Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time With Fathers?

Professor FabriciusSeparated fathers often face resistance when they ask for their young children to stay overnight.

But a new study published in Psychology, Public Policy and Law suggests overnights in both parents’ homes (up to and including equal time spent in each) are associated with benefits to both mother-child and father-child relationships – even if the overnight parenting plan is imposed against one parent’s initial wishes.  The controversy relating to overnights has already been addressed in review papers by Warsak and Nielsen supporting the benefits of overnight stays with separated fathers.

This new study by William Fabricius and Go Woon Sun shows that these benefits held after controlling for subsequent parenting time with fathers in childhood and adolescence, parent education and conflict up to 5 years after the separation, and children’s sex and age at separation.  It focussed on longer-term associations with overnights, maintained a focus on the father-child relationship and also examined daytime-only parenting time.  Data were obtained from 230 college students whose parents separated before they were three years of age and from at least one of their parents.

While the findings do not establish causality they provide strong support for policies to encourage frequent overnight parenting time for infants and toddlers, because the benefits associated with overnights also held for parents who initially agreed about overnights as well as for those who disagreed and had the overnight parenting plan imposed over 1 parent’s objections. The observed benefits for the long-term father-child relationship are consistent with findings from intervention studies showing that fathers who are more involved with infants and toddlers develop better parenting skills and relationships with their children.