So here it is, all about fathers. I feel like the instant, as a single mum I mention the word 'father', its like people are waiting with bated breath to pounce if I say anything that isn't completely positive. Why? Why is it that as soon as a man with whom you have children leaves you, you have to treat him like a saint? Who decided that was a good idea? These men often go out of their way to make lives difficult for their ex's and yet because they are the father of our children we seem expected to put them on some sort of pedestal, and worse, deny our children's negative feelings about them. How does this help anyone?
You see, people blithely comment in forums and in life again and again - 'We all know its important for a child to have a relationship with both parents'. That's what most people seem to think, society has accepted it as a truth, because almost everyone feels it. We want to believe that men and women are equal, therefore we extrapolate that mums and dads must be equal. On top of that we all have our own strongly held feelings about our relationships with our own parents, which are so deep embedded from childhood they feel like self-evident truths, rather than just our own experience. They are in the 'back brain' (sorry, can't remember the technical term) which structures how we think, rather than just something that hangs in that structure, so it is very difficult to re-conceive those ideas (without a lot of therapy!). But, if you can, I want to ask you to just put those ideas on hold while you read the rest of this post, please just hear me out...
You see it would be fine, people saying 'it's important for a child to have a relationship with both parents', if that were true, but here's the thing - the thing that doesn't get reported, because it is too unpalatable for anyone to accept: When you look at the findings of all the research done over the past two or three decades into the child's need for a relationship with their father, you will find - and please don't shoot the messenger - that it is complete and utter BOLLOCKS. There is no evidence. Obviously I realise how unpopular that is as a statement, but looking at all the research together, there is no evidence to suggest that having to go and stay with a non-resident parent on a regular basis, or even having a relationship with them, benefits a child at all.
Shocking isn't it? It's even more shocking when you read what women and children are being forced into as a result of this popular misconception. But before I go into that, let me tell you what the evidence does say...
As a mother of a donor-conceived child I can tell you that the evidence shows that while it is really important to be open about your child's biological roots, all things being equal, it does a child no harm not to have a relationship with their biological father. Father's rights groups have been desperate to prove the opposite for decades but to no avail - check out Myths and Facts about Fatherlessness for some references. I have other references buried in the midst of my archived e-mails that are more recent, but I've yet to find the time to dig them out - sorry. As I recall though, from a study I read a couple of years ago (that was an analysis of all the research in this area), what benefits children's welfare are four main factors: lack of poverty, lack of exposure to conflict, stability and good parenting. That being the case, contact with a non-resident parent is only beneficial to the child when it influences one of these factors positively. So often though this is not the case, contact with a non-resident parent actually influences all of those things negatively. You only have to look at the recent Valuing Motherhood report from Maypole Women to realise that contact often keeps women and children in poverty, increases their exposure to conflict, the stress caused to parents doesn't help good parenting and how is it stable moving between homes every few days??
Personally, I hate that arranging contact with a non-resident parent seems to be all about seperating one or more human beings between two other human beings. Last time I checked we all have Parental Responsiblity for our children, which extends to rights to be heard in matters to do with our children, but NOT rights over our children. How can you have a right over another human being? Didn't that end with the slave trade? Why are children being forced to go every other weekend often miles away from parts of their family and their friends? Why is the seperation not made three ways? One weekend with mum, one with dad, one the kids do what they want to do? Why are children left out of this and treated as objects? And why is this state sanctioned?
What kicked off my thinking on this was Tim Loughton's comments in the Telegraph suggesting he was going to ignore the Family Justice Reviews reports which advised not putting shared parenting in law, because of the research that showed it would put a significant number of women and children at unacceptable risk. Does he just not care? Is it okay to put women and children at risk because people think its more important for children to spend time wth their dad, no matter what he's done - and despite the fact there's no evidence its beneficial? If you read all of the CAFCASS thread on Netmums it is shocking and disturbing - just a couple of examples:
- a woman forced by a court to take her infant to see her sectioned ex, in his mental health facility
- a victim of domestic violence which began to turn on her daughter being forced to send her daughter to spend increasing amounts of time with her attacker, by court order, in full knowledge of the violence. They took into account the violence, and that's why its only a few hours, to begin with.
If these people were anyone else but these children's fathers, no court in the land would dream of forcing children to spend time with them. In fact, you could probably get a restraining order against them. Yet because they are their fathers, a court, society - including many women - somehow believe that is is not only acceptable, but essential that they spend time with them, despite the fact that there is, as I have said NO EVIDENCE that this is positive for children at all.
So if you've managed to put your deeply held views about parents aside to read this far, then thank you. I know this may sound anti-men or anti-dad, but that is not how I feel at all. As passionate as I am for people to hear and accept that facts, I'm equally passionate, that people understand that when they hear 'there is no evidenced need for a father' that it is not denigrating all fathers. As an aside, there is not that much evidenced need for a mother either, and equally that doesn't mean all mothers are unimportant and we can just leave our kids to be brought up in baby farms!!
What it means is that the biological fact of you being a parent does not mean that your child will benefit from a relationship with you regardless of the impact it has on the rest of their lives.
It means that as a parent you actually have to do something, you have to think about your child's needs and do your best to meet them, and sometimes that may involve not seeing you as much as you'd like them too - read the hugely moving post by Maypole Women, who have been seperated from their children but defend their children's need not to see them if that is their coping mechanism. These women instinctively know what researchers have constantly found. What is sad is that many children are continuing to suffer at best, instability and at worse, abuse, because they are not listened to. Government and society listens to a group of bitter fathers who treat their children as possessions, and who want to be a dad in the way they want to be it, regardless of the impact that has or the disruption that causes to their children's lives. As in another recent Maypole Women blogpost, I wonder why no one ever asks why these men are hell bent on equal parenting after divorce when they never were before. Yes, there are a very small minority of women who may withhold contact on the basis of false allegations, but research has shown this is less than 2% cases and mostly women underreport rather than overreport these things.
Not all dads are like this. Some dads understand that a weekend with dad is not about the child having to experience the dad's life, it is about the dad getting involved with their child's life. I went out with a great guy a couple of years ago who spent his 'Dad weekends' ferrying his children to and from swimming lessons and parties at friends houses - in short, they didn't miss out on anything because it was a 'Dad weekend', and if they really didn't want to go, he didn't make them, he'd just see them the next week instead. For me, that's how it should be, there is enough change going on in a child's life when parents split up without the parents adding to it by everything suddenly all becoming about mum and dad. As I've blogged about before , it seems to me that non-seperated families are all about the children, where as seperated families too often become all about the adults and what they want.
As parents, we can sometimes feel like we'll die if we don't see our children everyday, or a fixed amount of time that we or the state have arbitrarily decided is acceptable, but those are just our feelings, that we need to deal with. They don't mean that we're right, or that it must be what our children need if we feel it. I just wish the adults - parents, CAFCASS, courts - would grow up, and be 'adult' about it. I wish that we'd look at the evidence and say 'yes, we live in a world where we would like to think that men and women are equal and should be treated equally, but that does not mean that we can force children to feel the same and have the same needs from each of their parents'. That is not how most children experience it in a non-seperated family, and yet we ask them to change once seperation occurs, so that parenting can better fit our view of how society should be.
It frustrates me that society does not seem to understand that 'equal' does not need to mean 'the same' - a brain surgeon and a heart surgeon may be equally skilled, but they'd kill someone if they did heart surgery on brain or vice versa. They are different skills but both needed to keep someone alive.
Mothers and fathers are, in most situations, different. I feel this acutely with DS2, I need to be both parents, and the 'Father' set of skills are not in my comfort zone, but I have to do it. Mum's can be dads, and dads can be mums, but there will be a side of that that does not come naturally, and we have to learn it if we're going to be parenting our children alone. I think more mums understand that than dads do. A lot of dads seem to think that just by being the dad they are the same as the mum, and the only way their child wouldn't see that or treat them that way, is if the mum was saying or doing something to upset them and make it so. Many just don't take responsibility or look at their role in how the children might feel at all.
This weekend, at a guess, hundreds of thousands of children in this country will go and stay with a non-resident parent. Many will come back home on Sunday night exhibiting uncharacteristic negative behaviours from the physical and emotional disruption. A significant minority will have experienced far worse than just disruption. If your child came back from somewhere a changed person, you'd probably stop that activity, at least for a while. Yet if the resident parent does not send their children to the non-resident parent, they risk prison, and the custody of the children being handed over to the person at the root of these problems. It is an impossible situation for the resident parent, be they mother or father, and it is wrong. Children's welfare should come before society's need to see itself treating men and women as not just equal but the same. Children are not possessions, they are people and I do not believe it is acceptable to carve people's lives up so that other people can feel good about themselves.
It is about three thousand years since someone set down the story of King Solomon threatening to cut a baby in half to determine the true parent. I sometimes think we have learnt very little since then.