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May 6, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Sigh. I thought we were done with nonsense like this (Daily Mail, 5/4/16). The article is so misguided, so ill-informed and so at odds with itself, it’s hard to guess how it got published. I suppose we can chalk it up to a zeitgeist that, despite everything, still fears the concept of shared parenting, particularly the 50/50 variety.

That of course is closely allied to a concepts of mothers as ever-virtuous and fathers as suspect that are left over from decades of male bashing. Since the mid-70s, we’ve been fed a steady diet of men as violent brutes who take any opportunity to have nothing to do with their kids. Articles like the one linked to don’t help remind us of the truth – that both sexes can make excellent parents or the opposite.

The Daily Mail piece mostly bemoans the trauma that 50/50 parenting time visits on mothers.

Every mother lives for those small, joyful moments when her child masters something new - a book once too challenging, the telling of a joke previously stumbled over, a food devoured that had formerly been rejected.

For it's in the gentle minutiae of a little one's life that you really see their budding personality grow.

Imagine, then, the agonising pain of being privy to your child's life for only half the time. The milestones missed. The lost cuddles before bedtime. The long nights spent wondering if they are sleeping sweetly or crying out for Mummy.

Yes, being separated from your child can be hard. But of course nowhere does the article mention the fact that the overwhelming majority of divorced fathers endure far, far worse. Don’t like seeing your kids half the time? Try 25% of the time. Or 14%. Or not at all. How does that feel? Say, 50% isn’t so bad after all! That’s another way of saying that almost any divorced father would fall on his knees and thank Providence for anything close to 50% of the parenting time.

But for the article’s writer, Lauren Libbert, that’s not important. Do Dads have feelings? Do they suffer terribly the loss of their kids to divorce? Yes, but we don’t hear from them. I’ll hazard the guess that Libbert has a phone and knows how to use it. But she didn’t pick it up, punch in a few numbers and talk to any of the millions of British dads who see their kids rarely or not at all. After all, they might tell her how overjoyed they’d be to see little Andy or Jenny week-on/week-off. They might tell her that, difficult as half time may be, 20% is immeasurably worse.

It’s a message Libbert didn’t want to hear, so she scrupulously avoided chatting up any males.

Since hers is an anti-shared parenting article, it’s no surprise that the concept of children’s welfare is mostly absent. This is about mothers and their hurt feelings, so the question of what’s best for kids comes up only obliquely and then it’s only to bring up the old red herring that children suffer from moving between homes.

Veronica Sweeney-Bird is one such mother who wishes more than anything that her two little girls were having a more relaxed, stable childhood.

The theory being that, if Dad would just do the right thing and disappear, then the two girls would have a “more relaxed, stable childhood.” That of course is pure bunk. Children need both parents, regardless of how inconvenient it may be for Mom to share them with Dad. And no, moving from house to house weekly doesn’t cause noticeable harm. Malin Bergstrom’s study of 150,000 Swedish children revealed that shared parenting is the second best arrangement for kids, intact families being Number One. But that fact doesn’t fit Libbert’s “poor Mom” narrative, so it doesn’t see the light of day.

The notion that the only true parent is a child’s mother is never far from the surface of Libbert’s article. Somehow, neither she nor the mothers she quotes manage to grasp the idea that, if Dad is going to be an equal parent, not every decision can be made by Mom.

Although she trusts her ex-husband implicitly with the care of her girls, the lack of easy communication means she knows little of what they do in their time apart. More than this, decisions about their care are often made that are out of her control.

'I once went to pick the girls on my Thursday and was shocked to see that he had taken them to the hairdresser's without telling me,' says Veronica. 'Tali's hair had just grown long enough to tie into ponytails and now it was too short to tie up. I was devastated.

“Devastated” by a haircut. Those fathers Libbert didn’t talk to could have told her a thing or two about lack of control and wondering what their kids were being subjected to. Fathers complain regularly about not being informed of important medical decisions, educational issues and even where the child is living.

And it goes without saying that, since she’s writing an article on the subject, Libbert needs to lead readers to believe that the evil of 50/50 parenting is rampant. According to her, there’s a “growing legion of 50/50 mothers.” Really? That’s news to U.K. dads who seem to think they rarely get anything like that much time with their kids? What do the data say?

While official figures suggest that only 3 per cent of separated parents share their children's time equally, experts say this is a gross underestimate because many arrangements are unofficial - and so unrecorded.

Yes, that’s as close as Libbert gets to backing up her “growing legion” claim. How many British parents share custody equally? No one knows, and unnamed “experts” do nothing to enlighten us. I’d love to believe that significant numbers of divorcing parents are, on their own, opting for equal parenting that they know courts would never order, but in the absence of data, I can’t.

Interestingly though, once Libbert puts aside the “woe is Mom” spiel and allows readers to listen to mothers who seem to understand the value of children having real time with their dads, a different narrative emerges.

Nicola believes the children have adjusted well to this set-up and enjoy having two separate lives. But even after two years of having their mother only part-time, there are still signs of neediness. Sonny often plays up when he gets home from his father's after the weekend, she confesses, and is a lot more clingy and attention-seeking.

'But I know they feel secure and loved because my ex and I have a good relationship and can communicate easily and the kids know their routine well,' says Nicola.

And that's the key, according to Jane Robey. Communication, she says, is the key to a good shared care arrangement, and is often a problem with warring couples who can't put their personal differences aside…

'It's very hard to be apart from her but she loves her dad and enjoys spending time with both of us. She has two sets of toys and her own bedroom at both our places, and seems to have adjusted well to the new set-up.'

It is this maturity of attitude that more separating couples need to adopt, says Relate counsellor Denise Knowles, or children will undoubtedly suffer.

No doubt about it. Parents who behave like adults, who understand that the kids need to come first are the best at shared parenting. When mothers look at fathers and fathers look at mothers and both understand that the children need them both regardless of differing parenting styles, shared parenting works best.

Come to think of it, that “maturity of attitude” is exactly the opposite of what Libbert’s article (or most of it) promotes. Focusing solely on Mom’s sense of loss isn’t mature. It doesn’t help the child and it doesn’t help Dad. Good parenting is inherently not self-centered. Mothers who have the gall to complain about only seeing their kids half the time need to think about how lucky they are and how fortunate their children are to have not lost one parent following divorce.

Ask any divorced dad. He’ll give you an earful.

And so, it seems will the huge majority of the British people.

Eighty-four per cent of us believe both partners should have equal custody rights after a split, a YouGov poll found.

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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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