Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.
I was filling in a form a couple of weeks ago, one of the countless forms that one fills out as a parent: birth certificate, permission slip, daycare intake, school registration, gymnastics and skating and soccer and hockey and summer camp information, and so on.
No one tells you before you become a parent just how many forms there will be to fill out.
And nobody tells you before you become a queer parent just how often you will encounter forms that ask for — as this one did — your child’s “Father’s name” and “Mother’s name.”
I sighed. I mean, it’s 2013: shouldn’t most progressive organizations have realized by now that not every household has a mother and father? Some — like mine — have two mothers, while others have two dads.
Read more: Same-sex parenting: The kids are alright >
So I did what I usually do in these situations, which is to cross out “Father’s name” and “Mother’s name” and write in “Parent’s name.”
And then I got snarky. I took out my phone and snapped a picture of the offending piece of paper and posted it to Facebook and Twitter, with the caption, “Changing the world, one (heteronormative) form at a time.”
I got a lot of responses — dozens of Facebook “likes” and a bunch of retweets and supportive comments. Several of my friends who are single parents pointed out that they also find the standard “Mother/Father” forms off-putting, or at least tiresome. “I face the same problem all the time as a solo (straight) parent,” wrote one friend, a single mom by choice. “I write in ‘nope,’ [under ‘Father’]” said another friend. “And sometimes, if I’m in the mood to create a teachable moment, I write, ‘sperm donor.’”
And then, basking in the glow of my own righteous self-indignation and my friends’ unwavering support, I let it go. Point made — right?
Well, no. Wrong.
I hadn’t made my point. I had complained, sure — but not to the people who actually needed to hear my complaint. Nor had I taken any actual steps to make the situation better. I hadn’t changed the world one iota.
Why not? To be blunt, a combination of laziness and fear. Actually engaging with the creators of the form would involve slightly more work on my part then simply firing off a few aggrieved sentences over social media. And while I could be fairly certain that my Facebook and Twitter friends would take my side, I couldn’t be sure of the same thing from the organization. What if I received a hostile response? What if they were indifferent to my ideals of inclusivity and social justice? What if I felt stupid? What if, what if…?
And yet, I’m trying to teach my children that it’s not simply enough to sit around and complain about things, that if they want something to change, they actually have to take steps — real steps — to help resolve it. I mean, kids (it’s not just my kids, is it?) complain a lot: “She was mean to me!” “I’m cold!” “I don’t like that for dinner!” “I hate those pajamas!” And I do my best as a parent to meet those kinds of complaints with a standard response: “Well, what can you do about it? How can you make it better?” Maybe you need to speak up, get help from a teacher or another adult, find a sweater, help make something that you do like for dinner, get off the couch and get your own pajamas. Whatever the case, I try (some days more successfully than others) to model that complaints aren’t useful unless you’re also prepared to take action, and not just some kind of “slacktivism” on social media.
And so, a couple of days ago, I sent a message to the organization, in which I respectfully suggested that they consider changing their wording to “something a bit more inclusive, like ‘Parent/Guardian.’” (I will admit that I punctuated that request with a smiley face — I’m still working on my need to be a “nice girl,” apparently, but baby steps.)
I got a response within hours: a friendly, enthusiastic, apologetic, response. They had noticed my alteration of the form. They had been thinking about how to address it. They were grateful that I had spoken up. They thanked me for my suggestion. They said, “For sure we will change the registration forms for next year.”
A small change, to be sure, but a real change for the better.