February 25, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Dr. Linda Nielsen is so much nicer than I am. I know this because of what she wrote here (Lincoln Journal Star, 2/24/15). It seems that Dr. John Rosemond’s thoroughly misleading and ill-informed article opposing shared parenting soiled the editorial pages of the Journal Star and, to its credit, the paper’s allowed Nielsen to clean up the mess. Few people are better qualified to do so.
Although I have largely lost patience with people like Rosemond who oppose equal parenting, Nielsen is more equable. The absence of fathers in children’s lives is one of the most damaging social ills we face. Its bad effects extend as far as the eye can see in all directions. Fatherlessness damages boys and girls, mothers and fathers, society generally and the public purse. It adversely impacts our schools and increases our prison population. It increases drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and child abuse. It damages the ability of individuals to form and maintain healthy relationships. It increases poverty for parents and children. And of course toward each of these problems, we direct ever increasing levels of public resources in an attempt to ameliorate their pernicious effects. Almost 50 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan decried the breakdown of the family among African-Americans. Then, few could have guessed that we would be repeating the same message in 2015, but now directed at all Americans.
Family courts play an enormous role in the demise of the American family. They don’t force anyone to divorce, but they make doing so enticing, at least for mothers. Child support and alimony are the most obvious financial incentives to divorce, but the “winner-take-all” system of child custody in which mothers can be virtually guaranteed to come out on top is another. Courts could make sure that children don’t lose one parent when the adults divorce. They could issue equal parenting orders that would allow children to maintain real, meaningful relationships with both their parents post-divorce, but they don’t. Not content with consigning Dad to the margins of his child’s life, courts then often refuse to enforce what little parenting time they’ve begrudged him.
Fatherlessness is perhaps the single most serious problem we face. Family courts do more than anyone or anything else to promote fatherlessness.
Amazingly, it is that very anti-father stance that John Rosemond endorsed in his recent article. Dr. Nielsen, in her tactful but forceful way, isn’t having it.
She begins by educating readers, and with any luck, John Rosemond, about the social science on shared parenting.
Many of us are upset with parents who feel they have the “right” to deprive their children of necessary medical attention, even though these loving and often well-educated parents sincerely believe this is in “the best interests of the child.” Similarly there are parents, judges and mental health professionals who advise against a powerful preventative medicine – one that protects children for a lifetime against damaged, weakened, or completely lost relationships with one of their parents. That preventative medicine is shared parenting — allowing children to continue living with both parents at least 35 percent of the time.
Mental health research clearly shows shared parenting provides the best outcomes in most cases for children whose parents aren’t living together. There are 43 peer-reviewed studies that compare children in shared parenting families to those who live primarily or exclusively with one parent. The results are clear and unambiguous. The children in shared parenting families have better outcomes.
Did the parents in the shared parenting families have especially communicative, friendly relationships with each other? No. Did they mutually agree at the outset to share rather than to hoard parenting time without any nudging from mediators, lawyers or therapists? No. Do these 43 studies show these children’s lives are unstable, disrupted or stressful because they lived in two homes instead of one? No.
When their parents are behaving badly towards each other, are children any worse off living in two homes rather than one? No. For the past quarter century, in dozens of research studies, have most children told us that the every other weekend parenting plan is meeting their needs, making them feel stable and secure, and reducing the disruption in their lives? No. In fact, they’ve told us quite the opposite.
Last year, 110 international experts on child development, early childhood attachment and divorce reached a ground-breaking consensus — shared parenting, including frequent overnighting with both parents for infants and toddlers, is in children’s best interests.
Without mentioning Rosemond by name, she nevertheless addresses him and all the other professionals who opine without knowing the science behind child well-being and family structure post-divorce.
Too many mental health professionals and professors offer recommendations about parenting plans that are based on their personal beliefs — not on empirical data. Indeed many of these professionals have never read the available research. Just as some poorly informed doctors offer outdated or harmful advice about medical treatments, there are professionals who offer advice to judges and mental health practitioners that is not research-based.
More troubling still, many of these speakers and writers convincingly present their opinions as if they were actually reporting empirical data – a disguise that is not only disingenuous but potentially harmful to children whose lives are affected by judges’ and mental health practitioners’ decisions regarding custody issues. In short, too many well intentioned judges and practitioners have been misled into accepting advice that is not based on empirical evidence.
Shared parenting is not about parents’ rights. It is about making the best choices for children — decisions that are firmly grounded in research — not on the personal opinions of parents, seminar speakers, mental health professionals or judges.
Thank you Dr. Nielsen for saying gently but pointedly what needs to be said. It is far past time that people like Rosemond should be allowed to peddle their fact-free opinions to an unsuspecting public. Children’s welfare and the specter of fatherlessness are far too important to everyone to leave to those who either don’t know the science on the matter or, if they do, are pursuing an agenda that’s bad for children, bad for fathers, bad for mothers and bad for all of us.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
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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