June 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
I suppose the first thing that comes to mind about this article is the obvious – that if the sexes were reversed, the article never would have been written and, if it were, the fathers would be raked over the coals (Sydney Morning Herald, 3/17/18). It’s about three Australian mothers who left their husbands and children, something the article calls a “tough decision.”
That’s right in the headline and it sets the tone for the rest of the piece. That tone is one of understanding and sympathy for the mothers, not a hint of rebuke or faultfinding, and barely a word about how their leaving might have adversely impacted their kids. Needless to say, words like “deadbeat” never appear.
The main point of the piece seems to be that the women were criticized for leaving their children, to my mind, an understandable response. Somehow it seems to assume that, if a father did the same, he’d be clapped on the back and stood a pint by the lads at the nearest pub. But, when mothers leave their kids, they’re the victims in need of our care and concern.
“[Psychologist Kirsty Levin] believes mothers who leave their children should be supported by their community.”
Maybe I’ve just forgotten, but I can’t recall anyone saying that about fathers who leave their kids. Indeed, even fathers who would give everything they own just to get a glimpse of their kids often get the “deadbeat dad” treatment from the press, politicians and sundry commentators.
But the obvious gender bias of the article is just one of its flaws.
The body of the piece is a sketch of each of three different mothers. They tell why they came to leave their children and their lives since. Now, only one of them actually seems to have left for good. The other two continued to see their children every other weekend just like countless fathers do.
But what’s interesting is what the article and the mothers don’t say, like the fact that they didn’t pay child support. None of the three had anything like equal time with the children, so clearly they should have paid their share of the support bill, but they seem not to have. If they think living apart from their children was tough, it would have been made all the tougher if they’d had to dig deep every month. Apparently their exes didn’t ask them to do that, much less take them to court.
What’s also not said is why none of the mothers asked a court for more time with their children. Two of the women lived fairly close to them and yet never seem to have considered asking for 50% of the parenting time. The other one was living in Canada in a bad relationship with her husband and moved to Australia, so she able to see the kids only rarely. Why didn’t she move 30 miles away so that she could see them often? She doesn’t say.
And, speaking of children, the article doesn’t, at least not much. And when it does, the outcome isn’t good. Here’s one of the mothers, Kate Munn:
I never felt guilty, just very sad. But I could sleep at night with the knowledge that I did the right thing by the kids. I was a stay-at-home mother for seven years, the president of the parents' committee. I made everything from scratch and never felt the need for a separate career or identity. I loved every day of those seven years, even the mundane, boring stuff.
So Munn went from stay-at-home mother for seven years to every other weekend visitor. That’s her idea of doing “the right thing by the kids,” but curiously, the kids disagreed.
It was tough because there was a 23-month period where my eldest child did not speak to me and I didn't know why.
Oh, come on Ms. Munn, you didn’t know why? Really? Of course you knew why. The child felt abandoned by his mother and rightly so, that’s why. I know it interferes with your narrative of your own victimization, but the truth is the truth.
And just look; there’s that word again – tough. For whom was the situation “tough” according to Munn? For her. Her son didn’t speak to her for almost two years and she didn’t know why! Does it occur to her that having been left by his mother might have been tough on him? It seems not.
The article’s final indignity is its claim of gender bias in favor of fathers.
She says women who are upfront about leaving their children to live with their father can face vitriol due to outdated notions of gender roles. "We still view motherhood as mandatory and fatherhood as voluntary," says Levin.
But in its zeal to acquit these mothers of the charge of maternal negligence, the article ignores the most important fact about parent-child relationships – that kids need both parents, that neither parent is free to up and leave and expect no criticism for doing so. The simple fact is that these three women did far less than they should have to get distance from their husbands while maintaining real relationships with their children. That’s not something to laud or justify. It’s something to criticize, irrespective of which parent does it.