Shared Parenting: A Woman’s Perspective

The following was submitted by Fathers and Families supporter Ruth LeFrancois.

I have always believed in the idea of shared parenting.  In spite of this belief, I hesitated to become active in this cause.  My inactivity was partially due to the guilt inflicted by members of my own gender.  Women contended that I could not understand the complexity of this issue because I was not a mother.  I allowed my childless tongue to be silenced.

While in my mid thirties I met and eventually married my husband.  We wanted children and soon began our journey toward joint parenthood.  We both experienced the utter joy then the debilitating loss of two pregnancies.  Happily, in April of 2010, we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

Our daughter is a very lucky child.  She has two loving parents who live together and try to give her every advantage.  Our little girl”s good fortune does not end with a two-parent household.  She is also a member of my husband”s large and close-knit family.

Her grandparents waited  in the delivery room during my labor.  When her grandfather mistakenly thought that my tears were from the fear of new motherhood, he gently rubbed my arm and reassuringly said, “Don”t worry.  You are not alone.  We are all here for you.’ 

I understood that his words were the honest and loving expression of his devotion to his entire family.  As our daughter entered the world for the first time, her grandparents heard her first cries.  They have been with her since that day.  Their advice, laughter, cuddles, gifts, and time are freely given to her (and to her new parents as well).

My daughter is actually the 7th grandchild.  She has unlimited access to her cousins.  The oldest girls hold her, laugh at her giggles, and try to make her giggle more.  The youngest girls show her their toys, and they include her in their games.  I have frequently found my daughter surrounded by her cousins as they hold her and caress her.  My daughter”s little face beams as she enjoys their attention, and reaches to touch the faces that smile down on her.

My daughter”s aunts and uncles are truly God”s gifts.   Each of my husband”s brothers and sisters live within 5 minutes of our home.  There is not a birthday neglected nor a holiday that is spent separately.   

My daughter was welcomed by these aunts and uncles in the same fantastic way that I was welcomed.  My daughter is loved.  Her growth and her life are supported.  Her aunts and uncles are her god parents, her babysitters, and her mentors.  Their professions as nurses, pharmacist, and dental hygienist, have given me limitless guidance.  They have quieted my worries and walked me through the scary moments of illness.  They have comforted my daughter and quieted her cries.  They have shared in her successes.

My daughter and I have been given unrestrained love and support from my husband”s family.  They have done this in spite of knowing the  pain of having  someone they love taken from them.

About 7 years before I met my husband, he married his first wife.  Four months later his wife left the marriage and moved 100 miles away.  Seven months after that, my husband was notified of the birth of his first child.

My husband and the members of his beautiful family were “allowed’ to visit this new baby only a few hours a week for the  first year of her life.  These visits were in the mother”s home and timed with precision.  After this first year, visits were  increased to 4 days a month.  When childcare was needed by the primary parent, my husband”s daughter was placed in daycare, and day camps. 

This virtually excluded  an entire family who wanted to be a part of her life.  It wasn”t until she was much older that summers were shared with her father. The devastating loss of my his first daughter was experienced by my husband, but it was also experienced by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  As I watch my daughter cry when she is taken from the arms of her half sister, I know that my daughter is also being hurt by the laws that were designed to be in the “best interest of the child’. 

The absence of time with my husband”s first daughter, during those formative years, caused my husband and his family to be virtual strangers to her.   My husband”s first daughter has been separated from half of her history, half of her bloodline, and the same full and wonderful life that my own daughter enjoys.

I can safely say that women do not hold a mysterious key to their children”s happiness and wellbeing. The strong bond that is between a child and a parent is developed through time and by nourishing that child”s body and soul.  I have learned this fact through parenting; women are not born with a higher wisdom about diapers, feedings, medicines, or love.

In the event that my husband and I were to become divorced, the laws that exist would allow me to rob my daughter of “quality time’ with her father.  In the event of a divorce, she would barely know the man that prayed for her very existence.  Her “extended’ family would be allowed to see her only during visitation with her father.  My daughter”s visits with her half sister (now limited by “visitation”), would become much less frequent.  All of this would happen because family court would allow me.  This is because I am a mother and in the eyes of family court, a mother is more important than  fathers, sisters,  brothers,  grandfathers,  grandmothers,  aunts,  uncles, and cousins. 

It takes two people to make a child.  Both parties had many choices before that child was conceived and then born.  Once, that child is born, there are two people who are equally responsible for the resulting life.  It can never be assumed that one parent deserves more time with a child than another parent. Certainly, custody cases should never be based on gender. Moreover, it is a modern-day crime to separate a child from the richness of the two extended families who deeply love them.

Women have been demanding equal rights for decades.  Unfortunately, most women are not interested in equal rights when it comes to shared parenting.  This is because in the eyes if the law a woman would be one of two parents, instead of the only parent that is recognized as competent.  It is time for equal rights and equal time for both parents, and child support imposed on absentee parents only. 

Perhaps this seems harsh.  Perhaps you may someday ask his first daughter how harsh it was to rarely see her father, be financially restricted, and go weeks between visits with her sister.  When  rights are given to one person, many rights have been take away from many people…not “just fathers’.  Having two parents needs to become the right of every child and every family.

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