February 26, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Dr. Edward Kruk has long been one of the great champions of shared parenting and one of the assiduous and fair researchers in the field of parenting time and children’s well-being. So when I noticed that he’d published an article here, I was eager to read it (Psychology Today, 2/24/18). Alas, I’m disappointed.
Kruk’s theme – that shared parenting is as much a woman’s issue as a man’s and that promoting shared parenting promotes women’s welfare - is entirely sound. I’ve said the same thing many times. But how he arrives at that argument frankly isn’t persuasive and undercuts his otherwise legitimate points.
To get to “mothers benefit from shared parenting,” Kruk begins with claim that, following divorce, fathers are more and more getting sole or primary custody.
[Opposition to shared parenting in North America] not only overlooks the fact that in many parts of the world, a paternal preference in legal child custody determination still exists, but also ignores the increasing rates of paternal custody decisions and maternal alienation from children’s lives in North America…
In North America, we see increasing rates of primary residence determinations being made in favor of fathers in states where a maternal preference previously existed….
[M]others are being forcefully removed from their children’s lives in North America…
When accusations are made that court systems are biased in favor of mothers in the US and Canada, they have responded by increasing rates of paternal custody (as opposed to shared parenting) legal determinations.
To all of which I ask: Citation? Citation? Citation? Citation?
Where is the evidence that, in any statistically significant way, anything has changed in custody or parenting time arrangements doled out by family courts? There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary of course, beginning with the U.S. Census Bureau that, once again, for the 23rd consecutive year, finds rates of paternal custody south of 19%. In 1993, it was about 16%. And data out of Nebraska and North Dakota find much the same thing.
It’s perfectly acceptable to not produce a citation for perfectly well-known and well-established facts. Needless to say, a great change in the direction of paternal custody isn’t among them.
Kruk’s next step toward his conclusion that shared parenting benefits mothers is that, particularly when they don’t have custody, mothers are in danger of becoming the target of alienation by the custodial father. That’s unquestionably the case. As I’ve noted many times, fathers are as capable of alienating behavior as are mothers and the literature on alienation backs me up. The only reason that most alienating parents are mothers is that the vast majority of custodial parents are mothers and custodial parents are the ones with the opportunity to alienate. Unsurprisingly, some of them do.
But the simple truth is that, horrible as it is, parental alienation, particularly severe alienation, is rare. Cases of it are often lurid and, as such, tend to make headlines, but most parents don’t attempt to alienate their kids and, if they do, don’t do so in the full-bore way that’s of most concern to mental health practitioners.
In short, Kruk makes the weakest case possible for mothers to support shared parenting. His message to mothers – that they stand a good chance of losing custody and another good chance of being alienated from their kids – is borne out by little or no evidence. If his aim is to scare women into supporting shared parenting, I can’t imagine his approach succeeding. The two prongs of his argument simply aren’t very likely to occur.
The better argument remains that everyone is better off with shared parenting, and that includes mothers. Kids obviously benefit and so do fathers who don’t see their vital role of Dad diminished to that of a reviled ATM machine. But mothers do as well. Relieved of being Mom all day every day, mothers are freed by equal parenting to earn more, advance more in their careers, branch out and do other things from travel to yoga to writing the Great American Novel to spending more time with their friends. They’re less stressed, more affluent and better prepared to meet the demands of retirement. Plus, they’ve got the contentment that comes from knowing they’ve done the best thing for their children, who may even thank them when they grow up. (Who knows? It could happen!) More than a few mothers have publicly said exactly that.
Kruk means well and few have done the yeoman service on behalf of shared parenting that he has. But equal parenting deserves better advocacy than his Psychology Today piece.
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