Solomon's Baby

Most of us know the story about the two women claiming to be a baby's mother who go to ask justice from Solomon. He offers to cut the baby in two so that they should each have half, upon which one mother relinquishes her claim, thus displaying that she is the real mother, putting love beyond mere possession. This parable runs the danger of misinterpretation. It is also a sad indictment of the justice meted out on families today.

When parents split up, the assumption is that mother cares and puts baby's needs first. The father who seeks to split a baby's life by demanding joint residence is seen as callous and uncaring. There are several flaws in this stance. The father often finds himself in the self-sacrificial position of the "real mother" of Solomon's law. Either way, he is as much the real parent of the child as the mother, not the case with Solomon's paradox.

In fact, one criticism of the Solomon's baby parable itself is that it concentrates on the adult wishes. The baby could live with shared care! With both a mother and a father, to provide the baby with two homes is not to kill or harm it by splitting it in half, but to maintain the child's
completeness and integrity, by maintaining proper links with both parents. The residence and contact model, whereby the mother and her home assume primacy, attacks the child's wholeness by denying a part of it's rightful identity.

The issue of possession that Solomon's law brings up only exists so long as the right and responsibility to care for the child is denied to one of the two parents. In fact it is the mother's urge to place possession and dominance of a child's life over the child's relationship with both parents which is the real problem. This puts her in the category of the false mother in the parable. The laws which enforce single residence also, by supporting the natural urge of one parent to act in this way, create a situation where the natural desire, on the part of both father and mother, to play as full a part in the child's upbringing, is turned into a tug-of-love situation.

To follow a little further along this analytical path, those who espouse the idea of maternal residence and paternal contact on separation are also those who have power of decision on such issues as state care, adoption and fostering. Essentially, they believe they are they are there to decide the best home and care for a child on the basis of its welfare. Obviously, for a child who has no capable parent, the issue is to find a home. But this is not the case with two willing parents available. Nevertheless, it is still insisted that the integrity of emotional ties with both parents is not an important welfare consideration compared to what is called emotional and physical stability, ie one home and one deciding parent, not two homes and conflictual parental opinion. The right of both parents to decide is treated in an equally brusque way. The child's integrity and welfare, becomes, by the time the professionals get to look at it, a concept which they are defining, not the two parents.

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the decision to foster or adopt a baby is justified, then it may be that pre-existing maternal and paternal bonds are not as relevant to its future welfare. But with two existent, willing parents, and no criminal or exceptional behaviour (as compared to what is tolerated with parents living together) towards the child, the welfare of the child must surely remain very specifically associated with the maintenance of its pre-existing bonds with both parents. This does not seem to be the consensus of interpretation of the professionals, who are apt to define the value of parents to a child according to the relationship between the parents first and foremost, assessing their ability to care for their child in this light. What is being suggested here is that professionals have become acclimatised to looking at human bonds between child and both parents as almost dispensable, providing there is one parent left to maintain the child's day-to-day care.

Of course many professionals will feel slighted and insulted by these statements. They will brandish professional codes of conduct, court judgments and their own personal ethics to show that they already do prioritise the maintenance of links with parents. Fine. Go to an average contact hearing where a mother is determined to oppose or obstruct contact and see what happens as a result. Then say it. This essay deals with the real world.

On Armistice Day, telling your child about how "Your Great Granddad took part in this war" can mean an awful lot. Almost all the professionals in child care who read this, if they look at their own lives, will be able to think of key family traits and experiences which define and enrich their own characters, or feel a sense of loss if they have missed out on this, on one or both sides of the family. Their parents do not have to have been experts in childcare for them to feel this. Whole communities tend to become defined through ancestry. To deny a parent to a child is to place great limitations on its life. The idea that a child's bonds with the adults who care for it should be decided mainly by professionals, such as teachers and childcare experts, is one which should belong in premonitory science fiction books like Brave New World and 1984, rigid fascist or communist states, but which actually exists in increasingly Orwellian states, right now.

A child's socialisation is not merely an issue of "social skills" but of social identity. Because of our accent on child welfare in terms of the expedient and the general, we have largely left this out of the count. It is a determining part of a child's life in which fathers play at least as great a part as mothers. In this context, it is interesting to note the recent media coverage of people who were test tube babies demanding to know who their real fathers are. They have to demand this because the state is or was preventing them from finding out. Their socialisation has obviously had a missing ingredient ...

Let us look at the importance to a child maintaining ties with its natural parents in greater detail? Stability is a word often used by the legal profession in connection with a child's welfare. What might "stability" mean? A lot of highly tentative and unproven stuff has been written about genes, blood ties and instincts, paternal or maternal. So it is almost certainly right to stick with what is fairly well-accepted on the basis of observation, rather than what is currently fashionable in terms of our belief in our genetic make-up, at least until sufficient progress has been made in understanding genetics.

First of all, human beings live for a matter of five to nine decades, of which roughly two are spent in childhood. We are social animals, and form bonds of love and co-dependence of which the chief ones are seldom transient, but can last for most if not all our lives. If this human truth changes in a society, it is normally not due to individuals within the family, but to laws and ideologies, changing socio-economic conditions,
natural or artificial catastrophes, in this order of importance.

Any study of outcomes for children shows a distinct statistical correlation between the parents' socio-economic performance and their own. In a host of other areas, such as emotional and physical wellbeing, the same is true. Throughout childhood and adulthood, better performance is
shown, on average, the greater the strength of relationship and support from both parents. The parents bring with them an extended family. As opposed to friendship and peer-group networks and other factors, which are in any case family moderated, these family links are normally highly durable. As one or the other parent can die early, and in any case parent-child bonds tend to be far stronger than those towards more distant members of the family, siblings, etc., and as no professional can foresee when or how this will happen, reducing the number of committed and bonded natural parents from two to one is clearly against a child's welfare interests. This is not really very difficult to understand or appreciate.

Yet parental stability is often viewed by the courts in quite a different way when it comes to separated couples. The talk is of the need to maintain continuity with school, home and friends. Lack of parental conflict is treated as an almost essential ingredient in a child's stability. These factors are treated as being of such disproportionate importance that bonds with parents are seen as secondary or conflictive. Yet when families not subject to court proceedings move to a completely different part of the country, abroad, or send their children to boarding school at the age of seven, this is deemed perfectly legitimate.

Once courts become involved, they seem to develop a very short-term consideration of a child's welfare, certainly not beyond childhood. Parent-child bonds which by their very nature need a continuity of input on both sides are almost arbitrarily chopped and changed, or stopped altogether with one parent when separated, the very reverse of stability. The importance to a child's welfare of doing everything possible to favour the socio-economic status of BOTH parents seems normally to be ignored, by simply failing to act in a way which tries to safeguard this factor for the "non-resident" (today's DoubleSpeak) parent.

Accepting momentarily this very strange professional view of stability, we also find another peculiar inconsistency. The greater the actual responsibility born by the state or non-parents in a child's upbringing, the less favourable, on average, is the outcome for the child. Throughout this piece, an assumption is made that the reader will differentiate between normal outcomes and anecdotal extremes. On average, children fare less well in institutions, when only one parent has effective parental responsibility, or when parental responsibility is reduced or denied. The reasons for this are so insoluble that whatever we do on an institutional or professional basis, they will continue to surface in one form or another,
and they are very simple. Parents normally form a strong emotional bond with their children which is life-long and absolutely unique. Professionals on the other hand seldom have care of or contact with a child for longer than a couple of years, and are very unlikely ever to
concentrate on the exclusive welfare of just one, two or three children. Even parents find this difficult, which is one of the reasons why we have two of them, and other family members to fill the gaps.

Indeed, it could be suggested that institutionalisation is bad for children, especially at a young age. It becomes especially bad if parents do not have close links and understanding with teachers or carers. On the same lines, if a child's time is divided between parents, it helps for both parents to have contact with the school and the normal life patterns of the child. This suggests that equal joint residence must be the preferred option. These arguments are supposed to be accepted by professionals, and then quite simply ignored in practice, that is to say, in terms of making sure they happen. One argument which seems self-evident, yet is largely ignored, is that each parent complements the other - divided authority is in fact the norm in a healthy family. The coincidence of official intolerance of divided authority and momoparentality in today's families is at the root of much child suffering, for it creates spaces for arbitrary, unregulated authority at every juncture.

It should thus be utterly clear, even to the most confused professional, that the first priority for every child should be that both their own parents have the main responsibility for their care, and that in order that they can carry out this responsibility of care to their best abilities, the duty of the professionals, the state - the whole edifice - should be geared towards helping and encouraging both parents in their responsibilities, not displacing them.

If professionals tend to take a different view, or to deprioritise including both parents, then they are quite simply wrong. By their influence on other people, including parents, they are doing enormous damage to our society. The fact is, this is not a competition between Frederick West and the North Wales Children's Homes. In practice, most parents who go before the Children's Courts enter well within social norms, even if at points of extreme tension in their lives they may lose control. It should go without saying that the tensions are often created by fear of the unfettered power of what the law is about to do to them.

They could scarcely be otherwise, de facto separated families are very near to becoming the majority of families in this country. Yet most of them find themselves in short order in a situation where contact with one parent, almost always the father, is either sporadic, truncated and humiliating, or non-existent. This is decided, almost invariably, not by the father, but by the mother, the state, or the mother and the state together. We can
demonise fathers, we can support mothers in doing this and we can support the law of the state. The facts are however perfectly clear. Present and proposed family policy, in which fathers have no say, is damaging our children. If we love them, both mothers and fathers, we have to oppose state policy. The childish simplicity of the stance of the courts and of mothers is equivalent to that of Solomon's ersatz mother. Somehow, the will of one of the parents, an adult, to eliminate the other has assumed primacy over all other considerations.

The simplest way to change this situation is to demand that both parents be given an equal legal duty, right and expectation of care and responsibility for their children, whether separated or together. This should only be abrogated in THE MOST EXCEPTIONAL OF
CIRCUMSTANCES, not, as now, on the basis of the mother's wishes or fine professional judgement.

Once this basic change in the law is made, it will no doubt act as a spur to the professions to start thinking seriously, for perhaps the first time, about how to systematically support all family members, not just mothers, to care for their children. Public money and resources will certainly not be lacking, because the money that is at the moment poured down the open drain of family court proceedings will simply have no cause to be expended in this way any more. We should not have to fight for this change. Sadly we do have to and we will.

Julian Fitzgerald 


Autor: Julian Fitzgerald
Erstellungsdatum 31.07.1999 G*A*B - Datum:01.09.1999              Mail: Julian Fitzgerald
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