Australian Studies Show Value of Fathers to Children

Back in 2007, Australia amended its Family Law Act of 1975 in an effort to give dads more time with kids post-divorce or separation.  The new law came under attack almost immediately.  The ink was barely dry when the anti-father crowd began trying to roll back its modest changes.  Never mind that it was far too early to tell just what the actual impact of the law was; they didn’t like it and they used the tried and true claim of domestic violence to attack it. A couple of years into the experiment, the government commissioned a study that found that most parts of the law had found a receptive audience in divorcing couples. 
Efforts to ameliorate conflict via mediation, for example came in for praise. But the very notion that the new law gave fathers actual power in custody cases was too much for those who reflexively oppose fathers and their connections to children.  We were informed that, in “multitudes” of cases, abusive fathers were getting custody at the expense of innocent mothers.  The fact that the new law contains ample safeguards to prevent exactly that meant nothing to the anti-dad crowd.  And sadly, they seem to have had their way… again.  Proposed changes will once again roll back the slight gains made such a short time ago. So it must be about time for another study to come out explaining the value of fathers to children and children to fathers, right?  Right.  Here’s an article about it (Sydney Morning Herald, 2/13/11).  And, as I’m sure many readers have already noted with irony, where better for such an article to appear than the Morning Herald, the same paper that time and again channels unquestioningly the most far-fetched anti-dad rhetoric? Still, Marot Prior, researcher at the University of Melbourne, has conducted a study that gives us yet more good information about fathers and children.  It seems that, when mothers aren’t around and fathers are left to care for children alone, they do a better job, feel they do a better job and their kids feel more connected to them. Frankly, that sounds like yet another blow to the primary parent/visitor paradigm so favored by family courts everywhere.  It’s one of the salient features of that approach that non-custodial parents (the vast majority of whom are fathers) become marginalized in their children’s lives.  U.S. researcher Susan Stewart coined the term ‘Disneyland Parents’ to describe non-custodial parents who become more weekend entertainers than parents.  They’re seldom or never faced with parental decisions that impact real aspects of their children’s lives.  And it doesn’t take long before both they and the kids figure out who the “real” parent is. Prior’s study states frankly that

FATHERS can shake off their “assistant parent” tag by spending more time with their children without having mothers around.

They would improve their parenting skills and the family would benefit if fathers and children got together more, an Australian study found.

“Kids need their fathers for them to be around and doing the organising part of their lives. Our culture is to leave it all to mum,” said one of the study’s authors, University of Melbourne academic Margot Prior.

 The study, published in December in the journal Early Child Development and Care, involved 110 families in Melbourne with children aged between three and 12.

Fathers who spent significant time with their children said they felt the youngsters’ well-being was improved, their own sense of worth rose and it promoted them from the role of “assistant parent”.

“Solo care is about the interaction,” Professor Prior said. “It is the notion of fathers taking the responsibility in making decisions more of the time.”

And it turns out that that’s exactly what a large majority of Austalian fathers want – more time with their kids.  Another survey, this one by the Financial Services Council interviewed 1,200 Australian parents. 

It also found 78 per cent of fathers and 59 per cent of mothers would like to spend more time with their children.

Of course, the two studies don’t deal only with divorced or separated fathers, but their findings doubtless apply to them.  So Prior’s finding that fathers actually feel they do a better job when Mom’s not around is not only significant, but seems to speak directly about divorced dads whose partners are, by definition, no longer present. To summarize, fathers and children do better with more time together; more than three fathers in four desire more time with their children; the Australian government is poised to amend the Family Law Act to ensure that fathers get even less time than they do now. In other words, it’s just another day in family court.

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