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The significance of a father’s involvement in an infant’s life

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There is a persistent but erroneous perception that if parents split up when their child is still an infant, it does not matter if they share custody of the child or whether the father receives generous visitation time. The rationale is that the child is too young to understand what is going on and will not remember these early years anyway so will not miss the lost time spent with his or her father. What the parents perceive as the “new normal” will simply be normal for the child as he or she grows.

Leaving aside for the moment how unfair this attitude is to the father, it also shows a dramatic misunderstanding of child psychology. According to Parents Magazine, infants feel tension when their parents are in conflict. They cannot express their feelings in words but make them known in other ways. Some babies show developmental delays or regressions. Others tend to become clingy around their parents and irritable around strangers. Maintaining a consistent routine to the extent possible helps to provide comfort. Ideally, this would include similar amounts of time shared between father and infant after the separation as before.

According to STAT News, the benefits of a father’s involvement continue through a child’s infancy into childhood, adolescence and adulthood. This may be particularly true as it relates to persistence in the face of challenges and the development of language. However, it is not only children who benefit. Parenting is a skill that one learns “on the job.” Fathers who spend more time with their infant children become more sensitive to their children’s needs and learn to read their babies’ signals more accurately.

It is true that the child whose parents split during his or her infancy will have no conscious memory of the separation as he or she grows. However, it is also true that the brain is actively learning during infancy, perhaps more than at any other time. Therefore, what a child absorbs as a baby will lay the foundation for the worldview and sense of self that he or she continues to build throughout life.

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