Insecure Attachments: Study Shows Babies Who Spend Nights Away From Primary Caregiver Less Secure
In a new study that may have profound implications for a society in which divorce is common and out-of-wedlock child-rearing is becoming more and more normalized, a University of Virginia researcher says her study shows that infants who went on frequent overnight visits away from their primary caregiver had more insecure attachments to the caregiver.
The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that infants who spent at least one night per week away from their primary caregiver had more insecure attachments compared to babies who had fewer overnights or saw their other parent only during the day.
Defined as an enduring, deep, emotional connection between an infant and caregiver, attachments are something that develop within the child’s first year of life, according to Samantha Tornello, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate in psychology in U.Va.’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
And it is believed that in that first year that critical attachments are developed that set the framework for healthy attachments and relationships throughout the person’s life.
And as courts and other outside entities are becoming more and more prominent in the decision-making surrounding parenting duties and privileges, what is best for the baby is unfortunately not always going to be at the top of the list of priorities.
“Judges often find themselves making decisions regarding custody without knowing what actually may be in the best interest of the child, based on psychology research,” Tornello said in a press release accompanying the study. “Our study raises the question, ‘Would babies be better off spending their overnights with a single caregiver, or at least less frequently in another home?’”
Tornello was quick to point out that the study was not meant to presume that either the mother or father would be a better primary caregiver, but rather that it would be ideal that the child remain in the care each night of the same loving and attentive caregiver, and that there may be something psychologically disruptive about an infant spending nights in different homes within that first year of life.
“We would want a child to be attached to both parents, but in the case of separation a child should have at least one good secure attachment,” she said. “It’s about having constant caregivers that’s important.”
In the case of toddlers and other older children, the findings were less dramatic; it would seem that the attachments made in the first year are the critical ones.
So maybe its time to think about reassessing the “even-steven” approach to sharing child-rearing duties in the first year of a child’s life with separated parents, at least when it comes to overnight.
And after all, who wouldn’t be willing to make some small sacrifice like this for one short year, in order to ensure their child was healthy and happy for the rest of their life?