family hugging

Was the Tender Years Doctrine Right All Along?

In times not so very far in the past, family courts applied what was called the "tender years doctrine" to decide custody issues for very young children - most often in the mother's favor.

Courts have long since rejected this doctrine, which held that very young children - newborns, infants, toddlers - needed to be with their mothers during their "tender years." Now, the court system is more egalitarian, no matter what the age of the child. The overriding inquiry: What's best for the kids?

But a recent study seems to suggest there might be something to the notion after all ... in a way.

The study found that infants who routinely spent one or more nights per week away from their homes -- i.e., during joint custody or regular visitation, or with overnight caregivers -- suffered weakened bonds with their mothers.

While the study apparently looked at infants whose moms were the primary caregivers, however, the author of the study is quick to point out this isn't about just moms ... it happens regardless of which parent is the primary caregiver. The deciding factor that causes the trouble is the time away from the primary caregiver's home:

“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. “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 pointed out that either the mother or father could be the primary caregiver, but the point would be that the child ideally would be in the care each night of a loving and attentive caregiver and that there may be something disruptive about an infant spending nights in different homes.
“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.”