Monday, 20 October 2008

Loose morals? More like loose assumptions

I must admit I have a bit of hard time taking Family First seriously. For start any organization that ranks Winston Peters as New Zealand's most "Family Friendly" party leader clearly is a couple of cans short of a six-pack. But more than anything I hate that they think they speak for my family when the advocate policies that have little to do with what my family believes in.

Fuck them.

And fuck the sub editor who came up with the title Loose morals costs NZ $1b a year.

I thought that New Zealand had moved on from the 'good old' days when shotgun weddings were the norm for teenagers who found themselves up 'the duff' and didn't go on a mysterious holiday in the country only to return a bit out of shape a few months later. Because apparently according to Family First's Value of the Family report the teenage birth rate reached its peak in 1972, a full year before the DPB was instituted and dropped off significantly over the next decade and has continued to trend downward since then.

But Family First is right. Just because our teenage pregnancy rate has trended downwards doesn't mean that we still don't have a problem with rates of teenage pregnancy. After all New Zealand has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the developed world after the United States. So you'd think that this organization would have a lot to say about preventing teenage pregnancy. Unfortunately it does. Not only does Family First want to replicate Abstinence only sex education that has been such a disaster in the United States but it also doesn't want sex education taught in New Zealand schools because it is "family" (read parents') territory.

In an ideal world parents would tell their kids all they need to know about sex and relationships so the stuff they learn at school would just supplement parents teaching. Unfortunately too many parents don't and neither do our schools. Thus New Zealand has a high teenage pregnancy rate, high abortion rate and high number of STIs. Contrast New Zealand's sorry state of sexual health to the approach taken in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe where kids are taught about sex from a young age in school. Not only do Dutch teenagers have a lower teen pregnancy and abortion rate because they are more likely to use contraception but they also had sex later and with fewer partners. What is more interesting is that Dutch girls take the initiative as often as boys and affection for a partner is the most common reason for their first sexual experience as opposed to curiosity, alcohol or the pressure of others, an interesting contrast to New Zealand where 'ladies' don't have nor enjoy sex while real 'men' constantly want to hump your leg.

Of course Family First's answer to all this mess is marriage at any costs lest we forget that divorce is the cause of $1 billion of unnecessary government spending and the breakdown of society as we know it. Married couples, and married couples only, deserve all sorts of tax breaks and must keep their legal union together at all costs. Yet I can't help wonder what the costs of forcing couples to stay in abusive or dysfunctional relationships and the demon offspring such a union would produce. But what's a bit of domestic abuse between spouses?

Perhaps I am slightly biased about not viewing divorce as a bad thing considering my current partner is counting down the days until his is finalized. Although the ex-wife may be financially worse off than when she was married, she is hardly living a life of poverty. She earns double my salary on top of which she gets a huge chunk of child support and free childcare from her mother. Thus even with a child to support she has far more assets and disposable income than single gal ex-expat because she earns more money than I do. Because contrary to the 'loose morals' brigades belief that being a single parent that makes people poor in and of itself, it is not earning enough money to support yourself and your family that is the problem.

We shouldn't expect social problems like crime and poverty are going to magically go away with a wedding ring like some fucked-up version of Pretty Woman. Real life doesn't work like that. And the sooner we put away our 1950s morality and the Cinderella fantasies that go along with that and actually start dealing with the root causes of poverty; a lack of education, expectation and opportunities, we might actually fix some of problems instead of making them worse. Because if marriage is the answer to all of society's ills, what the hell was the fucking question?

Ht: Cactus Kate


Dave said...

As I have said the FF report doesn't quantify fiscal cost of marriage at all, despite its title. Therefore it is a fallacy to state that married couples have more benefits -and less fiscal costs if they break up - compared with unmarried couples.

muerk said...

I don't think it's controversial to say that life is easier is when there is a committed couple raising their own children. At least say as compared to how I grew up which was as an illegitimate child with my mother receiving the DPB.

Certainly it motivated me to be married before I had children, which has happened.

The practicality of my situation is that I was the one who had to step up when my mother fell ill. She didn't have a husband to support her through that time. Because her relationship with my father ended fairly soon after I was born, it meant there were no siblings that could help me.

Whilst it's great that we have a State that can assist us, in some ways it is our family that is our safety net. Given my personal history I have half sisters and a half-brother that I have never met. Should anything happen to my children they would not be prepared to offer any help given we have no contact and never have. I couldn't even tell you all their names off the top of my head.

Had my mum married and stayed so, had a few more children, then parts of my life would have been easier. Burdens could have been shared.

I think there's a practical benefit for the State to encourage solid, life long marriages and extended family working together to help each other.

Hugh said...

I think there's a practical benefit for the State to encourage solid, life long marriages and extended family working together to help each other.

While I take your point that two parents are better for a child than one, do the parents need to be married, or just co-habiting? And is it possible that had your father not been absent*, but still actively parenting you while separated from your mother, you'd have had just as much support as if they'd been together?

I agree that, outside of rare cases where one parent is chronically abusive, it's best for both parents to be actively involved with bringing up a child. However, I'm not necessarily sure that a traditional marriage is the only way this support can be given (although it's certainly a way).

As an aside, what steps do you think the government could have taken to keep your parents together?

*This seems to be the case judging from your comment, but I might be wrong.

Julie said...

I'd also note it must be pretty damaging for a child to be in a household where their parents hate each other but are staying together "for the sake of the children". Surely in that scenario divorce could actually be good for the kids?

Anna said...

Muerk, I think you're right on the money insofar as parenting alone and unsupported is extremely hard. However, two parents present is no guarantee of a supportive relationship or equal sharing of work. Also, parenting alone shouldn't necessarily equate to being unsupported. Good childcare opportunities, health and education can go a long way towards assisting.

I think it's good when people make mature relationship decisions (and by this I basically mean behaving in an ethical way towards every person, including friends, colleagues, children, etc, not just towards those we marry/sleep with). I don't know how the state would promote that, mind you.

Nikki said...

Also, parenting alone shouldn't necessarily equate to being unsupported.

Quite correct.
I really feel for those single parents who have no support - but that's not to say it isn't out there if you look for it (other single parents... online communities*... neighbours... friends etc). I think in that case there are more things going on that than just a lack of support... possibly depression etc.

* Probably not available in muerk's case. But they are now! And have been incredible support to me.

muerk said...

My father was absent by choice (in a way) he was an alcoholic and he could come and visit me (he lived in the North Island, I was in Christchurch) provided he didn't drink.

I last saw him when I was four and he died when I was 14 - pretty much killing himself with drink. As an adult looking back I'm glad he wasn't in our lives due to his alcoholism, but as a child I missed having my dad, knowing him as a person.

My mother had a lot of family support, and I spent an enormous amount of time with my grandmother.

Do parents need to be married? Well I think today the point is moot, at least legally. Marriage, de facto and civil unions offer all the same legal protections. In my head I think that as long as the couple are committed and living together, they are basically married for practical purposes.

And sure, two married parents is no guarantee for happiness. My father for example was a married man, living with his wife, when I was born... so yes. "I do" only means as much as is actually practiced.