Why it's time to stop using 'mum' as shorthand for 'parent'

Why it’s time to stop using ‘mum’ as shorthand for ‘parent’

Earlier this year over coffee a friend, Lisa Lintern, confessed her angst at a war she is waging at her children’s school. It’s a war she wants to win but it’s not one she wants to fight.  She doesn’t want to be the trouble maker: the mum always ruffling feathers.

And yet she is unwilling to let the result she is seeking go.

Her goal is modest: she wants dads included on the class email list as well as mums. Admittedly, it is part of a bigger, more radical, play whereby she is hoping fathers will soon be considered, as a matter of course, as parents.

Where dads, as well as mums, will be reminded to pack the library bag, to man the canteen, to pack extra lunch for excursions, to host fundraisers at the school, to attend P&C meetings. To do the myriad things mums are routinely asked. To share the administrative, logistical, mental and emotional labour of being a parent of a school aged child.

It sounds awfully simple and in many schools dads are included on class lists as a matter of course. But, anecdotally, I can report that even where this happens and dads are on the list it is still women, in the main, who are doing the legwork that keeps schools ticking over.

In making this request at a school where that is not the accepted practice, and it’s usually only mums who receive these emails, my friend has encountered resistance. The sad reality is the request, which she wrote about in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday,  is considered quite radical.

Last year Women’s Agenda contributor, surgeon Dr Neela Janakiramanan, wrote that despite not being the parent who takes their children to medical appointments, and despite having requested the GP practice to list her husband as the primary contact, she still receives the messages. The default is that as the mother she ought to be on top of these details.

Late last week I got a private message via social media from a mother of three who in the space of just a few hours saw two things that ‘subtly reinforce the gender norms’ that irked her.

The first was this sign in the family change-room at the jazz studio where she had taken one of her daughters and the irony was it was the first time in 10 weeks that it wasn’t her husband taking her.

Presumably because ‘fathers’ would never need to be asked, or is it simply expected that ‘fathers’ would never be changing soiled nappies?

The second “thing that grated” was a job ad.

Again the ad is hardly malicious but the imputation that it is ‘mums’ who work around school hours is clear.

And if this assumption isn’t challenged or questioned it will never change. Fighting to get dads on class lists shouldn’t, in 2018, be a war that needs to be waged and yet until it’s the norm the war will have to rage on.

All power to the men and women demanding it.

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