An Excerpt From
The Script for DVD/CD of Dr. Warren Farrell
Being Interviewed by
Ms. Eileen Pereira and Dr. Dan Hogan
“Best Interests of the Child”: a conversation about child custody after divorce
Dan Hogan: What you’ll be sharing with us today is largely based on the research you did for Father and Child Reunion; and all the research is cited fully in Father and Child Reunion—is that correct?
Warren Farrell: Yes—both are correct. I feel like I’m on trial here—“yes, your honor—that is correct.”
Dan Hogan: Okay “Dr.” (since I can’t call you “young man”!), what type of research did you do?
Warren Farrell: I did what is called a meta-analysis: usually a meta-analysis is an analysis of the best studies. In the case of Father and Child Reunion that meant choosing the largest and best-controlled studies of children of divorce from around the world, though mostly in the United States. I was especially interested in studies that were longitudinal—so I could discover how children were doing not just right after divorce, but ten or twenty years later as well. I also focused on studies that revealed how children did in shared parenting versus primary mother care vs. primary father care.
Eileen Pereira: OK. Let’s start with the bigger picture. I assume that the great majority of time, the primary parent after divorce is the mom, with the dad seeing the child every other weekend and maybe one overnight in between. Is that about right?
Warren Farrell: Yes. There are no definitive statistics because definitions and arrangements are so varied, but that’s definitely the most common arrangement.
Eileen Pereira: About what percentage of single parents are single dads?
Warren Farrell: Immediately after a divorce only about 10% of single parents are dads. Yet the 2000 census shows that at any given point in time dads are 23% of all single parent households.
Eileen Pereira: Wait. How does it go from 10% after divorce to 23%?
Warren Farrell: The switch of the child from mom to dad frequently occurs in early teenage or pre-teenage years, when mom has been overwhelmed with one or more of the child’s 5 D’s: depression; discipline; drinking; drugs, or delinquency. At that point, if mom says, “I give up” and invites dad in, dad often accepts.
Dan Hogan: So then, financially, does he get the child support?
Warren Farrell: Not usually. He typically takes the children full-time and keeps a full time job; he rarely asks for government aid; he only occasionally requests child support.
Dan Hogan: Exactly what do fathers do with children that's different from what mothers do?
Warren Farrell: Studies consistently find men's style of play to involve more kidding and joking, more rough-housing, more tossing of the children in the air, less talk, less containing, and less limb-holding.
Eileen Pereira: You said Father and Child Reunion reports the conditions under which children do best or worst after divorce. If you had to rank them—by family structure—what would they be?
Warren Farrell: OK. The best situation for children is, of course, not after divorce, but in an intact family. If there must be a divorce, then the ranking is:
1. Shared Parent Time (Joint physical custody with about 50% of time with each parent)
2. Primary father time (primary father custody)
3. Primary mother time
Eileen Pereira: The last two are surprising—children do better with primary father time than primary mother time? Does this imply men are better dads than women are moms?
Warren Farrell: No. There appear to be many reasons children do better with dads that have nothing to do with the competence of the dad. For examples... single dads were generally older, have more money, more education, and, perhaps most important, they are more self-selected. Single dads in the 21st century are like women in the 1950’s who chose to become doctors—the women doctors may have done better than the average male doctor because they were more highly self-selected. People who overcome barriers are usually highly motivated.
Dan Hogan: Any other reasons—any reasons that have more to do with the competence of the dad-- or his approach?
Warren Farrell: Yes. It seems an important reason children do as well as they do with single dads is that single dads are more likely to involve mom than single moms are to involve dad. But the moms also contribute positively here: single moms are pro-active about remaining involved when the dad has the children. They are less likely to go off and find another dad with children. The upshot of all this is that the single father family better simulates the intact family in which children do the best.
Dan Hogan: You mention, though, that primary father time is the next-to-worst form of family arrangement after divorce. Would you elaborate on the optimal arrangement for children of divorce?
Warren Farrell: Yes. Shared Parent Time (joint physical custody with about 50% of time with each parent).
Eileen Pereira: Are there conditions under which shared parent time works well or less well?
Warren Farrell: Yes. Three conditions are necessary if children of divorce are to have the best odds of doing about equally well to children of intact families: · About equal involvement of both parents· The parents live close enough that children don’t need to forfeit friends or activities· No bad-mouthing
Eileen Pereira: Before we get to the importance of equal involvement, let me have you spend some time on the importance of father involvement. What are some of the differences between children exposed only to moms versus those exposed to both parents? And are the benefits of dad mostly for boys?
Warren Farrell: Daughters are equally affected. Here’s a first example of the difference. A study of teenage mothers in inner city Baltimore found that one-third of their daughters also became teenage mothers. But, among children who had a good relationship with their biological father, not one daughter or son had a baby before the age of nineteen. (The study is by Furstenberg and Harris.) Anyone who knows studies of teenagers knows how rare it is to find a condition in which not a single teenager engages in any given form of self-destructive behavior.
Dan Hogan: That’s teenagers. Some states still have “the tender years doctrine”—that children in their youngest years need mostly their mom. Is it true that younger children need only—or mainly--their moms?
Warren Farrell: No. It’s false. For example, an Israeli study published in Pediatrics found that the more frequently a father visited the hospital of an infant who is prematurely born, the more rapidly the infant gained weight, the more quickly it was able to leave the hospital, and the better its social-personal development and its ability to adapt.
Dan Hogan: That’s significant. Social-personal development is obviously a key to a happy life and the ability to adapt to an effective life. We’re talking about infants and babies here. Can you give an example of social skills that are impacted by fathers at such an early age.
Warren Farrell: Well, psychologists at the NIMH—the National Institutes of Mental Health--have found that boys who have contact with fathers display a greater trust level even by the time they are five to six months old. For example, they are friendlier with strangers and more willing to be picked up. They also enjoy playing more, and are more verbally open. Verbal openness and play are two outgrowths of trust.
Eileen Pereira: Does contact with dad in infancy affect IQ?
Warren Farrell: Yes. These same NIMH psychologists found that these boys with a lot of dad contact in their infancy also have a higher level of both mental competence and psychomotor functioning. A higher level of psychomotor functioning is, by the age of three, associated with the development of a higher I.Q.
Eileen Pereira: So does this translate into everyday problem-solving skills?
Warren Farrell: Kyle Pruett, of Yale University’s School of Medicine, found that when dads had the primary responsibility for infants, the infants often performed problem-solving tasks at the level of those four to eight months their senior.
Eileen Pereira: What are the social policy implications of father involvement?
Warren Farrell: When we think of crime, we think of factors like poverty and drugs. In a study of 11,000 children in different urban areas, poverty was not a predictor of violent crime among children who lived with their dads. The crime rate was higher only among the children without fathers at home in comparison to those with dads at home. The association in the public consciousness of poverty with crime appears to actually be the outcome of poverty’s children having less association with dad. Similarly, the most important factor by far in preventing drug use is a close relationship with Dad. In a sense, the crime is less dad.
Dan Hogan: Other implications?
Warren Farrell: Yes. Students coming from father-present families score higher in math and science even when they come from weaker schools. We can get a sense,then, that the poor educational performance in the United States in the past twenty years, especially in math and science, might have more to do with the absence of fathers than with the quality of schools.
Eileen Pereira: So if you were to recap these findings?
Warren Farrell: I’d be at a loss for words! Let’s see...; father involvement helps premature infants develop; dad involvement adds to the development of everything from I.Q. to trust, to better education, and to the prevention of crime. And dad involvement discourages our children from having children when they are still children.
Dan Hogan: [Dan] You mean it inhibits teenage pregnancy?
Warren Farrell: Yes.
Dan Hogan: [Dan] Then why didn’t you just say that?! [Smile.]
Dan Hogan: [Eileen] Dr. Farrell, why do guys do that—tease each other like that, or is that just him?
Warren Farrell: No. Here. I’ll answer that question in a way that will get him to do that again. I’d say, “The commerce of male adolescence is the trading of wit-covered put-downs.”
Dan Hogan: [Dan] You mean guys rib each other a lot?
Warren Farrell: Perfect.
Eileen Pereira: [Eileen] Perfect example. So why do guys do that? It seems boys do that to each other and dads do that with sons and even daughters. Isn’t that the dad acting immature?
Warren Farrell: It’s boys’ unconscious way of preparing themselves to be successful. You can’t become successful without learning how to handle criticism. When a boy gets the criticism he learns to change so he no longer gets criticized or laughed at for that reason, or he learns to not let it bother him, or he shoots back a criticism until the other guy learns to improve so he doesn’t get the criticism.
Eileen Pereira: [Eileen] Wow. That makes sense, but it’s sad. Do dads do this with children for the same reason?
Warren Farrell: Yes.
Eileen Pereira: Can’t that go too far, and can’t the boy “take it” on the surface but be hurting underneath?
Warren Farrell: Yes to both questions. And that’s the value of both dad and mom working together. He teaches the child how to handle ribbing and criticism, and she helps make sure it doesn’t go too far. The mom and dad may get into a fight over this, but they fight because neither realizes how important the other is to balance their tendencies.
Dan Hogan: But wait. Do dads or boys do it for that reason?