Review by Katherine

Breastfeeding your baby in bed or helping your toddler develop their autonomy may not seem like a political act, but according to Robin Grille, it may be one of the most important things you do to shape the future of society. In his Parenting for a Peaceful World, the Sydney psychologist argues that until we collectively parent children more empathically, war and unbridled consumption will continue to wreak havoc in our world.

The book starts off with a history of childhood which is hard to read as it recounts several hundreds of years of brutality and abuse. It’s not necessary to read these chapters in their entirety to get the message that up until about 50 years ago, it just plain sucked to be a kid. And still does in some parts of the world. If you managed to live to adulthood, you were deeply scarred by the experience, eager to brutalise others and ready to inflict the same torture on the next generation of children.

Grille uses this history to support his argument that the harsher children are treated the more violent and brutal the society they form as adults. He gives some specific examples such as Yugoslavia, Russia and Nazi Germany. While I’m open to this as being true, I think the evidence Grille provides would be unconvincing to those less open to the idea.

He extends this idea even further in the part of the book that I think some people would find challenging, where he describes the predominant style of parenting today as the socialising mode.

The socialising mode of parenting emphasises the need to train the child to behave in socially acceptable ways. Grille is critical of this approach because it ignores the needs of children in favour of the convenience and expectations of adults. Rewards and punishment are the mainstay of this parenting mode, and Grille is clearly against these techniques, including the good old star charts and ‘time out’. Another popular parenting technique he targets is controlled crying which he explains works because babies eventually become numb to the pain of not being responded to.

Perhaps his most provocative suggestion is that current common parenting methods such as these, which manipulate the child to behave in ways convenient to adults, create adults who are susceptible to manipulation and easy prey for the consumerist machinery of today’s society.

Grille’s alternative to the socialising mode is the helping mode of parenting which focusses, not on getting children to behave a certain way, but on empathy and open communication with them, responding appropriately to their needs, and having faith that they will grow into thoughtful, considerate human beings all of their own accord. In order to achieve this, however, he points out that it’s not only parents that need to have this focus, but all of us, extended family, child carers, teachers and politicians included.

As Grille himself warns, this is not a parenting book as such. It gives no detailed advice about sleeping, crying, feeding, playing etc which you would normally expect to find. In some ways, it’s more useful than a parenting book because it gives you some principles. Remember the principles, and you will intuitively know what’s best to do for your children.

Those looking for more practical parenting advice could try his second book, Heart to Heart Parenting. I haven’t read it – it’s on my list, and I’ll be interested to see how useful it is.

With a one-year old son, I have only started the parenting journey. My partner and I have implemented most of Grille’s suggestions so far and intend to continue to do so, because they appeal to us and they appear to be supported by evidence. I’ll get back to you in about 20 years time to let you know the outcome.

(Parenting for a Peaceful world is available from ABC shops and Mothersdirect)

This week I read Van Reyk Baby Love: Gay donor father narratives of intimacy (This links to the whole journal in pdf; scroll down to p44).

Van Reyk suggests five categories of gay father involvement in their offspring:

Step-parenting (co-parenting a child that your partner brought to your relationship); co-fathers (planning and creating a child with a partner); known donors (biological fathers through donor insemination who have little involvement with their offspring); donor dads (biological fathers who have regular contact with their offspring, but limited responsibility and obligations); and co-parenting (biological fathers who are very involved with their children and share responsibility for childraising).

As you can imagine, problems arise when one party assumes they are in one category, and other the party is expecting a different category of involvement. The mothers think they’ve contracted a ‘known donor’, but he thinks he’s a ‘donor dad’. Before the reality of a child, people can also misjudge what category of parenting would suit them. I assumed I’d love a co-parent, imagining someone who’d swan in every second weekend and take the child off for a night. Elisabeth wanted an anonymous donor, but we compromised with a known donor with no parental responsibilities. Now, I can’t even let grandma babysit them! So I’m very glad Elisabeth talked me out of my postmodern idyll.

We saw our donor Harry and his boyfriend Morgan this week. Elisabeth and I have been discussing how we are going to represent Harry to Pearl and Louis. We don’t see him as a ‘dad’, as that has so many social meanings that aren’t appropriate to our situation, but we don’t want the kids calling him ‘sperm donor’ – it seems too clinical (and how much do we want our kids tossing about the word ‘sperm’ in the playground?). ‘Dad’ as a concept is popping up in their story books, and of course they have many friends who have dads, as well as having many friends who don’t. So we’ve settled on ‘donor dad’, although in our minds, Harry’s (and Morgan’s) role is more that of an uncle. Harry chuckled a little uncomfortably when we talked to him about it – I don’t think he’d thought about wearing the label ‘dad’ in any form. From the perspective of Pearl and Louis, I think it’s going to be important to have a person to put in the ‘dad’ category, and then they can decide how to conceptualise that relationship for themselves.

Morgan’s young brother (early teens) has been asking Harry questions about the children. ‘What do you call your relationship with your kids?’ he wanted to know, so we talked about that one as well. I suggested ‘donor kids’, as in, Pearl and Louis are my donor kids. It sounds sort of friendly and not too clinical and there is a strong sense of relationship there.

On Essential Baby (you can only get in if you’re a member) there’s a thread on lesbian parents and donor sperm at the moment. Mostly, people are wondering about how to represent donor half-siblings. Some people are surprised and hurt to discover there are donor siblings, and feel they need to maintain the integrity of their own nuclear family. Others are seeing it as a chance to establish and embrace an extended family. (See Meet Deanna, Sue & Noah for an amazing story of responding to discoveries of donor siblings). Our donor has another child to Agnes, who lives in England. Liam is two years older than Louis and Pearl. Possibly because they live overseas, we haven’t found this at all confusing or threatening – we just tell our kids that Harry has been a donor for two families. We mothers all feel that it’s important for the children to know each other and to work out for themselves what their relationship will be. I conceptualise it as a kind of cousin relationship – we send him Christmas and birthday presents, and we video chat about once a month. It also helps that we really like Agnes and would want to be friends with her anyway.

It’s interesting and challenging to be making our way through linguistically uncharted territory. I think the most important things for our kids is to come up with some describing words so they have a way of storying their experience; and to be truthful right from the start. The more they hear their own story, and similar stories, from the womb, the more easily they’ll represent themselves to others and move confidently through a world that doesn’t often reflect their reality.

Who’s in your family?

At present, my immediate family comprises my boyfriend, Morgan, and me.

We are then surrounded by a few extended families around us, including Morgan’s and my birth families, my two donor families, and our gang of close gay friends.

My concept of family extends beyond blood line.

Where do you live?

In a gay friendly (well, as friendly as you could get) inner city suburb 5 minutes away from the Brisbane CBD.

How did you create your family?

I put my name down on an online donor registry and was contacted by my donor families.  The rest was history!

Do you have a relationship with the families you have helped create?

I was quite flexible in terms of my future involvement when I started negotiating with my donor families and I was fortunate enough that both families asked me to act as an uncle of sorts in the kids’ lives.

With Agnes and Liam (3 year old), we stay in touch via email because they live in Northern England due to Andrea’s work.

It is much easier to stay in touch with Molly, Elisabeth, and the twins (Pearl and Louis) as they only live a few suburbs away.  Even so, we probably do not get together as frequently as we like due to other commitments in our lives but when we do get together, we share a cordial relationship.  The twins seem to like us as well – probably because we are big kids ourselves and they could sense that.

Give us three words to describe each member of the family

From my vantage point:

Harry: stable, meticulous, responsible

Morgan: warm, endearing, sensitive

Agnes: calm, zen, academic

Liam: outgoing, energetic, independent

Elisabeth: composed, measured, tenacious

Molly: intellectual, passionate, visionary

Pearl: happy, cheerful, attention seeking

Louis: introverted, self-sufficient, sensitive

Why did you decide to become a donor?

I think it is generally not as easy for gay people to start a family and I want to help those who do. Also, it would have been good to leave a little of myself behind.

How did you meet the people you donated to?

Through an online donor registry.

Why did you decide on the people you ultimately donated to?

I tend to rely on my intuition in making important decisions.  Apart from the practical ‘selection criteria’, Agnes, Janice (Agnes’ partner at the time), Molly, and Elisabeth simply ‘felt right’.  They all came across very nurturing and ready to start a family.

Were there any times you felt it was too hard, or you felt like giving up, or it was inconvenient?

It was relatively easy with Agnes because she fell pregnant after our first trial.  She had to fly all the way from Japan to Brisbane, so if anything, it was a tremendous inconvenience for Agnes.

When Elisabeth fell pregnant and later suffered a miscarriage, it got a bit demoralising for everyone but I can honestly say I never felt like I wanted to give up.  If anything, I was more determined to keep trying.  Yes, there were inconvenient moments but they paled in comparison with the bigger purpose we were all collectively trying to achieve.

What impact has this journey had on your relationship with your partner?

It was actually quite a bonding experience.  Morgan absolutely adores the kids and absolutely feels like he is one of their uncles, so it is nice to share the journey with him.

Anything about being a ‘donor dad’ you didn’t expect?

I did not have too many expectations, which means that there have not been too many surprises to date.  I guess the only thing I did not really expect was the friendship formed between Agnes, Molly, and Elisabeth.  For some reason, I never expected the mummies to become friends with each other but they all seem keen on maintaining the relationship, for the kids and in their own right, which is a bonus for me.  It has been fantastic to see our rainbow family develop and grow.  After all, in many ways, we are charting new territory and it is great to see our model working out so well.

If you started all over again, is there anything you would do differently?

No.  I think all the decisions I made and the approach I ultimately adopted were products of necessity. Also, given that there has not been any unforeseeable and unpleasant surprises to date, there is nothing to make me think I should have done things differently.

How do you feel about having children of your own?

In some ways, contributing to the birth of the three children has satisfied my paternal urge, so much so that I don’t currently feel I need to have children of our own, unless Morgan really wants children in future.  At this particular point of my life, I do not feel as though I would miss out on anything if I do not ever have children of my own.

How have your extended families responded to the creation of your family?

My own family do not know about the children because they are still having trouble understanding and accepting me being gay.

Morgan’s family is very accepting.  His mum in particular even said that she felt like a grandma of sorts.

My close group of gay friends whom I would consider as a part of my extended family are also very supportive and proud of what I have done.  Many have expressed a fair degree of curiosity and may even follow my lead to create their own rainbow families in future.

How do friends (gay or straight) respond when they find out you are a donor?

I have been fortunate in that all the reactions have been positive to date.  The only comment that has featured a few times, which may be interpreted as less positive, is that some people expressed the view that they would never be able to help create children but are not actively involved in bringing them up.   But I guess people are different.

How do you explain your family if outsiders ask?

The truth – I helped in creating a family for two lesbian couples and I more or less assume the role of an uncle in the kids’ lives.

Have you experienced any difficulties or inconveniences because of being a donor dad?

Not to date. The only ‘difficulty’ has been, in a few odd occasions, when people tried to refer to the kids but couldn’t find the right term to describe them in the context of their relationship to me.  We struggled over terms such as  ‘surrogate’, ‘donor’, ‘donee, etc, but I am sure we would bed this issue down in time.

How do you maintain good relationships with the mothers?

Be sensitive and mindful that they are the kids’ mothers and try not to cross the boundaries and intrude into their nuclear family.  Other than that, I don’t think maintaining a good relationship with the mothers is any different from maintaining a good relationship with other people.

Do you have any legal or written agreements?

We all signed a written parenting agreement before we started our arrangements. While the agreement does not currently carry the force of law, in our view, it is a good idea to formalise it because, legally or otherwise, the agreement articulates and evidences everyone’s intentions.

What supports (rainbow or straight) do you recommend?

A close group of friends and extended families around everyone in the rainbow family.

How do you model pride in rainbow families to your child/ren?

Not sure how to answer this one since our contact with the children is currently limited and they are too young to understand.  In future, I think we can reinforce what the mothers have instilled in the children – a consistent message is probably the best approach.

What advice would you give someone planning to donate?

Make sure everyone’s intentions are clearly articulated from the start, so that there wouldn’t be surprises later on.  Even if there are uncertainties that are dependent on future developments (eg, the donor not being sure about how he would feel about the children once they are born), these should be discussed and vetted, so that all the parties are aware of those possibilities and therefore decide if they could live with the possibilities if and when they materialise.

Further, I think as a donor, we need to respect the fact that the mothers and the children constitute the nuclear family.  Therefore, boundaries must be respected and the primary obligation of parenting should be left to the mothers, unless it has been agreed otherwise from the start.

What advice would you give to mothers looking for a donor?

Be very clear on what they look for in the donor.  Make a list of ‘selection criteria’ and evaluate the prospective donors against the list. There may need to be compromises, depending on the availability of donors at the time but ensure that the key requirements are not compromised (eg, the desired level of involvement of the donor).

Take time to get to know the donor and in a comfortable and sociable environment – observe the donor for qualities such as emotional stability, reliability, etc.  Reciprocally, look out for qualities that may ring alarm bells (eg, indecisiveness, unreliability), which could put the arrangement in jeopardy in future.

What has being a donor added to your life?

Being a donor has added a new and rich dimension to my life.  As a gay man, chances are I may never have a conventional hetero-normative family of my own. Being a part of a rainbow family has filled that gap and I look forward to all of our future together.

I hope you had a safe and happy Christmas and New Year’s celebration. Ours was low key, but delightful.

We stayed with Grandpa in Melbourne and really enjoyed exploring that city from a child’s perspective. My favourite day was the one we spent at Abbotsford Convent and the Collingwood Children’s Farm, and  Elisabeth was really taken by the restored antique carousel at the end of the pier at Eastern Beach in Geelong. We also had a lovely moment at a playground in Williamstown when a random dad, after chatting to us via our kids, said, “So you’re two mums?” His relaxed manner was such a testament to all the amazing work the Rainbow Families Council has done in Melbourne over the years. Everyone I’ve encountered in Brisbane has been absolutely fine, too, but he sounded so…blase.

I’m planning some changes around here, both in appearance and content.  I’d like to keep it going, and I need to make it sustainable for me to manage. So I’m going to cut back to two posts a week for a while (until I pull together a regular posse of contributors) – one article and one ‘Meet rainbow families’. Let me know if you’ve got any comments on how it is unfolding – like most bloggers, I love to get messages from the ether!

To kick off 2010, Mel from Rainbow Garden talks about home schooling her kids.

Home Education

by Mel

It’s a scary concept for some and a very liberating one for others. But what exactly is it?

Let me start by telling you what it isn’t.

Home Education is not locking your children away from society so they grow up social recluses who duck behind a bush every time they see a ‘stranger’.

Home Education is not depriving your children of valuable social opportunities – you know the sort of opportunities I mean – interacting with all members of society, from all walks of life, spanning all age groups.

Home Education is not indoctrinating your children with your belief system so they grow up mindless drones (I know, because I tried – it didn’t work.)

Home Education is not going to make your child grow up to be uneducated or unemployable.

Home Education is not something that can only be undertaken by trained professionals (I know this one too – because my kids are WAAYYY smarter than me!)

Home Education IS a rich, rewarding experience for both parent and child. It forms strong family bonds which they will need all their lives. It allows children to follow their own interests. It can be tailored to the needs of each individual child. Home Education can be delivered in so many different ways – from ‘school at home’ to complete ‘unschooling’ and everything in between. Home Education protects our kids from the more unsavoury aspects of school life. For instance, if bullying is such a good character building experience for kids, why are there programs (albeit failing ones) in place to try and combat it?

Home Education allows for plenty of social opportunities with peers and the wider community. Our own homeschool group has had sports carnivals, swimming carnivals, gymnastics classes, art classes, science days, nature days, history days, self defence classes, ice skating gatherings, numerous informal picnics and excursions. Not only that, as a natural part of having your kids with you 24 hours a day, they get to see how society works up front in a non-orchestrated way. They get to go to the bank, post office, doctors, hospitals, vets, shopping centres and so on; opportunities they may not get very often stuck in school  five days a week.

Parents home educate for a variety of different reasons. Some homeschool because of their religious convictions, others because their children were almost suicidal from the abuse they were receiving at school. Some  children are gifted and the school can’t keep up with the child’s needs; and there are those that homeschool because they just enjoy being with their kids and they see home education as a natural progression of their parenting life.

My reasons for home educating my children have evolved over the years. Initially it was because I was deeply concerned that children were growing up too fast because of peer and media influence, and I guess there is still an element of that there for me, but now it is just an inbuilt part of who we are and what we do – I can’t imagine sending my kids to school, it just isn’t an option for us.

I was asked to comment on whether there were any negatives to home education. It is a hard question to answer, because you will get a different response from everyone you ask. For me, the hardest thing is the 24/7 intensity of it all. Most people send their kids off to school when they turn five and have their days to do as they wish, be that at work or in the home. When you are homeschooling you just don’t have that freedom. But you do adapt, it just takes some creativity and the ability to realise that what you are doing is a good and worthwhile thing.

Home Education in Australia is LEGAL in most states and territories as far as I am aware, though each state has their own criteria. In NSW, for example, we have to follow all the Key Learning Areas (KLA’s) that the schools cover, but it is pretty much up to us how we do that. There are numerous curriculum suppliers or if you are really adventurous you can make up your own – it really isn’t that complicated!  Every two years, an Authorised Person (usually someone who was once a teacher) comes out and has a look at what you’ve been doing and what you plan to do with your kids. He makes sure that you are covering all the KLA’s, makes suggestions on where you could do a bit more work, makes sure that the location where the children work is suitable, and so on. If he is satisfied, he gives you two years registration. If he thinks you need to make some changes, you will most likely get a shorter registration period.

Education is not a sacred art that can only be imparted to others once you’ve spent four years in university. Education happens every day of your life and you can be taught things by a two year old or a 92 year old! You don’t have to have a high IQ or be an expert in any field. Let me tell you a little secret – kids learn in SPITE of us, not BECAUSE of us. We can provide fun activities and make sure we take our kids to all the homeschool meet-ups. We can provide them with the best and most expensive curriculum, but at the end of the day it is the kids that do all the work and learn what interests them and ignore what bores them.

Have you thought about schooling for your kids? what are you doing or planning to do?

It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve agreed not to take my computer away for the holidays! So we’ll be back in early January.

Enjoy your silly season,  regardless of how you choose to celebrate your wonderful rainbow family.

I was interviewed last night by a professor of paediatric nursing from Curtin University in WA. They’re doing research into rainbow families’ experience of health care service providers.She asked a bunch of questions about my family and my family of origin, and then about interactions I’ve had with health service providers, both for myself and seeking health services for my children.

I felt a little boring as I haven’t had any negative experiences from health service providers, although obviously it’s important for researchers to hear positive stories as well. Elisabeth and I have only had respectful, delightful interactions with the doctors, nurses, obstetricians, lactation consultants, dermatologists, opthalmologists and paediatricians with whom we have had interactions so far. If anything – and I presume it’s just part of the comforting patter – they tend to go in the other direction and enthuse about how wonderful it must be for our children to have two mothers.

I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, so I’ll be interested to see the results of the study. We are educated, assertive, middle class women. We live in a capital city. We have the resources to shop around if we feel we are not getting good services. And we are quite confident in our sexuality and our parenting – we’re not closeted and we don’t feel we are compromising our children by bringing them into a family with two mothers, so we are not open to being made to feel guilty by other parties.

It’s a snowball (ie word of mouth) sampling method, so if you’re willing to be interviewed, you can contact Rose Chapman: R.Chapman(at)

Happy summer holidays!

Between visiting family in Melbourne and a group holiday with other lesbian families on the Sunshine Coast, I’m away for the next couple of weeks. For your holiday reading, I’m going to cut and paste other great posts I find around the net.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie, from US site Mombian.

(edited to add: I’ve been informed by Mombian that this post is copyright -something I hadn’t considered! So I’ve taken it down but left the link if you want to check it out)

How to respond when meeting lesbian mums (or Moms, as Dana says)

I want to offer a few tips to people who may be unsure how to react if lesbian moms come out to them. (Most are also applicable to gay dads, with obvious changes in terminology.)