Schools slowly break from cookie-cutter image of families

By Petula Dvorak
Friday, April 30, 2010

What does the school do for Mother's Day?

How about Father's Day?

And what is the plan when the uncomfortable queries come rolling in?

Rather than focusing on test scores, foreign language programs or fancy facilities, these are the linchpin questions for same-sex parents in the great school search.

In a Northwest Washington school last weekend, I listened as about 150 people came to the Rainbow Families conference to navigate the tricky but swiftly changing waters of parenting in a nontraditional family.

Wait, let me scratch that.

These families have always been around, although we haven't always been willing to acknowledge them.

We have a way of continually imposing a traditional mother-and-father construct on our children, despite the fact that this is not always the way a family looks, whether it's because of divorce, death or sexual orientation.

And really, it's pretty sad that an annoying purple dinosaur, Barney, is the one who gets it right when he sings about families in his cloying, but spot-on song: "They come in all different sizes and different kinds/But mine is just right for me."

Look at your school directory: Does it list "mother" and "father"? If it simply lists "parent," that change probably didn't come easily.

"Those are the kinds of issues that come up," said Ellen Kahn, who is the director of the Human Rights Campaign Family Project and president of Rainbow Families.

It's subtle things, such as parent designations and what to do when the class is making Mother's Day gifts and a child has two daddies. And thornier topics, including how a teacher should deal with teasing or how to answer questions about a child's conception. And what exactly does the teacher do when kids are playing house and one kid divides up the parts, declaring that he's the daddy, she's the mommy and he's the donor?

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