Many Indigenous parents rely on strong family ties to help with parenting. The challenges for Indigenous Australians include low income and low employment – these are factors that can make raising a child extra difficult. Read one Aboriginal mother’s story, and find out about the challenges facing Indigenous parents around the country.
Marvonia lives in Sydney, New South Wales, with her two daughters, who are aged 11 and 2½ years.
‘I live in a metropolitan area of NSW. I’ve got my own place, a three-bedroom house from the Department of Housing, and two kids – one is 11 and one is 2½.
‘I think I’ve had it easy as a parent. I’ve had a lot of help from my mum and dad. They helped me a lot raising the first one. I had her when I was 17 and because they helped me, I was able to go back to school and finish my HSC.
‘When the second one came along it kind of hit me a bit because I had to do it all over again. But it was pretty easy because I had such good family support. A lot of the friends I grew up with still see each other, and we help each other out. So we’ve got community support.
‘The rest of my family is pretty good too. I’ve got some up on the north coast and some out west. They all still live off the land. Because we live in Sydney I take the girls to see them up in the bush, and the family teaches them how to catch turtles and go fishing and camping and all that.
‘The most important thing I want for my kids is for them to finish school and get a job and then they can look after me! A lot of our kids don’t get to finish school, but I’m going to be one of those parents who push their kids through. If I think of the future I’m mostly worried about peer pressure and drugs and alcohol. When we were kids in Redfern it was all there but it wasn’t showing much – people drank and did drugs behind closed doors. But now they just do it in front of kids, out in the open.
‘Raising the girls on my own has been the hardest part of being a parent. It’s really hard for me to get a job at the moment because of their ages. The cost of day care has gone up heaps so that makes it difficult. But my kids have always gotten everything they’ve ever really needed. They’ve never gone without.
‘I’ve got my own car and after finishing school I worked in a number of jobs for National Parks and Australia Post. Now I’m a qualified Aboriginal health worker and I’ve just been offered a job through the council as a child care worker.’
Indigenous families are faced with the difficulties of bridging two cultures – maintaining links to traditional ways while adapting to non-Indigenous ways. In addition, many different cultures exist within the Indigenous groups across Australia, each with their own styles and traditions of parenting. The cultural differences can depend on residence (urban, rural, remote area), adherence to traditional ways, spoken language and ability to interact using mainstream non-Indigenous ways.
Health and wellbeing
Indigenous people are more likely to die younger, have lower levels of income and education, have higher rates of unemployment, lower rates of home ownership and live in more crowded conditions. Other problems such as violence, abuse and neglect are seen in higher rates in Aboriginal communities than other Australian communities, particularly violence towards women. All these problems are associated with generations of trauma, stress, unresolved grief and socioeconomic disadvantage. Each can impact on the ability to parent.
There’s evidence to suggest that difficulties in the early years of a child’s development contribute to poor health education and other social outcomes (education, employment, delinquency, substance misuse and so on).
One major difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous families is the way the family unit is viewed.
Typically, Indigenous households include extended family members to a greater extent than non-Indigenous families, and these people play a greater role in parenting and decision-making. Grandparents and extended family members not only play an active role in child care, but also in education and passing on cultural knowledge, customs and family beliefs. Therefore, the concept of parenting in Indigenous communities not only relates to the child’s immediate parents, but also extended family and kin.
In some cases, however, young parents who rely on their extended family for parenting support are also less likely to consider using other available services, such as health and community services.
Because of the factors mentioned above, and the fact that many basic ways of life for Indigenous Australians are in conflict with modern Western culture, Indigenous parents often face the judgment of other Australians who perceive their conditions as a sign of bad parenting. This can result in children being marginalised at school and in non-Indigenous parents being favoured in family law court custody disputes.
Indigenous children and families depend on informed, sensitised non-Indigenous people to assist with services, policy development and functions that impact on their everyday lives, because there are generally few representatives from the Indigenous community in these areas. Competent services should be able to respond with sensitivity to people’s cultural backgrounds.
For further help
For more information, see our page on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services