Out of Touch

After interviewing many absentee parents and conducting qualitative as well as quantitative research, Geoffrey Greif has found that many of the negative stereotypes associated with “deadbeat” parents do not apply to many non-custodial parents who continue to love their children but who have lost contact with them. The reasons include the non-custodial parents’ low self-esteem, their sense that the children are better off with the other parent (this particularly applies to fathers), the interference of the custodial parent, the children’s rejection of the absentee parent in order to avoid conflict, and the court system.

Greif presents case studies to illustrate how parents lose contact and how they are viewed by society. Because they are considered “natural nurturers,” the absentee mothers feel stigmatized; and since they also tend, unlike the fathers, to lose contact after initially receiving custody, they are more likely to feel betrayed. When Greif interviewed the children, he found that despite research suggesting that both parents are not needed, the children of absentee parents were not only in real pain, but faced problems in dealing with the return of an absentee parent.

The last third of the book contains Rebecca Hegar’s essay “Absent Parents, Law, and Social Policy,” which states that unless legal action is taken, absentee parents do not lose parental rights, especially the right of access to their children. The last two chapters which concern reestablishing contact and preventing loss of contact, stress the primacy of children’s needs and offer several proposals and bits of advice: require mediation in divorce cases; make the courts aware of the trauma of divorcing parents; tone down the rhetoric about “deadbeat” parents; be aware of the social, structural and legal spheres that lead to loss of contact.