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MARC MY WORDS - 2 December 2004

MARC MY WORDS - 2 December 2004

The family is not just a concept. it is the heartbeat of society.

At a time when, as a society, we are arguing about single parenting, the efficacy of the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), the erosion of the family as a pillar of civil society, the rise of alternative arrangements such as blended, defacto and civil unions - it may be worth focussing some attention on the children of these relationships rather than on the 'wants' (often presented as rights) of the parents.

All too often we find that in terms of 'the right to choose', the interests of adults are dressed up as individual rights (such as 'happiness') and are justified on the grounds that this will be beneficial for the children. It is an intellectual deceit fuelled by a personal fancy and in reality is mostly against the interests of the children who are denied any choice at all.

Over the last few decades there have been emerging attempts to undermine the traditional role of the family. In part this has been facilitated by the shift from a 'we' generation to a 'me' generation. In days gone by it would have been almost unthinkable to our forbears to simply walk out of their families and leave them to the tender mercies of a State handout. Today it is almost endemic.

Naturally there has been an accompanying ideology to rationalise all of this: we tell ourselves "our kids would be better off if we were happier".that we would be better parents by leaving the (poor) relationship (from which their existence originated).that the new person we are in love with would make a better step-parent than the original we want to replace. On and on, our rationalizations subtly morph from our egocentric motivations into a selfless act. It is nothing but a fraud...a sham.

The State for its part does likewise.

Through its use of the welfare system the new ideology affirms and gives life to the view that the structure of the family can be divorced (excuse the pun) from the process of family. In other words 'structure' (how the family is arranged) and 'process' (how the family functions) have been construed as opposing and rival concepts. The result of this muddled thinking is that the composition of families becomes irrelevant with the result that alternatives are viewed as equally valid and appealing.

In the view of the State then, why discriminate against one 'family composition' as being more appropriate than another? Why not simply hand out rights and entitlements to validate those who choose to be in a non-traditional family, and in the process secure their votes and loyalty. And all done in the name of individual liberty paid for by collective taxpayer responsibility when things don't turn out well.

The problem, if we put some thought into this, is that none of this is true: .process does in fact arise from structure.

While a number of studies have concluded that a child's well being is a function of the relationships within the family, these behaviourists make an erroneous leap of faith when, for example, the number of partners or the sexual orientation of the partner or partners is not taken into account nor considered relevant.

They come to a mistaken belief that qualitative relationships may be recast amongst a different set of individuals. In this way they argue that certain family interactions and processes are beneficial for a child's development but that the status of the parents need not be taken onto account; namely whether heterosexual, married or committed to provide for them. This is of course utter hogwash.

We all know of families that are blended, divorced, or solo parented that are successful. Many more however are not. If we are brave enough to put our friendships on the line for want of a discussion on the subject, we will be confronted with a battery of rationalisations and self justifications in support of a particular form of the family." It's better that the deadbeat dad is gone"."we argued too much"."I decided to have a same sex relationship". There are a thousand reasons given and simultaneously, a thousand excuses.

In most cases it is the need to self justify. The louder they bellow and the angrier they become the greater the need to justify. Such an instinct is quickly seized by an opportunistic government eager to champion individual rights in exchange for voter loyalty.

The tragedy is that children become the pawns in a game not of their choosing. They grow up with deficits as a result of the conceit of one or both of their parents. For example, the Tomorrow's Men Project found that 91% of 'can-do' boys - those with confidence, optimism and self motivation have a father in their lives. By contrast 72% of 'cant-do' boys have no father in their lives.

There are many other such predictors of outcomes for children. Other research has shown that unless the family environment is extreme and 'at risk', children suffer less negative effects from an argumentative home than from a divorced one. In other words parental conflict is less damaging than the aftermath of divorce. This is due in part to the different and unexpected effects of separation and divorce.

A British National Child Development Study found that, taking into account all other variables, differences widened between children of divorce in comparison with children from non-divorce families.

A North American study of 81,000people compared over-18s from divorced/separated families with those whose biological parents had been continuously married .The former group consistently displayed significantly higher characteristics of depression, low-life satisfaction, low marital quality, incidences of divorce, low attainment in income and occupational level.

Many of these conclusions are unpalatable and inconvenient to those they refer to and reveal why self validation through legislation appears an attractive option. This has been advanced in two ways: legitimating alternative family configurations (through the Civil Union Bill, for example); and the use of taxpayers' money to ameliorate the consequences of the traditional family breakdown. Both mask what really happens: we can carry on regardless with our heads stuck firmly in the sand; we treat the symptoms and expediently overlook the cause.

The bottom line is that before advancing our own needs, when we have children we should consider putting them first. We freely chose to bring them into the world; and we have to realise they had no choice in the family circumstances they were born into. Their needs may sometimes mean we have to sacrifice our's.

That's what real parents do.


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