December 1, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
British childcare maven Penelope Leach is back and seems to be ducking for cover, much as her sister in arms Jennifer McIntosh has done. In the past, both have frankly opposed fathers having overnight visits with their children when the kids are young, i.e. under two, four or five depending on the study. And both have been skewered by the scientific community for doing so. After all, the great preponderance of social science on the matter demonstrates the opposite and there is no reliable science to support the proposition. Yes, there are two studies that purport to show problems with young children having overnights away from their primary caregiver, but neither is valid, at least not for that proposition.
One (the more reliable of the two) studied only data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing database. That population very clearly bears no resemblance to that of adults and children generally. It deals with families that have broken down, are poor and mostly consist of racial minorities. The data from that study are an excellent source from which to derive many conclusions, but generalized notions about children and overnights aren’t among them.
The second was far worse. It of course was authored by Jennifer McIntosh, et al and is so bad methodologically as to be irrelevant as demonstrated by Dr. Linda Nielsen’s utter destruction of it. In brief, not only did the authors study a tiny sample of children (as few as 21), but they used matrices to conclude that certain behaviors indicated stress in children that had never been verified to indicate that. As if that weren’t enough, they went on to decide that one type of behavior that has been verified as an indicator of progress toward the acquisition of language is actually an indication of stress. No one before or since has made such a claim or validated McIntosh’s claim.
Tellingly, Leach relies on the latter study to advance her theory that overnights away from the primary caregiver are detrimental to young children. She did that earlier this year and, as this article indicates, she’s still at it (Daily Mail, 11/29/14).
What Leach, McIntosh and the few others who are committed to marginalizing fathers in children’s lives refuse to acknowledge is that the great weight of good science on the subject of children and overnights demonstrates no detriment (assuming both parents to be fit and capable) and suggests positive effects. That’s the gist of the summary of existing science authored by Dr. Richard Warshak and signed onto by 110 of the preeminent social scientists on children’s well-being around the world.
But backpedal as they will, neither Leach nor McIntosh ever gets around to acknowledging Warshak, et al’s work. It’s as if they hope it’ll just go away if they ignore it long enough. Indeed, in the rather long linked-to article, Leach never mentions it. Yes, it’s the state of the art and yes, it’s a sound analysis of the social science to date on overnights for children, but from Leach it receives not a single word.
Still, in a desperate attempt to remain relevant, Leach, like McIntosh before her is trying to pretend that she’s all in favor of equal parenting. How she manages the feat while still opposing overnights is little but legerdemain. Laughably, Leach admits to often being wrong, but seems to believe that being frank makes up for it.
‘I say things as I see them which doesn’t make me always right, but at least it’s honest.
Well, honesty is a good thing, but in the area of child wellbeing, shouldn’t she also want to be right? Apparently that’s optional.
Still, part of the latest version of Penelope Leach seems to be the premium she places on keeping both parents in children’s lives. In her interview with the Daily Mail, she describes her recent book, Family Breakdown: Helping Children Hang on to Both Their Parents.
[I]f there is one message of the book, it is that children need both their mother and father more than we ever knew.’
She later adds,
The way forwards is through what she calls ‘mutual parenting’ — a joint emotional commitment to put your children’s wellbeing and happiness first. This means never using your children as weapons or trying to alienate the other parent. ‘Even if you think he is a bit rubbish as a dad, your children don’t — to them he’s just daddy. He’s the only father they know.’ And it also means keeping the channels of communication open, even if you are feeling that you want nothing whatsoever to do with each other. ‘It’s not easy, but for the children’s sake, it is worth every effort,’ she says.
Fine. So how does she rationalize the need of children for both parents with her anti-overnights stand? To put it frankly, she doesn’t. The two just seem to co-exist in her mind with no acknowledgement of the obvious conflict. After all, Leach knows about children’s attachment to their parents. She’s probably aware that children form strong attachments to both mothers and fathers and that neither attachment supersedes the other; neither is “primary” and neither “secondary.” And she’s surely aware that, if parents separate and one parent becomes the primary parent and the other doesn’t get to see his child except in limited daylight visitations, those attachments can either be broken or never formed in the first place, depending on the child’s age.
So, if children need both parents, what’s the justification for denying one (almost invariably the dad) to the child? Leach doesn’t explain. Except maybe she does. It turns out that Leach, as a child, hated her dad.
In Family Breakdown, she writes of an anonymous girl, ‘sent to boarding school because her furious father couldn’t, and didn’t pretend he wanted to, look after her and he would not allow her to live with her mother and mother’s lover… This child felt herself to be out of sight and out of mind.’
This child, she readily admits, was herself. ‘I didn’t like my father. My mother hated me to say it, and so did my older sister. They would say, “Nonsense, you love him really,” and I would say, “No I don’t.” He was vindictive because he didn’t want to look after me himself, but nor could he bear my mother to have me. I was frightened of his temper which wasn’t excessive, but he was irritable and I never felt comfortable with him.’
So, absent a scientific basis for her claims that overnights with one parent may be detrimental to children, I’m tempted to conclude that Leach’s dogged determination may have more to do with her own personal upbringing than with any legitimate analysis of the literature on overnights. Something has to explain it and it’s not the social science on the matter.
On that, just so we’re clear, here’s what I posted back in June (NPO, 6/22/14). It consists solely of Dr. Richard Warshak’s and Dr. Linda Nielsen’s responses to Leach’s claims. Go back and read what they said. Those two have more to say on the subject than I ever could and their emails to me speak volumes about Leach even beyond their destruction of her arguments. When respected academics use words like “bamboozle” to describe what Leach and McIntosh are attempting to do, we know to a certainty that the anti-father crowd is engaging in behavior that’s not just wrong, but unconscionable. That’s made doubly clear by Warshak’s reference to Leach’s claims as being “in defiance of conclusive evidence to the contrary.” The person whom the Daily Mail calls “Britain’s childcare guru” begins to look more like a charlatan.
Let us be completely clear; in the United Kingdom, 90% of parents with primary custody are mothers. That means anyone who opposes overnights with the non-primary parent opposes children (all the way up to age five!) having real relationships with their fathers. That’s the case even though father and child may have securely-established attachments to each other. Much as they might swear to honor the need of children for fathers, people like Leach and McIntosh can’t avoid the incontrovertible fact that their shoddy claims have but one result — the marginalization of fathers in the lives of their children. The very idea that, sometime around age four or five, Daddy and little Andy or Jenny can simply pick up a full relationship, having previously been denied one, is absurd.
Even if the science on the matter weren’t so clear, the fact would remain that what these people are doing is engaging in a last-ditch effort to take fathers out of the lives of their children and vice versa. Divorce courts all but invariably favor mothers. A dwindling number of social scientists cling to that very notion. A few self-proclaimed childcare “experts” do too.
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