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December 4, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

We now know that John Bolch has heard of social science. Not only that, we know he’s read a study on the social science on the influence of fathers on children’s welfare. That would be a bit more impressive if he’d draw the correct conclusions from having read the study. It would be even more impressive if the experience would spur him to read more on the subject. The man has demonstrated repeatedly that he doesn’t know the first thing about that science but nevertheless feels competent to opine on parenting and children’s welfare.

Well, John, congratulations, you’ve now read a study. Good for you. But, since your conclusions from it are at best only partly accurate, allow me to suggest that you go a step further and read Richard Warshak’s consensus paper on shared parenting that summarizes the state of the science on that topic. It’s endorsed by 110 scientists around the world working in the field, so you might find it persuasive. Stranger things have happened, at least I think they have.

The paper Bolch managed to read found among other things that what’s important to children’s welfare isn’t the gross amount of time spent by a parent with the child, but what’s actually done during that time. Generally speaking that makes sense. No interaction at all between parent and child over a long period of time is likely not better for the child than real interaction over a shorter period. There’s nothing revolutionary in that idea.

But there are problems with Bolch’s conclusions that I’d bet money the authors of the study would roll their eyes at. Most important is the fact that the research was of parents who lived with their kids. So Dad may have gone to work every day and therefore not been with his children during that time. But he was still present every day in their lives. To put it mildly, there’s a world of difference between that and divorce.

But Bolch then reaches the conclusion that the kids in the study experience the same type of parental deprivation by one parent going to work as those who don’t live with one parent. That’s one thing the researchers would, I suspect, never conclude. After all, the father who comes home after eight hours at the office and has dinner with the children, bathes them and reads them to sleep is scarcely absent from their lives. Indeed, they understand from a relatively young age that he’s their dad, his schedule takes him away during the day, but he comes home at night.

By contrast, a child, particularly a very young one, who doesn’t see his/her dad for two weeks may well suffer a profound and lasting sense of loss and abandonment. Children’s sense of time is vastly different from that of adults.

So yes, there’s such a thing as “quality time,” but the simple fact is that, in order to have that sort of meaningful parent/child time, there needs to be enough, well, time. As Susan Stewart told us years ago, every other weekend with Dad isn’t enough. He becomes a “Disneyland Dad,” more an entertainer than a parent, and loses the all-important day-to-day interaction that makes quality time possible.

Bolch hedges his bets. He never comes out and says that any amount of time for dads is sufficient because all they have to do is make it count. But, given his previous antipathy for fathers and anything that might improve their sad lot in family court, I won’t be surprised to find him doing just that in the near future. It’s the danger that misreading such a study can lead to. “It’s not the amount of time but the quality of it that matters” can easily become “minimal time for Dad is good enough, after all, it’s the quality of the time that counts.”

That would be the wrong conclusion to draw, which is where additional reading would be good for Bolch. The social science on the matter strongly indicates that, 35% is the minimum amount of parenting time required for the benefits of both parents in a child’s life to take effect. That’s squarely at odds with Bolch’s casual conclusion that the amount of time isn’t what’s important. It’s not by itself, but there needs to be enough time for its quality to redound to the benefit of kids. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and Bolch’s knowledge is small indeed.

That Bolch still hasn’t grasped certain obvious concepts about the value of both parents to children, he makes clear later in his piece. First, he frets about how difficult protracted litigation in family court can be for “all concerned.” No doubt that’s true and family lawyers should hang their heads in shame for promoting conflict.

But Bolch is none too subtle about which parent he considers to be at fault. According to his view, it’s the non-custodial one and, although he doesn’t let on about it, non-custodial parents are almost uniformly fathers.

As a family lawyer I have seen first-hand protracted disputes between parents over arrangements for their children, in which the ‘non-custodial’ parent (i.e. the parent with whom the children presently spend less of their time) is desperately seeking full equality of time with their children. I have also seen many reports of such cases. Sometimes the non-custodial parent may be doing this because they genuinely believe that equal shared care is the best thing for their children (and they may be right), while other they are doing it simply to ‘get back’ at the other parent. And sometimes they may be doing it for ideological reasons – i.e. they simply believe that it must be best for all children.

Whatever their motivation, such disputes can be extremely damaging for all concerned, especially the children, and often that damage may outweigh any benefit that the children may get from spending more time with the non-custodial parent.

See what I mean? Those pesky, inconsiderate fathers are always making trouble. If they’d just accept the crumbs offered by the mothers who are divorcing them, everything would be so much better for “all concerned, especially the children.” Somehow, in Bolch’s telling the lack of parenting time fathers receive is never the fault of the mother. His worldview doesn’t include the concept that Mom might say to Dad “You know, you’re right; Little Andy or Jenny needs us both equally, so let’s see what we can work out.” No, Dad is to take what’s offered him and like it. To do otherwise is to engage in pointless and damaging litigation.

Then there’s the old shibboleth that, since Mom did most of the care during marriage, she should get most of the parenting time afterward.

Think about it. Whether we like it or not, we still live in a society where one parent, usually the father, is the sole or primary breadwinner. This inevitably means that the children will spend more of their time with the other parent. In other words, ‘unequal parenting’ is the norm, and doesn’t automatically mean that the child suffers harm.

Perfectly true, and if divorce were the same as marriage, he’d have a point. But it’s not, so he doesn’t. The fact is that kids bond with both parents from the first weeks of life. That’s why Dad going off to work during marriage is OK. Little Andy or Jenny knows he’s their father and that they’ll see him at the end of the day. When Mom divorces Dad, however, that bond is threatened which is why divorce can be so traumatic for kids.

Again, all this is perfectly well known, just not to Bolch. I’m glad to see that he’s heard of the social science on parenting time and child well-being. Is it too much to ask him to read a bit more?

 

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