De onontwarbare knoop van familie 2.0

In general, any topic related to marriage and families bores me to tears but I could not help but be intrigued by this:

“P is an unhappy 10-year-old girl. At school, she cries in the toilets and has to be comforted by her friend. She has “suffered significant emotional harm as a result of the conflicts which have raged around her for at least the last three years,” according to a high court judge.

P’s problem is not that she has two mothers. P knows that her mother RWB and her mother’s civil partner SWB are her family and she is happy with that.

What makes P so miserable is she and her six-year-old sister L also have two fathers. P says she likes seeing ML and his long-term partner AR. But, according to a grownup who was looking after the 10-year-old a few months ago, “she cannot just pretend that ML is her father in order to make him happy”.

Except that he is. ML, 50, is indeed the biological father of the two girls. They were conceived by IVF after the lesbian couple (as they described themselves) had advertised in the Pink Paper in 1999 for a gay man or couple who might want to start a family with them.

The problem according to Mr Justice Hedley is that the four adults failed to decide at that time what their respective roles should be. It was agreed that ML, who is of Polish descent, would be the child’s father and his partner AR, 41, would be the stepfather. But what brought the two couples to court was the effect these terms were intended to have.

The two women maintain it involved little more than the child’s identity. But the two men claim that ML is in the same position as a traditional separated parent and therefore entitled to regular contact.

While thinking the issues through, Hedley developed a new legal concept: principal and secondary parenting. In an anonymised judgment released this week, he deemed the two women to be the girls’ principal parents and the two men to be their secondary parents.”

My first thought was that indeed, we tend to conceive parental roles as cast in stone, gendered, immutable, and oh-so central to society’s stability, rather than socially constructed, subject to social and cultural changes, and reflective of changing power dynamics across social institutions.

My second thought was “what’s the big deal” as in “how is this any different than recomposed families of any kinds?” After all, divorced and remarried parents have to do the same juggling act when it comes to “managing” parenting.

My third thought was that if we stopped considering children as the exclusive property of their parents (and, obviously, the definition of that term is not as straightforward as it seems), such issues would not arise.

My fourth thought was “how nice that the sexual preference of the parents does not enter the discussion as THE issue.” Things, they are changing then.