What law is it that says that a woman is a better parent simply by virtue of her sex? You know, I've had a lot of time to think about what it is it that makes somebody a good parent? You know, it has to do with constancy, it has to do with patience, it has to do with listening to him. It has to do with pretending to listen to him when you can't even listen anymore. It has to do with love, like, like, like she was saying. And I don't know where it's written that it says that a woman has a corner on that market, that, that a man has any less of those emotions than a woman does.
Kramer vs. Kramer.
What constitutes a good parent is a highly subjective and deeply emotive issue. The influence of how we ourselves were parented, good or bad, absent or helicopter, is permanently imprinted on us. It is our primary and only comprehensive example of what a good parent should or shouldn't be. Through the lens of personal childhood experience we develop a uniquely individual notion of what constitutes a good parent.
It is much easier to identify universal indicators of bad parenting. Abusive parents are toxic, stealing a child's innocence through physical, sexual or emotional abuse is an anathema to the vast majority of parents who bust their humps 24/7, 365 days a year to provide the best childhood possible for their children.
Gender roles in parenting have changed dramatically in the last 35 years. The number of stay at home mothers is reducing year on year at a rate of about 10,000. 55% of mothers now work outside the home (OEDC) and recent changes to One Parent Family payment (98% of recipients are women), should leave nobody in any doubt that the State expects every able bodied person to work for a living regardless of gender or parenthood. More than half of Irish pre-school children receive primary daytime care from someone other than mother and practically 100% of school age children spend the bulk of their waking weekday at school, away from both parents.
The role of fathers has also changed. Night feeds, nappy changing, cooking, cleaning, paternal leave etc. are common place for dads in a way that was unheard of in their grandfathers generation. We are (and have been) moving progressively away from the established patriarchal status quo prejudice that men should be the providers and women should be carers. For most couples, parenting is a collaborative effort with increased interchangeability of roles driven in large part by financial obligations. The average industrial wage of one parent is nowhere near enough to provide for the common necessities of the average family or even put a roof over their heads. Both parents have got to work, in and out of the home. A stay at home parent has long since ceased to be considered a necessity, now it is a luxury enjoyed by those who can afford it or endured by those who can't. Socially, stay at home parents are increasingly seen as 'dossers' be they male or female. This is a complete turnaround from little more than a generation ago when married women were forced to give up their state jobs and when children of families where both parents worked were derogatorily referred to as 'latchkey' kids.
Our social welfare, tax and other state services have not only accepted modern parenting realities, they are also, by default or design, driving acceptability of truly egalitarian parenting as is exampled in changes to lone parent payment eligibility. There is, however, one massive obstacle to parenting equality which steadfastly refuses to be dragged into modernity. That obstacle is the Family Law Courts.
The Family Law Courts are secret courts and until very recently there was scant data to justify the widely held belief among men (and many women) that fathers are being metaphorically beaten around the courts with the dirty end of a very big stick, but real data is to hand and that data reveals shocking and inexplicable discrimination against men that would not nor could not be tolerated were it forced on women.
One in ten marriages fail. As a married man you are more than twice as likely to be divorced/separated by your wife than your wife is to be by you. 95% of the time mother will be awarded primary physical custody of children. 100% of the time father will pay maintenanace. Fail is the appropriate word for marriage breakdown and men are universally made to pay emotionally and financially for the failure.
Separation is war. The first casualty of war is truth. Separation is not about honesty, it's about winning. It may not start out that way and for a very lucky few it may be a relatively painless experience, but for the most part, it's war, down and dirty, no holes barred, all out war. Nobody wants the solicitor who is trying to do best for both parents. No solicitor begins a consultation by asking for a list of all the good things your partner did before the breakdown. Solicitors are duty bound to achieve the best result for their client, not for partners, not for children. It's an adversarial system, somebody has got to win and somebody is certain to lose. There is no race to the bottom for a section of cynical hardened solicitors eager to take separation to the deepest depths of dirt-raking, they reached the bottom long ago and have honed emasculation to a fine art.
Collaborative parenting is over, consciously and unconsciously combative parenting takes hold. Once the word 'separation' is uttered by either party, parenting becomes a one-sided competition. Fathers are expected to be performing monkeys, your every move is monitored, your parenting is under scrutiny and will be adjudicated upon. Considering the 95% failure rate of men to obtain equal physical custody of their children, it's reasonable to conclude that dancing monkey men fathers are genuinely only dancing for peanuts.
Recently deceased and much loved actor and comedian Robin Williams famously described divorce as:
Ah, yes, divorce... from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man's genitals through his wallet.
You are caveman - hunter - provider. There is so much testosterone flowing through your emotionally stunted, risk taking male body, that you will never, ever be able to fulfill the role of carer. That role belongs exclusively to mother. If you are a really good dancing monkey, jump through all the hoops, nod in all the right places and don't contest the price tag, you will get one night at weekends with maybe a few hours thrown in during the week. That's it, tops. You walk in an equal parent and walk out the babysitter for mommy's night out.
If you dare mention 'rights' for father, you will be slapped down hard and fast. How dare you - this is about the best interests of the child which is most definitely not you, you selfish male bastard. 'Best interests of the child' is an amorphous standard, entirely based on judges’ subjective beliefs about what’s best for children, and mother is best because..... because I'm the Judge, that's because.
Don't expect legislative change any time soon. The system suits as it is- arbitrary decisions, no follow up, no data on long term consequences for children, one visit to Court is all it takes and expense is kept at a minimum. But there is hope on the horizon, the patriarchal paradigm looks set to shift somewhat in the Family Law Courts.
The long awaited referendum on equal marriage rights for same sex couples looks sure to happen. Separation rates between same sex couples are mostly no different than general separation rates. When the roles a parent plays can't be determined by a penis prejudice, the societal reality that both parents are equally emotionally invested in their children may just permeate through to the Judiciary. Any change will come slowly and by osmosis. Same sex couples will have their own patriarchal prejudices to overcome first. Lesbian and gay parents are truly forging new territory.
Maybe some day, far far in the future, we will see equality in all things as a right, as the norm. A time when women have inalienable rights to equal pay, full rights over their bodies, gender quotas for political representation, even to play professional rugby if that is their choice. A time maybe, just maybe, when a father can be an equal parent and the patriarchal prejudice of father provider-mother carer, is not foisted on children through Family Law Courts.