Separated parents frequently feel that they do not get to spend enough time with the children. Those feelings can be amplified when the children are very young. Many parents want to make sure that their children bond with them at a young age. A parent who wants to be actively involved in a child’s life usually wants to be actively involved from when the child is a young age. However, the child’s needs at the early stages of development can limit how much time the non-residential parent spends with the child.
There is good research about how much time a non-residential parent should spend with a child. Especially at a young age, a parenting schedule has to be designed around the needs of the child rather than the needs of the parent. Very young children need their routine, a single bed to sleep in, naps during the day, and possibly to breast feed. All of that can limit the amount of time that the non-residential parent can spend with the child. Fortunately, to develop a bond with a parent a child does not need to spend a lot of time with that parent, but does need to see them frequently.
Research shows that children benefit enormously from a close loving relationship with both of their parents. To develop that close loving relationship with a non-residential parent at a young age, frequency of contact is important. For a child who is only months or a couple of days old, a couple of days is a very long time. For an infant or toddler to build or maintain a relationship with a non-residential parent, the child must see that parent frequently: Every couple of days. However, especially for infants, it is not helpful for the child to be away from the primary parents for long periods of time, and definitely not overnight, as that can lead to a level of stress that not only induce the development of a relationship, but development in general.
It is also important that the non-residential parent spend time with the child if the child is scheduled and not the other way round. Routine is very important to young children. They also need their nap and to feed in their usual way at their usual time. This can make long visits impossible.
Fortunately, frequent short visits are what a young child needs to develop a close relationship with a parent. If a very young child has those frequent short visits, there will be a strong parent – child relationship that should evolve to include overnights after the child turns three years old and may further evolve into an equal sharing of time between parents during the child’s school age years.
Children’s relationship with their parents can be badly damaged, even destroyed, along with that child’s development and potential, by exposure to conflict. Frequent contact with both parents can seriously harm a child if that contact results in exposure to conflicts. Children’s experiences with this, especially when they are very young, affects both their brain development and how well they will interact with other people for the rest of their lives. Children who have positive experiences as their brain develops build neural pathways designed for learning (which increases intelligence) and interacting with others in a positive way. Children who are exposed to conflict structure their synapses to avoid and deal with dangerous environments. Their brain does not develop in a way that facilitates other types of learning (thereby limiting intelligence) or forming relationships with other people that are not characterized by conflict. Parents who are in constant conflict with each other must create a parenting plan that does not expose their children to conflict.
Good family lawyers and mediators know about child development and what a child needs from each parent. They can help create a parenting plan that, to the extent possible gives each child the benefits of a good relationship with each parent.