In my own personal experience, the suckiest part of going through a divorce is figuring out co-parenting. Obviously things got so bad with the husband that there was no way to work it out, but instead of being able to walk away, I still have to talk to him. We have to compromise and agree on things, which, let's face it -- we sucked at, or we wouldn't have split.
Maybe I should just take psychologist Penelope Leach to a custody hearing and have her explain to the judge that my kids need to be with me all the time and have no overnight visits with their dad -- because that's what's best for them.
Wait, what? Is this lady actually advocating that it's in a child's best interest to spend every single night up until at least age 5 under the same roof as his or her mother, regardless of the circumstances?
It appears so. Mrs. Leach was a popular parenting "expert" in the 1970s, selling millions of books advocating the importance of establishing a loving bond between mother and child from birth until age 5. Her book, Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age Five, was a bestseller.
She has a new controversial book out called Family Breakdown, in which she talks about the damages of young children spending even one night away from their mothers. She doesn't believe that equal parental access to a child is a "right" and that allowing overnight visits with Dad is not in the best interest of the child.
More from The Stir: 3 Things to Tell Your Kids When You're Getting Divorced
Mrs. Leach writes, "When people say that it’s 'only fair' for a father and mother to share their 5-year-old daughter on alternate weeks, they mean it is fair to the adults -- who see her as a possession and her presence as their right -- not that it is fair to the child."
Fathers' groups called her out on it. The New Fathers4Justice direct action group said the advice "sounds like absolute poison and potentially terribly damaging to children’s development," and "overnight stays with fathers from as early an age as possible are crucial if children are to form strong attachments with both parents."
Ian Maxwell, of Families Need Fathers, agreed that the advice went against "common sense" and that "the bond between fathers and children is just as important."
Dang straight. Look, the hardest part of deciding to get divorced is considering how the kids factor in. Everyone's heard the studies about how kids do better when raised by two loving parents in an intact home, so it really has to come down to the decision of whether you want your kids to be from a broken home or grow up in one.
Just because parents decide to break up doesn't mean they break up from their children. Both parents need to maintain an active role in their kids' lives in order for them to learn healthy emotional attachments. It seems detrimental to keep a small child away from her dad who has been a constant presence in her life up to that point.
In fact, it seems like the whole thing could backfire, with the child developing resentment toward either or both parents -- the dad for "ignoring" them or the mom for keeping them from their father.
There is no hard and fast rule for figuring out parenting after a separation. It's a sucky situation, and each circumstance is unique. It could very well be best for the kids to stay with mom full-time, but it could also be in their best interest to remain solely with dad.
Automatically saying a child shouldn't spend longer periods of time with one parent in their early years just because is a recipe for a total disaster.
What do you think of Penelope Leach's advice?
Image via Steve Koukoulas/Flickr