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Mundane matters for dads

The Australian (Australia's national daily newspaper), by Caroline Overington, September 8, 2005

Divorced fathers who see their children only once a week or once a fortnight are at risk of developing a "Disneyland Dad" syndrome, where they are focused on entertaining their children, rather than developing a strong, meaningful relationship.

A report by Bruce Smyth at the Australian Institute of Family Studies says divorced fathers are often denied an opportunity to have "mundane" contact with their children, "doing ordinary things, such as just tucking them into bed, or sitting down to peel potatoes".

The report - to be included in the institute's winter edition of Family Matters, and which reveals that a quarter of fathers have no contact or see their children less than once a year - says the recent debate about child custody was "all focused on the numbers".

"It was all about 50/50 or 80/20 or 70/30 time splits," Mr Smyth said.

The preoccupation with numbers "means that separated parents can lose sight of what is most important, which is how the arrangement is structured".

As an example, he said overnight visits often took place on Fridays and Saturdays, "when dads might feel they have to take the children out. It might be better if these visits happened on a weeknight, so the father can have the experience of making the child's lunch, and taking them to school, waking up and having breakfast with them."

Mr Smyth said the "apparent obsession" with fathers for 50/50 shared parenting might reflect a desire for "time to develop Read More ..oseness with a child" by just "hanging out, talking about things".

"There are a lot of children in Australia who only see their fathers twice a month," he said.

"So their dads become these good-time dads or Disneyland Dads, who feel like they have to do something, to show the kids a good time."

Mr Smyth said non-custodial fathers often felt that the time allocated to them was "stilted, shallow, artificial and brief".

He said custody arrangements should allow both parents to experience "fluid, meaningful time, with each parent".

According to recent studies, about 34 per cent of non-custodial parents have "standard contact" arrangements, where they see their children every weekend, or every other weekend. About 26 per cent never see their children or see them less than once a year.