On dignity, equality and respecting the difference between us

As the weather has heated up so it seems has the impact of what I have recently been writing.  The last post about the Bad Men Project being one which has particularly stirred things up.   I admit that I can, at times, write with a somewhat sharpened pen.  But the reactions to my latest piece of writing appear to me to be a little over exaggerated.  Is it the subject matter that is the cause of the unsettling, or is it because I have finally decided that I will, no longer, collude with the charade that is the Bad Men Project, (which of course, liberates me fully, to speak up and speak out on the matter).

The reactions to the latest piece have encouraged me to sit down and consider what it is exactly that I am looking for when I talk about the way in which we could and should support families in this country.  Being very good at illuminating what is wrong is one thing, being able to shape the way that we could put things right is quite another.  In some quarters, there is the allegation made that I am unable to articulate how things should be, relying only on describing what is wrong with the way things are.  Forgive me then for pointing out however, that much of what I have been doing on this blog since I began to write it, is discuss how things could be, as well as illuminate how things are delivered differently in the work that we do.

I have been demonstrating the difference that equality and respect based work with separated families makes since1998.  Alongside colleagues, I have written about it, delivered it, evaluated it and even shown the Minister for Child Maintenance herself the way it works.  We have embedded the difference in the Child Maintenance Options service (not that you would find it there these days) and we have recently trained over four thousand early years workers to do it. We have worked with families themselves, with Local Authorities and even trained an Australian Relationship Centre to use our programmes.  We have worked with practitioners up and down the land, what more could one do to demonstrate that there is a different way that delivers a different outcome, that is based upon respect for the difference between men and women and underpinned by an equalities based approach?

The answer, I fear, is nothing.  The reason, I believe, is because the reality of what we are showing crosses a boundary which is held firm by the orthodoxy  around family services in this country. This orthodoxy being that women have problems, but men are problems.

I should make it clear once again, that the way that I work is based upon an equalities approach in which the reality that mothers as well as fathers struggle after family separation is placed centrally, and which recognises that separation  is equally painful on an individual level but unevenly supported on a collective level.

This uneven approach to support is, I believe, because the BMP is at work in much of our service provision, encouraged and supported by the gender neutral legislation which surrounds the family.

Gender neutral legislation, (which I am almost sick of talking about now, so long have we been banging on about it) is the way in which a law is created without paying attention to the different experiences and different needs of men and women.  Legislation, laws and the services which are created underneath that, are key drivers of behaviour in our society.  To make a law gender neutral is to fail to consider how it will impact upon men and women differently and therefore drive their behaviours differently.

Gender neutral laws in a gender biased society, deliver gender biased outcomes which drive behaviours which appear to uphold the assumptions that have been created about people.

Put simply, if you create a law which pays child benefit to mothers and then, when the family separates, tell the couple that the one holding child benefit is the primary carer then you will create the illusion that only that parent cares for children. If you then, continue to allow, the perpetuation of the myth that all family separation is about fathers leaving mothers and you only listen to standpoint academic research which confirms this for you, (instead of asking parents directly yourself), then what you will come away with is the belief that family separation is only about bad dads abandoning good mums and the only issue that is of concern is poverty.

That is a classic example of a gender neutral law delivering gender biased outcomes and it is at the core of our family separation policy and has been for forty years.

I cannot say it more clearly than that.

Neither can I say this more clearly.

Dads are discriminated against in family separation policy, that is why they are disaffected, disappearing and desperate.  There is nothing more, nothing less to say about it.  In a gender analysis, it is quite simply a fact.  Now we either live with it (and the fatherless society that it creates) or we do something about it.

This is not about fathers rights.  It is not even about children’s rights.  This is about the way in which our society values men as fathers and fatherhood in general.  The current message being that dads are deficient, dangerous and disposable and that after family separation they simply do not matter.

Are some dads dangerous? Yes of course and I have never said any different.  But does that make every father dangerous?  Of course it doesn’t.   Are some mothers dangerous?  Without doubt, but that does not make them all dangerous.  Some appalling cases of fathers killing their kids instill fear, but then so do the appalling cases of mothers who kill their children.  Only we do not ever end sentences about separated mothers with the words ‘where it is safe to do so’, do we?  Why not, when the safety issues around parenting after separation are almost equal in terms of risk from fathers and mothers.

The answer is, in my mind, the Bad Men Project, the collective delusion which is upheld by the orthodoxy which silences all who challenge it.  I am in no doubt that by speaking about this again and again, I too risk being silenced or sidelined, or both.  But I cannot stay silent on the matter, and I won’t.  Because even as I write, good men are being disposed of and children are being forcibly removed from relationships with their fathers, by gender neutral legislation which delivers gender biased outcomes.

Its not an accident.  Its not that fathers are inherently mad or bad.  It is the way in which the legislation has been created that delivers outcomes which appear to replicate, what we are told by those who benefit from this (the single interest groups for example).

And there are unintended consequences of this rigid legislation.  Consequences which actually damage some mothers in the most appalling ways.  Creating laws which only allow one parent to be a carer after separation for example, can put some mothers at risk of being completely evicted from their children’s lives if a father is the one who decides to take control.  In my work with alienated mothers, it is without doubt a reality that many of them have been pushed out by dads who are controlling and abusive.  But there is no way back in for these mothers.  Just like dads who are pushed out by divisive legislation, non resident mothers face the consequences of a gender neutral legislation, only they face even more collective vitriol because they are somehow even worse than non resident fathers in the minds of too many people.

If the laws around family separation were gender aware, we would deliver something completely different both in terms of outcomes for children and behavioural change.  We would keep both parents strongly engaged with their children (as they are in countries where gender mainstreaming is at the heart of social policy) and we would increase value, dignity and respect for mothering and for fathering.  Even further than that, we would support each parent to care as well as provide for their children in co-parenting relationships that are expected, not offered as a one of a menu of lifestyle choices.

We do not need to focus on anxieties about dividing the child in either physical location or time when legislation is underpinned by gender mainstreaming because we will support both parents to understand their children’s needs and how to support those together.  And we will understand that equality in family separation does not mean equal this or equal that but equality of opportunity to continue to deliver on the role of being mum and dad. Recognised, valued, and supported in ways that meet the different needs of men and women.

I don’t know how many times I have said the same thing over the past couple of decades but it is worth saying it again.

The dignity of being valued, for the wonderful things that one brings to the life of a child, is the difference that underpins the work that we do.

About as far away from the deficient dad approach as it is possible to get.

But a thousand times more effective.

65 comments

  1. Alison · June 23, 2013

    Thank you Karen. I really appreciate your clarity, for giving much food for thought, and a future perspective.

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  2. Jenny · June 23, 2013

    Once again Karen, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Fair and square.

    And please carry on hitting it until someone who can will do something positive to correct things. Until then, not only will children be deprived of one of their parents but very often the family of those parents too. And the fundamental reason is as you so rightly state:- a lack of equality and gender neutrality – whatever the law says.

    Best for children? How can it be!

    Jenny

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  3. Harry · June 23, 2013

    The problem of separation that we are struggling to deal with is a result of the individualistic society that has increasingly developed over the last 60 years.

    Instead of just focussing on managing separation better (obviously, that is vital) we need to see it as an absolutely last resort, and focus the majority (if anything) of our energy on reconciliation and even more, on prevention strategies.

    If we can better appreciate the nature of relationship within partnerships while they are still in place – then it will be a lot easier to facilitate this after a bust up.

    We need to have a huge drive to provide support for relationships when they are in trouble at the earliest stage. I asked for help in my relationship (overcoming an element of male pride to do so) about 15 years ago. I have left no stone unturned in the search, but have had the door slammed shut in every case, from family and friends, religious figures, the NHS, schools, some counsellors, social workers and the police. Sometimes the folk involved temporarily march in in an authoritarian infantilizing manner, adding insult to further injury – often adding huge fuel to the fire.

    Usually, they take sides with, of course, the woman – as the attitudes resulting from the Bad Man Project has become the cultural norm, as soon as there is the slightest question of domestic friction of any kind.

    Prevention – and this would be incredibly easy to do with some gentle but firm intervention, on a true feminist basis (i.e. domination by either gender is unacceptable) is FAR better than cure.

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  4. andy · June 23, 2013

    The University of East Anglia website, Modern Fatherhood, has data stating 69% of mothers and 59% of fathers spend mealtimes with their children.

    So, why post-separation should the time spent/shared be any different?

    I feel if the court had supported me in my plan to co-parent in this way, life would have been a lot easier for all the family.

    I sense too that academics see absent Dads as people who have abandoned their children. If this is the case why then are there charities whose purpose it is to help regain the family life that has been lost by a parent.

    If Dad were simply someone who had abandoned his children and didn’t want to pay for them, the charities would have names like, “maintenance avoidance” or “how to avoid detection” or “pretending I was the victim”.

    I simply need time to be Dad, as I know how. This has nothing to do with my former partner. She needs to take on more financial responsibility as much for her own self-worth as the financial care of her children.

    Kind regards

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  5. Russell Armstrong · June 23, 2013

    Its interesting to see that Karen has ruffled feathers, two reasons for this;

    Either she speaks the truth and the powers that be are afraid of criticism and cannot handle it, i.e. they are weak individuals, so weak as to have to use their power to slap down dissenting voices, despite those dissenting voices speaking the truth or

    The powers that be are afraid that the truth is exposed so that their flawed “system” is finally brought to the attention of the masses, who, then, armed with the correct information, can bring about change, and the “system” is afraid of change because they are weak people.

    To hide behind the rhetoric that the system is not gender biased (and to quote Baroness Hale) it is “your perception that (the system) is biased” somewhat misses the point. This exposes the ultimate contempt that these Judges give to fairness and concern. Surely, if there is a perception that the system is biased something has created the perception no? If that something is the system itself then the system needs to look at itself to address the issue, but judges are weak people, they lack the moral fibre to challenge what is plainly in front of them, to not challenge is to accept the status quo and therein lies the problem. It is from within the system that our judges are chosen, if they rock the boat they do not get chosen, if they go along they have to maintain the illusion.

    Yes the system is legistaveley (sorry spelling) non gender biased, but it is positively biased in favour of the “parent with (majority) care” and as 80+% of all women get the child benefit then the system becomes biased in perception that it is biased in terms of gender.

    So as with any narcissistic personality disordered person, the system feeds off of itself and requires sustenance to support itself. Money, money, money.

    The solution, to my mind, if for judges to get a lesson in how to correctly balance fact from fiction, to analyse evidence correctly and to, without fear or favour, to one party or other balance risk verses benefit.

    To have a start point that allows abuse of power to take form, cannot in any shape of form be the truly correct space to start from. But then again when we look at all the latest scandals that abound in politics it should not surprise us that the legal system is like wise awash with abuses of power and process, they will claim otherwise for that is the nature of the beast, but whilst they can easily line their own pockets at the expense of misery of ordinary and hard working men and women then they will.

    The legal system thrives on contest and division for that is how they earn their money, to arrive at a solution early on in the process surely chokes off their ability to extract money from vulnerable people at a very vulnerable time upon separation.

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    • Harry · June 23, 2013

      Hi Russell,

      At the Tower Hamlets FNF meeting last week we were able to put several of these points very forcefully to the District Judge who had come to speak with us, and we felt confident that she would go back and talk to her colleagues on our behalf.

      One of her employees is also a member of this branch and it looks very much as if this Judge is wanting for the system to change. However there seemed to be some fundamental misperception still, about the level of aggression and hostility towards men that exists – with the idea that all this stems from a simple communication difficulty between the genders!

      She was right to an extent – in her job she genuinely does seem to encounter a lot of poor levels of communication…but all the examples she gave, as showing the greatest failings in this regard, were that of men. Maybe this was just to get us to buck up our ideas, for our own sakes…but at least sometimes, isn’t it the other way around?

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  6. Ken in NZ · June 23, 2013

    Nice;y written as always Karen – sadly it’s very similar here in NZ.

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  7. Claire Contino · June 23, 2013

    What a stonking phrase”Gender neutral laws in a gender biased society, deliver gender biased outcomes which drive behaviours which appear to uphold the assumptions that have been created about people.” You really put this so concisely and so effectively Karen – I really hope your voice continues to be heard. Well done, and what courage you have.

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  8. Vincent McGovern · June 23, 2013

    Any chance I wonder of revision of the CA1989 to correct the perception? of bias. Let me see, robust highly qualified personnel given the power to do so. And we have……Edward Timpson, childrens solicitor, Anthony Douglas head of the most maligned incompetent organisation that has failed totally in it’s statutory objective throughout, witness Ofsted investigations and House Of Commons select committee.

    And to complete the joke we have Liz Trinder, she of the closed and resolute mind that Shared Parenting is NOT in the best interests of children. And we question why the Lady Woodall is being marginalised? Much more of the same to continue, this sick soap opera has an inexhaustible supply of vulnerable children to marginalise and further damage. All following the paramountcy principle you understand.

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  9. Jane Moore · June 23, 2013

    I agree Claire, stonking!

    The solutions seem insurmountable, how can we take on the mindset of practically the whole of society and change it fundamentally?

    We need to take the word “law” out of family for a start! Our judicial system pits parent against parent, the children regarded as property to be won like some kind of trophy, their wishes and feelings lost and completely disregarded in the feeding frenzy of the parents, hungry for revenge… The children mere weapons in this grotesque battle.

    Changing the system needs to start at school, tackling the divisions and gender bias, before the rot sets in. Parenting/living choices classes to disseminate and discuss the issues that will already be effecting most of their young lives…. where better to begin than with the ones most deeply effected by it.

    I would like to see families taken out of the courtrooms and provided with centres where the kind of counselling and workshops that Karen has created can be given full rein. Where separating parents would be directed to, so that they could receive guidance and education about the impact wrong choices can have….child inclusive sessions that treat the whole family dynamic, that give everyone a voice that can be heard loudly and clearly! To replace anger and confusion with love and understanding.

    I had to write an essay at school once, its title was “To obtain the impossible is a worthwhile goal” …contradictory and paradoxical in it meaning and one far too well suited to the task ahead.

    Whilst we sit cosily debating the reasons, the rights and wrongs, the solutions and more…the situation continues to roll like some massive tumbleweed, gathering our collective pain and heartbreak and growing stronger from it, gaining speed as it rolls remorselessly through the very fabric of our lives.

    Lets look to the rest of the world…. Brazil, Bulgaria, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece… the list is growing almost daily. How I wish we would take our inspiration from the ordinary peoples globally, that are finding the strength collectively and rising up against the injustices visited upon them by their governments and law makers. The most frightening thing and the biggest obstacle we face in this country is apathy and I fear its terminal.

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  10. Mo · June 24, 2013

    It has to be gender neutral laws as men are all different and women are all different. Anything else consigns men to certain roles and women to certain roles. This article does not take into account that men are doing as much child care as women these days and women are just as likely to be the primary earners as men.

    I cannot agree to this article it is a throwback to the 50s. The answer is to make the gender neutral laws work and improve them where necessary, not tear them down.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

      Mo, what it has to be is GENDER AWARE…..

      what gender neutral does, when you set up a law that confers caring responsibility on one parent and providing responsibility on on the other, as we have done with Child Benefit for example (we use the CB to determine which parent is the carer and which is the provider after separation), you constrain the choices of each parent to do anything but be either the one who carers or the one who provides. I dont know how many times I have said this either but here goes again, in capitals so everyone gets how important it is.

      IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW GENDER EQUAL YOUR FAMILY IS BEFORE YOU SEPARATE, WHEN YOU SEPARATE YOU WILL BE DIVIDED INTO THE ROLE OF EITHER CARER OR PROVIDER…YOU WILL NO LONGER HAVE A CHOICE ABOUT WHETHER YOU PROVIDE CARE IF YOU ARE THE ONE WITHOUT THE CHILD BENEFIT BOOK, YOU CAN TRY TO CARE, BUT YOU WON’T GET A PENNY OF SUPPORT FOR DOING IT AND, YOUR KIDS ARE LIKELY TO BE LIVING IN POVERTY IF YOU DO.

      Apologies, I just do not know how many more times I can say this. Our society may not be like the 1950’s anymore BUT OUR LEGISLATION AROUND FAMILY SEPARATION STILL IS….WHICH IS WHY WE GET OUTCOMES THAT LOOK LIKE WOMEN CARER AND MEN PROVIDE.

      Do the gender analysis. Ask yourself why 90% of parents with care are mothers. Is it because only mothers care for their children?

      NO, ITS BECAUSE CHILD BENEFIT IS PAID DIRECTLY TO MOTHERS AND CHILD BENEFIT IS THE BENEFIT USED TO DECIDE WHO IS THE PARENT WITH CARE.

      It just doesn’t matter Mo that women are primary earners, they will not have a choice to continue to be that after separation unless they want to be the non resident parent and point me to a mother who has decided that she will be the non resident mother after separation……tell me one famous person you know who has taken on that role.

      Gender neutral laws which are configured around a 1950’s model of carer and provider will deliver gender biased outcomes. Ok our society may be more gender aware, time then to make our laws more gender aware I would say.

      Hope my shoutyness does not cause offence, I just am at the end of a very long road in trying to get this reality across.

      Very best

      Like

      • Yvie · June 24, 2013

        My son pays 25% of his wages in child maintenance (which includes some arrears he knew nothing about), it leaves him with just over £200. per week to pay all his bills and provide for his children. He has a shared residence order but not 50%. It’s struggle for him to keep the bills paid, we help out as I have posted before.

        Today he decided to speak to his ex. about paying an amount of child maintenance which is fair to them both.

        Her reply was that ‘the child maintenance pays my debts’. She works full time (a professional role), has a live in partner and receives child benefit, child tax credits, working tax family credit and 25% of my son’s wages.

        At least my son has had the satisfaction of broaching the subject politely even though he had no success.

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  11. andy · June 24, 2013

    I confess to being more confused rather than enlightened. The thought that somehow men and women are needed in different capacities by their children is a misnomer. My good friend said she didn’t like the the “nurturing” gooey baby phase and couldn’t wait till the children were older and became more intellectually challenging. Those kids are all grown up now and they are fine. For myself, as a man, I liked the gooey nurturing vulnerable phase and loved being relied upon to be protective. I cut the umbilical cord (in spite of having no medical experience) and soothed her teething, rocked her to sleep.
    I read about Dad being good at “limit setting” and whilst I understand my potential in this area I also see mothers with a good grasp of the concept, and the best ways to deliver it.
    I think if somebody told me I “parent” in a certain way because I am male, I would say, “what you see is a habit I picked up based on my experience growing up that has become flavoured by things I have learned in parenting books and observed in others. My intention is to be aware of how my actions affect my children and then make better parenting judgments whenever I make mistakes.
    Post-separation i need time to “parent”. Time that can be measured in days and nights, the quality of parenting being my responsibility. In spite of having reservations about the way in which my former partner “parents” I respect that, like me she needs time to “parent”. Bearing in mind children spend half their lives at school I feel it is important that both parents live at a distance that makes the childrens lives with both parents practicable. (So none of this running away malarkey that the family law courts seem so keen to endorse).
    Healing the wounds of separation may never be complete but we need to at least reform some kind of respect between the two parents who, in most cases, previously enjoyed such blissful harmony.

    In essence I don’t want to be told I am different because of my gender, I simply want to be respected and valued for the parenting I do. When I went to court I was seen simply as someone who earns money and one who has a responsibility to provide it, simply because I was the main earner. I earn money because it’s important, and the job gives me satisfaction too, but I “parent” because I love and I feel, it completes my life…………it’s my number one priority. Tear the heart out of me and I won’t want to work, I will feel depressed, I may shut the hurt out completely and then you will say I am feckless…………………I am not feckless for God sake……..I just scream that I hurt,

    Kind regards

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    • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

      Hi Andy, I am sorry to confuse you but the fact is that as men and women our brains are different and as men and women we do different things, the neuroscience tells us more about this difference.

      Men and women do need different levels of support after family separation to enable them to configure their lives around the needs of their children. You are not the same as a mother in what you do, you do not even smell the same as a mother to very young children. You can nurture and care and love children just like a mother can but the way that that impacts upon children will be different to how a mothers way of doing it will impact. Similarly, a mother can offer structure and boundary but she will do it differently to how a dad would do it. Your voice is lower than a woman, you smell different to women, you look different you have been socialised differently and your expectations are different. Equality means respecting that difference, not elevating one above the other and recognising that children benefit from the different things that mothers and fathers do. The phrase Men, Women, Different, Equal, is not the strapline of the Equalities and Human rights commission for nothing. Boys and girls are not the same, they grow up to be men and women who are not the same and one is neither better nor worse than the other, but if you are a man and you suffer separation, you will be treated ‘as if’ you are the cause of it, the reason why your kids are in poverty and dangerous, simply because you are a man. Which is so wrong in terms of equalities law that it is discrimination in action. Why are you treated that way? Look at forty years of social policy around the family and you will see that is designed to create and perpetuate the notion that men are not safe to women and children. That is why difference matters and that is why fighting for equality matters in family separation. Its not about telling you that you are different for the sake of it, its about naming and fighting what has been done which is wrong and which delivers fatherlessness in generation after generation. very best K

      Like

  12. Mo · June 24, 2013

    I dont take offence at shouting Karen, please do not worry.

    I apologise but disagree still with you / We should pay child benefit to both parents is what I say, stop it being gender discrimination. This is where gender neutral laws are not working because there are laws saying child benefit goes to mother – Answer is to make the gender neutral laws work, not have more laws based on gender put in place.

    problme is too many in courts and social services believe men have specific roles and women have specific roles, this is wrong. Make the gender neutral laws work and strengthen them to treat both parents as careers and money makers.

    the government has not gone far enough in its gender neutral laws and does not enforce them, make them enforce laws. This will make the difference.

    Thankyou

    Like

    • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

      Glad you don’t take offence Mo!

      To pay Child Benefit to both parents would be to create a Gender Aware law. Gender aware laws are those which are underpinned by Gender Mainstreaming, which is a way of analyzing social policy to ensure that it delivers equality of opportunity. Our current legislation is gender neutral but was created in a world where gender roles were very different, this is why it drives gender biased outcomes, it is like putting a 1950’s strait jacket onto separating mothers and fathers and telling mothers that they belong in the kitchen again and dads that they are only valued for being the breadwinners.

      The way that we change social policy around the family is to build gender aware legislation which responds to the choices that parents wish to make now, about how they care and provide. What you have described above is not gender neutral legislation, it is gender aware, because it recognises that men and women these days wish to care and because it is designed to support that. A gender aware law around family separation would, for example, assess each parent at the point that they negotiate their post separation parenting agreement, on their ability to contribute to care and to financial support. The interaction of the state would simply be based upon topping up parental income on both sides to ensure that each parent is capable of providing the care and the financial support. There may be, under this system, the need for transfer of money between parents to ensure that children are not dramatically better off in one household than the other. Additional legislation would ensure that parental leave, part-time work and home working options were available to both parents to support their care arrangements. Children would then, be moving between two similarly supported households, between two parents who care and provide for them. This would prevent so much of the difficulties that we see in our current system, where one parent is exalted and seen as being the super parent (as so many people view single parents in the current system for example, Gingerbread even tell their members, single parents – you’re brilliant..goes their strapline.. which presumably means that non resident parents…you’re not! I jest but you get the picture. Gender neutral legislation is not the answer I am afraid Mo, gender aware, as you have described above, absolutely is. Best wishes Karen

      Like

  13. Jane Moore · June 24, 2013

    Whilst there are roles that are shared by both parents, each gender of parent brings unique and different qualities into the caring framework…As Karen says we are different and we should celebrate those differences, not try and mould them into one amorphous mass…or should that be mess!

    Like

    • Mo · June 24, 2013

      Yes but in 1 family the mother could bring in one set of unique and different qualities, in another family it may be the father who brings these same unique and different qualities.

      Celebrate differrences but understand that some men are verey similar to women in their thinking and some women are very similar to men in thinking. Cannot say men does this and women does this.

      Whiich is why you cannot say it is a man’s role or woman’s role or you are back in the 50s or in Saudi Arabia today.

      Jane thankyou

      Like

      • Anonymous · June 24, 2013

        You only have to watch children at play to see that they present with different qualities applicable to gender. That’s not to say that one is better than the other, or less equal, as is the case in countries such as Saudi Arabia….I use this comparison as it is the one you have used Mo, although in my opinion the gender issues there have more to do with Religion.

        Civilised society recognises the importance of equality but has lost sight of the the intrinsic differences that are a natural complement one to the other, masculine to feminine…

        The 50s were born out of rationing and the fall out from the war…society had changed out of necessity, roles were reversed and lots of men never came home…it was a stand alone period of time borne out of the ravages of war. Perhaps we are still in recovery from that time…it seems to me that we have lurched from one national knee jerk reaction to the next since then. This huge flip from patriarchal to matriarchal society…where is the equality that is so talked about and held up as some shining example of how it should be?

        We are all similar, we are all human, and yes we are more alike than we are different….but we are not the same, and thank goodness!

        Like

      • Jane Moore · June 24, 2013

        Anonymous is me, I neglected to add my name…. Jane

        Like

      • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

        🙂

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  14. Mo · June 24, 2013

    I agree pay both parents and am happy with calling gender aware or gender neutral or gender sausages 🙂 / if it pays both parents.

    Same with holiday etc.

    Thank you Karen

    Like

  15. John Baker · June 24, 2013

    From a John Baker, once of ‘Families Need Fathers’ and now of the Assn for Shared Parenting.

    The main thrust of this is to cite evidence against something that even Karen seems to believe, that there is neuroscientific evidence of ‘hard-wired’ brain differences between men and women. Such believers should read Fine, Cordelia, 2010, Delusions of Gender, the real science behind sex differences, Icon books, London. They will find these notions thoroughly debunked by someone who is themselves a ‘hard scientist’.

    But first a point of logic. To discriminate on the basis of sex (or race, or other characteristics with similar features) in family policy or other similar cases would only be justified if two factual things, and one other feature were all found together. The first factual thing is, that ALL people with the characteristic in question were different were different from ALL people without it. An example would be an imaginary rule that only Black musicians were allowed to play in a Jazz Club. This could only be justified (using that term without an ethical component) if no White musician ever performed to an adequate standard. The second factual requirement is that the characteristic you are interested in (playing Jazz, or being an adequate parent) could not be tested directly, for example, giving them an trial audition, so that you had to rely on, eg, race or sex as a reliable sign. The third, less factual requirement to justify discrimination is that the characteristic on the basis of which you seek to justify discrimination is relevant to the type of discrimination you wish to make. It would be justified, for example, for people with criminal convictions for fraud to be debarred from jobs handling other people’s money, but not, for example, working to keep our sewers clear.

    None of these apply to excluding men from caring for children. There is no ‘clear water’ between man and women, but an overlap in what they have to offer. Second there can be evidence of performance and capacity that is directly obtained. So tht should be used, rather than sex. Thirdly, sex is itself not relevant to child care. Rather the opposite – if the sexes are innately different, there is a case that their role could be complementary.

    I realise that this is getting long, and I do not know whether I have operated things for this post to appear.

    And have not got on to Prof Fine. More to follow if this works….

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    • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

      I am not saying that brain difference is hard wired John, neuroscience tells us that the brain is plastic, it can be moulded and changed but, the reality is that we are washed with different chemicals, we are subject to different things in our lives and we are different in our childrens lives. We can argue about whether neuroscience is real or not real but the reality is that difference is a real thing, men and women are not the same.

      The core of this argument is that if you gender analyse the legislation around family separation it is a fact that it is gender neutral but configured around a model which is gender biased and based in the past. it is not an accident that fathers are removed from their childrens lives in this model. Men and womens role in childrens lives ARE complimentary but this has been overlooked and ignored in social policy in favour of mothers being in the role of primary carer and fathers being pushed to the role of distant, provider parent, as was the norm in the mid 20th century.

      You are utterly right in saying that there is nothing real in academic and research terms to exclude dads from care of their children, but dads are still excluded. Equally there is nothing in research terms that says that dads impact negatively on their children, and yet they are still excluded, routinely, from their children’s lives.

      All of this is because, in my view, the legislation around the family is framed around the notion that women have problems whilst men are problems.

      We have to change this and utilising gender mainstreaming is a powerful way of doing that. We have been arguing for this for years now but no-one wants to go near the core of the issue which would be to remove the gateway benefit approach to dividing parents into carer and provider.

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    • Mo · June 24, 2013

      John Baker – That is what I wanted to say. i will leave it to you who can say things better than me. Thankyou.

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      • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

        I am afraid that I don’t agree with this approach, simply because you are focusing upon the idea that there is no difference between men and women and therefore they should be treated the same. If you treat men and women the same you will always deliver the outcomes that we currently see in our social policy. This is because there are inherent barriers in a gender neutral policy, which act to keep the outcomes the same. So, even if you consider that you are treating men and women the same, you will see that men and women, who you believe are the same, being divided into one who cares and one who provides, by gender neutral legislation. How will you overcome this reality? You cannot solve this by treating mothers and fathers the same even if you believe they are the same underneath.

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  16. Mo · June 24, 2013

    I apologise Karen, differences between men and women but also differences beetween men and men and also differences between women and women. Some women same as other women, some men same as other men, some women same as some men, some men same as some women.

    Need to treat all equally under same law whatever differrences. Make laws which allow mother and father share cares and providing. cannot treat men and women differently as in saudi.

    thankyou but we dont seem to agree except with child benefit which you are right on. I think i have said to much so will stop, thank you for your help with fathers.

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    • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

      No need to apologise Mo, we may not agree, doesn’t mean I think any less of you. There is a saying in equalities work that goes like this….in order to treat you equally, I may have to treat you differently…that saying acknowledges that men and women are different, have different needs and different barriers to face and so, need different services of support. That’s the difference I am talking about. Best wishes Karen

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      • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

        And its not just dads that I work with or the discrimination facing dads that concerns me. The discrimination facing parents who are ousted from children’s lives through the current policies is deeply concerning to me and it is mothers as well as fathers who are suffering. Also, the way in which the parent with care is landed with all of the responsibility, all of the work and all of the burden of single parent status concerns me. It is neither liberating nor equality to assign the role of the only one who cares to one parent, usually the mother, but that is what we currently do. Best wishes Karen

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  17. John Baker · June 24, 2013

    There is much less disagreement than there appears to me and may, indeed, be none at all. For the ideas Fine’s book concentrate on are the allegedly ‘scientific’ claims that there are hard-wired neurological sex differences. She does not deal with either social factors, social consequences or social causes except in so far as socially-created factors have resulted in distortions in science. To take one example. The claim that male babies kick more in the womb. This, the reported experience of mothers, is confined to those who knew the sex of their babies.

    The implications of her argument (She deals only with the science) are to counter the ideas that men and women who seek to do things not conventionally ascribed to their gender are somehow going against ‘science’. And that it is somehow ‘unnatural’ for men to be involved in nurturing activities.

    Yes, in fact we are formed with strong gender identities. They are social in origin*, but because they are real in our lives, policy should take them into account. A room in the nearest non-residential building to where I live has just, in the last few weeks, been opened as a ‘Mother and baby group’, run by a Church. Presumably that reflects the values of the funders, staff, volunteers, attenders and those around them. Any fathers attending not likely to feel as ease. So a case, as in Sure Start centres, for the facility to be complemented by a specifically ‘father friendly’ add-on.

    * Not to say always. Of course there are some, and good science may reveal more, sex differences. They are found in some animals. Even a sociologist (like me) will, if chased across a field by a bull, not blame its patriachal socialisation. But they are almost certainly less than many conventional beliefs both in their nature and in their implications.

    John Baker

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    • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

      I think that father services should not be add ons Jon, I think they should be an integral part of family services and father leave and father care and father flexible work should be standard practice in the UK. Its not and its not an accident that it is not. There is very little appetite for gender aware policies in the UK in my experience, many have tried and failed to push change through. And so, we have a choice in my view. We continue with what we currently have in terms of policies and practice and accept the fatherlessness that it produces, or we change it and do something different. One thing is for sure, if we keep on doing what we are currently doing, nothing will change and everything will, without doubt, remain the same as it has been for forty years. K

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      • John Baker · June 24, 2013

        Yes, ‘add on’ was poor phrasing and agreement in advance to the view that gender- aware policies need to be structured in.

        The clearest case of what happens now is our most influential family judge’s take on the gender neutral ‘welfare principle’. One of his own (less senior) judges describes as ‘the Thorpe doctrine’ the view that ‘Happy mother means happy child’ and that if a father’s virtues else be a pure as gold, if the mother says having him involved with her child would make her unhappy, off he must go – for child welfare reasons. (Ok, that is a bit over-simple, but essentially right) That is why this Law currently about to go to the House of Lords is so vitally important. It will not change anything directly, but for the first time the Law will recognise the need, unless contraindications, for both parents. Its not ideal. It is not adequate. It is a step away from the status quo that lone parenting can be promoted in the name of gender neutrality.

        One of the problems with ‘supporting parents’ and of course helping them to come to an agreement that reflects the needs of their children today is that it is currently against a background of one parent being considered so much more important than the other.

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      • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

        I get why you feel the change to the Children Act is essential Jon but I don’t get why you think it will change anything given that HHJ Ryder has said publicly it won’t change Judgements and Timpson has said it was never meant to change anything only the perception of bias in the mind’s of fathers and given that Trinder et al are advising on the matter. How will the change (which I accept is being advertised as a presumption though it is nothing of the sort), going to change what happens in the family courts? We currently work with many many parents who get a shared residence order that isn’t worth the paper it is printed on, how will child arrangement orders and the change in the children act make any difference, especially when enforcement has been dropped (again care of Trinder, Hunt et al who have been busy submitting research that ‘shows’ that mothers do not prevent contact to the scrutiny committee). I can’t see how this change is going to make a single iota of difference other than dads are going to be sent in to the court arena believing they will be treated differently, they will be treated exactly the same only this time around everyone will tell them that the bias they instinctively feel is there is all in their mind. Its madness making and cruel to my mind. It does nothing to break the status quo, mothers will be still be regarded as being more important and dads will just be regarded as being incredibly difficult because the law has been changed but they are still making a fuss about it. The tweak to the children act that is contained in this legislative proposal is like putting a twig in a raging torrent of water and expecting it to dam it up safely and securely. I can nothing but misery ahead for dads as a result of it. K

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      • bartholomew · June 26, 2013

        This assessment is correct. For anyone paying attention, things are going to get a lot worse for dads, children and the family. Not better.

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  18. Kat · June 24, 2013

    Can I clarify if I am getting this right: So by gender aware you mean that we look at how a group (men) is affected differently to another group (women). This seems reasonably, there are measurable differences between men and women as groups, so the two groups will be differently affected by laws, policies etc. An arbitrary example would be that if we cut funding to prevent suicides (on the surface a gender neutral policy) that would be likely to have a bigger effect on men than women, as more men commit suicide. However, accepting differences between groups does not mean that any individual should be treated as a stereotype of the group they belong to, treating all men as potential suicide victims would be wide of the mark and likewise would fail to recognise female suicides.

    If I have gotten this right then that to me seems to identify two problems. Our social policies discriminate against men as a group, e.g. we fail to recognise the unique problems that are generated for men by a policy that identifies the main carer as the recipient of child benefit. However, there is also a failure to see beyond the group and treat each case individually, e.g. more women than men stay at home looking after their children, therefore this individual woman must be mad/bad/dangerous, if she is not the primary carer of her children after separation.
    Sorry if I am stating the obvious, just trying to get my head around this.

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    • karenwoodall · June 24, 2013

      yep, that’s about the sum of it Kat. K

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  19. Grandmani · June 25, 2013

    So many words ,so many long posts where I find it hard not to lose the thread
    What can a grandma actually do? My education,degree,life and work experience are no help in the current nightmare
    I heard today that a group of 20 young people – ’Kids in the Middle’ are to set up a support programme for children affected by separation of their parents.Maybe these youngsters can achieve something whilst we just talk.
    I’m concerned that the agony aunts who have challenged them to do this may just direct them to ‘Relate’ ‘Caffcas’ etc etc. where once again they will get bogged down by the system.and drowned in words.
    Karen can you look into this project?

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    • karenwoodall · June 25, 2013

      Granmani, I would love to tell you this is a good project, sadly, with it being supported by someone who has, in the past, done more damage than good, I am unable to. This person has already directed these children to National Family Mediation, Resolution and CAFCASS, all three heavily imbued with the BMP – I am afraid nothing different will come of this either. I wish I could say differently. I know I sound pessimistic and i know I am always naysaying but there is no point in ecouraging belief in something which is just as likely to end up as a way of making people a salary as all of the rest of it. If this project were proposing anything radical I would be interested in it, it is simply rehashing the same things but through the medium of children this time. When a project hits our consciousness in ways that set out the barriers facing dads and how to overcome them, I shall shout it from the rooftops, I promise you. K

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    • Harry · June 25, 2013

      Hi Grandmani,

      First of all, we mustn’t despair – easier said than done, I know – and so many ‘pilgrims’ on this journey have fallen into the ‘slough of despair’ – I see that all the time.

      In order to sort this out we do need a big project of the type that I have spoken about. So many ordinary, down to earth women that I have spoken to about this have said that things, i.e. ‘women’s rights’…in their words – have “gone too far”. That is, it is not usually articulated as such, but they are recognizing that what has emerged is a movement of revenge which is taking its anger out on largely or entirely innocent men – i.e. as in your case, their sons – and the completely innocent grandchildren.

      This seems so patently unfair, and yet obviously these more sensible women DON’T want a return to the kind of past when so many women DID suffer at the hands of men.

      There has to be a middle way – but presently it is not at all clear how to achieve that.

      However, there are some obvious issues to take into account. The anger that is driving the revenge phenomenon has to be acknowledged. As a male feminist I have spent the last 30 years focused particularly on helping women who were sexually abused in childhood. These women are extremely angry – what happened has really messed up their lives big time, in all sorts of ways. There is tremendous psychological damage that has been done to these victims. Sometimes there will be no conscious knowledge of the abuse, but the anger is still there, wanting expression…ticking away like a time-bomb ready to explode decades later.

      Often the types of mental health issues that result are described by the medical profession as “incurable”. That’s great, then isn’t it – how are the women (or men) involved supposed to open up and admit they have problems…when THAT is the prevailing attitude?!

      Being a gentle hippie guy, women who have suffered in this way find it easier to turn to someone like me than to most other men – and I am able to help them tremendously. However, the fact remains that the anger is still there, and requires an outlet. Several times…because they know I will not lash out in revenge…because my love is as unconditional as I can make it, they have visited tremendous violence against me in various ways – not directly physical…but still with huge physical impacts. The latest attack is, predictably, is to deprive me of my children and try to alienate them against me…even to get them to join in the attack, based on the non-commercial (low level of financial contribution, relatively speaking) basis of my life up till now.

      We may have ‘broad shoulders’ to some extent – but none of us guys can take this kind of punishment without suffering serious harm.

      As you have seen, as a healer I am doing my best to work on developing a constructive outlet for all this rage and grief. If I can get it up and running in my area then it will be very dramatic – and the concept will be able to be shown and so replicated around the country and the world via YouTube etc.

      In the meantime, this issue needs to be talked about as much as possible. And I mean women talking to other women…explaining the huge difference between feminism – and matriarchy, and that two wrongs don’t make a right – that women ruling men…is just as bad as men ruling women.

      What do you think?

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  20. Karen Woodall · June 26, 2013

    A project which meets the different needs of the family as it separates is one which enables each member of the family to get the help that they need at the time that they need it without maximising the interests of one party over the other. Children who live through the pain of separation are, in this model, assisted to remain children so that their childhood remains held and contained within the attachment hierarchy that prevents them from becoming ‘parentified’ which is when kids take care of their parents as well as their own emotional needs. A good project structure to look at are the Relationship Centres in Australia though I would say that if we could create this model without institutionalising it we would do better. Also, there must be an element of self help in the model as well as a well balanced gender staffing, we must get men and women working together creatively. We are currently growing such an idea for Northern Ireland, we have already grown one for the Isle of Wight and are about to sow seeds for one on Jersey. It takes the right focus, the right time and a committed group of people to achieve it but its possible to do it and it doesnt cost a fortune either. What I am really interested in, is the way in which dads, when they are well supported, can bring in the mum of their children as well as the chidren themselves. When the whole family arrives for help, then it is possible to really make a difference. This is a real focus for me at the moment, the spectrum of need and the spectrum approach to meeting it.

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    • Harry · June 26, 2013

      Hi Karen,

      Please can you supply details of these Relationship Centres, as I am in conversation with the Chief Executive and Councillors of my local borough about these issues…and it might be seen as a possibility.

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      • andy · June 27, 2013

        So what you are doing is re-creating the family, intact as it was before the separation, with possibly additional family members aswell, from new relatiionships. That’s a good place to focus our ideals. If the immediate family can be “mended” then there is a good chance the extended family on both sides can continue to flourish (e.g. keep Grandad and Grandma in the frame).
        I still feel it would pay dividends if we could persuade Social Services to change their philosophy from one which is single parenting / protectionist focused to one which is family friendly and inclusive. We can do this by entering the world of the Academics. It is the Academics whose literature is relied upon to shape the way Social Services and other Child centred organisations operate. Most Academics have convincing arguments to persuade us that fathers do have a role…………we simply need Social Services to accept the right advice. Trinda may be conceived as an obstacle when she says, “I’m not sure why we should even be talking about fathers”, but that means all she needs is her Dad to give her a big hug and tell her everything is going to be ok………..

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      • Harry · June 27, 2013

        Hi Andy,

        I think there has to be a lot of conversation about what the feminist, rather than patriarchal or matriarchal family will be.

        I’m not sure how much conversation there has been about that. Women feminists (on the Right) do talk about “each of us (male and female) doing what we are most suited to doing within the relationship”, and presumably keeping a careful balance, so that each feels reasonably fulfilled in that regard.

        That’s fine, of course, and often seems to work for quite a few years. The problems come when either there is the eruption (from out of nowhere, it may seem) of issues arising from what Larry Bilotta (a US relationship counsellor) has termed “chaos kid” backgrounds, where unresolved elements of dysfunctional parenting that took place (how often is that the case?) – or else, that relationships are relatively OK, but inevitably become a bit dull and routine, and suddenly a new and exciting person appears who seems to offer a whole new take on life.

        In either situation – and they may well be combined, the contemporary family, even without being overtly patriarchal or matriarchal, without the religious constraints of the past – is now under severe strain.

        The feminist family surely has to anticipate these contemporary stresses (attacks, if you will) and have a strategy for dealing with these inevitable scenarios. Our expectations in terms of relationships are often WAY higher than those of our parents – but are the practicalities there to deliver, or is it more often a case of a brief high octane experience, followed by crash and die?

        And what of the children? Are children nowadays any less in need of stability and consistency and security in terms of the relationship between their biological parents?

        So we need to have a debate about what kind of family should be, and also a debate about what to do where this has all fallen apart…and how to mend things, if at all possible.

        But for sure, I would suggest, this is a progressive, radical agenda. We need to take the best of the past, yes, but combine it with multi-parenting initiatives, for example, which have been proved to be successful, but are still very little known.

        Any conservative type program which simply aims to recreate some kind of mythical pre-1950’s past, for example, would be absurd, wouldn’t it?

        My deep seated belief – the lesson of everything that I went through as a child, and my own family situation as an adult – is that the “village should raise the child”. Two parents were never enough, one certainly isn’t enough, and we urgently need to wake up as to what both children and adults really need.

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  21. kat · June 27, 2013

    Indeed you can look to Australia but also to the Scandinavian countries and see systems that are by no means perfect, but better than here. I was looking at the situation in Denmark the other day and it is clear that they are struggling with many of the same problems that are prevalent here, but the attitude to fathers is different. One thing that struck me was that the “guidelines” for separating parents state that it is the responsibility of both parents to transport children between the two homes, the most common solution being that each parent is responsible for picking up the child from the other. Just imagine the impact on the child: having a relationship with both parents is so important that both parents are actively involved in ensuring that it happens, contrast to the non-resident parent is usually responsible for all transport.

    Another thing that often strikes me in this country is the use of contact centres, I sometimes hear the argument that if we are going to ensure a bigger involvement of fathers in children’s lives after separation, we need more contact centres. Or in an interview with a woman running a contact centre, she said that contact centres are a good way to rebuild trust between parents, where it has broken down. Really, allowing one parent to tell the other via court that (usually) she regards them as so dangerous that he cannot be left alone with the children is going to built trust? I think not. Returning to the Danish “guidelines” it states that in some exceptional cases contact needs to be supervised, often it will be possible to organise this using members of the wiser family, but in some cases, where this is not possible a trained support worker might be involved. Where is the contact centre? Contact centres do not ensure the involvement of fathers post separation, rather it makes them feel humiliated. The use of contact centres should be limited to where there is justifiable ground for thinking that the child is at serious risk. The most contradictory cases to me are the ones, where dad goes to the contact centre every or every other weekend to see his child and the rest of the time lives in a home with other children, either his own with a new partner or her children. Are we really to believe that he only poses a serious risk to the particular child that he sees in a contact centre and not to the others?

    There are plenty more examples and yet some aspects are certainly no better than here – no one is perfect I guess!

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    • Harry · June 27, 2013

      ABSOLUTELY agree with this.

      I have been a ‘hands on’ parent doing far more, if anything of the caring for all three children (two of whom have an element of disability) for 16 years – never the slightest question of any irregularity – and so-called professional people, social workers, police etc…try to maintain that my relationship with these children should operate through a ‘Contact Centre’ (all of the children would hate and refuse this anyway)?

      It is hard to understand what world these people live in, but then I have heard similar stories from nurses etc, in their dealings with Social Workers.

      What we need is a few whistle-blowers…people who can explain what happened to them to cause them to think in this way.

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    • kat · June 27, 2013

      That should have been “wider family” not “wiser family”, sorry!

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  22. Grandmani · June 27, 2013

    Hi Harry
    I’m afaid I am in despair just now. Will I see my grandson again before I die?
    Karen I’m sorry that you feel so negative about ‘Kids in the Middle’ Surely any opportunity to hear the children speak could be explored.

    Harry back to your post on a previous thread about ‘Community Sound ‘project -My daughter whose life work is community singing and voice workshops(in London and around UK) suggests you contact ‘Natural Voice Practitioners Network’ for some suggestions.

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    • Harry · June 27, 2013

      Hi Grandmani,

      I understand your despair…I still have half a life (hopefully) stretching out in front of me. I know we don’t all have that.

      It was a real shock to realize that no-one except the resident parent has any rights in Law. That children are as disenfranchised as most Dads. All the things we assumed all along about our rights, are just that, groundless assumptions, based on a time period when very little divorce happened. Administering contact depends on the sympathy or understanding or not as the case may be, of individual judges, and most of all the whims of damaged individuals.

      A major hope at the moment lies with Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company to take up this cause. I am hoping to work with her to pioneer this type of therapeutic concert that I have been suggesting there, as a springboard to further funding.

      These antics by disturbed women (that includes police, Social Workers, etc) are a major distraction from the creative process needed. I have just had to spend 2 days writing a 5,500 word rebuttal to the most ridiculous Non-Molestation Order that has been put in place.

      Thank you for letting me know about the network you mention, which I hadn’t known. We’ve had Rock and PopChoir – Community Sound is a further development with a definite therapeutic goal, as you see. The aim is that no-one who participates in one of these concerts will be the same person when they leave…as when they went in. We know about the plasticity of the brain now – and then there will be a lot of follow up on the concert which will allow for a lot more change.

      I hope to be up and running in SE London within the next two years – will aim to put it on YouTube within that time. If the money can be found…(and it will be very exciting) then everything can be rolled out more quickly across the country.

      I don’t know how long it will take for the law to change – so what we need is a hearts and minds campaign like this to turn things around on an informal level. I hope that something like this will be able to touch your situation too, before too long.

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  23. Karen Woodall · June 27, 2013

    Granmani, I am sorry that you feel in despair, I know that it is so very painful and very difficult to suffer the loss of a grandchild and not know whether that child will return to you again. in situations where children are alienated as it seems that your grandson is, straightforward divorce services are not going to help. It may help you to understand how children feel about divorce and certainly do listen to these children, but I am not in slightest bit convinced that the service that they are setting up will help children who are in the situation that your grandson finds himself in. I am also not convinced that children are the people who should be telling adults how to do this or that, especially how to do divorce…I think this campaign is aligned to the idea that we should be listening to childrens wishes and feelings and the notion that children themselves should be able to decide what happens after separation, perhaps its not but the services it is already flagging up certainly are.

    There is no magic wand to helping children other than building understanding amongst families that the breakdown of the attachment to mother and father puts them at serious risk of losing one of their parents during difficult times. This, set in a culture of acceptance of loss of a parent means that nothing will be done to restore that lost relationship. It is, in my mind, our responsibility to build the services that are needed to support children, not the other way around. Kids being involved in fund raising, being on the tv and having an exciting time being in the spotlight is one thing, kids telling other kids how to survive through divorce is another but the people who could and should be doing the work are the adults in the world of family separation because that is what keeps kids in the role of kids and safe from parentification which is a massive risk for all kids affected by family separation.

    Do not despair Granmani, people do understand and are, all over the country, hard at work do ing everything possible to create, build and vision a different future for all of our children. Its not always visible, especially when the government make such a mess of things, but people do care. K

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    • John Baker · June 27, 2013

      Egoistically, this is to revive two themes raised before. Cordelia Fine’s refutation of the ‘evidence’ that the evidently observed differences in the roles and behaviour of men and women rest on ‘hard-wired’ neurological differences in the brains of men and women. This belief underlies decisions of the family courts, the organisation of C-MEC and much more. The role of women is to be carers of children and men to pay for them. Even if some women and some men protest, they are going against their true nature. Now sociologists like me – and of course many others – find this puzzling. For if these roles were hard-wired into the brain, one would expect them to be found in all societies and at all times. Whereas beliefs and behaviours vary between societies and change over time. Not to mention individual variation. He might of course disagree, but I doubt that the differences in attitudes and conduct towards children between me (for example) and Lord Justice Matthew Thorpe (for example) were to be explained by his having a wholesome brain and me having some neurological abnormality. It is more likely to do with his infancy being during possibly the all-time peak in father exclusion in human history (the Second World War in Europe) and that as soon as it was over (if he went to a prep school) or a little later, he was sent away from his family and put in single sex institutional residential care. And his ability and industry, though doubtless considerable, may not have been so great that his career success was despite his devoting the time to his children that their needs required.

      Fine refutes the notion that all the differences between men and women are explicable by natural physical differences. There are individual and collective choices, But none the less those people who have power impose their views on the rest of us.

      Which takes us to this proposed change in the Law. Of course it will be a modest step. Ryder and Timpson are both right, and being politically astute, in saying that the alarmist statements of opponents of reform will not happen. But for the first time there will be an official legal statement that both parents matter to children. And there is another significant gain. The legal precedents set by Thorpe and others will be swept away and replaced by the possibility of new ‘case law’. Let us not exaggerate, the beliefs of our rulers of 70 years ago will be replaced by ones of merely 40 years ago, but there will be modest improvements!

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      • Mo · June 28, 2013

        Thankyou John baker, your last paragraph is very good.

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  24. Bartholomew · June 27, 2013

    “But for the first time there will be an official legal statement that both parents matter to children.”

    That statement already exists though John. It is in the Children Act 1989. It changed absolutely nothing. Some say that this is because, when it suits them, judges completely ignore the legal guidance and exercise what is called ‘discretion’. This basically means that judges are not accountable to anything for the decisions they make, and since we have secret courts and gagging orders, the outrage that would normally be deafening can be for the most part contained.

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  25. el dermo · June 27, 2013

    “One thing that struck me was that the “guidelines” for separating parents state that it is the responsibility of both parents to transport children between the two homes, the most common solution being that each parent is responsible for picking up the child from the other”
    Wow makes such good sense Kat. Have asked my ex (children’s social worker) to drop children off as it would show her approval of contact (we live 20 mins apart). In to and a half years it has happened three times…

    The contact centre culture in this country is a disgrace.

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  26. Karen Woodall · June 28, 2013

    And as a noted academic said to me, whoever it was that invented the word ‘access’ to describe the relationship between a father and child after separation, really really really knew what they were doing…and as for contact, it sounds like something that you need to be decontaminated from afterwards…. Think about it… You have been left by your childs mother, she has moved in with her new chap and you are granted ‘access or contact’…..

    Those terms were created by someone, they describe the attitude that that someone had towards fathers back then when they were invented. They bear absolutely no relationship to the truth for many many separated families and yet, some forty years later we use them as if they are inherently real in our culture.

    Shifting the way we talk about and think about family separation is a key task…when the government produces videos for initiatives like HSSF with the word access riven all the way through it, why does anyone wonder why dads do not engage..

    So many little things that could be done to make positive change, so much laziness in response….

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    • Kat · June 28, 2013

      and do not forget that when your child’s mother talks to you about the children, they will now be referred to as HER children.

      Sorry to harp on about the Danish system, but the word they use for access/custody roughly translates to “being together” or “togetherness” (if you want a noun), much more neutral.

      Words and language are extremely important, they reveal how you think. The one thing I do like about the changes to the law is that the word contact orders will be substituted with child arrangement orders.

      Like

      • Harry · July 3, 2013

        How about essentially describing parents (as well as grandparents and other family) as “co-facilitators” in their children’s lives?

        Wouldn’t this single term – have the combined effect of firstly, emphasizing parents co-responsibility in raising their children (with an inherent assumption of equality in regard to that role, and at the same time emphasizing their responsibility to get on as well as possible with each other, in order to carry out that task) and secondarily, to emphasize the importance of the child’s own voice and autonomous sense of personality, and also helping to diminish the sense of children being considered as ‘property’ to be fought over?

        Like

    • Mo · June 28, 2013

      thankyou Karen, it is right words matter and they hurt- words like contact and access are horrible for fathers.

      Like

    • Harry · July 3, 2013

      How about essentially describing parents (as well as grandparents and other family) as “co-facilitators” in their children’s lives?

      Wouldn’t this single term – have the combined effect of firstly, emphasizing parents co-responsibility in raising their children (with an inherent assumption of equality in regard to that role, and at the same time emphasizing their responsibility to get on as well as possible with each other, in order to carry out that task) and secondarily, to emphasize the importance of the child’s own voice and autonomous sense of personality, and also helping to diminish the sense of children being considered as ‘property’ to be fought over?

      Like

  27. el dermo · June 28, 2013

    Well i have been told on more than one occasion that mum is a “hard working single parent”. Gingerbread would be proud, maybe she will declare total independence one day and refuse the over the CSA limit child maintenance she has got since day one?language is very important as it often underpinned by an imbalance of power. if you disagree with a psychiatrist about your diagnosis you will “lack insight”. If you refuse to take medication you are “non concordant”.

    the legal eagles do it too. it must terrify them that so many dads are now representing themselves?

    My court order is called “a shared care regime”. It means little in reality of course but like Havana Club and a good Cohiba there are times when it gives a warm glow…

    Like

  28. EddietheEagle · July 2, 2013

    Some very wise words on “contact” and “access.” As you say, they disclose a rather appalling mindset.

    Like

    • Harry · July 3, 2013

      How about essentially describing parents (as well as grandparents and other family) as “co-facilitators” in their children’s lives?

      Wouldn’t this single term – have the combined effect of firstly, emphasizing parents co-responsibility in raising their children (with an inherent assumption of equality in regard to that role, and at the same time emphasizing their responsibility to get on as well as possible with each other, in order to carry out that task) and secondarily, to emphasize the importance of the child’s own voice and autonomous sense of personality, and also helping to diminish the sense of children being considered as ‘property’ to be fought over?

      Like

  29. Pingback: 10 Media Articles About UK Fatherhood | National Conference for Men & Boys
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