Friday, January 07, 2011

Who gets to decide what a family is?

Families come in all forms. Young married people with children, biological or adopted, same-sex couples, unmarried parents, grandparents or extended families living in a cohesive family unit, seperated and divorced couples raising their children separately, re-married couples with children from multiple marriages....

I think you get the drift.

If you look at the the organisations out there who claim to speak for families, they're by-and-large talking about one type of family; man, woman, children. There's no room for anyone else at the Christian Value Family table. Same-sex and raising a child? Nope, sorry, one of you needs to have the opposing genitals to the other. Don't ask why. Divorced and parenting co-operatively? Nope, you're ruining society with your children from broken homes. Unmarried and parenting with no rings in sight? Don't you realise that a marriage certificate makes you a much better parent? There's a secret instruction manual handed out on the Big Day!

As far as I am concerned, the only people who get to decide what a family unit is (or even what the best family unit for their particular situation) is the family concerned. All very well for the God Squad to preach from the plinth what is best for society (usually based on studies that do not stand up to any kind of scrutiny, or based on "self-evident" truths); the rest of us live in the real world. The world where more than half of marriages result in divorce, where same-sex parents have been demonstrated by several long-term studies to be as good at parenting as heterosexual parents, where more and more parents are parenting equally, either from the necessity of needing two wages or the realization that Dads are just as able to raise a child as a mother (sans breastfeeding, of course).

Families are awesome. They're an endless source of support, camaraderie, learning and love. My own family wouldn't fit into the Australian Family Associations incredibly narrow definition of a family. My parents are re-married, I have five step-siblings, and I'm engaged to a raving lefty, and we firmly intend to share the parenting responsibilities equally when the time comes.

Further, we don't live like we used to. I grew up in a mining town in Wales, and my great-aunt lived three doors down, my other great-aunt lived a street away, a third great-aunt lived a street further up and my aunt was also within walking distance. We wandered in an out of each others houses and some of the closest bonds I have to this day are with my great-aunts and second-cousins. Families lived closer, and the family "unit" was larger, and included a greater diversity of extended relatives. The old adage "It takes a village to raise a child" has never been more true, but the availability and willingness of that village to get involved isn't there anymore. The inter-generational care and bonds dilute as we live further away from each other, and place more and more responsibility on the primary care-giver of a child (usually the mother) for the upbringing of children. Further narrowing the definition of a family adds to that pressure. We need to step in and step up with each other more. I want my children to have that same bond I have with my aunts and uncles and cousins. It's sad that we're losing that as a society.

The motives for keeping the definition of Family "Pure" are fairly obvious. Take the Australian Family Association as an example. On their "Your state" page for Victoria? Links on how to elect Pro-Life MPs and "Protecting religious freedom in Victoria". On their main page is a link to their current campaign on preventing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

All well and good, they're entitled to lobby for whatever they like, but I don't see anything, anywhere declaring them to be an organisation based on religious values. It's not anywhere. The aim? You don't associate them with any church, or religion, you associate these views (These religiously informed views) with "Family". I also see nothing encouraging an increase in funding and awareness campaigns for parents of intellectually and physically disabled children, which if you "believe in the sanctity of life from conception to death", presumably you'd be screaming for. They're anti-abortion, but not campaigning for increasing adoption services, or increasing funding for disability support services. They're anti-euthanasia, but there's nothing about increasing palliative care funding, or aged-care funding. The care they demonstrate ends at the delivery room door and a long way before the grave.

The Australian Family Association is also hella misogynist. In it campaign to increase funding for mothers to stay home, there's plenty of mother-blaming in the argument that kids in all-day daycare fare worse than those who don't. The mother should be staying home to rear the children. The mans job is to be the bread winner. Direct quote from the about page of the Australian Family Association;

"Society should recognise the different biological and psychological functions of the mother and father. It should require the latter normally to maintain the family by virtue of his work, which society should reward with a minimum wage or salary sufficient to maintain a family. The maintenance of the family should be the financial responsibility of the father and not of the State, unless the father proves incapable of fulfilling his obligations. The law should not inhibit the legal or ethical right of the mother to engage in outside employment. Society, through its systems of taxation, family allowances and endowment, and similar provisions, should ensure, however, that no mother is forced to engage in outside employment through economic pressure."

So the definition of a family narrows further. It's not just man, woman, children. Your roles are defined by this group as rigid and inflexible, taking into account none of the individuality of your family, your careers, the opportunity to equally parent. It's not up to you. They know best.

I believe that the best people to decide how a family functions, how it changes, how it is defined, are the family. That the government should support families in all their forms, and that pushing "Religious Values" in the name of "Family Values" is dishonest and destructive, and we need to take back the word family to ALL it applies to, not just the Righteous, noisy few.