More than a simple judgement

Phil Dye explains how the Courts fail to recognise the parent-child relationship as paramount.

The recent Family Court judgement allowing a custodial mother of two young children to leave Queensland and move to Victoria in order to marry her new partner has repercussions not only for the thousands of dads who live separately from their children, but for society in general. In making the judgement, the family court has said something very important about the very basis of the communities in which we live.

There was a time when our communities were based on enormous extended family networks. Grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, nephews, brothers and sisters gathered together to support one another and maintain a community based on shared values. The teaching of wisdom, skills and knowledge was an all important role of the extended family, and although dad and mum were there as well, they were only two cogs in a wheel which encompassed many individuals.

Dad and mum also related very differently. The concept of romantic love, while perhaps being a concern for a short period of time, had a very small part to play in their ongoing relationship. Their relationship with one another was very much focused on helping to maintain the community. This still remains the focus of mums and dads in extended family based communities today with many Aboriginal tribes providing solid example of this system.

Nowadays we lack our extended family networks. Family members often live thousands of kilometres away from one another, making any form of ongoing support virtually impossible. Mum and dad have become the all important yet isolated cogs in the family wheel. They have come to represent not only all things to their children but indeed all things to each other, and according to the latest divorce statistics, mums and dads aren't handling this isolation at all well.

Romantic love, and the entity of the nuclear family it creates, is seemingly not enough to bind men and women together. It might be the building block our genetic survival depends on, but it is not the building block our communities survival depends on. It might 'feel' good and we might hope it's the glue that cements families, yet worldwide evidence suggests that we need a lot more than just a mum and dad to make a family.

Far from questioning the current paradigm of family isolation and nuclear family dependence, the recent court decision cements the current myth of the man/woman relationship as being paramount in our society. The decision stated clearly that the mother would 'deteriorate significantly' if she did not relocate to Victoria and begin marital bliss. The man/woman relationship, not one renowned for its outstanding success rate, was seen to hold more importance than the father/child relationship.

Yet deep down, most mums and dads know the parent/child relationship is more important than any ideal of wedded bliss. Blood is most certainly thicker than water.

Any decision to place the mother/child relationship above and not equal to the father/child relationship is a contentious one. The recent decision however, places the man/woman relationship above the father/child union. It's saying that water is thicker than blood.

With the recent family court decision, and with the many more similar decisions which will surely follow, our communities are entering a new age of fragmentation and loss. Far from facilitating the involved responsibility of even separated parents in our community, the decision helps to further alienate our children from the safety and warmth which comes from the involvement of both mum and dad.

Children in our community are losing the involvement of grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and other family members due to the almost complete decline of the extended family. They are losing the constant, seven days a week contact with mums and dads due to the impossible pressures both parents feel in maintaining the nuclear family. Children now, it seems, are at risk of losing even the fragmented contact with both parents following the breakdown of these families.

The recent decision might suit the concept of romantic love. It might prop up our view of the man/woman pair as the peak of the relationship hierarchy and the basic building block of our communities. It does not serve however, to provide our children with the most precious gift we can give them - the ongoing and frequent love of two involved and responsible natural parents in the environment of a caring extended family and community.

Phil Dye is a Sydney based Lecturer in Communication, a professional musician and a freelance writer. His first book, 'The Father Lode - a New Look at Becoming and Being a Dad', is published by Allen and Unwin.

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