After David Cameron’s appalling blanket comments about “runaway fathers”, it got me thinking about families in society. Cameron (apparently) made these comments – where he compared fathers who leave their families (and I’m using the word leaves rather than abandons for a reason) to drink drivers – in defence of traditional family life, which he describes as the “cornerstone of our society”. He reckons Britain needs to be made a “genuinely hostile” place for runaway fathers, who deserve the “full force of shame heaped upon them”. It got me thinking… Traditional family life? What traditional family life?
Nuclear family? Mother, father, children. Cool. That’s fine if that works for you – but it doesn’t work for everyone. And it infuriates me when people argue in favour of the nuclear family by suggesting that anything other than that set up is unable to function and would mean a bad upbringing. Sure, when little kids draw families with their crayons, its a Mummy and a Daddy and a brother or a sister. That’s fine, but what is more poignant is a little girl I volunteer with drawing “Mummy, Mummy and me” (it was refreshing that a small child seems more capable of accepting and embracing sexuality than a lot of people five times her age, but that’s a different topic all together) David Cameron’s opinions on the traditional family – if only indirectly – attack anything that isn’t the nuclear family. When is he going to wake up and realise that not everything is in black and white? Tory MP Bill Cash said that Cameron made the comments “because he believes in the family”. I wasn’t aware you couldn’t believe in the family from outside of the same house. Families are a lot more complex than just four people living under a roof in perfect harmony…
For a start, fewer people are getting married to begin with. In fact, statistics are at the lowest they have been since the 1920s. And why? The widespread belief that “you don’t need to get married to prove you love someone”, the changing position of women who are no longer having to be economically dependent on their husbands, fear of divorce, or less of a stigma surrounding different types of relationships. Whatever the reason, less people are getting married (and when they are, they’re getting married later), and four in ten children are born outside of marriage – how does this fit into the “traditional” family life? 40% of children born outside marriage doesn’t hold a very strong argument for a nuclear family, does it? Neither does the fact that one in three children in this country are growing up without a father. Instead of demonising “fathers who don’t live up to their responsibilities” – which is a ludicrous statement because not everything is as easy as it sounds – we should be supporting families regardless of their situation. Who was it that said “We’re all in this together”, again?
In 2008, Stonewall estimated that 5-7% of the adult population have same sex relationships. There is evidence of increased social acceptance of same sex relationships, too. Social policy is also beginning to recognise all relationships – heterosexual, homosexual, married, co-habiting – with legislation such as the 2004 Civil Partnership Act which, although doesn’t go as far as to recognise same-sex civil partnerships as marriage, it has given same-sex couples similar rights to married couples in regards to pensions, inheritance, tenancies and property. Where do gay people fit into “traditional” family life? Your sexuality doesn’t determine your capability of looking after or caring for a child, does it? By the time I get married, I hope that if I do choose to spend the rest of my life with a woman, that it wouldn’t put me at any disadvantage when it came to bringing up a child? Maybe having two mothers would help any daughter of mine to become more feminine than I am, who knows, it could be a good thing… I digress.
Jest aside, Cameron’s comments about runaway fathers eliminate both “runaway mothers” and fathers who have no choice but to leave. My parents split up for a mixture of reasons, but none of them involved either of them wanting us to grow up with separate parents in separate parts of the country. That’s just how it worked out. And yeah, maybe it was hard for a while but I have two wicked parents, my only gripe is I don’t see one of them often enough and the other I see too much. I would make a joke about two lots of birthday and Christmas presents but someone would bite my head off about that. I don’t consider myself at a disadvantage because my parents aren’t together. I’d much rather they were both apart and happy than stayed together for my benefit and torn each other to pieces. And where’s the logic, Dave? Reward runaway fathers who remarry with tax breaks, and cut the tax credits of the mother left behind holding the baby? Charge mothers to access the CSA, making it easier for “runaway fathers” to get out of paying anything in the way of maintenance for their child? Wise up. That’s a stereotype, but something that is happening every day. You need to level the playing field for all parents, not just for their sake, but for the sake of their children. They are important too!
I’m not for one second suggesting that the nuclear family is a bad thing. If that’s the set up that suits people, wicked, go ahead. But it doesn’t suit everyone. Should gay people be put at a disadvantage tax-wise because they’re naturally attracted to the same sex? That’s ludicrous, isn’t it? So my question is this. Why are we so heavily encouraging a stereotype which isn’t actually that common anymore? Is it right that the government can reward the nuclear family set up in terms of taxation? Should it be the government’s job to decide what I pay, based on who I marry or who I don’t?
I’m going to marry for love.
Not tax breaks.