Whatever happened to 'mum' and 'dad'?


by Paul Ham and Bernie Brown

If we judge the West by the state of its families, the West is sick. Millions of children barely see their parents, or for only a few minutes a day. One in two families break down, for better or worse. The casualties throng the family courts. Our maladjusted system has made the ideal of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ – ie a loving, constant, adult presence in a child’s infancy – a rarity. To speak of the ‘maternal instinct’ still elicits scorn or embarrassment from some feminists, who continue to mock ‘holy motherhood’.

This Single is a defense of parents and children. It does not suggest a return to the 1950s. On the contrary, it champions the ‘New Family’, which most policymakers, companies, religions and social conservatives have failed to accept or keep pace with (read on to find out what the New Family is). The resulting policy drag – the failure to transform notions of childcare, the workplace and parental leave to match new social realities - has had devastating consequences for the family, especially that exhausted, unsung heroine, the working mother.

Drawing on the latest research, Paul Ham and Bernie Brown hope to bring fresh thinking to one of the oldest and most difficult challenges: how best to raise children. We offer 12 ‘Modest Proposals’ that might better attune the West to the needs of the New Family…

Quotes from ‘Honey, We Forgot the Kids’:

‘…new role models have failed to fill the void where "dad" and "mom" existed.’

‘The Western family has been squeezed into a little box of time marked “care for kids” and flung into a corner of our day.’

‘The twin pressures of work and childcare costs are flogging American parents.’

‘…working mothers find themselves buffeted about in a society with a split personality: on the one hand, it exhorts them to develop their careers and smash through the glass ceiling; on the other, it pretends they can also raise a family. The mother stands in the vortex of this ruptured world, and the tension bears down on her with terrific force.’

‘…our every waking hour is managed around computer algorithms that do not recognize the existence of families…’

‘…social conservatives have fought hard to keep the traditional family intact, despite the fact that the traditional family cannot survive in the ferociously competitive economic environment they otherwise espouse.’

‘Children played with spent cartridges and unexploded bombs during the Vietnam War. They play in mountains of garbage in India. They play at the feet of junior drug lords in Midwest crystal-meth dens. They play amid the blood and screams of their parents’ violence. They run around in brothels, jungle trails, and refugee camps. They smile out of bomb shelters and in the shadow of religious fanatics. They play despite having been brainwashed, recruited into child armies, sexually abused, and genitally mutilated. Then they grow up and learn the awful truth…’

‘What matters is that a child is loved and cared for, regardless of the source of the love…’


Paul Ham


Paul Ham is a historian and founder of Hampress. He is the author of several histories, including 1914: The Year the World Ended, Hiroshima Nagasaki, Sandakan, Vietnam: The Australian War and Kokoda, and is a regular author of Kindle Singles. Previously a foreign correspondent for The London Sunday Times, he lives in Australia and France.

Bernie Brown


Bernie Brown is a social worker with 35 years of experience. He has worked in Sydney, Canberra, and Auckland as a therapist for individuals, couples, and families. He has specialized in working with families of adolescents, and, in particular, with young people who are suicidal. He has also counseled veterans of Vietnam and other wars, conducting trauma exposure therapy and helping to reintegrate servicemen and women into their relationships and families. He is dismayed at the societal lack of concern for young people, and works to heal broken families and relationships. He deals daily with the impact of family turmoil on young people’s mental health, and is a happily married father of four.