By Amanda Winn, Chief Program Officer for Family Equality
On August 1, 2019, I paid my last preschool tuition payment ever. My baby will be joining her big brother in elementary school as a kindergartener in just three short weeks, and you better believe that all of the mom feels are happening over here.
The difference in their maturity levels at the start of kindergarten is dramatic. Her brother was almost 6—sensitive and quiet, but an old soul. She has just turned 5, has more than her fair share of spunk and sass, and is still figuring out the world. I am a very different parent to each of them because what they need to feel safe and ready to learn is so different. But one thing is true for both: they need to feel seen and validated at school. They need to know that they can share openly about their family—a family headed by two moms in the middle of a divorce—in a way that feels normalized and unthreatening.
When my son started kindergarten three years ago, his story was different. He had two married moms, which felt like a challenging enough scenario to describe to classroom of thirty kids. My daughter has the added challenge of trying to explain same-sex relationships and divorce at the tender age of 5. But for both of them, the underlying theme is that, like snowflakes, no two families are the same, and there’s no one right way to be a family. It’s estimated that less than 25% of American households are led by a married mother and father, yet that’s still the predominant image and model that children see in school in the books that they read, the images on the walls, and the examples teachers use in curriculum. For me, it feels especially critical this year to make sure that both of my children’s teachers are armed with information about all kinds of families, including queer families, single parents by choice, divorced parents, foster families, kinship care, multi-parent families, and more. Our families are unique, sure, but the reality is that even within the LGBTQ+ community, we tend to want to paint a picture of happy, perfect, two- parent headed households. We’re more than that, and we know it. We know that our community creates family in a wide range of ways that are often absent from the public discourse and certainly not discussed in public school.
So this year, I’m sending each of my children back to school with our Safe Schools Form sharing a bit about our unique family. I’m also taking the time to look through Family Equality’s Book Nook and purchase a handful of books for each of their classrooms that represents a more diverse range of what families can look like.
I know that my kids are not the only ones heading back to school this fall without a married mother and father at home. The tools we give to our children’s teachers help not only our kids, but the child who is being raised by her grandmother, the kids too embarrassed to share that they are in foster care, or the children with two moms and a known donor all co-parenting. We’ve evolved enough as a community that there’s space to talk about our differences. We’re allowed to be queer and divorced, single by choice, or in a multi-parent coparenting arrangement, because at the end of the day, the message is the same. LOVE makes a family. And regardless of your age or social/emotional learning, that concept is simple.
So as we head back to school this year, I will do my part in making sure that my kids’ school is ready for not only our family, but a range of families outside of the heteronormative-married dynamic. Will you?