Babies have an innate biological need to be attached to caregivers, usually their parents. But what happens when babies spend a night or more per week away from a primary caregiver, as increasingly happens in cases where the parents share custody, but do not live together?
In a new national study, University of Virginia researchers found that infants who spent at least one night per week away from their mothers had more insecure attachments to the mother compared to babies who had fewer overnights or saw their fathers only during the day.
The finding is reported in the August edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, available online here.
Attachments are defined as an enduring, deep, emotional connection between an infant and caregiver that develops within the child's first year of life, according to Samantha Tornello, the study's lead author and a Ph.D. candidate in psychology in U.Va.'s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Attachments during that critical first year serve as the basis for healthy attachments and relationships later in life, including adulthood, Tornello said.
She notes that growing numbers of parents are living apart due to nonmarital childbirth, the breakup of cohabitating parents, separation and divorce. Parents increasingly are choosing to share child rearing in some form of joint custody, and often the legal system must determine custody arrangements for the children of parents who do not live together.
"Judges often find themselves making decisions regarding custody without knowing what actually may be in the best interest of the child, based on psychology research," Tornello said. "Our study raises the question, 'Would babies be better off spending their overnights with a single caregiver, or at least less frequently in another home?'"
Tornello pointed out that either the mother or father could be the primary caregiver, but the point would be that the child ideally would be in the care each night
|Contact: Fariss Samarrai|
University of Virginia