Overnight visits for a toddler? Try age four.

Q.  What is your recommendation on the best interests of children age two re overnight visitation.

 

A.  My answer comes from asking in turn: What makes overnight visitation high-risk for duress in the primary caretaker and for anxiety in children younger than four.  You may perceive the answer in the question, as young children are highly attuned to the emotional state and availability of their primary caretaker.  The following scenes are very difficult to prevent because of the developmental reality of young children’s continuing dependence for emotional security on the primary caretaker:

 

— the primary caretaker is naturally nowhere to be found in their ex-partner’s home, and will never be in close proximity to the child when she gets anxious.

 

— the primary caretaker is generally giving their child up under duress; their duress is sensed by the child.  I.e., this duress is counter to the child’s developmental need to reference her primary caretaker for help with big feelings.  This makes forced overnights developmentally premature until age four when the child has sufficient conceptual capacity to rationalize and externalize the reason for the overnight absence of her primary caretaker.

 

— the child will try to perform well for both parents (in the interests of increased parental approval and attention) so learns to white-knuckle through her anxious moments – until she gets home and can more safely let out all the feelings.  The primary caretaker is then in a perfect set-up: her motives are suspect, yet she is the only one who can report how the premature overnights are manifesting in the child.  Meanwhile the other parent can usually, mostly, honestly say they observed “nothing wrong.”

 

— the other parent often wants to tell the child things such as, “This is your second home,” or “You have two homes.”  Children under age four cannot conceptualize the meaning of this; i.e., they cannot yet hold onto the idea that rules, routines and sleep patterns can operate just differently (versus punitively or catastrophically).  Yet the hosting parent sees no reason to not repeatedly push for increased time in order to make their own wishes manifest.  I.e., the developmental needs of the child are less real and imperative than the adult’s personal dream of how things should be.

 

— the noncustodial parent will normally ask How can I be a parent if I don’t have access?  What should the standard be?

 

My answer is that the standard should be limited to day-time visits only, until age four.

 

Thank you for your good question.