The language and vocabulary we use say much more about us than the words alone.
In the field of family break-down, I am very aware of the language and words used by parents. Often, without realising what they are actually projecting, people use words, phrases, language which often tells me much more than they think are saying. The words used can either calm a situation or more often than not, increase and inflame hostility and conflict.
I have read many, many statements from parents in support of their proposals for parenting time. All too often, they focus on what the parent wants – starting sentences with “I want”, using self-focused language that moves the emphasis on to what the parent desires, rather than keeping the child’s needs as the heart of the statement.
Language can often inflame an already delicate situation, and create fractures and hostility where adopting a different sort of language would actually do the opposite. Such examples of unhealthy or unhelpful language are:
“I allow him to see the children”; “I have told him when he can see the children”; “I have made it very clear that the children will live with me, and they can visit him”. This type of language is frequent, it is controlling language, limiting the actions and parenting input of the recipient of such language.
“I am entitled to a large share of the assets/their pension”, “She isn’t entitled to anything – it was me who worked for it all, all she did was stay home and have babies”. This language suggests that the speaker has a belief that s/he is inherently deserving of of privileges or special treatment.
“I gave birth to them, they are MY children”; “I want MY days/time with the children”; – ie treating children as possessions
Instructive Language – You will, you must, you should…. This is directive and holds an expectation of compliance from the other parent.
Both genders are guilty of using such language – it is not solely confined to one gender or the other.
In recent history the acronyms/terms PWC, Absent Parent and NRP were and in some instances still are used as acceptable terms/acronyms to describe the status of each parent in their child’s life, the role they play and therefore the importance of each parent in that child’s life.
PWC, which is usually take to mean Parent with Care, stems from the Child Support Act 1991 – and the actual wording in the Act (s3) is person with care, and not Parent with Care.
Absent parent within the confines of the Child Support Act 1991 refers to the person with the responsibility to pay child support, this was then replaced with the term NRP in January 2001.
And NRP simply stands for Non-Resident Parent, and is more often than not, referring to fathers.
Absent parent was an incredibly insulting and degrading term to be used in a legislative act and, unfortunately, the term stuck, and was banded about by the gutter press and organisations promoting single-motherhood as yet another stick with which to beat fathers and proclaim them to be “deadbeat dads”.
PWC suggests that this person has a greater presence, a greater influence, a greater investment into their child, and therefore the one who wields the power.
NRP suggests that this person has much less presence (physical and emotional), much less influence, and much less investment into their child, and that their main role in their child’s life is simply to provide additional money.
This is such an extraordinary imbalance on the scales of parenting, these terms are actually financial services terms, in respect of who pays and who receives, they were never designed to be used as role descriptions for parents in terms of the care they individually gave to their children, or indeed the amount of time they individually spend with their child. The terms used in the legislation were never intended to be seized upon by the outside world and used in a judgemental pseudo-official way to define a parent’s status in their child’s life.
Over the last 18 months or so, people posting on the Wikivorce forum have moved away from talking about PWC (or indeed primary carers) and NRPs (and certainly Absent Fathers), and collectively, as a community, and with no prior instruction or direction by the forum management. This change in language was lead, I suspect by a handful of prominent and regular posters (both male and female), who used far more inclusive and non-judgemental terms and language, the main lead was using language and terminology that is child-focused, family-focused.
This change in language and problem-solving has been assisted in part by the changes in child maintenance and the setting up of the Child Maintenance Service, and the fact that where there is equal care of a child, the calculation for child support will be £0 – regardless of who earns what. Each parent will then have the same outgoings for their children. The push of Family Based Arrangements for child support, and the introduction of a fairly hefty collection and delivery fee were designed not only to make the system pay for itself (or at least in part), but also to encourage parents to communicate and sort out their own arrangements regarding child support.
The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced the Child Arrangements Orders and did away with Residence and Contact Orders – CAO applications now require all aspects of arrangements for a child to be considered and set out when making an application – it’s not enough to simply state you wish to have the child live with you, you must also include a parenting plan setting out what the arrangements will, including how often they will spend time with their other parent. The change to Child Arrangements Orders sought to include both parents in such arrangements rather than the old Residence Orders and Contact Orders, which excluded one parent.
The change to child-focused language on the Wikivorce forum is not just healthy and now beginning to filter down to other internet communities and forums, but the fact is that it was a natural evolution of language and approach to looking at situations to one that is child-focused, rather than adult-focused. The evolution is parent-led, and is bottom-up, rather than top-down which is so often the case with mothers’/fathers’ groups. Using language that is child- and not adult-centric goes against the tide of language we so often see from mothers’ groups and fathers’ rights groups – all of whom claim to be child-focused but so often belie their own proclamations with the information and articles they publish and share. Posting anonymously, with a purely altruistic ethos with no interest in personal gain or having their ego massaged and inflated, these people are the ones who are guiding parents out of the dark ages and into a new age of talking and problem-solving. Often these guiding lights will post on other forums and talk face-to-face with other parents (especially after their own situation is resolved) this change and approach to language and problem-solving filters through to others who may not have otherwise been exposed to a child-focused ethos. I have written previously about the issues with gender-based support for those experiencing divorce/separation/family break-down – Taking The Gender Out Of Family Breakdown
This change is country-wide rather than being limited to one small geographical area and therefore reaching out to a great many more parents and people. It filters down into the Position Statements parents write, the communications they send to the other parent, the way they approach problem-solving, the way they think about their situation and are more able to take on board the perceptions of the other parent. There is also a good understanding of the Kübler-Ross grieving cycle – often referred to as the “Rollercoaster” on the Wikivorce forum, understanding what each stage is, and where individuals are most likely to be in this rollercoaster also helps those replying to posts give the appropriate advice at the right time; as well as put across the perspective of the other spouse who may well not be in the same emotional place as the one asking questions on the forum.
Wikivorce is owned by a man, and the community area is managed by a woman who is assisted by a team of volunteers (both men and women) – neither are interested in the slightest in gender-politics, only in helping people and ensuring that those who seek help and assistance receive the very best that the organisation can offer. Those prominent members who work on the free advice line and/or respond to posts and requests on a very frequent and regular basis are a mix of men and women, some professional, others who have their own personal experiences of divorce/separation/family break-down – the wealth of personal experience is vast. Again, these people are not interested in gender-politics, but with the very real job of assisting those who seek help and support.
The people on Wikivorce, and Wikivorce itself as an organisation, are leading by example, turning against the current tide, and creating a new approach for others to follow – an approach where men and women work together, not against each other, where men and women support one another during their darkest days using empathy and understanding, where men and women are collaborating together to provide a space for all those that need support and help and advice.
The way forward won’t be easy – I’m quite sure there are those self-styled experts who will dismiss this article, and the collective efforts of Wikivorce and its members as nonsense, but it’s very hard to dismiss the changes that are now actually happening and evident to see.
This is not just evolution, this is revolution.