During my (almost 20 years – yikes!) journey gathering community around long distance parenting, I’ve read and seen a lot of things regarding divorce, child custody, non-custodial parents, deadbeat parents and parental alienation syndrome. One thing that sticks out to me is how gender biased the stories typically are.
I lost custody because I’m a man! No… a woman. What?
Before digging into the current experience of long distance parenting, I would be remiss to not address history. Traditionally, custody has skewed in favor of mothers over fathers.
It’s dads that lose custody.
- Most, if not all, human societies have cultural gender norms. Cultural gender norms are not based in fact or valid science. They are traditions passed down over generations and are only considered valid within that culture.
- Females as caregivers and males as breadwinners are common in cultural gender norms.
- Laws of any nation are, in part, based upon the cultural beliefs of the nation. Where parenting and gender collide with law, we have custody law. Custody law, has historically been skewed to give custody to mothers, which was neither correct or right.
Many legal systems are addressing this through changes to law. We are fighting against the cultural beliefs of a people though, so progress is slow.
A man is fighting for custody will often chalk the struggle of being a noncustodial parent, or of losing custody, up to being a male. However, this argument is inaccurate and dismisses an entire population of non-custodial moms.
No, really. It’s moms that lose custody
But. Moms lose custody too! A mother who loses custody often appeals to historic gender inequalities in their reasoning as well.
- Men are seen as breadwinners culturally. Historically, men have been better educated and paid better than their female counterparts. If men are better educated, of course they are getting the better jobs. But even in the same job, a woman will make less than her male counterpart.
- As a result, women often stay home with the kids. The caregiver takes years or decades away from the workforce, which absolutely affects their job prospects later. Consequently, more women than men have this gap in their career history due to caregiving.
- Some families try to look beyond gender and make a pragmatic decision. They make the decision of who stays home with the kids based upon which income they could stand to lose. In a two-income home where wage earners are different genders, the woman will likely make less than the man. Guess who’s staying home with the kids?
- All of this means that the man is going to be more able to care for the kids financially, in a two-parent home where parents are different genders (statistically). He will also be able to afford better legal representation in a custody fight. Although courts do often take other things into consideration, often it boils down to financial means.
So when a mom loses custody, it’s often reasonable to blame gender bias inherent in our systems.
Who’s right? Who gets to blame gender bias? In my opinion, neither is helpful. Both moms and dads have it hard in one way or another. Comparing who has it harder is losing focus on what matters. What matters is how we, as parents, can be the best parents we can be, given our circumstances. If you are the justice warrior type, making custody decisions completely unbiased when it comes to gender is where it’s at.
Gender is to blame for ill behavior, clearly. Right?
Often, when a custodial mom acts inappropriately, dads will blame ‘moms’ instead of the ill behavior of their co-parent and vice versa. Take for example this post by Richard Gardener. He all but blames the advent of parental alienation syndrome upon women even going so far as to say :
Women’s past denial and discrediting of PAS has now come back to haunt them. Women are now being injured by their own weapons, or, as the old saying goes, they are being hoist by their own pitards.
Any reasonable assessment of what parental alienation is would reveal that PAS has nothing to do with gender. Parental Alienation Syndrome is not a product of mothers or women or men or fathers. It’s a product of spiteful, irresponsible parents who feel they should have power over their children’s relationship with their other parent.
For as long as we blame moms or dads in cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome, we miss the opportunity to address the root cause. Sometimes mental illness causes a parent to act inappropriately. However, sometimes, it can be wounds from the relationship or some other cause. Whatever the cause, blaming it on gender is only short circuiting your efforts to fix it.
The stigma of being a long distance parent is worse for dads. No, moms!
I often hear the argument that being a long distance father is more difficult than being a long distance mother, or v/v. However, based upon my experience in the community for almost 20 years, I adamantly disagree. The level of difficulty is in the eye of the beholder. A man or a woman struggles differently but no more or less just because of their gender.
Both sides of the ‘moms are the natural parent’ prejudice has stigma. On this site alone, moms and dads alike share the stigma they experience. Non custodial dads are automatically perceived as deadbeats. Non-custodial moms are automatically seen as some abhorrent freak of society.
Both moms and dads have put pen to paper and written entire books written about the experience from a mom or dad’s perspective.
- A Mother Apart: How to let go of guilt and find hapiness living apart from your child
- The Long-Distance Dad: How You Can Be There for Your Child-Whether Divorced, Deployed, or On-the road.
- Mothers who Leave: Behind the Myth of Women without their children
- WEEKEND FATHER: Forced to be the non-custodial parent
- Journeys of Women Without Custody:From Ambivalence to Renewed Sense of Self
- Dad from a Distance: How non-custodial fathers can still be fantastic Dads
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Focusing on Gender isn’t Helpful
Not every woman is your ex-wife and not every man is your ex-husband. Lets stop painting the collective faces of their gender over our anger and frustration at him or her and let’s start building some bridges. Community is crucial to survival as a long distance parent. As long distance parents, we are marginalized as it is. In focusing too much on experience as a marginalized mom or dad, you’re missing out on some pretty amazing support as a long distance parent.
If there weren’t so much of the gender bias among those who are fighting for those rights and relationships, we’d make a much stronger argument on the side of the children. We each have our battles. Our common ground is that we are fighting for the same thing – to have a relationship with our kids.