In the past, conventional wisdom held that, if a couple with children split up, it was important for the children to remain primarily in the care of their mother. According to STAT, this belief combined with an increase in the divorce rate around the mid 20th century had the consequence of sending many children, especially boys, to mental health professionals for a psychological complaint described as “father hunger.”
With the goal of helping children cope effectively with their parents’ divorces, these mental health professionals conducted studies over decades. Research demonstrated that joint physical custody, also called shared parenting, could benefit children in most situations. Courts and state legislatures are gradually embracing the science. However, some myths about shared parenting persist.
1. Infants and toddlers should never spend the night at their father’s house
Even psychologists who recognize the benefits of shared custody for older children persist in the mistaken belief that custody arrangements involving overnights at dad’s house could harm children’s well-being. This is despite the fact that mothers with sole physical custody have no qualms about allowing very young children to spend the night at their grandparents’ house or take naps at day care.
There is no evidence to support that overnights at dad’s house pose any risk to children. Research does show that fathers who have the opportunity to parent at night as well as during the day become better at reading their babies’ signals and responding to their needs.
2. Joint physical custody only works if both parents agree to it from the beginning
Another myth is that children only benefit from shared parenting if both parents were amenable to the arrangement from the start. If one parent initially opposes the plan, it is supposedly not good for the family.
However, research indicates that, even if one parent initially opposed the arrangement, children in shared parenting situations ultimately had better outcomes than those in which one parent had sole custody and the other had visitation.
3. Supposed benefits of shared parenting actually reflect affluence and privilege
Another criticism of joint physical custody is that the couples who share parenting are better off financially in the first place. Therefore, the benefits that seem to come from joint custody are actually a product of the parents’ privilege. However, studies that accounted for the disparity of different families’ income still found that children in shared parenting arrangements had better outcomes than children in sole custody circumstances.
Fathers are every bit as capable of nurturing their children if given the chance. Children deserve a relationship with both parents.