Opinion: how do single mums navigate school father’s day events? Plot twist: we shouldn’t have to.


On my social media, I repost the same Stephanie Chinn artwork every year on Father’s Day. Not because I’m triggered by either of these days, but because I’m keenly aware that others are.

As a single mum, most of the women in my circle are single mums too. Our stories are all a little different, as is our relationship to big, potentially contentious days like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas.

Trigger responses

This year, when I was asked to write about navigating feel-good Father’s Day school events when your kids don’t necessarily feel good about them, the response from the hive was unanimous: It’s 2023 – we shouldn’t have to.

My bestie pointed out that it’s not just the children of separated and divorced families who might struggle with morning teas and Father’s Day stalls – the children of same-sex couples and those who have lost a dad must find it triggering too.

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The same goes for kids with their families intact, whose fathers are here but not present, or stepping up in the way the child needs them to.

A trigger response is a very real experience. It can floor adults and be particularly difficult for kids. In terms of mental health, we’re talking about a response that significantly affects a child’s emotional state, leaving them feeling sad, stressed and overwhelmed. This sequence of reactions can affect a child’s ability to ‘keep it together’ and focus – in the middle of school and a sea of faces where it would be a nightmare for most children to feel this vulnerable.

I received an email from Skin Software this week in the lead-up to Father’s Day that read, “we understand that this time of year can be difficult for some. If you would prefer to not receive emails about Father’s Day, you can opt-out by clicking the button below”.

So, if my adult needs can be met with gentle, inclusive handling in a marketing email, I’m positive we can do better for the kids of diverse families as they head to school this week.

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A fresh approach to Father’s Day

a happy kid enjoying inclusive father’s day activities

So, how do we thoughtfully include these kids in Father’s Day activities? I reached out to a few schools to get their perspective and the silence was loud and clear. I have a hunch that there’s no issue with making the day more inclusive, it just hasn’t been thought about in any real detail.

As it turns out, making Father’s Day more inclusive can be as simple as a rethinking the language, events and activities around the day and putting a creative spin on existing traditions. Here are some heartwarming ideas for the classroom this Father’s Day.

Shift the theme to ‘special people’

This opens to door to grandparents, family friends, role models, older siblings, aunts, uncles, and anyone the child feels connected to. It also allows that person to enjoy being celebrated for the vital contribution they’re making to the child’s life.

Make it a celebration of love

“Grief is just love with nowhere to go”, right? So, uplift kids with an opportunity to have fun expressing how much they love someone. Done right, this could create a safe space for a beautiful tribute to a father who can’t be physically present.

Read books about different types of families

Speaking of safe spaces, inclusivity is the hallmark of a safe space and, Father’s Day aside, learning and celebrations should never be centred around one family dynamic. A modern Father’s Day reading list is a great place to change this story.

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An inclusive Father’s Day

An inclusive Father’s Day plan begins with the language used, carries through to lesson and activity planning, and has to translate to the way schools manage events for these celebrations.

Engaging in discussions and activities that recognise multiple family situations helps students develop empathy and understanding – for themselves, as well as for each other.

It promotes respect for differences and teaches students that families are built on love and care, regardless of their structure. My preferred take on the engineering in STEM learning, as it builds children up to feel valued and accepted when they don’t fit the text book image of what their life should look like.

A new way of approaching these days has the power to really boost the self-esteem of students from diverse family backgrounds, by acknowledging and celebrating their family situations. It also opens the (classroom) door to involving parents and guardians in school life in more meaningful ways than ever before, fostering positive relationships between home and school (where it’s possibly needed the most). Speaking from experience.

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By Charlie
Charlie Writes is a Sydney based, London born, Caribbean writer, interviewer and poet. A colourful 27 year career has taken Charlie from typing poems on the spot on her 1970’s typerwiter named June, to donning a hard hat as a roving reporter in the construction industry. All while living out her favourite quote that the greatest adventures begin with a simple conversation.