Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thumbs up Research

I am constantly keeping my eye out for good solid research on the benefits of shared parenting and recently I found a gem of a paper written by Dr. Linda Nielsen.

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.

Being legally disenfranchised and physically marginalized, the father often feels demoted to a “Disneyland Dad”, an adult “playmate” or an “uncle” who can do little or no real fathering.

Then too, the mother’s behavior and attitudes often make the father feel unwelcomed and excluded (DeCuzzi & Lamb, 2004; Trinder, 2008). Indeed, too many mothers move the children such a distance away from the father that his contact is drastically reduced or ends altogether. Feeling discouraged and disheartened, unwanted and unnecessary, many dads realize from the outset that they have little or no chance to be the fathers they once were."

But 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.

There are also die-hard beliefs that need to be set to rest: the belief that children will not benefit from living with both parents after divorce, the belief that fathers are generally inferior to mothers as parents, the belief that children only benefit from living with both parents when there is no conflict between them.

Despite these tradeoffs and challenges, the research is abundantly clear on this: only allowing fathers and children to live together 15 or 20 percent of the time is not in most children’s best interests. This view is widely held by experts who do research, mediation or therapy with divorced parents as evidenced by the research presented in abundance throughout this paper. Our society and our legal system can – and must – do better than this."

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.


  1. I've been trying to find information about this, too. But more from what issues get re-visited as stepchildren achieve adulthood. From watching my husband, some of the old hurts get reopened as the children gain adulthood. Why isn't a relationship with the father something to foster? To grow?
    I'll check out the links in the blog. Thanks!

  2. There were parts of the Divorced Dad link that brought tears to my eyes. The part about faulty memories was hard to read because it is so true. Throughout the whole thing many of her comments were right on the money.