Staying Attached: Fathers and Children in Troubled Times, by Gill Gorell Barnes

Posted on Nov 14, 2017

Understanding the Changing Social Contexts for Fathering

Staying Attached: Fathers and Children in Troubled Times is a book about fathers who want to be present in their children’s lives; but who find it hard to be so.  It is based on both research with fathers and their life stories, and also clinical experience of work alongside fathers through family mental health care and family court systems.

The book reviews the changing social context for fathering in the United Kingdom since the second world war, charting the cultural and social shifts in expectation of men in relation to the mothers of their children and the  children themselves.  These changing expectations of fathers, and the ways that men as fathers are positioned both privately, publicly and politically, are considered in different contexts for attempting fathering: non live in fatherhoods; re-entering children’s lives after early separations; post divorce conflicts and step family complexity.

Processes that alienate one part of the family from another are analysed.  Family examples, dilemmas and some solutions  are recounted. In later chapters a focus on extreme emotions, violence, and mental illness and the patient work required to work with  unregulated emotions are described and reflected on in detail.  The book ends with some thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation between adult children and fathers who intermittently failed them.

Gill Gorell Barnes, MA, MSc, has been working with children and families since the 1960s, first as a psychiatric social worker and subsequently as a family and couples therapist, in both the Child and Family Department at the Tavistock Clinic and at the Institute of Family Therapy, which she co-founded with colleagues in the 1970s. As Training Director, she subsequently co-founded the Master’s Degree in Systemic Family Therapy with Birkbeck College, London, and has taught family theory and practice nationally and internationally for four decades.

Her book, Staying Attached: Fathers and Children in Troubled Times, has recently been published by Karnac.


‘At last! A book about fathers and fathering – one that both captures and explores the attachment and developmental significance of our relationships with our fathers across the life span. It is not often that we read a book written with such depth of compassion and wisdom, and a long commitment to assisting fathers and their children. This is a book that persuades fathers of their importance to their families.’ ― Arlene Vetere, professor of family therapy and systemic practice, VID Specialized University, Oslo

‘Based on meticulous research and vast clinical experience, this welcome contribution helps therapists and parents to connect with fathers, be they at the centre, on the margins or seemingly “outside” their families. Interwoven with a highly pertinent account of her own experiences, both personal and professional, the author charts cultural and societal changes and their impact on fathers and their roles, illustrated by many clinical examples. Particularly impressive is the sensitive and groundbreaking clinical work with estranged or “alienated” fathers, showing how their relationships with their children move through troubled times but can improve. A must-read for therapists and parents alike – and above all for fathers whose voices need to be heard by everyone.’ ― Eia Asen, consultant psychiatrist and systemic psychotherapist, Anna Freud Centre and University College London

‘When you have finished reading this book, read it again! There is something for everyone interested in learning about and working with fathers and families: research about how fathers are positioned; political perspectives; theoretical frameworks; and immensely helpful examples from practice. Reading this book informed and stretched me in a number of ways. It spoke to me simultaneously both as a father and a clinician.’ ― John Burnham, consultant family and systemic psychotherapist

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