Social Isolation for Rainbow Families – Podcast Episode 5

No two families are the same, and this beautiful diversity will likely give rise to a range of experiences in quarantine.

In this podcast, Sally Nicholes and Rebecca Dahl, Partners of Nicholes Family Lawyers are joined by guests Jac Tomlins, Michelle Sheppard, and Jason Tuazon-McCheyne to discuss how members of the LGBTIQA+ community and Rainbow families may be experiencing social isolation.

 

Bec:

Welcome to the Nicholes Family Lawyers podcast. My name is Bec Dahl and I’m a partner and family lawyer at Nicholes Family Lawyers. I’m joined today by Sally Nicholes, who is the managing partner of Nicholes Family Lawyers, and Flynn Allen, who is the director and editor of our podcast series. I think it’s safe to say that for almost everyone life has changed dramatically in the last few weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of us, our world has gone virtual including our work, schools, and how we socialize with friends and family. Some of us are having to learn how to juggle working from home while home schooling children. For others, it might be learning how to co-parent during a separated spouse during a very uncertain time. But as we know, no two families are the same and we all likely have different experiences in quarantine. 

In today’s podcast, we’ll gain an insight into how members of our LGBTIQ community and Rainbow Families are experiencing this time. We’ll talk about families, parenting, and have some fun as well. Joining us today for our conversation. We have three amazing guests who are all parenting in Rainbow Families: Jac Tomlins, Michelle Sheppard, and Jason Tuazon-McCheyne. Jac is a writer, trainer, and advocate with more than 30 years of experience working in the LGBTIQ field. She is an amazing author and has recently published a book to young people called The Curse of Grandma Maple which we’ll hear all about later. Michelle is a trans woman, public speaker, advocate, and radio personality. Jason is also an advocate, a marriage celebrant, and the creator of The Equality Project and The Better Together conference. Bringing together the LGBTIQ people and their allies from across the world. Thank you, Jac, Michelle, and Jason for joining us today.

Jac:

Thank you, Bec. Great to be here. 

Michelle:

Thank you, Bec. 

Jason:

Thanks, Bec. It’s good to be here.

Bec:

I’m going to start with finding out a little bit what’s going on for all of you in your homes. So can you tell us about what’s going on at your house in the moment, at the moment? Do you have adults there? Children? Are you working home schooling or just trying to survive? Jason, we’ll start with you. 

Jason:

Not sure what’s going on. It’s organized chaos. We got a COVID-19 rescue cat named Sophie who has made herself at home the past three weeks. Ruben’s home on school holidays right now, who’s our son, who is 14 in year 9 and will now be home for the next 13 weeks according to, which makes me freak out as I think about that. And my mum lives on our land and obviously my husband Adrian is here. So there’s four of us plus a cat and a goldfish. It’s okay so far because we’ve been enjoying the time with each other during the holidays and the weather’s not too bad, but it is a bit strange. To have, you crave having time with each other and now we have all this time to beat. And for that means but it’s yeah, that’s my household but we did start with buying ourselves from Oodie’s or Oodie’s which are these hooded blankety things that you wear and we’ve got four of them and all four of us have a pink one and it’s out evening attire that nobody will ever see.

Michelle:

Where can I get one of those? 

Bec:

Awesome! Jac? What about you? Tell us about your house at the moment? 

Jac:

Well, we have quite a busy and full household currently so Sarah and I, are both working from home and Sarah is working pretty full-on. We reconfigured a spare room so that she has an office space and we effectively have three teenagers. So, Corin is 17, Scout, 14, and Cully, 12 and a half. I have to say, so far so good. The news of term to being at home was a little bit stressful with that and I heard it early in the morning and I thought well, I won’t tell the kids that yet. But of course they know because they have access to all of that information. So, Scout didn’t say, “when am I going to see my friends?” So I think they’re so far so good, but we have been a lot of screen time, but I might talk about that a bit later. Look, I think like Jason says, lovely to be spending more time with each other. We have Monopoly and that’s been an interesting challenge as well. Getting through a game of Monopoly with everybody and good humor and lots of jigsaw puzzles and we’re doing a bit of baking. So at the moment, we’re okay and I keep saying it is a marathon not a sprint so we have to pace ourselves. That’s a good response.

Bec:

And what about you Michelle? 

Michelle:

Well, I’m doing the Shared Parenting thing. So we’ve gone back and forth between the two houses. There has been you know, a lot of boredom, a lot of screen time. And unfortunately, we’re dealing with two different parenting styles as well with rules. Especially while my 14-year-old has her first boyfriend for the first time and is desperate to go see him. I’m pretty much star-crossed lovers, Love in the Time of Corona. You know, I’ve recently started a relationship myself right before all of this lockdown happened. And so we made the decision to actually just bunker down here together, which has been an interesting thing because you’ve got so much removed from your external life. She’s Welsh. I’m American in Australia. We don’t have family outside apart from my kids. So it’s an interesting change to how to date really. It’s almost like Married at First Sight, but without all that extra other stuff, too. So you get to see all the ugly crazy bits at the beginning and not like two years down the road. It’s an honest open thing. Trust me, there are all kinds of things we could talk about just than that.

Bec:

And you’ve all talked about some of the great things about being home together. But what are some of the daily challenges you’re facing, whether they’re big or small? With having the kids at home and how you’re working through them? Jac, you want to start?

Jac:

Well, I think the interesting thing and that I’m seeing on social media and people are talking about is screen time as one of the biggest challenges. And about how we manage our days with any number of kids that we’ve got. I have to say, I have looked at some posts around this and how people are stopped at their days and quite detailed with activities allocated at different times and really trying to keep the kids off the screens. And I have to say, you know, I look at these and I think oh my God, I’m exhausted. Just looking at these really complex schedules. And I think for me, my big lesson about this is that whatever gets you through. And that if the kids spend a lot of time on screens, I really really can’t stress about that right now. What I wouldn’t have been thinking is that my son is on a lot and he does a lot of gaming but the thing is, he is connecting with his friends. 

This is how he does his social life. He gets up early. He’s in on it the whole time he’s talking to his mates and honestly, some of the conversations is they’re all obsessed with Trump and politics. And so while they’re gaming, they’re also having all sorts of interesting conversations at other times an hour. His computer is in our main living area, you know, so we can listen in on these fascinating, some of them. I mean half the time I can’t understand a word he’s talking about because it’s gaming lingo, but other times really quite interesting. And Cully is sustained so she spends a lot of time on hers, but again, she’s got a phone and then her laptop and then her other device so it won’t do. But she’s also communicating with her friends a lot. And we bought her for Christmas, it’s called Wacom. I think it’s like a small tablet that you draw on but it connects to a screen. So she’s doing lots and lots of drawing. Yesterday, she was creating characters from a book in her head and doing drawings of these characters. So I think, the thing with the screens is you got to think about what the kids are doing on them. And I also discovered yesterday, Scout is into the documentaries. Like who knew? She’s watching The True Crime documentary. She said it’s like reading a murder mystery. 

So I think, one of the things for me is that I know people are really really anxious and stressed about how much time and the kids are spending on screens. But I think in the first place, you really got to relax a little bit about this. Otherwise, you’re going to go crazy and actually some of the things that they’re doing on them are really very good. 

Sally:

I think that’s great, it’s Sally here. I think that’s a great comment Jac to look at it in all the positives and we’re doing a podcast later today with the Alannah & Madeline Foundation to look at Cybersafety and cyber risk, but I know that they always meant to talk about social media and screens. Say they’re very huge positives about social media as well and you’ve said it that connectivity for the kids is so important. So anyone who’s interested in listening to this podcast should also listen to the Cybersafety as well. But the fact that you’re connecting with your children, that you’re aware of what they’re doing and listening to is really important as well.

Jason:

Well, I called up my parents the other day who is in New Zealand. I’m stuck in Australia. You see, away from family.

Michelle:

Sometimes it’s good to have a break coming. 

Jason:

But so they’re very strict on the screen time with my sister who is seven, and she has ADHD along with my father. So they’re stuck inside. That’s great. So she decided that in entertainment, she’d pour the entire Lego box down the stairs. And because we have holes in our stairs it went down to the lower level and so my mom was working and she just had this massive crash. So I mean, I think screens can be useful sometimes. 

Sally:

I think for working parents, it’s going to be incredibly hard to educate kids and actually be working from home. That’s going to be an amazing challenge. The pit in my stomach when I heard that term to announcement. Jac was the same for me. That how the hell are we going to do it.

Jac:

So, I think also, Sal, when we get onto home schooling and I think there are some lessons there, too. As a former teacher, I think that depending on how old your kids are, you’re year-12 kids certainly, there’s going to be some challenges there but the younger ones, I think having a strict schedule where you are teaching your kids or trying to engage them in some kind of normalized learning that might work for some people but most of us aren’t teachers. Most of us are parents and I think we’ve been doing a lot of baking. I’ve been doing a lot of baking with my middle one, lovely, gorgeous activity. I think she’s learning an awful lot even with the maths. We’re doing half quantities so she’s working that out. Just doing household things and other tasks and housework or doing jigsaw puzzles or reading, I think there’s a whole lot of things that you can be doing with the kids that are fun and manageable. I think people are going to really struggle and I think it’s important to remember that we’re not actually teachers. We’re just parents and it’s a different role and if your kids have six months where they’re not doing formal learning at school, but they’re doing other stuff at home, they’re going to be okay.

Jason:

I agree and it’s an actual wonderful opportunity to just be family and just be together and sometimes as a former teacher myself. I worry that school is just an elaborate Babysitting Service anyway on some levels and we have a chance now to spend at least one term, maybe two, together and do some learning about each other and some learning that’s not typically sitting there and listen, to maths lesson for example, but to do a jigsaw puzzle together or go for a walk. We, my family, we go for a walk every night after dinner now for 45 minutes. We’ve got a couple of routes that we go down and we have lots of talking happened during that. We’ve got jigsaw puzzle set up on the table that will probably be there for as many get done over the next 10 weeks and we’re going to set up when school starts next week. The desk space where I normally sit next to Adrian, in our home office room, will have that space for when he has to do is online stuff but I agree with Jac. I think kids will catch up where they’ve missed out. But actually a lot of the learning is just about being alive and negotiating day-to-day and I look forward to this simpler life that we have for in the next few months as one of the positives. 

Sally:

What about you Michelle with the fact that you’ve got to co-parent and you’ve got two different households running. What are the challenges there?

Michelle:

We’ve developed over the years now that, we’ve been separated for about seven years, it’s the different parenting styles. I’m one of those people if I’ve made dinner, then I want you to come in and empty the dishwasher and you help out with dishes and pulling their way as part of stuff. Where the belief of the other household is, why are you making the kids do your chores in your house? So there’s this misunderstanding of how we do our parenting styles. My worry is my daughter, my oldest actually, had to get a tutor because she was struggling with math and science and what that’s going to do with the progress that we’ve made so far to this point because my ex, works from home and runs her own business from home and is very disengage with the kids from usually nine until nine. So, regulating that time on the computer and stuff and trying to have that conversation of “hey, maybe I should bring one of the kids here and work while I’m working as well.” 

But one of the great things was when this first happened with my girlfriend being here. My girlfriend has a friend who is a professor in ancient Roman history. And then there’s a friend who’s a scientist. It was a nuclear scientist, I believe. And my girlfriend’s big on cooking and baking. My youngest actually has a lot of self-esteem issues when it comes to just jumping and doing things. So Beth took Peyton in the kitchen, they started doing baking and showing her to do stuff. Well here you’re my sous chef, here you do some chopping. And so my daughter actually was now getting up and making her own breakfast and making eggs and cooking bacon and doing things. But then taking that back to her mother’s house, her mother’s like “what are you doing? Get out of the kitchen?” She’s like, “Mom, I know what I’m doing” but she wouldn’t give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s those self-sufficient and learn to do things and which is so good about having somebody on the same wavelength as yourself living with you, learning your kids while you’re trying to struggle through this too. It’s really good. And for her to encourage and go, “here’s my friend. Talk to Meghan. She’s a woman who’s in the Sciences.” and that has been a godsend during this.

Sally:

And it has anyone found and have you found that you’ve got the same self-isolation principles or you’re committed to the same self-isolation? Are there any issues there at all? In terms of how you’re living? 

Michelle:

We’ve here been with strictly here than the shops the chemists. Like that’s it. We literally just, I mean occasionally we’ve had an order from the fish and chip shop which is large broad across the street. But I do an order and I pick up, I go. We’ve been complete lockdown in my house for three weeks now. I’ve also ended a job I was doing, forfeited for work on 31st of March. And then on the first of April, I started my new job on my new laptop in the same spot in the same table, everything. We’ve really just been hunkered down here, but then my ex allowed my oldest to go see her boyfriend around the corner from me and I’m like, “wait a minute! He’s got a grandmother. What are we doing?” So there’s a difference in styles between our isolation between our two households.

Jac:

Michelle, listening to you has reminded me of something that happened last week around the household chores on the domestic front. And I love your idea of getting the kids to be a bit more responsible about the cooking and stuff. At the moment, of course, there are five of us in the house all the time. So the house is messier. There’s more stuff around. It needs cleaning more. There’s no food preparation. And so I thought, Sarah and I are working from time, the teenager should be taking a bit more responsibility. So I drew up a long list of chores. And I said I wanted to have a meeting with everybody and that we were going to divvy up everything and different people do different things. Anyway, I thought it was a great idea. It went very badly, ended up in a big fight. And the funny thing is with the kids, it’s not actually the doing of the chores. That’s the problem. One of the biggest issues is that they just need to make sure that the balance is right. So it’s all about making sure that they don’t do more than the other person and who’s doing what and when. Anyway I won’t bore you with the details, but it was a complete nightmare. So might have cracked the shits after that. As did Sarah. And now we are back to a fabulously messy house with stuff everywhere. And me getting a teeny bit frustrated and thinking this is going to be one of my challenges for the next however many weeks we are here. So lovely to hear hints and tips about how other people are managing that. 

Jason:

My son thinks that I’ve avoided all housework because we have assigned him with numerous tasks. He does the vacuuming, the clothes washing, the dishwasher, emptying and filling, and obviously manages his own room and he looks at me and says, “what do you do?” 

Michelle:

Can Ruben come and stay with us please?

Jason:

I’m sure he would love that.

Michelle:

I’d love to have him.

Jason:

We did actually do a, like a drug deal, didn’t reject the other week where we swapped over some jigsaw puzzles and things. And he’s actually working on that as we speak actually but a long time to get any good at the housework. It’s only now after two years of him doing it that he’s reasonably good. I will tell this story, we went to Mardi Gras when we used to be able to go out and do things. Remember that time? And we came home in the laundry hadn’t been done, obviously, as we’ve gone that weekend and Saturday mornings is laundry time. I said we have to do this and he winced and whined and complained. So when he was out there hanging out the laundry, I went out to help him. The interesting thing was he actually put his hand on my shoulder, which is an interesting move and he said, “Dad, I know I winge and whine all the time but I actually quite like doing this.” So I told him back inside and he’s cooking dinner and let him off to do that. But he does do our slave labor, that’s why we had him. The most awkward quoting [?] finger there, drug deal I had to do was I met up with a friend at a gym parking lot here in Melton because I ran out of toilet paper and I needed some and so basically she gave me a bag if we were to the boot over the card. She gave me three rolls of loo paper and I was like, it is a weird time when the bad drugs are actually more available than things like toilet paper.

Jac:

Incredible!

Bec:

Sal Maybe Michelle talked about some of the challenges working through co-parenting at the moment and there’s ideally parents can work through those things but there are still obvious legal options available at the moment if people have a more serious challenge, they’re trying to work through.

Sally:

There are, again, I’d hesitate to encourage people to immediately consider a court action. Of course, at this time, there are incredible counselors who are prepared to hop onto a zoom, to hop on the end of a phone, or to be virtual, to try and actually get on top of issues with parents and try and actually nut out a solution if they can. But if there is an urgent crisis, for example, there’s a domestic violence issue, if there’s if children are being used as a form of Family Violence. When I say that I had one client where one parent was not returning children and has been a history of Family Violence and part of that Family Violence was saying to the other parent, “well, what are you going to do?” The courts aren’t actually up and running at the moment. Practically, there’s no Law and Order. That’s not the case. The courts, the police are responding to children being at risk, to families being at risk, and I think part of the abusive nature of some of the perpetrators is trying to take advantage of the social isolation and I have had, and we have had Bec haven’t we had a quite a few calls from clients have always been paralyzed, thinking, “well, I have to remain as social isolation so I can’t separate or I can actually deal with this parenting issue.” There are strategies. They might be a little bit lateral, a little bit different but if there’s something pressing or urgent, court orders this one forcible, and our judges have actually said, in particular, our chief justice and we’ve actually included, he’s a couple of interviews with him. Try and be lateral. Don’t try and sometimes you might not be able to stick to the letter of an order. If you can’t hand over a child at a certain place or a playground, that’s not appropriate anymore than of course, that can’t happen. But try and be lateral and talk and try and resolve things and be reasonable. But don’t try and take advantage of COVID-19 because it can actually be [inaudible] to actually used it in that way and we’ve already seen the consequences. And police are not tolerating it. It’s wrong.

Michelle:

In my circles, I’m already seeing fathers who get the every other weekend visitations and mothers who are claiming that their work is frontline essential work and that they aren’t giving up the kids for the weekends with their father. I’ve seen a few cases of this already. I mean, luckily. I’ve got a good working relationship of co-parenting with my children’s mother but the hardest thing is a large number of cases that were they just the mothers like, “Nope! My job is frontline essential services and you can’t have them because it’ll put me in jeopardy.” And the father is like, “what do I do?”

Sally:

Are they doing it because they’re saying well because of the self-isolation they can’t go or you’ve got different values. What was that?

Michelle:

You know, they’re basically saying that the mothers who are working, they say that “my job is frontline essential services. I’m wine [?] and so because of that, I can’t put that in jeopardy. So I’m not bringing the kids to you because where I’m isolating everybody else around me because of my job.”

Sally:

Yes

Michelle:

And you’re seeing a large number of parents who are fathers who are actually being put out because even though there are court orders. They’re like, “well what, do I do the right thing? do I not? Is it not the right thing? You don’t want to see my kids but what is.” There are those questions.

Sally:

Now that’s unreasonable. That is unreasonable. And there’s, again, that’s when I would really suggest for those people to try and get first access. There are some very good psychologists and counselors who are ready to deal with those issues particularly virtually online because even though we are absolutely honoring and heralding, you know, our frontline medicos and this is because they’re doing an awesome job and they’re going to be put in that front line. That is unreasonable. The government said it clear that children can move between two households. That’s been, that directive is there and for people to be reasonable with each other and to have talks about how herself isolating and to make it to be online with that and parallel and reasonable. And if someone is being unreasonable, it’s the same course that we do in any parent in dispute. Then they might have to resort to talk in some light myself and to get a legal letter out and if I can actually get alternative dispute resolution, we’ll do that. But then I think some strong letter might have to go out to say no, don’t take advantage of it in that way whilst where you think the work you’re doing is amazing. Don’t use children, the dispute don’t use that in that way. 

Bec:

Thanks, Sal. Now look before we finish up I want to talk about some fun things that people can do in their houses and Jac, I want to throw it to you because you’ve got the most fun thing for kids who are looking for some entertainment. What can you tell us about your new book? 

Jac:

Thanks, Bec. Well last November, I published The Curse of Grandma Maple which is a book and that upper primary age group. So sort of 8 to 12, but I’ve had younger and older readers and the book is a Mystery/Adventure set in Canada with two sets of cousins. It’s fast-paced fun action, but it’s a defining feature is that the two kids, the two Australian kids, have two mums. So it’s a gorgeous look for Rainbow Families. Not about a Rainbow Family, but about kids who have two moms. And what I decided to do as a kind of a small contribution to Rainbow Families was to turn it into an audiobook. Now I must qualify that because that means that’s me reading chapters on to my phone and uploading them and I have to confess I did read aloud the first chapter five times to myself and record them and thought, “okay, I just need to take a step back here. I’m might as even try.” 

I have now read all of the chapters to tape. It runs for about 5 hours and that will be available on my website and on the Rainbow Families website. And I hope it will just be a lovely thing that parents can do with their kids when everything’s kind of maybe, you’re getting a bit too much that they can plug the kids in and they can listen to the story at their leisure. 

Bec:

That’s fabulous Jac. Thank you so much for that. Well, look, that’s all we have time for today, but I just want to say thank you to Michelle, Jac, and Jason for opening their homes to us really and giving us a bit of an insight into parenting and Rainbow Families during these very strange times. And also Sally and Flynn, thank you for your input as well. 

Jason:

Oh good.

Michelle:

Thank you.

Jac:

Yep, pleasure.

 

Useful Links:

Switchboard: Switchboard Victoria provides peer-driven support services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender diverse, intersex, queer, and asexual (LGBTIQA+) people, their families, allies, and communities – 1800 184 527 – http://www.switchboard.org.au/

Q life: Qlife provides anonymous and free LGBTIQA+ peer support and referral for people in Australia wanting to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings, or relationships. Webchat – https://qlife.org.au/

Queerspace: Queerspace is an LGBTIQA+ health and wellbeing support service established in 2009 by LGBTIQA+ communities, for LGBTIQA+ communities. Queerspace has a focus on relationships: https://www.queerspace.org.au/contact/

Minus18: Minus 18 lead change, build social inclusion, and advocate for an Australia where all young people are safe, empowered, and surrounded by people that support them. https://www.minus18.org.au/about

Thorne Harbour Health: Thorne Harbour provides support for sex, sexuality, and gender diverse communities. www.thorneharbour.org

Rainbow Families: Rainbow Families Victoria is a volunteer community organisation based in Victoria, Australia. RFV supports and promotes equality for ‘rainbow’ families. https://pridecentre.org.au/resources/rainbow-families-victoria

 

Disclaimer: Nicholes Family Lawyers intends the information provided in this podcast as general information only, please contact Nicholes Family lawyers if you require specific information and advise in relation to any family law matter.

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