Sunday 18 March 2018

How it works

A local charity provides support for families that are struggling in one way or another. That is, in fact, their focus and their purpose.

One of their volunteers recently wrote to one of the paid coordinators, about a particular family, when it became apparent that the mother was proposing to walk out on the father, taking their young boy with her. The question the volunteer had, was whether anyone had suggested other options to the mother, in terms of support for, or improvement of,  the relationship; or had even told her that this might not be in the young boy's interests (given that this charity is dedicated to family support). The volunteer mentioned that research tended to support this view.

In response he was told that research can be used for many purposes, and while in an ideal world a child would tend to fare better with two parents at home who have a good relationship, if the relationship has broken down, the child would be better off if the parents separate.  And then the kicker: Those of us in the office who have been through divorce, feel it would have been to the detriment of our own children to remain in an unhappy marriage.

There is so much to unpack here. The first is the statement that research can be used for many purposes.  Of course it can. That's not the point at issue: the question is, is the research reliable? And what does it suggest?  For, whatever other uses research might be put to (such as inducing guilt, which I suspect lies behind this comment) an appropriate use is precisely to inform policies of agencies such as this.

The second is the false antithesis: a child with parents in a good relationship, versus a child with parents whose relationship has broken down. That suggests that relationships can be so categorised, in the first place; and secondly that a relationship that has been deemed to have broken down is necessarily beyond saving.  Both are very questionable propositions.

Of course, a child doesn't want his parents fighting all the time. But we know that the vast majority of children want their parents to stay together. So why is it so unthinkable to explore the option of staying together and making the relationship work?

And the clue to that is in the last sentence: because I have had a divorce, and my friends have, it must be acceptable. 

Dismissing research, and then using such an argument is extraordinary. Any researcher knows about confirmation bias: that tendency to notice and lend weight to things that support what we want to believe. And of course a mother who has left her children's father has a strong psychological interest in justifying her decision to herself. She knows she is not a bad person, and would not choose to do anything to the detriment of her children. So of course she looks for (and finds) evidence to support that belief.

Moreover the women in the office have jobs and stability - to some extent they can shield themselves and their children from the consequences of their decisions. But their clients, people who are already struggling to hold their fragmented lives together much lower down the social scale, are in a very different position.

But rather than face the facts - or at the very least, the implications of the research - they flee into denial. The rich and the middle classes indulge their vices, and the poor suffer - just as with pro-abortion campaigning.  That's how it always works.