In defense of families

I was raised by a single mum. She had a string of more and less serious boyfriends during my childhood. I liked all of them. I’m naturally openhearted so I would become attached straight away, but it always ended in tears—and the revelation that he was (from her perspective) a douche, the most damning vitriol delivered to me via overheard conversations. Having been exposed to the emotional turbulence of human relationships—at a time in life when the ideal is innocence and naivety—I grew up with the explicit attitude that relationships were not a desirable or valuable possession.

Then I fell in love and became pregnant… I shared the most magical experience with my partner—we were happy, healthy, talking about the birth, talking about how we would raise our children, he came to every appointment with me, listened to the baby’s heartbeat, saw him in the scans… And I was so surprised because I suddenly realised that I had never even considered the possibility that there might be a man involved if I had a baby—and probably would have snorted at the idea that one might be of any use. I don’t think that’s such a widespread idea anymore, that fathers are of any use. But by some kind of fluke I was living with the proof of it.

Three years in (give or take), we had a miscarriage that destroyed me completely. I lost my mind, I had no perspective—and no model of a healthy relationship to emulate. Plus, feminism had taught me that men are aggressors and oppressors and women are childlike innocent beings of such great value that men should take any of the shit we throw at them and fucking thank us for it. So that was the filter I unfairly imposed on our interactions with little regard for the fact that I was mentally really quite ill. My partner totally held our relationship together (thanks, baby). A friend, Noel, told me recently that he has friends who have posted on Facebook public announcements such as :

After a lot of thought myself and my significant other have decided to split. I know that we will both continue to be great parents to our kids … etc., etc.

The tone of such announcements is often almost celebratory, almost smug. I, on the other hand, sometimes feel like posting this public announcement:

After loads of rows and the stresses and strains of family life, not to mention the tiredness and financial pressures, we have worked really fucking hard to keep our family together so that our kids have a stable home environment … and it’s not easy.

It’s a cliché that relationships take work, but I really don’t think that society generally acknowledges the rewards. Children are such hard work—in a literal sense, as is keeping home—and I can’t imagine how much extra strain is wrought upon one parent being responsible for all that. Every two-parent family I can think of (that I know fairly intimately) is already concerned about money in their current one-home situation, which only makes the prospect of stretching that out over two homes rather economically implausible. What is going to have to give? Substandard accommodation? Cheap food? Fewer day-trips? But, of course, the care that children require above all is intangible—it’s the love and the security and the guidance—and Mother does not know best, no single person does. The best approach to parenting is collaborative, with two people working through issues together, supporting each other, and freely critiquing each other so they can continually improve themselves. Unfortunately, in my experience, a mother’s and father’s unequal position post-separation is a major contributing factor to difficulties in communication when relationships are in crisis. Men are scared to speak freely for fear that they could jeopardise their relationships with their children—and what problem can possibly be solved without free speech? I’m willing to bet that if shared parenting was the default presumption instead, it would benefit relationships and be more conducive to healing, possibly even resulting in fewer couples splitting.

Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Furthermore, Steve Moxon, in his book The Woman Racket, says:

Of all the rights abuses systematically directed against men, the worst is the unwarranted obstruction from playing their natural part in the lives of their biological children, by denying the basic human and civil right to contact (apart from the barest minimum).

In my life, my dad wasn’t interested. To my mother’s credit, she respected his right to opt out and never demanded support from him—financial or otherwise—which was fair. According to many feminists I’ve spoken to, the majority of absent (or practically absent) fathers exist purely because “most men are deadbeats who don’t care.” Despite my experience, I find this blanket statement incredibly hard to believe. But regardless of the exact percentage of men who want the adequate access to their children that they are being denied, what cannot be disputed is that these anomalies do exist and so they require the protection of the law. In that regard, Moxon references the work of Martin Mears, former president of the Law Society, who makes four recommendations for reform:

Fully binding pre- and post-nuptial agreements (which the courts already uphold but only when they feel like it);

Leaving out the assets owned before the marriage

Disallowing maintenance to any party whose conduct has effectively repudiated the marriage

Recognising in fact as well as in principle the right of a child to maintain maximum contact with both parents.

Some 80% to 90% of divorces in the UK are initiated by wives. This just can’t be right—are men actually exhibiting a potentially unhealthy reluctance to divorce for fear of losing their rights to the children? I think that the statistic certainly suggests that the prospect of divorce is frankly too tempting for wives right now. Typically, the average ex-wife (or ex-partner with kids) is guaranteed a modest income and adequate housing without the “stress” that always comes with living with people who ARE NEVER 100% LIKE YOU (relationship tip: nobody can read minds; fucking talk to each other), she gets to be the main carer for her children, she gets to be involved in the minutiae of their lives, and very often she gets to make the big decisions regarding her children’s future too. Then, at the end of the week, she may very well get to send the children over to Daddy’s and party like a single girl or relax or pursue her interests. It’s a golden ticket for women dealing with relationship problems—one that I doubt reliably delivers on its promises to them and is utterly contemptible in what it leaves fathers with.

What my ethical code recoils at even more than the injustice that fathers experience, though, is the effects of being separated on their children. The 2002 study “Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family” shows that children miss out on the vitally formative paternal relationship, their educations suffer, and they are more likely to be involved in antisocial behaviour and crime, more likely to experience mental health problems, difficulty in relationships, and have generally less positive outcomes in their adult lives. That’s not to suggest that any given single parent cannot do a fantastic job, but let’s be honest that it will always be a challenge. The Equal Parenting Council calls for

a legal presumption of shared parenting, so that parenting is divided between fit parents on an equitable (not necessarily equal) basis. To decide that one parent was unfit, the burden of proof must be on others, including the other parent, to prove why contact should be restricted.

A counter-position to this can be found on www.gingerbread.org.uk, which “works to tackle the stigma around single parents by dispelling myths and labels.” They claim the following:

Parental separation and the resulting single parent status often leads to financial hardship. That resulting poverty may be a significant factor in explaining poorer child outcomes rather than family structure.

Were shared parenting arrangements more common (with children having direct access to all of the assets owned by each parent) and with no financial maintenance awarded (which is feasibly a disincentive to earn for the “absent parent”), surely their economic status as a group could only improve?

Moxon goes on to state that “shared parenting (i.e., not what the family court dispenses) was the express intention of parliament when the Children Act was passed in 1989. Supposedly out went the notion of ‘custody’ with one parent, and in came the ‘parental responsibility’ of both,” and “even very senior judges now pay lip-service to the right of a child to maintain close contact with its father,” but the act destroys a child’s right to access to both parents by calling one the “parent with care” and the other the “absent parent.” “This was in order to suit the purposes of the [CSA]. The collection of money from fathers, to offset the rapidly-escalating costs to the state of single parenthood, would have been hindered if it wasn’t easy to distinguish between the cash cow and the cow, as it were.” Not only is (usually) the father saddled with the label “absent parent,” but because maintenance reductions are available to an “absent parent” who has their children to stay in excess of 103 days per year,  courts are under immense pressure to award them with low contact and get the Treasury the full amount of money they require to cover benefits payments. “The position at the moment is that of a dam held back by ‘the best interests of the child’ concept, which is proxy for ‘the best interests of the state.’”

Governments are failing at their duty of caring for families in the UK and elsewhere (personally, I think it’s deliberate sabotage in corporate interests), and while I support freedom of speech and expression to champion alternative family set-ups, I think that we, as societies too, are failing to support the concept of families. Furthermore, I think that the reason for this is fear of offending people who haven’t managed to achieve or retain the two-parent ideal.

Fuck that shit.

Got to revolution.

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