By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
I just co-presented at the Family Law Institute regarding Shared Parenting Time and Very Young Children. Child psychology and human development research establish that children through the age of three are at a crucial developmental stage, and the wrong parenting plan can have lifelong negative impact on them. More specifically, too aggressive parenting time changes can harm them in the short term and the long term.
It seems pretty obvious that a 50-50 parenting schedule for a new born, infant and toddler will not be in the child’s best interests. But, the same risks still present when there is less drastic parenting time splits. A young child is still developing its attachments, as well as finding self-soothing and needing consistency in care and routine. If this is interrupted, the child’s development can be delayed. The child can start to show regression, fail to form healthy attachments, and become emotionally impacted.
What this means when looking at parenting plans is that what the child has been used to as far as care should be the starting point. Changes that result in more time away from the child’s primary caregiver need to be introduced gradually. Ideally, the parents should monitor and communicate about how the child does with a change, and pull back if it seems like too much. When that is not possible, for whatever reason, slower steps should be used. No child is harmed by going slow.
I cannot understand how a parent, seeking parenting time, would want anything but the best for his or her child. While the parent may desire more time with the child than is developmentally appropriate, putting the child’s needs first is key. Not only will it lay a strong foundation for the child’s overall future success, it will also bode well for the parent-child relationship going forward. Too much too soon can actually damage the relationship and the child’s trust in and attachment to the parent having too advanced time. Parenting is not about time spent, or overnights achieved, but about putting your child first, and cherishing the healthy time that can be had with the child.