A new study conducted at Arizona State University has found that infants and toddlers of divorced parents who live with their mother benefit from spending the night with their father. Lead author of the study, William Fabricius, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, recruited 116 college students whose parents had divorced before they turned three. Researchers asked extensive questions about the time spent with each parent, and their current relationships with their parents.
Earlier studies had raised flags that frequent overnights with their father might disturb the child’s relationship with their mother. The study findings shatter that myth—finding that having parenting time with each parent improves a child’s relationship with both parents. There is no negative impact on the child’s secure attachment relationship with the mother. The study found that 18 to 20-year-old college students who had overnights with their father prior to the age of three have better relationships with both parents.
According to Fabricius, this is likely because having the father care for their young infants and toddlers for the whole cycle of evening, bedtime, overnight, and morning helps to form a parental bond. It helps teach the father how to parent their child from the beginning, and gives them confidence in their parenting skills. It helps both parent and child learn about each other, providing a solid foundation to build on into the future.
Fathers Cannot Make up for Lost Time
Interestingly, the study showed that even when fathers attempted to “make up” lost time during childhood and adolescence, this did not make up for the overnights they missed in their first few years. The increase in number of weekly overnights directly correlated with better relationships with fathers and their grown children. The children who fared best had equal numbers of overnights at each parent’s home during infancy and toddlerhood.
The study controlled for other factors, such as whether the overnight visits were court ordered or voluntary, and whether parents fought a lot during the first five years following their divorce.
Researchers detected an unexpected benefit; there was an improvement in the mother-child relationship when children had any number of overnights with their fathers. Researchers speculate that this is because being a single, full-time parent of an infant or toddler is extremely stressful and exhausting. The breaks afforded to the mother by the overnight visits with the co-parent likely helped the mothers be more effective, successful parents as well.
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