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CALGARY HERALD - December 15, 2002
Divorce puts kids at risk, say experts - Research shows
higher rate of clinical depression
(Headline, front page, City section)
Children of divorced families have high
clinical levels of depression, and a greater likelihood for
suicide and other emotional problems, according to recently
completed research by a Calgary expert in the field.
Lesa Wolf, the Calgary Counselling Centre’s
Children’s Program Leader, said depression in children of
divorce has serious implications for their future, and the
research results also point again to the importance of shared
parenting responsibilities - a hot topic these days throughout
“During separation and divorce, parents often
get hung up in conflict regarding their children,” said Wolf.
“These conflicts are very damaging to the kids and should be
avoided by using a parenting plan. Once parents agree on a
logical parenting plan for sharing responsibilities and making
decisions concerning their children, damaging conflicts can be
Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon
introduced changes to the Divorce Act recently to make the
process less adversarial by changing confrontational words in
the Act - “custody” would be changed to “parental
But critics say a parliamentary committee’s
recommendations on shared parenting, making mothers and fathers
equal under the law, were ignored and legal experts say there’s
nothing radically new in the changes.
The situation has once again thrown the
emotional issue back into the spotlight as organizations across
the country continue to lobby for shared or equal parenting
reality in child custody cases.
Wolf said there are studies now that show the
divorce rate decreases when divorce laws favor a shared
“By and large, it’s much more beneficial to
have both parents involved,” said Wolf. “It’s hugely important.
Children deserve to have a relationship with both parents. Kids
are very upset and disturbed when they are separated from one
parent. It’s hugely important that shared parenting is part of
their life after divorce.”
Wolf’s research measured depression in youth
coming to the Calgary Counselling Centre for medical treatment.
She found that 62 per cent of children from divorced families
have clinical levels of depression, compared with only 18 per
cent of children from non-divorced families.
More than 40 organizations across the
country, claiming to represent more than 100,000 Canadians, have
signed on to an equal parenting platform they have presented to
the federal government.
They want the government to amend the Divorce
Act to include a clear statement that each child is entitled to
the presumption of equal parenting time with both parents.
Gus Sleiman, of Calgary’s Men’s Educational
Support Association, said “Canadian children and parents are
witnessing the continued erosion of their rights.”
Brenda Mignardi, of the Toronto-based Putting
Children and Families First organization, said “the impact of
inadequate parenting is manifesting itself annually through
hundreds of child and youth suicides, youth crime and many
related child behaviour problems.”
Claudio Violatto, a psychologist at the
University of Calgary, agreed that children in fatherless homes
are at high risk to “all these kinds of problems.”
.....Continued from page E1
DIVORCE: Shared Role
And the heart of the shared parenting
proposals is making sure fathers in divorced situations have
equal parental responsibility in the raising of their children.
Violatto said there is overwhelming research
about mothers and children, but until recently there has been
little attempt to conduct research into fatherhood.
“Unquestionably, fathers are as just
important as mothers. They are central to children’s development
and well-being,” said Violatto.
“We finally all realized to what extent
fathers and fatherhood are neglected in our research. It’s
becoming increasingly obvious that the father’s role is
Robert Glossop, executive director of the
Vanier Institute of the Family, said he was pleased to see over
the past 15 years a “fairly significant shift to acknowledge
more shared custody arrangements” coming out of the court
“It’s ideal and preferable when the parents
can agree to implement and consistently apply a fashion of joint
parenting,” he said.
“This does take the spotlight away from the
parents and puts it back on the children.”
He said it’s obvious that children who have
the love and support and affection of both parents are better
off than those who do not.
“Fathers do have an important role that has
not been sufficiently recognized in the past,” said Glossop.
And that role includes the emotional and
psychological development of children.
“Children who can bonded to or closely tied
to both the mother and the father benefit greatly,” said
“The vast majority of parents at the time of
separation and divorce do figure this out.”
In the past, the role of the two parents was
defined as either instrumental or expressive. Typically, the
father fell into the instrumental role. Earning money to provide
for the family. Also being cast in the role as disciplinarian.
The mothers were identified in the expressive
role. Making sure there was a “nice even emotional tenor around
the home,” said Glossop.
But today, the roles have changed. With
mothers entering the workforce, fathers have adopted the
expressive role. Mothers have adopted the instrumental role.
Both parents have taken on both roles.
“There is an increased emphasis in involved
fathers,” said Glossop. “Perhaps they were shortchanged in the
1950's when their contribution to family was so narrowly
circumscribed to the instrumental role.”
But, despite the changes, Glossop said it is
still possible to identify different kinds of contributions and
different styles of parenting between mothers and fathers.
The running of a household still largely
falls into a mother’s hands. Men are more likely to actively
engage their children in activity.
Over time, there will be a greater similarity
in the way mothers and fathers raise their children, he said.
Even feminist author Betty Friedan, who wrote
the controversial best-seller The Feminine Mystique more than 40
years ago, sees the benefits in fathers taking a more important
role in the family.
"Women have had too much power in the home
and it’s not been good for the family," said Freidan in a 1999
interview. “It’s really better for the family that women get
some power in society, and then they don’t need to have all that
power in the home.
"It’s better for children, and better for husbands and
fathers, to share the power in parenting."
© Copyright 2002 Calgary Herald