Celebrate mothers – and all parents – on Mother’s Day and beyond
As Mother’s Day nears, first and foremost, let’s celebrate all mothers – they are a critical part of our American society and families. Importantly though, as a society, we must recognize that women and men together are indispensable partners to our country’s most valuable treasure: our children. We need to celebrate our children’s parents – both of them – as often as possible.
Still, in this age of gender role convergence, people are often surprised to learn just how often courts favor one parent over the other in instances of divorce or separation. Astonishingly, sole custody is awarded to one parent about 83 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, thus creating a confrontational dynamic of winner and loser/visitor. Thrusting parents into a winner-take-all arena only funds bitter custody battles that benefit the legal community yet have traumatic, corrosive and long-lasting effects on children, parents and families.
Instead, it’s time Virginia updates its laws to support shared parenting – where children spend as close to equal time as possible with each parent after divorce or separation. The important emphasis here is “as possible” since an exact 50/50 split is not mandated in every single situation. Shared parenting is a collaborative, achievable, and safe alternative that is actively supported by both women and men – as well as published by the American Psychological Association, the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, and the Association of Family & Conciliation Courts. All of these professional organizations, and more, have released empirical, peer-reviewed studies in the last one to two years that clearly support shared parenting for children of all ages in the vast majority of divorced and separated families.
We need to strengthen the modern, American family. We need to find ways to support children and encourage more parental engagement from both parents, regardless of marital status and gender. And we need to do so with an actual legal framework that facilitates this kind of equality, rather than forcing both parents to fight to simply be the parent they already were before the courts got involved. Virginia’s family courts continue to lag behind the progress the rest of the world and even other U.S. states – like Utah and Oklahoma, to name just a couple – are making. Together, we can build a supportive culture to stand for children and their best interests and eliminate bias throughout the family court system.
Another issue for U.S. families that mirrors the shared parenting concept, and one that is gaining momentum in the private sector and government, is paid family leave. And just like shared parenting, parental leave is a parental issue — not just a mother or a father issue. It is time to apply gender parity to the arena of parental leave, as well.
As husband and wife, we personally look forward to growing our own family, and we each plan to take time away from work to form vital bonds with our future child or children in order to promote the good emotional health and sense of stability every child needs. Any parental leave law must be meticulously gender-neutral. Both parents create a child, and a child needs both parents, particularly early in life. Allowing those attachments to form strengthens the child’s sense of connection to two of the most important people in the child’s life.
Just this past May 2, National Public Radio highlighted that public support for a federal paid family leave program is “widespread and bipartisan.” According to NPR, a poll taken earlier this year for the National Partnership for Women and Families found 76 percent of likely 2016 voters say they favor the creation of a federal fund for paid family and medical leave. Of note, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation creating a paid-leave program in his state, and California just expanded its program. In fact, a prominent proponent of parental leave is Mr. Josh Levs, who played a key role in New York passing its paid-leave program. In his book, “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses–And How We Can Fix It Together,” Levs details how the best family-friendly programs (e.g., parental leave) benefit businesses and the economy.
As active members of National Parents Organization of Virginia – a nonprofit that ardently supports gender parity –we enjoyed hosting Josh Levs on May 5 in Washington, D.C. at Busboys & Poets. Josh has been named a Global Champion of Gender Equality by U.N. Women and praised by local and national media, as well as by national work/life balance gurus and forward thinking leaders. “All In” is endorsed by Maria Shriver, Bob Saget, the president of Change.org, a top official at Twitter, and others. We must preserve the bond between parents and children, so we were thrilled to host Josh and look forward to partnering with him again in the future.
In the meantime, Happy Mother’s Day to all on May 8th!
Kristen Paasch and Christian Paasch are members of National Parents Organization of Virginia.