Latest off the "how rubbish a parent are you?" production line is a report from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute for Education in London, conducted for the Equal Opportunities Commission. It has some disturbing things to say about dads.
Apparently, children at the age of three are more likely to suffer from "developmental problems" such as hyperactivity if their fathers took no time off at birth, or had no access to flexible working at that time.
Now, that's pretty amazing, isn't it? Because baby Ben didn't see much of his dad during his first days tucked up in bed with mum, he will end up bouncing off the ceiling three years later. It must be true because the statistics show it to be so.
But there's another amazing finding: children who enjoy forms of "formal child care" such as nursery and nannying from nine months are likely to be better behaved by the age of three than other children.
"Other" in this case includes children raised by stay-at-home mothers, grandparents or fathers with working wives. So, packing Ben off to the local crèche could be the best thing you could do for him. Now, you might have spotted something a little odd here.
In one section, the report says Ben is more likely to suffer by three years of age if his dad was not around for the first few weeks of life and wasn't given any flexitime at work. But another section says Ben is more likely to incur developmental problems by three if he stays at home with dad, rather than attending a nursery.
Professor Shirley Dex, one of the authors of the report, which got lots of media coverage, explained: "We found a statistical correlation. We don't have all the answers. They may not, for example, be the same kinds of parent." So, what does the research, trumpeted by the EOC, a central component of the busybody industry, really tell us?
Prof Dex answered with a giggle: "It doesn't tell you the whole answer - it tells you to look further. There's more work to be done."
Great! So a big report is published saying dads are good for you and bad for you, but that's all right because it'll keep the experts at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies in work for another couple of years at least.
And that's really the point: surveys and reports and endless statistics never, ever tell you the truth about the family because there is no central truth about the family.
A witty riposte, but rot nonetheless. There may be no rigid universal laws about the family, but there are certainly central truths. Any good teacher can spot the parents of academically, psychologically and socially promising young children at fifty paces. The mother is completely committed emotionally from dawn to dusk, whether she works or not, knows everything that is going on and demands high standards of achievement and behaviour. The father is committed financially and emotionally to mom and the kids in that order and backs up mom 95% of the time, only occasionally running interference for the child to temper mom’s intensity. The child takes his parents completely for granted and is blissfully unaware of any personal needs of his parents or any dysfunctions in the family other than his own. He is almost never alone. The rest is detail.
It isn’t that we don’t know this or are lacking evidence of it. We are surrounded by evidence of it. It’s that so many modern parents resent the discipline and outward focus it implies and have successfully hijacked the social sciences to free them from them or slough them all off on the other parent.