Fiona Donnison was jailed for 32 years earlier this month for the murder of her two children. Harry, aged three, and Elise, aged two, were smothered in bedding and their bodies were found in holdalls in the boot of Donnison’s car.
Why would a mother kill her own children? From Court it appears that it was a brutal act of revenge by Donnison against the children’s father, Paul Donnison her ex-partner. Murder, of course, is a cruel and heartless act. But there are many women who punished the father of their children with lesser acts of cruelty, such as needless Court action, inflating maintenance awards, and, of course, trying to deny the father access to his children.
A relationship breakdown is a very painful time of life and emotions often run high. When a woman uses the children as a way to punish the father, men can often feel powerless. The courts can be of no help to men in these circumstances, as the presumption is that the best thing for the children is doing what the mother wants. Men can feel desperate about their plight, even suicidal.
Even if custody is arranged, some women try to punish the father by “poisoning” the children’s minds against him. This can be extremely difficult for young minds to understand. The child loves both mommy and daddy, and to hear such character assassinations can be deeply unsettling for them.
I have heard many men talk about the pain of separation from their children, and helped them to make sense of the character assassinations they have had to endure. There is no easy way to resolve this situation. For the sake of the children though, it is important not to retaliate, however much you are provoked. The children need at least one of their parents to remain steady. Simply acknowledge and reframe her behaviour as “mommy still being angry”. Let the children know how much you still love them, and that you always want to be there for them. In this way you will become a rock of stability in their chaotic world.
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I’ve watched with concern over the past year as a new phrase has emerged in the cultural zeitgeist … the “feckless father”. As a term, of course, it’s surely one of abuse. What man would welcome being described as “feckless”? But I detect a cultural double standard in the way it is used.
Of course we should all be concerned about children raised without a father. Such children are more likely to fail at school, engage in criminality, be the victims of sexual abuse, and even join gangs. There is a time bomb of fatherless children that is not only devastating for them, but also on the future of our society. Kids need their fathers.
By using the term “feckless fathers”, there is a very clear line being drawn. Fatherless children are created by the moral irresponsibility of men. Deciding to have and raise a child, however, is a decision of the woman. Feminism has long argued, correctly, for the “right to choose”: a woman’s right to control her own fertility. If a woman “chooses” to have eight children with eight different men, and discourage contact between the children and the father, is it not the woman who is being “feckless”?
Women can’t have it both ways. If they exercise the “right to choose”, and bring a child into either no relationship, or unstable one, they can’t then blame the man for not being there. My point is simple: the debate about “feckless fathers” focuses on the moral culpability of absent fathers, and does not pay sufficient attention to the moral culpability of single mothers.
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