May 15, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
With Warshak’s and Nielsen’s articles and their massive backing from reputable social scientists around the world came an article in the Australian newspaper The Age by Bettina Arndt that I wrote about here. It did little but point out the obvious — that McIntosh’s work and the conclusions drawn by her and others about overnight care of very young children had little-to-no support in the literature, and that various organizations in Australia were reevaluating their positions on the matter in light of Warshak, Nielsen, et al.
Still, that was too much for McIntosh who penned this hasty and altogether too glib reply:
My extensive clinical and academic work in family law and early childhood development, and my research with Bruce Smyth and Margaret Kelaher, are evidence-based and consistent: our findings have never said ''never'' to overnight care of young children in divorce, nor anything about children needing mothers more than fathers. Infants need consistency of care, and the ongoing, warm involvement of both parents. Our research cautions against high-frequency, shared overnight care for young infants. This is the consensus with other studies on this question. Bettina Arndt relies on the petition of US psychologist Richard Warshak to argue otherwise, even though Dr Warshak himself reports that his hand-picked signatories ''may not agree with every detail'' of what they signed up to. While there are opinions to the contrary, and the circumstances of individual cases differ, there is no developmental evidence to support claims that equal or near-equal overnight care is the optimal starting point for co-parenting infants after separation. That is the science we have to date. The rights and needs of children must not be allowed to give way to gender politics.
To say the least, that’s a weak and all-but-irrelevant reply both to Arndt’s article and the work of Warshak, et al and Nielsen. For the most part, McIntosh simply lines up straw men and knocks them down in the hopes that readers will conclude that she’s actually responding to something someone said at some time about something McIntosh said at some time. She’s not.
So, no one — neither scientist nor journalist — has ever said McIntosh has ever “said ‘never’ to overnight care of young children” or that she’s said children need mothers more than fathers. Her faux indignation on the subject may convince people who haven’t read her work or the responses to it, but no one else. Straw-man arguments are among the weakest in the pantheon of debate tactics, and so they are here. That McIntosh uses them almost exclusively in her comment says a lot about the validity of same.
McIntosh’s characterization of Warshak’s work is more scurrilous still. She calls it a “petition,” which is just downright weird. As a social scientist, McIntosh well knows what his paper is; it’s a thorough-going review of the existing science on parenting and overnight care of young children post-divorce or separation. To call it a “petition” is intellectual dishonesty at its most blatant.
But to say that the 110 scientists who endorsed his review were “hand-picked” by him is even worse. In fact, he didn’t pick them, they picked themselves. As the paper says right there on page one, they received drafts of the paper, made comments and suggestions some of which were incorporated into the document and, when the whole thing was finalized, gave their good names and support to it. As such, they were, as reputable social scientists with personal integrity, free to opt into the project or opt out. Those decisions were theirs, not Warshak’s.
And of course McIntosh is free to come up with a list of scientists who are willing to go on record opposing Warshak’s conclusions, if she can find them. To date, she hasn’t done so. Nor has she announced her intention to try.
Her point that not all the scientists “agree with every detail” of Warshak’s analysis is of course true, and Warshak makes the point himself early on in his work. But McIntosh wants readers to believe that that fact in some way renders the paper itself questionable. It doesn’t. The 110 scientists signed on to the whole work. That means they agree with its main points and it as a whole. It means that any points of disagreement they have with it are too trivial to prevent them from lending their names and reputations to the work. Again, McIntosh knows this.
Finally, her claim that, in some way, the work of 111 reputable social scientists around the world constitutes “gender politics,” I’d almost conclude borders on the delusional. But it doesn’t. We know this because in fact it’s carefully made to deflect readers’ attention away from who’s really been playing the gender card all these years.
Here are some simple facts, well known to all who pay attention to issues relating to divorce and child care. In Australia and throughout the English-speaking world, the overwhelming amount of parenting time ordered by courts is given to mothers. In Great Britain and Canada, it’s about 90%. In the U.S. it’s about 83%. In Australia it was about 90% until recently, but, with the various changes to Australian family law over the last eight years, I’m frankly not sure what the numbers there are now. But whatever the precise figures, one thing is clear — when we talk about custodial parents, we’re talking about mothers in all but exceptional cases, and when we talk about non-custodial parents, we’re talking about fathers. That’s Fact Number One.
Fact Number Two is that social scientists working in the field of parenting and divorce know Fact Number One. Just because they’re not lawyers or judges, doesn’t mean they don’t know what goes on in family courts.
Fact Number Three is that those same social scientists - Warshak, Nielsen and McIntosh included — understand that their work has the potential to be used in those very family courts. It may affect the course of family law and parenting policies. When anyone studies and publishes his/her findings about parenting post-divorce, that person understands that their work exists partly in the context of family courts and family laws. It’s a necessary part of the process. The science they do does not remain in the ivory tower of academia. It’s meant to enlighten those who decide which parent will get custody, how much time each parent will legally spend with the child, etc. Indeed, many of the papers on overnight parenting for young children acknowledge this in so many words.
Finally, Fact Number Four is that those same social scientists want their work to have an impact on public policies relating to parenting. It is beyond belief that a scientist would do scrupulous work on what’s best for kids but not care if that work enlightened public policy or judicial decisions regarding children. My guess is that’s one reason Warshak went to the trouble of dealing with 110 other scientists in the publication of his paper. It would have been a lot easier to simply write and publish the thing by himself. So I suspect the man wanted the paper to have a greater impact on public policies than it would have if it had appeared under just his name, so he involved others.
In short, social scientists working in this area are well aware of the highly gendered political and legal context in which they do their research and publish their findings. Therefore, anyone who says, as McIntosh does, that “our research cautions against high-frequency, shared overnight care for young infants,” is aware of what the statement means in practice. In the overwhelming percentage of cases, it means “our research cautions against fathers having frequent overnights with their young infants.”
Of course McIntosh would doubtless claim that her statement doesn’t necessarily mean that, and of course she’s right. In some few cases, it might mean that it’s Mom who’s holding the short end of the parenting time stick. But again, such a response is too facile by half. McIntosh and everyone else involved in the field know that it’s mothers who have the lion’s share of parenting time and so, when we ask if it’s a good thing for one parent to have overnights, the parent in question is a father, not a mother. In the real world in which this question arises, it is fathers and not mothers whose parenting time with their children is up for debate.
Parenting time is among the most gendered phenomena in all of society. Therefore, to pretend that in some way, Warshak or Nielsen or Bettina Arndt or someone is, out of the blue, bringing gender politics into an otherwise pristine scientific and legal landscape is absurd.
But, bad as her comment on Arndt’s article is, McIntosh’s behavior prior to that has been far worse. I’ll get to that in my next couple of pieces and I’ll do so in the context of the gender politics she’s all of a sudden so keen to condemn.
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