Some families are better than others for children

I’m used to copping flak. I started my adult life speaking out about sex back in the 70’s when it was a taboo topic. But nothing I write about attracts nearly as much venom as the topic I am discussing this Sunday at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas – that some families are better than others for children. It promises to be a lively session!

Luckily I will have strong support. My fellow speaker is Kay Hymowitz, a renowned family scholar with New York’s Manhattan Institute, who has been writing about this important area for a great many years.

Whilst Australian public discourse remains locked into the comforting fantasy that all families are equally good for children, Hymowitz will speak on the new acceptance in her own country that growing up in a single parent home, or stepfamily or with unmarried parents puts children at risk.

These children are less likely to do well in school, suffer more mental health and behavioural problems, and be more likely to be abused and become single parents themselves than children in stable traditional families.

I wrote about this in The Australian last weekend. Here’s how my article started:

What a revealing tribute marking the fifth season finale of the popular television drama series Offspring. Comedian and actor Eddie Perfect, who plays a central role in the drama, recently wrote about how the show has morphed from a sexy exploration of relationships to a celebration of dysfunctional families.

As he explained on, Offspring was now a show about family, “not out-dated conservative notions of family but a broader ideology of who we include in our family.” It’s very simple really, he suggested. All we need is to have “full enriching lives surrounded by people we love. One big dysfunctional family.”

Offspring does dysfunctional families so wonderfully well. There’s a rich vein of comedy in the constant relationship stuff-ups which mark the Proudman family, from the chaotic love lives of the ageing baby-boomer parents to their three neurotic adult children and their merry band of screwy friends. And yes, as they romp through these messy unions they are endlessly creating families. Offspring are born in all manner of strange circumstances, to parental relationships which usually fall apart. But the children do fine, of course, because they feel that love.

Here’s Billie, toying with the idea of having a baby with her new boyfriend Lawrence. She has feelings for Lawrence, she says. “Quite strong feelings. Maybe I don’t need to love him? Plenty of mismatched people have kids together. People who hate each other have kids together. And the kids survive. Most of the time. And if things don’t work out romantically, he’d be a first class co-parent.”

That pretty much sums up the new relaxed approach to parenting which is gaining such a grip in Australia, particularly in our lower socio-economic communities. The casualization of families is one of the major factors entrenching disadvantage for children in this country. Yet no one wants to talk about it.


6 Responses to Some families are better than others for children

  1. Colette August 27, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    Yes, the feminist dialogue is aggressive and set within an ideological framework that is as rigid as it is angry at the notion that children are important, more important in fact, than the parents. Good luck.

  2. D September 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    Why women stay in middle class relationships to the detriment of their mental health (and sometimes their chidlren’s) when they are unhappy is something no one talks about either…

    • Bettina September 5, 2014 at 9:54 am #

      Actually I think this has been discussed a great deal, particularly back in the 1970s when the prevailing wisdom was that it was better for everyone including children to have a good divorce than bad marriage. In fact all the evidence is that it is better for children if parents stay together unless the marriage is high conflict. Sadly children are more likely to witness violence after separation than before – our family law system does so little to help people achieve “good divorces” and children are often right in the middle of the escalating conflict. But of course you are right that many women who are deeply unhappy can suffer consequences on their mental health and sometimes it makes sense to leave a dreadful marriage.

  3. Kevin Lathbury September 4, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    Well done Bettina. Although you are horribly politically incorrect and intolerant and not ‘progressive’, all the evidence says you’re spot on. You’ve probably read Charles Murray’s recent book “Coming Apart”, but reading your article I thought of his commentary that married parents produce the best outcomes for kids, divorced parents the next best, down the continuum to never-married mothers producing the worst outcomes, and his statement that “I know of no other fact that is so well supported by all the evidence and that is so routinely ignored by policy makers, media, commentators….” You may also have agreed with Kajsa Ekis Ekman on Q&A on Monday: “Having a child is not a right”. Of course if you tell that to the Elton Johns, Penny Wongs and Casey Dellacquas of the world you’re branded an outdated reactionary intolerant bigot.
    Your approach seems to be to stick to the facts, or what the evidence suggests, whether or not it’s what people want to hear. Keep up the good work!

  4. P. October 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    I loved this article. I feel like too often nowadays, we are so concerned with being politically correct, and ensuring that our comments won’t “offend” anyone – that we allow ourselves to ignore facts or common sense.
    I see so many of my young female friends get pregnant to one-night stands, and proceed to have a baby (not knowing who the father is) without any consideration of how that will affect their child growing up. Have we become such a narcisstic nation to ignore what the consequences of our actions will be on others (and future generations?). However, no one will actually have this discussion with them – out of fear of being labelled “old fashioned” or a biggot.
    I’m not saying that every child in this situation will have a bad upbringing, but certainly, lets acknowledge that it will be harder and it is a big decision to make to proceed with this. Or perhaps – look at the reasons of why these women are in these situations in the first place – what are the preventative measures that can be taken to avoid this.
    I often worry about the future of the world as we continue to promote questionable decisions by remaining vigil to the notion of “political correctness”.

  5. Murray December 12, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    You said on the world today abc radio, about emotional abuse of children being disregarded while sexual abuse gets all the press. Wonderful views. I see my grandson struggle with my daughter and her ex husbands toxic shared parenting and feel for him. They have the normal young peoples rage against paedophilia but their fights and arguments I think are maybe worse for him. Your interview was about celibacy of priests but this was the part that made me find your website and congratulate you. This conversation needs to continue especially the comparison. Thanks.