February 1, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Hard on the heels of Professor Linda Nielsen’s latest analysis of the research on shared parenting vs. sole/primary parenting comes Dr. Richard Warshak’s new paper on whether children under the age of four should have overnight stays with their fathers. As readers of this blog will remember, Warshak authored a paper on that very subject that was endorsed by 110 eminent scientists worldwide. The unambiguous conclusion was that there is no evidence to suggest that children suffer by spending time, including overnights, with both parents. Indeed, those who have overnights with Dad seem to do better than those who don’t.
Warshak’s latest effort aims to find out if, subsequent to his consensus report, new research has come to light that would cast doubt on – or support - its conclusions. The answer remains the same as it was almost four years ago when the consensus report was first published. The scientific literature supports overnights for kids.
It’s well to recall some context. Warshak provides it.
American society holds a curious double standard when it comes to encouraging hands-on shared parenting. For instance, society encourages dads’ involvement with their infants and toddlers—diapering, feeding, bathing, putting to bed, soothing in the middle of the night, cuddling in the morning. But when parents separate, some people think that young children need to spend every night in one home, usually with mom, even when this means losing the care their dad has been giving them.
In a world of nonsensical practices regarding child custody and parenting time, that is surely one of the least sensible points of view. Fathers need to be active, involved, hands-on parents up to the time Mom files for divorce. Then they become superfluous. Make sense?
It not only doesn’t make sense, it entirely ignores children and their welfare. Children form attachments to their parents. Taking away one object of those attachments is clearly traumatic for kids. Doing so unnecessarily, as many courts do, is an outrage. Indeed, in Israel, the Tender Years Doctrine, under which fathers have no right to custody for the first six years of the child’s life, is still the law of the land.
In 1973 the preference for maternal custody received support in an acclaimed book by Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud, and Albert Solnit.3 Their position assumed that an infant initially forms an attachment to one parent, usually the mother, and then perhaps to other people, and that if parents separate, young children need maximum time with the primary parent, also called the psychological parent, even if this compromises the child’s relationship with the other parent.
That book, entitled Beyond the Best Interests of the Child, has been enormously influential, especially in court. As late as the late 1990s, it was by far the single most cited work by appellate courts in the United States regarding children’s welfare following divorce. The book was astonishingly flawed. As Canadian economist Paul Millar has written, there was, at the time of its publication, literally no empirical support for its main contentions referred to by Warshak above. Not for nothing does Warshak use the word “assumed.”
But scholars were skeptical. Those doing actual research in the field rejected the notion that overnights for young children aren’t indicated. By 1997, “eighteen experts from the NICHHD group issued a statement concluding:”
Time distribution arrangements that ensure the involvement of both parents in important aspects of their children’s everyday lives and routines—including bedtime and waking rituals, transitions to and from school, extracurricular and recreational activities—are likely to keep nonresidential parents playing psychologically important and central roles in the lives of their children.
A few years later, that position had further solidified.
Between 2000 and 2002 a well-cited exchange of articles in Family Court Review addressed the wisdom of guidelines that restricted young children from sleeping in their fathers’ home. One group of authors supported flexible, individualized parenting plans rather than absolute rules favoring or prohibiting overnights. Those authors recommended that decision makers consider the option of overnights with fathers for its potential benefits to the children’s developing stable and lifelong relationships with both parents…
In the aftermath of the 1997 consensus statement, subsequent articles on parenting plans for young children, and a growing body of research relevant to parenting plans, the importance of providing sufficient opportunities for children to develop and maintain high quality relationships with both parents became generally recognized as the accepted and settled science with respect to child custody issues. The decade between 2001 and 2011 saw increasing acceptance of overnights for infants and toddlers among mental health professionals, courts, and parents. This remained the zeitgeist until 2011.
Of course, 2011 was the year the train left the tracks. What had been generally recognized as the best practice was attacked. Leading the charge was one of the least qualified people to do so, but for a time, Jennifer McIntosh was able to convince a few people that, what science had known for decades, wasn’t true.
More on that next time.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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