I’m sure there are dozens of opinions on this topic with as many hotly contested answers. I’ve evolved my opinions over time. I’m going to share my history and thoughts on this.
First, I am going to acknowledge that I grew up quite privileged in this area. My parents were married for 38 years when my father passed away 10 years ago. I was extremely close to both of them, fortunate to be by their sides when each of them passed away. Their relationship with each other was not perfect, nor were my relationships with each of them. But overall, it was pretty good.
Many of my friends come from divorced households. I feel like we were the first generation that really dealt with this in large numbers. I have some friends who have toxic relationships with their parents, or maybe even nonexistent ones.
When I was growing up, I remember acknowledging Mother’s Day and not so much Father’s Day. But schools at that point were finished the week after Memorial Day. My parents didn’t make a big deal out of either.
When I started my first Montessori gig post-certification, I worked at a school that made a huge production out of both holidays. We had the annual Mother’s Day Tea and then the Dads and Dogs cookout. Multiply each of these by four because of the weird staggered schedule the kids were on.
When I moved to my next job, the school I worked for made a big deal out of holiday gifts. So I went along with it. And then I realized that the fathers were being left out, so I added in early gifts for them. I remember one [former] friend being furious with me.
“How dare you acknowledge Father’s Day. Mine was an a$$hole who refused to have anything to do with me. It shouldn’t be celebrated at all.”
I acknowledged that she’d had such a horrible experience – and I was sorry for her experience – and how fortunate I had been with my father. I reminded her that her husband was a wonderful father to her children and reassured her that all of my students at the time seemed to enjoy a good relationship with their fathers. I knew all of the dads.
But I also knew that wouldn’t always be the case, so I made sure I had alternative ideas.
And sure enough, soon after that, I had a lot of families that were dubbed “alternative families.”
I had the one whose father tragically passed away when he was just four, the one whose parents were a lesbian couple, the one whose father was pretty much out of the picture, the one who came from artificial insemination, the ones whose parents pretty much took off and left them in the care of their grandparents, blended families from second marriages. You get the picture.
I started to rethink how to handle those parental holidays, as well as the others. Because of divorced families, I already had children who made two of the handprint poems or whatever in December. But what to do otherwise?
I chose to start acknowledging that there are many different kinds of families out there. Some of this had already come up naturally with the children, anyway, so we kept the conversation going and started to read more books about the different kinds of families.
Keep in mind that this was about 10 years ago. But now, this should be a regular practice in the classroom.
And then when it came to making those gifts, (because all of the other rooms were still doing it) I told the kids that they could give them to whomever they wanted. And sure, a lot of children chose to give a Mother’s Day gift to Mom, etc. But they didn’t feel pressured to do so, especially if they didn’t have that mother/father in their lives. I still remember the one girl who gave a “Mother’s Day” gift to her uncle with whom she lived along with her grandparents.
Granted, my age group was younger. I think it would be even more difficult with older children. I cringe with the “Daddy-Daughter” and “Mother-Son” dances that seem to keep popping up with more frequency. Yes, they can provide beautiful memories. But I also think of my friend whose wife passed away from cancer when their son was young, or my friends whose husbands passed away when their daughters were in late elementary. I know they have found ways around those, but it’s still difficult.
Most parents are wonderful, doing the best that they can. Absolutely, they should be celebrated. But I feel that as we strive toward better awareness and acknowledgement of our diverse students populations, we need to rethink these parent-centered celebrations so that we can better embrace all of the family types that we serve.