Learning to Trust: Parenting Time and Very Young Children
It's completely natural for you, as a parent, to want to spend as much time with your baby as possible. And, of course, your baby needs to develop strong relationships with both parents. But the way in which divorced or separated parents spend time with their very young children can have a serious impact on the children's long-term emotional development, so it's important to structure parenting time in a way that meets their developmental needs.
Of course, a baby is too young to understand the meaning of separation or divorce, but he or she will still pick up on, and respond to, changes in routine and environment. Parents need to understand their infant's emotional and psychological needs, and respond appropriately.
How Babies Learn to Trust — Or Not
In an infant's first year of life, his or her main job in terms of emotional development is to develop the capacity to trust. How does that happen? In the simplest of ways: if a baby cries because he is hungry, wet, or has some other need, and someone consistently responds to that cry, the baby begins to get a sense that the world is a safe and predictable place. He begins to trust, even before he has words for it, that he will be cared for. He will tend to be more calm and secure and to form stronger attachments with his caregivers.
On the other hand, if a baby's needs are met inconsistently, if her cries are not responded to, or her environment is unpredictable, things won't go so well in the trust-development department. If the baby forms the impression that her caregivers and the world are untrustworthy, she's more likely to become fretful and anxious.
When a baby lives in the same house all the time, with the same responsive caregivers every day, it's easier for him or her to develop that sense that the world is predictable and trustworthy. Unfortunately, when parents live in separate homes, they have to work harder to foster an environment that makes that possible. And, as with so much of parenting, that means putting their child's needs before their own.
Co-Parenting to Help Your Baby Develop Trust
If you're separated or divorced, your child is almost always going to have to deal with having two separate homes. There's not much you can do to help that, and you shouldn't beat yourself up for it. What you should do is recognize that your child's needs and structure parenting time around them.
For your infant, that means reliability and predictability. If a baby is nursing, that might mean no overnights with dad for a while, but finding other ways for the baby to get to know and spend time with him. It might mean you and your ex working together more closely than you might prefer to establish a routine you will both adhere to, giving the baby the predictability, attention, and love he needs. If definitely means that you limit the number of additional caregivers for your baby.
To learn more about co-parenting to promote your children's emotional health, take a look at these articles:
- Divorce and Your Children's Developmental Stages
- Children Are Not Backpacks
- Co-Parenting: What Does It Really Mean for Minnesota Families?
We invite you to contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about how best to help your children during or after your divorce or separation.