February 23, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Writing here, family psychologist John Rosemond, finally manages an unequivocally correct statement half way through his piece (Reno Gazette Journal, 2/16/15).
Part if not most of the problem is that in divorces that involve children, the kids are often regarded as prizes to be “won.”
There’s no doubt about that. The fact that one parent wins and the other loses a child custody case is the bane of family law. So it’s too bad that Rosemond evinces not the least idea about what might lead to the winner-take-all combat that too many child custody cases become. Can he really be so blind as to not see that the very thing he’s arguing for – radically unequal parenting time for one parent or the other – is what drives that zero-sum game? John, look at the obvious. When two parents go into a divorce and child custody case, they both know that, when the dust settles, one of them will emerge the winner with over 80% of the parenting time and all of the child support. The other will rarely see his kids and be relegated to a source of cash.
It is no surprise that parents, when faced with that inevitability, fight each other tooth and nail. Not only is one parent the clear “winner” and the other the “loser,” there’s plenty of emotional/psychological baggage that goes along with each. Hey Dad, how does it feel to be told by the judge, a representative of the state, that you’re so unimportant to your child that you can only see him/her four days out of the month, and not even that if Mom chooses to interfere? Do you feel like a “winner?” Do you feel valued at all? I didn’t think so.
Amazingly, Rosemond fails to see the obvious. He also doesn’t know the obvious. The winner-take-all scenario is so common and so well-known that mothers file 70% of divorces. As researchers Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen have shown, they do so because they know to a virtual certainty that they’ll “win” the custody bout. How does it make them feel to be established in law as the better, more deserving parent? They seem to think it feels pretty good. But Rosemond is so steeped in his anti-shared parenting bias that he either doesn’t know the facts or doesn’t want to know.
Perhaps more amazing, is his claim that equal parenting leads to increased conflict. It doesn’t. In fact it tends to ameliorate it. Rosemond could read Dr. Edward Kruk’s fine book, The Equal Parent Presumption and actually learn some of the science on the many, many benefits of equal parenting to children, mothers, fathers and society generally. It would disrupt virtually all of his assumptions and totally destroy his narrative about post-divorce reality, but sometimes that’s what education is all about.
One parent takes away a cell phone; the other parent goes out and buys the child another one. One parent grounds the child; the other parent lifts the grounding. One parent requires chores, the other does not. One parent, in short, becomes the evil disciplinarian while the other becomes the enabler, the child’s savior. The child, meanwhile, learns to be a master manipulator.
That can certainly happen when parents are bent on hating and undermining each other. But surely Rosemond doesn’t pretend that, under the current unequal parenting arrangements that are so common, parents don’t do exactly what he describes. Sadly they do. But the social science on the matter demonstrates that equal parenting tends to diminish parental conflict. Does it do so in all cases? Of course not, but the tendency is there. It’s one of the chief arguments in favor of equal parenting. As Kruk says,
Equal- and shared-parental responsibility arrangements do not increase inter-parental conflict (Bauserman 2002, Gunnoe and Braver 2001). Indeed, when neither parent is threatened by the loss of his or her children, conflict levels go down.
That’s about as straightforward as you can want. And the reason equal parenting reduces conflict is equally so. It does because neither parent faces losing his/her children. Both know they’ll have plenty of time with the kids, so there’s no reason to fight.
What Rosemond apparently didn’t notice is that his own description of parental conflict looks remarkably like parental alienation. When one parent becomes the “evil disciplinarian” and the other “the child’s savior,” there’s been some alienation. And of course parental alienation of a child is far more likely under an unequal parenting regime than an equal or near-equal one. Over one thousand articles have been written in scholarly publications about parental alienation. Maybe Rosemond would like to read one or two of them.
If he did, he’d learn that parental alienation of children is an opportunistic phenomenon. In order for a parent to successfully alienate a child from its other parent, the alienator must have time in which to accomplish the feat and the other parent must have too little access to the child to convince him/her of the truth. That’s been commented on often and is, if nothing else, common sense. The parent who sees the child 80% + of the time can convince the child the other parent is evil, doesn’t love the child, abuses the child, etc. The target parent has little ability to demonstrate the truth. But with equal parenting time, the child has ample opportunity to see the target parent for what he/she actually is. Again, Rosemond just gets it wrong.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Rosemond’s piece is scrupulously gender-neutral. He never refers to “him” or “her” or to “mothers” or “fathers.” But that scarcely means he’s arguing for gender neutrality in child custody cases. Far from it. What Rosemond, along with the rest of the world, knows all too well is that the courts are anything but neutral when it comes to ordering custody and parenting time. So when Rosemond argues for the status quo, i.e. unequal parenting time, he’s tacitly arguing for maternal custody with fathers on the sidelines calling “What about me?” His piece comes against a background, across the whole of the English-speaking world and beyond, in which fathers are kicked to the curb by family courts and family laws. Therefore, Rosemond’s argument, far from being balanced according to sex, is in fact the opposite. Arguing for more of the same can’t be described as gender-neutral.
Part and parcel of that is the fact that, as surely as the current system discriminates against fathers (and harms children), it does the same to mothers. I suppose it hasn’t occurred to Rosemond that, when courts saddle mothers with 80% – 100% of the childcare duties, they’re seriously impairing their ability to work, earn and save for retirement. Unsurprisingly, single mothers and their children are the most likely of all people in our society to live in poverty. A whopping 41% of single mothers with children in the home do. Although Rosemond may not realize it, when he argues for the status quo, that too is what he’s arguing for.
It’s not pretty. The current system is bad for children, bad for mothers, bad for fathers and bad for society generally. John Rosemond thinks it’s just grand.
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