In the weeks leading up to Mother's Day, many early education classrooms are buzzing with activities and crafts specifically designed to honour mothers. How would that feel for a child whose mother is not present, or whose family structure doesn’t include someone who fits the conventional role of a mother? Is it equitable or inclusive?
The EYLF (V 2.0) states that:
Educators who are committed to equity recognise that all children have the right to participate in inclusive early childhood settings, regardless of their circumstances, strengths, gender, capabilities or diverse ways of doing and being. They create inclusive learning environments and adopt flexible and informed practices, including making reasonable adjustments to optimise access, participation and engagement in learning. (AGDE, 2022, P.17)
While we know of some services that have cancelled Mother’s Day in favour of different celebrations for special people in children’s lives, others argue that it is possible to keep these treasured celebrations while still being inclusive and equitable.
When I work with educators to support embedding family diversity education in their practice, I do not guide them to cancel Mother’s and Father’s Day,” says Scott Brunelle, Early Childhood Consultant and Founding CoChair of Rainbow Families. “Each service should make its own decision on how to celebrate the important people in children’s lives. Some services have shifted to non-gender-specific celebrations, and some continue with Mother’s and Father’s Day celebrations.
Reflecting on Mother's Day celebrations — where to begin
Rachel Ho, CELA early education specialist and former early childhood educator believes that reflecting on Mother’s Day gets us thinking about a bigger topic around what makes a family.
It’s an opportunity to challenge the stereotype of the typical family, which is something even the Australian Bureau of Statistics has needed to redefine over the years," says Rachel. "When services start to think about ways to acknowledge mums and mother figures, it’s an opportunity to consider the wide ranging roles mums and mother figures play in their families and in society. Not all mums like pink. Not all mums like their nails painted. Some mums wear ties too!
Rachel also points out that not all children come from homes where there is love, and children's lived experiences of love vary greatly.
Meni Tsambouniaris of Diversity Kids suggests that before cancelling Mother's Day, we should refocus our inclusion lens around such occasions and critically reflect on important questions including:
- How does Mother’s Day fit in to the demographics of our education and care community?
- What are some of the things we can do to ensure that our Mother’s Day programs are respectful, responsive, inclusive, sensitive and meaningful to the diversity of our children and families?
- Is Mother’s Day something relevant, important and meaningful to your children, families and educators? Have you consulted with the children and families on their thoughts and ideas?
- When we talk about inclusion, who are we being inclusive of? If we decide to cancel Mother’s Day celebrations, are we potentially being exclusive of the children and families who would normally celebrate and for whom celebrating mothers and mother figures in their world is important?
"In many cultures, mothers and mother figures (including grandmothers, Godmothers, aunts) are revered," says Meni. "Events such as Mother’s Day would be meaningful to them and they would be looking forward to the opportunity to celebrate and give thanks to the people they love. This would be something that they celebrate at home."
We should also remember that a gift or card facilitated through an early education or school celebration may be the only acknowledgement single parents or carers receive, and may be something they look forward to greatly.
Ways to facilitate a more inclusive Mother's Day
Acknowledge diverse family structures
Not all children come from traditional nuclear families. Some children may be raised by single parents, same-sex couples, grandparents, or other caregivers. It's important to acknowledge this and facilitate discussions about different family structures and the importance of celebrating all types of caregivers.
Open communication helps build trust between educators and families, fostering a strong and supportive community. Reach out to parents and caregivers to learn about their family dynamics and preferences for celebrations. Encourage their involvement in planning and participating in inclusive events, ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and considered.
"Our role as educators is to partner with families, so reach out to all of your diverse families before any celebrations to see what they would like to do and help bring this to life within the service," says Scott. "Not only will you be showing respect for them as a family, but you are likely to increase their engagement with your service and your educators, which benefits everyone.”
Facilitate storytelling and sharing experiences
Encourage children to share stories or experiences about their families and the special people in their lives. This activity helps children learn about the different family structures and relationships among their peers, fostering empathy and understanding.
Consider ways to broaden the celebration
Instead of a Mother's Day event, consider organising a "Family Day" celebration, where children can invite any important person in their lives to participate in activities, games, or performances. This inclusive approach ensures that all children can celebrate their unique family structures and relationships.
"Titles matter," says CELA early education specialist and ECT Meg Anastasi. "I don’t love the idea that we call it a 'Mother’s Day morning tea' and make small exceptions for the ‘outliers’ such as families with no mums or foster carers. We should be aware of all the messages we send and these tiny exceptions do very little to make those families feel comfortable."
Remember that many mothers work and may not be able to take time off for a morning tea or lunch.
"Is the celebration something the families will genuinely enjoy, or will they be on their phone sending emails and feeling stressed about getting back to work," asks Meg.
Consider your crafts and activities
Offer a variety of projects that children can personalise for their own family situation.
"Some ideas to consider to make Mother’s and Father’s Day inclusive for all children include providing children with resources to make crafts or cards for their godmother, aunt or grandmother," says Scott. "Include the term ‘Special Person’ in the celebration announcement so that any special person in a child’s life can be celebrated."
Meg encourages us to review crafts and activities to remove gender stereotypes.
"Does our celebration or gift reinforce the idea that mums are the primary caregiver, that they all like having their nails painted? Are the crafts or gifts something that all caregivers could appreciate?"
Be mindful of emotional triggers
Mother's Day can be a challenging time for some children, such as those who have lost a mother, have limited or no contact with their mother, or have mothers who are unable to participate in traditional celebrations.
Educators should be mindful of the potential emotional triggers associated with Mother's Day by providing a variety of activities that cater to different emotional needs and offering alternative options.
The path to inclusivity isn't always easy, but it is always rewarding
Will you continue to do what you've always done, or will this be the year your service reflects on Mother's Day with a lens of inclusion and equity? Could this be the topic of your next conversation at work?
Before you can shift a celebration like this, which is often deeply laden with emotions, there needs to be a LOT of discussion and reflection from the staff around their beliefs about inclusion and the messages we send children and families," suggests Meg. "It generally needs to be a service-wide approach, otherwise you run the risk of having certain rooms/groups getting backlash from families, and not having support from leadership.
By reflecting on our practices, engaging in open dialogue, and seeking input from colleagues and families, we can create a more inclusive and meaningful Mother's Day celebration that truly honours and values the diverse range of caregivers and family structures present in our communities.
What is your service doing for Mother's Day and how are you ensuring celebrations are inclusive and equitable? Share your opinion on this topic in the comments.