May 17, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Prof. Kruk’s article in the Special Issue of the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage first details and then destroys the three waves of arguments against shared parenting. At first, opponents simply denigrated fathers as uninterested in their children and only proponents of shared care because they wanted to reduce their child support obligations. The problem with both was that subsequent research demonstrated that neither was true. In fact, fathers most highly valued their relationships with their children, refuting the radical feminist narrative.
After those efforts failed, Kruk explains, opposition got serious, i.e. it attempted to recruit science to its anti-dad cause. (Let me be clear that it was precisely anti-father. Essentially everyone at the time understood that, overwhelmingly, mothers got sole or primary custody of children post-divorce. Therefore, any attempt at sharing care was perceived as reducing mothers’ time with their children and increasing father’s.)
The first wave of objections to a legal shared parenting presumption was largely based on outdated versions of attachment theory that focused on children’s need for maintaining attachments with their mothers as primary caregivers (Bowlby, 1969). These arguments failed to take into account new research-based reformulations of attachment theory that emphasized children’s primary attachment to both parents, and the increasing popularity of shared caregiving in two-parent families.
By the late 70s or early 80s, Bowlby himself had abjured his original work, but, undeterred, anti-shared parenting forces soldiered on. Enter Goldstein, Solnit and Freud whose book, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child, was, at least as of the end of the millennium, the most influential work on post-divorce parenting arrangements, among judges.
The only problem was that its thesis – that there is but one “psychological” parent and so efforts to include both in children’s lives were pointless – was entirely without scientific support. As Canadian economist Paul Millar wrote, that thesis “is not only unsupported by evidence, but, worse, appears to promote harmful outcomes for children through the legal support given the destruction of one of the important parental relationships for the child.”
That’s what the anti-shared parenting forces found to their liking. To their dismay, reality intervened.
In rebuttal to the first wave of arguments against shared parenting, attachment theory has been amended to accommodate evidence that children form strong attachment bonds and relationships with both parents and show remarkable tenacity in continuing these under a variety of conditions (Lamb & Kelly, 2009)…
The major flaw of the primary parent or attachment figure argument is that it is based on outdated research and attachment theory formulations…
It is now well established that children form primary attachment bonds with both of their parents at the same stage in their development (Lamb & Kelly, 2009). Relationships spanning a range of activities and contexts, with minimal separations, are vital to preserving these attachments to both parents.
Much of that research dates back to the 70s, i.e. when anti-shared parenting advocates were citing research to support their claims that even then was out of date. Over forty years later, we now know to a certainty that the concept of one primary attachment figure is, as Millar said, unsupported by evidence.
The debunking of the primary parent argument has not deterred those who oppose shared parenting.
Their fallback position is that, because mothers do the majority of hands-on childcare, any arrangement following divorce should ape that during marriage. Again, there’s nothing to support the claim, but claim it they do.
This argument, however, fails to acknowledge the gender convergence of child care roles in contemporary families (Bianchi, 2000; Marshall, 2006). Current analyses report that employed mothers and fathers spend a comparable amount of time caring for their children. On average, employed mothers devote 11.1 hours to direct child care each week and fathers devote 10.5 hours, a 515 to 49% split (Higgins & Duxbury, 2002).
That’s true of course, but even if there were a significant difference between fathers’ and mothers’ parenting time, that should never interfere with a child’s relationship with its father post-divorce. Children form strong attachments with each parent. Sharply diminishing time spent with either parent is destructive to children regardless of whether Dad spends four hours a day with his child or one. Children aren’t watching the clock to see how much time each parent spends with them and adjusting their attachments accordingly.
It’s a simple matter. If little Andy or Jenny has a relationship with Daddy during his marriage to Mommy, it should continue robustly after they split up. That’s assuming we’re serious about acting in the best interests of children.