Same sex couples are changing what parenting looks like, says UC academic Dr Raechel Johns, from how they grow their families to how they redefine traditional gender roles.
“Family is just a bunch of people who love each other, and generally live together,” says Raechel. “We go grocery shopping, cook and clean, have movie nights – same as everyone else.”
Raechel is the Head of the Canberra Business School at the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Business, Government and Law. But maybe more importantly, she is simply ‘mama’ to her five kids aged between one and 11. And so is her partner.
Their shared vision of parenting cuts through questions of biology, traditional structure and roles, to focus on the thing that matters – love.
“For some people, biology is everything in parenting – to me though, it means nothing,” Raechel says. What does matter is care and acceptance, both within the family and the larger community.
Increased visibility is one of the first steps towards that acceptance, and the updating of Australia’s Marriage Act 1961 on 9 December 2017, to allow marriage equality for all, was a huge pole vault in the right direction.
Now, Raechel is hoping to add another stair with her latest project – she is currently co-editing a book on non-biological parenting, and hoping that it will raise the volume for a group whose voices have hitherto been faint.
“I felt it was necessary because same sex families are open to growing in different ways, including adoption and surrogacy – but the voice of the non-biological parent was limited in the queer community,” she says. “At the same time, there are so many families blazing trails in this space, across the world, so this is timely, necessary and relevant.”
The book, due out at the end of 2020, will present a plethora of the perspectives and experiences of non-biological families from across the globe.
Legislation for non-biological parenting differs greatly between countries, Raechel says, which means that experiences are correspondingly varied as well.
“In the United States, laws also differ among states, which can cause a bit of confusion,” she says.
“In Australia, we have comparatively more rights when it comes to non-biological parenting – and importantly, the laws are Federal and therefore uniform across the country.”
Rachael feels that same sex families are helping to redraw the bigger picture of what family looks like.
“When you’re a child, there’s no preconceived notion of how a family should look,” says Raechel. “Especially now when there are so many single parent families, children raised by their grandparents, and same sex families.”
At the same time, the same sex family unit is helping to reimagine what gender roles and the power structures they play into can look like, moving into the future.
“Some of my research has focused on gender roles and careers for women, and we’ve found that in same sex families, there’s usually a more equitable distribution of tasks, closer to 50-50,” Raechel says.
“Same sex families are generally less locked into rigid expectations this way, and there is more of a tendency to ask members about the roles they want to fill.”
She also sees a shift in the larger community, as many reject pigeonholing, trying to fit – or trying to get other people to fit – into preconceived notions.
Raechel’s perspectives on equity, family and positive community growth feed into her research on Transformative Service for better community wellbeing, especially for vulnerable groups.
“We propose Transformative Service mediators to facilitate and advocate for vulnerable communities – it’s about more integration, better value and autonomy for these groups,” she says.
Her work also advocates for the tailoring of services for a more diverse community, based on a better understanding of what is actually needed. Acceptance is key.
“When you have a framework built on acceptance, people feel safe to fill it with their own stories,” Raechel says. And that’s how you get to the truth of their lived experiences.
“Ultimately, we’ve come a long way when it comes to acceptance, but we still have a journey ahead of us.”
Hopefully, the destination is a point of real acceptance for all – and nobody questions a family just because it looks a little different.
Share Raechel's vision for moving towards an inclusive community at the UnCover Event: The Other Colours Of The Rainbow, Hosted by Benjamin Law.
Words by Suzanne Lazaroo, photo: supplied