For some of my childhood I grew up in a stereotypical two parent home. I had a father who worked in the oil field and a mother who stayed home to take care of my brother and me. About half way through my childhood, my parents divorced and I experienced what it was like growing up with a single parent, who worked multiple jobs, all while creating a way for her to earn her college degree so she could best support my brother and me.
Once my parents divorced I learned the importance of role models in our lives. Those pivotal years in junior high and high school I had many different male role models (and female ones) who helped shape me into the man I am today. But none of my male role models held the official title “dad”.
Growing up, and my years as a teacher, I always remembered events liked “Donuts with Dad” and “Muffins with Mom”. They seemed special and innocent enough and never rubbed me the wrong way. Why? Because I had a mom who would always be at the events. I never even considered the idea that someone else wouldn’t have someone attend with them. That’s what privilege does to you. You miss out on how different others are if you aren’t making an effort to see it and educate yourself about it.
As a school principal, especially with all my years being in areas of high poverty, I quickly learned the amount of people who play a role in a child’s life that also don’t have the title “mom” or “dad”. But in reality they are more of a mom or dad to that child than the person who gave birth to them and my eyes were opened and opened wide. I swore I would never host any event at my school that singled out a group like that. I never wanted anyone to feel like they didn’t belong or couldn’t attend an event.
Our jobs as educators is to find ways to not only educate the child, but to make them feel welcomed and loved, and that includes their families. So when we decided to have an event at our school to celebrate the men involved in the children’s lives we instead called it things like “Dinner with a Gentleman” and when we decided to host a similar event for the women, we called it “Tea with a Lady”. We wanted to start creating a more inclusive environment.
What did we find out, by just having a simple title switch? More and more families were attending than ever before. No longer did that aunt who took care of her niece and nephew feel out of place at a “mom” event, even though she was like a mother to those children. No longer did the childrens’ pastor who was like a father to many of my students, feel uncomfortable coming to our events that had the word “mom” or “dad” in the title. Instead the conversation was one of relief. Relief that they didn’t have to worry about not having an event they could attend with that child.
It isn’t a difficult switch to make. But it’s more necessary today than ever before. That traditional definition of a two parent, male/female, home is no more. Our students are coming with all sorts of family make-ups and we have to, as a place of safety, make sure that we are careful of the words we choose to advertise our family events. A simple change can make a world of difference for a child and those who raise them. Our #KidsDeserveIt.