5 Ways Same-Sex Parents Can Prepare Their Kids for School

August 29, 2016 | By Brent Almond | LGBT STUFF

Preparing kids of same-sex parents for school

Back-to-school time can be chaotic and stressful; and families with same-sex parents have even more issues to anticipate. Kids with two moms or dads may face situations with potential to both alienate or confuse them, whether it’s a child’s first time attending school or just the next grade up,

To supplement my own (limited) wisdom and experience, I enlisted the help of 10 teachers. While not all have taught kids of same-sex parents, they were all generous and thoughtful in their responses. Here are 5 of the issues same-sex parented families often encounter, along with input from my awesome panel of educators.
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1. FAMILY MATTERS: Talking About Parents in Class

In many schools, the younger grades have discussions and activities related to family. Students are often asked to create a family tree or a collage showing the members of their family. For many kids of same-sex parents, this is when their family’s differences become most apparent. If not handled sensitively, it can amplify feelings of “otherness” and isolation, potentially affecting a child’s social development and ability to learn.

Early in the year, inform the teacher of any family details that fall outside the mother-father-bio child “norm.” In addition to having two moms or two dads, this could include adoption and birth parents, foster experiences, surrogates, siblings, multiracial/multiethnic families, etc. Particularly if it’s something you’ve already discussed with your child. If your kid knows about it, it’s likely to come up.

For example, our then 4-year-old told his pre-k teacher that he had a brother who lived on a farm in Oregon. She was confused and skeptical, which in turn frustrated my son. He was of course was telling the truth.

“Teachers can help facilitate conversations and express feelings if they know the situation. For preschoolers or kindergartners this is especially important, as the children may be experiencing being apart from parents for the first time.”  Lisa, kindergarten teacher, DC

“In some ways, knowing about your child’s family and home life is more important than being skilled in delivering the curriculum. I can’t be a good teacher if I don’t know my kids.”  Rachel, 7th grade teacher, Maryland

I’ve had students who were being raised by a single mother, grandparents, or foster parents. Every student comes from a different home situation, and by knowing what kind of home life they have, I’m able to adjust my teaching to better meet their needs.”  Alexander, kindergarten, 1st & 3rd grade teacher, Virginia

Equipping the teachers with information helps both them and your children have a more productive and empowered school year.
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2. ONCE UPON A TIME: Story Books & School Libraries

As the number of same-sex parents has increased, so has the number of books that feature characters or storylines their kids can relate to. Yet while most two dad or two mom families have these books in their home, very few schools or classrooms do.

Ask your child’s teacher if there are any books in the library or class that represent families like yours. If not, find out what the process is to have them included — and be prepared to suggest some titles. For a simpler, short-term solution, lend a book or two to your child’s classroom — and then offer to come read it. This puts a real face to a concept new to most kids, and you might even get to field a few questions from inquisitive, young listeners.

“In my classroom, we have And Tango Makes Three. I also use Oliver Button Is a Sissy to talk about bullying. I have the kids say hurtful things to an Oliver paper doll; and for each harmful word, I tear it a bit. Then they apologize in an attempt to make Oliver feel better. With each apology, I cover a tear with tape. When we’re done, I say, “See, Oliver is as good as new, right?” They notice the tears are still there, just covered. It’s a powerful lesson on how deeply bullying affects others.”  Eric, 1st & 2nd grade teacher, Maryland

“We have books with same-sex characters/parents, as well as books about trans issues. All students have the right to feel welcome and safe in our school. We have a moral obligation to insure such.”  Scott, elementary school principal, Minnesota

These encouraging comments aside, more than half of the teachers I spoke with don’t have any LGBTQ-inclusive books in their classroom; however, all were open to the idea.
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3. HAPPY HOLIDAYS?: Celebrating Mother’s Day in School

Many classrooms celebrate Mother’s Day through various activities, stories and crafts. As with any discussion about family, this can cause unnecessary stress for kids without mothers, and negatively reinforce differences from their classmates.

Ask the teacher what the specific activities will be, and what accommodations (if any) are offered to children with two mothers or no mother, depending on your family. Ideally, the alternative should be as seamless and unobtrusive as possible. Some teachers may already take such measures, whether it’s making something for both moms; or in the case of kids of two fathers, allowing them to create something for one or both dads, or perhaps Grandma or other female family member.

In any case, this shouldn’t require extra effort on the part of the child, or for their activity or craft to be significantly different.

My son’s kindergarten teacher told him he could do something different during their week-long (!) Mother’s Day celebration — yet only offered crafts and worksheets pre-printed with “mother” on them. I won’t go into detail (the details are here), but suffice it to say I’ll be asking his 1st grade teacher to make sure any Mother’s Day activities won’t leave him feeling excluded or pressured to conform.

“Teachers need to be thinking critically about Mother’s Day, and not just in regard to same-sex parents. The idea that mom or dad is even in the house and will be celebrated isn’t the case for many kids. I find that holidays are often a point of departure for talking about valuing everyone’s family & traditions. Instead of making a craft, we talk about the different ways people around the world celebrate.”  John, kindergarten – 2nd grade teacher, Texas

“Our school doesn’t do anything for Mother’s Day for this very reason. Making Mother’s or Father’s Day presents isn’t a necessary part of curriculum, and it shouldn’t be. However, sometimes we write notes or invitations to parents. We leave them open-ended (not specifying it has to be “To Mommy & Daddy”) to accommodate any kind of family.”  Lisa

The same principles described above can also be applied to Father’s Day — though most schools are out for summer by the time dads get their day. 🙁
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4. FILLING IN THE BLANKS: School & Classroom Forms

About a third of the teachers said their forms for gathering student information use “mother” and “father.” Several indicated “parent” or “guardian” was used; the remainder weren’t sure.

This is an easy one. If the forms say “mother” and “father,” request that they be changed. Firstly, it’s just more efficient and aids in clearer communication. And while this might not seem to directly affect students, it does help reinforce the idea of same-sex parents as equals — both equally important, and fully equal to hetero parents.

“This was addressed recently at our school. In English our forms said ‘parents’ and/or ‘guardians.’ However, the Spanish forms referred to parents as ‘padres’ which means parents, but also technically dads or fathers. The Spanish forms have since been changed to ‘guardianes‘ (guardians).  Gil, pre-k – 8th grade phys. ed. & health teacher, Illinois

“Our forms are currently set up as ‘mother’ & ‘father.’ To get the county forms changed is beyond my pay grade, as they say. It would have to be done at the district level.”  Eric

“To get the forms changed, send a letter to the administrator responsible for student information, and copy the superintendent. If it’s not resolved, contact members of the local school board. If that doesn’t work, file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education.”  Scott

“I believe our forms say ‘parent/guardian,’ but honestly I’ve never thought to look. Now you’ve piqued my curiosity, and I’ll be keeping my eye on it.”  Nancy, high school ESL teacher, New York

Anything that can be done to change the way people think about or see your family is beneficial — there are no small steps towards progress.
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5. Q&A: Curiosity, Teasing & Bullying

By the time most kids of same-sex parents are school age, they’ve already had to respond to questions from well-meaning adults — things like, “Where is your mommy?” or “Which one is your dad?” In most cases, a simple “I have two moms” or “Daddy and Papa are my parents” were sufficient.

However, young classmates can be a bit more persistent. And kids in general can be hurtful, whether they are intending to or not.

“Why don’t you have a mommy?”
“That’s not your dad… I saw your dad this morning!”
“Everybody else has a mom.”
He doesn’t have a mom because she’s dead.

Those are just a few of the things said to or about our son by his classmates. I’m sure other families have heard far more… and far worse.

Parents should find out how teachers deal with situations like these, whether they arise out of curiosity or teasing. Though your child may be able to handle him or herself and field the questions with confidence, it never hurts to be backed up by the teacher. Your kids will only benefit from the additional support.

For the most part, however, teasing (and as kids get older, bullying) happens outside the classroom, so your child’s teacher may not be witness to it. If your child tells you something happened, don’t assume the teacher knows. Keep her/him in the loop.

“I invite parents to come to our early conversations in class about families. We address immigration, single parents, same-sex parents, and adoption, and the kids always have great questions. If we are too scared to talk about these things, we are doing the kids an injustice.”  John

“I would help introduce the student to classmates I think they would get along well with, and even pair them with kids who like the same things. This can help them feel more comfortable in class and adjust quickly.”  Laura, 5th grade teacher, North Carolina

The truth is, kids are going to be inquisitive about anything different from their own experience. Equipping your child with simple, honest answers is the best defense in most situations. Above all else, remind your child (which means many, many times) that they can always talk to you or their teacher.

 

As same-sex parents, it’s important to be the educator regarding your family. Don’t assume your child’s teacher has had a student with same-sex parents before. Even if they’re fully accepting and supportive, they’ve likely never dealt with situations like the ones listed — and they’ll be looking to you for guidance.

One last nugget of teacherly wisdom:

“Most teachers are happy to discuss issues like these with you. We teachers want to have a great relationship with our students and their families. But don’t be afraid to be that parent — the one that takes things up with the principal or board of education. Never be afraid to advocate for your child.”  Kemberly, 3rd grade teacher, Maryland

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I hope the list has been helpful! I’m sure it can be expounded upon, so please share your own struggles and successes in the comments.

My sincerest thanks to my 10 terrific teachers for your wisdom, input, and willingness to learn. And to all of the teachers out there — thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you do.

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Resources:

Human Rights Campaign: Welcoming Schools
Family Equality Council: Inclusive Schools
PFLAG: Safe Schools for AllEmbracing Family Diversity, Welcoming LGBTQ Parents to PTA

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One response to “5 Ways Same-Sex Parents Can Prepare Their Kids for School”

  1. Brent Almond says:

    Congrats! And yes, normalization is key. For you, for your kids, for the teachers & classmates.

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