There is a lot on my list to blog about this week and I was just about to go to bed and leave it for tomorrow. But then I happened upon this rather unpleasant, ill judged piece by our PM on the Telegraph website. What a nasty little thing to write on Father’s day, when so many dads who would love to be taking responsibility for their children are being prevented from doing so. It does rather give an impression that Cameron’s world is not that of the people.
I understand that Cameron is coming from a particular place, having lost his own Father since last Father’s Day. However, I do wonder at the sense of perspective in raging at dad’s who go “AWOL” when there are so many other things to focus on – both in the world at large and in terms of the question of families and fathers. Of course there are many irresponsible, absent, disinterested fathers, and some fathers who behave inappropriately to their kids and partners, or who are plain dangerous. But where – in this championing of fatherhood, of the family, of the importance of two parents raising children – are the proposals to enable those fathers to “spend time with their kids at weekends, taking them to the football or the playground; to go to the nativity play and take an interest in their child’s education” as Cameron urges them to do? I don’t think Cameron used Mother’s day as an opportunity to bash mothers who withhold contact without good reason.
Many fathers have no excuses for not doing these mundane things; many others would love to have been playing a bit of knockabout footy today but cannot. And many more will soon be unable to effectively ask the courts for help in maintaining these relationships in future because Cameron’s government is about to slash the legal aid that will enable them to go to court when their children’s mother is refusing to allow them to play a role in their kids’ lives (The Legal Aid Bill is expected this week).
When it suits the Government it wheels out the traditional family values line – today its all about bashing a few feckless fathers. But next week it will suit the government to brand those desperate attempts to keep in touch with children through the courts as petty disputes that do not warrant our support. Parents should be grown ups and should be able to sort these things out themselves, or so it goes. And often that is true. But as we all know, separating parents are often not very grown up, and from his experience of raising children himself Cameron will no doubt know that good behaviour is not hard wired, but environmentally driven – it requires a set of rules, an authority figure and a means of enforcing that authority: we call this boundaries. For kids it might be time out, withdrawal of privilege. For parents it is the law and the courts. Leaving them settle to disputes in the themselves invariably ends in bloody noses and tears. Telling kids not to do x, y or z will have no effect if they know you never follow through on consequences. Family courts are not of course primarily punitive, but as research has shown the existance of the ultimate authority of the courts is part of the backdrop to successful mediation and ADR.
I’ve said my piece, but I hope David Cameron will be shown this heartfelt and poignant open letter in response to his Telegraph shennanigans and I hope he (and the Ministry of Justice will reflect upon it).