If you're a regular reader of the Daily Mail, you will have read yesterday that more boys aged 15 have a smartphone than live with their father.
This is the latest report from the Centre for Social Justice, an independent think tank set up in 2004 by Iain Duncan Smith and Tim Montgomerie. It's safe to say they're right-leaning.
Yesterday's report bemoaned a "growing culture of disposable dads" To me, this suggests a certain amount of prejudice, suggesting that women have gone out, found a man and got pregnant, and then disposed of the father. This bothers me for oh, so many reasons.
The report predicts that by 2015, there will be two million single parent families. Gingerbread quote that already one in four families is headed by a single parent - and that this figure has remained constant since the mid-1990s.
But where Gingerbread are all about supporting single parent families in whatever situation they find themselves, the CSJ seem to be all about "oh my gosh, what a terrible thought, let's do everything we can to avoid there being any more single parent families, ever." As if we are some blight to be eradicated, removed, stamped out of society.
The CSJ thinks the government should do things like scrapping fees for weddings in a registry office, replacing Sure Start Children's Centres with "Family Hubs" that provide "family support" and doubling the Transferable Tax Allowance.
I agree with the CSJ that when parents go their separate ways, or have never been properly together, this can cause trauma for all concerned. An insecure family life can cause insecurities that carry on long into adulthood, and often then repeat themselves across generations. But an insecure family life can be just as traumatic if warring parents stay together "for the kids."
|She seems pretty happy to me!|
I disagree with the CSJ that single parent families are a terrible thing that should be prevented at all costs. For S and I, being a single parent family remains the only viable option. I am 100% sure that my child is happy, secure and developing well. I am also 100% sure that she would be none of these things, were her father on the scene.
Whilst it may well be true that half of the poorest children start school from "broken homes," as the report so delightfully put it, I see no benefit in separating single parent families from two-parent families when discussing poverty or anything else. We should be aiming to assist all parents, everyone struggling with poverty. Every child deserves the best possible start in life, regardless of whether they live with one parent or two, whether they live with a same-sex couple or in a foster home or with extended family or next door's dog. Every single child deserves the best start. That is what we should be focusing on. I see nothing to be gained from segregating children by how many parents there are at home.
Yes, it is sad that one million children lose contact with their grandparents as a result of separation or divorce. What the CSJ fails to mention is that a lot of the time, this is down to the estranged grandparents not making an effort to maintain relations - or because the estranged parent doesn't bring the child to visit grandparents.
To me, the scandal is not that more children are being raised by single parents; it's that single parents are still being stigmatised and treated as second class citizens. It's that reports like this are still coming out, denigrating the effort that goes into being a single parent, talking about "disposable dads" as if single parents are a) all women, and b) using men only to get us pregnant and therefore secure us benefits and a council house.
The sad fact is that although more 15-year-olds have a smartphone than a father at home, for a lot of those kids, the smartphone is probably a lot more use to them than their father has been. This report makes it sound as if the estranged fathers of the world are all sitting there quietly, excluded from their children's lives by evil harridan women who put their own desire to be rid of their ex ahead of their child's need for a father. The fact is many men get a woman pregnant and run. Many men disappear from their children's lives, and make little or no effort to remain a father figure once the relationship with the mother has dissolved. I would put more money on there being more of these, than the quiet, hard-done-by man who has done nothing wrong but is kept away from his child. Let's not forget, after all, this is the line S's father is still peddling.
And what does all this discussion of "good" and "bad" parents get us? Precisely nothing.
We can talk about all of the possible different scenarios until the cows come home, analysing all of the different ways a child might end up the product of a "broken home" (God, how I hate that term), and we would still have all of the same statistics at the end of it.
What we should be doing is ploughing all of the time, energy and money that goes into the CSJ's prejudiced reports, into helping all parents and all children to have better lives.
By all means, scrap registry office fees for marriage; but scrap fees for divorce too. And fees for family counselling. Let's make it so that cost is never going to be a factor in whether a couple stays together, and so that whether they remain a couple or split, the child is hurt as little as possible, and all are supported to the best possible outcome.
What do you think? I would love to hear your opinion on this.