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Exploding the nuclear family...

By Kay Millican - posted Monday, 6 December 2004

Family is steadily emerging as something completely unfamiliar from the 50s nuclear mom-and-dad style unit that John Howard supports. I hope John can recognise a myriad of family structures in future family policies and statements, because if he doesn't he'll be disregarding a huge proportion of the population who haven't grown up or don't currently live in traditional 50s families where divorce "never" occurred and everyone was apparently heterosexual.

Take my family for instance ...

My folks divorced when I was about 9-years-old. My dad moved to Perth and married a woman who already had a daughter, meanwhile I was raised in a single parent family until I was about 18. In my early adult life, my mum married a man with kids from two other marriages: some of these step-siblings were older than me and already in marriages of their own. I went to live with my mum, my step-dad and his two younger children - whom I very much think of as siblings, just like my blood-related brother and sister. When my step-sister died I grieved for the loss of a sister - I didn't think, "Oh well, she wasn't really related to me". When I needed a hand after school my step-father bought me a computer to help me learn valuable skills.


So in my family up to my 20s, I had a mum, dad, full blood brother and sister, step-mum, step-dad and 6 step-siblings from 3 different marriages. To me, this was my family - I had no blood ties to 8 of these 12 people but they played as much a part in my concept of family as my blood relatives. In fact, I was in many ways closer to my younger step-brother and step-sister because I was living with them as they grew up.

And now, I've been with the same partner for almost seven years and we are having a baby. This is my new nuclear family and it is fabulous. John Howard's government, however, denies me and my partner most rights as a couple - we are not considered a family under the Medicare safety net, we can't get married, our superannuation rights are a complete mess because we are both in the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, which is not covered by recent superannuation amendments, and my partner will be seen as a single mother according to Centrelink - all because we both happen to be women who love each other.

To me, family is about bonds and ties that stretch way beyond blood - ties that are represented by relationships and association and closeness, rather than whose genetic programming is in whom. My partner is carrying our baby - obviously not born from my genes - but that little baby will be just as much my child as hers, and we will be a family that has Christmas together, goes on family holidays, we'll look after our child in sickness and health, educate it, guide it, and most of all love it. If you think of all the things families do together - we'll be doing it - so this to me constitutes a family, because it's a system that my partner and I have put together for life, for love and for happiness, "marrying" our two lives together (as Shakespeare might have said).

I sincerely hope that John Howard considers that there are not many of his favourite family type left: Not all of us are in families where mum and dad stayed together or have heterosexual relationships. My hope may not get me far, since Howard consistently manages to ignore the plight of many who don't fit his mould.

Well John, families don't have moulds - they just exist, and my family exists right now, regardless of what statements or policies you make which don't recognise us. And my family will not go away - but will grow stronger and stronger through love, no matter what you do.

The challenge is John, will you support families that are already in existence, or will you continue to live in a day-dream utopia that will never return and in which you only hurt people who are living their lives, paying their taxes, and seeking to be valuable citizens of this country.

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About the Author

Kay Millican lives and works in Canberra.

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