Custody and Attachment: Meeting the
Needs of Babies and Children
by Susan Markel, M.D.
I am often contacted by mothers who practice
attachment parenting and who need help and support in custody
cases where the courts are assigning shared custody of infants and
Attachment parenting is a term invoked to
explain that an infant must receive consistent
attentive and appropriate care from his of her parents or
caregiver. By having such a nurturing relationship, the infant
develops a deep attachment and a sense of safety and security. It
is important that these ties not be disrupted, even for short
periods, by removing the baby from those adults with whom he or
she feels familiar and totally secure.
Unfortunately, the court system, in
attempting to create an equitable balance of time spent with the
child, is often unaware of the developmental needs of these
children who are, in their innocence, expecting that their
peaceful lives will continue as before.
|The attempt at fairness and equitable
distribution is not feasible in the case of young children whose
attachment to the primary caregiver is of paramount importance.
The consistent nurturing relationship with the mother, especially
in a situation where the toddler is breastfeeding (the norm in
most areas of the world) cannot be reduced to a comparison of
hours spent with either parent.
||Attachment to the
primary caregiver is of paramount importance.
Most often it is the mother who feeds,
rocks, diapers and comforts the baby from birth, responding
consistently to the needs of the infant and thereby forming a
strong emotional attachment. Toddlers and young children are in no
way able to understand the concept of time and certainly have no
awareness of the needs for a custody arrangement where there is a
desire for an equitable arrangement that is satisfactory to both
parents. Indeed, a child whose predictable routine has been
altered without regard to the anxieties that would be engendered
is under unimaginable stress, further compounded by the inability
of the child to express verbally the distress that is being
Children who are attached to their mothers
cannot be expected to endure having that relationship disrupted.
The situation between these children's parents regarding their own
needs for satisfaction is not their burden to bear, and yet, if
pursued, (by removing them from their mother for many hours at a
time, particularly overnight), the children would likely lose
their sense of trust. In the long term, any resulting anxiety and
depression would then be the forbearers of later emotional
problems during early school years, adolescence, and in adulthood.
behaviors have their roots in early childhood.
||These consequences are not being exaggerated.
Far from it: most, of not all, antisocial or dysfunctional
behaviors have their roots in early childhood. The discussion of
whether or not those individuals who have suffered emotional
trauma in the early years are then responsible for their resulting
behavior is far beyond the scope of this particular discussion.
However, the recognition that early experiences are detrimental to
one's ability to function as a healthy, mature adolescent and
adult is the basis of my recommendation.
As a pediatrician who supports attachment
parenting, I am an advocate of innocent children, who lack the
language, the skills, the understanding of the trauma that they
might be expected to experience through this disruptive process.
Even if their parents both genuinely want what is best for these
children, it is necessary that these parents, as well as the court
system, be educated, enlightened and really committed to
understanding the profound problems that will result if prolonged
visits are allowed to occur away from the primary caregiver during
this sensitive time in their development.
© Susan Markel, M.D., Board Certified
Pediatrician, Attachment Parenting Doctor
Reprinted with permission.