Overnights Good for Divorced Dads, Mums and Their Babies

Overnights good for divorced dads, mums and their babies

New research shows that children of divorce — no matter what age — benefit from having time with each parent, which includes sleepovers at each parent’s house.

“Not only did overnight parenting time with fathers during infancy and toddlerhood cause no harm to the mother-child relationship, it actually appeared to benefit children’s relationships with both their mothers and their fathers,” said Dr. William Fabricius, an associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University and lead author of the study.

“Children who had overnights with their fathers when they were infants or toddlers had higher-quality relationships with their fathers, as well as with their mothers, when they were 18 to 20 years old than children who had no overnights.”

The study, co-authored with Arizona State University graduate student Go Woon Suh, revealed that the amount of parenting time infants and toddlers had with their fathers afterwards, during childhood and adolescence, did not make up for the overnights they missed in their first few years.

For fathers, every increase in the number of overnights per week during infancy and toddlerhood was matched by an increase in the strength and closeness of their relationships with their grown children, according to Fabricius.

The grown children who had the best relationships with both of their parents were those who had equal numbers of overnights at each parent’s home during infancy and toddlerhood, the study found.

These findings were the same regardless of whether courts ordered overnight parenting time over the mothers’ initial objections, or parents agreed on their own to provide equivalent overnights, according to the researchers. Likewise, the findings were the same for parents who had high conflict and those who had low conflict during the first five years of their divorces, according to the study.

“Having to care for their infants and toddlers for the whole cycle of evening, bedtime, nighttime, and morning helps dads learn how to parent their children from the beginning,” said Fabricius.

“It helps dads and babies learn about each other, and provides a foundation for their future relationship. Other studies have shown that programs that encourage married dads to take more responsibility for infant care help those dads learn better parenting skills, and we think that the same kind of thing happens when divorced dads have overnight parenting time.”

Mother-child relationships also were better when children had any number of overnights with dad, according to the study’s findings. This is, perhaps, because sharing overnights helped mothers avoid the inherent stress of having to be a single, full-time parent of an infant or toddler, the researchers postulated.

And having good relationships with mom and dad, even when not living together, bodes well for the children.

“Good quality relationships with parents in young adulthood predict better stress-related physical and mental health for the children later in life,” said Fabricius. “So in a real sense, this becomes a public health issue.”

References. Fabricius, W. V., & Suh, G. W. (2016). Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time With Fathers? The Policy Debate and New Data. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.