Family Matters

Two recent well-publicised events have highlighted the importance of family, of parenting, and the vital role of fathers. The first was the surprise announcement of the Victorian Premier, and the second involved a payout to a member of the so-called stolen generation.

When Victorian Premier Steve Bracks made the very sudden decision to quit politics altogether, he did so for the primary reason of being able to be more involved with his own family. There may have been various factors leading up to this, but the recent episode where his teenage son crashed the family car while drunk, almost losing his own life, would surely have been a huge wakeup call for Mr Bracks.

He rightly recognised that as important as it is to run an entire state, and run it well, it is really nothing compared to running one’s family well. The most important job in the world is being a good husband or wife, and being a good father or mother. Nothing else is as vital, and nothing else has such deep ramifications and lasting consequences.

Thus I certainly praised Mr Bracks for his decision, when asked by the media for my thoughts. I congratulated him for being willing to put a fancy career, a more-than-healthy wage, and all the trappings of office aside, to look after the most important task, being a good father. The power trips and ego trips associated with holding a high office are no longer his, but to have the praise and attention of his own wife and children is far superior.

Yet as one letter writer pointed out, just why is it that we regard Bracks to be a hero for putting family ahead of career, when we at the same time make heroes out of women who abandon their families to chase a career? Why is it seen as courageous and socially acceptable to dump our children into the care of strangers so that mum can get out in the paid workplace? Why is it great if men put families first, but great if women put careers first?

And as a related point, when the new Premier, John Brumby, was presented to the media, along with his new sidekick, Rob Hulls, both were featured with their smiling families. This raised a few questions for columnist Andrew Bolt. He rightly tried to connect the dots here:

“But the most curious thing about Labor pumping out all these family happy snaps is I’m no longer sure how the model working parent, torn between children and ambition, should react. Are we – oops, I mean they – supposed to conclude from all these pictures that Brumby will be a good premier or a bad dad? I ask this because the moralising about political parents has become awfully conflicted. Take just this past week. First Steve Bracks quit as premier because, it was widely agreed, he was a family man. Noted a typical report: ‘He said his son’s recent drink-driving incident was only one of several family-related reasons for the decision.’ The subtext, underlined by several politicians – not least Treasurer Peter Costello – who spoke feelingly on the subject, was plain: politics is a bastard on the family. Pity the children. But now, Brumby and Hulls claim they’ll make good leaders precisely because – check the photos, dear voter – they are family men.”

So which is it? Is a demanding career such as politics good or bad for families? It seems we can’t have it both ways. For years many of us have argued that a woman can have it all – but not necessarily at the same time. Managing two simultaneous full time careers (motherhood and paid work) is a big ask. But maybe we should ask the same of men: can you be successful in your career while also being a successful father? It is difficult, to say the least.

But it can be said that Bracks was quite right to recognise that the most important job in the world is being a good parent. Failing the state of Victoria is not good, but failing your own family is far worse.

The second story concerned an Aboriginal man who was awarded $525,000 compensation in a stolen generation case. Part of the reason for this decision was because he was deprived of, and never got to know, his biological parents.

This raises a question: will children brought into the world through various forms of assisted reproductive technologies, such as anonymous sperm donations, also be compensated for not knowing one or both of their biological parents?

Indeed, it could be argued that all children born in various alternative lifestyle arrangements are also part of a stolen generation. Kids deliberately brought into single parent homes, or same-sex relationships, are being deprived of one of the two most important people in their lives. I hope our concern for the well being of children, and the overwhelming importance of them being raised by their own mother and father, is not limited to just certain groups in Australia, such as Aboriginals.

Whether we should be giving financial compensation to Aboriginals is a moot point. But surely the principle behind it – the chief concern – should be applied across the board. Children have a basic human right to their own biological mother and father. Too often various minority groups are working to deny children this fundamental right. And too often the new biotechnologies are making biological parents redundant.

If a court can decide that it is bad news indeed to deprive an Aboriginal of his own mum and dad, then we should take this approach to all children deprived of their most important birthright.

Whether the inconsistencies and discrepancies that arise from these two cases manage to become clear to our political leaders and opinion makers remains to be seen. But it is hoped that some of these elites will be able to put the pieces together, and see that families do matter, that parenting is our greatest calling, and fatherhood is indispensable for the wellbeing of children.

www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22168345-25717,00.html

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18 Replies to “Family Matters”

  1. In answer to Andrew Bolt’s part, there is a tension that must be because we do want good family men to be our leaders. Biblical qualifications of a good leader are that they are husband of one wife and able to manage their children well. It is a stress on the family which requires a very helpful wife who is able to help the leader balance work and family well. That’s why we need stay-at-home mums, so the couple are doing the job of raising children together, for the sake of fulfillment for the children. If the couple can’t do it or they have children who are not handling it, it’s better to step down for the sake of the children. So we want John Brumby and Rob Hulls and all our leaders to be good family men for our sake and for their kids’ sakes. If their kids are happy with it now, like Steve Brack’s preumably were to start with, they’ll have to reassess as they go along and be wise, i.e., responsible, not selfish.
    Rebecca Field

  2. Rebecca, I doubt that Hull’s first wife and kids would be impressed by the way he has been portrayed as the family man.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  3. Bill, I responded on Andrew Bolt’s blog with the “fanciful” idea that politics especially should require MPs to demonstrate their capabilities by showing us a successful family first. Hence I recommended a minimum agae qualification (say 40-50 years range) plus a functional family.

    I hope that will reduce the number of infantile policies and parliamentary scenes which embarrass us currently, although I note that they don’t seem to embarrass enough of our MPs.

    John Angelico

  4. Yes, well then he bears watching, doesn’t he. And he’ll take extra prayer to do his politics wisely for healthy family and therefore healthy society.

    Rebecca Field

  5. Dear Bill, you suggested that children raised in alternative families are the new ‘stolen generation’. This argument easily falls flat, as a definitional debate, because of the word ‘stolen’.
    The Aboriginal children taken from their families in the not-to-distant past were forcibly removed; that is, their parents did not willingly give them up. Those who donate sperm or ova are willing; there is no stealing or forced removal involved. Therefore, children resulting from artificial insemination cannot realistically be compared to the stolen generation.
    Zenobia Frost

  6. Thanks Zenobia

    But in both cases children had no say in the matter. And in both cases, children could be adversely affected. On occasion, it may have been in the best interests of the child to have him or her removed from an abusive or alcohol-ridden Aboriginal parent. But generally speaking, keeping a child with his or her biological parents is the preferred option. And as I said, in many cases of ART, or alternative lifestyles, that is the one thing we are depriving the child of: two biological parents.

    That was the point I was trying to make. I was not suggesting that the two situations were identical, but simply that the outcome was often the same for the child: being deprived of both a mum and a dad.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Thank you Bill for an interesting posting. You raise a number of issues worthy of comment.

    The need for children to be raised in households with both a mother and a father is becoming increasingly evident from emerging research. Professor James Tooley at Newcastle-on-Tyne University presents evidence that some male/female differences are biologically based. Dr Leonard Sax in the book Why Gender Matters presents compelling arguments about this emerging science of sex differences. He argues for single sex schools based on the fact that boys and girls develop differently and require different schooling methods. Men intuitively understand and can relate to boy behaviour, just as women intuitively understand and can relate to girl behaviour. The departure of men from the teaching profession and the resulting feminisation of the profession is having a negative impact on boys as their expected behaviour and development is aligned to the developmental needs of girls. This in no way suggests that women make worse teachers, but Dr Sax suggests the notion that men who teach girls should have appropriate additional training and women who teach boys have appropriate additional training accordingly.

    Renowned childcare expert Steve Biddulph in his book Manhood presents this knowledge in the family situation with compelling arguments on the different roles of mothers and fathers. For example, the imperative need for motherly nurturing in the development of children up to 6 years and the impact of role modelling of fathers for boys in the developmental phase of 6 to 14 years. Boys will instinctively look to their father for understanding manhood, treatment of women and defining their own role.

    The ‘political correctness’ proponents and the gay lobby do not acknowledge these studies. An article in the HeraldSun on 30/8/2006 reported on a recent Stanford University study of 25,000 students which clearly showed that sex matters when it comes to learning. Not surprisingly Australian “experts” dismissed the study saying that gender science is simplistic and that other factors of greater worth should be researched. But this appears to be merely science driven by and aimed at reinforcing an ideological point of view. It is telling that Steve Biddulph launched in latest book in the UK where he feels that the country has gone full circle is now ready to hear the emerging messages.

    Of course, this is not to say that children cannot be raised in single parent households. The death of a parent or lengthy away-from-home work commitments will see some children raised in such households. If Steve Bracks’ resignation was largely driven by his son’s behaviour, does it imply that Mrs Bracks has done a poor job on her own? I doubt it. We intuitively know that the lack of the father in the household has created a void that the mother alone cannot fill, just a father could never be a complete replacement for a mother. Intuitively we all understand this, hence the praise for Bracks resigning to spend more time with his family.

    Yet we would be attacked and labelled many times over if we raised this, even with the support of the emerging body of research, to argue against gay/lesbian families. Note that the gay lobby and the ‘political correctness’ proponents talk about gay families in terms of the right to parenthood. Referral to the rights of the child is almost non-existent. Reference to the child is only made when making some bland argument that children will be raised by loving caring parents. It is ridiculous to assume that love is all that is needed to raise healthy stable children. Children intuitively look to their father or mother at different ages for their developmental needs. For example, child developmental dieticians know that children instinctively look to their fathers for role modelling of what to eat.

    Professor Margaret Somerville of McGill University in Canada forcefully argues that first and foremost it is the rights of the child that must take precedence. This includes the right to know and have a relationship with their biological parents. Emerging research also shows that children need to be raised by a mother and a father to best foster their full development and psychological growth. For the ‘political correctness’ proponents and those in the gay lobby out there who think this is inherently disposed towards promoting the nuclear family ahead of all other relationships, then you are right, it is! And no amount of bleating should ever see a vague notion of parenthood rights take precedence over the rights of the child.

    Frank Norros

  8. Bill,
    Thanks for your insightful comments on this and many other topics. My reaction as I read your comment leads me to think about how Steve Bracks (and many others) finds himself facing up to pressures that brought about his life changing decision. I can think of of 3 separate trends in our society that have a magnifying effect on the families of many people including politicians such as John Bracks, John Anderson, etc:
    – that of replacing the wisdom that age and experience brings with that taught by higher education, by placing younger and younger people in place as our community leaders including the role of politician;
    – the deferring of parenthood due to the pressures of the modern consumerist society as exemplified in the ‘need’ for a ‘good’ (that is expensive) home;
    – the increasing demands on our politicians due to the increasingly complex nature of legislation as we try to replace behaviour constrained by morals with behaviour constrained by regulation.
    All of the above trends are symptoms of the breakdown of community values within our society. Whilst I quite strongly agree with John’s sentiments above perhaps his qualification to be a community leader should be that of having a grown family.
    Robert Gifford, NSW

  9. Deception and certainly denial is a hall mark of Tony Blair’s cabal of ministers.Bursting with the religious zeal with which we have come to associate her, Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government (note how departments hide behind forever- changing, vague titles, e g., Department of Education is now called Department of Children, Schools and Families) accuses anyone who is critical of government policies (that seem to be stripped out of any moral and spiritual reference) as gloomy and depressing. She would no doubt emphatically deny that the UK is bottom of the league of 21 economically advanced countries according to a “report card”‘ put together by Unicef on the well being of children and adolescents.

    She flatly denies that heterosexual, monogamous and enduring marriage, based on the Judeo-Christian model is the only model “fit for the purpose” of raising children. For her, “families can come in all shapes and sizes” and that what children need is to be in a “safe, loving and caring environment“. This confident assertion was not far removed from that of Alan Johnson, former Education Secretary, who said that it did not matter in what kind of family children were raised, just as long as there was “parental involvement” – irrespective of whether the parents are living together or apart. This ‘profound’ banality is similar to saying that the most important thing for a footballer is to kick the ball. Does it really make no difference to children if “families” are defined as homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, or as a single girl with a string of serial, live-in partners (male or female), or whether they are incestuous, polygamous, polyamoros, or even paedophile – just as long as they are ‘loving‘, ‘involved’ and ‘committed‘? Who I ask myself is going to be the judge of what is loving, caring and involved? Perhaps Hazel Blears’ definition of the word, ‘safe’, is the same as in ‘safe sex’ that has resulted in an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and abortion being practised on an industrial scale.
    David Skinner, UK

  10. Bill, the only issue i have with the comment regarding the aboriginal issue, and your suggestion about this raising the question over other legitimate cases. As i understand it, the reason for the ruling in favour for this case was based solely on the hospital staff sending the baby into foster care without the parents consent, and then further stalling the parents from this knowledge when they inquired (up to 6 mths later) – This was a very clear breach of law and the judge was able to decide in favour of the defendant. Its not that i disagree in spirit with what you are saying about the other issues of abandonment etc from other children, but we should all be clear that this was a very definite breach of the law, and so was dealt with accordingly..

    Kris Jack

  11. “In both cases children had no say in the matter.”

    Then what of children adopted out, away from their biological parents? Whether the children were removed from the biological parents by choice or by force, the children still have no say in the matter.

    Zenobia Frost

  12. Thanks Zenobia

    But adoption is in fact radically different. It is completely pro-child. Because of some unfortunate situation, a child finds himself or herself having to be put in the care of substitute parents. It is a way of dealing with an emergency, and in adoption legislation, the interests of the child are always paramount. And in some cases, the child may in fact have some say in the matter.

    This is not the case in alternative lifestyle arrangements, such as same-sex households, or in many forms of Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Generally speaking, in those situations, it is the needs and wants of adults that are paramount, not the wellbeing of the child. The child is deliberately brought into the world knowing that it will be less than an ideal situation for the child, being deprived of both a mother and father. So there really is no similarity here at all Zenobia.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Hi Zenobia
    Please, I don’t want to appear ignorant but are you saying that there is no difference between the adoption of a child by a loving couple and the seperation of a child from it’s biological parents?
    Jim Sturla

  14. Hullo Bill,

    Thank you for your response.

    Those in ‘alternative arrangements’, as you term them, must go to extra lengths to adopt or become pregnant. It’s a long process. If they’re prepared to go to such lengths, they’ve clearly planned for the child, and will love and care for the child adequately. It would not be a split-second decision (or an accident).

    Unfortunately, having read many of your previous articles, I am familiar with your views on the matter. It is your opinion that nothing but the ‘nuclear family’ can produce a happy child.

    Despite your argument, I have experiential evidence of happy, stable children from single-parent families, same-sex families, as well as from ‘nuclear’ families.

    I am aware that you will continue to disagree, Bill, but I will remain in these forums to give you an alternative viewpoint, and to ask questions. (Can you guess who my favourite philosopher is?)

    Hullo Jim,

    I was merely asking questions to clarify Bill’s argument. Obviously, if a child is adopted out, it is being separated from its biological parents; that’s the definition of ‘adoption’. Whether or not it is adopted by loving parents depends on the situation.

    Zenobia Frost

  15. Thanks Zenobia

    But no, it is not my “opinion that nothing but the ‘nuclear family’ can produce a happy child”. It is a matter of empirical fact that by every indicator, generally speaking, children do markedly better when raised by their own biological parents, preferably cemented by marriage. That is not a matter of personal opinion, but a truth claim based on a mountain of social science data, data which you have asked for in the past and I have provided.

    So that is a given: children need a mum and a dad, and no other arrangement comes close to the benefits of having a biological mother and father. If that evidence does not suit your ideology, then you may need to consider which of the two needs to give way.

    And your experience of happy children in other arrangements does not gainsay the evidence. We all have experience of situations which are the exceptions to the rule. We all know of those who smoke three packs of cigarettes a day and live to be a hundred. But I don’t think the Cancer Council will consider that to be substantial proof that there is no evidence for tobacco/lung cancer links.

    So any discussion of family arrangements should be evidence-based, with priority given to what is in the best interests of children. The whims of adults and the agendas of minority groups should not be put ahead of the wellbeing of children.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Hi Bill,

    Could you please present me with all that evidence again? You have my email address – feel free to send a list there. I’m happy to read online articles, off-line articles, books.

    Thank you. Zenobia Frost

  17. Thanks Zenobia

    With over 10,000 international studies showing the importance of biological parents, the best place to start is to simply list some of the better summaries of the data. I will send that to you in the hopes that you really do have a careful read, and allow the evidence to lead you where it may.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. Thank you Bill,

    I will read through the material, and will get back to you; it may take some time, as I balance work and study, etcetera, but I will return to discuss the studies.

    Zenobia Frost

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