A quick follow up on my last post now that mother and son in the transfer of residence case in the UK have been found (it seems mother gave herself up to the police). My major concern about this case is that it will now be affected by the gendered reactions in the media and society as a whole. It seems that when fathers try to raise concerns about the family courts they are considered to be either bitter, revenge seeking or controlling but when mothers raise concerns, suddenly everyone is listening and feeling sorry for her. This is the gendered aspect of this case, the gendered assumptions that society makes about men and women affect our responses to such situations. Thus, if the mother has had her child removed from her for some it must be because she has done something really really bad (because mothers who lose their children by default must be worse than men because it is a mother’s role to care for her child) and for others if she has had her child removed it is because she is a victim of patriarchal control.
I am concerned that the gendered public reaction to this case will change the outcome of it. I am concerned because in my experience, if the mental health professional concerned – Mark Berelowitz – has recommended a change of residence then that child must be very much in danger from his mother’s behaviours. Thus, if the public outcry succeeds in changing the outcome then a) that mental health professional’s judgement is simply pushed aside and b) what’s to stop any other mother who doesn’t agree with the outcome of a court case from picking up her kids and doing the same? This judgement needs to stick and the media and the public need to be educated to understand that this is about the wellbeing of the child, NOT the needs or beliefs of the mother.
The public also need to be educated to understand that a transfer of residence is not about complete removal of a child from the mother’s life but about giving power and control over outcomes to the healthy parent, the one who can promote a balanced life. It is the public and the media who are in need of education and information and it is the public and the media who need their gendered assumptions about what a good mother and a good father actually means. If this becomes trial by mother’s sob story and mother’s needs, then the publication of the case is going to damage this child and others in future cases in similar situations. I sincerely hope that DJ Wildblood, Mark Berelowitz and the rest can ride out this storm and that the right decision which has already been made, is upheld and carried through. This is about healthy and unhealthy parenting, it is not about good mothers and bad fathers.
I fear it will not be long however, before the women’s rights groups begin to use this case in the media as ‘evidence’ of how fathers pursue mothers and the impact on mothers that this brings. They can do that because of the gendered assumptions inherent in our society which are played on by the media. This story is key because it is public, it is about enforcement, a key issue in the family courts and about the way in which the child’s wellbeing must be put at the heart of what we do in these cases. It is about healthy and unhealthy parents and how to give the child the best chance possible. The gendered aspects of the case itself are not important but they will become important if those core issues are obfuscated via the media playing on gendered assumptions in society at large and particularly if that succeeds in changing the outcome. I am waiting for one of the women’s rights groups to step forward and champion this mother, this could so easily be turned into a gender war which will affect the family courts, family services and decisions made by mental health professionals for many years to come.
But this is not a case about the mother’s needs, the mother’s wellbeing or the mother’s wishes and feelings, it is a case about the wellbeing of a child. A child who is at risk from his mother and who needs to be kept safe from the harm she has already caused to him. Some mothers harm children physically, some harm them emotionally and psycholgically. If she were breaking his arms and legs society would feel comfortable with what this Judge has done, because we cannot see the harm she is doing society appears less concerned about the child and the media definitely seems more interested in the mother than the wellbeing of the child. Watch with mother. This could be a critical point for family law in which we take a strong and powerful step forward for children. Or not.