Potential problems with 50 / 50 parenting

Family dispute resolution and mediation firm Private Mediation in Brisbane explains that 50/50 parenting arrangements don’t always work well in practice, especially in cases with very young children. We believe that the focus needs to be on how to create and maintain relationships with both parents.

‘50/50’ parenting arrangements, where each parent has an equal amount of time with a child, might seem like a win-win situation. However, experts have agreed for some time that in certain cases, evenly split, 50/50 arrangements may not be in the best interests of the child.

“Research around attachment emphasises the importance of stability and predictability for very young children (between 0-2 years), and suggests that they often need to be in one home with frequent contact with both parents. Experts agree that they need one primary carer at this age and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the mother, it needs to be one person that they feel connected to.” Susan Tambling, Child Consultant and Psychologist.

This idea of a child being ‘connected’ to their parents is not a new one.  In fact, it is one of the primary tenets of attachment theory which explains a child’s need to build a sense of trust through a strong relationship with one parent as a fundamental and essential step in a child’s social and emotional development.  As children, our most fundamental need is for a sense of safety. Predictability of environment and care-giving allows for this, teaching children through their first experiences, that they will be soothed when distressed and encouraged to explore within safe boundaries. While undoubtedly both parents are equally capable of loving and caring for their baby, commonly babies will have had more time and nurturing from one parent.

Integral to the process of attachment, babies go through what is known as separation anxiety from their main carer between around 7-18 months, and it is normal for them to become distressed when separated from that person. This anxiety is indicative of the survival instinct kicking in, and an awareness that their carer is responsible for meeting their needs. It is not until around 18 months that infants develop a sense of “object-permanence”, (that is knowing that something or someone exists even when out of sight). Because of this, when separated for a long period of time from a loved one they depend on, young children don’t have any concept of when they will see that person again and little ability to soothe themselves through those feelings. It’s important for parents to remember that for young children, time moves much more slowly than for adults.

The risk under shared parenting agreements that divide a young child’s time significantly, especially sleeping time, is that the process of building trust and the ability to self-soothe may be interrupted.

Studies have shown young children who have been in these arrangements are more irritable and have more difficulty concentrating than other children. Young children in these situations who aren’t coping may also suffer more separation anxiety (from both parents), regression (for example needing to go back to dummies or nappies after moving past this), and confusion as to what is expected of them, as toddlers, and exacerbated boundary-pushing as a result.

The philosophy of putting the best interests of the child first, which includes the child’s right to have a relationship with both parents is something that governs how Michael Maguire conducts mediation.

While most parents agree that the interests of the child should be a priority, often they disagree on what that looks like.

Even in older children, parents who focus on their right to have 50 per cent care may not take into account different developmental needs of the child.

Ms Tambling states that “Gender is another important factor. There are times when children really want their mum or dad around and this may change depending on their developmental needs and the circumstances that they may be facing. It has been shown that children do better at school and have better self-esteem when both parents are involved in their lives and schooling”.

Private Mediation’s role as a mediator is not to advise parents on what to do,  but to work closely with child consultants and psychologists to assist parents to focus on what their child’s needs are rather than their inter-personal conflict.

For assistance with creating a parenting plan call Michael Maguire at Private Mediation  on 0419 679 779 and find out how we can help.