Parents splitting up can be a mess but what’s certain is that maintaining strong bonds with both mum and dad is vital for kids.
There’s no way to sugarcoat the effects of relationship breakdown on children, a sad and all-too-frequent fact of modern life.
What happens after a partnership between parents is finished, in terms of where the child or children live and who they spend more time with, can be crucial to the development of your child’s mental and physical wellbeing.
In many situations, there are court orders in place regarding custody arrangements but what is clear from a lot of research is that a child’s “outcomes” are significantly better for those subsequently raised in shared parenting situations, versus those who experience sole physical custody arrangements with one parent following a relationship breakdown.
A US professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology, Dr Linda Neilsen, reviewed 54 studies on the subject to assess childhood outcomes on the basis of academic achievement, emotional health (anxiety, depression, self-esteem, life satisfaction), behavioural problems (delinquency, school misbehaviour, bullying, drugs, alcohol, smoking), physical health and stress-related illnesses, and relationships with parents, stepparents, and grandparents.
The most salient results of her review included:
- The finding that even very young child – infants and toddlers – had closer bonds with both mum and dad if the parents shared overnight stays;
- That even if there remained a level of parental conflict, childhood outcomes were still better if joint parental custody was observed;
- Maintaining strong relationships with both parents could offset the negative impacts of parental conflict or poor co-parenting, reducing a child’s stress, depression and anxiety.
“Independent of parental conflict and family income, children in shared physical custody families – with the exception of situations where children need protection from an abusive or negligent parent – have better outcomes across a variety of measures of well-being than do children in sole physical custody,” wrote Neilsen.
In a best-case scenario, parents after a relationship breakdown who can no longer live together will find their way to a civil, calm and productive way to co-parent children in separate locations. But as quite a lot of research has found, even if co-parenting arrangements can’t be characterised as civil and calm, children maintaining strong bonds with both parents that involve spending quality, overnight time with both of them, is better than not seeing one parent at all.
Read more on Dr Neilsen’s survey here.