Crossing no man’s land; supporting children in transition

Having listened to Woman’s Hour this week on the issue of shared parenting, I was struck by the ways in which two very different shared care arrangements were portrayed by the parents concerned.  Working as I do, with families experiencing separation, I know that one of the greatest difficulties facing parents can be how to make arrangements that really work for children.  Given the range of ways that post separation parenting can be configured, it can sometimes be difficult for parents to decide which approach is the right one for their child.  Should children live mostly in one home and visit the other, should children live in two homes or should children be able to choose when and how they pick up their things and make their home with one or the other parent?

One of the determining factors is how well children cope with the arrangements that are made, especially when, in the early days at least, parents may still be struggling to resolve some of the issues that caused the separation in the first place.  In my work with families, where conflict is often high and ongoing, children are faced with having to cross a ‘no man’s land’ of emotional warfare on a regular basis.  These are the children who are most at risk of rejection of one parent and alignment with the other, the impact upon them of having to make that crossing becomes, quite simply, intolerable.  But whatever the emotional landscape around children, the fact that it is they and not the adults who do the moving between parents and between homes, means that it is they and only they who are witness to the whole of the fractured landscape around them.  Whilst parents cope with the impact of the separation on their adult selves, an impact which can feel incredibly difficult at times, at least they only have to cope with their own side of things.  Children on the other hand have to cope with both sides and they have to bear witness to the pain, the sorrow and sometimes the anger of two parents not just one.  Not only that, but they must achieve a huge psychological task on a regular basis, which is negotiating their way between enemy lines in order to find their way into the other side’s camp (aka home).  Little wonder that too many children end up being withdrawing and refusing to undertake that task by rejecting one of their parents.

Parenting a child in transition is not the same as parenting a child full stop.  Skills for supporting a child in transition start with the ability to understand the whole of their experience of life and how they and only they are witness to the fractured family landscape in the round.  When a parent can come to terms with this fact, it releases the child from the expectation that they will carry on as normal and the parent can adapt their expectations and behaviour to support the child instead of making demands upon them.  It can also prevent an escalation of the alienation reaction in a child which can be created and escalated by locating the problem in the child and not in the landscape of the dynamics between the two parents and two homes that a child lives in.

When a child is in transition nothing is as consistent as it was when the family lived together.  Whilst children can and do adapt amazingly well to transitional life, they do need support in order to do so.  Imagine that you, as a parent, wake up on a regular basis knowing that the bed that you sleep in tonight is not the one that you are currently lying in.  Imagine that you must carve out, on a weekly basis, the time to think about packing the things that you need to take with you. Imagine that you are taking your leave of your loved one regularly.  Think about your holidays and how you psychologically carve up that time into beginning (exciting, everything is new and you have been looking forward to it), middle (you are lost in the experience of the moment and the past and the future are nowhere in sight) and ending (the future looms and the change to a different pace, a different place and a different way of life is coming).  Now imagine doing that on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.  That is what the life of a child in transition feels like inside.  The carving up of time, the marking of beginning, middle and ending, the accompanying emotional reactions and the physical tasks of remembering everything that needs to go with you.

I am not saying, by outlining all of the above, that children in shared parenting situations do not do well.  They do.  The research evidence shows that they do well in the right shared care conditions and my own personal and professional experience tells me that children in do incredibly well moving between homes.  But the common factor in children doing well in shared parenting situations is the way in which parents are skilled to manage children in transition.  The level of understanding that parents have about the needs of children in transition and the way in which these children cope with the psychological task of change is a critical factor and it seems to me, that what is needed is more, much more information for parents about this, if shared parenting is to successful on a much wider basis.

One the Woman’s Hour programme two parents talked about their experience of shared care.  One parent said that she lived close to her children’s dad and that their arrangement had been voluntary and born out of necessity as they both worked freelance.  The other parent had struggled through the court process and arrived at a shared care arrangement in which his daughter spent weekends with him and some days in the week.

Both of these parents considered that they were sharing the care of their children and I would agree, shared care looks like many different things and it does not have to be one set pattern. But for a child, life in two homes, with two separated parents can be made easier or much harder by the skills that their parents possess in supporting their ability to make the transition from one place to the other.  And when children struggle with the transition, stepping up with higher level skills and higher level awareness of what is happening to children is an essential part of successful shared care for every parent.

A couple of years ago I worked with a family in which the child concerned was aged 14.  This teenager had transitioned almost all of her life as her parents separated when she was under three years old.  For the subsequent years of her life, she had lived with her father for half of the week and her mother the other half, moving on a Wednesday evening and a Sunday morning.  Transitions had been easy for much of this time, a matter of making sure that she remembered her swimming things when she moved and that she knew what clothes she might need to take with her.  When she was a child, she had left one home and arrived at the other in a consistently chirpy and happy mood and had seemingly adapted well to life with two homes.

As she approached the age of 14 however she began to struggle with transitions, not wanting to pick up her things and go and becoming angry with her mother and her father at the way in which her life felt ‘split in two.’  Although she lived in homes only five miles apart, the friends with which she went to school lived near to her father’s home and not her mothers and so she came to want to spend more time with her dad, not because she wanted to be with her dad more, but because it was convenient for her to be there, it suited her growing social life.

Eventually, over a period of six months, this teenager had become so difficult for her mother to handle that there was a complete breakdown in the shared care arrangement and the mother came to the Centre for Separated Families saying that her daughter had been ‘alienated’ against her by her father.  What else could it be, this mother told us, when her daughter had been so happy, so compliant, so much settled in the shared care arrangement.

By the time we arrived to support this family the mother and daughter were completely estranged and the mother and father were at loggerheads.  Court action was being discussed and angry letters were being exchanged.  Without intervention, that family would have been a war zone and the daughter plunged into the middle of a battle that threatened to alienate her from both of her parents, never mind one.

There was a very simple solution to the problems that this separated family faced.  That solution was a short parenting support programme for parents of children in transition.  It didn’t take more than an hour into a six hour workshop for the penny to drop for these parents.  When children in transition enter into psychological change themselves, the arrangements around them must change to meet those changing needs.  This was not a case of alienation, it was a case of parents lacking the skills to parent a child in transition.  Give them those skills and everything changes again, ruffled feathers are smoothed, old jealousies are laid to rest and anxieties about relationships are calmed.  Had this girl gone to school close to her mother’s home, that is where she would have preferred to be and mum would have been the ‘chosen’ one for a time.  When these parents understood that, it was possible for them to begin to configure arrangements that suited their daughter’s needs and the conflict between mum and daughter reduced, daughter was encouraged to spend some quality time with mum on a regular basis and dad could stop feel guilty and anxious that he was somehow influencing his daughter’s difficult behaviour.

Shared parenting is not rocket science but neither is it the breeze that some would have us believe that it is.  Whilst the argument about whether we should start from a point of presuming that a child will live equally with both parents or not rages on, don’t be fooled into thinking that winning or losing this argument is all that is needed to make shared care work.  Those who speak of presumption being the magical answer to all of our prayers are not the children who have to cross the no man’s land of anger, blame and confrontation and they are not the children who have to find a way to cope with the whole of the fractured landscape of a family separation.  Presumption or not is not the issue, making shared care work effectively for children is and doing that requires an ongoing and sustained commitment to learning the skills of parenting a child in transition.  When parents get that right, then things begin to fall into place. And when parents learn how to do that over a child’s lifetime, then children get that ongoing emotional conduit that gets them safely across no man’s land in the good times as well as the bad times.

As shared parenting continues its way through the social and political scrutiny towards a wider acceptance and practice, it is time to focus our attention on the needs of the children who will live these shared care lives, the only ones who will live not just one side of it, but the whole of it.  For the success or failure of the shared care project over their lifetime, will set the sails for the fate of their own children.  Teaching parents how to share care now could bring change for many more generations of children.

34 comments

  1. dfc · January 18, 2013

    Shared Parenting and substantial care from both parents for children is vitally important in the younger years up until 12-15 years old depending on the child. This is where it is so important to have strong legislation on shared parenting, the pre-teen years.

    Obviously as children get older and become teenagers their peers become more important to them than parents very often. Then you would expect teenagers to move in many situations into one household with significant time with the other parent.

    I’m not sure you being snooty about shared parenting is at all helpful to younger children and both parents. Yes we know it is not the magical answer, nobody is saying that, it is merely a beginning in ensuring children have both parents in their lives.

    Your example of the 14 year old is neither here nor there as for the vast majority of parents looking for shared care after separation they want to be involved in their ‘younger’ children’s lives, when it is crucial for them on a more involved basis.

    At 14 years of age many parents as long as they have had substantial time prior to the teenage years to build up a strong and enduring relationship (shared parenting) will understand their children have friends, school commitments etc that are important to them and these children will not want to move from home to home as much as previously very often, particularly if there is any distance. In intact families many children become independent of parents at this age, its a natural progression so as long as the pre-teen years have them spending substantial periods with both parents (shared parenting) then there is not always too much to worry about as children grow older and become more independent.

    Treating both parents as equal at Court and in law with shared parenting means they are more likely to agree and there will be less arguments, meaning better results for children in the long run. Nothing magical just another step in the right direction. If parents don’t feel polarised by the law then they will work together better, if one parent is not controlling the situation but both have a stake, again it will be a far better prospect for long term success in working out parenting arrangements.

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    • expoƒunction · January 18, 2013

      “Your example of the 14 year old is neither here nor there..”, except of course for the 14 year old and both her parents; in other words for this family, as is clearly evident in the example.

      “.. as long as the pre-teen years have them spending substantial periods with both parents (shared parenting) then there is not always too much to worry about as children grow older and become more independent.” On what do you base this assumption? Not – I’d imagine – from the experience of many parents who’ve raised teenagers.

      Is your point really that there’s not too much for you to worry about; because older children aren’t going to be around either parent nearly so much?

      “If parents don’t feel polarised ..”, perhaps another starting point might be for them not to view things in starkly black and white, simplistic terms. A simplistic approach so often leads to the conflict children find so distressing even at the basic level of thoughtless sniping or name-calling.

      The best prospect of all for the long term success of parenting arrangements is when they’re based – from the ground up – on the best interests of the children.

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  2. karenwoodall · January 18, 2013

    Mmmm. Not sure I am being what you call ‘snooty’ in this article so much as realistic given that I work with shared care families most days of my life and am the director of CSF which, at the last assessment spent 68% of its working time on supporting families sharing care who are in difficulties because of transition issues or other related problems.

    You are one of those who believe that the presumption is all that it takes and that this will create equality for mums and dads within the court system which will, in turn make everything work smoothly. Well, I respect your right to your view, though I fundamentally disagree with it.

    And if the case sample of the 14 year old is not working for you, perhaps you could let my readers know how you would approach mum and dad of the many families of a similar make-up that we work with at CSF and how the proposed changes will ensure that this kind of issue does not erupt for them in your world?

    There are many many more examples I could give of younger children, many of whom really do struggle with transitions and so many of whom could be supported through whole family support strategies so that the court order their father (or mother) holds, actually means something. I chose not to use those though because its far too easy and emotional for the anti shared parenting lobby to use as evidence against the shared parenting project which, if you look carefully at this article, you will see that I am for, not against. I just cannot and will not reduce this issue, which is about real lived lives of children, down to a soundbite called presumption, its much, much, bigger than that.

    Very best. K

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  3. Kat · January 18, 2013

    I am not sure I quite follow you here, so please tell me where/if I misinterpret you? If parents separate and the children suffer due to high conflict and lack of understanding by the parents of the transition difficulties experienced by the child, then I am sure that education and support will help many parents come to better arrangements for their child. This is in my opinion a far under used avenue in this country. However, if we stay with the family justice systems idea that it is better for the child to sacrifice the contact with one parent that continue to expose the child to the parental conflict i.e. give up on a presumption of shared parenting then we continue to incentivise the “parent with care” to keep that conflict high. Keeping the conflict high will still eventually result in the exclusion of the other parent. Why would the “parent with care” engage with any training/education, if they know it is essentially just another hoop to jump through, before they can remove the other parent from their child’s life.
    For us shared care was in place for many years despite the high conflict and clearly the children suffered as a result of this conflict, eventually resulting in their estrangement from their dad. I do however firmly believe that they are better off for having had their dad (and his family) in their life despite the conflict. After all, dad did the best he could to provide a counter balance to mum, which would have been impossible had he been excluded. Even now, where dad is effectively reduced from parent to observer, there are nevertheless little opportunities to hopefully challenge their perception that what is happening is right/normal, creating the hope that one day maybe they will be able to free themselves.

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    • karenwoodall · January 18, 2013

      Hi Kat,

      For me, the problem with relying on the idea that all that needs to change is that there needs to be a starting point called presumption (which, if we are going to be pedantic about it, already exists in the Children Act in theory if not in practice), then we are always going to get what we have always got because we have many parents attempting to share care already and finding it difficult as you have, very sadly, experienced.

      In my view what we need is a reformation of the way in which we work with family separation from the earliest days all the way through and we need to be skilling up parents to parent apart as effectively as they parent together, including helping them to understand the transition difficulties that can cause the issues that many families face, unnecessarily.

      In Australia, where they reformed everything at the same time, including the financial support to the family, the support services within the community made shared parenting work precisely because they were able to offer the kind of skills set that separated families need over the life time of their children.

      Keeping in mind that many parents that we work with never go near the court door anyway, there is also another large cohort of families who are struggling to make their arrangements work because of the lack of skills and knowledge that could help them enormously.

      So for me, its about skilling up parents with the kind of information that helps them to know what is normal and what is not, with that kind of relationships toolkit then they are prepared for what might come.

      I am not sure that the family justice system is designed to ‘sacrifice one parent over the other’ rather, for me, the Children Act is designed in such a way that it can be interpreted to mean almost anything and with court services that do not have a uniform approach to understanding family separation at a deeper psychological level, that interpretation can mean pretty much anything you want it to. It can, for example, be used to ‘prove’ that contact is always bestowed upon fathers (the women’s groups position), or it can be used to ‘prove’ that dads are pushed out of their childrens’ lives. I am not really sure that the notion of ‘presumption’ as it has been put forward by the government is anything of the sort. Particularly after reading the results of the scrutiny by the family justice committee.

      A real presumption, which is conveyed through the change in legislation at all levels around family separation and is supported by the reformation of services to support families as they make their shared parenting arrangements is, in my mind, the only way to make generational change work. And that will require a whole lot of education, information and therapeutic support – just as it did in Australia. It is quite simply, not possible to have one without the other and neither is it possible to tinker around the edges making people think that what is coming is presumption when it is nothing of the sort.

      My fear for 2013 is that what we are heading into is a situation in which more fathers are made to believe that what is coming is a starting point of presumption when it is not, as well as many more parents trying to share care and running up against the kind of transitional difficulties that could be so easily avoided with the right kind of education, information and support.

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      • Kat · January 18, 2013

        I quite agree with you that the governments current proposal of a presumption of shared parenting will not change anything, much more widespread reform of benefits, maintenance, support services and not the least training of professionals such as CAFCASS officers, social workers and judges is needed to make any change. However to me the power of the status quo means that the “parent with care” has less insentive to behave properly because the default is not to change the status quo. What is going to insentivese this parent to support a child through transition difficulties? This also applies to parents not in court as often the decision not to go to court is the perception that “the parent with care” has the power.

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      • Jimbo · January 29, 2013

        Kat,

        The government is not proposing a “presumption of shared parenting,” they are proposing that in most circumstances, both parents should expect to be involved with their children. However, ‘involvement’ – as now – could amount to a couple of hours a week for one parent.

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  4. karenwoodall · January 18, 2013

    And I will be clear here and say that yes, this is a direct argument for more centres for separated families across the UK or similar, because if family separation is going to stop being the generational scourge that it has become in this country, parents are going to need assistance to understand how to be separated parents across their children’s lifetimes and how to avoid the issues that arise in children who are the ones, after all, who will be impacted most, positively and negatively depending on how we assist families going forward.

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    • Kat · January 18, 2013

      A csf in every major town would be good!

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  5. karenwoodall · January 18, 2013

    Hi Kat,

    well CSF has argued for the past decade or more that the labels PWC and NRP should be abolished and we should call mums and dads what they are – mum and dad! Also, the way in which the gateway of Child Benefit is used to denote who becomes PWC or NRP should be stopped and the financial support of parents should be framed around each in the way that it is in Australia for example. It is those artificial divisions that create the power incentives and the expectation that one parent is more important than the other and, when coupled with the gendered legislation that is Child Benefit, the imperative for mothers to care and fathers to provide is created and sustained. All of these elements have to be tackled in order for any change to be really effective in terms of changing and shifting the power dynamic. I am not sure there is any wind left in the sails of the coalition government to even get us as far as I originally hoped it would, it certainly is unlikely to get us to the tipping point where cultural and social pressure push us to the point where change becomes inevitable. It concerns me hugely and saddens me too, that too many families are faltering, fracturing and failing, when they could so easily be given the helping hand that makes a massive difference. Sadly, I feel that the task still at hand is in convincing our policy makers and practitioners as well as the wider society that men/boys/fathers/masculinity really matters in our children’s lives and that family is a place, together or separated, where everyone in the system deserves help.

    A CSF in every major town.. it doesn’t have to cost the earth and it doesn’t take a great deal to create one, we did it on the Isle of Wight, we are doing it in Wales, we have done it in the South West, it just takes enough people to really care about what happens when the family separates.

    Best wishes

    Karen

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  6. Grandmani · January 19, 2013

    Karen
    I so identify with your thoughts re transition difficulties.I’ve tried to support these for my grandson in the 9 years of ‘shared contact’-picking up from school when mum/dad not available,sleepovers at my house ( 1mile from mum’s home) making sure he had all the stuff for school,football etc,etc.
    We had a good relationship and many happy times.
    For last two years (he is now 13) contact with me ,his dad and other family completely denied! False allegations against us caused Family court judge to reject my sons plea for contact. Grandson now completely alienated from us and all contact blocked.
    Mother (and stepdad) acrimonious and unwilling to consider mediation. She now has 3 more children by Stepdad.He seems to be the spokesperson and instigator of most of the action.No way can I envisage cooperation in CSF. or any glimmer of hope without the force of law.
    Any thoughts about Stepdad factor? his character wasn’t mentioned in pantomime scenario .

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    • karenwoodall · January 19, 2013

      Hi Grandmani, I am so sorry to hear what has happened in your family, sadly it is one of the very familiar dynamics that occurs in shared care situations – the entry of what I sometimes call ‘the big bad wolf’….

      Step mothers and fathers can be extraordinarily positive figures in children’s lives and, when so many of our families are separated, biological mothers and fathers are also, often, at the same time step mothers and fathers. It is essential that we acknowledge this and the hugely important protective and positive role that step parents can play when their motives and their influence are properly aligned to the well being of the child.

      Unfortunately in too many cases, step parents can become drawn into a negative player in the family drama, either through their own internalised anxieties, which draw them to try and control circumstances or through the conflicted family drama that is already unfolding when they arrive on the scene.

      The issue being that there are very few resources to help separated parents learn how to be a separated parent, there are very few resources to help step parents be step parents.

      Interestingly, reformed families with step parents are more likely to separate within two years of the marriage or formation of the step family, likely because of the hugely difficult dynamics that are created in trying to manage step families that are linked to another step family through the original family separation.

      One of the ways that people deal with this is to try and cut the ties with the original family and reform the step family in the image of the original, nuclear family. This was actually encouraged throughout the seventies and eighties in social policy with divorce on the rise and exhortations to fathers who were separated to find another family and to mothers to find another dad for the kids.

      Nowadays we are, in my view, properly focused upon trying to ensure that children retain their relationships with their biological parents and for parents to manage the mulitple relationships and responsibilities that come from being part of what are variously called ‘patchwork families’, ‘reconstituted families’ and in my own words ‘multiplex’ in that the relationships in these families are multiple, often leading to complex dynamics for all concerned.

      One of the most complex dynamics can be when the mother in a multiplex family has children with the new partner, thus creating two primary relationship responsibilities that she must manage, that of being mother to the children of her original partner and mother of the children of her current partner. Because we are still, unfortunately perhaps, driven by some of the primitive drivers, such as monogamy in our society and the formation of a dyad (couple) relationship in which to bring up children, being a mother in those circumstances can be terribly difficult, simply because of conscious or unconscious drivers of possessiveness, jealousy and determination to be the ‘head of the family’ by step dad. The pressure upon mothers to give up their primary relationship as co-parent to one set of children and cleave only to the new head of the family can be so enormous that they can fold very quickly, even in the most well established shared care situation. Similarly, some mothers will willingly and consciously, end the primary relationship of co-parent with the biological father of one set of children on entering into having children with the new partner in order to promote the new father to be the head of the family system and because she is likely to consider the children to be ‘hers’ and not ‘theirs’, the existing children get shuffled into the new family system and the new partner is promoted as their new ‘dad’. These actions are designed to keep the ruffled feathers of the new partner smooth and to expedite the attachments which glue the new family system together. We, as women, are taught how to do this from a very early age, we are taught how to manage and manipulate people (for better or worse) and how to work in the relational field in order to obtain the protection we and our children need in order to survive. Unfortunately, shared parenting across a multiplex family system is not part of our primal drive and so biological fathers are pushed out and reduced to the status of ‘social fatherhood’ which a recent UN report suggested was the right role for separated fathers, social fatherhood seemingly meaning that it didn’t matter whether dads parented their own natural born offspring or were step parents – very similar to the 1970/80’s idea of musical chair fatherhood.

      How do you deal with the big bad wolf in your multiplex family drama, I think the first thing to think about is that the mother in this system is likely to be under a lot of pressure and he is likely to be a very powerful figure in her life.

      The other thing I would be asking is when did the relationship blocking start, what was happening, did it start for example when the new children were born or was it later. Mapping the route to rejection is a key part of understanding what has happened and what caused it is what will give you the tools to plan out how to reverse it.

      All of this stuff is about relationship and how people in the family system negotiate the changing relationships over time. I am guessing you are grandmother in the paternal system Grandmani, if you are, then you have a particularly powerful role to play of ‘fixer’ in the family system in that you are likely to be possessed of the exact same skills of relational management that your ex daughter in law is and you can use those to enter into the forbidden realm and work some magic of your own. I would be more than happy to help you to do that if you would like to email me – clinic@separatedfamilies.org.uk

      Because this is not something that necessarily has to be dealt with in a court system. In the olden days, when elders had influence and social imperatives were stronger, sitting around the kitchen table to sort it out would have been the way. Now that there are less social drivers and the family is seen as expendable, the power that elders have is reduced, at least on surface level but, in my view, those skills we learn never leave us and they can be put to good use in a new way. The fairy godmother in the alienation family drama is often in the guise of a grandmother (or father) and the fairy godmother (fixer) is often the very best person to do the smoothing out of the ruffled feathers that create the dynamics that cause rejection in the first place.

      And I can hear many people saying ‘that’s counter manipulation’ and yes, I guess it is but do you know what? In a multiplex world where everyone is fearful of hurting the big bad wolf’s feelings, the big bad wolf gets to rule the system and he huffs and he puffs and everyone stands still in case he blows their house down next. Thing is, he’s busy huffing and puffing because he’s scared that the other wolf (original partner of mum) can huff and puff harder than him and he’s scared that other wolf might have had something he hasn’t got and so if he can terrorise the system then he gets to feeling he’s got the biggest and the best huff and puff. Someone needs to let this big bad wolf know that his is bigger and better than anyone else’s (other than mum who is already trying to let him know that by shoving original wolf out of the family system)…and that original wolf is no threat to him. The best person in the system to do that is the ‘fixer’ and she gets to big bad wolf through smoothing out her relationship with mum and winkling her way in to befriend big bad wolf.

      One thing is for certain – the family court system isn’t going to sort out big bad wolf, cos he is just going to blow so hard that nothing happens but stasis. And heaven help us if the likes of wishy washy (cafcass) or buttons (nyas) get involved …….

      This narrative that I am using is for fun right now, but it has its basis in reality. Grandmani, do contact me, I am very happy to help. Very best K

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  7. dermo · January 20, 2013

    Conflict and fear? They seem to be the over riding factors in many separations and indeed they govern the forums of many parent support groups on either side of the “debate”. Prior to my red card from the gingerbread forum (two footed tackle) I found the mixture of parents interesting to say the least. There were those who were genuinely struggling with the separation anxieties of their children just as there were parents who were intent on erasing the other parent from their children’s lives (including a rather psychopathic dad).

    The dads forums are like reading a narrative from the sixties in Alabama or Belfast. Powerless and marginalised culturally the prevailing emotion is anger at the realisation that there is a consistency here.Once you enter the hallowed halls of justice.The myth of the superiority of British justice exposed as a money saver and a guardian of the status quo that usurps any real response to the “best interests of the children”. For the cynics its confirmation of what we were saying for years anyway(count this little red paddy in) and for the Daily Mail readers its the equivalent of having an entourage of travellers set up camp on your favourite golf course. Whatever your starting point the nightmare will reach fruition when Elizabeth Butler-Sloss turns up with an ice bucket and fire hose to douse your flames of anger?

    I digress of course. The children? very true .In the hail of less than friendly fire and worse we lose sight of them at times. Or even more than that?

    Ours have been overnight and it has been good fun. its been snowing. Our eldest boy wanted to meet his mates and the youngest too wanted to roam near mums with a friend. I dropped them back early. One to mums and one to his mates snow ball collective in a local park. I would never have done that a year ago.

    I will pick them up from school on Monday as always. Listen to their chatter in the car.Learn from them as they learn from us (Antarctica has no capital!!!) .

    Its not easy for them but of course perhaps it never will be?

    I am of course perfect? In the early days i was riven by fear, I had expected something different. On the way home my captive audience would hear me reaffirm my love for them . Their response would be to turn up the music. The little one would pretend he was asleep and my then 10 year old boy would twitch like he had electric shocks running through his tiny frame. It has scarred me so lord knows what it has done to them. In time they adopted a handover anthem. I will post it here but it gets less frequent now although my now 13 year old son has put it on my new phone as a ring tone. just to cheer everyone up i might have it played at my funeral (too many Irish and Cuban dirges may empty the barrels).if you can’t beat them etc

    I hate to bring up the presumption word but for all the joys of the children’s act and what may follow it means little as we know in reality. There is a power imbalance as soon as the starters pistol sounds and that predictably lights the inferno to come. Dad with money and mum with kids. Why not adopt the Norwegian presumption of contact and link it with a pay your wack (how callous? alan sugar?) system as in a reasonable and agreed level of maintenance linked with contact? The decision not to pay is the parents. The pitfalls are obvious but where dad wants contact why not test it? They forfeit the right to contact? The idea that children and money are not linked pre or post separation was invented by a think tank chaired by Kermit.

    Transition? What better than for parents to learn and protect their children? There is nothing out there? Mediation (worthless and cost me twice the cost of court). Parents who will not engage with a CSF type programme? Well let the court draw its own conclusions and act accordingly?

    I would include too an individual programme around conflict and conflict resolution. Have tried some Buddhist stuff recently “the power of surrender” and its good stuff. If you ever need a Buddhist Catholic Cuban Irish dimension to post separation please let me know?

    You helped me and our children with the T word. We are human and we can lose their hand as we follow our own personal stumble over the top of the trench. They get lost too as they try to follow us? Hard when they are in our care. Not what we or they expected? Food for thought as always.

    Thank you.

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    • karenwoodall · January 20, 2013

      El Dermo thank you for this, your journey to the place where you are dad to your boys, the same dad, different circumstances, same protector, different way of doing it, same love flowing through that you wanted to give them the day that they were born. Its not easy to get there through the fear, the loss and the loneliness. And yes please, I shall message you now, please can we have a guest blog from the Buddhist, Catholic, Cuban, Irish dimension very soon. Very best K

      Like

  8. Grandmani · January 20, 2013

    Thanks Karen for explaining so clearly the dynamics of a multiplex family.Certainly a lot of huffing and puffing from ‘Big bad wolf’ stepdad ,child’s mother hiding behind him—child’s father doing his share of huffing and puffing… they are trying to obliterate him from his son’s life.
    Sadly it can become a macho battle. as much as about children’s needs.
    I would certainly wish to weave some magic and smooth feathers if I could find any way of penetrating the unbelievable impasse and block on communication that has developed.
    I will email you…. your help will be much appreciated.

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  9. karenwoodall · January 21, 2013

    Bruno and Charlie, I am trying to get your comments online, I have approved them but I cannot get them to appear. I will keep trying. Bruno, could you post again and let us have links to the evidence about shared parenting that you refer to as I have not seen it, many thanks Karen

    Like

  10. karenwoodall · January 21, 2013

    CharlieJan 21, 8:18 pm
    Well said Bruno.

    Like

  11. karenwoodall · January 21, 2013

    am having to copy and paste your comments, my apologies. K

    /No-50-50-sharing-of-children-in-new-divorce-law-says-top-judge
    There are three major flaws in the views of the Baroness.
    Firstly, she makes the erroneous and very misleading presumption that those calling for Shared Parenting legislation want a rigid 50/50 split of parenting time.
    Most reasonable voices who have campaigned for Shared Parenting (such as Families Need Fathers and The Custody Minefield) have acknowledged for years that a rigid 50/50 split of parenting time would be impractical in many cases.
    Instead, they have called for the significant and meaningful involvement of both parents, in order that the child may benefit from being properly parented by both its parents. Theirs has always been a qualitative approach.
    Of course, in order for a child to have a significant and meaningful relationship with both its parents, it will need to spend some minimum quantum of time with both parents, but this need NOT be 50%.
    Many who are vehemently against Shared Parenting legislation are finding it extremely difficult to counter the widespread and powerful scientific evidence in favour of Shared Parenting. They have commissioned a couple of academics in an effort to discredit Shared Parenting, but the evidence in favour of Shared Parenting is overwhelming. The general consensus among social scientists is that Shared Parenting is beneficial to children. There are parallels with Oil Companies who commission selected academics to try to discredit the evidence for Global Warming.
    Instead, opponents of Shared Parenting are rather desperately (and mischievously) attempting to shift both the debate and their attack upon the notion of 50/50. The Baroness succeeded in getting the Express Newspaper to headline this 50/50 notion!
    Secondly, whilst the Baroness concedes that children benefit from Shared Parenting when their parents are behaving “sensibly”, she states that the children of parents who are not behaving “sensibly” cannot benefit from Shared Parenting, as this would be harmful.
    In the very common scenario in which the court-appointed Primary Carer (usually mum) is upset and aggrieved with any aspect of the separation or divorce, and refuses (or is emotionally incapable) to behave “sensibly” and refuses to facilitate contact , the Baroness suggests that the Secondary Carer (usually dad) should NOT be involved in the parenting of the child. The Baroness appears quite unable to perceive firstly, the injustice of her argument and, secondly, the long-term damage to the child in losing one of its parents. The Baroness gives paramountcy to the wishes and feelings of the Primary Carer mother.
    Thirdly, the Baroness appears completely out of touch with the current Zeitgeist concerning 21st century parenting. She is firmly wedded to the ideology of the 1960′s and 70′s which strongly held that children needed the nurturing of their mothers and the financial support of their fathers. In no other of the Baroness’s judgments is this out-of-date ideology so stark as in the judgment of Payne v Payne (2001).
    Regards
    Bruno D’Itri
    Reply | Unapprove | Spam | Trash

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    • karenwoodall · January 21, 2013

      Bruno, I would be grateful if you would post a link to the ‘the widespread and powerful scientific evidence in favour of Shared Parenting.’ I don’t think I have seen it and I would be interested to. Many thanks K

      Like

  12. karenwoodall · January 21, 2013

    Bruno i still cannot get responses up. I am interested in this word scientific, I do not know whether I have seen anything scientific to prove or disprove which is the best arrangement for children, I have seen huge amounts of stuff about shared parentin, some of which is convincing some of which is not but I am not aware of any scientific research, could you direct me to it. Thanks Karen

    Like

  13. karenwoodall · January 21, 2013

    Just worked out what is happening Bruno, you are posting on different posts not this one! Anyway if you can point out scientific research I would really appreciate it or maybe Stu can send me it, i will ask him. K

    Like

  14. Ken in NZ · January 23, 2013

    Just to add my comments regarding shared care and ‘conflict’. The key with shared care is to set it up so that very little communication and parent to parent contact is needed. I agree with Bruno’s comments in that claiming or stating that shared care doesn’t work if there is conflict merely encourages the parent who doesn’t want shared care to create the conflict. It’s not rocket science! Here is NZ I’d like to see 50-50 shared care as the default position should either parent want it and they be unable to work out by agreement an alternate solution. Another suggestion that I’ve got Dad’s to use when conflict is being claimed as a reason for there not to be shared care is to say to the court….. ‘ why don’t we try shared care. If you think that after 6 months conflict is an issue then the children can be with me on a day to day basis and with you for every other weekend until you think conflict is no longer an issue.’ Said in a tongue in cheek manner, but when the judge is the case started to nod, agree and reflect that this was a good idea the mum shut up pronto.
    In virtually all the cases I’m involved in, the Dads want more time and the Mum doesn’t want it to happen — that’s the starting point and the Mums use whatever excuse or resource they think will help to prevent or delay this from happening.

    Like

  15. karenwoodall · January 23, 2013

    Hi Ken, thanks for the comments, I am really interested in what is clearly a worldwide phenomenon, ‘dads want more time and mum doesn’t want it to happen’, why is that do you think? Its a question that I think if we could start to talk about and unpick we might find some answers together. It seems only right to me that dads do their fair share – I have never ever understood this idea that mothers should be doing it all and controlling it all – having been on the end of a relationship where dad walked away before our daughter was born, i did it all and i know how exhausting that is – I wanted him to do more, he wasn’t interested but many many dads want to do their fair share so why do we have so many mothers who don’t want that to happen? A big question that I think needs properly talking about – any thoughts from NZ? very best K

    Like

    • Ken in NZ · January 24, 2013

      As Andy said money is often what it is about, money and power and control. Here in NZ the set up of child support and family tax benefits created an incentive to prevent shared care.
      The other thing is that the mother deciding what the Dad can have has become the norm. Outside the school gates I sometimes hear mothers talk about what time they will allow their children to be with their Dads. I think that the biggest change will start to happen when society views a parent who tries to prevent their children from seeing the other parent for what they are – child abusers.

      Like

  16. Andy · January 24, 2013

    Do I understand you correctly when you say parenting education is the best way forward? When one parent is resistant to this and the other wants to learn more, how would it be possible to educate both parents.

    I think I already know the answer to this. I tried to encourage my partner to go with me on a parenting course, but her answer was, “why should I go on a parenting course, I’ve been a parent for ten years”. That was four years ago. Since then she has had assistance from a family support worker (supplied by Social Services). She now behaves more rationally with the children, although she has an annoying authoritarian approach to childcare. I am still seen as some kind of threat to her control over the children, but she will engage with me when it suits her purpose. I think her anger stems from fear of losing control.
    I feel ashamed that my children are in the limbo land you talk about. I thought it was best that I spend 50% of my time with them, because I used to be there for them 7 days a week and I understood how important it was for us to have a sustained length of time together if they were going to benefit from a meaningful relationship with their Dad.

    Now my eldest is trying to stretch herself between satisfying Dad’s needs by spending time with him, and spending time with her Mum to satisfy her needs. We are the children and my eldest is trying to placate two petulant adults. She came to see me for two hours tonight and share some tea which was wonderful. She began to talk about one of her friends and the arrangements she had made for the weekend. I could tell she was exhausted and now I feel as though I should have told her to stay at her mother’s at least she would have had a good nights sleep. Last week she stayed three nights in a row, which is a first. We both felt great about it. I could tell by her smile when I dropped her off at Mum’s. One of the things I have noticed is that now I don’t tend to come up with solutions for her, I encourage her to investigate different ways of finding her own solutions. This better parenting means that she likes to come to Dads just to talk, ………..recommend Faber & Mazlish “How to talk so kids will listen and listen……..” These books are largely due to the sound work of Gottman et al, “The Heart of Parenting”.

    Yes I agree education is crucial.

    Surprisingly many people think parenting is something your born with, or something you inherit from your parents. No it isn’t, “parenting” is a skill and you can study it and benefit from it just like you did math and english at school.

    Like

  17. Yvie · January 24, 2013

    ‘Dads want more time and mum doesn’t want it to happen’. Money is the root of it all. In my son’s case three years ago, he was sharing care 50/50. When he mentioned sharing the benefits it led to a Prohibited Steps order within a matter of weeks. That hurdle overcome, an Ex Parte application followed about 18 months later, as a result of the children asking to spend more time with dad. Put simply, there was no way mum was going to lose either child maintenance or child benefit. I can think of no other reason for the two Court applications.

    Like

  18. Andy · January 24, 2013

    Yvie

    I am sorry to hear that money has been a major issue for you and your former partner. It shouldn’t get in the way of parenting but sometimes it does. So far its not been a major issue for me because my partner is doing rather well on what she gets from the State, what I give her, and free rental on my part of the house which she lives in. It’s not fair nor balanced is it, but I fear that if I put pressure on her to take on more financial responsibility then she will use the children as weapons against me. I guess this is a common fear amongst most separated fathers and some mothers.

    It seems to be an accepted sociological norm that is extremely unhealthy in its bias to assist the resident parent to avoid financial responsibility and at the same time dominate control in the parenting department.

    Ironically this is what Social Services, Cafcass and the Judiciary see as stability. I say they are wrong because true family stability lies within the healthy emotional bonds we make.
    We are taught from an early age to deny our emotions in favour of practical and financial considerations that assist the self-appointed resident parent. We have organisations such as Gingerbread for whom “Single parenting” has become a burgeoning industry, promoting a separatist attitude toward what should be something undertaken by both mother and father.

    Kind regards

    A

    Like

    • Yvie · January 24, 2013

      Hi Andy – its my son who finds it hard to manage just at the moment. Hopefully things will improve over the next year or so. Some people just take what they can Andy and unfortunately the State seems there to aid and abet them. One day perhaps the State will be there to support both parents in their endeavours to share care of their children.

      Like

  19. Andy · January 29, 2013

    The argument for 50/50 shared parenting pre-supposes time to be the parameter of most significance when considering childcare arrangements.

    Listening to Dame Sloss on the channel 4 programme, (Shared Parenting presented by Tim Lovejoy) she states that stability of the environment is most important. She qualifies this by saying its best that the children live with one primary parent so that they can have stable schooling. Her views seem to encourage the division of the whole family, which is having a devastating effect on our society creating conflict and antagonism on a very personal level.

    The Fatherhood Institute promote fathers parenting skills and his identity as a parent of children, enabling him to be recognised as important to the welfare of children. This argument for shared parenting is therefore essentially based on role play. If father’s role in his children’s lives improves, so does the relationship, even after separation. Over time the Institutions who support childcare will learn how to improve support for father aswell as maintaining support for mother.

    The main reason I follow Karen’s blogg is because of the amount of consideration she gives to healthy emotional connections, and the mending of them. It is rare to meet someone with such a high degree of emotional intelligence, working in childcare.

    The question is how do we identify the problem ?
    Does the solution require a multi-disciplinary approach?
    What is the most important factor?

    It is clear that legislation, throughout history has preceded social and economic changes.
    I remember in my father’s day smoking was considered nothing more than a social activity. It was even promoted through advertising as something healthy/refreshing. I used to enter the living room to layered clouds of sweet smelling pipe tobacco. Fortunately today we recognise the harm smoking has done to our children, noting a recent article which identified a reduction of the incidence of asthma in children. Smoking, not without some resistance from hardline smokers wishing to exercise there “right” to smoke where they please is now confined to places where it does less harm to the rest of society. It was the medical profession which made great contributions to these changes by identifying the damage that smoking was doing to us all. The law has qualified a healthier position for us by banning smoking from establishments that we all share. There is no doubt in my mind that in this case the law has brought about significant improvements to our health leaving smokers free to damage their own health at will, allbeit in an ever decreasing space.

    How can the law help us maintain a healthy relationship for both parents with their children post separation?

    Like

  20. Bruno Ditri · February 2, 2013

    Hi Karen

    Sorry for the delay in my reply.

    Yes – I had posted on https://karenwoodall.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new-on-shared-parenting-and-the-road-ahead-2/

    Here are the details requested:

    http://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/12c/

    http://www.thecustodyminefield.com/Reports/FamilyLaw-Relocation_The_Need_For_Reform.pdf (pages 20 & 21)

    http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=scientific+evidence+for+shared+parenting+&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CGcQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aph.gov.au%2FParliamentary_Business%2FCommittees%2FHouse_of_Representatives_Committees%3Furl%3Dfca%2Fchildcustody%2Fsubs%2Fsub0909appc.pdf&ei=grP9UKHAPPKb1AXuh4DgDA&usg=AFQjCNHP38avU08444gTgcf4D7h3Kp69rg

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201204/sixteen-arguments-in-support-co-parenting (this is just a summary of Professor Kruk’s extensive research – his full paper (200 odd pages) can be downloaded from the net – I did so 3 years ago, although the site may take a little time to find…)

    I exhibited much of this scientific evidence at the Court of Appeal in 2010 and it led Sir Nicholas Wall, the now former President of the Family Division, to conclude that current family laws potentially relegated the harm done to children by giving insufficient weight to maintaining a meaningful relationship between children and BOTH their parents.

    Another High Court Judge, Nicholas Mostyn J, also later made reference to the compelling scientific evidence for shared parenting in the case of Re AR.

    Regards
    Bruno D’Itri

    Like

  21. Bruno Ditri · February 2, 2013

    One more Karen…

    This is the paper by Professor Kruk which kept Sir Nicholas Wall busy for three weeks…

    http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/181/April7_Kruk.pdf

    Best wishes
    Bruno D’Itri

    Like

  22. Bruno Ditri · February 10, 2013

    This site is also quite useful in listing pro-shared parenting evidence:

    http://sharedparesearch.blogspot.co.uk/#!/

    Bruno D’itri

    Like

  23. Bruno Ditri · February 11, 2013

    The Children Act of 1989 required the judiciary to serve the paramount interests of the child.

    Surely no one can disagree with this fundamental principle.

    The problem is that our senior judiciary has opted to interpret this paramountcy principle by adopting out-of-date suppositions which hark back to the 1960′s and 70′s. It has done so because of its rigid adherence to the system of ‘legal precedent’.

    Above all, a child needs the love and nurturing of its mother and the financial support of its father. Women are the emotionally weaker sex: if their wishes are thwarted by the court, their ability to parent their child will be adversely affected. A child can be raised quite satisfactorily without the nurturing of its father. A father may be permitted to share in the parenting of his child, but only if the mother is in agreement. If she is not in agreement, the father should not be involved in the parenting because this would upset the mother, and the resulting animosity would be harmful to the child. If a mother is found to have lodged false or exaggerated accusations of physical or emotional violence against a father, she should not be punished because this would harm her child.

    If these are the suppositions written into decades of legal precedent and indelibly ingrained in the minds of the senior judiciary – such as Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Justice Thorpe and Sir Nicholas Wall – then it is quite obvious that these judges will opt to interpret the Paramountcy Principle of the CA1989 by adopting those suppositions.

    A perfect example is Payne v Payne (2001). Butler-Sloss and Thorpe decided that the paramount interests of a child would best be served by ensuring that the child’s mother should not be upset by a refusal of her application to remove the child overseas. The unfortunate consequence – that the child would lose its meaningful relationship with its father – was not as important a factor as ensuring the happiness of the mother. In Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, Nicholas Wall refused to permit any challenge to the ideology of Payne v Payne, despite having being presented with a plethora of powerful scientific evidence in favour of shared parenting. Wall relegated the importance of that evidence.

    Our senior judiciary has utterly misjudged the best interests of the child by remaining stubbornly wedded to an out-of-date ideology of parenthood.

    The forthcoming amendment to the CA1989 – inserting a presumption of shared parenting – will hopefully rectify that serious judicial error.

    Regards,
    Bruno D’Itri

    Like

    • pauldmanning · February 12, 2013

      Bruno I couldn’t agree more with your words. In fact the parmountcy principle really should read “In the best interests of the child and in line with mothers wishes and is not upset by any decisions the court makes”. This is what has been applied in my case, we fathers are totally expendable and of course have few problems in dealing with the loss of our kids???

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