Co-Parenting Babies and Toddlers

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Co-parenting after a separation or divorce can be challenging regardless of a child’s age, but it’s especially demanding during the stroller years — when you’re dealing with the physical and emotional needs of a baby, infant, or toddler.

Until recently, the vast majority of children of this age lived primarily with their mothers. Courts relied on the “tender years doctrine,” a legal principle that presumed the mother should have custody during the tender years — generally regarded as under age 3 or 4. This has been gradually replaced with the “best interest of the child” doctrine of custody, which can include sole or joint physical custody with either parent, and/or increased parenting time with the child’s other parent. Of late, most experts now say most children need consistent interaction with both parents starting at birth to build healthy, long-term parent-child relationships.

Society has come a long way in this regard, even though certain logistical challenges still exist. For example, breastfeeding moms may be reluctant to offer dads extended overnight or full-day separations. Ideally, dads should try to make accommodations for the breastfeeding schedule, but it should not be used as a reason to restrict his time or involvement with the child (nor as a way to pad or shrink child support orders).

Spending evenings and overnights with both parents is also critical, since these provide opportunities for critical interaction between parent and child — from bathing and bedtime rituals to snuggling in the morning. Ideally, parents should discuss the child’s sleeping arrangements in both homes, including decisions such as whether to allow the child to sleep in the parent’s bed.

Other basic tips regarding co-parenting younger children:

1. Make sure both homes have everything they need, from diapers, bottles, and binkies to car seats and cribs.

2. Try to keep the same routines, including feeding schedules, naptimes and bedtimes, bathing rituals, etc.

3. Make sure your child’s favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or other “lovie” goes with him or her to the co-parent’s house during visits.

Even if one parent assumes primary responsibility for caregiving, your parenting plan should allow the co-parent as much one-on-one time as possible, including frequent visits for the opportunity to bond and provide some of the caregiving.

Remember, basic, everyday interactions between an infant, toddler, or preschooler and his or her parent are the foundation upon which is built a loving, trusting parent-child relationship. And experts agree that the long-term benefit of healthy parent-child relationships supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for all children — regardless of age.