I’ve just been fiddling with my SatNav. I zoomed right out and managed to get the whole of Western Europe on the screen, although this didn’t particularly help me with my one mile journey to the local shops!
While I was fiddling, it made me think about the Children and Families Bill, and about the need to ‘zoom out’ for some useful perspective.
There has always been a direct link between societal norms and legislation.
Most significant shifts in societal norms have led to corresponding changes in legislation. Anti-discrimination legislation for people of different race, gender and sexual orientation all eventually followed in the wake of changes in society.
However, in each case, resistance from what I shall call ‘the forces of conservatism’ was powerful. There were significant vested interests in the status quo, and those who stood to lose out were not going to accept change without a fight!
In each case, honourable campaigners for justice and reform were discredited, undermined, attacked and even murdered.
Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ touches my heart each time I read it. It is the quintessential cry of any person facing discrimination and demanding fairness and justice.
Now, I perfectly accept that Matt O’Connor of ‘Fathers 4 Justice’ is NO Martin Luther King Jr!
However, his demand for justice for children is Righteous. It is Good. It is Honourable.
A child surely deserves to enjoy the love, care and guidance of both its natural parents.
The ideology of parenthood of the 1960′s and 70′s saw the mother as the ‘natural’ carer and the father as the ‘natural’ financial provider. Family legislation reflected this ideology.
Of course, societal norms have now changed. In 21st century Britain, BOTH genders are now viewed as natural carers and financial providers.
Has family legislation fully caught up with this societal change? No.
Do fathers face systematic gender discrimination? Yes.
Is such discrimination perpetrated via the artificial legal constructs of “resident parent” and “non-resident parent”? Yes.
I am a good, responsible and conscientious parent. I know I am because a judge found me to be so!
And yet I was forced to endure two periods of separation from my beautiful children: firstly for 8 months and subsequently for 1.5 years.
I now see my children once a month in a motel room in Eastern Europe.
Any genuine ‘meaningful involvement’ in my children’s lives has been significantly undermined.
I am not alone in my experience.
There are thousands of perfectly good and caring “non-primary carer / non-resident parents” (mainly fathers) who face similar discrimination in Britain today.
To the “discrimination deniers”, to those who seek to preserve their vested interests in the status quo, and to those who are simply unaware of the discrimination, I say, think of that child, think of what he is missing, think of what you might say to him if he asked you why he couldn’t see his father.
Let us open our hearts and minds.
Let family legislation properly reflect the realities of modern parenthood.
Let us support Tim Loughton MP and his ‘Shared Parenting’ legislation in the Children and Families Bill.