While I was searching on the web to identify associations for Rainbow families in New Zealand, I found an interesting article about What Rainbow Families need teachers to know – and how you can support this kaupapa (topic). I decided to contact the author, Kath Cooper to ask if she would accept to meet with us.
We met Kath while in Wellington in one of the most surprising cafe we have ever seen, a coffee shop in a Bike sale and repair shop. Kath really warmly welcomed us, she was funny, always smiling and passionate. We are once again very grateful to meet such an amazing person.
Natacha & Sara: Kath, can you please introduce yourself and talk about your family?
Kath: I am from New Zealand. I have been with my wife for the past 14,5 years. I have 4 children, I had 3 children before I met my wife Jody and our 4th child came to us through the foster care system. It was supposed to be temporary as he was meant to move in with a birth relative. We have had him for 18 months and we felt really concerned about his stability and our connection to him and so we are the only Gay family on NZ who took Child Youth and Family to court and successfully win the custody of a child who is not blood related. That was kind of a big deal so he is kind of our special fourth.
I have lived in Wellington for over 30 years and I am 1 of 4 children from my mom and dad and two of us are Gay and two of us are straight.
Natacha & Sara : What do you do for a living?
Kath : For a living I am a lecturer at Te Rito Maioha, an early childhood training provider so we teach people to be early childhood teachers. As part of that job I also completed my Master a couple of years ago and I started last year a doctorate in Education.
Natacha & Sara: What is it to be a rainbow family in NZ?
Kath : I think that having experienced both being in a rainbow family and in a straight family structure are probably about just the same. I think one of the challenges is advocating for yourself so maybe the challenges are talking to the school about changing the enrollment forms with maybe not father /mother in the different forms but instead parent /parent.
Overall I think it is pretty safe and fine to be a rainbow family in NZ. We’re not facing lots of discrimination. Right at the very beginning we told a teacher and a teaching team that we were two moms and she had a very strong physical reaction, she actually moved her body backwards and was kind of quite shocked. Then she recovered and said “oh, OK, I think it s alright”.
Natacha & Sara: You wrote a paper about Rainbow families and school, can you tell us about it?
Kath: The article was meant for the school teachers and together with the Rainbow Family community on Facebook we defined a list of ideas that would help the Rainbow Families at school (see extract below). If I had to give advice to rainbow families I would say be brave and propose ideas to the school.
If you are a straight family, step up and help the LGBT families because sometimes it is tiring to be an advocate all the time (for example you could say :” I am a straight family but it would be great to see more inclusion”.
Ask! Don’t assume. This goes for the names of parents (mama/mami/mum) as well as pretty much everything else. It includes who makes up the family. Some Rainbow Families are parents parenting alone, some are parenting with involvement of donors or surrogates. Keep your mind open. A word of caution here: think about the point of the question. If it is to satisfy your curiosity, maybe don’t ask.
Use non-gender specific enrolment forms. These should be used for both the parents section and the section for a child. It’s a really great way to include non-binary and genderqueer children and parents. The word ‘parent’ is an easy replacement for mother and father sections. Consider including more than two spots for parents. Many families have more than two parents caring for children.
Show our children that they’re seen. Please get heaps of books and resources that reflect diverse families. Have them on the wall, on the shelf, in the entrance way…wherever you can!
Axe the stereotypical gender roles. For example, boxes of spare clothes can be labelled “tops” and “pants” rather than “boys” and “girls”. Use the terms firefighter, police officer, mail carrier. Talk about male nurses and female pilots – change up your pronouns for jobs that are stereotypically gendered.
Have a plan for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. When our son was five, he worked hard-out on a Mother’s Day card. It was really lovely, but just as the bell rang for morning tea the teacher remembered he had to make two (one for each of his mothers), so before he could go and play he had to create another one.
Finally, we are both ‘The Mother’ and ‘The Father’. Asking “who is the real mum or dad?” is not OK. We both are.
If you are interested to read Kath education Thesis about “I just want to be who I am” : Exploring the barriers faced by lesbian early childhood teachers as they disrupt heteronormative practices in Aotearoa/New Zealand , it is available here :https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/10691