I recently went to meet a friend who had some exciting news. Over a cocktail I was completely thrilled to hear that he and his partner were going to become fathers. I’m glad to say that I live in an area of the world at a time where that isn’t shocking news, it’s simply joyous news. In fact, the only shocking part was that my friend had just found out it was TWINS! Wowzers. 2-4-1.
It did make me wonder, is the traditional 2.4 family on its last legs? In my circle of friends at least 50% have non-traditional family set-ups, having grown up with the classic mum/dad/labrador set-up. Whether it is same sex parents, single mothers and fathers by choice, non-married couples, blended families and multi-parent families (with surrogates and donors), the rules of family structure are changing dramatically.
So much has changed in such a short space of time and the big question is has it changed for the better? Are the kids alright?
Personally, I think yes, yes, a big resounded yippeedoo yes. The absolute best thing a parent can give a child is love and security. A child needs stability and consistency, a happy home with parents that are fully committed to them, will listen to them, will validate their emotions, will give them a sense of worth and will sometimes tickle them until they have tears running down their cheeks. And so does it really matter what the family structure looks like if these things are in place?
When I look at the time, money and careful consideration that my same-sex friends invest into having children, I simply cannot understand the perception that a child growing up in that family will be less happy than some of the more ‘traditional’ families. In fact, some of the most chaotic families I know are your typical 2.4. As psychotherapist Philippa Perry says, ‘just because your family is different, doesn’t make it dysfunctional.’ It can cost £30,000 to conceive a child through surrogacy and so there is no doubt that a couple going through this lacks commitment and thoughtfulness. Of course, financial commitment doesn’t necessarily mean security for the child, but it does certainly point to a couple that has thought deeply about whether they are ready for such a massive life change.
When I became pregnant I wasn’t married and this caused a few shock-waves around the family. It wasn’t that they were being mean – not at all – they were truly concerned about our happiness. Growing up, my parents’ generation did not look favourably upon unmarried women with children and it was much harder to function happily in society. Nowadays, it might raise the smallest of eyebrows in some circles, but really, it doesn’t even register with most people as an issue. Many of my friends have decided not to get married as they’re not religious and feel their verbal commitment is as valid as one made in a church whilst wearing a big, expensive white dress. I personally am still a huge fan of a wedding but that’s because I love pavlova and dancing to Lionel Ritchie. But I love that people are freer than ever before to be individuals. I wish this was reflected more in the media. The last wave of Christmas advertisements would have us believe that all families consisted of a shiny haired mum, a slightly overweight, chirpy dad, a set of grandparents drowning in beige knitwear and a couple of kiddiewinkles prancing amongst the brussels sprouts. What about all of those tens of thousands of families with single parents? What about those families with disabled children? What about families that don’t like brussels sprouts? It will be a great day when the reality of modern life is proportionally reflected in the media. Any improvement is such a revelation and it is a joy to see real faces and families staring back at us.
I do sometimes wonder what kind of family my daughter Coco will have. In an age of shifting family structures, it will be fascinating to see how this develops. It’s hard to imagine now what options will be available for my daughter’s generation but I do hope that I remain open minded and, even if it deeply challenges my idea of what family means, I hope I stay focused on the most important thing; whether a child is brought up in a happy loving home.
This post appears as part of our How We Roll campaign, celebrating diversity and individualism that forms the makeup of the modern family, for whom parenting has simply become a positive extension of their current lifestyle.