It crossed my mind last night that an awful lot of people seem to be very interested in The Family, by which, of course, they mean two married heterosexual people, raising children together.
It seems to me that people who advocate The Family, or Family Values are basing their ideas either on religion or on what is considered normal in a patriarchal society.
Unconventional families are not for them.
That’s OK, but I want to go back to the idea of what is ‘normal’.
Children are a wonderful thing, except that they’re just little people. People have always survived, and in a myriad different groups and societies.
Marriage used to be about money, alliances and keeping things in the family. Yes, people who were closely related were regularly married, until the law got involved. Having said that, it is legal for cousins to marry, in the UK, but there are groups of people who are not genetically related who are forbidden marriage. This has to be a moral judgement call. We don’t want a man to marry his mother-in-law because it feels creepy.
But I’m getting off the point, which is that romantic marriage, and therefore the sort of marriage that most traditionalists are talking about is only about three hundred years old.
That never stopped anyone reproducing, and, presumably, it didn’t prevent effective parenting, either.
And, not for nothing, men have traditionally had a lot of latitude when it comes to extra-marital affairs. They held the purse strings. Women were generally trapped in a form of institution, going from their father’s houses to their husband’s. Some of those marriages may have been happy, and some at least tolerable, but we’re really talking about happy or tolerable for women. For the women who were miserable, abused, neglected and controlled there was no way out.
Talking of purse strings, right into the 1970s, in the UK, women were denied mortgages if they could not produce a male guarantor.
Much of the notion of romantic marriage is based around the idea that men work to maintain their families, financially, and women do the caring.
Of course, women have always had to work, and have always done so. Only a hundred and fifty years ago, the children of the rich were raised by almost anyone other than their parents: nannies, tutors, governesses and private schools, and the children of the poor were put to work. How much parenting was accomplished then? Well, children grew to adulthood and took on families and responsibilities of their own, and they did it in conditions that few of us could even contemplate.
Parenting, as we imagine it now, has never really been a thing.
What a lot of people seem to object to is single-parent families and gay families. How often have you heard or seen phrases like, ‘children need two parents’ and ‘children need a male role model’?
The twentieth century was littered with single parents, the vast majority of them women, but it wasn’t until divorce became a practical solution to a bad marriage that single-parenthood was questioned.
How many fatherless children grew up in single-parent families after the First and Second World Wars? Not to mention all of those children who were, essentially, fatherless while their fathers fought those wars. We’re talking about two generations of men conscripted between the ages of 18 and 41 for the first war and between the ages of 18 and 51 for the second.
It takes young men to fight a war, and many of those young men would have had young children.
No one, as far as I can tell, ever vilified those single mothers. They were an accepted norm. Society did not break down, and neither did anyone expect it to, simply because widowed women still had to raise their children.
So, the problem clearly isn’t single mothers.
The problem appears to me to be that women are now freer than ever to divorce the fathers of their children. What the traditionalist appears to dislike is empowered women.
There was never a better time to be an empowered woman. We can buy our own mortgages, without a male guarantor; we can expect equal pay for equal work, and the same educational resources are available to us. Of course we’re going to make relationship choices.
I don’t know who these people think they’re kidding when they claim they are trying to preserve our society, by insisting that a child needs two parents, or that those two parents should not be of the same gender.
Children need to be loved and cared for, and they need to be encouraged in their endeavours.
I know great single parents and very average married ones. I know wonderful men and women coping on their own, holding down jobs and setting great examples for their children. I also know two parent families where neither adult is in work or adequately caring for their children.
I know children who were planned, but have had very little real parenting, and I know children who were conceived by accident who couldn’t have better more loving parents.
I have no problem with traditionalists saying that children should be a priority. I have a huge problem with traditionalists claiming that the reasons children don’t have an ideal start in life is because they lack one of their parents.
|My own extended family in 2007, including a mixed bag|
of individual family situations... And look at all those happy faces!
Of course children need role models. We all need role models. Those people, and let’s all have any number of them, don’t have to be the children’s parents. Other family members can fill that role, so can family friends, teachers, scout leaders… you name it. People who are not personally known to a child can be great role models, too, including people at the top of their profession, sports-people, and the great and the good wherever we seek them out.
I believe in family, and, as it happens, I believe in romantic love. In our society there are very few things that are permanent, and relationships are one of those things. A family is simply a group of caring people who share a life together and depend upon each other. Any happily functioning family is a good thing, however it is comprised.
If we could all begin to look at modern single parents and remember those two generations of the twentieth century raised in single parent families, our perspective might just shift a little.
Having and raising children happens within a broad set of circumstances, but some of those circumstances are being questioned, largely by old, white men. As a result, women, yet again, are being made to feel inadequate, guilty, less than. When did we decide that foisting negative attitudes on anyone would make them better able to cope with life or the situations they find themselves in? Undermining a woman’s choices and her strengths does not make her a better mother.