Now, this is a bit of a cop out. There’s been quite a “thing” going on about Penelope Leach and her views about dads, overnight contact and all – and it’s got quite heated.
I’ve been aware of it this week, and have been catching myself up this evening. I’ve got to the point where I think I ought to post about it, but have not really been able to digest it all sufficiently to make the sort of carefully crafted blog post that would be necessary in order to avoid a general tongue-lashing from every interest group, aggrieved parent and busy body on the planet. Because this is a real hot potato, and I’ve been called all sorts of unmentionable things when I’ve touched it before. It’s the sort of topic about which people appear unable to have a civilised debate.
So, chaps*. Let me say this. This is not “comment”. It’s a bunch of links with some thoughts tagged onto the bottom. I’ll do comment later. When I have time to do it properly. Anyone who fights, swears or bitches on the comments is off. Anyone who regurgitates the same old point again and again is off. I’m not feeling very patient.
So, in no particular order :
Guardian articles : Childcare guru: small children should not stay overnight with absent parent – Penelope Leach heavily criticised over claim children may suffer emotional damage if they sleep over at absent parent’s home
Only Dads : Penelope Leach and Sleepovers
New Statesman : Why we need a single mothers’ pressure group
I’m sure there are other things I’ve not linked to here, but these are the ones I’ve successfully bookmarked.
My preliminary view is that a lot of this hoo hah is probably borne of a mismatch between headlines and the substance of the book, of a determined desire to demonstrate that some of the research that has been used to block “shared parenting” is wrong, and of a tendency to confuse or elide “shared care” with “50:50” and with “overnight contact”. I too read the initial headlines about no overnights with horror, but I’m not sure in truth that is quite what she’s saying. I’m not prepared to assume that a whole book has been accurately boiled down in a single line headline. So I’m reserving my judgment.
I’ll say a couple of things, to head off the inevitable “do you have kids?” challenge to my parenting credentials: I do. My kids are 4 and 6. In our household the traditional roles are reversed. I would not expect either of us to deny the other overnight contact after separation given that each of us is actively involved in care. Our kids are edging out of the age bracket Leach is concerned with though, but I remember no so long ago the struggles to get them to stay overnight with grandma and granddad for a rare night out – and the emotional turmoil that involved (for the eldest in particular). Their cousins however (similar ages) have been regularly staying at grandma and granddads without difficulty, no doubt not unrelated to the fact that this has long been part of their routine since separation of their parents. However, I was surprised at how much resistance our two gave to staying overnight with grandma when we tried to introduce it. It was surprisingly difficult to establish even though we were both committed to making it happen. Whether the difference in reaction between the cousins was more to do with routine / familiarity or because they were different children I don’t know. Probably a bit of both, I suspect. As a parent rather than a lawyer though, I’m struck by how some children manage change rather better than others. But of course for some children change is made inevitable by the separation of their parents, and so staying overnight with both of them from time to time is the closest they can get to normal.
I’ll go this far : IF Penelope Leach is saying there should never be overnights for under fives to the “other” parent she is wrong. Just as wrong in fact as anyone saying that all children should always spend 7 of 14 nights with each parent. That much I’m prepared to say in reliance on my credentials as a parent. That much does not require a psychology degree or an extensive survey of the research. If it’s a cop out to say it’s complicated and that the answer may be different for different children – well, then I’m copping out.
*in which I include chapesses.