League of Women Voters Wrong on the Science of Shared Parenting

November 9, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Moving on from Palma McLaughlin’s misrepresentations of facts about two shared parenting bills then before the Massachusetts Legislature, I turn to her misrepresentations of science. McLaughlin’s screed represents the position of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and appears on that organization’s letterhead. It opposes the two shared parenting bills.

In my last piece I touched on McLaughlin’s frank misrepresentations of parental alienation and her apparently intentional effort to confuse it in her readers minds with Parental Alienation Syndrome. But when it comes to utterly misleading her readers, nothing quite matches what she said about the science on shared parenting generally.

There is not a clear-cut consensus in the research that shared parenting is in the best interests of the child.

Keep in mind that McLaughlin’s two-page document is dated December 3, 2015. That’s one year after the publication of Richard Warshak’s summary of the science on shared parenting that appeared in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law. For McLaughlin’s information, it’s entitled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report.”

To the untutored among us, that looks suspiciously like, well, a consensus report. It makes the case for its being a consensus report thus:

One hundred and ten researchers and practitioners have read, provided comments, and offered revisions to this article. They endorse this article’s conclusions and recommendations, although they may not agree with every detail of the literature review. Their names and affiliations are listed in the Appendix.

Those researchers and practitioners hail from all over the globe. Given their number, their vast experience and knowledge of the field of parenting time and child well-being, the document they endorse looks very much like a scientific consensus. If there is another document with opposing viewpoints that has the endorsement of so many scientists in the field, I look forward to seeing it. But of course there is none. There is none for the good and sufficient reason that, in fact, Warshak’s paper represents the accumulated wisdom to date on the science of parenting time, parenting plans and child well-being. It is what it says it is.

So McLaughlin’s claim that there is no such consensus is simply wrong. Given that she had a year to familiarize herself with the Warshak paper, her claim to Bay State legislators must be considered an intentional misrepresentation of the state of the science applicable to the then-pending bills.

And what is the consensus of those researchers and practitioners?

1. Just as we encourage parents in intact families to share care of their children, we believe that the social science evidence on the development of healthy parent– child relationships, and the long-term benefits of healthy parent– child relationships, supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children. We recognize that some parents and situations are unsuitable for shared parenting, such as those mentioned in point #7 below.

2. Young children’s interests benefit when two adequate parents follow a parenting plan that provides their children with balanced and meaningful contact with each parent while avoiding a template that calls for a specific division of time imposed on all families.

3. In general the results of the studies reviewed in this document are favorable to parenting plans that more evenly balance young children’s time between two homes. Child developmental theory and data show that babies normally form attachments to both parents and that a parent’s absence for long periods of time jeopardizes the security of these attachments.

McLaughlin’s representations to the contrary are at best ill-informed and at worst intentional misrepresentations of the known science. But she doesn’t stop there. She moves on to that long-debunked chestnut of the anti-dad crowd, the claim that infants and toddlers are harmed by spending nights with their fathers. That claim was begun by Jennifer McIntosh, who, faced with the storm of criticism with which her work was met, no longer makes the claim. That may be why McLaughlin doesn’t cite McIntosh’s work. Instead, she relies on a single study that’s every bit as bad as what preceded it, a 2013 paper by Samantha Tornello.

Here’s how the excellent Dr. Linda Nielsen described Tornello’s work:

The fourth study which was published in 2013 is distinct from the others because it focused exclusively on inner city, impoverished, never married, poorly educated, minority parents with high rates of incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health problems who were part of the ongoing “Fragile Families” study. Given the unique characteristics of these parents, the findings cannot be generalized to the vast majority of separated or divorced parents – or to most American parents who are living in poverty.

The Fragile Families and Child Well-being survey is one of the finest sets of data ever gathered on that topic. It’s been the source for countless papers analyzing the data accumulated. But no one would ever pretend that the data so gathered in any way represents the U.S. population generally. (Well, McLaughlin might, but no one else.) The people studied simply don’t represent the population of the country generally.

But that’s not all. Much like McIntosh earlier, Tornello attempted to measure the strength or fragility of children’s attachment to their mothers by… wait for it… asking the mothers. Needless to say, those mothers have no background in assessing attachment which is, after all, a very specific scientific concept. This seems to have been the first and only study to rely, not on trained researchers who understand the concept of attachment, but on poorly educated lay people. Is it too much to ask Tornello, et al to admit that mothers might be biased in their assessment of their children’s attachment to them? Needless to say, relying on mothers has never been validated as accurately measuring children’s attachment and won’t be.

To top matters off, the Tornello study on which McLaughlin solely relies in no way discourages overnights for very young children. Indeed, some of its findings show frequent overnighters doing better than less frequent ones.

But, even that isn’t all. What Tornello never mentioned was that most of the children studied spent most of their time not with their mothers but with their fathers. The anti-dad crowd wants us to believe that the term “overnights” means time away from Mom, but in fact, in the Fragile Families data, it meant, more often than not, time away from Dad. In short, the best we can say about the Tornello study is that it’s a hopeless mess. Briefly, it’s a badly constructed work with ambiguous results that in no way encourages the conclusion that overnights away from one parent adversely affects children’s well-being.

But hey, it’s the best McLaughlin can come up with.

Emailing the LWVMA and letting them know how shoddy their opposition to shared parenting is wouldn’t be amiss.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#LeagueofWomenVoters, #sharedparenting, #RichardWarshak

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