It's love, not convention, that makes a family

Iain Duncan Smith is lamenting the lack of conventional two-parent households, but since when did stable, loving familes fit a single mold?

Share
Related Topics

Last week I met a friend whose child has just started at a top university. It would, I knew, be a big topic of conversation: and it was. For, oh, half an hour I heard about the child's magnificent grades, the friends he was making, the work he was settling into, the fun he was having. My friend's face lit up with parental pride, and rightly so. But in fact he's not the boy's parent at all. He's not even his stepfather: he's in a relationship with the boy's father, and has been a big part of his life for some years. But there's nothing formal, or standardised, or traditional about his set-up.

Conventional families have been in the news lately, thanks to Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions minister. He made a speech in which he lamented the fact that, by the age of 15, almost half of all teenagers no longer share a house with both parents. In the future, he said, the proportion of children who live with the same two parents from birth will be seen as a yardstick for how far government policies on social justice are succeeding.

Stable, loving families matter. That was part of Duncan Smith's message – and he's right. There's plenty of research to show that children who are raised in loving, stable families do better, educationally and socially, in the long term. But 45 per cent of the nation's families, as Duncan Smith's speech told us – are not part of conventional, two-parent households. And while it's one thing to hold up the gold standard and remind us how things "should" be done, it's quite another to decide that you're going to reverse what has been a colossal shift in conventions and expectations around long-term relationships over the past few decades.

Even if Duncan Smith and this government could alter the decisions parents take about how they want to live, what is the point of deriding (as they must feel they are) families that are less than "perfect"? Far better to empower those parents doing their best to raise children across a divided relationship than to pile on the guilt and imply that, because they don't fit a stereotype, they're somehow failing.

The truth, as we all know, is that every family has strengths and weaknesses – and there are plenty of families that look conventionally ideal, but are in fact struggling desperately below the surface. Meanwhile there are others, like that of my friend, that look exotic and colourful, that meet none of Iain Duncan Smith's cherished conventions, but which manage to raise children who appear to be every bit as balanced, rounded and successful as those from traditional, husband and wife, two-parent, one male/one female families.

What matters most isn't what actually happens in a family, it's how much whatever happens affects the children's lives and how much support there is for the young people from the older and (it is to be hoped) wiser adults. In another age, most families looked like the ones Iain Duncan Smith described. In our own age, families can and do look very different. But it's helping them through the minefield that is raising their kids, rather than ticking off the pieces of kit you think they have to carry with them, that matters the most.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Middleweight Designer

£25000 - £26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The On-Site division of the UK'...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A new opportunity has arisen fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project