The lone parent model: lies, stereotypes and misinformation

Autumn finds us working on the development of our network of family separation centres, the most recent addition of which is the Jersey Centre for Separated Families.  This network, which works outside of the prevailing lone parent model of support, demonstrates what can be done when local expertise is combined with a holistic approach to supporting separated families.

The critical part of what we are doing with our new network is located in its delivery of a whole family model, which is designed to engage with, and support, every family member and meet their different needs for support.  This is outside of the prevailing paradigm and deliberately moves away from the  the lone parent model (which is the current framework used in the UK), which was designed to create and maintain fatherlessness.

That last statement may be a little much for some, whilst others may immediately understand what I mean by it.  It is, however, worth explaining the reality of how the lone parent model of support was designed to create fatherlessness because it is only when one understands this in real terms, that it is possible to see how delivering family services which are underpinned by it will continue to deliver generational fatherlessness.

The lone parent model of support, which divides two previously partnered parents into two distinct roles on the morning of their separation, forces one parent to take up the role of carer for children and the other to take up the role of provider.  So deeply embedded in our belief system is the idea that separated mothers care and separated fathers provide, that people who do not understand real separated family life appear to believe that parents have these distinctly divided roles tattooed within their DNA.  The fact that mothers AND fathers care for children and mothers AND fathers provide for children when the family is together is widely accepted.  That mothers AND fathers wish to care for their children and mothers AND fathers are able to provide for their children when the family separates seems to leave many people astonished and sometimes confused.  In discussing this, I hear over and over the phrase ‘but 90% of primary carers after separation are mothers‘, the intimation being ‘surely that proves that mothers are the natural carers for children’.  And though we have been saying it for over fifteen years, I patiently reply all over again with the following explanation:

The lone parent model of support to families was designed as part of a women’s rights agenda.  The split of roles into carer and provider is denoted by the Child Benefit. Whoever receives it, receives all of the financial and other support available, regardless of how much care each parent gives, even when it is a fully shared parenting arrangement.  Almost 100% of Child Benefit is paid directly to mothers when the family is together. Using it as a gateway to denote who is the primary carer was a supreme move by those who designed the legislation because it ensures that control over the family after separation lies well and truly in the hands of women.  Try being a mother who is not the primary carer in this model, consider for a moment how other people will react to you.  Now add a large dose of the lies, stereotypes and misinformation peddled by the women’s rights movement about fathers after separation, and you will begin to understand how the lone parent model of support to separated families is designed to create and maintain fatherlessness and how, if you underpin services with research and strategies from this model, you will deliver the same outcomes of disengaged fathers that we have seen in the past four decades since the women’s rights movement took over social policy around the family.

The old saying ‘if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got’ is one that exemplifies the UK government’s approach to supporting family separation.  The most recent example of this being demonstrated by the Coalition Government’s Help and Support for Separated Families (HSSF) initiative which, ironically, had as its intention (at the outset at least) a move towards supporting parents to collaborate after separation.  Sadly, as with most if not all of the government funded services which are available to support parents after separation, HSSF has fallen foul of the dominant and all encompassing lone parent model of analysis and delivery.  Which means that it predominantly serves the needs of mothers, who are considered to have problems, at the same time as seeing fathers as people who are problems.  As a result, we can confidently expect that the latest £14 million, which was supposedly made available to test innovative new approaches to supporting collaboration between parents, will simply deliver the same outcomes as all of the other rounds of wasted funding in this arena.

In contrast, working in a whole family model – even though that is constrained by the prevailing strait jacket of the lone parent model in legislation – entry to the family is offered by fathers as well as mothers.  This whole family model, which values equally the different things that mothers and fathers bring to their children’s lives ensures that strong and confident relationships are maintained by both parents with their children through and beyond the crisis of separation.  The critical part of this model is what makes delivery and access to services different to the lone parent model.  The difference being that fathers are presumed to be equally as important and equally as valuable as mothers are in children’s lives, and their importance is not watered down or apologised for; it is simply both expected and supported.

In the whole family model that we developed at the Centre for Separated Families (which is underpinned by gender mainstreaming approaches to supporting equality between parents), the family is a unit in which children enjoy the benefits of access to the different things that mothering and fathering bring to their lives. It is not, as Harriet Harman’s 1990’s policy paper the Family Way  describes, outdated and  fathers, as described in the same paper, are not considered unnecessary.  Neither is the whole family model one which determines that the only right way to bring up children is in a two parent family situation.  A whole family model simply recognises, engages with and supports the different needs of all important adults in a child’s life, instead of locating all need for support in one parent whilst demonising the other, which is the current UK way of supporting families after separation.

The reality is that the lone parent model of support furthers the rights of women and renders fathers meaningless; and it was designed that way.  The lone parent model of support tells us that fathers abandon their families, that they are reckless, feckless and that they spend their money in the pub rather than on their children. A stereotype tweeted only yesterday by Harriet Harman and which is so offensive  that I consider it to be akin to saying that all black men carry guns and sell drugs.  The lone parent model of support delivers all of the decision making power about the family directly into the hands of mothers via the Child Benefit ‘gateway’ and enables mothers to take and maintain control over children, leading to the desperate situation of dads being driven into the family courts to ask ‘permission’ to have relationships with their children.

And the lone parent model, which furthers a women’s rights agenda, is massively funded by government and Charities such as the Nuffield Foundation to ‘research’ family separation in order to tell us that mothers have problems whilst fathers are problems.  The lone parent model is a well constructed, well funded, well maintained, illusion, that has nothing to do with the well being of children and everything to do with ensuring that the rights of women come before all else.  Before fathers, before the family and ultimately before children.  Delivering services in this paradigm can only ever further this myth and can only ever shore up and support the misinformation which is endlessly recycled by those women who first garnered control over the family and since then have done everything to maintain it.

As Autumn settles in and the leaves begin to fall, we are planting seeds for a different way of working. Seeds which have been taken from the fruit of our whole family approach with families over the past fifteen years and which have proved to us and to the parents and practitioners we work with that outside of the lone parent paradigm, where fathers as well as mothers are equally valued for the different things they offer to our children, different outcomes are possible.  Off shore on Islands around the UK, soon in Northern Ireland, the Midlands and in London, whole family approaches will be embedded within the community, bypassing the state and the illusion that it peddles, connecting with families in ways that offer astonishing levels of change.  As we roll this ball up hill again, more hands have come to join us and the model of collaboration between men and women serving the needs of mothers and fathers in local communities is becoming real.  A world far beyond the lone parent paradigm, where lies, stereotypes and misinformation are no longer needed because we are working with reality, not what the women’s rights movement tell us about families.

In a world of sadness and loss, where challenge and change are daily experiences, mutual co-operation in local communities brings relief, respect and rejuvenation to mothers and fathers who are hurting and struggling to cope.

And those of us who work with families, find that we can sleep again at night.

21 comments

  1. Anthony · September 30, 2013

    Hi Karen,
    If i was 30 years younger I’m sure i would be one of your disciples and ‘go out there and try to change the world’ with you…as it is..I can only say that increasingly i think you are looking at the correct picture of the politics of family life in the UK..and everyone else is looking through a glass darkly! More power to you!
    BTW the link above to ‘womens rights movement…doesn’t work..pity as i shd have liked to read it.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · October 1, 2013

      HI Anthony, you don’t have to be 30 years younger to change the world, just think and act with a clear mind and vision of what is wrong. I am certain that I am looking at a political picture which has been designed to create fatherlessness and that it will continue to deliver fatherlessness until or unless we stop the discriminatory part of it which is to prevent fathers from having ongoing relationships with their children through legislation AND blame them for it. I do not intend to stop until this reality is understood by all. I actually believe that many people do understand it and don’t actually care. Sad but true I am afraid. K

      Like

  2. Anonymous · September 30, 2013

    Can we have a “Centre for Separated Families” in Manor Park, Sheffield? This appears to be one of the worst affected areas. There are emerging strong father’s groups in Sheffield, such as “Men at Work”, “Families Need Fathers” and the various MAST projects. If we can locate the fathers and mothers there shoud be a good chance of success. By this I mean demonstrating good working models and sensitivity to each others needs. Fear and resentment have to be overcome to be replaced by acknowledgement, empathy, sensitivity and eventually respect. This is possible, we have to want it.

    Kind regards

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    • karenwoodall · October 1, 2013

      HI, if you message me at clinic@separatedfamilies.org.uk I will put you in touch with Nick who is bringing the Network of Family Separation Centres to life, I am sure he would be really interested in working with you to develop one in Sheffield. K

      Like

  3. Nick Langford · September 30, 2013

    As you say, Karen, many of us immediately understand what you mean, but many more, if they were to read this, would not understand it. This is going a bit off-topic, but it terrifies me how many men do not understand this, and actively contradict it, even when it kicks them in the face. Pro-feminist campaigns are increasing (like White Ribbon) and at a recent demonstration in Canada all of those imposing the feminist perspective were men. Even Femen is (or perhaps was) apparently run by a man. If I thought this was the patriarchy taking over feminism I might be happy; but it isn’t.

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    • karenwoodall · October 1, 2013

      HI Nick, the issue is that most dads fall for the myth that exclusion from their children’s lives only happens to bad dads. How wrong can they be. This will happen to every single dad in the land if they are not careful, it happens because it is designed to happen in the legislation and because the women’s movement has blindsided men into believing that they are bad and wicked people. Its wrong, its so utterly wrong it makes me feel quite ill at times… and the idea of Femen being run by a man who has presumably divested himself of his masculinity, is so mad I think I will have to go and lie down for a while to recover!!

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  4. Yvie · October 1, 2013

    Most men are totally oblivious as to how it ‘works’ post-separation. The first shock many of them face is ejection from the family home, followed by the realisation that loss of the home is the least of their worries. The battle to keep in close contact with their children when their ex has complete control, usually backed by the State, is something which the majority of men have never considered prior to separation. Once in that position, the one sided approach by the family courts, cafcass and CSA becomes gradually apparent. Government seems geared up to help ‘hard-working single mums who are struggling to bring up their families’. They have no interest in separated dads, even when sharing the care of their children almost equally, save to relieve them of their hard earned cash, be it through solicitors and barristers or the ruthless CSA.

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    • karenwoodall · October 1, 2013

      Yes Yvie, the complete eviction of men from family life at the whim of the woman, not a bad move by the feminist architechts of separated family legislation. As for the CSA, well, David Henshaw provided a comprehensive review of this in 2006 and gave a blue print of what should happen subsequently to enable parents to work together. We learned today that the £14 million which was made available by Maria Miller is being spent on projects which are showing dads how to behave themselves and stop being perpetrators, amongst other things (mostly mediation based). I shall be blogging about this massively misspent funding (alongside other massively misspent funds from the recent past) very shortly. K

      Like

  5. Anthony · October 1, 2013

    Yvie..you are spot on! Qn is ‘what to do about it’. FNF working ‘with Govt’ has only had a marginal effect..F4J caused a storm in their hey-day and moved the problem way up the national agenda which was ‘a very good thing’. But having achieved that & having been promised a lot by Govt..they backed off..then Govt failed to keep any of their promises. The FJR has been watered down so much from the initial high hopes that it will be ‘business as usual’..so we are virtually back where we started. The problem..as Karen often articulates is the strength of the feminist movement..strong because of the Govt £ms thrown at the various womens groups..Womens Aid etc. Without the funding they wd be a lot less effective. How to alter the funding streams? I have no idea! (And of course..the recent debate about porn- ‘Porn on the brain’ ITV..is a rich vein for the feminist lobby to mine as it depicts men as ‘bad’ and women as victims. Between the funding and the targets..i fear it is David v Goliath!

    Like

    • karenwoodall · October 1, 2013

      FNF should stop colluding with the government today in my view and stop bending the knee and watering down the issues facing fathers and apologising for them. FNF in the membership are fantastic, FNF top brass are selling fathers down the river on a daily basis. Shocking.

      Like

      • Very Anonymous · October 1, 2013

        As a longstanding member of FNF, I can vouch for what Karen says here, and it is nothing short of depressing. The forums are full of desperate heartbroken dads doing their utmost to help each other (but they are mostly in the dark about the reality of their circumstances and how family law really works), and whenever the management or politics of FNF are questioned, moderators come in and censor or give warnings that talking politics will get them banned. I have great respect for FNF bottom-up, and there are members who really care; but the management is just a gutless embarrassment, and damages things in inverse proportion to some of the positive things its lower-rung members achieve.

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  6. nick234678 · October 1, 2013

    Thanks for this post Karen – contrasting a “whole family” model with the “lone parent” one makes things so clear. Brilliant.

    Wondering “what to do about it” here in Scotland, and struck by the exhausting and unproductive gender campaigning between organisations lined up on both sides, maybe it is best to just hold up the positive banner of “whole family” approaches for separated families (as well as non-separated ones). And that means putting energy into setting up non-gender-named services, or Centres for Separated Families, as you are doing elsewhere. The good sense might spread quicker that way than heated arguments achieve. … I guess you’ve thought of this already since you have been doing it for a while, eh?!!

    But here’s a thing. Feminism works for women’s (equal to men’s) rights and ultimately that is to promote a more gender equal world. Families are a key arena for this equality. So are separated families. So the trend that you describe – towards women and men both wanting to share more of both caring and providing in families – this is exactly what feminists could and should be welcoming, supporting, celebrating … and pushing for more of it too. Like we are. Logically we are all wanting the very same thing!

    So it is topsy-turvy indeed to find that you are, Karen, by their own definition, ahead of and more feminist than the feminists! Sorry to have to say that!! 😉 We know you cannot be persuaded to adopt that description given what feminism has also done in the opposite direction …. and please please don’t take this as another attempt to persuade you!

    It is very strange, isn’t it, that “they” feminists don’t see that your “whole family” approaches are the ultimate desirable shape of feminism to come, while “we” are so at odds with them!

    From: Confused of Edinburgh 🙂

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    • karenwoodall · October 1, 2013

      HI NIck, thanks for not trying to persuade me to take up the feminist label again, it is much appreciated.

      The issue is that families, as Julie Bindel said, in her own charming way, are nothing but nests of abuse, violence and oppression of women….which is why lone parent families, same sex families and all other forms of family that do not have a heterosexual male within them should be elevated to that of the cultural norm.

      Feminists who control family policy do not want heterosexual males to have any power because if they do have power they will, as Harriet Harman told us only this weekend, ‘spend all the money in the pub and come home and smash their wives heads against the wall.’

      I know that many men want to believe that I am more feminist than feminists but believe me, when you get into the heart of the feminist movement, the kind of thing that Harman is saying publicly right now is daily bread. The ‘family’ is dead if it contains a heterosexual male, unless said man is approved of by feminists (such as those who are represented by the likes of the Fatherhood Institute, who are largely men who have divested themselves of their masculinity sufficiently enough to be non threatening to feminists).

      I am not a feminist and what I am arguing for is nothing whatsoever to do with feminism. It is about life outside of the world that feminism has created, what I consider to be life outside of the madness that comes of unbalanced energies and feminist hystrionics. A world where men and women get along but sometimes have a bust up, where some men and some women are dangerous, controlling and abusive and who need stopping when they are and a world where family life is a place where kids get a lot of love and nurture and the different things that men and women can offer them.

      its not confusing if you just step out of the feminist illusion for a minute. Imagine, a world where personal and individual rights are not your first concern. Imagine, a world where dads are not portrayed as potential murderers and rapists before anything else and a world where interperdependence was not seen as ‘evidence’ that a woman is being oppressed. That world is outside of that bubble of illusion that wraps itself so seductively around you. Feminism in the field of family separation has got nothing whatsoever to do with equality and everything to do with women’s dominance and the disposal of heterosexual men. Much as I hate to say it Nick, that even includes men like you. K

      Like

      • Mike · October 1, 2013

        “The issue is that families, as Julie Bindel said, in her own charming way, are nothing but nests of abuse, violence and oppression of women….which is why lone parent families, same sex families and all other forms of family that do not have a heterosexual male within them should be elevated to that of the cultural norm.”

        I think this idea has been around for quite some time now. It’s certainly one that I grew up with, and which was ingrained in my childhood education, albeit only tacitly of course. Teachers don’t come out and say this, but we do grow up these days with these attitudes toward men planted in us. I think perhaps we had to because there were a few men that really made a bad name for men; they had a bad childhood, and caused harm to people in ways that perhaps women cannot harm people. And so we because suspicious of men. I know men who will not go near children, feel uncomfortable around children, would not go into childcare or teaching professions, simply because they are aware of societal attitudes, and do not want to end up accused of something. There is a nice (but very sad) film about how this happens to a male teacher in Denmark, but cannot remember the title of it. The film suggests that we are perhaps becoming more conscious of how we have vilified men, not just in Britain but all over the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that there are incidents of violence toward women and children in Islamic cultures, and that these incidents provide convenient ammunition to the feminists (who are also racists nine times out of ten).

        Like

      • Carl Garnham · October 2, 2013

        Flippin eck, they’re slippy i tell thee.

        Like

      • Kat · October 2, 2013

        The film Mike mentions is called The Hunt. I strongly recomment it, but not for the faint hearted. What I really like about this film is that not only is the male teacher a victim, but so is the little girl who originally makes the allegation and isn’t believed when she tries to put things right.

        Like

      • Paul · October 3, 2013

        That film sounds like required viewing for all child abuse investigation officers who look into allegations where parents are separating or have ongoing disputes over children. Sadly, current practice often shows they favour the evidence of one parent over the other and we all know who that favoured parent would be, don’t we?

        Like

      • Mike · October 8, 2013

        In the film, the man (teacher) is divorced but sees his son regularly and has a good relationship with his ex-wife. It wasn’t because of an immoral ex that he was made to be terrorized by his employer, his colleagues, the disgusting health officers and the townsfolk mob. It was through the health officers putting words in the girl’s mouth and pressuring her to tell the ‘truth’. In other words, the way that these health officers practiced was such that they had already set up the conditions for the girl to make false allegations. Sound familiar to anyone? The film struck a nerve with me, because I have seen just about everyone who is party to family law act in much the same way. There are just so many out there who desperately want to believe (and want to be convinced) that men and children should not be together.

        Like

  7. nick234678 · October 1, 2013

    PS Given that the most positive core of this post and your life’s work is: the “whole family” model, shouldn’t you tag that as well as or more than the other tags you’ve given it?!!

    Like

    • karenwoodall · October 1, 2013

      Good point Nick, will do that. Many thanks K

      Like

  8. Anonymous · October 3, 2013

    . “Feminism in the field of family separation has got nothing whatsoever to do with equality and everything to do with women’s dominance and the disposal of heterosexual men. Much as I hate to say it Nick, that even includes men like you. K”

    Speaking from a behaviourist point of view. It can be difficult living together as man and woman. The man has expectations of the woman’s behaviour and the woman likewise has her own expectations of how her man should behave. If the couple are to stay together there may be many compromises to be made, agreements to be brokered, climb-downs to be accepted, hurts to be soothed, and achievements to be celebrated. Through all the vagaries of adult life and the experiences of parenthood it is those of us who learn what it is to compromise and accept others with all the baggage that they bring that reap the rewards of the family and all of its extensions through friends and relatives.
    When the “family” breaks down all the ties that bind seem to dissipate like sand through the fingers of a grasping hand.
    We need concrete foundations, girders of steel and firm resolution to maintain all that the “family” can provide. Without this we are left with lost and fragmented soles. It is not the responsibility of our children to make choices about which parent they want to be with, it is the responsibility of the adult carers to carry on doing what any self-respecting adult in an intact relationship would do.
    I accept that their are painful readjustments to be made but I struggle with the physical, geographical, social and eventual emotional detachment of a child from either of its parents, which tragically seems to be our lot.

    Kind regards

    Like

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