PARENTS

Can Dads Ever Bond As Closely With Their Children As Mums?

04/09/2012 11:18 | Updated 22 May 2015
dad and childGetty

Friends of ours are getting divorced at the moment. It is painful to watch from the sidelines, as they tear each other to shreds. Typically, their tug-of-war is over who should have custody of the couple's eight-year-old daughter.

The dad works long hours for the police force; the mother is a childminder. It's a no-brainer, surely?

My wife and I were talking about this the other evening. Since we swapped roles at the beginning of the year, I've effectively become a childminder to our three children, aged nine, seven and four, while my wife works long hours as a publishing executive.

'If we split up, who would get the kids?' I asked.

A no-brainer, surely? Not according to my wife.

'If we couldn't agree on shared custody, then it would be me,' she replied. 'Because I'm their mother.'

I was taken aback by this. I have been our children's main carer since January. Our eldest is my stepdaughter, who my wife and her ex-husband effectively share: she lives with us during the week, and stays with her father at the weekends. It works a treat.

But what if – heaven forbid – my wife and I were to split up and the situation wasn't so harmonious? Would my wife really have the right to full custody of our two sons, even though I am a full-time father? Wouldn't we both have equal rights to share custody?

Apparently not. According to a report in the Daily Mail, a review of family law due to be published tomorrow will reject plans for equality over who gets the kids. The Family Justice Review, led by David Norgrove, will also reject calls to "enshrine in law the principle that children should have a 'meaningful relationship' with both their mother and father".

"Instead, it will simply say the courts should keep the idea of a meaningful relationship in mind when they made decisions about a child's future," says the newspaper report.

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This begs the question: if parents can't agree on custody arrangements, and there's to be no legal obligation to share, then which parent should keep the kids?

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Except in extreme circumstances, there is an automatic assumption that it should be the mother. But according to Bob Greig, founder of www.onlydads.org, a support group for 200,000 dads raising children on their own: 'A father's love bond for his children is as strong as any mum's.'

But it's too often the case that courts don't see it that way, and instead of granting equal rights to warring parents, "many dads are awarded limited ongoing contact - once a fortnight seems to be an unofficial benchmark for many - and these love bonds get strained," says Bob.

After a year as a full-time father, I couldn't agree more that a dad's love is up their with the mother's. Up until then, I was a fairly typical breadwinning dad. But when I lost my job through redundancy and my wife and I took the decision that has changed ours – and our children's – lives, possibly forever. She and I swapped roles. She was able to get a job in the company where she used to work before she quit to become a stay-at-home-mum, which meant that I would become a stay-at-home-dad.

It took me a whole to adjust to my new role, but more significantly is how our children adapted. Almost with a shrug of their shoulders, the kids started to accept me as the parent-at-home. They asked me to help with their homework, asked me to read them a bedtime story, asked me to take them to the park and – most painfully for my wife – they came to me first when they were injured or upset.

If they had a fall, instead of holding outstretched arms towards their mother, they held them out to me, with big fat tears in their eyes, the request 'Cuddle' spilling from their lips.

I took, charge of dressing them in the morning, preparing their meals, paying their school lunch money, taking them for treats after school. I accompanied them on school trips, ferried them from playdate to party.

The biggest breakthrough, though, was during the school holidays. It used to be a time I would dread because of the sheer hard work of keeping three kids of different ages entertained, but instead we had enormous fun. They helped me cook, they helped with housework. We went exploring in the park, visited family and friends. And best of all, I taught my oldest son to swim.

I have never felt this close to anyone in my life. When I was working, I didn't really know my kids; but now I'm at home, I know every nuance, every expression, every conniving little trick they have in the open books of their young personalities.

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Am I closer to them than their mother is? Can fathers ever have as close a bond to their children? Well, let's just say it depends. And what depends most is which parent is around the children the most which, right now, is me. And if that doesn't entitle me to a share in their lives if their mother and I break up, then I don't know what does.

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