As we were waiting for my nine year-old niece, Jillian, to complete her gymnastics class a few weeks ago, my sister informed me that the following day was “Doughnuts with Dads” day at her elementary school. Given that my brother-in-law mostly works out of town, I knew that he wouldn’t be able to make it. So, I asked the obvious question.
“Who’s going with her?”
My sister replied that she had texted a school representative to inquire if “fill-in” dads were allowed to accompany the kids. After it was approved, she asked Jillian if she wanted to ask someone else to go with her. Though my stepdad, her Paw, was out of town, there are a number of male relatives and friends who are close to the family so it seemed that a fill-in would be easy to find.
“If my dad can’t go, I don’t want anyone to go,” she said.
I know this kid. She has an entourage with her at every possible event, including church plays, dance recitals, school sing-a-longs, carnival nights…. You get the picture. For her to say that she didn’t want anyone to go, I knew that she had to be disappointed.
I texted my husband before gymnastics class was over to check his schedule. Yes, he could make “Doughnuts with Dads” the following morning if I could cover a meeting for him.
So while eating dinner after class, I asked Jillian about the event. She told me a little about it including the fact that it involved both math and basketball. I offered her the opportunity to call Uncle Jerry to invite him to go with her. It didn’t take her long to make that phone call! He said yes and they had a date.
I’m heartened that my husband took the time out of his day to drive 40 minutes to my niece’s school and participate in what could have been an embarrassing and disappointing day for her. I’m blessed to know that she really does have her own little village of people who love and support her in every way possible. And yet, I’m saddened for any number of other children who don’t have a biological dad in their lives. Perhaps they are fortunate enough to have a stepdad, uncle or other male friend or relative to fill the void. Perhaps not.
According to the McKinley Irvin Family Law Group, 75% of children with divorced parents live with their mothers, while 43% of children growing up in America today are being raised without their biological fathers. Yet, common today is the live-in partner or stepparent. In fact, recent estimates suggest that 15% of men are stepfathers. (Pew Research Center, 2011). That’s a testament to the fact that many households today are not of the traditional variety.
And yet, we are still attempting to put traditional labels on families today.
Count me among the concerned adults who hate the idea that children will be singled out and potentially bullied for any reason, including the fact that they do not have an involved biological father. Or that they rely upon someone other than a biological father as a male role model. By actively noting additional ways in which some kids are different, we adults provide opportunities for kids to be made to feel dissimilar from their peers. As adults, we want to equip our children with the tools necessary to progress into responsible adulthood. We need to ask ourselves if we are putting additional barriers in our children’s lives in reaching that goal.
Are the days of “Doughnut with Dads” numbered? It’s a question worth asking. While I applaud the efforts of schools and school administrators to get parents involved, perhaps this is not necessarily the best course of action. Why should we be accentuating the differences in families today instead of teaching the act of acceptance of all families with their beautiful nuances and imperfections?
Families today don’t resemble the cookie cutter variety seen in 1950’s and 1960’s television shows. Perhaps they never did. Still, families are the essential building blocks of society. They provide love, support, nurture and encouragement no matter what they look like. They don’t need to have mom, dad and 2.2 kids to be effective in establishing a family unit.
My niece’s story ends well. Uncle Jerry saved the day. She is well aware that she has an abundant support system that goes well beyond her biological parents. (In fact, she informed me last night that I’ll be needed for “Muffins with Moms” if her mom still has a cold.) However, the same cannot be said for all of her classmates, or even more of her American peers. But they need to be reminded that no matter what their family looks like or whom their family consists of, they are precious and cherished.
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