Question: Our son, who has two moms and no dad, came home from school this week and said that his fourth-grade class will spend an hour making Father's Day cards. He didn’t know what to say to the teacher. How can we help him here?
Answer: These days, most North American families don’t conform to the classic model of the nuclear family, so not having a father at home is a pretty common scenario. When push comes to shove, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a single mom raising her child alone, a mother who’s been widowed, or a pair of lesbian moms: a family is a family, with or without a dad around.
Fortunately, many school districts have reacted to changing circumstances by modernizing this little ritual (along with its counterpart, Mother’s Day), either by changing its name to “Parent’s Day” or simply by letting the kids make a card for any relative, teacher, or role model.
That said, I don’t think this is a circumstance where you should make your child do the talking (not at his age). If you haven’t spoken to the teacher previously about your two-mom family, use this as an opportunity to do so. (By the way, it’s wisest to approach this topic much earlier in the year so you can develop a plan, not only for Father’s Day, but for any circumstance where your son might be called out for being different.) Explain that your son is uncomfortable with the assignment, and suggest some options for doing things differently (if the teacher doesn’t take the lead on that).
In your case, that could be a Mother’s Day card to both of you in May and a special card for a favorite uncle or godfather on Father’s Day. Ideally, the teacher will agree to make sure that the assignment suits any family situation.
You might also want to have a private talk with your son to allow him to express his feelings about not having a father. Tell him again how much both of his moms love him and the family you’ve formed; but also tell him that you understand how he might miss having a dad. Acknowledging his feelings (which may have something to do with why he told you about the card project in the first place) doesn’t make your family any less valid or loving.
It’s also a good time to remind everyone — your son, his teacher, yourselves — to be on the lookout for any potential name-calling or bullying because of your sexual orientation. As an example, my niece, who has two moms, was confronted by an acquaintance at camp who told her it was "disgusting" that she didn’t have a father. My niece stood her ground, but it’s so important for kids in these situations to be supported by those in charge. You can also bet that the hostile young camper didn’t have gay-friendly parents, which is no doubt where the problem started. By contrast, I just love what Gwyneth Paltrow wrote on her website Goop.com: "When my daughter came home from school one day saying that a classmate had two mommies, my response was, ‘Two mommies? How lucky is she?!’"
How’s that for a role model! Happy Parent’s Day to one and all!