When Brenna Harding said my mums on Play School last year, it was controversial enough to warrant coverage on just about every Australian news service.
The underlying message was simple: same-sex parent families were too confusing -“ possibly too damaging -“ for young children to see.
But until Vicki Harding entered outer metropolitan schools, armed with her two most recent books and supported by the Education Department, no-one had bothered to ask the kids how they felt about it.
Vicki Harding was one of the Play School mums, and she and Brenna had also co-authored two children’s books based on their non-traditional family.
In 2002 Harding established a not-for-profit community project called Learn To Include, to try to raise awareness of same-sex parenting.
Harding’s two most recent books, Koalas On Parade and The Rainbow Cubby House, feature stories of a little girl and her two mothers.
When asked what they thought of the books, most children noted that the families (The Rainbow Cubby House features a same-sex male couple and their son) were different, Harding said. They also noticed some diversions from traditional gender roles.
One girl said, -˜Oh, that one’s so ugly,’ Harding said.
She said, -˜The one in white looks like a dad, she’s not wearing a skirt, she’s got one of those things.’ She meant the shovel.
While some children acknowledged positive things about having two mothers or two fathers, others thought that having two mothers would mean they had to clean their room more and having two fathers would mean they got to eat more McDonald’s.
And in the case of a house with two mothers, there would be no-one who could fix broken things.
Although some of the interviewees were familiar with same-sex partnerships -“ one had a friend with two mothers, another had a lesbian aunt and another had seen an episode of The Simpsons where a second mother moved in -“ most of the children were confused by the idea that two women or men could live in a marriage-like situation.
Two ladies getting married, it’s just really stupid, one said. Another called it poofy.
When asked what they liked about the books, the children mentioned the drawings of the family dogs, the colours, the prize ceremony and the building of a cubby house.
The same-sex parents were not the most memorable thing about the books, which was the intention of the authors, Harding said.
The books will be launched as part of the Mardi Gras program and will be distributed in schools. Harding has also prepared a teacher’s manual with assistance from the Newtown Public School.