It’s been a long time coming but I have now reached a stage with writing the new DCN booklet on mixed families where I am obsessed with it and won’t be able to leave it alone until it is complete. I recognise the stage from previous writing but was beginning to despair of ever getting there. Hearing back from the families I interviewed has been nerve-wracking but reassuring. Some have endorsed everything I have written, others have wanted a few words changing and one or two have done complete re-writes. I’m happy with whatever they are happy with. It’s their story and they need to have confidence that it hasn’t been distorted to fit my own views, preferences and prejudices. All names have been changed and it’s fascinating how some people have really cared about the alternative names I have given them (and wanted them changed) and others couldn’t care a jot. I’ve also had some pretty rigorous criticism from Marilyn Crawshaw, which wasn’t necessarily easy to hear, but I’m acting on most of her suggestions and know that the result will be an improvement. I do know really that my sentences are too long, I have a tendency to over-emphasise and perhaps, as a DC parent, want to promote the rosy – everything is likely to be fine as long as you are open – perspective.
The only stories that were missing from the booklet were those from lesbian or gay families. In fact we don’t have any gay men in the Network but we do have quite a lot of lesbian mother families, some of whom have children from previous heterosexual relationships as well as donor conceived children. We find it quite difficult to get hold of our lesbian members – they are often high flyers and very busy people – and this has been mirrored in trying to speak to some of them for the booklet. At last I managed to have a conversation with one mother yesterday. Her family is a complex one including her current civil partner and three children from a heterosexual marriage, her ex-partner and her two children from a heterosexual relationship and the mother’s own birth child by DI, who is now 16. Potentially this could all be a horrible mess, but as she talked me through the relationships and how all adults shared care of each other’s children whilst making sure each child had a secure base, I found myself feeling quite envious. Here was a mature model of what I and many other people had been experimenting with, without great success, in the seventies. The difference here seemed to be that the needs of the children, rather than the adults, were taking centre stage. The woman I was talking to is a senior social worker as is her current partner and she confirmed that their professional trainings and understanding of child development had helped considerably in managing such a complicated family set up. No doubt they all have moments of tearing their hair out, but it seemed to me that here was a thoroughly modern family managing to meet children’s fundamental needs for love and security in a way that defies a conventional view of how well adjusted children should be raised.
And then there is the new column in the Family Section in the Guardian on Saturday. Three parents, two men and one woman, raising one, soon to be two, babies. This week actor Charlie Condou spends three days alone with his daughter. Recognising how different this experience might be if he was a single parent having to meet all the needs of a child alone every day, he reflects that as one of three parents he can thoroughly enjoy the luxury of having his daughter all to himself for three days at a time. Isn’t this how looking after children should be? Haven’t we all got something to learn here?