Despite the increasing diversification of family units, the idea of the nuclear family consisting of biologically related mum, dad and kids still prevails.
However, this is not an accurate representation of family life for everyone.
There are same-sex families, blended families, foster families, single-parent families and grandparents as carers. In fact, 2011 census data tells us that in Australia, one third of children live in a “non-typical” family unit – that is not with both biological/adoptive parents.
As a lone parent whose children fall into this bracket, I know how challenging it can be for a child to grow up feeling their family is a little bit different.
On the whole, society assumes everyone has a mum and a dad who are actively engaged in their life.
Surprisingly often, a misguided (but usually well-meaning) stranger will make reference to “dad” when talking to my kids. They usually nod and smile politely but I can see their discomfort.
The reality for a lot of kids from split homes is they don’t see their dad often, if at all.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2012-13 Family Characteristics & Transitions Survey found that 28% of kids living apart from one of their parents see them less than once a year or never, while 16% see them at least once a year but not monthly.
Considering the vast majority of single parents are mothers, that’s a lot of kids without an active father.
There are also kids who don’t have a father in their life for other reasons. For example, their father may have died or they could have been born into a rainbow or ‘single parent by choice’ family.
For those kids, things like Father’s Day activities at school can be tough, or at the very least, awkward. My kids are lucky to have very engaged grandfathers who happily step up for these occasions. However, not all kids are so fortunate.
A middle school in Dallas, Texas was well aware of this fact when organising their annual ‘Breakfast with Dad’s’ event. An organiser put out a call for volunteers to be there for kids who didn’t have a dad coming so they didn’t feel left out.
They were hoping to get 50 volunteers. Astoundingly, they got 600.
While it is heart-warming to see so many men take time out of their day to step up for young kids they didn’t even know, it does raise the question: Was there a need for it?
Obviously, the school knew there were a number of children who did not have a dad able to attend. Perhaps a different approach could have been a ‘Breakfast with Friends and Family’.
With such diversity in the family unit today, surely this would be a more broad-minded approach to ensure all students felt accepted as they are?
I am not calling for the end of Father’s Day or saying that fathers should not be actively engaged in a child’s schooling. Far from it. However, if schools wish to promote acceptance and diversity in society, which most claim to do, surely letting go of the stereotypical family unit is a good place to start.
After all, children should be at the heart of every school, and every family, no matter what it looks like.
What do you think? Should schools be more accepting of diverse families?