by DR SIMON CROUCH
I have to admit that I am as guilty as the next person. My first instinct when I see a young child wandering alone, seemingly lost in a busy crowd, is to ask that child,
“Where is your mummy?”
It seems like such an innocuous question. What could possibly be wrong in helping a frightened child in this way. Well, I was recently told a story about such an encounter and it didn’t play out as you might first expect.
Three-year-old Jason was running around at the airport, burning off the boredom as he and his family waited for a delayed flight. Momentarily disorientated as a flood of disembarking passengers engulfed him, he glanced around searching for the security of his parents. A helpful man saw the young boy and approached with that innocent question,
“Where is your mummy?”
Jason hesitated, a puzzled look on his face. Trying to help, the man attempted a different tack.
“What’s your mummy’s name?”
At this Jason smiled. He knew the answer to this question, and he answered the man very proudly.
“My mummy’s name is Daddy.” He beamed, a giant smile on his face.
You see Jason doesn’t have a mummy – he has two daddies. As one of his dads arrived on the scene, scooping Jason into his arms, the stranger looked a little puzzled. He gave a nervous laugh and excused himself, snatching a curious glance at the unfamiliar family that was now regrouping.
The stranger at the airport is not alone however as he struggles to understand this new type of family, which is becoming more and more common in Australia. There are a growing number of children in Australia growing up in families like Jason’s where at least one parent is same-sex attracted. Television shows like Modern Family and the New Normal have cast these families as gay male couples or two lesbian parents, but rainbow families are much more diverse than this. Single gay and lesbian parents are raising children. Bisexual and transgender parents are often forgotten. And it is rare that people think about children who may have been born in the context of a heterosexual relationship but are now living with one of their biological parents and a new same-sex partner.
In fact there is a general lack of understanding when it comes to same-sex families. Senator Ron Boswell stood amongst his peers in the Houses of Parliament recently and demonstrated some very outdated opinions,
“Two mothers or two fathers cannot raise a child properly,” he said. “Who will take him to the football? Who will teach him right from wrong?” This narrow minded view was said in the context of the ongoing marriage equality debate, where opponents often state that the best way to raise a child is in a family with their biological mother and biological father.
There is little evidence to support such negative attitudes however. There has been some research looking at the health and wellbeing of children with same-sex parent, mainly from Europe and North America. And while it suggests that overall these kids are doing well there is a growing understanding that same-sex families encounter discrimination. It is this discrimination that can have an impact on children with same-sex attracted parents. Critics of the research to date highlight small sample sizes and a focus on lesbian parents. Researchers at the University of Melbourne are trying to fill these gaps however through a new project – the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS). It is an Australian first and the largest study of its kind anywhere in the world. For the first time they are looking at the complete physical, mental and social wellbeing of children with same-sex attracted parents, and in particular the impact that discrimination has on them.
As the lead researcher for the ACHESS project I have travelled around Australia recruiting participants for our research and have heard many stories about same-sex families. I have witnessed the verbal abuse extreme Christian groups have hurled at rainbow families marching in Adelaide Pride. I have been met with disbelief when I inform people that same-sex couples are still not allowed to adopt in Victoria. And I have shared the warm glow that comes when parents, like Jason’s two dads, tell of the pride with which their children describe their families. It’s been a privilege to share these experiences, which I hope to repay by lending their voices to our important research to hopefully bring a positive change to their future.
So the next time you feel the instinct to ask a lost child, “What’s you mummy’s name?” just pause a moment and think how you will react when that child answers, “my mummy’s name is daddy”?
If you are a same-sex attracted parent with children under the age of 18 years and want to find out more visit our website at www.achess.org.au, or send us an email if you want to take part: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Simon Robert Crouch is a public health doctor and researcher at the McCaughey VicHealth Centre, Melbourne School of Population Health, at the University of Melbourne. He is the lead investigator of the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS), which is part of the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program.