October 10, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
My post yesterday on the 2015 resolution by the Council of Europe endorsing shared parenting and urging member states to incorporate it into their family laws referred only to the resolution itself. But there was also a backup document by Francoise Hetto-Gaasch of Luxembourg. Essentially, it provides background information for the resolution including the scientific justification for shared parenting, current practices by various member states, etc. It’s an interesting read.
It’s interesting for a number of reasons, but mostly because it basically gets the science on shared parenting right while at the same time attempting to place it in an egalitarian feminist context.
So, the scientific authority most referred to in the document entitled “Equality and Shared Parental Responsibility: the Role of Fathers,” is our good friend Dr. Linda Nielsen. Unsurprisingly, Hetto-Gaasch ends up with empirically-based conclusions about parenting time and the well-being of kids post-divorce.
For the purposes of this report, “shared residence” means an arrangement whereby the child lives alternately with each parent for more or less equal amounts of time, which may be fixed in days or weeks, or even months…
One question I sought to clarify was whether or not there was a real benefit for children who spend at least 35% with each parent, as compared with those who live primarily with their mother and spend less than 35% with their father. This led me to consider which type of arrangement was best for children.
(The mere fact that she knows that 35% is the minimum parenting time at which shared parenting confers benefits on kids means Hetto-Gaasch is conversant with the science on the matter.)
17. The positive effects of shared residence have been highlighted in numerous studies. In the United States, the most significant study on this subject, carried out in the 1980s (the Stanford Custody Project), analysed over a four-year period the situation of 1 386 children aged between 4 and 16, from 1 100 divorced families. The study concluded that in comparison with children living primarily with their mother, those living under a shared residence arrangement were less prone to depression, were well adjusted, were less likely to be stressed as they did not feel obliged to take care of their mother, were less agitated, were more able to deal with conflicts, were more balanced and happy, had fewer health problems and had a better relationship with their two parents. Their fathers attended school events more frequently and the children felt that both parents had the same level of authority.
18. Similar results emerge from studies carried out in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. In Australia, a 2009 study found that 70% to 80% of parents who had opted for shared residence were satisfied with their choice, but above all that shared residence benefits both parents and children and children derived real benefit from this arrangement.
That’s a fair summary of the effects of shared parenting on parents and kids alike. Hetto-Gaasch goes on to cite other pertinent information. For example, one German researcher found “that 40% of children lose contact with the parent with whom they do not live some years after the separation or divorce and that 93% of young adults who had tried shared residence stated that this was the best solution for them.”
Now, I’ve argued many times that egalitarian feminism should avidly support shared parenting. That’s obviously true for a number of reasons. First, if feminism truly supports gender equality, then it must support equal parenting post-divorce. It simply can’t be any other way. One is either pro-equality or one isn’t.
Second, and most important to feminists is the fact that, by relieving mothers of much of the parenting responsibility, shared parenting frees them to be more financially independent and self-sufficient. When Mom has 80% - 100% of the parenting time, she clearly has less time to work, earn, be promoted and save for her retirement than if she has 50%. That very financial independence has long been a hallmark of feminist aspirations for women, so, for the sake of their support for women, feminists should support shared parenting.
Of course they don’t, which is another issue altogether, but interestingly enough, Hetto-Gaasch says what I’ve always expected feminists to say, i.e. that if we really want to free men and women of their traditional gender roles, then one good place to start is with parents’ relationships with their children.
[Professor Hildegund Sünderhauf-Kravets] commented that living with only one parent (usually the mother) perpetuated outdated parental roles by placing too much of the responsibility on the woman. Accordingly, the effects of shared residence were for the most part positive, both for the child and for the parents. Sociological studies have found that when residence was shared the child often fared as well as in a united family, and the child’s attachment to each parent was the same. These studies also showed that because both parents were able to work, they were able to earn more. So it seems that in most cases shared residence is the best way of preserving contact with the father and safeguarding the rights of the parents.
Appropriately, Hetto-Gaasch goes on to limit her embrace of equal parenting in the ways recognized by science. Extreme irreconcilable conflict between the parents, domestic violence and child abuse are examples of situations that make equal parenting unfeasible.
That and more is all to the good, but I must issue a caveat. In keeping with the feminist context that runs throughout her document, Hetto-Gaasch makes statements that give me pause. For example,
Equality between partners has been fundamental in freeing women from the patriarchal model which kept them confined to the home.
That’s a feminist concept that bears little relationship to reality. It assumes that, throughout human history, women have been longing to leave their homes and children and do something – who knows what? - else, and, but for the jackboot of pitiless males applied to their necks, they’d have done so. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s no accident, and certainly not a sinister plot by any “patriarchy,” that women have always opted, where possible, to emphasize the care and nurturing of their children above all other endeavors.
After all, it’s not “patriarchy” but biology that connects them to their kids. A variety of sex hormones, produced by women’s bodies during and after pregnancy bond them to their kids. Were it not for those hormones, the human race would either not exist at all or would look entirely different from what it does today. Indeed, in essentially all social mammals and birds, those hormones recruit adults to the dangerous, time- and resource-consuming task of caring for offspring. That behavior is not in adults’ best interests, but they do it anyway because they’re biologically programmed to.
Yes, the roles of women as caregivers to children and men as resource-providers for all have been reinforced by societal norms, the law, custom and practice. And they still are. But to pretend, as feminists do, that those norms have been forced on unwilling women by brutal men finds no support in the history or evolution of the species. For millennia, up until the mid-19th century or so, neither sex ever complained about traditional sex roles, a fact that strongly indicates that both tacitly agreed with them.
Finally, Hetto-Gaasch uses the term “shared parental responsibility” altogether too much for my comfort. Shared parental responsibility is susceptible to the interpretation that, as long as one parent must be consulted about the important issues in the child’s life, then the couple have a shared parenting arrangement and all is well. In short, the concept of shared responsibility omits any notion of shared parenting time.
Children don’t gain the benefits of shared parenting by Mom telephoning Dad every few months to ask if it’s OK if little Andy or Jenny goes to camp in the summer or plays soccer in the fall. Any notion of shared parenting that excludes equal or near equal parenting time is a Trojan horse.
And it turns out that it may have been exactly that Trojan horse that destroyed shared parenting in Great Britain back in the 1980s.
More about that next time.
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