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“The family is a social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It contains adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults.”

When George Murdock stated this definition in his rather dully-title anthropological text ‘Social Structure‘ (c’mon, mate – a bit of imagination never killed anyone) in 1949, he was bang on the money. Folks a lot smarter than I have argued that this traditional, nuclear family structure has been around as far back as the 13th century. 

Why? Well, its composition made a lot of sense for hundreds of years because it was financially viable – and when something makes sense in terms of cash money, then humans are usually more than happy to gravitate toward it. 

During those years, having the father head off and rake in the dough provided an ample income for the entire household at that size. The mother would then handle household upkeep as well as childrearing, and if she did a bang-up job, then those two children would go off and repeat the whole thing until the end of time. 

As time has gone on, however, several pretty whopping cracks in this nuclear family definition have arisen. “It contains adults of both sexes” is no longer valid due to our rejection of conforming this method of identification to something rooted in biology. There’s over 60 genders in 2017, and that’s pretty bloody awesome. Oh, and “at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship” ain’t what it used to be given that most of us recognise that love is, y’know, love.

So, what does the modern family – specifically, the modern Aussie family – look like nowadays? To put it simply, they don’t look like squat. There’s no one overarching image you can retrofit to Australian families because they’re diverse, complex, and at the very heart of it, whatever you want them to be. 

We chatted to three different family units to celebrate this decent, and arguably necessary, shift from the norm.  

CUTEST COUPLE IN EXISTENCE FT. EXTENDED FAM

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We’d deem Gold Coast couple Bradley Tennant (photographer and production designer) and Samuel Leighton-Dore (writer, artist and filmmaker) #couplegoals if #couplegoals wasn’t such an offensively gross term. Regardless, their three-year+ relo gives an interesting insight into just one of the many versions that comprise the modern Aussie family. 

P.TV: What does “family” mean to both of you in terms of your family at large, as well as in regards to your relationship?

SAM: “I’ve got a fairly large extended family, so have always cherished the sense of busyness that comes with being in a room full of relatives, which is perhaps one of the reasons I’ve always looked forward to having children. I think it’s about having a network of people who love you – warts and all – and have your best interests at heart. In the four years we’ve been together, I think Brad and I have managed to foster our own unique sense of family, which includes a number of really close friends.” 

BRAD: “I grew up in a small country town south of Townsville, so a tight-knit family and a broader sense of community have always been really important to me. I still speak to my parents at the same time every Thursday night and make the trip up to see them whenever possible.”   

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P.TV: Why is legalising same sex marriage so important for people to feel as though their idea of “family” is accepted by society at large? 

SAM: “This is a tricky question, because in so many ways Brad and I are already a family and don’t need a piece of paper to validate it. However, I think it comes down to respect, equality and having the freedom to choose how we celebrate our relationship. For me, achieving marriage equality would be removing the one last point of difference for Australian gay and lesbian people – and that’s the world I want to bring our future children into.” 

BRAD: “I can’t help but think of my parents and how much it would mean for them to be able to watch Sam and I get married. I’m very lucky to have such a loving and inclusive family, so it would mean the world to bring everyone together to celebrate. It’s not really about the marriage certificate, it’s about what that certificate represents. We’re already committed to one another, we’ve built a home and a life together. We just want the same dignity straight couples are so readily afforded.” 

PROUD SINGLE MUMMA & CREATIVE HUSTLER

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Lara Vrkic is the 24-year-old gun responsible for founding and curating The Ladies Network, a platform and support network for killer creative women / people who identify as women in Australia. Additionally, Vrkic holds down a full-time job and freelances in creative strategy. This would be hard work for anyone, let alone someone who’s a mother of a toddler. 

Vrkic received attention a few years back for proving that the old wive’s tale of “I only realised I was pregnant when I went into labour” wasn’t, in fact, an old wive’s tale. Given that she had her period throughout her pregnancy and only experienced mild symptoms (which she attributed to lifestyle changes at the time), giving birth to her son Hudson was a complete surprise. 

This story adds a whole other dynamic to the composition of a modern Australian family given the uniqueness of how Vrkic’s family came to be.

P.TV: What does “family” mean to you?

“My idea of family has changed considerably since having Hudson. I grew up in a very regular (but amazing) family. My mother stayed home to look after my brother and I, my dad had an intense corporate job, we would sit down every night together for dinner and my parents after 21 years are still together. We have our issues but as far as the kind of family my generation grew up learning about it was pretty spot on.” 

“My family now however is very different. I never thought that being a single mum living with my parents at 24 would be the most amazing representation of family I could ever experience. It now means having a support system made up of family, friends, colleagues and sometimes strangers that each bring something special and unique to my child’s life. I see my son develop and am amazed at some of the experiences he has already had at such a young age.”

“I also see my responsibility as a parent as being one that encourages him to interact with different people in our lives. I am not always his favourite person which I think is really healthy.”

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P.TV: How has Hudson changed your life?

“I had Hudson just over two years ago without knowing I was pregnant on the 5th of the 5th 2015 at 5:55 and he’s my little miracle. I think I’m yet to realise the change he’s made to the course of my life. Sure, I’m no longer out every night, I’m not planning trips to music festivals for weeks at a time or crushing over band guys midweek but I’ve ticked the really major things off my list that I had planned to achieve. I finished a degree whilst breastfeeding, started my own business The Ladies Network, have a full-time job, am freelancing in creative strategy and I’m planning a big overseas holiday for the end of the year. The only difference is instead of saving for a one bedroom home I now need two.”

“Having a child has given me a lot of clarity. Its broadened my perspective and I feel like I have an incredible sense of empathy. While feeling motivated and encouraged to succeed Hudson has taught me to be much more forgiving and resilient. I’m so glad I have been able to share the last two years with him, while sometimes logistically stressful it’s really been the greatest years of my life.”

ADORABLE DOGGO & ITS HUMAN PARENTS

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Tess Robinson is the founder of Smack Bang Designs, a damn-decent design agency. Rather than following the traditional career path, Robison started up her biz straight outta uni and hasn’t looked back. Her lil’ family unit comprises of partner Byron Smith (founder of Urban Growers, an organisation centred on bringing the benefits of edible gardening into the urban lifestyle) and their outrageously cute doggo. 

P.TV: What does “family” mean to you?

“I grew up in a family of fiercely loving people who focused on bringing the best out in each other and have always encouraged and supported me to become anything I wanted. I’ve done my best to carry this with me to my own little family. My partner and I have created a home with no shortage of love, full creativity and is beautifully chaotic. To me, family is about creating a safe place in which everyone can truly be themselves, as weird and wonderful as that might be.”

P.TV: Why has the idea of “family” shifted away from its traditional definition?

“I believe the idea of family has been modernised with the times, because our values and perceptions of how things should look and work have been dramatically broadened and expanded with open minds and a diversity of culture.”

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Australian families are made up of all shapes and sizes, and after having read the above examples, we’re sure you ain’t got no doubts about that. It’s comforting to know that no matter our circumstances, we can always build a family to support us throughout this lil’ thing they call life.

If you’re keen to suss another brilliant scenario of what a family means then check out the below video. It’s about two lifelong best friends, turned lovers, turned parents who’ve gotta figure out who they are once and for all. Watch and meet the family.

Learn more about what it means to ‘grow up’ nowadays by heading to Mercedes-Benz‘s website HERE.

Photo: The Castle.