A single mom wrote to Singlemommyhood, upset because her daughter’s teacher wanted more information than she was willing to share about the daughter’s absent father. This all came about thanks to a “family picture” assignment, where the daughter’s picture (aptly enough) did not include a father.
The single mom had no problem explaining that there was no father living at home or involved in the daughter’s life at all, but the teacher wanted to probe further and set up a conference to “discuss.” As far the single mom was concerned, there was nothing further she wished to discuss. The dad’s not around, end of story.
When my daughters were younger and my divorce more recent, I’m afraid I was guilty of oversharing. As I was told to do by the schools, I gave them copies of all of the divorce paperwork to prove that Dad should not be allowed to pick up the girls under any circumstances. A few years ago, I realized if I just left all the “Father” fill-ins blank, everyone got it: single, full-custody mom. Simple.
Still, there were assignments involving family trees, cultural backgrounds and family traditions that were difficult, especially when I was still new to single motherhood and emotionally raw.
Any “traditions” we’d attempted when I was with the girls’ father never quite worked out the way I’d hoped, and now that we were on our own, we hadn’t really created any new traditions; just winged it from year to year. We simply did not know how to answer those questions.
In the beginning, I wasn’t speaking to my ex’s family all that often, so we didn’t want to ask them about their side of the family tree, and apart from knowing my ex’s ethnicity, I couldn’t speak with any authority about any beliefs or schemas that come from his culture.
Last year, a well-meaning fellow PTA member wanted to do a Father-Daughter Dance and a Mother-Son Breakfast–which would’ve excluded me entirely. It’s all well and good to say that my daughter could have taken her grandfather, but we’ve tried that route before, and the girls are asked ad nauseum, “is that your dad?” “Is that your dad?” to the point that it makes them feel sad and isolated. I could take my daughter to the breakfast, but she wouldn’t want to be the only girl there.
The fact is, there are over 13 million single parent households in America and regardless of whether someone thinks that’s “right” or not, surely everyone can agree that it’s not the child’s fault, and they shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for something over which they had no control. Approximately 25% of children live with step-parents or spend equal time in two households, further stretching the definition of “family” and causing these children and their parents to pause over such assignments and questions.
In our modern culture, it’s time we start re-thinking these types of assignments and (1) their necessity, (2) their validity to all students, and (3) their worthiness within the school setting. Perhaps if kids had some time freed up with less homework, families would have more time to create culturally-relevant traditions at home!
April McCaffery is a single mother to two daughters, in 5th and 8th grade.
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