November 12, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In the “Water Still Wet” department, comes this Irish study of children’s welfare and contact with non-resident fathers (Irish Times, 11/10/15). To no one’s surprise, children do better when they have more contact with their dads than when they have less. Their mothers tend to do better too. The study comes from a database of 11,000 Irish kids and their parents.
How much do fathers matter when they are not living with the mothers of their children? They matter a great deal, and this is underscored by Watch Them Grow, a report written by Dr Owen Corrigan and published by Treoir. Treoir promotes the rights of unmarried parents and their children. For his report, Dr Corrigan analysed the findings of the Growing Up in Ireland study of more than 11,000 children and their parents.
For example, the report finds, the quality of the relationship between the non-resident father and the mother can even affect the child’s physical development. The research examined the same families when the child was nine months old and again when the child was three.
Children whose parents’ relationship improved over the period were twice as likely to be able to throw a ball overarm and almost twice as likely to be able to grip a pencil in the correct fashion. These little markers show how deeply the relationship between the parents can affect the child even when the parents do not live in the same home.
Father/child contact affects the whole system within which a child lives. For example, the more contact the father had with the child the less stressed the mother was.
She was also more likely to be employed. That too is no surprise. After all, when Dad provides childcare, Mom is more likely to be able to hold a job. As every parent knows, even minor interruptions to work schedules can cause problems for employers. So a reliable fall back caregiver is all but a necessity.
That contact alone can improve the financial situation within the family. For example, if a father increases the amount of time he spends with his child, the risk of the mother becoming unemployed goes down. It looks as though the sharing of parental duties makes it easier for the mother to hold on to her job. Again, that might seem pretty obvious but it underlines the fact that the more fathers are in touch with their children the more the whole family benefits.
Unfortunately, the writer of the linked-to article, Padraig O’Morain makes the too common assumption that, because dads aren’t present, or because they’re not contributing money to the mother, they’re deadbeats.
Sadly, half of the non-resident fathers were making no financial contribution to the child’s upkeep. About one-fifth of the fathers who were contributing when the child was nine months old had stopped contributing in any way by the time the child was three. That is a disturbing figure. Some men may be unable to afford to contribute anything, but anecdotal evidence suggests to me that others are all too willing to get out of doing the right thing by their child and by their child’s mother.
Anecdotal evidence, indeed. Here’s a suggestion for Mr. O’Morain, who bills himself as “counsellor” — ask the fathers why they don’t pay more to the mothers or see their kids more. Ask them and then listen to what they say. Or, if you don’t want to do that, just read Sanford Braver’s book “Divorced Dads.” You see, Braver and his colleagues asked those questions and discovered some fascinating things. In a nutshell, the myths O’Morain still traffics in are just that — myths. “Myths” as in “not true.” So, while O’Morain still seems to believe that non-resident dads “are all too willing to get out of doing the right thing by their child and by their child’s mother,” Braver, et al concluded that,
Most [dads] continue a surprisingly high amount of contact with their children, and much of whatever disconnection does occur can be attributed directly to mothers impeding or interfering with visitation.
Fancy that. It’s amazing, Mr. O’Morain, what you can learn when you read a book. Contrary to your lazy assumptions, many, many mothers simply keep fathers out of their kids’ lives while still expecting them to contribute money. Interestingly, that’s a stance the courts fully support. The Irish study notes that fathers who were well connected to their kids when the wee ones were nine months old, tended strongly not to be by age three. What happened in the meantime? O’Morain is happy to chalk it up to the general perfidy of dads that was in some way absent at one age and present a couple of years later. Again, Braver knows better.
If you want to know why some fathers disconnect, we found, look to the parenting role assigned to them by the legal system and/or by their ex-spouses.
It turns out to be hard for fathers to be the best dads they can be when their ex-wives, backed by the court system, continually tell them they’re worthless but for the checks they send.
Our statistical results were very clear and surprisingly unambiguous. While many factors were related, one explanation turned out to be superior to all the others and literally rose to the top in terms of its ability to explain or predict which fathers would remain involved in their children’s lives and which ones would disconnect. I call this factor feeling “parentally disenfranchised.”
Has O’Morain, in his counselling practice, actually asked single fathers questions that might elicit real responses about why they’re not more involved in their kids’ lives? Apparently he hasn’t. Like so many others, he’s happy to take his cues from popular culture and assume that dads, given half a chance, are deadbeats. In so doing of course, he’s contributing his small share to exactly what Braver is talking about. O’Morain is encouraging himself and others to “parentally disenfranchise” fathers. By telling mothers that fathers are deadbeats waiting to happen, he’s encouraging them to marginalize the dads in their kids’ lives. That of course fulfills the prophecy and continues the cycle of fatherless kids and impecunious single mothers. Good job, Padraig!
Fortunately, the report of the Irish study is more sensible.
The report urges the Government to foster contact between non-resident fathers and their children.
But of course that horse left the barn last year with the passage of a bill that, despite the urgings of fathers’ rights advocates, left unmarried Irish fathers playing second fiddle to the mothers of their children. Those dads still have to jump through many hoops just to legally become fathers. Unmarried mothers of course have the status of parent strictly as a result of their biological relationship to their children.
And so it goes. Pop culture, largely ignorant of the stern legal realities faced by fathers, continues to pretend that, if dads would just become better people — perhaps even the moral equivalent of mothers — then all this silly business of fatherless children would go away. In so doing, it promotes the very problem it claims to abhor.
Around, around, around we go and where we stop, nobody knows.
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