Author: Abby Johnson
No studies can really tell us how your particular baby or toddler will react to your divorce; each baby is unique. Babies are born with their basic personality, namely, his or her own particular way of eating, sleeping and eliminating. These basic qualities determine how this little individual will react to stressful situations, from infancy all the way to adulthood. Basically, the baby at birth has all the qualities for the personality that will come later.
Baby temperaments may vary, but the need for consistency and love during these first vulnerable years is important to every baby. For example, in visitation, a baby under two should not be moved between parents, but should stay in one home while the absent parent visits him.
A baby needs a relationship with a “primary caretaker,” one adult who provides a consistent relationship. Psychologists have found that young babies develop human attachment by bonding with just one person. It’s all right to have many people in a baby’s life, but there must be one constant person so he or she can develop a bond. Be very careful not to use your baby as a pawn in your divorce. There was a recent article about a baby that was regularly “kidnapped” by one parent from the other. The mother said she was the better parent and the baby belonged with her. The father said the mother suffered from postpartum depression, and the baby would be better off with him and his girlfriend. But neither parent was truly consistent in bonding with the baby. And this baby was born prematurely, so he was especially in need of consistent bonding.
It is particularly important that a single parent tries to avoid the temptation to over or under-parent a baby. Babies do need stimulation and cuddling, but they also need peace and tranquility. If a parent is distant emotionally, and ignores a baby’s cry, the baby will sense this and become irritated or tense. Or a parent will often use the baby as a source of their own comfort after a divorce, effectively transmitting their own anxiety to the baby. This, too, can make the baby irritated and tense. Babies will pick up on the parent’s anxiety during the divorce process, and then this anxiety becomes the baby’s, as well.
Sometimes the parent is just too preoccupied or depressed and cannot effectively care for the infant or the divorce is causing too much chaos in the household. At these times the baby may be better off staying temporarily with a guardian or relative until the parent is ready for full-time parenting. The parent who needs to do this may feel guilty about their perceived inability to cope, but it’s far better for the baby to live in a secure environment outside of the home and then return to it later when the environment is more stable.
Babies are very resilient, and they can endure, even when faced with early stress. Many children, through the years, have grown up emotionally whole and psychologically strong, even though they may have had adverse childhood experiences. And even those babies who do suffer emotional abandonment do not have to carry the wounds through a lifetime. Child development experts agree, if the child’s circumstances improve and change, especially during the crucial ages of two and six, the negative effects of early childhood neglect can be reversed.
About the author: Abby Johnson is a staff writer at http://www.family-review.com and is an occasional contributor to several other websites, including http://www.lifestylegazette.com.