think that these fabricated holidays are simply not important to bring into our school communities. Kids can decide on their own if they want to make something or buy something for their parent or caregiver on one of these days. Let’s leave that up to the students rather than forcing them to make crafts that they may not want to make.
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