MONTREAL — The controversial decision by teachers at a Quebec school to replace Mother's Day events with a celebration of parents has caused ripples all the way to the provincial legislature, but supporters say such moves can benefit children.
The school service centre that oversees La Chanterelle school in Quebec City said the teachers made the decision — which was announced to parents by email — because several students in their classes don't have a mother or father, while others are in foster homes.
"It is clear ... that this initiative was motivated by the teachers' benevolent intentions towards the students in their class," the Centre de services scolaire de la Capitale said in a statement posted on social media. "But, clearly, their communication was clumsy and could have been misunderstood and misinterpreted, and we are sorry."
The apology came after Quebec Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime this week shared on Twitter the email sent to La Chanterelle parents, asking Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville if he would allow "the woke to abolish Mother's Day."
Drainville said he doesn't want to see Mother's Day and Father's Day disappear from Quebec schools but understands that in some circumstances, teachers have to adapt to the realities of their students.
"Honestly, I can't believe I'm in front of you today to reiterate the importance of Mother's Day and the importance of Father's Day," he told reporters in Quebec City Wednesday. "The idea of replacing Mother's Day or Father's Day with Parent's Day, I don't agree with that."
Manon Tombi, a Montreal mother of two who lost her husband to cancer in 2020, said she sees the good intentions behind the school's move. Tombi, 32, said it can be awkward for workers at her five-year-old son's daycare when it comes time for children to make Father's Day crafts.
Making the celebration about parents rather the mother or father is more inclusive, she said. "It avoids the discomfort for those children who, for one reason or another, don't have a father or a mother," she said. Death is difficult enough for adults to understand, she said; for a young child, it's incomprehensible.
Rachel Langevin, a professor at McGill University who studies childhood trauma, said for some children, a classroom celebration of Mother's Day could be difficult.
"In a context, for example, of a child that recently lost a parent, it could be re-traumatizing, to have a celebration of Mother's Day for that child that just lost their mother," she said.
But whether that kind of a celebration would affect a child depends on many factors, including when the loss occurred. "Teachers are the best to know what's going on in their students' lives," she said.
Ideally, children should receive help with their grief, she said, adding that reminders of motherhood are everywhere in society. "Over time, they may well be able to participate in a Mother's Day celebration again, as they process through their own trauma and grief," she said.
Duhaime, whose party has no seats in the Quebec legislature, also condemned a school north of Montreal that told parents Mother's Day and Father's Day would be replaced with Parent's Day. The Rivière-du-Nord school service centre, which oversees schools in the Laurentians region, said in an email that the school in question told parents Wednesday it is restoring Mother's Day and Father's Day to its calendar.
Mona Greenbaum, the executive director of the LGBT+ Family Coalition, said celebrating a Parent's Day, instead of Mother's Day or Father's Day, doesn't erase mother or fathers; it just makes children who don't come from traditional families more comfortable.
"All these teachers are trying to do, really, is to make schools more inclusive for kids from all types of families," she said. "It's not a political gesture. It's a gesture of compassion, and inclusion."
No one is stopping children from making cards for their mothers, she said, they're just recognizing that other kinds of families exist.
"For young kids, their identities are very much connected with their families. So it's important that their families aren't invisibilized or erased. Their families need to be valued, just like other families."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2023.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press