Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Iconoclasts – A Modest Proposal

How charming: Tomorrow on Radio 4 at 8pm Edward Stourton chairs a live debate in which Professor David Marsland defends his view that the mentally and morally unfit should be sterilised. Part of the Iconoclasts Programme.

Read Full Post »

Just a thought. I’m not trying to be controversial or nuffing. But it did occur to me today that whilst the clamour for a presumption of equal parenting is all well and good (I agree its a solution that should be given serious consideration in most cases, but not that this should be elevated to a presumption) its something which is really completely novel as far as the history of the family is concerned. And I began to think about what equality really means in the context of parenting.

I’m all for equality of opportunity as far as parenting is concerned. It doesn’t matter to me whether its Mr Mom or Lady Cab Driver. Or a shared arrangement that defies the traditional homemaker / breadwinner paradigm.

However, whilst I’m no historian, I can’t think of any time in history or any culture where the role of primary carer is or has been generally  split equally between both parents. Aside from cultural norms and historical societal organisation into very gendered roles, there remain all sorts of practical and financial reasons why one parent most often carries out the bulk of the care of the children. It’s still most often the mother who performs this role, but there is no reason why it needs to be her as opposed to him.

I pause here to observe that even for topsy turvy families like mine where there is a gender role reversal from the traditional female carer : male breadwinner, it is quite often very hard for both of us to shed our guilt for not providing (him) or not being there to kiss it better (me): gendered expectations about our roles as parents are deeply ingrained in us all whatever our philosophy or intellectual belief. I go out to work: I feel like a bad mother, even though I know better. But there is no reason why the carer has to be the mother. And courts must ensure no prejudice in that respect.

But I want to draw out a distinction between avoiding discrimination in our attitudes to who should provide primary care and the quite distinct proposal that the primary care should be split equally between the two parents on separation. When families are together shared care and equal divisions of time are far from the norm, and I’m not sure why they should be the norm when they aren’t together.

.

Fathers seek equality in matters of family justice. Equality to me means that each parent should have equal treatment from the courts, equal status as a parent, equal importance in the life of a child. It’s not a mathematical equation and it can’t be expressed in binary. What is legitimate to ask for is that the court, when faced with applications for residence from two parents, does not make its decision based on prejudice or gender stereotype. What is not legitimate is to prioritise a parent’s desire for recognition or affirmation over what is right for the child in any given case.

The complaint is often made that the overwhelming majority of residence orders are made to mothers, ergo discrimination. Well I don’t agree that this equals discrimination, because I don’t think you can tease out from that that brute fact that, in spite of big changes in society over recent decades, the way in which most families still continue to organise themselves is with mum as main carer, and that when most disputes come to court it is from the starting point that the children are used to being cared for by her. Which is not to say there isn’t discrimination in individual cases, but only that the statistics reflect the general trends in society that persist.

In private law disputes the title and status of ‘primary carer’ can become a much sought after prize, the symbol of victory in the battle for equality. The goal of 50% of a child’s time I think is often a symptom of competitiveness between parents, determined on securing a victory in their own conflict. Parents who count up how many nights a year they have and demand an extra 3 nights per annum to balance it out have really lost the wood for the trees – their kids aren’t counting. They are wondering why daddy / mummy is so angry all the time. The 50:50 approach fundamentally misunderstands the way in which our children see us as important figures in their lives. A breadwinner is no less of a parent than a homemaker / carer. My dad worked hard, he didn’t get home to put us to bed often and the patterns and nature of my relationship with him as a child was very different from that I had with my mother. But my parents are equally important to me, regardless of who bandaged my knee or made my sandwiches or who stumped up the pocket money. It is only adults who need to quantify their relationships in hours. Insistence on shared residence can be to impose the judgment of Solomon on children, if not tearing them limb from limb forcing them to be constantly moving from pillar to post in order to share themselves equally between their parents.

Shared parenting works well for some. Equal splits of time also for some. There are any number of combinations or arrangements. But, when there are two homes the practical and geographical problems can often make shared care stressful or impractical. For the bulk of families, whether separated or together the only practical solution is to take different but equal roles. Children understand that in their own way and think no less of us for it. Sometimes I think that the more parents try to demonstrate their equality through carving up the weeks into 50:50 shares, the more they force children to choose between them.

.

I know that fathers rights / equality campaigners don’t think that the welfare checklist / best interests test achieves a non-discriminatory result, but I think a presumption of shared care would subjugate the welfare of the child to the straitjacket of dogma. But what if instead we were to legislate to remove any perceived discrimination by identifying what is impermissible for the court to take into account: a codification of the principle of non-discrimination by, say, a provision that the court must not make decisions about the care or residence of a child on grounds of gender.

.

These are just my Friday night musings and I’ve had half a glass of wine (baby related abstinence means even this results in mild squiffiness). But I do think there are more creative ways to think about how we promote equality for mums and dads and I think that the debate about this needs to be both more rigorous and more innovative.

Read Full Post »

Contact Activity Directions – remember them? Yes, the little used Contact Activity provisions have received a bit of a boost as of 1 April: they are now provided free of charge to any parent ordered to attend such an activity.

.

Previously, you will recall (or perhaps not): parents who were eligible for public funding or who would suffer hardship if they had to pay were paid for via funds devolve to CAFCASS. CAFCASS would pay providers of Parenting Information Programmes (PIPs) directly to provide services to the publicly funded or poor. And the rest just had to pay for themselves. But as it turned out this was a bit too complicated for anyone to be bothered to disentangle and so the courts were not making Contact Activity Directions. Hence the new arrangement: step 1 the court orders a party / parties to attend, step 2 the DCSF pays (or DofE or Michael Gove himself for all I know or care) no questions asked. Easy peasy, no excuses.

. (more…)

Read Full Post »

OK, so I lied – no big boobies here. But as they say in the playground: ‘Made you look, made you stare, made you lose your underwear’…

.

I’m a little puzzled by this article by Martin Evans at The Telegraph, entitled ‘Lesbian Mother Appeals Court Decision After Daughter Removed’. Having seen this re-tweeted on twitter (thanks @johnbolch), I was expecting (reasonably I thought) that the subject of the appeal might relate to how same sex relationships are correctly to be treated by the family courts, that one of the grounds might raise some discrimination point etc – and so I clicked through. So naive…In fact the reference to the sexuality of the Appellant appears to be 100% gratuitous because there is absolutely no reference to the Mother’s sexuality anywhere in the article. Either that or the author has omitted to include some crucial information, because from the information provided this appears to be a relatively unremarkable appeal where the parents’ sexuality is nothing to do with anything. I despair at the state of journalism sometimes.

Read Full Post »

It frustrates me that, whilst care proceedings are sometimes a spur for parents to recognise the significance of their own past experience, personal issues and their pressing need for therapy to enable them to parent better and to lead more productive fulfilled lives, there is often no route through to achieve these goals because of ‘resource issues’. As is so often the way in this field of work a solution is there but nobody will pay.

.

Often for a parent in the midst of care proceedings the realisation that they need therapy comes late, too late for the children who are subject to proceedings. But the legal process gives parents access to professional analysis of what has gone wrong with their lives, with their parenting and their relationships generally that might otherwise not have been available to them. And in the course of making recommendations in the context of the case, an expert will often point to the way forward for the parent in the shape of therapy. But whilst many of these damaged parents are still of child bearing age and may want to become parents again, they can do nothing to make the recommendations from the court appointed experts for long term therapy become a reality. Long term psychodynamic psychoanalytic therapy (often what is recommended) is usually completely unavailable on the NHS or at best subject to very long waiting lists (and my point is good in respect of drug rehabilitation too although there community based provision is more widely accessible in one shape or form even if residential rehab is difficult to access). So the opportunity to make the best use of the money spent on expert reports, to seize the moment, take something positive from the sadness of such cases and to prevent a repeat with future siblings is lost. Looking at it from a purely economic point of view this is madness. The cost of repeated care proceedings, and the long term financial burden to the state of supporting a child in care throughout his life must surely outweigh the cost of therapy, even if in many cases the parent will be unable to fully engage.

.

It’s not every case by any means where therapy is a viable option – some problems are not susceptible to treatment, and other individuals are not ready to accept help. And of course in many cases therapy is not even the answer to the question. But in cases where an expert in care proceedings recommends therapeutic input and gives a reasonably positive prognosis, particularly where that therapy will increase the parents chance of successfully parenting either existing or future children, there should be an obligation on the Local Authority or the NHS to make that available to the willing parent. Somebody ought to stump up so that parents can be rehabilitated. They are often the product of the care system themselves.

.

To be told and to come to terms with the fact that your life and chances of parenting in future will be blighted by your deep rooted psychological and emotional issues is extremely difficult (quite apart from the fact that this realisation is often coupled with the permanent loss of your children). But to be told that there is a way out for the future but you can’t have it because the NHS won’t provide it and you can never afford it must be soul destroying, and probably compounds a parent’s pre-existing difficulties and sense of despair. To be finally ready to make the changes you have needed to make for years, and yet to have that opportunity put before you and snatched away is a cruel thing. If we are serious about child welfare and serious about our responsibilities to help families we need to focus more of our resources on helping people to be better – better people, better parents. We need to prevent the removal of children by helping (if not ‘curing’) the parents.

.

I know that simply making therapy available will not magically fix deep rooted issues. There will be a high attrition and failure rate. But this is part of a cross generational cycle of abuse and poor parenting where indiviudals are very often involved in the care system as both child and then – sometimess seemingly almost as day follows night – as parent. The system currently fails both those in need of therapy, and their children who may suffer needlessly as a result of society’s failure to help them become better parents and to break the cycle.

Read Full Post »

Race Row

The sacking of Sam Mason for her ‘racist’ comments to a taxi company has not only made the national news but has generated an astonishing amount of local comment (I gave up before I got to the bottom of the comments listed). Although there are big pockets of the west country which are not at all culturally / ethnically mixed, Bristol to me has always seemed a pretty cosmopolitan city. But having moved back to the area after 10+ years away I can see that the local mix has changed quite significantly and I guess that’s a learning experience for everyone.

It’s really quite interesting (depressing?) looking at the comments on the At Bristol report of this story to see how people articulate their very different views about these things. There seems to be no community consensus about what is or is not racist and what is or is not acceptable or lawful, and no common language through which to discuss these issues. My two penn’orth: one can make an unacceptable or discriminatory comment without intending to. Identifying a ‘racist’ is more complicated than simply saying anyone who has ever acted in a discriminatory way or who has upset someone by a remark pertaining to race is de facto ‘a racist’. If you’ll excuse the pun (I can’t think of a metaphor which doesn’t involve one) it’s not a black and white issue, but a spectrum. I would hazard that all of us have said or done something that might be reasonably called ‘discriminatory’ or which may have offended someone (most of us hopefully inadvertently) but I don’t think we are all racists. Language is complicated and we don’t always wield it well.

. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Just found this post which I began to draft some months ago having read something or other in the Times. No longer have the original article or any recollection of what I was on about, but the blog post looks interesting (if I do say so myself) so I guess I’ll post it anyway, in its unfinished state….

The phrase ‘daddy wars’ seems to have first attained currency in the US in 2006 (see this article on ABC for example), where it was used to remind the world that it was not just mommys who had to struggle to combine their working and family lives – daddys were doing that too. The media had been talking about ‘Mommy Wars’, and the dads actively involved in childcare were saying – hey – we also have to struggle with stereotypes and work out how to survive in the workplace and combine this with our non-traditional caring role. Time called this ‘the missing half of the work and family debate’. And similarly rebeldad complained that ‘plenty of family reporting that tells half (or less) of the story’. That website aims in large part to redress that imbalance and to provide a resource for stay at home (rebel) dads.

And then, before Christmas Judith Warner wrote a piece in the New York Times which draws out some of the inevitable tensions arising from the changes in how we raise our children, and how we view our (gendered) roles. Her article highlights the difficulty we have in talking about these new roles or in critically analysing what is going on in less traditional families – in particular the notion of the reactionary stay at home dad. The comments arising from this post are particularly interesting and show a range of quite polarised views. So now the phrase ‘Daddy Wars’ begins to look like it might contain an element of conflicting perspectives as between genders rather than simply highlighting the fact that both types of parent face conflict between home and work lives. And for my part, like Judith Warner, I think that the stay-at-home choice of Charlie Le-Duff about whom she is writing is great, the tendency to moralise about other people’s choices and to crow about his self-sacrifice as if it is somehow greater or more significant than the very same sacrifice women have been making for years irks just a little.

The Charlie Le-Duff article was picked up in the UK by Eleanor Mills in the Times. She also makes some insightful points about the double standards that operate, often making it tougher for dads to combine work and childcare responsibilities because they are not expected by colleagues to require the same flexibility of a working mum.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/01/22/ndaddy122.xml

http://www.athomedad.org/

Read Full Post »