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Dr Penelope Leach and Kate Winslet

In her book, 'Family Breakdown: helping children hang on to both parents', Dr Penelope Leach, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birckbeck College in London and former president of the National Childminding Association, says attempts by separated parents and family courts to “share” young children are putting “adult rights” above those of children. 

The book argues that “when people say that it’s ‘only fair’ for a father and mother to care for their five-year old daughter on alternate weeks, they mean it is fair to the adults – who see her as a possession and her presence as their right – not that it is fair to the child”. She goes on to describe “clear evidence” that in certain circumstances overnight separations of a very young child from the primary carer are highly stressful and that repeated experience of high-level stress is potentially damaging to brain development and secure attachment.

The book also takes aim at the family-law profession by arguing that “when a lawyer bids for his client to have his baby or toddler to stay overnight each weekend they are both ignoring clear evidence that such overnight separations from the mother are not only usually distressing, but also potentially damaging to the brain development and secure attachment of children under about four”.

A spokesman for New Father's 4 Justice group said: “Leach's advice sounds like absolute

poison and potentially terribly damaging to children's development. Overnight stays with fathers from as early an age as possible is crucial if children are to form strong attachments with both of their parents.”

Ian Maxwell, of the charity Families Need Fathers, said Dr Leach's argument was “worrying” for fathers and went against “common sense”. “The bond between fathers and children is just as important.” “The idea [of] maternal bonds being the strongest goes back to classic attachment theory, and I think we've moved on quite considerably since then – and also the involvement of fathers in their children's lives has also developed quite considerably.”

This was a view echoed by Dr Linda Nielsen, writing recently for the American Psychological Association. She said that arguments in favour of mother-only parenting only appealed to people who rely on the outdated argument that “females have a maternal instinct or neurological structures in their brains that better equip them to bond and communicate with infants”.

Dr Penelope Leach has based her assumptions on the work of Jenn McIntosh Ph.D in Australia who developed similar guidelines. Both women are wrong in assuming that it is the deprivation of one parent or the other that causes significant damage to children. This idea is based on the flawed theory of 'Maternal Deprivation'. 

In an interview for Vogue magazine Oscar winning actress mum-of-three Kate Winslet reflected this attitude when she said,
My kids don’t go back and forth; none of this 50/50 time with the mums and dads – my children live with me, that is it.”

This view of child care arrangements post separation struck a chord with the action group Fathers4Justice and their campaign pictured Kate Winslet on black and white posters with the caption: “Kate, every child deserves a father this Christmas.”
Fathers4Justice said: “We are running this advert as part of a campaign to highlight the sensitive issue of four million children waking up on Christmas Day without their father. It is clear from what Kate says that she does not support ‘Shared Parenting’.”
Kate, gave birth to a son with third husband Ned Rocknroll, meanwhile her ex-husband, film
director Sam Mendes – dad to Kate’s nine-year-old son Joe – jumped to her defence, saying:
It is inappropriate for this organisation to involve my family and I when they know nothing of our personal circumstances".

However her first husband Jim Threapleton, father of her daughter, Mia, 13, has spoken out in support of ­Fathers4Justice in 2004, saying, 
“I empathise with the fathers, although I do not agree with the militant side of what they do”.
Dr Penelope Leach is effectively arguing that children should remain with their mothers. But if this logic prevailed celebrities like Kate Winslet would never be able to have a family and pursue their own careers. It is because we now know that children are not damaged by 'deprivation' that mothers no longer need to feel guilty about pursuing a career.