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Should infants stay overnight with each parent?

As you head toward the negotiation table to discuss matters of your divorce with your spouse, you may be particularly anxious when it comes to the conversation regarding the infant child the two of you share.

You want what is best for your child, but you have developed a strong attachment with your baby. Is it really best for him or her to be away from you overnight? 

Past assumptions

Traditionally, courts assumed it is best for a baby to spend all nights with the primary caregiver and only spend time with the other parent during daytime hours. The courts also assumed the primary caregiver would always be the mother. Therefore, fathers did not get overnight visits with young children. In many cases, fathers and mothers really do interact with their infants in distinctly different ways. A mother may be more likely than the father is to feed, clothe, cuddle and soothe the baby. These activities make an infant feel more secure, so absence from the person who performed them often causes distress.

There is still a body of literature that upholds this viewpoint, as well as the assumption that the mother is the primary caregiver. Thus, the separation from the mother for overnight visits with the father would cause distress and even developmental delays. What if the father is the primary caregiver?

Current observations

Regardless of your gender, if you have been the parent taking primary care of these needs, being separated from you at night may cause your infant distress. However, even if you have not been the primary caregiver, some psychologists say both parents should get overnight visits during the first seven months of a baby's life. During this period, your child is forming strong attachments, and you should have the opportunity to fill the role of primary caregiver and establish that bond. From eight months to 18 months, a child develops stranger anxiety. If restricted visitation has prevented you and your child from developing a strong attachment, your child may feel anxious and distressed while with you. 

It is best for your baby to see both parents as primary caregivers. Because you and your spouse both want what is best for your child, it is a good idea to discuss overnight visits.

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Cindy L. Kenworthy, P.C.
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Indianapolis, IN 46254

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