A friend of mine recently split from her partner of a few years. They have a little boy together, and in his departure, the father said she could have sole custody, and he wasn't interested in being part of his son's life anymore.
While we don't know what goes on behind closed doors, I struggle to imagine what could be so bad in a relationship that you could walk out on your child too. I wondered today whether by casting men as 'breadwinners' and women as 'caregivers' we are not fostering an environment whereby men have little opportunity to bond with their children as fully as mothers (usually) do, resulting in the breakdown of a relationship also signalling the breakdown of the father/child relationship.
This reminded me of a Guardian article I read a few weeks ago, about a UN report which stated that the term 'social fatherhood' describes modern fatherhood.
The report, titled Men in Families and Family Policy in a Changing World, “highlights that men, like women, are an asset to family life and that their absence is detrimental to child development.”
The crucial point of the report is that men should not be measured against a 'maternal template' because instead of being straightforward fathers, men are taking on this 'social fatherhood': in otherwords, they are more likely to live separately from their children, or father children outside of marriage, or experience fatherhood as a “series of relationships with children, some biologically theirs and some the children of spouses and partners” (says professor Margaret O'Brien, co-author of the report.)
According to the Office for National Statistics, printed in the Guardian article, just 11% of parents share the care of their children equally after a separation or divorce, 86% of stepfamilies include children from the woman's previous relationships, 8% of families cared for the man's children and 7% have children from both partners.
Becky Jarvis, director of policy at Families Need Fathers is anxious about recasting fatherhood “as a series of temporary relationships.” She says that we need to put an end to “defining motherhood and fatherhood against each other as carer and breadwinner.”
I do agree with her. It was the basis of my Sunday afternoon musings today. By making fathers be 'just' breadwinners, aren't we robbing both fathers and children of a caring, nurturing and hopefully lasting relationship? In a world of budget cuts, recessions, two-week paternity leave and rising cost of living, what can dads do to bond with their offspring, and keep their time together quality?
Images: Happy Fatherhood - Kate Dreyer @ Flickr
Fatherhood - Tom A. @ Flickr
Fatherhood - See Wah @ Flickr