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 theguardian.com, 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.