The more I hear men’s rights activists fulminating about the unfairness of child support, the more I wonder how typical my situation is, and whether there are any general lessons to be drawn about expectations of men and women when it comes to child-raising.
My relationship with the father of my child ran into difficulties before my pregnancy was even confirmed. Initially, we hoped to live together, but it quickly became clear that there were too many barriers, both logistical and emotional, for this to be a viable possibility, at least for a few years. I did some research into the rights and obligations of a non-custodial parent and found that although I would be entitled to a certain level of support as a custodial parent, I wasn’t legally obliged to demand it.
I had no desire to take him for every penny I could get: he was someone I cared deeply about but couldn’t live with. Since bearing and raising a child would affect my ability to work, and since I hoped he would want to see his child well cared-for, I envisaged a compromise whereby he made voluntary support payments and was in other ways an active father.
I reckoned without his stubbornness and commitment to traditional family structures. He informed me that it would be better for the child if he was in no way involved, since this would free me up to find a stepfather I could live with and build an approximation of a traditional family. That I have emotional problems that would make the search for a stepfather the worst possible fate I could inflict on myself or the child did not enter into his thinking: the child needed two parents who lived together, and since we couldn’t provide that, he didn’t want to be involved.
Later, he tried to soften that approach by saying that we lived too far apart to make visitation practical. If I lived closer to him, he suggested, it would be far easier to work something out. When I finally ended the relationship, he said that he’d hoped we would be able to find a solution, although I’m not sure what that solution should have been. I can only assume it would have involved my seeing the light and moving halfway across the country to live close to someone who had proved himself incapable of respecting anything about me that he didn’t agree with.
When I look back over the uglier arguments, I’m struck by how often he tried to put both blame and responsibility on me for the fact that he’d fathered a child without being ready for fatherhood. My explanation that I hoped to get pregnant was rendered meaningless by my statement that I’m committed to a woman’s right to choose. That I told him I wasn’t using any birth control wasn’t enough: I should also have told him the date of my last menstrual period. He believes that a child needs a father figure on the spot, therefore I had to enter another relationship despite my own understanding of myself.
I’ve also been told by family members that I’m not being fair to him and should have done more to make the relationship work. I don’t know what more I could have done without sacrificing my self-esteem and my plans for the future on the altar of his personal convenience, but I suspect that is a sacrifice I was expected to make. Not for him, of course, but for the child. It would be equally reasonable to expect him to move halfway across the country to be closer to me, but no-one is demanding that. Because I have no job to leave? Because I’m a woman? Because all my reasons for not wanting to move have been sifted through the mesh of rationality and found wanting?
The bottom line is that we both made a choice when we engaged in unprotected sex, and that choice has consequences for both of us. I go through the discomforts and dangers of pregnancy and childbirth and have the joyful but heavy responsibility of a child at the end of it. He has to pay a percentage of his income to support the child.
And yet he’s the one who feels treated unfairly.