Opinion

Why are there so many fatherless children?

  • Broken families: a missing father can be detrimental to a child’s development
  • Edward Tavares of Child Watch

Most fathers are not shirking their relationship, their responsibilities, nor are they emotionally and mentally abusing their children. It is evident that most of our society suffers from the misguided misconceptions that lead to negativity towards fathers, especially, the so-called “absentee or deadbeat dads”, with no substantiated facts.

Fathers cannot be held accountable for anything that was beyond their control, nor be held to ransom just for financial support, with no surety of having a continued, meaningful relationship with their own children, just because of their failed marriage or separation.

To further offer explanation and facts to those concerned commentators who have asked for more clarification, the following research will provide additional relevant information. Empirical research reveals that it’s not only “parental alienation” which causes emotional and mental abuse on children that separates most divorced or separated fathers from their children.

It is well documented that “maternal gatekeeping” also plays a role, with similar traits to “parental alienation”, causing exclusion in child custody situations, which removes fathers from their children.

Marsha Pruett, Lauren Arthur and Rachel Ebling, in their paper The hands that rock the cradle: maternal gatekeeping after divorce (2007), explain: “The importance of mothers’ attitudes in gatekeeping is further evident from research showing that 60 to 80 per cent of mothers do not want their husbands more involved in child rearing, as such involvement would change the balance of power in the marriage and the important role mothers ascribe to themselves.

“Given this importance and vulnerability of the father-child relationship after divorce, maternal gatekeeping poses a potentially powerful obstacle to its sustenance.”

They add: “Divorce can provide myriad opportunities for maternal gatekeeping, and the anger and conflict that often characterise the divorcing period often produces more restrictive gatekeeping.”

They further state: “In this regard, maternal gatekeeping refers to the beliefs and behaviours that inhibit a collaborative effort between fathers and mothers by limiting men’s opportunity/ability to actively care for and rear their children.

“The father-child relationship is salient because of the consistent finding that children with active, involved fathers fare better emotionally, behaviourally, and cognitively and because of the father-child relationship’s vulnerability to attenuation and the loss after divorce.

“The mother, in her customary role as primary caretaker, becomes the monitor, supervisor, permission granter, and controller of the father’s (and others’) involvement with the child and the form of that involvement.”

This is reaffirmed by William Austin, in Parental Gatekeeping and Child Custody Evaluation: Part III: Protective Gatekeeping and the Overnights ‘Conundrum’, in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 2018.

He claims that “the research on maternal gatekeeping shows how it affects fathers’ satisfaction with parenting and their degree of involvement with parenting. Gatekeeping overlaps with other complementary concepts: co-parenting, conflict, and parental alienation”.

At a conference held in Boston in 2017 by the International Council on Shared Parenting, high on the agenda was the issue of “relocation”.

Relocation is an effective tool during divorce and separation that can sever the ties of the non-custodial parent from their children. If no action is taken, these children usually suffer the loss of a parent and one side of their families.

Through the years, many ChildWatch members have shared these concerns, over the loss of their loved ones through parental alienation, relocation, or, abduction — in some cases while the parents are negotiating the child’s custody arrangement and a parenting plan for their child in court.

Meanwhile, one parent is working behind the scenes to jet off to another land, in the guise of a better future for their children.

Meanwhile, the other parent isn’t given consideration or notice of the uprooting, nor of the unknown relocation. It is grossly unfair and damaging to children, while using them as a means for vindictiveness, in order to sever ties with the other parent, to have full autonomy over one’s children.

How can this be the best course of action for the children’s betterment and their healthier future when all indicators and research reveal the opposite?

As we all strive for a better future, we can agree that Bermuda is expensive, it’s hard to maintain a respectable lifestyle, and for some people, homelessness is at the doorstep. However, we all are not packing our bags and moving overseas for a better future!

In Brazil in 2010, they implemented laws against parental alienation. We need to have similar laws here in Bermuda to stop this abuse. In Arizona in 2013, legislators revamped their family law on child custody, making the standard of equal parenting for both parents, also, equal decision making.

If one parent wants to relocate, or, if they want to relocate outside of the state, or relocate the child more than 100 miles within the state, the other parent had to give consent with at least a 60-day notice to be given to the other parent.

In Bermuda and elsewhere, societies very often tend to blame one parent for their lack of presence or involvement, which has continued for decades without full knowledge of the facts.

We need to find solutions and not ignore the stressing problems that exists.

When children cry out for help, normally, they are sent to institutions, foster care, etc, locally and overseas, without proper protection, knowledge or an understanding of their needs.

This lack of understanding needs to be explored further, thus, proper training is needed to prevent these situations from reoccurring.

There have been many highlighted situations lately, in The Royal Gazette’s, “Who Cares?” and rightfully, we needed the exposure for us to fully understand the dynamics, which have gone on for too long.

However, to right the wrongs, this depends on all of us, to come together in a cohesive way forward with equitable laws, such as “the presumption of shared parenting responsibility”, after divorce or separation, in order to benefit our children and each family unit, and in turn, society as a whole.

Edward Tavares is a cofounder of ChildWatch