As we celebrate Parents Day, the President, First Lady, and First Mother-in-Law of the United States are parenting two young girls. The Obamas represent the most diverse family we have had in the White House to date, and "Obama-Robinson family's move to the White House seems like a symbolic end point for the once-firm idea that people of different backgrounds should not date, marry or bear children."
In fact, National Parents Day, unlike the heavily promoted and merchandised Mother's and Father's Days that by their very nature tend to reflect gendered expectations around parenting, really broadens the discussion of family in all its diversity. Today's celebration is inclusive, celebrating ALL parents, and without a strict definition of mom+dad+baby=family. So we are not excluding same-sex couples, single parents, noncustodial parents, step-parents, extended families, or anyone who might sometimes feel left out of traditional holidays framed around out-dated expectations of how most children are parented. The modern family is a complex, multi-layered, ever-expanding being, and (as the Family Equality Council says), all families, regardless of creation or composition, should be supported by communities that recognize, respect, protect, and celebrate them. As a noncustodial long-distance mom, I have written about my feelings on Mother's Day, a holiday that hasn't felt truly mine since I agreed to let my son's father retain custody. Yet, I am a fully engaged, committed parent, and knowing that there is a national day of celebration for the everyday parenting I do is so exciting.
Also, with National Parents Day, we are not just honoring parents, but the parenting itself. We acknowledge as a country that parents everywhere are offering guidance, love, and support to our children, empowering them to be productive citizens, dynamic men and women, and in the not-too-distant future, effective parents themselves. There is an excellent piece on the Huffington Post, written by Rhonda Present, that offers tribute to parents but also urges the Obama administration to not merely call on America's parents to take a more active role in their children's lives but to address:
"the failure of our society to fully invest in parenting rather than blaming parents for not adequately fulfilling our responsibilities. Because the truth is that despite how negatively we may be portrayed in the headlines, most parents are not shirking their duties. Rather, we are working hard -- sometimes holding down two or three jobs -- and making extraordinary sacrifices to give our children the best possible life. And, when it comes to community service, the hours we spend volunteering in our children's schools, houses of worship and neighborhood organizations are too numerous to count.Let's consider all the ways that we can support parents and children. Paid family leave and health care reform would go a long way to give our children a healthy start and a healthy life.
"Yet, even with all that we somehow manage to squeeze into our 24-7 schedules, far too many us are struggling to find the time it takes to be the kind of mother or father we want to be. From the very moment we enter the ranks of parenthood, we are confronted with the harsh reality that the work of raising children lacks the support it deserves."
And for all who work with children, please remember the noncustodial parents who are actively involved in their children's lives. When authorities respect and include noncustodial parents in the important discussions on our children's health, education, and well-being, they are working to ensure that our children's needs are being met.