I was asked by a group in England to try and define what is meant by "shared parenting." Below is my attempt on this Christmas Day.
In a stable and civilized society when a man and woman conceive a
child together they have a moral contract, whether state sanctioned or
not, obligating them to mutually raise that child to adulthood. That
contract requires them, in the absence of death or disability, to love,
nurture, educate, clothe, and house their children together; in other
words, shared parenting.
It is implied that carrying a child to term today is a voluntary
act and that acts of passion do not lift the moral burden of
parenthood. And neither the mother or father can shed that moral burden
if society is to endure. Nor can a court or other state agency sunder
that contract in the absence of disability or moral turpitude proven
beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury of their peers.
However, it is quite plain that people change as they age, and
nowhere is that more evident than with children. Clearly babies need
their mothers as males don't lactate. But as children become teenagers,
while both parents are still needed, experience shows they usually grow
into mature adults best if their biological father is present and
active in their lives.
Ideally, as the passion of the parents fades with age, they grow
into best friends and share the joy of parenting their children
together. However, life is ofttimes not ideal and the parents grow
That in no way alleviates the burden of the moral contract they assumed
when they became parents. But forcing the parents to live together may
make the situation worse. Be that as it may, there is no reason the
mother and father cannot live in close proximity to one another until
the children are grown so the little people can go freely back and
forth between mom and dad at their pleasure and whim.
In my experience such arrangements have taken many forms. In some
cases the parents simply live in different parts of the same house,
ofttimes due to economic circumstances. At other times parents have
what I refer to as a "duplex marriage." Mom and dad have separate
residences in the same apartment building, condo complex, or even homes
in the same neighborhood, with the parents sharing responsibilities as
life's fortunes dictate. But human relationships have virtually
infinite dimensions and cannot be specified in law or court. The
critical factor for shared parenting is, regardless of the parents
arrangements or relationships, that they live in close enough proximity
that their children can easily walk the distance between them.
Clearly the role of the State in such arrangements is minimal or
non-existent. One might suggest the law and courts might require the
parents live within a specified maximum distance of each other while
the children are growing up. It is very difficult for a parent to
fulfill their moral contract if the other parent has absconded with the
children to another state or country.
Where the parents are economically stressed, suffering from
sickness or disease, or otherwise troubled, the role of social agencies
must be limited to providing assistance to the parents. As noted above,
only where moral turpitude has been unquestionably proven may the state
justifiably terminate parental rights. Even then the children must go
to their nearest relatives rather than strangers whenever possible.
Above all it must be remembered that children are to be shared and
loved, not made pawns of by vindictive parents or controlled by the
State. On this Christmas Day I can only imagine the terror and fear
suffered by children whom the State has forcibly taken from their
parents and cast into foster homes run by all-too-often uncaring
strangers. And the heartbreak of fathers and mothers who have lost
their children on this day-of-days when all the family should be
gathered 'round sharing the blessings of this Christmas Day is
gut-wrenching to contemplate.
Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.
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The good men may do separately is small compared with what they may do collectively.