From, Linda Nielsen, a professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, in response to “Equal custody for parents is unfair to the kids” (John Rosemond column, Feb. 24):
When parents separate, do they sometimes put their needs ahead of their children’s? Yes – including the “need” to punish the other parent by restricting the parenting time. Many of us are upset with parents who feel they have the “right” to deprive their children of medical attention, including measles vaccinations, even though these loving parents sincerely believe this is in “the best interests of the child.”
Similarly there are parents, judges and mental health professionals who advise against a powerful preventative medicine – one that protects children for a lifetime against damaged, weakened, or completely lost relationships with one of their parents. That preventative medicine is shared parenting – children’s continuing to live with both parents at least 35 percent of the time.
Social science research clearly shows shared parenting provides the best outcomes for children with fit and loving parents. These 43 studies compared children in shared parenting families to those who lived primarily or exclusively with one parent, while continuing to spend time with their other parent. The shared-parenting children benefited most, even when levels of conflict and incomes were factored in.
Did the sharing parents have especially communicative, friendly relationships with each other? No. Did they mutually agree at the outset to share rather than to hoard the parenting time without any nudging from mediators, lawyers or therapists? No.
Did most of their children feel stressed, unstable, insecure or “homeless” because they lived in two homes instead of one? No. And when their parents were behaving badly towards each other, were the children any worse off living in two homes rather than one? No.
For the past quarter century, in dozens of research studies, have most children told us that living with one of their parents every other weekend was meeting their needs and making them feel more stable and secure? No. In fact, they’ve told us quite the opposite.
Unfortunately too many well-meaning mental health professionals, mediators and judges are swayed more by their personal beliefs than by the empirical data on shared parenting.
Just as some poorly informed, but well intentioned doctors offer outdated or harmful advice about medical treatments, there are professionals who offer advice to judges and mental health practitioners that is not research-based. More troubling still, many of these speakers and writers convincingly present their opinions as if they were actually reporting empirical data – a disguise that is not only disingenuous but potentially harmful to children whose lives are affected by adults’ decisions regarding custody.
Shared parenting is not about parents’ “rights.” It’s about adults’ making decisions that are firmly grounded in research – not on hearsay or personal opinions.