However, after hearing Penelope Leach's views on staying contact for Dads, I felt I had to respond. Or at least tell our side of the story. So bear with me, this could be a long one.....
My step daughter is 9 and I have been with her father since she was 4. My husband has always had a difficult relationship with his ex (they were never married) and the main reason for this is the fact that she denied contact of him and his daughter on the grounds that he didn't know how to administer an asthma inhaler (he did know). My husband eventually had to go to court to get a court order for contact with his daughter. He also went to court to get parental responsibility, as despite the fact his name was on the birth certificate she was refusing him any rights. This all happened before I met him. Contact with his daughter has gradually increased from a few hours twice a week to staying contact 2-3 times a week. Although, this increased contact has not come without a fight or resistance from the daughter's mother. She has fought my hubby every step of the way to try and ensure that he sees his daughter as little as possible. She of course, denies this and claims she 'facilitates contact' for them. She has openly said that he sees her 'enough' when we questioned the little time he has with her.
In the past, when she stayed with us at the weekend, she would arrive at 5pm and go home at 12pm the next day. Of course, we never got to do anything with her, besides early morning swimming and her mother would moan we never took her anywhere! My husband asked for shared contact at the weekends, so that one weekend she would be with us and the next with her mother etc. She refused, but agreed to extend the 12pm drop off time to 4pm. This is now the routine for three weekends a month and one weekend we get her from 4pm Friday to 5pm Sunday. He also asked to share her birthday (at his daughter's request I should add) as she has never been at our house on her birthday, again she refused. He is 'allowed' to pick her up at tea time on her birthday, which of course, is better than nothing, but does not take into account the daughter's wishes. Christmas is the same, he is allowed to pick her up at 4pm on Christmas Day and return her on Boxing Day. Occasionally, she will let us have his daughter for New Year, but she does this reluctantly and makes a massive deal out of it. All the while, their daughter is asking for more time with us at Christmas, birthdays and New Year and her mother refuses. We have also had issues over Mother's and Father's day; she expected her daughter to be with her on Mother's Day (quite rightly) but then wouldn't afford my husband the same privilege for Father's Day, until after some protesting by my husband and the daughter's request, she finally agreed, but there were conditions to it.
Of course, in all this, it isn't about me, my husband or the ex. It's about the daughter. When she comes to us, she is integrated in our family and our life; I treat her like my own daughter, although I don't discipline her, she is made aware of my expectations, like picking washing up etc. We take her on holidays (when her mother allows us to), we take her on days out etc. When she was 5 she met my mum and dad and despite everything, they absolutely adore her and treat her like their own Granddaughter. She is always getting parcels through the post off them and they love to have her visit. We have all gone on holiday together and my step-daughter adores them too. She is a complete member of our family. We are not babysitters, who have her for a few hours a day and then take back to her mum.
My point in all this is that, my step-daughter greatly benefits from the arrangement we have. She is a more rounded person; she has more experiences. She has a large, extended family she enjoys and benefits from. She is happy, contented and has two little brothers whom she loves to pieces. How can this be damaging to a child?
What is more damaging is a mother who denies or refuses contact for a child with their father purely for selfish reasons. I know my husband's ex would prefer we never see his daughter, but that's down to her own selfish reasons of wanting her daughter for herself, or indeed, to punish my husband for, in her opinion, not paying enough maintenance (maintenance is an entirely separate issue, but just for the record, my husband pays 1/3 more per week than the amount required according to his salary). Some mothers use their children as weapons to punish and that is more damaging than staying with their Dad at the weekend. Of course, each case should be viewed in its own circumstances; a child shouldn't stay with any parent where there is a risk to the child of course. But if each parent has a stable home, a suitable environment in which they live and are able to care adequately for the child and of course, the child feels comfortable in staying with either parent, then there is no reason why a child can not ENJOY contact and indeed, staying contact with both parents. What kind of a society are we living in where we are still claiming the mother is more important? Of course, a mother can offer different things than a father can, but to withhold either, without just cause, is, in my opinion, more damaging than staying at their Dads.
I know there are people out there, generally mums who have to deal with their ex's new wife, that will disagree with me. However, I do understand their selfishness and indeed their jealousy. It would break my heart if I had to share Charlie if me and my husband split up. But I made a commitment to my child when we decided to have one - that child needs both parents, not just me or a mother. Charlie adores his father and I could never take that away from him, no matter how much I hated his father. I could not punish Charlie for what had gone on between me and his Dad. It just wouldn't be fair. The ones who disagree with me and agree with Penelope will be the mothers who see their children as property and believe that it is their right to decide whether the child should stay with them or go and stay with their Dad too. They forget that two people made that child and that a father has rights too. Of course, I am not advocating that a child stays with their father (and indeed the mother) if there is a risk or if they are consistently unreliable and let the child down all the time, for instance. But I have seen all too often, a mother refuse contact for the father as a method of punishment and this is not fair on the child.
Penelope says that the child's right should always outweigh those of the parents - indeed and I agree whole heartedly. But she neglects the fact, that a child's right is to have contact with both parents, by saying that children shouldn't stay at their Dads.