The scientific debate has raged among anthropologists for decades: why are human babies born helpless? Pelvic size, maternal metabolism, the size of Junior’s noggin — all have been offered as reasons why those tiny humans cannot walk, feed themselves, or sit upright. No other mammal is born so dependent on its parents. A newborn baby arriving after a divorce adds another parenting challenge: parenting time schedules.
As soon as your ex-spouse’s attorney mentions “attachment theory,” you know you’re dealing with a Neanderthal. The concept of attachment theory once supported flimsy legal arguments that men were not equipped to be primary caregivers of newborns because Junior instinctively attaches only to Mom.
As psychologists Pamela Rudolph and Milfred Dale reported in Family Law Quarterly, infants form strong attachments to both parents. You and your attorney can push back against outdated attachment theory by insisting on parenting time schedules that give you a variety of encounters with your baby: mornings, afternoons, evenings, and overnight visitations.
The Argument of Consistency
To be fair, your ex-spouse’s attorney may not be a Neanderthal. Perhaps the arguments from the other side against scheduling paternal parenting time with your newborn revolve around “consistency.”
“Consistency” is bandied about because infants need consistent behavior and connection to caregivers. “Consistent” does not mean the same time, every time, however. It does not even mean the same routine every morning or night. It means the same caregivers interacting with the child in a variety of contexts. “Consistent” means the same caregivers are mediating the baby’s experiences and discoveries.
The child seeks reassurance that those two caregivers will always be on hand as the baby explores, learns, and faces the world. Both parents must have overnight visitations for those consistent encounters to form strong attachments.
Building the Parenting and Custody Schedule
Once you get past primeval thinking from your ex-spouse’s attorney, you can work together to develop a parenting plan that keeps you, the Dad, fully engaged in your infant’s first year. You very likely do not have primary custody of your infant, for many medical and legal reasons (some of which are legal concepts as outdated as “attachment theory,” but that is a fight for another day).
A parenting visitation schedule for an infant must necessarily grow and change as rapidly as your baby grows and develops. You should begin with realistic, attainable parenting time goals.
Start with frequent, short visits of at least half an hour three to four times a week if you can manage the time away from your work. These visits will necessarily be in the custodial parent’s home. Though that setting may be uncomfortable for you, Dad, you are making huge deposits in the emotional savings bank with every visit. You are building credibility and demonstrating your willingness to be a vital part of your baby’s life.
Prove your parenting skills by keeping the baby on the existing schedule of feeding, diapering, and napping. Work to extend the length of visits, and then work to take your baby from the custodial home for time in your home or in a safe, public space.
Once you, your ex, and both attorneys have established a comfortable routine for the infant, advocate for overnight visits. You may be able to build these into the original parenting time schedule — a technique known as step-up schedules — or you may need to legally reopen the schedule at a later date.
Overnight visits increase bonding and attachment opportunities, but also benefit the custodial parent. She gets a full night’s rest. She gets her own morning time. These are excellent points to present in arguing for overnight parenting time.
Ideally, even from birth your baby enjoys the comfort and security of two parents: coparenting. Coparenting requires honest communication between Mom and Dad. It requires a level of cooperation between two adults who have legally decided they are incompatible. Yet coparenting is a very strong tool in building secure attachments in the baby. Both parents reinforce the child’s sense of security and predictability. Both parents fulfill the child’s basic needs.
One basic need, breastfeeding, is often thrown up by attorneys representing mothers as a reason why fathers cannot share parenting duties of an infant. It is a lopsided and morally reprehensible argument: Men are expected to support a mother’s choice to breastfeed, but women are not expected to support a father’s need to bond with his child.
If your ex-spouse’s attorney balks at a coparenting schedule because of breastfeeding, you and your family law attorney must advocate for your right to form those strong bonds, attachments, and consistent behaviors so vital to the child’s development. The mother can pump and store breast milk if it means you get overnight visits and true coparenting time with your baby.
Please connect with us today at The Firm For Men, or telephone our Virginia Beach office at (757) 383-9184. We can help untangle your knottiest family law problems, from child support to child custody to parenting time schedules. And yes, we know how to change diapers.