Back in the bad old days, fathers literally owned their wives and children, no different from owning their cows and bales of hay.
Sons were valued for their work. Daughters were bargaining chips to be sold off to an adjoining farm or an adjoining kingdom to cement alliances and to create more sons, all in a process called marriage. Fathers still “give away” their daughters, but the union has ceased to be a matter of mergers and has become, instead, a means of ensuring monogamy and a public declaration of unquenchable and undying and mutual love. Marriage is the formal, public, and government-sanctioned act that ties you to a new emotional anchor.
Untying this knot has never been easy. For centuries (and still today in some cultures and religions) it was nearly impossible. But in the last 50 years the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Some would say that we marry and divorce today almost as easily as we buy and sell cars. Tired of one? Discovered that you got a lemon? Totaled it in a wreck? Trade it in for another, newer model.
Unless there’s children. That same pendulum has swung back and forth through the history of post-divorce custody practices. In the bad old days, the wife who dared take her children from her husband was committing theft. She was stealing his property. Years later the tables turned. Mom was the only and best parent able to care for children still in their “tender years.” The politically motivated, gender-blind movement for equality pushed forward, ignoring biology, suggesting at one time that the post-divorce ratio of parenting should be no different from the pre-separation division of care and, more recently, that a fifty-fifty split would settle the parents’ differences, and perhaps even serve the best interests of the children.
To argue about the virtues of these various solutions misses the point. Divorce doesn’t harm children. Parents do.