Here’s an excellent piece that debunks many of the myths that have been promulgated by those opposed to fathers’ rights and fathers’ access to their children (Divorce Magazine, 11/18/10). The article is excerpted from a book by Jill Burrett and Michael Green entitled Shared Parenting: Raising Your Kids Cooperatively after Separation. I haven’t read the book, but if the article is any indication, I’d say the authors are both accurate in their thinking and staunch in the dedication to keeping both parents in children’s lives post-split. The key of course is cooperation between the parents and one of the things that facilitates that is a clear, workable parenting plan. That’s not only important for the parents, it’s also important for the kids. Burrett and Green clearly think that, if the plan is clear and predictable, the kids can adjust to it. Therefore, it’s a myth that children need to spend all or most of their time in one home.
In fact, Burrett and Green make the powerful point that what’s important to children is emotional stability and that means real relationships with both parents. And real relationships with both parents usually mean contact with the extended families of both mother and father. All those aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. provide what sociologist Sarah McLanahan calls “social capital,” that supplies the child with resources a single parent cannot. The number of changeovers from Dad to Mom and vice versa is important. Burrett and Green say that, except in the case of very young children, fewer changeovers is better. That’s because emotionally, changeovers are the hardest times for kids, so for most children, blocks of two to three weeks with one parent are adviseable. A few months ago I did a piece on the most recent claim that children under three shouldn’t spend a night away from mother. That is, fathers would be relegated to a few hours with their young children on their rare visitation days. For children up to 18 months, that can work, but after that, Burrett and Green say,
This view (that the child shouldn’t spend a night away from mother before age four) was based on outdated theory and is contrary to recent research. Attachment theory tended to emphasize the exclusivity of the maternal bond and its continuity as being crucial to healthy development. There is no consistent evidence that a night with their father is going to cause harm. If children are well attached to the other caretaker (Dad), they should soon become used to him coming at night if needed, for example. There is growing evidence that overnight stays in infancy form a meaningful basis for parent child relations.
Perhaps most important is their view of parental conflict. Burrett and Green say that, far from indicating a need to marginalize one parent, conflict indicates the need for a better parenting plan. Into the bargain, a workable parenting plan can ameliorate conflict.
Lawyers and counsellors sometimes suggest that the only solutions to conflict between separated parents are: to reduce or eliminate contact between the parents or between father and children or to have supervised pick-ups and drop-offs. This is inconsistent with research, which shows that good contact results in reduced conflict between parents. Rather than seeing hostility as a disincentive to shared parenting, it’s better to view it as an indicator of needing a better parenting plan.
The concept of shared parenting is a snowball rolling downhill; it’s getting larger and gaining more momentum all the time. It’s good to see people like Burrett and Green who don’t represent one side of the conflict or another making the case for shared parenting in a calm, fact-based way. After all, shared parenting almost always means one thing at least – greater father-child contact.