February 4, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
With the unexpected and intellectually bizarre attack by McIntosh in 2011 on the scientific consensus regarding the value of maintaining meaningful relationships between children under the age of four and both of their parents came the response reasserting that consensus. Dr. Richard Warshak led that effort.
Warshak spent two years reviewing and analyzing 45 years of scientific inquiry into the parenting of children under the age of four when the parents don’t live together.
Then I vetted my analyses by incorporating feedback from an international group of experts in the fields of attachment, early child development, parent-child relations, and divorce. The results appeared in Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report (Warshak Consensus Report) published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, that is edited by Cambridge University Professor Michael Lamb, a prominent child development scholar. The report was published with the endorsement of 110 of the world’s leading researchers and practitioners, several who had conducted the seminal studies cited in the report.
Its conclusions were unambiguous and pointedly refuted the claims of McIntosh, et al.
No compelling evidence was found for the idea that children under four need or benefit from restrictions with parents who are loving and attentive. Warnings against infants and toddlers spending overnight time with each parent are inconsistent with what we know about the development of meaningful, positive parent-child relationships in the first few years of children’s lives… Given these observations, after the parents separate, most mothers should have no reason to worry about leaving their very young children in the father’s care. In fact, fathers who are more involved with their infants and toddlers become better parents and have better relationships with their children. Better parent-child relationships, in turn, lead to better outcomes in other spheres of development, such as stress-related physical health, grades, mental health, and behavior.
Those warnings of course had been issued by McIntosh and the AFCC. They had no scientific support for them.
Plus, it shouldn’t need to be said, but fathers who are actively involved with their children tend to be better fathers. How could it be otherwise? Given that, judges’ bias or state laws on custody and parenting time that either prevent or actively discourage fathers from being those involved, loving parents tend strongly to keep those relationships from flowering. That in turn tends to result in poorer outcomes for kids. That should be obvious enough, but amazingly, ensuring that kids maintain full relationships with both parents is still not public policy in any part of the English-speaking world.
To maximize infants’ chances for a secure lifelong bond with both parents, public policy should encourage both parents to actively participate in daytime and overnight care of their young children. Scholars who study the benefits of children’s relationships with both parents find no empirical support for the belief that mothers are more important than fathers in their infants’ and toddlers’ lives. In short, after their separation, in most circumstances both parents should maximize the time they spend with their young children, including sharing overnight parenting time. This lays a strong foundation for parent-child relationships and allows children to enjoy the unique and overlapping contributions of each parent to the children’s development and wellbeing.
There is no evidence that mothers are more important than fathers to children’s healthy development. Both parents’ involvement in children’s lives is important to that healthy development. Therefore, public policy should promote the involvement of both parents - whether married, divorced, separated or never married – in their children’s lives. “Public policy of course is a broad term, but at a minimum it should include laws requiring judges to maximize children’s time with each parent as long as the parents are fit and nonviolent. It should also include the education of judges in the science on what custody and parenting time orders best promote children’s well-being.
As Warshak describes, that is in fact the state of the science on parenting time for parents of young children. His consensus report that was endorsed by 110 eminent scientists worldwide is the gold standard on the subject. All else is dross.
I’ll have more to say on this tomorrow.
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