New Study Demonstrates Value of Overnights with Dad for Infants

December 16, 2016
By: Robert Franklin, J.D., Member of the Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The notion that kids don’t need their fathers took another body blow recently. Arizona State University Professor William Fabricius published new research in the American Psychological Association’s journal “Psychology, Public Policy and Law” finding that children under the age of three who have frequent overnight stays with each parent benefit later in life.

Professor Fabricius is one of the distinguished researchers who will present their findings at our landmark conference May 29-31, 2017 in Boston. We invite you to attend this conference, which will review the worldwide results of shared parenting research.

Published on November 28, 2016, Fabricius’ paper, entitled “Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time with Fathers? The Policy Debate and New Data,” found that infants who have significant numbers of overnight stays with both parents report better relationships with each parent when they reach young adulthood. Importantly, this holds true even when there’s high parental conflict when the children are under three. It also holds true irrespective of parental educational levels.

The new study comes in the context of an ongoing debate within the scientific community about the advisability of allowing infants and toddlers to be away from their mothers’ care overnight. As researcher Dr. Linda Nielsen, who will also be present at the NPO conference, and others have made clear, studies purporting to find overnights to be detrimental are woefully flawed. The few researchers who’ve opposed overnights, like Jennifer McIntosh, have mostly backed down from their previous opposition. Others, like Robert Emery, maintain that more research needs to be conducted before a determination can be made.

The larger picture is that the debate about overnights with Dad constitutes the last redoubt of the few academics who’ve consistently questioned the value of children maintaining meaningful relationships with their fathers post-divorce. By now, the scientific literature favoring those relationships is so overwhelming that the opposition can be seen to have retreated to their last line of defense – the parenting of kids under three.

The new Fabricius work comes within that context and is rightly seen as an assault on that final line of defense of mother-only childcare. It isn’t the final word on the subject, but its findings are so consistent that it strongly suggests that, essentially from birth, children with healthy relationships with both parents do better than those with only one primary parent.

Indeed, one of the salient features of the new study is its finding that both father-child and mother-child relationships benefit when the child has frequent overnights with Dad.

“The findings disconfirm the hypothesis (George, Solomon, et al., 2011; Main et al., 2011; Sroufe & McIntosh, 2011) that more overnights away from mothers should harm the mother-child relationship. The current findings provided a strong disconfirmation, not only because benefits accrued to the mother-child relationship, but also because they were associated with overnights specifically during infancy. Overnights during infancy should have been the most harmful because infants lack the language and cognitive skills to understand time, recall the past, and anticipate future events.”

Finally, the new findings give further support to previous research demonstrating that there is no hierarchy of attachments for newborns. That is, newborns form attachments to both their mothers and their fathers and don’t rank-order either in terms of importance.

“The finding that overnights during infancy were also associated with the quality of father-child relationships is contrary to the monotropy hypothesis for the following reason: in our sample mothers were most often the primary caregivers, and according to monotropy, infants should not have been developing simultaneous attachment relationships with fathers; however, the associations of overnights during infancy with the quality of both parent– child relationships suggests that infants were developing attachment relationships with both parents. This is consistent with other theoretical (e.g., Waters & McIntosh, 2011) and empirical (e.g., Kochanska & Kim, 2013; Main & Weston, 1981) evidence that infants form attachment relationships with mothers and fathers simultaneously.”

The Fabricius study should guide policy decisions on judicial training and parenting time orders.

“These findings provide evidential support for policies to encourage frequent overnight parenting time for infants and toddlers, even when one parent disagrees.”

That’s not only because of the demonstrated benefits of overnights for the very young that are, of course, only correlations. Fabricius also points out that, because more overnights tended to be associated with greater benefits to kids (i.e. a “positive dose-response relation”), causation was suggested.

“[T]he overall “dose response” relation that we observed for father-child relationships (see Figure 4) is often indicative of causal processes.”

The new findings of course agree with the consensus paper authored by Dr. Richard Warshak in 2014 and endorsed by 110 social scientists worldwide. Promoting meaningful relationships between children and their fathers is beneficial to all concerned and should start at the very earliest ages.

Dr. Warshak is still another worldwide leader in research on shared parenting who will present at our conference in Boston on May 29-31, 2017, on the worldwide results of shared parenting research. We urge you to attend this conference so you can learn what experts from all over the world are finding. Just go to

Finally, take a look at our accomplishments. And then take the plunge and support us so we can be even more vigorous and more successful in 2017.

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