The legal system has come a long way toward treating fathers more fairly when it comes to custody and visitation arrangements. While there are still complaints on both sides, those of us in family law strive to get parents to cooperate, treat each other with respect and recognize that both parents should participate in their children’s lives. However, society’s own biases can surface in unexpected places and damage the relationships we work hard to support. While we can influence parents we come into contact with, we can’t control other people.
I raise this issue because of a column in The Atlantic. A divorced father sent a question to the ‘Dear Therapist’ column. The dad complained that while his daughter frequently attended playdates and sleepovers at her friends’ homes, none of them have accepted his standing invitation to play/sleep at his home. His ex-wife informed him that none of their former friends will allow their daughters to visit his house, “because I am a single man—on the theory that men are more likely to be sexual predators.” Not only was he hurt that his friends viewed him this way, their bias meant he and his daughter were losing out on creating memories in their home and it sent a sexist message to all of the children about men.
The therapist did a great job of advising him how to deal with this issue. In particular, it was good she raised the fact that his ex-wife should be helping in this as well. Parents must be mindful of their own and other people’s prejudices especially when they affect their children. During a collaborative or mediated divorce process, I try to work with parents to lay a foundation for them to continue to communicate and cooperate about matters affecting their children. If that can be achieved, discussions like the one between this father and his ex-wife would be made easier.
Divorce is hard enough on kids. Let’s all look for ways to make it easier on children including putting aside prejudices about fathers and mothers.