I just read the article “When did Fathers Become Expendable” and felt compelled to write a response. A lot of this is going to be based on my gut feeling and a lot is going to be based on my experience. Some of it will be based on statistics.
The article, making a case for why fathers are important, is a response to a sort of undercurrent in our society that seems to marginalize the role of fathers in children’s lives. Since I’ve experienced how this plays out in the courts and in society, I can tell you that this sort of idea of fathers as a “less than parent” is very real. This idea is often expressed with statements like dads watching children are “babysitting” or dads wanting to watch their children “are good dads.”
The social dialogue needs to change on parenting. There is too much emphasis on gender roles and not enough emphasis on parenting responsibility. There is a lot of talk about all of things that mothers and fathers give. The focus should be on creating and supporting the role of two loving parents. The benefit of this emphasis is to give children more support. Rather than citing gender differences as the source good, bad or better parents, the focus should be on enlisting the support of the two persons responsible for creating and loving the child.
Two moms can raise healthy children. Two dads can raise healthy children. Heterosexual couples can raise healthy children. Split parents can raise healthy children. Both parents can contribute equally, albeit sometimes very differently, to their children’s lives. Women can teach boys and girls about courage. Men can teach children about love and compassion. These qualities or values are not solely the traits of one gender.
One parent can do a good job, but it is more difficult to parent as a single parent. It does not mean children will be forever scared if two parents aren’t involved. However, the love and support of two parents is helpful to a child’s development. Denying a child a loving relationship with a supportive parent is not a good idea. It denies children the strengths, values and care of another parent. We are a society that advertises good parenting and yet creates barriers, through the family court system, to playing the role of a good parent.
Nobody likes divorces or separations. Those people who have gone through it won’t tell you that it was a fun time. Children won’t tell you it was an enjoyable experience. However, children should not be a prize for “winning.” Our laws and the outcome of family courts have decided that women love their children 80 percent more than men based on the outcome of most custody arrangements. Men are labeled abusive or “bad dads” until they prove otherwise. I, personally, didn’t realize I was labeled a deadbeat, disengaged, and non-loving parent until I went through our courts.
It makes sense to assume that both parents love their children. They always have. Men and women have played different roles in parenting historically. Women have also played a different role in the workplace historically. Those things have changed and our society has changed. What has not changed is the need for children to be loved and supported. What has also not changed is that both men and women love their children. They love them in different ways and they gain strengths from both parents.
Children do better with fathers in their lives. This has a lot to do with a parent’s loss not being felt by children and less to do with gender differences. Having a loving and supportive masculine figure around is advantageous to children. Healthy relationships with men and healthy ideas about masculinity can occur without men present in a child’s life. It is just that having a regular “father figure” engaged in a child’s life is better. Children feel it when that “father figure” is not around. The stats about the benefits to children with fathers around indicate that children gain “something” from the father. Those intangible things from fathers are not easily quantifiable or simply explained by a man being present. This issue of the importance of fathers is not a statement about mothers being incapable of raising children without men or about same sex couples not being able to do a good job. The issue of the importance of fathers is about the benefits of enlisting the strengths of men. A father wanting to play a role in raising children is not an anomaly. This type of engagement is an evolved expression of the changes that have occurred in our society. Make no mistake, men have always been parents. They just parented differently in the past. They parent differently in the present and will in the future.
Children losing their parents and children feeling torn between two families are hurt by those circumstances. Children need to feel loved and supported. Children feel that best when the people that have always loved them are present. Healthy childhood development is not tied to the gender of the parent(s) or even blood. It is tied to how children bond and grow with those who have nurtured them. It is also tied to how they are shaped by the society that says this is what love and support are.
Our society needs to enlist help from both parents and ensure that both can give to their children. This is best expressed with a better distribution from family courts of parenting responsibility: time, money, and love. The circumstance of each family and child will dictate how children receive care. However, assumptions should not be made as to who is the best parent based on gender. Family court focuses on placing children with the lesser of two evils which is why home evaluators look for what is wrong with homes. There are clear distinctions between safe homes and homes with unfit parents. However, the vast majority of homes have two parents who are good people just trying to raise their kids the best way that they can. The focus needs to shift on creating greater supports for children. The previous cultural narrative and family courts have been focused on how we can create single parent homes.
Kids benefit from more support. That support is not tied to a gender. There are a lot of gifts that parents have that they give to their children. Some of those gifts are present more in men. Some are present more in women. The focus should be on how to provide those gifts to our children rather than assuming that only one parent has gifts. Children need and do better with the love of both parents. Our laws and social dialogue need to shift to how we can better express providing that care for children.