Real Life

Bill and Chloe Shorten reveal the ups and downs of a blended family

The Opposition Leader gets real about going from zero to three kids overnight.

By The Australian Women's Weekly
Australians are used to seeing Bill and Chloe Shorten pounding the pavements on the campaign trail, arm-in-arm.
But it's taken the Shortens a long time - and years of counselling - to get where they are today, as they revealed in this exclusive interview with The Australian Women's Weekly.
Seven years ago, Chloe Shorten remarried, bringing a stepfather – Labor leader Bill Shorten – and then a new baby, Clementine, into her children's lives.
Chloe's son, Rupert, and daughter Georgette (known as Gigi) were seven and six when she and Bill married, and with a baby on the way this new blended family was going to need sensitivity.
Both Chloe and Bill had come out of divorces which, because of who they were – Bill then a well-known union leader turned Labor politician and Chloe the youngest daughter of the Governor-General – filled the newspapers, thrusting Chloe's children into the spotlight.
Chloe scoured the library and bookstores.
"My father says I'm such a girlie swot," she says, laughing. "But I love research and evidence. I wanted to find the best possible advice.
"There were personal accounts of a stepfamily or a second family and then there was a lot of hard data, impenetrable research, but nothing that brought the two together."
The lack of an accessible, authoritative guide inspired Chloe's new – and first – book Take Heart: A Story For Modern Stepfamilies.
It's a fascinating read and insightful for all stepparents.
In the book, Chloe says she owed it to her kids to get her "new marriage right" and from the get-go she and Bill visited a family counsellor every two weeks.
Chloe Shorten with her niece Alexandra, daughter Clementine, daughter Georgette and son Rupert. (Image: Getty)
Chloe Shorten with her neice Alexandra, daughter Clementine, daughter Georgette and son Rupert pictured in 2016. (Image: Getty)
For Bill, the change was more elemental. He and his first wife, Debbie Beale, didn't have children and now, almost overnight, "I went from zero to three".
"It was all about the children," explains Chloe.
"It was all about coming at it from the child's point of view. I suppose I was raised in a household where the rights of the child and the wellbeing of the child were an integral part of everything my parents did."
Her research had taught her the first five years in a blended family are critical and for the new dynamic to have a chance, they needed to pay attention to every detail and really listen to their children.
Chloe and Bill both remarried for a second time when they tied the knot. (Image: Getty)
Bill was acutely aware Rupert and Georgette had a father and his role was to help parent them, not replace their dad. "For the older two, they call me Bill," he says.
"But the little one goes from calling you 'Daddy' to 'Bill' and she naturally started doing that," adds Chloe.
As Leader of the Opposition, Bill's job frequently encroaches on that time, which involves significant compromise.
"We put a lot of store in eating together whenever we can," says Chloe, "even if sometimes we have to change hours or times for Bill, who often works at night, so he will come home to have dinner and then go back out and work again after that."

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