Rainbow Families Victoria notes that the word “parent” includes both birth and non-birth mothers. Generic picture: Getty
Rainbow Families Victoria notes that the word “parent” includes both birth and non-birth mothers. Generic picture: Getty

Why we should drop mum and dad on official docments

GET ready for terms like "mum" and "dad" and "mother" and "father" to be officially phased out. It's now "parent one" and "parent two" - and even "parent three" and "parent four" in some cases.

Last week the French government dropped the terms "mother" and "father" from school documents and instead will refer to parent 1 and parent 2.

It's happening here, too. My children's primary school friendship lists, generated from an automated online survey, ask for Parent One and Parent Two, not mother and father. Instead of mum and dad we have nongendered, non-specific people who may or may not be biologically related to the children on the list.

Sure, it feels challenging, but it makes sense. Parent one and two is much more appropriate for same-sex parents or those who have a fluid, transitioning or diverse gender identity.

We need to be more inclusive in order to properly reflect the diversity of families today. It doesn't mean we can't use terms like mum and dad informally, but that official documents are not gender-specific. This approach is already being adopted by a range of organisations.

Victoria Health suggests using alternative terminology such as "New Parents' Group" might be better than "Mothers' group". Think about it: two dads are always going to feel out of place at a Mother's Group but will feel differently about a Parents' Group.

The Victorian Inclusive Language guide issued by the state government tells people to avoid "heteronormative language" such as "husband" and "wife" and instead say "partner". They also tell people to "avoid misgendering" by using "them" and "they" instead of he and she, him and her. I don't have a problem with most of that, but do think made-up pronouns like "zie" and "hir" are silly.

Similar approaches have been adopted in most universities, a number of major organisations and even the Australian Defence Force. A few years ago, Qantas employees were told to use terms like partner, spouse and parents rather than husband and wife, mum and dad. Similarly, Banyule City Council's 2016 Inclusive Language Guide notes that "some families are headed by single parents, grandparents, foster parents, two mums, or two dads".

 

Two dads are always going to feel out of place at a Mother’s Group but will feel differently about a Parents’ Group. Generic picture: iStock
Two dads are always going to feel out of place at a Mother’s Group but will feel differently about a Parents’ Group. Generic picture: iStock

 

 

"It is therefore better to use terms such as 'parent or caregiver' instead of 'mum and dad' unless you know the preference of the person involved," it states. It doesn't take anything away from the rest of us, but may make a big difference to others.

I know the official loss of terms like mum, dad, mother and father will make some people feel sad. I, for one, am proud to be a mother of three kids. They call me Mum and so I've got no problem with the term. But I also know it's not as simple as that for many others.

Language and the words we use to describe things shape our understanding and expectations, so it's important to be as inclusive as possible. This may mean old ways of doing thing, even if they have served us well over the years, may not be appropriate.

Rainbow Families Victoria illustrates how complex things have become - even with terms like parent. They note that the word "parent" includes both birth and non-birth mothers (for lesbian couples) and the biological and/or non-biological father (for gay male couples who are parents).

 

 

Rainbow Families Victoria notes that the word “parent” includes both birth and non-birth mothers. Generic picture: Getty
Rainbow Families Victoria notes that the word “parent” includes both birth and non-birth mothers. Generic picture: Getty

 

 

These days you can have egg donors who are technically the mother of a child but they are not recognised as legal parents. You can have a woman who's called "Mum" by the child but who is not listed on that child's birth certificate because she's a non-birth mother before the law changed. The same goes for a biological father who contributed sperm but who may or may not be a parent in a day-to-day sense.

Their list of parenting terminology also includes birth and non-birth mother, surrogate mother, domestic and defacto partners, commissioning parents and or couple, surrogate, egg donor, clinic-recruited donor and known sperm donor.

 

These days families with mother, father and biological children living together make up less than half the population, so it's inevitable that things are changing. A new guide teaching Victorian children about fertility and family planning reflects these changes. Kids from year three will be taught "sometimes it takes three to make a baby" and will be given lessons on same-sex families, donors and IVF families. It is billed as "sex-positive, accurate and non-judgmental information" which is "inclusive of different sexualities, genders, cultures and ways of living". Why not?

About five per cent of children born in Australia in 2016 were conceived as a result of assisted reproductive treatment and deserve to have that recognised. I feel the same about same-sex and gender-diverse families.

My only concern about use of the terms parent one and parent two is who gets to be number one?

Susie O'Brien is a Herald Sun columnist.

susan.obrien@news.com.au

@susieob

 

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