August 31, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
A first-ever study of its kind shows that children in sole custody experience greater stress than do those in shared custody (Eurekalert, 8//17). The Swedish researcher who conducted the study, Jani Turunen, explained his findings this:
The explanation may be that children, who spend most of the time away from one parent, lose resources like relatives, friends and money. Previous research has also shown that children may worry about the parent they rarely meet, which can make them more stressed, says Jani Turunen, researcher in Demography at Stockholm University and Centre for research on child and adolescent mental health at Karlstad University.
The loss of resources, also called “social capital,” was extensively investigated by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur in their book Growing Up with a Single Parent. It explored the many benefits conferred on children when they have access to the material, emotional and psychological wealth of their extended families. The removal of one parent is also the removal of all those grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, who can teach the child countless things, provide contacts into the larger world, offer models of behavior, etc. So I suspect Turunen is right about his idea that the loss of those resources is a source of stress.
In the survey, a total of 807 children with different types of living arrangements answered to questions about how often they experience stress and how well, or badly, they get along with their parents. The parents have answered how well they get along with their former partner.
The study shows that children living with only one of the parents have a higher likelihood of experiencing stress several times a week, than children in shared physical custody. This generally applies even if the parents have a poor relationship, or if the children don’t get along with either of them.
Two things. First, I’ve reported recently about the effects on the stress levels of kids in daycare. They’re elevated and that increased stress can have deleterious consequences for them not only in childhood, but in later life. My guess is that the same holds true for the increased stress visited on kids with one parent sidelined by the divorce process.
Second, one of the arguments often raised against shared parenting is that parents who are in conflict can’t handle shared parenting well. That’s been roundly debunked as research demonstrates that parents on whom shared parenting is imposed by a judge generally manage the situation as well as those who agree to it. And those with high levels of conflict not only tend to reduce that conflict, but also tend to manage their parenting relationship as well as any others.
Now we know that kids’ stress levels are lower in shared parenting arrangements than those of kids in sole custody even when the parents don’t get along.
It’s quite amazing, really. At every turn, shared parenting is demonstrated by the science of the matter to be the best post-divorce choice. Every question about it is answered in its favor. Every objection raised against it is disproved.
There has previously been a concern that shared physical custody could be an unstable living situation, that can lead to children becoming more stressed. But those who pointed to it earlier have built their concerns on theoretical assumptions, rather than empirical research, says Jani Turunen.
What probably makes children in shared physical custody less stressed is that they can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for the children’s well-being. The relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting.
– In other words, living with both parents does not mean instability for the children. It’s just an adaptation to another housing situation, where regular relocation and a good contact with both parents equals to stability, says Jani Turunen.
It’s a good point. Opponents of children having meaningful time post-divorce with both parents often mumble about children “living out of suitcases,” i.e. spending all their time moving from household to household. Again, that’s proven to be a red herring. Kids do better on average in shared parenting arrangements than in any other following divorce. But Turunen’s point is important. “Stability” means more than anything else, a stable psyche. Moving from Mom’s to Dad’s is nowhere near as disruptive to children than losing one parent. The stress occasioned by, all of a sudden, not seeing Dad for weeks on end and then only for a couple of days, far outdoes moving from house to house once a week. And the detriments of that stress can last a lifetime.
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