Want to maintain your relationship with your son during and after your divorce? Want him to be mentally strong, emotionally stable, and develop a sense of purpose? Then The Boy Crisis, by Warren Farrell, PhD and John Gray, PhD is a must read for you.
I picked up a copy of The Boy Crisis on a whim while browsing in the Doylestown Bookshop, my local bookstore (yes, physical bookstores still exist). Coincidentally, I was there with my 7-year-old son to buy him a book. Given my worries about him in today’s society, with social media, #metoo, iPad, “gaming” and male unemployment, the title of the book jumped out at me.
The book, which chronicles the struggles that many boys face today in education, relationships and mental health struck a chord with me, both as a divorce mediator and as a father. Many of boys’ problems, according to Farrell and Gray, are caused in large part by societal constructs that discourage father involvement in children’s lives.
Take divorce, for example. The Boy Crisis confirm what most of us intuitively know — that the children of divorce, especially boys, face a troubled future. The main cause, however, is not the break-up of the family itself. It’s something secondary to divorce: dad-deprived children. Divorce laws and courts in the United States discourage equal participation of fathers in their children’s lives after divorce by forcing fathers to continue to work long hours to maintain a certain level of child support and presuming that mothers are better suited to raise children.
My own experience backs this up. As a divorce attorney and mediator, I’ve seen many kids adversely affected by the trauma of divorce. In contentious cases, mom and dad typically blame each other for the turmoil. The “solution” often imposed by the courts is to reduce the involvement of the parent they find to be the “problem” – usually dad. But it’s far from clear that dad is the problem.
The Boy Crisis suggests that conflict in divorce frequently arises because mothers and fathers have different parenting styles. Fathers, for example, are much more likely to roughhouse, enforce boundaries, and challenge kids limits. Mothers, in contract, are inclined to try to “protect” and empathize with their children. The result is that mom often thinks dad’s parenting style is wrong and poses a danger to the kids. But, as it turns out, dad’s parenting style is what counter-intuitively makes children, particularly boys, resilient. Mom’s parenting style alone is like the so-called “safe” playgrounds that actually fail to protect children by stunting their emotional development. In this respect, The Boy Crisis is a real eye-opener.
The Boy Crisis also makes the point that fathers’ significant involvement in boys’ lives can also help them envision their futures. If a boy sees a dad who is involved with his family and happy in his career, he can picture a happy future for himself. In contrast, if a boy sees a dad who is marginalized by mom and society and forced to work long hours at a job he hates, the boy is much more likely to feel that his future is bleak and without purpose, leading to alienation and depression.
What can be done about it? Farrell and Gray have lots of excellent advice for fathers, which every dad should read. In short, however, fathers should do everything they can to stay intimately involved in their children’s lives.
I personally found The Boy Crisis to be inspiring. It confirmed my belief that my involvement was important to my children’s development. Unlike the absent fathers referred to in the book, I have been very involved in my children’s care since their birth due to my wife’s shift work as an ER doctor. I’m the one that usually gets the kids ready for school, puts them to bed and takes them to their activities. I frequently feel like the odd man out since I mostly see moms doing these things. One of the statistics from the book that I found interesting was that 49% of dads who are working full-time to support the children would prefer to be full time with their children. That suggests that there are a lot of dads who want to step back from the grind of long hours to spend more time with their children. They should seize the moment, because it won’t last.
The Boy Crisis book isn’t just for fathers, it’s for mothers too. Mothers will benefit from understanding how important the parenting style and presence of fathers is in the raising of children, especially sons, to be healthy, happy and well-rounded adults.