By Rachel Hynes.
In NSW state schools, there is an enrollment form parents submit when their child starts a new school. I was filling it out this year for my five-year-old and found myself getting irritated again.
The last time I completed it was when my teenager moved high schools.
What’s nuts about this form is its sheer inability to cope with kids whose parents are not together but who co-parent.
Our Federal and state governments promote co-parenting, urging separated couples to avoid family court if possible and instead seek mediation if they need to. They emphasise the importance of both parents in a child’s life (where possible and healthy) and implore parents to make arrangements that are best for the children.
My daughter’s dad and I were fortunate enough to be able to stay friends, skip the courts and mediation, and redefine our family situation our way. So it irks me that government forms cater only to families where one parent is the predominant caregiver.
Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but to me it seems these forms treat the other parent as a second rate parent, an also-ran. I have always filled them out myself because I’ve been too embarrassed to show my ex-partner what role he is reduced to on paper.
Here’s how filling out one of these forms goes.
This section is for the parents/carers with whom the student normally lives.
We have a flexible arrangement, which can change depending on the needs of our daughter or on our own schedule. Sometimes we go by gut feel. If her dad has been out of town a bit or busy and we haven’t stuck to our usual arrangement, Ms 15 will say “I miss dad. I want to go to his place tonight.” And off she trots.
I don’t count the days or hours she spends in our two homes. In the grand scheme of things, she probably spends a bit more time at mine than at her dad’s. And as I tend to handle the paperwork or be the first point of call, and the form field isn’t large enough for my explanation, I fill out this section in my name.
This is for the other parent at the same address as me.
I made the mistake of entering my husband’s details here when my daughter started high school, and now we get mail from her school addressed to him, her stepdad, and me as his wife, secondary, with his surname, which I didn’t take when we married and certainly didn’t fill in as such (also annoying, but off topic.)
I thought I’d get mail sent to me, which I would then share with her dad, because he is her dad, and we co-parent, which means we make decisions about our daughter together.
Other Parent/Carer contact details for parent/carer not living with this student
The government wants to know all sorts of things about her stepdad and I – occupations, education level, country of birth, the languages we speak, all of our contact details. They want to know considerably less about her actual dad, the “parent/carer not living with this student”. So now her dad is “not living with this student” – when I NEVER SAID THAT.
I understand I am in the minority. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, of all kids who had a natural parent living elsewhere, just 3.3% stayed overnight with that parent for at least half the year, and 4.1% stayed overnight 110-181 nights a year.
So that form probably isn’t going to get changed anytime soon, and in the grand scheme of things, there may be bigger things to worry about than the way some boxes and words on a page makes me or a ‘secondary caregiver’ feel about their role as a parent. Same sex parents are probably well ahead of me in the queue to get annoying paperwork stereotypes changed. But still, it irks me.
My teenage daughter said to me this week, after her two grandmothers from her separated parents spent the day together, “You know, I’m just beginning to realise how lucky I am that our families are … the way we are.”
Pff. Eat that, stupid purple form.
Do you ever feel like a square family being jammed into a round hole?
Do you think I’m being overly sensitive about a silly piece of paper?