Parenting Time Schedules For Infants and Toddlers

A paper prepared for judges in Los Angeles Superior Court by Doctor Mary Lund (1996), of the courts Family Law Psychiatrists Office points to definite conclusions about appropriate post–divorce parenting arrangement for children.  For instance she argues that fortnightly contact with non–custodial fathers is totally unsuitable for babies under a year of age.  She suggests that if infant children are to bond to their non–custodial parents, a schedule of up to 3 hours contact every other day is advised with one overnight a week.  Dr. Lund reports that children who have been deprived of one parent often express a need to live with that parent––this is particularly true of boys who have been deprived of contact with their fathers. Research shows non–custodial parents who are deprived of contact are unlikely to remain involved in their children’s lives.

Most experts agree that children, especially very young ones, need consistency and routine.  Unfortunately, too many of these people, relying on outmoded sexist stereotypes about men and women, believe that infants and toddlers should live with the primary parent (the mother) and that the father should be allowed to visit only two or three hours every weekend with no overnights (Kelly 1991; Kelly & Lamb 2000; Warshak 2000).  This kind of schedule however, is absolutely inappropriate for infant contact, writes paediatrician Robert Fay (1985):

The First Month

If the infant is being breastfed, contact should occur at least once or twice each day for an hour or two each time. If the child is being bottle–fed, Dr Fay recommends a minimum of four hours each day and eight hours on the weekends.  These hours can be divided up into two shifts if needs be.  At this stage activities such as holding, feeding and changing the baby, are laying the foundation for a secure relationship between child and parent.

One–Three Months

For breast–fed babies, a minimum of one three hour session each day, with eight to twelve hours on the weekends.  Even at this age, the infant can tell differences between the mother and father and knows to expect different things from each parent.  More time is advised for bottle–fed babies.

Three–Six Months

At least four hours a day, with twice as much time on weekends for breastfed infants.  For bottle–fed children at least two full days each week, including overnights.

Six–Twelve Months

If the infant is being breastfed eight to twelve hours twice a week, if the baby is being bottle–fed, overnights are important and its fine for the baby to spend the whole weekend, three nights in a row with father a week.  If possible a fourth or others days should be accommodated as well.

One–Two Years

After the first year, a less intensive schedule can be supported, but the father should still spend at least three or four hours with his toddler three times a week, plus a two or three overnight every other weekend.  Children at this age still do not understand time very well and let alone a week without the non-custodial parent (typically father) might as well be forever.  Toddlers may feel abandoned and rejected.  When loved, secure and bonded, children can adept well to changing environments   Unfortunately, too many people who should really know better advise the cutting back of time.  This is exactly the wrong approach and will lead to adjustment problems later.

Sources

Lund M (1996). Parenting Arrangements In Divorce: Implications of Children’s Different Developmental Needs. Psychiatric Office, Family Law Section Los Angeles Superior Court

Kelly J. B (1991). Examining Resistance To Joint Custody. In J Folberg (Editor), Joint Custody and Shared Parenting. The Guildford Press (2nd edition): New York pp 55-62.  

 

Kelly J. B., & Lamb M. E (2000). Using Child Development Research To Make Appropriate Custody and Access Decisions.  Family and Conciliation Court’s Review. 38: 297-311

 

Warshak R. A (October 2000). Blanket Restrictions: Overnight Contact Between Parents And Young Children. Family And Conciliation Courts Review. 4(38): 422-445

 

Fay R. E (1985). Joint Custody of Infants and Toddlers. Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality. 19(8): 134-139   

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