May 8, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
I don’t know whether to smile or go off and drink some whiskey. This article by Emma Johnson, whom I’ve quoted before, gets all the right answers, but for a lot of the wrong reasons (Wealthy Single Mommy, 5/4/16). Her thinking is skewed by some baseless assumptions that we see commonly in the discourse on fathers, mothers and children’s welfare.
First the good news. Johnson, as before, is all in favor of shared parenting and an end to child support and alimony. She arrives at that viewpoint sensibly.
In my work writing about women, money and family in the United States, there are two prevailing issues:
1. Dads who do not live with their kids are barely involved. (Just 22% of dads who live apart from their children see them more than once weekly, per Pew.)
2. That pay gap will. not. close.
Here’s the answer:
Start all custody negotiations at a default 50-50 visitation and custody, with no child support or alimony.
I’ve said roughly the same thing many times. Equal parenting time is good for everyone. Children do better when they don’t lose one parent to divorce, fathers are happier when they’re not kicked to the curb by a judge and mothers have more time to spend in any way they want when they’re not saddled with 80 – 100% of parenting time. One of the ways they might use that extra time is working, earning and saving more and advancing further in their chosen field of work.
Plus, with equal parenting, the children of divorce would start manifesting fewer dysfunctional behaviors than they now do. Those behaviors demand resources like prisons, drug and alcohol intervention programs, educational programs, employment programs, etc. that drain public revenue that could be used on other problems or simply returned to taxpayers.
What’s not to like?
As I’ve said before, the entire system of primary maternal custody and Dad as occasional visitor is based on ideas about the sexes that (a) aren’t true and never have been and (b) are sexist. Johnson agrees.
While there is great movement towards equally shared visitation time in at least 20 states, the majority of family courts still default to some version of model that has prevailed in separated families for decades:
Dad pays mom child support, and maybe alimony.
Mom is primary custodian and dad gets “Friday night special” — every-other weekend, and Wednesday night dinners.
This antiquated arrangement only reinforces the sexist notions:
Women are incapable of supporting themselves.
Fathers are inferior parents.
Right. It’s high time both of those notions were buried deep, deep underground somewhere, never again to see the light of day. Face it, nothing indicates that fathers aren’t just as capable of parenting well as mothers. And certainly, nothing prevents women from working and earning the best living their individual talents, educational level, ambition and hard work permit. The idea that they can’t – and shouldn’t be asked to – support themselves is just flat wrong and violates the most basic notions of gender equality.
Unquestionably, one thing standing in the way of their doing so is women’s propensity for choosing parenting over paid work when given the chance. That’s true of married and unmarried women alike and for one perfectly good reason. Human females are imbued with the same hormones that promote parenting behavior in all social mammals. That natural urge is hard to resist and countless mothers prove the point.
Fathers also are biologically tied to their kids via the same hormones. But human males are programmed to be the secondary parent. When Mom can’t or won’t care for the children, Dad’s brain is hard-wired to have him step in.
That’s one reason I think that the 50/50 arrangement proposed by Johnson could work well. Unfortunately, she phrases it in terms of “forcing” parents to behave differently than they now do.
If we unburdened the 10 million single mothers in this country from this responsibility (64 percent of millennial moms have had at least one baby out of wedlock, according to Johns Hopkins), and forced fathers to be true co-parents, gender economics in this country would look very, very different…
Two, fathers would be forced to make the hard work-life decisions that women have known for generations, leveling the workplace playing field.
That’s where I stopped smiling and reached for the bottle. Johnson advocates the right solution, but based on the wrong assumptions. The overwhelming majority of fathers don’t have to be “forced” to care for their kids either during marriage or after. Most want to do just that. But time and again, they defer to the women they’re married to whose choice it is to spend as much time at home with little Andy or Jenny as the family finances will allow. Post-divorce, court orders don’t give them the chance to be equal partners in parenting the children.
Overwhelmingly, fathers aren’t equal parents because they’re acceding to mothers’ wishes. That’s made all the easier by their hormonal makeup that’s told men for countless millennia that Mom is the primary parent. But 50/50 parenting opens the very opportunity men’s natural parenting tendency can respond to in order to make them the parents they can be. Johnson, like so many feminism-informed commentators, should read a book on the subject now and then.
If she’s not into biology, maybe sociology or psychology is more Johnson’s cup of tea. A glance at Sanford Braver’s classic “Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths” would be a good place for her to start. I say this because Johnson’s trafficking in Myth Number Two in Braver’s book. That myth holds that fathers are really uninterested in their kids and looking for any excuse to have nothing to do with them. That’s not only bunk, but one of the major reasons for fathers’ marginalization in their children’s lives is mother’s interference. Indeed, 25% of the divorced mothers Braver interviewed admitted that they’d done exactly that.
Which leads me to another problem with Johnson’s piece. The idea that what women really want is to be quit of childcare so they can join the corporate rat race has no basis in fact. It’s an old feminist nostrum that women’s behavior contradicts every day. After almost 50 years of feminist hectoring of women, the female half of the population still demonstrates pronounced preferences in favor of children and against paid work. At this point, barely 50% of women over the age of 20 are even in the workforce and fewer still are working.
Look at any of the countless datasets on the subject and they’re all of a piece. Women do more childcare than do men and men do more paid work than do women. That’s not an indication of the oppression of women, it’s an expression of millions of years of hominid evolution.
Finally, Johnson claims that “I know the pushback,” against 50/50 parenting. But she doesn’t. She thinks it’s about mothers who believe they’re the better parent or dads who don’t care about their kids and so resist equal parenting. (If the latter were true, why are there so many men’s and fathers’ organizations that promote equal parenting and none that oppose it?)
But that’s not the source of “the pushback.” No, the pushback comes from feminist organizations like NOW and the American Association of University Women, and family lawyers. Again and again, they’re the ones that oppose shared parenting or even the most moderate improvements to fathers’ rights in family courts. That’s something Johnson might want to think over.
Still, however she got there, at least she arrived at the right place.
And that makes me smile… while I pour myself that whiskey.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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