Why two parents are not a panacea

September 5, 1997

I was perplexed by the solution proposed by Paul Ormerod and Robert Rowthorn ("Why family ties bind the nation", THES, August 29). Contrary to their belief that "it is mainly men who break their (marital) commitments"; the great majority of divorces are sought by women, mainly for reasons other than desertion or (the husband's) adultery. Given that a good many of these women end up as single parents, unable to support their family adequately, how is their marital "contract" to be enforced against them?

The assertions that the "main losers are women" and that men "abandon their responsibilities" are also questionable. On the first point, research done by, for example, One Plus One, seems to provide evidence that men suffer more stress than women after divorce (I suspect that lone fathers may not conform to this pattern, however).

The latter assertion puts me in mind of Frieda Lawrence's response to those who accused her of abandoning her children when she left her husband for Lawrence. In a society which takes it for granted that one sex will keep the children and family home on divorce, the other sex really has little choice but to "abandon" them. Having been deprived of one family, the temptation to start another and focus on it is naturally great. If we want men to behave responsibly, we should start treating them justly.

And in fact that may be the answer that professors Ormerod and Rowthorn are searching for. Faced with the virtual certainty of losing their home and children, men tend to shun divorce except in extreme circumstances. Faced with the possibility of losing their home and, unless they can find ways of cooperating after divorce, perhaps their children as well, no doubt women too would think long and hard.

But that is all society should demand of them, I believe. Having interviewed many thousands of young people over the years, I can assure the two professors that two-parent families are not a panacea, and we should not expect spouses to tolerate anything and everything in order to maintain them. Indeed, of all the models, lone father families seem on the face of it to be best for the children.

Penny Tucker

Hartley Wintney, Hants

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