I recently joined the following discussion in the Family Law Professionals group on LinkedIn: "In your opinion, how young is too young for week-about access?" "Week-about access" was defined as alternating weeks. I noticed that the answers varied significantly, depending upon a person's inherent biases, beliefs, assumptions and values. For example, one person said, "The child belongs to NEITHER one of them exclusively." Is it any surprise that someone who views a child as a possession would answer the question from a "parental rights" perspective? In fact, someone responded, "children are 'not sofas' you must do the right thing for their sake!" Those who looked at the situation from the child's perspective and what is best for them, tended to answer the question very differently than those who viewed the child as a possession. As might be expected, the issue of emotional bonding was raised throughout the discussion. While unusual for me, for over a month I was simply "watching" the debate from the sidelines rather than participating. Having been involved in discussions with many of these individuals over the past several years and/or through reading the comments they made, their perspectives were rather predictable. In other words, people are somewhat predictable, once you realize their underlying assumptions, values, biases and beliefs.
On October 11, 2013, I finally decided to contribute to the discussion, but my comment was not what anyone would have expected. It was as follows:
"'A first-ever international comparison of the labor force in 23 industrialized nations shows that Americans ages 16 to 65 fall below international averages in basic problem-solving, reading and math skills, with gaps between the more- and less-educated in the USA larger than those of many other countries.' As I have said before, the "elephant in the room" on this issue is the manner in which parenting impacts the learning process. Every teacher I know talks about the 'Teacher-Student-Parent Triangle.' The trouble is that many parents don't seem to believe that they need to be involved in that triangle. However, without three points, you have no triangle, but instead a flat line. According to Merriam-Webster's collegiate® Dictionary, 11th Edition, one definition of a flat line is 'to be in a state of no progress or advancement.'
'There is far more to parenting than procreation. Under typical circumstances, having children is the easy part and parenting them properly is a completely different story.'
'The fact that so many parents seem incapable of considering the welfare of their children, especially during and after the dissolution of their romantic relationship with their co-parent, is an ongoing theme throughout my writings. I consistently hear parents and their advocates argue that 'the rights of the state are subordinate to the rights of fit parents.' The key terms and phrases involving such 'parental rights' are as follows: 'fit parents', 'fitness', 'unsuitable persons to be entrusted with their care, control, and education, or when some exceptional circumstances appear which render such custody inimicable to the best interests of the child', and 'parent properly nurtures, maintains, and cares for the child.' Clearly, people have very different definitions for such terms and phrases, so obviously that is an extremely subjective standard.
I am sorry that so many people want to consciously or unconsciously remain ignorant to this harsh reality and therefore don't like that I am being so forthright in my articles.'
My goodness, how many of us recall much of anything that occurred before the age 3 or 4? According to Fiona Jack, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, "Most of us can't recall anything about infancy, it's only at about 3- or 4-years of age we can start to remember." That being said, who benefits from Equal Parenting of very young children, if anyone? Isn't this more about parental competition than anything else? Parents who feel the need to have 'week-about access' is more about 'parental rights' than it is about the 'best interest of the child.' I am not suggesting that the mother should be the primary parent because every situation is different. Nevertheless, if parents were more concerned about their parental responsibilities, including their children's education, than with themselves, maybe our population would not be so poorly educated and we would not be such a screwed up 'ME, ME, ME' nation. What's even worse is the fact that other countries seem to try and emulate us. Why? What have we done that is worthy of duplication?" In fact, the US has the "dubious distinction of having the largest number of countries rating it as having a negative influence in the world."
My comment then shifted the discussion to "selfish parenting."
Donna Smalley responded as follows: "I agree with Mark Baer. Every case is different - and mothers are not automatically the best primary caretaker. But total chaos in a child's life to accommodate selfish desires of parents is idiotic. Sending children between enemy camps for equal amounts of time doesn't help anyone. As an army brat growing up, I saw grandparents and cousins once or twice a year. I knew them and loved them- and they knew and loved me. There were no cell phones or face time - expensive long distance and snail mail was it. True human bonding is not dependent on amount of time spent with another."
Marsha Malsack then commented as follows: "Why do we believe that there is an inimitable right to procreate at will with no regard as to parenting, feeding, housing, educating, clothing, safety (both emotional and physical)? Certainly we dare not even suggest that some requirements should be met by those choosing to procreate. It is perfectly OK that a male and female coupling results in a pregnancy. I am not advocating anything in particular beyond that perhaps we should not be so ready to accept free sex and inadvertent pregnancy as so culturally and socially acceptable. Would planned and responsible pregnancies end all the divorce trauma and pain to the children? Of course not, but it would probably result in a lot fewer damaged children. My comment is result of Donna's comment about selfish parents. In my view, having children without the wherewithal to parent and provide is the highest form of selfishness."
Philip Marcus then said, "Parental responsibilities start as soon as the couple agrees to have relations - even the use of contraceptives is not foolproof."
Until now, I neglected to mention my second comment, which is interrelated to issues of custody and child care because it involves how religious beliefs have negatively impacted the learning process. That comment was as follows:
"Some things are just too coincidental to actually be coincidental and we can find the connection if we look hard enough. In 'From mere coincidences to meaningful discoveries,' Thomas L. Griffiths and Joshua B. Tenenbaum said, 'By attending to coincidences, we have the opportunity to discover that our beliefs are false, and to develop more accurate theories. Our sensitivity to coincidences is not just a source of curious tales and irrational conclusions - it is one of the cognitive capacities that makes causal discovery possible, both in science and everyday life.'
I would like to point out three interesting facts about the United States compared to other industrialized countries because they are interconnected and not mere coincidence, in my opinion.
First, 'Americans ages 16 to 65 fall below international averages in basic problem-solving, reading and math skills, with gaps between the more- and less-educated in the USA larger than those of many other countries.'
Second, 'the United States remains among the most religious nations in the world, according to a worldwide study by the University [of Michigan].' It also happens to be the most religious nation in the industrialized world.
Third, "evolution is less accepted in the U.S. than any other Western countries."
This is no coincidence -- these things are interconnected. "People who are more religious score worse on varying measures of intelligence.... The three psychologists [(Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman of the University of Rochester and Judith Hall of Northeastern University)] have defined intelligence as the "ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.... Among the thousands of people involved in these studies, the authors found that gender or education made no difference to the correlation between religiosity and intelligence; however, age mattered. The negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence was found to be the weakest among the pre-college population. That may be because of the uniqueness of the college experience, where most teenagers leave home for the first time, get exposed to new ideas, and are given a higher degree of freedom to act on them. Instead, in pre-college years, religious beliefs may largely reflect those of the family." I would like to point out that such critical thinking does not occur when people attend "faith-based colleges."
In "Religion and Higher Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," Darren E. Sherkat says the following: "Religion, and especially fundamentalist Christianity, can have a negative effect on going to college.... Beginning in high school, sectarian Protestants and biblical fundamentalists have been shown to be less likely to take college preparatory coursework. Predictably, students who avoid taking courses like biology, chemistry, calculus, and British literature in high school are less likely to successfully complete college. Early family formation and strong norms against female labor force participation also hinder conservative Christians' educational attainment.... The increasing proportion of religious conservatives on college campuses has brought problems in the classroom and in residential life, particularly in secular universities. Sectarian and fundamentalist Christians often come to college with little or no preparation for understanding or tolerating ideas which confront their beliefs, or interacting with people who do not share their opinions. The focus on religious explanations for all manner of phenomena in fundamentalist communities does not conform to the standards of secular education.... In many disciplines, the scripturally based orientations prevalent among conservative Christians may give them a considerable disadvantage in coursework because it lowers the complexity of thought. Young fundamentalists are convinced that they know the 'Truth' and that perspectives which deviate from the scripted narratives of their tradition are not only false, but potentially heretical. Critical argumentation about issues in politics, history, ethics, or sociology is difficult for fundamentalist Christians, since they believe that biblical pronouncements are not only necessary explanations, but also sufficient."
Why is it that I believe that many of the issues we are experiencing in our society today are due to the religious beliefs held by many of our citizens or the way in which those beliefs negatively affect their ability to think? As I have said before, "People are entitled to their beliefs. However, a line must be drawn when the beliefs of one person or a group of people harm another person or group of people." The reality of this situation and how it plays out in real life is abundantly clear in our modern day politics. The fact that many of our politicians are clearly unable to "reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience" is harming this country and its citizens. Maybe it's time we take religion out of politics. Perhaps we should consider this next time we find ourselves voting. In fact, parents might want to consider how their values, biases, assumptions and beliefs are harming their children.
I realize that this article is by far my most controversial article to date. However, I think I should share some of the emails I have already received as a result of my posting in that discussion:
"I appreciate your 3 points - and agree they are interrelated to issues of custody and child care in family law. It is sort of frightening to me that there is not a real mechanism for teaching or measuring emotional IQ. All professionals who work with families in crises need to have a high emotional IQ and be tuned in to unspoken dynamics - and be willing to help navigate good solutions for individual families. Parents need ongoing relationship with their children. But, it is a very intuitive and subjective issue to discern where the children will really be best cared for - and many judges are not well equipped for handling those decisions. In mediation, I can sometimes get a good feel for what is going on with the parties - and then guide the lawyers to do what needs to be done. It is not an exact science. America's poorly educated adults lead to poorly educated children - and often religion is divisive and particularly problematic after divorce. Just becoming aware of those facts is a starting point for positive change."
Another person thanked me for addressing the issue of "parental responsibilities."
Karen Robbins commented as follows: "I am fascinated/horrified/disturbed by your post (in a good way). Do I think it is thought provoking? Certainly! Is it timely? Absolutely! Should everyone read and discuss what is in it? Undoubtedly! It is controversial, to be sure, but more importantly, it is thought provoking. The article is well-reasoned and well written. Everyone wants to believe lawyers are unethical, and no one wants to admit that their deeply held religious beliefs negatively impact their lives or the running of the most powerful country in the world."
Considering how the United States compares with other industrialized nations, it seems to me that we have a great deal of thinking to do. To quote Arianna Huffington, here's to "Third World America!"