This is a guest post by Nicole Kettler for Mother's Day 2020. Nicole was the February 2020 FUAN Advocate of the Month. Thanks for sharing your experience with our readers Nicole.
Disclaimer: Nicole Kettler's opinions are her own and may or may not reflect the official position of Families United Action Network.
I have a meme that hangs in my office that says the following: Aw; you think being a mother is a thankless job? Try being a Stepmom on Mother's Day. This is the dark reality of spending Mother's Day without your step kids. They won't be allowed to call me to wish me a happy Mother's Day because “I'm not a real parent.” My husband will buy me a cheesy card and some flowers, but it will not make up for the step-kid sized hole in my heart.
What is worse than that feeling, one might ask? What is worse is knowing that my husband and thousands of other fathers feel those feelings every single day. I took on the role as a parent voluntarily. I knew what I was getting myself into, and while some might say it is hard to love kids that are not your own, I find the opposite to be true.
Loving my step kids comes easy and natural to me. I have never felt better than our weekends with the boys, and knowing this is the role that life has called me to.
And while my husband did sign up for the role of being a father, there are many things he did not sign up for. He did not sign up for only seeing his kids 5% of the year. He did not sign up for missing every birthday, and most holidays. He did not sign up for spending thousands of dollars and YEARS in family court for trial to continuously be pushed out. Years, while the kids continue to get older, and time continues to pass. All that time we will never get back. Time that can never be made up.
But this story is not unique to us. It is the story of thousands of fathers across the United States who continue to be failed by a system that makes 50 billion dollars a year off these cases. It is the story of attorneys who work unpaid to fight for a cause they believe in. And the real sadness is the injustice being done to the children. Judges often turn a blind eye to a mother's actions.
Some mothers might be…
- lying about their income for child support calculations
- violating their parenting plans knowing fathers can't afford to take them back to court
- alienating kids from their dads, and ultimately causing many fathers to give up. Sometimes leading fathers to suicide.
Every week it is estimated that twenty-one fathers take their own lives because of child access issues. Yet family courts continue to keep fathers from their children. We should be asking ourselves how fathers asking for 50% of their child's time is not already an implied right. Fathers are chastised for doing so. They're told that they will need to agree to less time if they want moms to comply. As an American, I don't understand how anyone could look at our current family court and how they handle custody disputes and think; “Yes, it's in the best interest of the kids to hardly ever see their dad.” Sure, there are cases where abuse, drugs, alcohol, etc. come into play, but those cases are the exception and not the rule.
This Mother's Day, I will be continuing to fight for a cause I believe in, and that is dads receiving equal access and time with their children. Before becoming a stepparent, I would often hear people talk about issues in family court. I didn't pay those comments much mind because they didn't apply to me.
Now I look at the bigger picture and wonder how I lived under a rock for so long. I urge you to read just a few facts below. Research more by going to https://www.familiesunite.org/ to find out how you can help America's children by becoming involved in the fight for equal rights for all parents:
Divorce affects one million children each year (Baker A. a., 2008).
When a child's father is actively involved in his or her life, the child has better academic results. (Jones & Mosher, 2013)
The incarceration risk of a child living with just his or her mother is greatly increased compared to that of a child living with just his or her father and is equal to that of a child living with both parents. It is an even more significant chance of incarceration if there is a step-father or a step-father figure living in the home. (Harper & McLanahan, Center for Research on Child Well-being)
Children in sole custody situations have far more sleep problems, difficulties concentrating, loss of appetite, more frequent headaches, stomachaches, and dizzy spells, and report feelings of depression and general sadness more often than children placed in custody situations where Shared Parenting is involved (Bergstrom, 2015)
Research shows that Shared Parenting would result in fewer cases of truancy, delinquency, gang-related activity, juvenile crime, and teen pregnancies. (Holstein, 2015)
Up to 75% of all teenagers enrolled in chemical and substance abuse programs come from single-parent homes. (Holstein, 2015)
85% of incarcerated individuals raised in single-parent homes. (Holstein, 2015)
Of children with non-resident fathers, only 17% see their fathers at least once a week, and the other 83% see their fathers less than weekly. Of that 83%, at least 40% of those children have not seen their fathers at all during the previous year. (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2015)
So as Mother's Day 2020 approaches, we need to recognize the harm we are doing to children by depriving them of the love and time of a parent. We need to focus not just on moms that may be celebrating without their children, but also on the children who are being torn because they feel guilty for feeling love for a parent that they do not get much time with.
We need to start re-thinking what a divorced family looks like. Moms and stepmoms, dads, and stepdads all need to be in this together to raise emotionally healthy children.
Baker, A. a. (2008). Working with Alienated Children and Their Targeted Parents: Suggestions For Sound Practices for Mental Health Professional. Psychotherapy & Integrative Health.
Bergstrom, M. F. (2015, April 28). Fifty Moves a Year: Is There An Association Between Joint Physical Custody and Psychosomatic Problems in Children? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Harper, C., & McLanahan, S. (Center for Research on Child Wellbeing). Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.
Holstein, N. (2015, May 21). Reining in our nation's family courts.
Jones, J., & Mosher, W. (2013). National Health Statistics Report: Fathers' Involvement with their Children: United States, 2006-2010. US Department of Health and Human Services.
US Department of Health and Human Services. (2015, April 17). Office of Adolescent Health. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from Fatherhood E-Learning Module: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/resources-and-publications/learning/fatherhood/