Are father-daughter dances offensive to single mothers?

I have never attended a daddy daughter dance, but I was raised with a father in the household and can attest I am a complete Daddy’s girl. I still call my father to ask him everything from how to properly remove a beehive from my front porch to what the hell is “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan really about? Now that I have my own daughter, one of the things that I think is irreplaceable is the bond I see that’s being built between her and her father. It’s a relationship of wrestling, realism and an outlook on the world that I don’t think I’d be able to offer her. It’s an outlook that is different than mine and not just based off of our personalities, but one I also believe that’s shaped by our different genders and how that affects the way we see the world and the way the world relates to us. In a world where the boundaries between genders become more and more negotiable and where we’re beginning to question if gender makes as much of a difference as we once thought, I am still determining exactly where I stand on the difference having a father in the home makes.

According to Amy Peterson, having a father in the home doesn’t matter all that much when it comes to making your kids happy. In the piece, “Daddy-Daughter Dances Have No Place in 2017”, the website Café Mom shares how Peterson went the extra mile most moms do when it came to making sure her 6-year-old daughter, Gracie, had a date to her elementary school’s Daddy Daughter Dance. Given that Gracie’s dad is no longer in the household, Peterson drew on a fake beard the night of the dance and notified the school a month ahead of time she’d be coming in his place. Unfortunately, officials at Henry County School District weren’t feeling this family’s creativity and called the home the night of the dance to inform Peterson that she would be barred from the dance if she tried to enter, because, well she’s not a Dad.

Peterson discussed her daughter’s disappointment with WSB, an ABC affiliate:

“To me, I’ve identified myself as her father and her mother because that’s what I’ve done for six years.”

“She was okay with it. She was excited that her friends were going to get to see this.”

“She [the principal] said, ‘No. I forbid you to come and if you show up we will turn you away. How do you explain that to a 6-year-old? You can’t go to a dance because you don’t have a male role model in your life?”

The school district was unapologetic for their refusal to allow Peterson to attend and stood by their decision releasing the following statement:

“The school is cognizant that different dynamics exist across households in our school system.”

“There are multiple parent engagement events and opportunities to participate with their kids annually at this school in an effort to make that connection and build school spirit.”

And this is where I find myself torn. The situation is reminiscent of the memes I see across my Facebook feed shortly before Father’s Day that read, “Not sure if it’s Father’s Day or Single Moms Venting Day”. The idea that one parent shouldn’t be celebrated over the other on specific occasions or that the celebration of either is somehow synonymous with single-parent shaming. I don’t think Peterson should’ve necessarily been turned away which was probably traumatizing for a first grader excited about getting dressed up and doing The Running Man with her friends and their family members. I understand that the world is changing and I try to be as open-minded as possible for those who don’t identify with traditional gender norms, and for children who grow up in non-traditional homes where they aren’t raised by a mom AND a dad. However, I worry society is crumbling to a gray area where children will begin to believe the world will always cater to their specific circumstances (and if it doesn’t, then it’s wrong) and where boundaries aren’t clear (and boundaries don’t always have to be bad). I worry that we are teaching our children that everything that isn’t about them is against them.

I think I like the idea of father/daughter dances or “Muffins with Mom” and events that highlight specific relationships and the uniqueness of them rather than the “People That Love You Dance”. I don’t like that this mom was barred (unnecessarily traumatizing for the child), but I also fear raising my daughter with the idea that everything that doesn’t address her particular situation in life is troubling or offensive. As a woman I feel it’s important for young women to be able to identify examples of healthy males in their lives, whether they’re being raised by one mom or two. Our culture is dominated by patriarchy and men who so often disregard woman’s identities, thoughts and feelings unless they’re making a statement on how they should or shouldn’t behave, so it’s good for girls to have opportunities to see that good men DO exist. So if there isn’t a father to be that example, hopefully a big brother, a cool uncle or even an old-fashioned “Pop Pop” can be that person.

I work with a lot of youth from single parent homes, have relatives that were raised by my Grandma, and have friends who are single parents. I respect and applaud the fact that there are single parents who are raising their children on their own and doing a kick ass job at it. But what’s wrong with taking pride in the bond a young woman has with her father?  I never hesitate to yell from the rooftops that my Dad is one of the coolest dudes I know and I feel I am that much better off in life because of his presence in it. Does that mean I’m insulting single moms or I’m throwing shade at those who don’t have that type of relationship with their Dad? I guess my question is where does it end?  Should schools just not celebrate parents all together? What about the kids being raised by adult siblings or grandparents?  Should they be offended too?

Jeanne Sager, author of the article expressed her feelings as to why these type of events should be eliminated from schools altogether:

“Father-daughter dances, donuts with dad, muffins with mom … they’re the sort of old-fashioned heteronormative events that have no place in 2017 — at least not in our public schools. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with heterosexual married parents, but because they’re just a small part of a very big world. Today one in four kids under 18 is being raised in a home without a dad, whether because the child has a single mom or gay moms. Seventeen percent of custodial parents in America are single dads. And more than 115,000 gay couples in America have kids.

Events designed to include only one parent of a particular sex automatically cut out a huge swath of the kids public schools are designed to serve. And, keep in mind we’re not talking about events that are necessary to a child’s education. This isn’t a geometry lecture or a read-a-thon. Daddy-daughter dances have nothing to do with educating children, and thus could easily be cut or adapted.”

In a world where parents board flights for guilt trips everyday while they balance keeping up with their kids’ school progress, work, and keeping food on the table and clothes on their back, a daddy daughter dance is the last thing I’m tripping about. In fact, I’ll admit I embrace events that in some way highlight and honor the special relationships a parent has with their children because in our busy lives those things are sometimes what allow us to slow down and realize what really matters. Even in the event that I was a single parent, I would never knock a girl’s chance to dress up and enjoy a night celebrating her relationship with her father or furthermore any positive male influence in her life. Instead, I would talk to my her about how unique and special her life is because of the people she has in it, regardless of what any school or institution says. I think it’s healthy for kids to learn early that the world won’t always adjust according to your specific family situation and that those actions (or lack thereof) aren’t always meant to be offensive. When it comes to the family dynamics of any household, it’s not the school’s but the parent’s responsibility first to explain to their children why they have one mom, two dads, or even a parakeet and a pet snake and how that works or doesn’t work for that household.