Friday, June 18, 2010

The National Fatherhood Initiative: Supporting a Misogynistic agenda

In Re: The National Fatherhood Initiative: supporting a misogynistic agenda with "politically correct" jock straps. Also read this important article on the National Fatherhood agenda on the Silver Rights blogspot.

liz responds to Wade Horn's
The Importance of Being Father.

[Horn's text is in dark red italics. liznotes are in black.]

HORN: Despite conventional wisdom, which has held -- and in many quarters still does -- that children do not pay a price when fathers are absent from their lives, research data depict a much different reality.  Violent criminals are overwhelmingly males who grew up without fathers, including 60 percent of America's rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers and 70 percent of long term prison inmates.  Children living in a father-absent home are also more likely to be suspended or expelled from school, or to drop out; require treatment for an emotional or behavioral problem; commit suicide as adolescents; and be victims of child abuse or neglect.

LIZ: Let's stop right here.  Research on widowed homes, and research which has been done on divorced mother-headed homes which are financially comfortable and unstressed indicates that there is virtually no difference in child rearing outcomes between these children and children raised in intact homes with a mother and father present.

Moreover, the research does not indicate that these percentages of violent criminals, et al. grew up through their entire childhoods (as implied) sans a father in the household, but rather, that they grew up in homes in which that father was absent for some period of their childhood. So right in the first paragraph, you perpetuate two blatant misrepresentations. Your argument, Wade, also misleads in another way: the overwhelming MOST of single mother households do NOT exhibit these childrearing problems.

If children tend to pay any price at all when the father is absent, that price is largely in their standard of living. It's financial. But growing up poor in and of itself also does not necessitate a bad child rearing outcome. The actual causes of negative child rearing problems correlating with the disparate and nonhomogeneous classification of "fatherless homes" (or "single mother households") are disguised and distorted by statistics which lump into that category, not only demographic groups which do NOT exhibit these bad child-rearing outcomes, but also all those homes which are "fatherless" precisely because of the very same factors which down the road affected the children. These factors include: adultery, wife and child abuse; addictions to alcohol, sex, and drugs, other personality dysfunctions; conflict, and plain old abandonment, financial irresponsibility and failure to support (emotionally or financially.) The other primary and telling difference between "fatherless homes" which do and do not have problems is the relative financial stability, educational level, and comfort of the mother.

It is true that a disproportionate number of violent criminals have been shown to have hailed from homes where the biological father was indeed absent at some point, but this ignores that he also was present at some point, and during those periods preceding his abandonment of the family, or the family's flight from him, often left the legacy of his criminality, addiction, abuse, and/or character flaws, as well as his genes.  There is a generational dysfunction that is usually ignored by these studies.  The absent dad of that violent criminal might have been merely alcoholic, rather than a criminal himself, but he was unlikely to have been an absent Ward Cleaver.

HORN: Why are fathers so important for the well-being of children? The answer is embedded in the larger question of why families are important. The family's importance is nothing short of ensuring the continuity of civilization. The family does this in two ways: first, by propagating the species, and second, by socializing children.

LIZ: Having failed to establish the first premise as true, Wade, you throw out a nonsequitor, a gratuitous plea for reinstatement of the patriarchal "family," which ostensibly is important because fathers are important, because, apparently, if a father is not there, it's not a "family." It's a circular argument: fathers are important because when fathers are there, there is a family (you don't think so, otherwise), and the family is important because (this is a stretch) it is necessary to "propagate the species" and "socialize children."

Well, first off, it's pretty obvious that families (in the Wade Horn sense) are not necessary at all to "propagate the species." Rather, a "family" is what nature creates when a mother bears young, father-presence or not. That leaves us with your argument that the father-headed family is necessary to "socialize children." Obviously, it's not, since MOST single mother-headed households have perfectly well socialized children.Claiming that "most criminals come from fatherless homes" is a far cry from claiming that most "fatherless homes" produce criminals. Clearly, they do not.

It's also well-established that there is plenty of generational dysfunction in male-female two-parent families, but it's of the sort that's more easily disguised under the umbrella of circumstances that mirror "normality" in the society in which this sort of family is considered ideal: e.g. alcoholism, abuse, sex perversion, overeating, secret-keeping.

Your argument goes on to explain why "fatherless" children, presumably being improperly "socialized," are at risk of some sort (you hope) even though research into causation (versus bean-counting) indicates that father-presence or absence in and of itself is not a factor in childrearing outcomes. Father involvement hasn't been shown to have effect to correct the statistics in joint custody situations post-divorce, no matter how high that involvement (in fact, the reverse has been correlated.)

HORN: Proper socialization requires the development of self-control in order to follow the rules of society. Well-socialized children have learned not to strike out at others to get what they want; under-socialized children often have not. Well-socialized children have learned to listen to and obey the directions of legitimate authority figures, such as parents and teachers; under-socialized children often have not. Well-socialized children have learned to cooperate and share with others; under-socialized children many times have not. In short, well-socialized children have developed the ability to self-regulate impulse gratification; under-socialized children often have not.

LIZ: You claim that what's wrong with juvenile delinquents is a lack of proper "socialization, i.e. "self-control." This is a quite pat answer to why we have juvenile criminals. Of course, we could beg the question, and say: well if children turn into juvenile delinquents then they have not been properly socialized by definition, and therefore lack of proper socialization has caused them to become juvenile delinquents, i.e., they are what they are because of what they are. But this doesn't actually work to make a point. Gang members in certain cultures are quite well socialized into their culture; it happens to be one antagonistic to the culture in control, however.

What is the telling factor causing juvenile crime? There are many, not just one. And primary among them, when we look at differences among the various demographic groups comprised in the umbrella of "fatherless" homes, and compare them to "intact" homes, is, not the father, but themother, and not all mothers are alike, or are situated alike.

The singlemost important contribution that a loving father may make to an intact household is to the emotional and financial comfort and happiness of the mother -- and THIS, the mother's personality and situation, has been shown to be the singlemost common common denominator across the board affecting child rearing outcomes. No study has indicated any benefit to the mere presence of the father, where that contribution is factored out. Widowed homes, which typically are without continued post-divorce stress or custody/visitation issues, which are financially more comfortable than never-married or divorced households, which benefit from increased extended family and community support, and in which the mothers have buck-stops-here parental authority, simply do not share these touted "fatherless home" negatives.

HORN: A civil society is totally dependent upon most of its adult citizenry having developed self-control. Absent a significant majority of such well-socialized adults, storekeepers would have to post armed guards in front of every display counter; every woman would live in constant fear of being raped by roaming bands of marauding men; and, children would be largely left to fend for themselves or be exploited for the gratification of their parents.

LIZ: Apparently, in your world, women don't naturally feel protective or loving of their infants -- they only care for their children out of some disciplined sense of "self-control." Or are you implying a natural male lack of parental feelings? To extend your argument, it further would appear that in your world, men must exert learned self-control over themselves in order to suppress a natural drive to gang-rape.

[I thought he was a psychologist. Or is this merely the propagandist's argument ad consequentiam ploy -- disagree with the "father-family values" agenda, and children will starve and women will be gang-raped...?]

Self-control. The something supposedly lacking in the teaching of children in single mother households, according to Horn. Would this be the sort of self-control exhibited by the sires of all those unwed teenage households, most of them adults and most of them involved with or married to other women? Or would this be the sort of self-control exhibited by fathers in many of the divorced households who were wife beaters, alcoholics, cheaters, drug addicts, or spent a few years in jail, and that's why the household is now "fatherless?"

Wade, you imply that there is something about having a man -- any man, so long as he is bio-dad -- being in the family which creates civilisation and self-control. The corollary is that women simply don't have this sort of self-control, civilization, or ability to impart it. This is as ridiculous a notion as it sounds. (And you don't agree with it yourself, below.)

MOST single mother households don't have bad childrearing outcomes. MOST are successful. So, it's not father presence or absence, but the presence or absence of some other factor or factors in SOME of those "fatherless homes" which is key -- not the presence or absence of the father. What are those factors? There are loads to choose from, none of which require the strained sort of argument you have to make in order to "explain" the ostensible importance of the "father factor." Here's the preface to that strained argument:

HORN: Parents socialize children through two mechanisms. Most obviously, children learn through direct tuition reinforced by a combination of rewards and punishments for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Children are first told how they should behave and then reinforced for following the rules and punished for disobedience to the rules. But children also learn by observing others. Of the two processes, observing others is by far the more important. In fact, most complex human behavior is acquired not through direct instruction, but through observational learning. Children are much more likely to do as a parent does than what the parent says. This is why parents who lie and cheat invariably have children who lie and cheat, despite any direct instruction to the contrary.

LIZ: How true. All of this buildup is simply a reiteration of generally accepted child development theory (although I would argue with the superior placement of "punishment" in the paragraph.) Children learn mostly by modeling themselves after example.

Stating truisms is the best way to pave the way for a con: the best cons mix truth in with false conclusions. Remember that right at the beginning statement of this article was a whopper of a subtle lie: that most violent criminals et al. hail from "fatherless homes," the implication being that there was an absence of a necessary paternal role model. No, they don't hail from "fatherless homes," not if we properly count the numbers to reflect "fatherless" -- as it implies -- as not having that father around during those early and impressionable years. There was indeed a role model of a biological father for part of the time in most of these homes breeding our future criminals, and it was a bad one. And, moreover, most "fatherless" homes do not rear criminals of any sort, violent or otherwise. Do some children require a paternal role model and others not?

The FR movement conveniently describes as "hailing from a fatherless" home, any individual who spent any portion of childhood outside of the traditional patriarchal intact family. In doing so, the FR movement also conveniently gets to leave the impression that "dad's" genes or role modeling or abuse could not possibly have been responsible for any bad trait, genetic or modeled, that has affected the children in these homes. Rather, it was his "absence."

That's ridiculous. The ploy ignores the glaringly obvious: that there likely were some pretty dysfunctional things going on all around, and they likely involved that biological father, which is why the homes are "fatherless" in the first place. And it conveniently ignores all the other factors, from the stress of divorce itself, to the difficulty our social and employment constructs unnecessarily present for women with children, and so forth, which also contribute negatively, but in and of themselves, are irrelevant to father presence or absence. And most of all, it ignores the most important factor, and the ONLY one which holds steady through all kinds of studies and groups as affecting childrearing outcomes: the personality, education, situation and overall happiness and comfort of the children's primary caregiver, usually their mother.

HORN: The socialization of children simply does not get done as well when fathers are absent from the home. When fathers are absent, boys often develop conduct problems -- they act out aggressively and sometimes quite violently toward others. Girls also act out when fathers are absent, but in a different way -- they often become sexually promiscuous. In short, the presence of involved fathers is absolutely critical if we are to successfully socialize children.

LIZ: Isn't this a misogynistic load of crap! Widowed homes don't have these childrearing problems. Neither do most other single mother homes. All that build-up and your argument comes right back to the oft-repeated false correlation between negative childrearing outcomes and "fatherless" homes. The correlation is not true except as to a subset group within "fatherless" homes, and in none of them is father presence or absence per se the causative factor of anything. The blathering about "socialization" and "self-control," as nowhere as it goes, is really just the obfuscating precursor to a theory which, in essence, is "a difference in search of a purpose," below:

WADE: There appear to be at least three reasons for this. First, mothers and fathers tend to parent different. Beginning at the birth of a child, mothers tend to be more verbal with their children, whereas fathers are more physical. Mothers also tend to encourage caution, whereas fathers are more challenging of achievement and independence. But most importantly, mothers tend to be more powerful nurturant figures and fathers stronger disciplinarians. Why should this difference in parenting style make such a difference for children?

LIZ: Gender stereotyping? I suppose we are to ignore all the homes in which Daddy is the indulgent parent and Mom is the disciplinarian -- the majority of them! Apparently we also are to ignore that talk about fathers' early contributions just doesn't fly as an argument regarding outcomes in divorced homes, because all those divorced "fatherless homes" you are talking about become "fatherless" on average, well after the infancy of the children. As for the ones that start out that way -- well take a look at the biological fathers. These men certainly are no disciplinarians, not even of themselves. Abusers, maybe. And apparently, we also are to supposed to suspend belief in your earlier hypothesis, above, that lacking appropriate "self-control," the promiscuous unwed teenage mother, being improperly socialized herself, will be "leaving her children to fend for themselves," not exhibiting warm, overly concerned caution.

What fathers are like, and the function they may serve in homes where the fathers are loving, mature, appreciated, and involved -- well that's what these fathers may indeed be and do in these particular homes. But these are the particular fathers they are, and they are in the successful intact homes they are in, precisely because they DO have attributes which fathers from fatherless homes are far more likely to Just Not Have.

Other than having male reproductive facility in common, there is just no reason to assume that the biological sires of children who hail from fatherless homes share character or parenting attributes in common with the men who also have the sort of personalities and functionality which have enabled them to succeed at maintaining a loving intact marriage.

It's more likely that the fathers from "fatherless" homes just don't have the same talent for maintaining a relationship, or a loving marriage. Quite likely they are not as desirable to have around for a number of reasons, if only for the reason that they do not have a satisfactory level of love and respect for the mother in question, and this in turn affects all sorts of other things. And look at how you completely denigrate and ignore differences in women: heck, they're all the same, whether a 15-year-old teenage girl with an 8th grade education or a divorced 40-year-old college professor.

HORN: We used to believe that families socialize children best when parents demonstrate high levels of love and relatively low levels of control. Research has shown, however, that when children are reared with high levels of warmth and low levels of control there are very predictable results -- they act-out, both aggressively and sexually. In contrast to these 1960's ideas of how to parent children, research has consistently shown that families socialize children best when they use a combination of nurturance and control.

LIZ: On the contrary: we have known for years that the best parent is one who is both loving and authoritative (that's authoritative, not authoritarian.) Even the fleeting trend of "permissive parenting" never actually was about parents relinquishing "control" or letting their households run amuck. Convenient as it has been for a few decades now to blame that straw man for parenting "failures" (it was supposedly the reason for the hippy generation), it never actually caught on with any widespread popularity, particularly among homes with less education and lower socioeconomic status. These homes, which were least likely to have adopted the 1960s "permissive parenting" pseudo-trend (largely a hallmark of the intellectual and financial elite), still yielded the least successful childrearing outcomes.

One of the reasons for negative child-rearing outcomes in divorced homes in which there is something other than sole authority in the custodial parent, e.g. the variety of joint custody "solutions," is precisely that at every turn, the authority of the head of the children's household IS in fact undermined. That is one reason widowed homes, and homes in which one parent is completely absent actually do so much BETTER than every situation of shared, joint, split, switched, and otherwise flipflopped and mixed-up custody.

Additionally, and debunking theories steeped in the presumption of male "discipline" in intact homes, Shere Hite has written extensively on how women as parents are authoritatively undermined in the patriarchal system such that where two parents are present, the constant subtle messages of second class woman status along with father-figure exaltation ultimately (by adolescence) diminish the mother's authority in the eyes of children of both sexes. This is an artificially-created "problem" with mother-parenting. Introduce a higher boss, and then blame her for not "being authoritative" or able to command adequate respect.

By contrast, the children of women who are on their own as parents, and LEFT alone -- those who have no divorce stress or custody hassles undermining authority, and no financial problems or social pariah status or social worker meddling (compare widowed mothers versus welfare mothers versus struggling working single mother with young children) -- do just fine. These mothers are in fact authoritative as well as loving. In fact, in these households, the child rearing outcomes are comparable to those from intact homes. [Also see liznotes on the problems with joint custody.]

Even with the patriarchal systemic status boost, it remains purely a myth that fathers are the disciplinarians in most households. Studies of parents' interactions and roles in intact households instead indicate that most time spent by fathers with their children is in the areas of play, and in most households, the modeling of self-control, the primary nurturing AND the discipline all are tasks befalling the primary caregiver -- most of the time, the mother.

So why do violent inner city boys hailing from those "fatherless" homes appear to exhibit lack of socialization?  It's not because they don't have the half hour evening at home of father around or the paternal "discipline" (as the term is misused to mean an occasional whop with a belt.)  It's because they are in fact "socialized" quite well, actually, into a culture that doesn't fit in with our civilized notions, and into an outside surrounding world of poverty, drugs (blame the war on drugs for a lot of this), gangs and violence.

Is this new, stemming from the last three decades of feminism?  Heck no. Take a look at what we were "socializing" in the inner cities quite similarly earlier in this century during Prohibition.

As for girls' "acting out" sexually (not boys -- or is that not a problem?): how is this really different from the obsessing over coupling we as a culture continually have encouraged in young girls vis a vis their appearance, their popularity, and their "success" with the opposite sex? This is nothing new. Girls have forever in our culture sought attention from boys -- the patriarchal culture demands it, and measures girls' worth by their sexual attractiveness, which in turn is measured by numbers of "conquests." Girls are not engaging in sex for love and attention -- they are engaging in sex because it's become pervasively "out there" in the culture. There are many reasons for that, including a loosening of sexual attitudes generally, and the pervasive sexual messages in the media on television, etc. But it's the same psychological dynamics and behaviors simply carried to a somewhat higher degree. The pregnancies?

Young teenage girls who both eschew marriage and continue their pregnancies are not looking for male love, but babies, and possibly a rite of passage into an adult world that otherwise holds little in the way of potential milestones and achievements for them. They are choosing to not terminate their pregnancies. And according to the Guttmacher Institute, MOST (71%) of unwed "teenage" pregnancies involve males who are not teenagers at all, but men over the age of majority, so perhaps we ought to look harder at male adult, not girl child behaviors here.

Most odd, is that most of the same pro-patriarchy politicos and propagandists who point to teenage pregnancies as a peculiar problem stemming from "fatherlessness" -- a difficult and complex concept to define, let alone solve as a "problem" -- if indeed it is one at all -- are against the simple solution: against sex education, contraceptives, and abortion. The problem for these men isn't the emotional well-being of teenage girls at all. It's the age-old abhorrence of the sexual freedom of women. It's the perception of their OWN lack of control, which is threatening to them.

There are fewer teenage girls having babies today (1998) than there were forty years ago (1958.) The difference is that in 1958 they were married. Were teenage girls in the 1950s getting married so young because they were obsessively looking for father-love they didn't get in their intact homes?

HORN: Given that mothers tend toward nurturance and fathers toward control, children reared in single mother households are likely to experience high levels of warmth, but low control. Conversely, children reared in single father households are likely to be exposed to lower levels of warmth and higher control. Either way, socialization does not go as well compared to when children experience both high warmth and moderately high control.

LIZ: You not only spout a false stereotype here, but then speculate from it. Women soft and sweet and warm, fathers sensible and objective and in control. The speculation is neither true nor rational. Your attempt to assign to women all that is weak and hesitant, and to men all that is strong and brave, breeds an inconsistency and oversimplification in your thesis. As you know yourself, where control is tight, children are LESS likely to develop an internal sense of self-control. And high control is the essence of overtly discouraging risk-taking and exerting undue amounts of caution. Depending upon balance and degree, a controlling parent can cultivate either effect in children: fear and underachieving, or reckless irresponsibility. So which is it. Neither. It's not this simple at all. This is all gender-biased poppycock.

Men and women are equally likely to have either kind of personality, controlling or nurturing, or a combination of both or a lack of both, and the childrearing outcome also depends upon the innate temperament of the child. Aside from all this, and back to the stereotyping: where would we ever be able to observe and compare mothers' and fathers' parenting styles side by side under similar circumstances except in the context of an intact home. (See Shere Hite, above.) There indeed may be some observable reversion to expected role-playing in most intact homes, where male and female parents tend to fall into artificially heightened socially expected gender roles. But, then again, how do we explain the persistence of the father = disciplinarian myth?

And, this still says nothing at all about single parent homes. In fact, a study released last summer (1997) indicated that children reared in sole single mother households compare favorably to children reared in intact homes, and, interestingly, FAR better than children reared in single father homes and other familial arrangements.

HORN: The point here is not to denigrate the parenting style of either mothers or fathers. But contrary to the claims of some, gender differences in parental behavior do not need to be minimized for parents to raise well-adjusted and well-socialized children. Indeed, what children need to grow up to become well-adjusted adults is the combination of parenting styles that mothers and fathers provide.

LIZ: Nonsense. These parenting "gender differences" are myth in the first place. And the point is precisely to denigrate the parenting styles of "women," and render them -- the natural parent of children -- artificially incapable of rearing their own young sans male leadership.

The motivation for this blather really isn't that fathers are needed; it's that patriarchists perceive fathers as needing a special status to be accorded within a patriarchal family system, including the right to control women's reproductive capabilities and lives. (See, e.g. Daniel Amneus's The War Against Patriarchy. ) It's not about children, but about some men's fears that their pro-male, comfortably organized world is crumbling. (Ibid.) Any excuse which sounds more altruistic and benign, however, such as the well-being of children, or "society" (!) and less like what it really is, an attempt to fulfill the needs and wants of the adult men in question, will do as ostensible rationale.

HORN: The second reason why fathers are so critical in the socialization of children is that children -- and boys in particular -- learn to keep their aggressive impulses in check through the observation of a male figure in the home who consistently and regularly controls himself. It is through a boy's observation of the way his father deals with frustration, anger and sadness that boys learn how men cope with such emotions. It is also through a boy's observation of the way his father treats the boy's mother that he learns how to treat women. If the father treats the mother with respect and dignity, than it is likely that his son will grow up to treat women with dignity and respect. If the father treats the mother with disdain and cruelty, then -- unfortunately -- his son is likely to grow up to do the same.

LIZ: Well, dang if this doesn't shoot your entire thesis! So if the father treats the mother with disdain and cruelty... a "fatherless" home would be better, would it not? And women cannot be aggressive, do not ever have anger to be controlled, and cannot role model human (not gender-specific) emotions and reactions?

Bunk. It's the primary parent whose behavior is that primarily observed by the children, balancing all the little tedious chores of the day, organizing, planning, doing, and so forth. Your comments about the significance of role modeling in and of themselves are unassailable. But self-control is hardly a genderized trait that requires role modeling by a specific gender. And peppering a false argument with true statements about child development does not render misogyny more credible and less despicable.

No, this is woman-defamation surfacing: those hussy single mothers, wild and wanton, who have no self-control; the never-married whore who has child out-of-wedlock; the hot-to-trot divorcee; the sweet, soft-spoken, helpless-little-woman mother, etc. The fathers rights arguments don't have to make sense. They only need repeat the buzz-words and phrases often enough to leave the intended impression. It's part and parcel of the pervasive backlash theme that women are out of control, and we need to clamp down on them and clip their wings via traditional patriarchy, marry them off where they can be properly "husbanded."

[And note the classic progression of Horn's claims here: from "children pay a price" to "fathers are important" to "fathers are critical" to "fathers are absolutely critical." Propaganda.]

Wade, according to your comments in your June 1998 Father's Day newspaper essay, you would agree with me that paternal role modeling simply cannot be duplicated via joint custody and visitation schemes post-divorce, or other schemes of sometime father presence. It's all about intact homes. And GOOD fathers; not just any fathers.

Even so, it bears pointing out the inherent contradictions in the male role modeling argument: nothing about it explains the insistence that fatherNESS requires biological paternity; only (we might surmise) a permanent and consistent from-the-beginning father-figure presence. (Where this is an adoptive father or step-father, however, the lesson will be undermined by the irregular, conflicting and confusing occasional presence of the biological father.)

Regardless of the difficulties, touting continuing marriage to the bio-dad come-hell-or-high-water just makes absolutely no sense where that biological father is NOT an admirable role model, does not comport himself appropriately, does not love and respect the children's mother, or has other dysfunctions. And encouraging hissometime presence in an unwed or divorce situation simply does not achieve this particular role modeling.

Ignored through all of the father-necessary arguments is any recognition that failure of the father in question to be the sort of father you describe as "critical" to a child's well-being is a primary reason for the existence of the "fatherless homes" in the first place.

HORN: Finally, for girls, fathers are critical for learning mastery of their sexuality. Indeed, one of the predictable results of father absence for girls is early and promiscuous sexual activity. In contrast, if a girl experiences the love of a father who places her well-being above his own and who acts as a natural protector, than the girl is likely to delay sexual relations until she finds such a man herself. If she is denied such fatherly love, then the girl is likely to try to seek it elsewhere -- often inappropriately and often at very young ages.

LIZ: What unbelievable woman-denigrating arrogance! Boys must have men to learn to be men, but young women also must have men to learn how to be women, rather than older women? This obnoxious claim -- that absent father guidance, girls will be prematurely sexual -- falls apart completely when one looks at the ages of marriage in "intact family times." Delayed sexual relations in the patriarchal society?  Nope. Take a look at the relative ages of marriages of women in the most patriarchal familial systems, and the average ages of marriages in the past in the United States.

And, of course, this men-train-girl's sexuality thesis glosses over the issue of fathers who are no longer in "fatherless homes" precisely because they are just not the sort of men who will provide healthy other-centered parenting, and likely have quite harmful and damaging outlooks and attitudes about women and women's sexuality. There's a big "if" in there: "if a girl experiences..." We are, it appears to ignore the significant portion of not-there fathers, perhaps the majority of absent fathers, who are not because they are the cheaters, the pornography users, the abusers, the denigrators and degraders, and the ones who lacked respect and love for the child's mother. No girl's budding sexuality needs to be influenced by this. [liznote]

HORN: Given this understanding of what happens in individual families when fathers are absent due to divorce or abandonment, what should we expect as a society when father absence becomes, not the exception, but the norm? Answer: increasing violence and increasing sexual acting-out. That is precisely what we are seeing.

Children are the fastest growing segment of the criminal population in the United States. Between 1982 and 1991, the rate juveniles were arrested for murder increased 93 percent, for aggravated assault 72 percent, for forcible rape 24 percent and for car theft 97 percent. And although homicide rates have increased for all ages, those for teenagers have increased more rapidly than those of adults.

LIZ: Take a look at the "war on drugs" and its effects here, as well as shifts in the economy, the rise in the population, the rise of media violence and pornography since the inception of television and later, television itself, video games, the relative decrease in per capita student spending on academics in the schools, and the increase in gun ownership and availability. In fact, in the last thirty years in the United States we also haven't had a war to speak of, something which tends to focus young men on getting more serious about their responsibilities, their studies and their futures. Correlation is not causation. (By the way, what about all the children raised by their mothers alone during all those periods in history in which men were off to war, at sea, trapping in the frontier wilds, emigrated to another country...?) [liznote]

HORN: We also know that each and every day: 7,700 teenagers become sexually active; 1,100 teenagers have abortions; 600 teenagers get syphilis or gonorrhea; 2,500 children are born out of wedlock; and 6 teenagers commit suicide.

LIZ: And how many children get tuberculosis or rickets, drop out of school at age 12 or 13 (as in past decades), or attend at least some college, compared with previous decades? There were more teenage pregnancies in past decades -- along with younger marriages -- and far fewer girls who attended college! Floating numbers and "problems" completely out of context is ridiculous. The problem is the father's rightster perception of "fatherless homes." On balance, does society have more problems than in the past? It all depends upon what one chooses to focus, what one personally thinks is important when comparing uncomparable "ills," and the weight one chooses to accord value-wise to the factors and circumstances arbitrarily focused on.

Which is worse: more teenage girls having unwed sex, or more teenage girls getting married, having babies and not getting educated? 600 cases of syphillis or gonorrhea, curable with penicillin, or 6000 cases of polio, incurable? Some young men (often homosexual boys, by the way, shamed and devasted by patriarchal "family values" attitudes) committing suicide, or young men proudly enlisting in (or sent off by old men to) a war which kills or maims them?

HORN: Father absence may not be the sole cause of each of these social ills -- but it certainly makes each one worse. Americans need to remember the important work that fathers do in helping to rear children successfully. We must resolve to restore the institution of good and responsible fatherhood in America. The well-being of our children -- and ultimately our nation -- depends upon us rediscovering the importance of being father.

Wade F. Horn, Ph.D., is director of The National Fatherhood Initiative.

I don't think so, Wade. "Father-absence" may not only not be the sole cause of "social ills"; it's likely not the cause of any social ills at all. If it's anything; if it's even about "social ills" at all, it is as a symptom, versus an arbitrary definition of what is "social wellness," i.e. "normal."

"The institution of good and responsible fatherhood in America" is what yielded centuries of woman-slavery, denied women the right to autonomy over their very bodies and lives, and prevented or restricted women from being educated, from participating in the economy, from being able to support themselves, from owning property, and from having the right to vote.

The "fatherhood movement" around the world now -- and it is a trend, usually couched in religious fundamentalist rubric --can be seen carried to its logical ends in the Taliban in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, and in other horrid, tyrranical and repressive regimes that are rising to power.

How far back, and to which decade shall we return to in the United States in forcing women as individuals once again to kowtow to the dictates of "society" -- men -- regarding when they may have sex, how they may use their own bodies, and how they may live their lives, all for a theory of social welfare?

It's easy to say (as these "fathers" like to say) that all the ills of the brief last three decades are attributable to "fatherlessness" and feminism. Men such as yourself, Horn, with pleasant-sounding, but specious pap, fuel the fires of fundamentalist tyrants. This is an old refrain, from Old Testament Biblical days onward. Change hardly is going to happen instantaneously such that all the pieces fit perfectly at once, and change always has some measure of discomfort. It's not a very smart idea to judge a pudding before it's finished, is it.

And lawyers and legislators take note: these theories do not support post-divorce sometime "fathering." The statistics freely comprise and decry those households as "fatherless." This is all about (see HORN, second paragraph, above) the importance of FAMILIES (as defined to include the father.)

What's this stuff really all about? Behind this movement is not just divorce reform or "getting fathers involved," as the ostensibly harmless, even beneficent, but farcical rhetoric of the National Fatherhood Initiative puts it.. It's a first step in an agenda to get those women back under "control." A patriarchal backlash.

Consider this: even if everything Horn and his ilk claim about intact homes were true, it still wouldn't present a viable argument. This is a "problem" without an acceptable solution. We also could violate individual rights and autonomy in all kinds of nasty and intrusive ways in order to create a society which appears more seemly, neat, utopian, homogeneous, orderly.

We could make the argument that turning another segment of the population, e.g. "blacks," back into slaves would enhance production and the economy (as that argument was made in the old south) and the standard of living for everyone else. We could make an argument for castration of any male caught having sex out of wedlock -- now THAT would solve some of the fatherless family problem, wouldn't it. Similarly, we could pass laws preventing women from exiting marriages, punishing adultery, requiring father custody or control of households. (And if these didn't accomplish a thing for the welfare of children, well at least they would please some self-and-other-controlling men, wouldn't they.) We could pass all manner of oppressive and draconian laws which would prevent and eliminate all kinds of perceived social "ills" and unseemliness. How about sterilizing lesbians? Some of this fathers-rights-anti-woman agenda is succeeding because of the willingness of most to simply presume as a belief that into which they have been inculcated in this father-loving society since childhood: the necessity of having a "father." All we need is a claimed compelling reason, specious or otherwise, to trample again on women's lives, such as a purported "need" of children for two parents, one of each sex.

Most of us have fathers; most of us adore our daddies. But that's not proof of a thing. When it's about willingness to sacrifice one individual's welfare for the sake of another's, the crucial threshhold questions mustbe examined and answered first. In general, with regard to father's rights rhetoric, that has not been done. It makes for great political soundbites.

By contrast, the position that children may NOT "need" two parents, and that this really may be all about what MEN need, elicits high emotion and shocked horror. It is just too upsetting a thought for many to contemplate -- oh my, who would posit such a terrible idea, I love MY daddy, etc. That children "need" two parents, one of each sex, has been presumed, and it's the reason why over the past few years, many of the fathers rights groups have added "children" into the names of their organizations. Being fooled by that is not good scholarship and it's not intelligent.

But to the point: if "fatherlessness" is a problem, then how is it supposed to be cured? With the feel-good prattle of the National Fatherhood Initiative et al. giving lipservice to ineffectual programs, child support collections and such things as the innocuous-sounding "working with men to get them 're-involved' in 'broken homes?' "

Please. Traditionally, patriarchy has cured "fatherlessness" with restrictions (not placed on men) regarding on how women may live their adult lives, and use their very own bodies. This is, when all is said and done, what is implied to follow the yammering about the "problem" of "fatherlessness." Next come the solutions.

First are the "step ones," such as restrictions on divorce, requirements that women name fathers on birth certificates or name their children after the men, the imposition of the accutrements of marriage and "normal family structure" onto the families created by women out of wedlock. After that come the "step twos," a la Father's Manifesto, that women and women's sexuality further be controlled, restricted, and reined in again in all kinds of other ways, legal and social: from restricting entry into jobs, to ending their suffrage, eliminating their right to own and manage property, and otherwise going back the panoply of historical measures that traditionally have been used to "encourage" women to get into marriages and remain married. Pandering to Judaic and Christian religious notions -- completely inappropriate as a basis for law in the United States -- also plays a major role here, as these religions essentially are about the exaltation of "fatherhood" and patriarchy, and originally came about for the purpose of institutionalizing this social ordering scheme.

Fathers are not in the home? Those who are concerned about this, and think it important, should work on making living with men more attractive to women. Obviously, some marriages succeed, and I doubt that many of those in this age of readily available divorce are enduring merely out of altruistic misery and abstract social commitment on the part of the persons in them.

A little cessation of the silly and counterproductive talk about how fathers "parent differently," are "important," are the "authoritative" ones, are the "spiritual leaders," and are "critical" to rearing children, and a little more talk about how men ought to get off that high horse, role up their sleeves, cut the superiority drivel, and pitch in with the housework, might go a lot further toward restoring marriage as a viable and enduring institution. Sorry, guys: your way didn't work for the majority of the population, and the clock is just not going back.


Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

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The Agenda Behind the Rhetoric of Joint Custody, Shared Parenting, King Solomon Approach to child Custody

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

Child Custody Evaluations
Custody Evaluation Guidelines
Child Custody Evaluators

||||| Joint Custody

||||| Joint Custody Studies

||||| What the Experts Say
A Review of the Scholarly Research on Post-Divorce Parenting and Child Well-being.

||||| The Agenda Behind the Rhetoric of Joint Custody This article was posted to the familylaw-l list in January, 1997, and appeared in the April 1997 Issue of the ABA Journal as a letter to the editor.

||||| Joint Custody Just Does Not Work. Research from the California Judicial Council, 2000. Look at the findings; ignore the "spin." This study was done ostensibly to look at the results of mediated "parenting plans." Look what happend to joint custody. As a lifetsyle, it just does not work. Its only arguable accomplishment probably is to ultimately send more children into the sole custody of their fathers than otherwise would occur. (A primary reason fathers' rights groups push for it.) It's unlikely that any group, children, mothers, or fathers, benefits from this phenomenon -- other than, of course, custody mediators, evaluators, and parenting coordinators, who make more money the more problematic and unworkable a "parenting plan" is. See above, "The Agenda Behind the Rhetoric.")

||||| Myths and Facts about Fatherhood: What the Research REALLY Says

||||| Myths and Facts about Motherhood: What the Research REALLY Says

||||| Myths and Facts about Stepmothers and Mother Absence: What the Research REALLY Says

||||| Child Abuse Links and Information

||||| "Parental Alienation" - Getting it Wrong in Child Custody Cases
by Professor Carol S. Bruch


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WILL HE KILL-High Conflict-Custody, Divorce Domestic Violence

New information to help identify higher risk
cases   [note]

More -- Why He Kills and Can he be stopped?

NEW: JUNE 2009 -- Dept. Justice Report: Practical Implications of Domestic Violence Research for Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

According to research by Katherine van Wormer, Professor of Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa, certain patterns have emerged in cases in which men have ended up murdering their spouses and/or children or others, as well as in the common "murder-suicide" cases (the below excludes elder murder-suicides, which have a different dynamic). The presence of some of these factors should create extra caution. (The lack of all factors being present, however, should not be taken to indicate the absence of risk.) The statistics and statistical charts are available at Prof. Wormer writes:

The pattern that emerges in these cases involves intimate partners in the 20 to 35-year-old range: The man is abusive, psychologically and/or physically. Obsessed with the woman to the extent that he feels he can't live without her, he is fiercely jealous and determined to isolate her... Primary among the risk factors are an abuser's lack of employment compounded by a lack of education. Significant relationship variables are plans by the wife or partner to separate from her abuser and having a child in the home who is not the partner's biological child.
        Other factors that can help predict homicide are an abuser's heavy use of alcohol and illicit drugs, a history of sexual jealousy, growing up in a violent home, violence and verbal abuse, an age disparity with the husband being significantly older, a threat of separation by the woman, and antisocial personality and/or an overly dependent personality, stalking and access to firearms. Threats of use of a weapon were common in these cases... The key distinguishing factor between this and the more usual form of domestic homicide is the presence of depression and suicidal ideation.
        Characteristically, suicidal murderers have little regard for the lives of other people; they would be considered, in mental health jargon, to be antisocial. Yet they are so emotionally dependent on their wives or girlfriends that they would sooner be dead than to live without them. When the girlfriend/wife makes a move to leave, her partner is absolutely distraught in the belief that he can't live without her.

The State of Maryland has instituted a Lethality Assessment (download) Program (LAP) in many of its counties that has been having some success. The success may be because the questions are asked, rather than the assumption being made that the significance of risk factors will be known to the complainant and the information thus volunteered. An assessment tool was created by Johns Hopkins University nursing professor Jacquelyn C. Campbell; it is debatable whether this can or should be used in court "as" an assessment tool. (Read more about this in the Maryland Daily Record, 10/13/08.)

High risk factors:

The alleged abuser is male. Statistically, more than 90% of murder-suicide cases are perpetrated by men against women.

The parties were married or a close equivalent. Statistically, most of these cases involve the man's perceived loss of family and home, however in recent years, formal marriage as a factor has been declining.

The man is significantly older than the woman. Statistically in these cases, the male perpetrator averages 6.3 years older than a female victim; the woman is in the 20 to 35-year-old range.

The woman has made the decision to leave the man; there is a threat of separation even if it has not yet occurred. Note: the lack of a family support system, wife or significant other, coupled with a recent family loss (death, divorce), are indicators for suicide in a depressed person, and suicidal depression is a risk factor for murder-suicide.

The woman has a child in the home who is not the man's biological child. This may be related to sexual jealousy. (A significant portion of cases do not fit this pattern, however, so again, caution should be taken that the absence of a risk factor does not create unwarranted perception of lesser risk. Not enough is known about weighting the various factors under different circumstances.)

The man has had depressed episodes or suicide ideation, or currently is depressed. Statistically (as we might guess), depression is more likely to be present in murder-suicide cases than in the cases of murder without the perpetrator's suicide. Of particular note, the man has made threats to kill either himself or the woman or children.

There is a history of physical abuse, particularly choking. For this purpose "history" should not be limited to adjudicated history, or any other "history that has come to the attention of authorities." In too many of the news articles we read, the neighbors and friends express "surprise".

There is a history alleged of psychological abuse. Of particular note are attempts at controlling behaviors and sexual jealousy, even without demonstrable physical abuse (verbal abuse, accusations, spying, stalking).

The man is unemployed or under-employed, chronically or recent job loss or reversal.

The man has abused alcohol (drunk episodes, not necessarily diagnosed alcoholic), or used illegal drugs.

The man has or can get access to a hand gun.

Also see: More -- WHY HE KILLS

NOTE: Citation to the social work website and assessment tool is NOT an endorsement or recommendation by for judges to hire forensic psychologists, social workers, or custody evaluators to provide "risk assessments". There is no instrument or expert who can provide a risk assessment to any "reasonable degree of scientific certainty" (e.g. see Baerger, 2001; Bednar, R., Bednar, S., Lambert, M., & Waite, D., 1991; Otto, 1992). One more time: Mental health professionals canNOT predict who will or will not be dangerous or when, and for this reason their opinions should not be permitted to substitute for those of potential victims and protective parents. No mental health professional can say that a person is "not dangerous". Nowhere in the research literature is there any documentation that clinicians can predict dangerous behavior beyond the level of chance. (Stromberg et al., 1988, p. 522). Rather, the information provided on this webpage can and should be used directly by judges in weighing testimony and evidence in court. Judges must take seriously the concerns of immediate family members and potential victims, and in cases of doubt, must err on the side of caution. It does not require expertise to apply common sense. (Yes, this is profiling, and sorry, there are no crystal balls.)  RETURN TO TEXT

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010



Non-custodial Mothers: Thematic Trends and Future Directions

Michelle Bemiller 1*

1 Kansas State University

Copyright © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Sociology Compass 2/3 (2008): 910–924, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008.00117.x


The non-custodial mother is an anomaly. She does not live with her children on a full-time basis, putting her outside of the dominant expectations associated with motherhood. Although there has been an increase in the number of non-custodial mothers in recent years, information on the experience of being a non-custodial mother is minimal. The majority of our knowledge of non-custodial mothers stems from research conducted during the mid-1980s through the 1990s. This research was primarily descriptive in nature, lacking theoretical density. This article provides an overview of research completed on non-custodial mothers over the past two decades, with attention to the family and the role of the courts. After reviewing past research, the current state of the field is discussed, and future research directions are suggested.


10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008.00117.x About DOI

Article Text

For well over two decades, scholars have examined the connection between being a woman and motherhood (Schur 1984; Glenn 1994; Hays 1996). Early research examined the quality of mothering and its effects on children. More recent research has focused on mothers’ activities and the meaning attached to motherhood, drawing attention to the intensive nature of mothering in western society (Hays 1996; Arendell 2000). Feminist scholars have critiqued this literature, arguing that our knowledge of mothers has been based on a white, heterosexual woman’s point of view (Collins 1990;Glenn 1994). As a result, recent motherhood scholarship has drawn attention to mothers who do not fit the dominant ideology of motherhood–mothers of color, working mothers, single mothers, lesbian mothers, and non-custodial mothers, to name a few. These mothers, often referred to as resistant mothers, do not fit neatly into the intensive motherhood paradigm (Garey 1999; Glenn 1994; Hill Collins 1987).

One such mother, the non-custodial mother, is the subject of this article. Although it is true that women still receive custody of children in the majority of custody cases, the custodial father has become more visible over the years. Despite the increase in the number of non-custodial mothers, little information exists on this population as Arditti and Madden-Derdich (1993), Arditti (1995), Fischer and Cardea (1981), and Greif (1987a, 1997) have noted. In an attempt to synthesize the scholarship on non-custodial mothers, this article provides an overview of research completed on non-custodial mothers over the past two decades, drawing attention to shifts in the scholarly coverage of these women. After reviewing past research, the current state of the field is discussed, and future research directions are suggested.

Non-custodial mothers: The 1980s and 1990s

The structure and content of research on non-custodial mothers is the product of social and political forces operating from decade to decade. The majority of our knowledge of non-custodial mothers stems from research completed during the mid-1980s through the 1990s (see Arditti 1995; Arditti and Madden-Derdich 1993; Babcock 1997; Chesler 1986; Christensen et al. 1990; Clumpus 1996; Dolan and Hoffman 1998; Edwards 1989; Ferguson 1994; Fischer 1983; Fischer and Cardea 1981; Fox and Kelly 1995;Furstenburg et al. 1983; Greif 1987a, b; Greif 1997; Greif and Pabst 1988; Herrerias 1984; Herrerias 1995; Hetherington 1993; Maccoby and Mnookin 1992; Meyers and Lakin 1983; Rosen and Etlin 1996; Santora and Hays 1998, Stewart 1999a, b; Zuravin and Greif 1989). During this time, fathers started to receive custody of children in increasing numbers, placing non-custodial mothers under the social microscope. As indicated by the title of Harriett Edwards’ (1989) book, as more and more mothers lost or gave up custody of their children, the question on the minds of society was, How Could You? These thoughts, of course, were intimately connected with the notion that mothers should have primary custody of their children because of their nurturing and loving characteristics – these notions still permeate our society today, affecting the actions of both mothers and fathers. As a case in point, Cowdery and Knudson-Martin’s (2005) qualitative analysis of 50 couples pointed to an unequal division of childcare labor between mothers and fathers. This division of labor was created based on idealized beliefs about motherhood. As a result, mothers were intimately connected with children, whereas fathers were encouraged to step aside (see also Aldous et al. 1998). In these families, and within society at large, this lesser involvement of fathers was expected and tolerated (see also Hochschild 1989) because of the belief that mothers should, by virtue of their gender, be the primary caretakers of children. For mothers who do not have custody of their children, this ideology is problematic on a personal and social level.

In an attempt to better understand these mothers’ experiences of custody loss as well as their individual experiences as non-custodial mothers, scholarly research increased in the social sciences. The focus of this research ranged from individual experiences of mothers (i.e., social judgments and relationships with children) to structural processes that influenced women’s experiences (i.e., reasons for relinquishment and letter of the law).

One structural change that has led to women’s loss of custody is the family courts’ movement toward gender neutrality. The movement toward a gender neutral custody process emerged in the family courts around 1970 and gained momentum during the 1980s (Fox and Kelley 1995). Gender neutrality – the idea that both mothers and fathers can equally parent their children – challenged the historical notion that mothers are better suited to care for young children emotionally and physically than fathers (i.e., ‘the tender years doctrine’). As more women entered the workforce and the culture began to open up regarding parental roles, fathers started to become more active in caregiving. As a result, in family court, it was no longer assumed that mothers were the better parent and fathers began to seek and gain custody in increasing numbers (Fox and Kelley 1995; Greif and Pabst 1988; Greif 1995; Thompson 1983).

According to Chesler (1986), the by product of this ‘gender-neutral approach’ was a court system that privileged fathers’ rights over mothers’ rights as judges expressed their approval of fathers’ involvement while at the same time scrutinizing mother’s maternal responsibilities. Fathers’ suitability as custodial parents was further endorsed when economic stability was added into the equation. In a study completed for the American Bar Association, Mason (1997) found that custody decisions mentioned economic stability 46.5% of the time. Generally speaking, men have an economic advantage over women, putting women in a precarious position in custody cases.

Research by Babcock (1997), Chesler (1986), Greif and Pabst (1988), and Herrerias (1984, 1995) rigorously examined the experiences of non-custodial mothers through the lens of social psychology, social work, and symbolic interactionism. These works contributed a great deal to what we know about non-custodial mothers’ experiences during the 1980s on both an interpersonal and structural level. These are notable exceptions to what consisted mostly of descriptive studies that provided a great deal of background information about women’s experiences, but failed to rigorously examine women’s experiences through a theoretical lens.

Methodologically speaking, it is important to point out that the research completed during this time varied tremendously. Some studies used quantitative data collection methods, yielding large samples of non-custodial mothers (see Greif and Pabst 1988;Herrerias 1984), whereas other studies used qualitative methods involving interviews with small samples of non-custodial mothers (see Clumpus 1996; Ferguson 1994 for two examples of qualitative scholarship). In addition, differences also existed regarding survey instruments used during data collection (see Greif and Pabst 1988; Herrerias 1984). Because the quality and specificity of the data within these studies varied significantly, caution must be taken when comparing studies to one another.

That having been said, the studies completed during the 1980s and 1990s provided much needed insight into the lives of non-custodial mothers. Research focused on social beliefs about non-custodial mothers, reasons for relinquishing custody of children, relationships with children, adjustment to the status of non-custodial mother, and the family courts.


Studies during the 1980s and 1990s indicated that non-custodial mothers experienced a great deal of social stigma because of the loss of their children. In a comparison study of custodial (n = 14) and non-custodial mothers (n = 17), Fischer and Cardea (1981) found that mothers, regardless of their custodial status, felt that society had a negative view of women who had relinquished custody of their children. This study also found that over half of the non-custodial mothers had received negative reactions from friends and family due to the loss of their children.

In 1983, Fischer polled 34 respondents from the human development and family studies faculty as well as graduate students at a university in West Texas regarding attitudes toward couples with children and couples living childfree lifestyles (i.e., homosexual couples, cohabiting heterosexual couples, empty nest couples, married couples without children, couples who lost children to accidents, and non-custodial parents). Using a 7-point scale, respondents were asked to rank the categories on two dimensions: whether the situation was common or uncommon in society and whether society approved or disapproved of this lifestyle. Findings indicated that respondents thought society most disapproved of homosexual couples and non-custodial mothers.

In her study of 100 mothers, Edwards (1989) reported mixed results regarding non-custodial experiences. Some of the women in her study spoke of being stigmatized by family, friends, and acquaintances, whereas others pointed to the strong support that they received from people in their lives. Thus, not all women incurred harsh judgments because of their status.

Ferguson (1994) used two case studies to highlight the experience of being a non-custodial mother. Using these two cases as well as past literature, Ferguson pointed out that women are prepared for the role of mother through gender socialization from an early age. Furthermore, the mothers are blamed for children’s pathologies, are expected to be self-sacrificing, and experience inequality when they work in the paid labor force. These stereotypes, and the outcomes from these stereotypes, led to negative evaluations of non-custodial mothers and also affected women’s choices when relinquishing custody (see also Babcock 1997). Accordingly, Ferguson recommended support groups to help non-custodial mothers adjust to this role.

Using one on one interviews obtained through Mothers Apart from Their Children (MATCH), Clumpus (1996) explored the lives of 10 non-custodial mothers. Her goal was to understand how the social construction of non-custodial mothers as ‘unfit’ parents affected these women’s self-perceptions. Clumpus (1996) found that the non-custodial mothers in her sample perceived themselves as deficient and blamed themselves for their non-custodial status. Because of these perceptions, the mothers separated themselves from their children, family, and friends.

Using a convenience sample of 120 participants from the general population (60 male and 60 female), Dolan and Hoffman (1998) conducted a study of perceptions of parent custodial status using vignettes depicting persons as married parents, divorced parents with custody, and divorced persons without custody. Their findings indicated that participants were most likely to rate both mothers and fathers who were non-custodial parents negatively. However, over all other parental forms, non-custodial mothers were the most negatively evaluated parents in the study.

Babcock (1997) focused on the effect that non-custodial status had on the salience of identity and general self-esteem for non-custodial mothers. Her most important finding was that all of the 41 non-custodial mothers that were interviewed had experienced negative appraisals on at least one occasion. In order to compensate for these negative appraisals, Babcock deduced that the non-custodial mothers were attempting to fit the ideal model of mothering by altering their mothering role to more closely match social expectations of mothers. According to Babcock’s analysis, the mothers increased physical visitation and contact by phone and letter, showing their dedication to their children. When these efforts to be more like ‘traditional’ mothers failed, the mothers redefined their mothering role, becoming more like sisters, aunts, or friends to their children. The participants claimed that these relationships were mutually satisfying for themselves and their children.


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, mothers gave up or lost custody of their children for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons included inability to financially support children, children choosing to remain with their father or another custodial caregiver, mothers’ emotional difficulties, and the courts’ view that fathers were the better parents – usually because of one of the reasons listed (Arditti and Madden-Derdich 1993;Fischer and Cardea 1981; Fischer 1983; Greif and Pabst 1988; Herrerias 1984;Meyers and Lakin 1983; Santora and Hays 1998; Zuravin and Greif 1989). These studies distinguished between voluntary and involuntary relinquishment of custody. In voluntary cases, mothers chose to give up custody of their children. In involuntary cases, the mothers were forced by the courts to give up custody due to their perceived inability to care for the children (Herrerias 1995). In a departure from these descriptive analyses, Clumpus (1996) examined the repercussions of lack of resources on mothers and children, finding that mothers felt that the unequal distribution of power between them and their ex-spouses led to their children becoming tactical pawns in their ex-husbands’ attempts to control the post-divorce relationship between them and their children.


For the most part, mothers were involved with their children after giving up or losing custody. Greif (1987b) found increased mother involvement when: (i) the father shared responsibility for the break-up with the ex-wife; (ii) custody was gained through mutual agreement; (iii) the father was earning the higher income; (iv) the father was raising one or two children (rather than three or more); and (v) the mother lived nearby. Using questionnaire responses from 1,136 custodial fathers, Greif found that 73 percent of fathers indicated that their ex-wives were somewhat or slightly involved with their children, whereas only 7 percent of the men indicated that their ex-wives were very involved. It should be noted that these findings were only indicative of face-to-face interaction; they did not account for contact by mail or telephone.

In a comparison of non-custodial mothers and fathers, Furstenburg, Peterson, Nord, and Zill (1983) indicated that mothers were more likely to have higher levels of contact with children than non-custodial fathers. Non-custodial mothers were more likely to visit their children regularly, to have overnight visits, and to write letters and phone the children. These results, however, should be looked at with caution given the difference between the sample of non-custodial fathers (n = 395) and the sample of non-custodial mothers (n = 28).

In 1984, Herrerias reported results from 18 page questionnaires collected from non-custodial mothers who lived in Texas, Oklahoma, and New York. Her findings indicated that upon relinquishment, roughly 97% of the 130 women in her sample maintained an active relationship with their children. The majority (71%) were happy with their decision to give up custody, and with their mother–child relationships. Nearly 77 percent described their relationships with their children as close and caring. Greif and Pabst (1988) analyzed 517 questionnaires that were disseminated to non-custodial mothers through the Parents Without Partners magazine and through the Mothers Without Custody organization. Findings indicated that mothers remained involved with their children after relinquishing custody. Out of 517 non-custodial mothers, roughly 23 percent of the mothers claimed to be very involved, 33 percent were somewhat involved, 29 percent were slightly involved, and 15 percent were not involved at all.

In an attempt to fully understand the relationship between non-custodial mothers and their children, the research in the 1990s focused on both quantity and quality of visitation. Although past research from the 1980s addressed the issue of quality to a degree, most of the attention focused on quantity of visitation, excluding parents’ actual involvement in their children’s daily lives and activities. As Greif (1997) noted, parents may pay child support and visit their children regularly, but this is not indicative of involvement in their children’s daily lives. For example, non-custodial fathers have been dubbed ‘Disneyland Dads’ because they do not actively participate in their children’s day-to-day routine (e.g., helping with homework), but instead engage in social and recreational activities (Hetherington 1993).

In two studies completed by Arditti, quantity of visitation was addressed, but quality of visitation was largely ignored. Arditti and Madden-Derdich (1993) found that over half of the 13 mothers in their study indicated that they saw their children several times a month and felt that the visitations went well, for the most part. Mothers did, however, report that they felt a decline in closeness with their children after the divorce.

Arditti (1995) argued that there are clear distinctions between non-custodial mothers and fathers, especially with regards to involvement with their children. The literature cited in this review pointed to the fact that mothers were much more likely to feel a connection with their children despite their living arrangements, and that they were more likely to try to maintain an active relationship with their children through visitation, phoning, mailing letters, etc. Although this article focused on the connection between mothers and children, involvement in children’s day-to-day lives was ignored.

In their work, Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) examined divorced families in California, showing that non-custodial mothers were more involved in day-to-day aspects of parenting such as buying clothes, keeping track of doctor appointments, and supervising homework than were non-custodial fathers. Non-custodial fathers also reported more problems monitoring their children’s activities during visitation than did non-custodial mothers.

Using the 1987 to 1988 National Survey of Families and Households, Stewart (1999a) addressed structural impediments to visitation activities (e.g., living far away from children and lack of finances), a finding that parents who lived further away from their children were less likely to see their children and when they did see their children were more likely to participate in leisure activities rather than school or organized activities. Parents with low levels of education were more likely to focus on leisure activities when they were with their children. Level of earnings had no impact on the choice to participate in leisure versus school activities. Overall, Stewart’s findings revealed that both non-custodial mothers and fathers have similar types of visitation patterns, leading to the conclusion that emotional issues and practical barriers make day-to-day contact with children difficult to maintain, regardless of parents’ gender.

In a similar analysis using the same dataset, Stewart (1999b) found that non-resident mothers were slightly more likely to maintain contact via phone and mail than fathers. About 30 percent of non-resident mothers talked to their children several times a week compared with 20 percent of fathers. She found no difference between how many times mothers and fathers saw their children during the year. Yet, overall, children spent significantly more weeks visiting non-resident mothers than fathers. Over two thirds of non-resident fathers reported never having had their children come to stay with them compared with half of mothers. Over one third of non-resident mothers reported that their child stayed with them for over one month in the last year, compared with only 14 percent of fathers.


Adjusting to and coping with the role of non-custodial parent can be a complex process. Scholarship during the 1980s and 1990s indicated that some women adapted quickly and coped well in their new parenting role, whereas others experienced difficulties associated with relinquishing their children. Greif (1987a) found that one third of his sample of 517 non-custodial mothers were comfortable being non-custodial parents, were comfortable telling people that they were non-custodial parents, did not feel guilty about their non-custodial status, felt the children were better off where they were (i.e., outside of mothers’ custody), and were satisfied with their relationship with their children. Focusing on these women’s experiences, Greif (1987a) found that mothers’ comfort was most highly correlated with their satisfaction with their relationship with their children, not feeling guilt, and believing that the children were better off with their fathers. Personal factors that were predictors of comfort included the choice to voluntarily give up custody, the reason the mother gave for the divorce (e.g., if she felt that the blame was shared she was better off), the reason why the mother did not have custody (e.g., mothers whose children wanted to live with their father were better adjusted), the stress at the time of relinquishment (i.e., mothers who felt less stress were better adjusted), mother’s religion (i.e., those with no religious affiliation felt more comfortable), and the way the mothers dealt with changes in their lifestyles (i.e., those who felt content with a changing financial lifestyle were more comfortable as non-custodial mothers).

In their book Mothers Without Custody, Greif and Pabst (1988) found that women who demonstrated the highest level of adjustment reported seeing their children often and having grown up in a family with liberal views on the role of mothers and fathers in children’s lives. Similar to Greif (1987a) and Greif and Pabst (1988), Edwards (1989) found that out of the 100 non-custodial mothers she surveyed, more than 90 percent expressed satisfaction with their decision to relinquish custody because they felt that it was in the best interests of the children financially, physically, and emotionally.

Fischer and Cardea (1981), on the other hand, found that mothers had a difficult time coping with their non-custodial status. This research indicated that non-custodial mothers were under a great deal of stress, were economically disadvantaged, and lacked a sufficient support system. Herrerias (1984) asked 130 women to reflect on their experiences with custody relinquishment. Twenty-two percent of these mothers regretted their custody decision, citing experiences with low self-esteem and non-psychotic depression.

Edwards (1989) found that the women in her study used a variety of coping tactics, some positive and some negative. Methods of coping included staying in contact with children, keeping a journal about their feelings, staying physically active, reading self-help books, using pills and alcohol, going to therapy, staying active with people, and staying busy.

Santora and Hays (1998) asked their 26 participants how they had coped with the status of non-custodial parent. The majority pointed to the need for a non-judgmental social support network composed of family, friends, other non-custodial mothers, and support groups to help them in adjusting to this role. When asked what they would recommend to other women in similar positions, the women recommended redefining one’s role as a mother, recognizing that this is a time for grieving, allowing this process to take place, using prayer and spirituality, educating oneself about women’s issues, and doing things for your children (e.g., making scrapbooks). Of the 26 women inSantora and Hays’ (1996) study, the majority (69 percent) experienced significant levels of anxiety and/or depressive symptoms, half reported significant health problems, and five of the women were using antidepressants.


The research of the 1990s began to focus on women’s experiences within the court system and how custody was actually determined within the legal system. As more fathers were awarded custody of their children, the reasons for this increase were explored as well as mothers’ visitation, child support, and overall treatment in the system. Using data from 509 divorce cases in Michigan during the early 1980s, Fox and Kelly (1995) examined who was most likely to receive sole physical custody in final court judgments. Their findings indicated substantial gender differences in the effects of socioeconomic and legal process variables on custody outcomes.

More specifically, they found that fathers were more likely to gain custody of older male children than female children. When shifting attention to socioeconomic factors in custody decisions, they found that mothers were more likely to be awarded custody of their children if they had a college degree. Education did not play a role in the court-based custody decision for fathers. Mothers’ income had no effect on whether or not she obtained custody. On the other hand, fathers with high incomes were less likely to have custody of their children. This was not because the court was unlikely to give higher income fathers custody, but was related to the high opportunity costs involved in being the sole custodial parent of a child or children. In other words, these fathers opted to not go for custody. Courts were less likely to give custody to unemployed fathers while women’s employment status had no effect on custody decisions.

Shifting to the legal process, findings indicated that when husbands were the plaintiffs in custody cases, they were more likely to obtain sole custody of the children (Chesler 1986; Fox and Kelly 1995). Fox and Kelly (1995) argued that this finding was indicative of the shift to gender-neutral custody outcomes. This study also found that when a court investigation took place regarding the children’s current living situation that fathers were more likely to gain custody of the children.

Using 1153 court case records from 10 Minnesota counties in 1986, Christensen, Dahl, and Rettig (1990) examined the differences in treatment of non-custodial mothers and fathers by the courts. Christensen et al. (1990) found that non-custodial mothers pay child support less frequently than non-custodial fathers. More specifically, out of 114 non-custodial mother cases, 38 mothers paid support. When non-custodial mothers paid child support, they also paid less child support than non-custodial fathers (i.e., 20 percent of their income versus 25 percent of fathers’ income). Upon closer inspection, it was found that non-custodial mothers pay less because of their disproportionately low incomes in comparison with men. More specifically, non-custodial mothers had a net yearly income that was about 63 percent of non-custodial fathers. Non-custodial mothers were likely to be employed in jobs with few fringe benefits and were also less likely to have pensions in comparison with non-custodial fathers.

To some degree, studies during the 1990s drew attention to the connection between child custody and domestic violence. Rosen and Etlin (1996), for example, found that judges were more likely to give custody of children to abusive fathers because of the assumption that battered mothers were unable to take care of themselves (i.e., could not stop the abuse) and therefore could not care for or protect their children.

The non-custodial mother: Current knowledge (2000 to present)

The descriptive studies conducted during the 1980s and 1990s provided much needed background information about non-custodial mothers. With the exception of Chesler (1986), Greif and Pabst (1988), and Herrerias (1984), these studies lacked theoretical depth. As research continued into the 1990s, similar trends continued until the middle of the decade. At this time, a more theoretically rigorous examination of non-custodial mothers’ experiences became apparent. In particular, Clumpus (1996) used a social constructionist framework to understand mothers’ experiences with social stigma, whereas Babcock (1997) examined social stigma through the use of identity theory. During this decade, we also saw a shift toward focusing more on structural forces that affect women’s experiences in the courts and during visitations with their children.Stewart (1999a) discussed how a mother’s economic situation as well as her living arrangements could impede her ability to see her children. Both issues are intimately connected to gender. Studies by Fox and Kelly (1995) and Christensen et al. (1990) also point to how gender and economic situation affects women’s experiences with custody and child support.

Studies on non-custodial mothers from 2000 up to today have been minimal. Bemiller’s (2005) recent qualitative study, used 16 one-on-one interviews to further understand the connection between being a woman and motherhood in Western society. This study explored how non-custodial mothers define and enact motherhood in a society that emphasizes that mothers should be the primary caregivers for children. Bemiller notes that non-custodial mothers are perceived as ‘deviant’ mothers because they live apart from their children most of the time and therefore are unable to be full-time, intensive mothers. As a result, non-custodial mothers struggled with their role as mother, vacillating between accommodation of dominant definitions of motherhood and resistance of the same ideology.

Other research has drawn attention to non-custodial mothers’ experiences within the family court system. Adding to past research on child support payments, Grall (2007) reported that non-custodial mothers’ and non-custodial fathers’ child support payments were comparable. The proportion of mothers (47.3 percent) and fathers (43.1 percent) receiving full payments of child support in 2005 were not statistically significant. In addition to Grall’s census report, a report from the National Organization for Women (NOW) documented women’s experiences with family court dysfunction in California (Heim et al. 2002). This report found corruption, denial of due process, and gender bias in the family courts. Similarly, The Wellesley Centers for Women published a report that examined violations of human rights laws and standards in the Massachusetts family courts. These violations included failure to investigate allegations of child abuse in contested child custody cases (Cuthbert et al. 2002).

In an attempt to further understand the effects of interpersonal violence (IPV) on custody outcomes, Kernic et al. (2005) completed a retrospective cohort study of 2,516 couples with children under the age of 18 years in Seattle, WA. The authors found a history of IPV in 11 percent of the cases that they examined. Kernic et al. (2005) found that mothers with a history of IPV were no more likely than comparison group mothers to be awarded child custody, although overall mothers in the study were more likely to be awarded custody of children than fathers. The authors also found that fathers who were known perpetrators of IPV were not expected to have third-party supervision during child visitation, but were often remanded to counseling. The overall findings of this study led to the conclusion that IPV is often not identified within the custody proceedings even when there is a documented, substantiated history of IPV present, and that there was a lack of strong protections ordered among cases where a history of substantiated IPV was known to exist.

Future directions

Although the scholarship of motherhood is alive and well within Sociology, the focus on non-custodial mothers has been limited. This article has provided an overview of some of the seminal studies conducted during the 1980s up to the present. As noted, the majority of the studies completed during the 1980s and 1990s were descriptive, lacking theoretical analyses (for exceptions see Babcock 1997; Chesler 1986; Clumpus 1996;Greif and Pabst 1988; Herrerias 1984). Although these studies provided important background information on these women, they did not theoretically frame their experiences, nor did they provide a detailed examination of social forces that affect non-custodial mothers.These omissions open up many possibilities for research with this population of women. One area that deserves attention is the social construction of motherhood for non-custodial mothers. With the exception of Babcock (1997) andBemiller (2005), researchers have failed to examine how non-custodial mothers define motherhood as well as how they enact mothering in light of the contradictions that exist between personal and social definitions of motherhood. It is important to understand how non-custodial mothers define motherhood and mothering because these definitions affect how they perceive themselves as women and mothers. How non-custodial mothers define and enact mothering may influence their day-to-day interactions with their children, ex-spouses, and family. It may also affect how they cope with the status of non-custodial parent.

Along these same lines, recent scholarship on motherhood has addressed the need to examine the diverse experiences of mothers in relationship to the intensive mothering paradigm. Non-custodial mothers provide a unique opportunity to examine accommodation of or resistance to the intensive mothering paradigm. Because these women do not live with their children the majority of the time, and because they are often in financially unstable situations, these mothers may have a difficult time intensively mothering their children (e.g., cooking for them, buying for them, and nurturing them). Bemiller (2005) has examined this issue with 16 non-custodial mothers, but further research must focus attention on non-custodial mothers and the intensive mothering paradigm.

Social stigma also warrants further examination. In her study of 100 mothers, Edwards (1989) reported mixed reactions regarding non-custodial mothers’ experiences. Some of the women in her study spoke of being stigmatized by family, friends, and acquaintances, whereas others pointed to the strong support that they received from people in their lives. Thus, not all women incurred harsh judgments because of their status. Babcock (1997), on the other hand, found that all of the women in her sample had experienced stigmatization, leading them to redefine the role of mother. Babcock argued that this redefinition of the mother role was connected to the social construction of motherhood. Further exploration into non-custodial mothers and social stigma would be useful. In particular, future research should focus attention on factors that lead some women to define their personal interactions as non-custodial mothers as stigmatizing while others do not. Like Babcock’s findings, new research may continue to find a connection between the social construction of motherhood and the definition of and internalization of stigma.

The relationship between custodial and non-custodial parents must also be explored. Past research has given this topic cursory attention, but has failed to discuss how the relationship between parents affects non-custodial mothers’ access to children and their feelings about motherhood. Although motherhood can be empowering for women (Collins 1987; Johnson 1988), it may also be viewed as disempowering if mothers do not have access to children. Given the barriers that some non-custodial mothers face when attempting to see their children, it is important to understand the short and long term effects on the family.

Last but certainly not least, research should continue to explore the connection between domestic violence and child custody in the family court system. Recent research has documented that fathers receive custody of children despite allegations of family violence (Kernic et al. 2005; Neustein and Lesher 2005; Rosen and Etlin 1996). To better understand how and why this happens research must continue to evaluate court processes and decision-making strategies. In particular, research should focus on court appointed custody evaluators, addressing how they handle contested custody cases that involve allegations of domestic violence.

The above-mentioned are only a few suggestions for areas of exploration. Research opportunities are numerous within this population of mothers. Future research should continue to explore the diversity of contemporary family life, contributing to our understanding of motherhood, fatherhood, and family as gendered social institutions.

Short Biography

Michelle Bemiller is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Kansas State University. Her research is located within the areas of gender, deviance, and criminology; she has authored or co-authored refereed articles and book reviews in these areas forSociological Focus, Journal of Family Issues, Gender & Society, Contemporary Sociology, and the Criminal Justice Review. She is currently completing a multi-method analysis of occupational burnout amongst sexual assault and domestic violence workers in the state of Kansas. She holds a BA in Political Science/Criminal Justice from the University of Akron, an MA in Justice Studies from Kent State University, and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Akron.


* Correspondence address: Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, Kansas State University, 204 Waters Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506–4003, USA.


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Sociology Compass 2/3 (2008): 910–924, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008.00117.x

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