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By Nikki Coco

The narrative is all too common: woman and man meet, they share an intimate connection, which may or may not lead to marriage or a long-term relationship, woman becomes pregnant, a beautiful child is conceived and later – birthed. Alas, the relationship does not stand the test of time, as the fairytale would otherwise have us believe. Things happen.

What is perplexing, however, is the tendency for women to use their children as ammunition, as part of an intricate ploy to somehow strike back at their ex-partner. This retaliation is often due to any wrongdoing [ongoing or not] that may have been committed by the man in question – be that adultery, stealing, lying, etc. Ridiculous, I know – yet all too real. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter what the man may have done – provided that it is not something that puts his child in direct danger – if his sp*erm went into assisting with producing the child’s life, he should have the right to access the child at his leisure. Like it or not, that child is as much his as it is the woman’s and in spite of one’s seething anger toward him, which we hope will one day subside because we all know that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” it’s just never okay for a woman to use a child against a man or vice versa, though the latter is rare.

The issue rather, is that many women are at an unfair advantage because well…they are women. According to the 2009 U.S Census Bureau Statistics on custodial mothers and fathers, only about 1 in 6 custodial parents were fathers (17.8 percent). And of course that should be attributed to the system of patriarchy that has ascribed women the role of nurturer and caregiver. But who is speaking out on behalf of the fathers out there who are actively seeking to be a part of their children’s lives but, unfortunately, are having their attempts met with resistance when confronted with an ex in a court of law, all because of a relationship gone awry?

It is simply unfair to a man who has everything working against him, especially when we have the stereotype (and reality) that men are less present in the raising of their children, something that is being talked about very much in the media, as well as through anecdotal points of reference. However, fathers who genuinely seek to be present in their children’s lives shouldn’t be overlooked because of a few bad apples. While it is true that often when separation or divorce ensues, a man is more likely than a women to shirk the responsibility, we still cannot allow for those scenarios to take precedence over the few, if only – who are genuinely interested in the well-being of their children but are repeatedly shut out.

If we look at the reverse-case scenario, we know that women are more likely to win sole custody by virtue of the fact that they are women.

According to the Custody Place:

Even in the modern world, there are more stay at home moms than stay at home dads so, that accounts for some of the advantage. Status as a “primary caregiver” does get favorable treatment. Even in the modern world, women more commonly work on a schedule that is conducive to parenting; eg. getting home and picking the kids up before dinner. Men work longer hours outside the home on average and that accounts for a great deal of the disparity between fathers and mothers winning custody.

There are also certain occupations which lend themselves to custody. These are occupations where the parent works only while the children are at school or sleeping. For example, some nurses often work from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. three days of the week. Teachers are at work while the children are at school and off work when they are not. Those occupations traditionally employ a greater percentage of women than men. Once again, accounting for some of the disproportions.

So, even if we objectively view the roles of men and women as shifting, they simply are not moving a fast enough pace to ensure that fathers have enough access to their children because the dominant narrative has not changed. Now, I have a problem with adhering to the status quo – always have, always will. Let’s trouble the idea of women being at an unfair advantage in custody proceedings, because as stated, it comes as a result of a system of patriarchy. And so since the role of women has changed in the sense that they have entered the workforce in droves, are becoming increasingly educated and are no longer being confined to the bounds of motherhood, the home, or the full-time role of cook, cleaner and laundry-doer, [and please note that I’m not one to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with doing any of the aforementioned, so long as it is a woman’s choice to do so] – some are still clinging on to the notion that women should be the primary decision-makers in the lives of their children.

Contrarily, the roles and views of men have equally shifted, albeit not at the same pace, wherein men are slowly beginning to realize their worth as fathers by increasingly accepting parental leave after the birth of a child and actively seeking joint and/or shared custody in divorce proceedings and rightfully so. Nowhere should it ever have been written that women are the sole proprietors of motherhood. Somewhere along this collective journey of re-writing the narrative of parenting, more and more of us need to question the tactics that are being used to keep children away from their fathers (and the advantages that allow this to happen), along with re-writing the parenting handbook as we venture along, so as to make the experience more inviting for all parties involved, with the children’s interests taking top priority – of course.

Nikki is a Toronto-based writer, whose musings cover a wide range of topics incuding but, not limited to: politics, love, education and cultural criticism. You can follow her on Twitter @artculturemusic.

*Opening image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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