You know the story. Your kids and their friends just live in typical families. Uhhh, just exactly what is that, this "typical family"? Most of the books we read in school show a mother, father, 2 kids and a dog. The dad brings home the bacon and the mom cooks it. That is so old school. In fact, it is over a half century (1960) since the majority (66%) of our families met this configuration. Things have changed quite dramatically since then. Today only 22% of our families meet this model.
In this economy 34% of our kids are being raised in dual income homes with married parents. The biggest plurality is a mix of single parents, grandparents, LGBT parents. Factually, a "typical" family no longer exists. These changes mean a huge amount to schools.
Schools are still functioning based on outdated assumptions. Parent participation programs are still very often held during the day with the expectation that the none income earning parent will show up. Often parents can't take time off from work to be there so participation defaults to a limited number of families. Language is also important. Teachers need to understand that the old rubrics no longer exist. Questions that ask children of LGBT families, who is the mother and who is the father are meaningless and confuse children. Likewise, gender expectations for children are defeating to children who do not want to be confined by them. Those kinds of expectations also affect how kids develop their talents.
Programs in schools need to be re-titled. Father-daughter events or mother-son teas may unmeaningly exclude large groups of families. Even more importantly these named events make kids without a father present in the home or a son without a mother feel somehow less-than the other children in the community. Changing the names of these events to something like Parents and Pastries is much more inclusive and make everyone feel welcome.
Having kids develop a family tree often causes kids who have been adopted to struggle with how to fill in the blanks. In discussing genetics, make it clear that even biological kids don't necessarily look like their biological parents.
Watch for language in bureaucracy. Lots of married, two gender families still have different last names. Forms need to allow for that and not assume last names are the same. They need to make room for multiple parents, allowing step-parents to also be included. Salutations on announcements sent home can be addressed to Harbour School families rather than to dear mom and dad. It seems like a no-brainer today for posters and books to show a wide variety of family combinations. These are available. Families aren't just mixed race; some are single gender; some have children with disabilities; some are single parent; some have grandparents as the primary parenting people. Posters and books that show these combinations send a visible message that the school gets the new reality and all are accepted.
Educators are big talkers, so it is hard for us to shut up and listen. We can ask some very good questions of families: Tell me about your family. What are the things your family likes to do together? Is there anyone else besides those people in your home who support your child or who help you and your child?
Families are made up of all sorts of incredible combinations. Sometimes they live together, sometimes not. Some families are small, some are large. The main thing about families is that they love and care about each other. As educators we need to support that love however it may appear.