Who is Dr. Linda Nielsen, you ask? Well, she's the Professor of Education and Adolescent Psychology at Wake Forest University and just happens to be one of my new favorite people.
Dr. Nielsen has her very own website, which may not be fancy, but is easily navigated to buy her book, Between Fathers and Daughters, find helpful father friendly links and a great list of articles that she's written such as Demeaning, Demoralizing and Disenfranchising Divorced Dads or one that I'll definitely be digging into soon, Stepmothers: Why so much stress?
But, the meat and potatoes of this blogpost is to focus on a recent research paper about Shared Parenting.
Shared Parenting: A Review of the Supportive Research is written, well, like a research paper. But if you can get past the classroom typeset there is a virtual goldmine of great information. For example, she talks about the present system of mother's having primary custody which relegates fathers to seeing their children a minimal amount of time. She makes the statement that by not allotting more time to fathers there is an unstated accusation they they are not committed to their children.
I think its pretty safe to say that is a fairly common assumption made about fathers both by the judes and the legal system and by general consensus after the court days are done and the custody papers are filed.
I found this particular idea about why fathers tend to continue to disengage from their children's lives very interesting, "First, because most fathers are awarded so little parenting time and because the children live almost exclusively with their mother, fathers are seldom able to maintain an authoritative, engaged, intense relationship with their children. Moreover, 35 percent of these fathers have no legal say in how their children are raised.
But wait...it gets even more interesting when she correlates this disengagement with the father-child relationship and makes quite a bold statement about the worth of a father...
"Even children and young adults who are successful in other areas of their lives often suffer from the loss of their relationship with their father.
The question thus becomes: Even if the research were to show that shared parenting contributes absolutely nothing to children’s financial, social, educational or psychological well being at any point in their lives (which is not the case), what if shared parenting does contribute to children’s having an ongoing, meaningful relationship with their fathers for the rest of their lives?
Is their relationship in and of itself not worth as much as the other measures of “success” for children of divorce?"**
**Note that the bold is my own addition because I LOVE that question and I want to make sure you now have it rolling around in your mind.
W.O.W. What a different point of view than our legal system has set as the precedence of determining custody. Why is a good relationship with your father not more important to the judge and jury determining custody of a child? Why has that relationship lost its value when thinking about the "best interest of the children?"
(Are you loving Dr. Nielsen as much as I am yet?)
How did our fathers become an afterthought? Fortunately, Dr. Nielsen shows research that more and more people are agreeing that fathers have an important role to play in a child's life. Unfortunately, for the purposes of this paper her conclusions are based on a shared parenting strategy where no parent has less than 30% of a child's time. Thats still a far cry from the 50% I advocate for in this blog, but its a start.
She continues through her paper to focus on the conflict between parents and concludes with this thought, "In shared parenting there are trade-offs to grapple with: the benefits of living with both parents versus the inconvenience of living in two homes, the challenges of coparenting versus the “winner take all” single parenting.
Hear Hear, Dr. Nielsen! I applaud your ability to demonstrate the value of a father in today's society. I only wish we didn't have to convince the courts of their worth.