Kath Cooper is back again to talk more about Rainbow Families. While celebrating and acknowledging all family compositions is important, time and again it is the unnoticed family structures that need a little more ‘love and attention’ from teachers. Rainbow Families are one of those.
In this blog, acceptance of Rainbow Families will be discussed. A Rainbow Family is a way of describing families that are made up of two parents of the same gender, for example, lesbian women or gay men parenting children. Understanding, welcoming and accepting Rainbow Families will enrich and strengthen teachers’ relationships with all families within their centre. Studies have shown that when teachers start to identify, accept, and celebrate one minority group, their level of awareness is raised in regard to other minority groups too.
There are many ways that families can be made nowadays, the nuclear family of mum, dad, and children, is becoming less common. It has become more acceptable for single parents and families to be blended (a mix of biological and non-biological), as well as lesbian and gay headed whānau. Because of the ever-evolving concept of whānau compositions, it is the obligation of early childhood kaiako (teachers) to respond to such changes in order to not only meet their legislated inclusionary responsibilities but also to challenge inclusion and exclusion.
There are two key words, discourse, and heteronormativity, that help us understand why the inclusion of Rainbow Families within early childhood settings is such a challenge. The first word, discourse can be described as ways of being and doing that society has decided are the most ideal. Discourse describes languages and actions of people in society and is the socially accepted ways of doing things. Dominant discourses control how we see families being constructed, for example, a family is made up of a mother, father, and children. We see family in this way because of heteronormativity, which is the other keyword that assists understanding.
Heteronormativity is a way of describing the sense of familiarity that many people experience; when it is assumed that women and men are attracted to each other. Heteronormativity is a set of ideas and practices that privilege and secure the dominance of heterosexuality. It’s a way of thinking which is ok, but not all the time. Heteronormativity is the dominant discourse so it can be hard to see Rainbow Families. When teachers are open to seeing relationships as other than heterosexual, acceptance of Rainbow Families will be more likely.
When we think about the inclusion of Rainbow Families within the centre environment, there is value in remembering that heterosexual-parented families receive constant affirmation through language, literature, and images. This means that there is affirmation of the nuclear family all around them; this provides a space which is considered safe for them to be themselves. This is not so for Rainbow Families. Because of this imbalance, teachers need to think more mindfully about how this sense of belonging can be extended to Rainbow Families. If teachers carry on only acknowledging one way in which families are created, and ignore Rainbow Families, then social justice for many will be denied. Ensuring that Rainbow Families are visible within the centre environment helps meet the goal to create educational environments free from homophobia, harassment, and discrimination. Rather than asking for agreement on the issues of homosexuality, I am asking for support and respect for all children in your community. Looking at the issues of inclusion from the point of view of including children and ensuring that their Rainbow Families are visible, ensures that we as teachers are meeting the requirements of the Education Council, Practicing Teacher Criteria and Te Whāriki.
There are ways that teachers can show support for Rainbow Families to be visible within the early childhood environment
- Being mindful of the language used is one way. Conversations with children and adults which acknowledge Rainbow Families is an easy way to demonstrate a commitment to inclusive practice within the early childhood setting
- A display of the rainbow flag and using images of Rainbow Families will ensure that there is a sense of safety for those families in the centre
- More resources such as books depicting Rainbow Families are available within Aotearoa, and ensuring that these are available for children to use, read and gain knowledge about is an easy way to introduce what can be a difficult topic to discuss
- Ensuring that the enrolment form (which is often the first thing that prospective parents see in the centre) has inclusive language, such as the word parent rather than mother and father, are just a few ideas
I acknowledge that although this is a challenging topic to raise it is also a social-justice issue, and as such needs to be addressed by teachers to ensure a sense of equity for all whānau attending early-childhood settings. I’d love to hear some ideas you use to ensure that centre spaces are welcoming and safe for Rainbow families… so add your comments below.