Friday, 10 July 2015

Motherhood - running with the children

I don’t know the facts about the Rebecca Minnock case - what allegations she has made and why the child, having lived with her for the first two years of his life, was ordered to live with his father. I do know however that some people of either gender falsely claim to have been (or their child to have been) abused by their ex-partner and that in addition to the damage to their actual victims, false allegations also make it far more difficult for genuine victims to come forward.  I also entirely believe that judges are right to reprimand people who break court orders and flee, especially in order to gain publicity. To think otherwise would deny the point of having a justice system and risk the courts losing their authority entirely. 

However, I think we should look carefully at the views stated by Mr Justice Coleridge. He expresses the opinion that children should be handed over to the full time care of the father if the ‘mother’ persistently defies court orders. On the face of it this may appear entirely reasonable given that it is usually women who are the ones who defy court orders and refuse contact or make ordered contact difficult. However, unpicking the truth and deciding where a child should live is very difficult and we need to address the question of why some mothers do, on occasion, withhold contact.  

Unfortunately these kind of disputes are unlikely to be straightforward and there is probably a lot of hurt on possibly both sides but I believe that women usually, though not always, do everything they can to protect their children from what they may see as not being in the child's best interests, sometimes even to their own detriment. Of course, making false allegations of abuse, perhaps even letting the child believe it, is hugely damaging to the child but it is entirely possible that even if a court order is in place, the mother may not have been represented well (or the father represented better) and she may still have real and valid concerns. 

Another problem is that courts are sometimes very dismissive of the very real pain caused by relationship breakdown particularly when one party has behaved really badly and whilst an amicable state of affairs is obviously best for the children, the primary carer’s emotional welfare should be considered as a part of the child’s interest. I’m sure that most people agree in theory that children should have the right to have a relationship with both parents but children should also have the right to a life where their emotional, psychological and physical health is paramount and forcing their mother into compliance and even criminalising ones who are afraid (perhaps wrongly) for their child’s welfare is not going to solve issues in a family but likely to add to them. 

There is obviously a very pressing need to try to understand why a mother may feel that she should ‘protect’ children from their own father in this way. Some women do act out of spite and a desire to hurt the person who hurt them but most know that this will eventually rebound on themselves. I think that many more actually believe that by denying contact she is protecting her children from a real danger. This fear needs to be properly addressed through greater family liaison and genuine family mediation.

However, if after mediation those fears are found to invalid and there is no actual danger to the child, we need to look at why some women make these claims, not on an individual basis but in a more general sense.  Why do some women feel such anger towards men that they once loved and what makes them behave in this way? Perhaps in doing this we all need to consider the devaluation of the role of motherhood in the last 30 years or so. Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood, examines the ways in which society has diminished the value of women when they become mothers and addresses the work that mothers are doing, which few people pay attention to. She says that, ‘when a woman accepts what everyone agrees is the most important job in the world, her economic contribution literally disappears off the charts…’ Perhaps one of the reason some women do make false claims is because they feel society’s complete lack of appreciation for their role as mothers. It’s hard to believe that we are actually living the Margaret Atwood nightmare where motherhood is so devalued that poor women become surrogates for rich couples. And these devalued women …they who have carried their children and bonded with them from the moment they were conceived - perhaps they feel aggrieved that now their relationship has broken down, maybe through no fault of their own, that they should be separated from the children who have been with them their whole lives and who are now ordered to be split down the middle 50/50. 

It is also worth bearing in mind that Mr Coleridge heads up a pro marriage charity – he is a judge who is very much of the view that a child needs both parents. But is he really considering the needs of the child? By taking the child away from the mother who has defied court orders and making the child live with the father, he is of course ‘punishing’ the mother, arguably rightly so, but also he is taking the child away from the only person and the only stability he has known for his whole life.

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