Infants and toddlers of divorced parents who live with their mother benefit from overnight visits with their father, a new study finds.
“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 study lead author William Fabricius. He’s an associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University.
“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,” Fabricius said in a university news release.
This was true whether the overnight visits were court-ordered or agreed upon by parents, or whether parents had either high or low levels of conflict during the first five years after divorce.
The benefits to fathers of overnight visits include getting more involved in their child’s early life, according to the researchers.
For the study, the researchers recruited 116 college students whose parents had permanently split before they were 3 years old. They asked the students and their parents about time spent with each parent during childhood and about their current parent-child relationships.
“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,” Fabricius said.
“It helps dads and babies learn about each other, and provides a foundation for their future relationship,” he said.
Other studies have shown that programs that encourage married fathers to take more responsibility for infant care help those dads learn better parenting skills, he pointed out.
“We think that the same kind of thing happens when divorced dads have overnight parenting time,” he said.
Mothers also benefit, he said, because it gives them some relief from being a single, full-time parent.
“Good quality relationships with parents in young adulthood predict better stress-related physical and mental health for the children later in life,” Fabricius said. “So in a real sense, this becomes a public health issue.”
The results were published Feb. 2 in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has more on children and divorce.