UK: Shadow Minister for Children and Families Poses as Concerned About Dads

December 31, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

She doesn’t mean it. Truly, she doesn’t. I can tell by reading her own words here (The Independent, 12/30/14). Labor MP and shadow minister for Children and Families, Alison McGovern, was heard making cheerful noises to the effect that (a) times are a-changin’, (b) fathers are taking more responsibility for childcare, (c) public policies haven’t kept up with the changes and (d) it should do so. To which, all right-minded people respond “Jolly good!” A-D are in fact true, as any number of datasets and studies demonstrate.

But when it comes to those pesky updates to public policy, McGovern’s just like all the rest who pretend to want change but never follow through. The election that ushered in the Cameron/Clegg government was preceded by a veritable cacophony of voices all to the effect that, to be brief, see A-D above. Some of us believed it. Some, like me, actually believed that an effort might be under way to treat fathers as, if not quite equal to mothers, then at least worthy of noticing. But then came the infamous Norgrove Commission whose sole purpose was to conclude that nothing should change regarding fathers’ rights in family courts. In due course it did just that and was loudly excoriated for its use of shoddy science to reach a pre-conceived goal.

What followed was a more patient and less transparent move in exactly the same direction. The result was a new law that all but ensures no change for fathers or the children who need them.

So are we now to believe that the plaintive mewling of the illustrious Ms. McGovern is any better? I don’t think so, and I can more or less prove the point.

Alison McGovern, the new Shadow Minister for Children and Families, said she wanted to change the way in which childcare is seen as a women’s issue, because fathers are just as concerned about the pressures on budget and time as mothers. The Wirral South MP said the change was evident at the school gate, where both mothers and fathers wait to collect children, unlike a decade ago.

She criticised the "lazy assumption" that all women had an "inbuilt interest in small children", and the exclusion of fathers from the political debate, adding that Labour’s manifesto would take into account the father’s role, in what will inevitably be dubbed a "dadifesto".

I don’t mean to instruct McGovern on well-established biology, but, while it’s true that women generally have no “inbuilt interest in small children,” mothers have exactly that. (And after all, it’s mothers and fathers at issue here, not men and women generally.) As I’ve mentioned several times before, pregnancy in females of essentially every mammal species including humans, produces increases in hormone levels that cause parenting behavior. We know this because, among other things, when those hormones are injected into mammal females who aren’t mothers, they begin acting like mothers. So do male members of bi-parental species.

McGovern’s statement is at best misleading, at worst flat wrong, but I don’t wish to be picky.

The reason I know she doesn’t mean it when she claims to want a change in public policy benefiting fathers is this:

Labour has already pledged to extend free childcare for three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week, but Ms McGovern said she wanted to hear from parents about what else could be done.

What else could be done? McGovern’s idea of radical change is “to extend free childcare for three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week,” not exactly a clarion call for equalizing parental relationships with children. Indeed, it has essentially nothing to do with that. On one hand McGovern claims to want dads more involved in parenting and recognized for being so, and on the other she proposes a change that would primarily benefit single mothers. Intact couples have a much easier time of arranging childcare than do single parents and the vast majority of single parents with kids are mothers. Therefore, McGovern’s proposal is aimed squarely at helping mothers who’ve either divorced their children’s father or never married him in the first place.

But far worse is her pretense that she wants “to hear from parents about what else could be done.” Here’s a simple message, Ms. McGovern: you don’t need to. You don’t need to hear from those parents because you already have. They’ve already made their voices heard loudly and clearly. Your claim that you haven’t heard them and don’t know what they’re saying is pure unadulterated nonsense.

The simple fact is that there are many organizations in the U.K. that have been shouting for equal parenting for decades now. Some individuals dress up in superhero costumes and scale public buildings. Others write articles. Still others lobby their MPs. Still others camp out in front of ministers’ houses.

Their message is simple: Children need both parents in their lives before and after divorce; fathers are now doing almost as much hands-on childcare as are mothers, a fact demonstrated by data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; society benefits from children having two parents in their lives; so do fathers; mothers benefit as well because when Dad does 50% of the childcare, Mom is freed to earn more and save more, thereby making her less dependent on Dad; family courts routinely marginalize fathers in the lives of their children, first by denying them meaningful parenting time and second by refusing to enforce the meager time they give.

Ms. McGovern, if you really want to change things for the better, change the way child custody is ordered by family courts. Equalizing mothers’ and fathers’ parenting time would do more than anything I can think of to improve the lot of children, mothers, fathers and society generally. Into the bargain, it would dramatically reduce the amount of money drained from the public purse to try to deal with the multiple problems associated with fatherlessness.

More to the point, take three minutes out of your busy day and enter a Google search term like “equal parenting,” and see what type of information you get. The fact is, the message about what needs to be done and why is everywhere; you can’t miss it. But, Ms. McGovern, it’s all too apparent that what you seek is the public perception that you care about the issue of children, fathers and mothers, while doing as little as possible about it. And in that, you begin to look exactly like everyone who’s gone before you. Nick Clegg, the Norgrove Commission and countless others have all made the same noises, and yet here we are. It’s almost 2015, and 90% of divorced British fathers barely see their children and one-third of British children never see their fathers.

Ms. McGovern, until you deal with those issues — i.e. the important ones — stop striking your concerned poses. We’ve seen this act before. We know how the play ends.


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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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