Divorce can be an especially painful process for parents with infants. In addition to the stress and emotion of caring for a new baby, the parents also have to adapt to living apart and co-parenting under less-than-ideal circumstances. And, unlike older children who are capable of expressing their feelings verbally, it can be difficult for parents to determine how their conflict is affecting their infant.
In his column this week, parenting advice columnist Mr. Dad responds to the concerns of a man in just this situation. His key points:
First, it’s not the divorce itself that can negatively impact a baby, it’s the behavior of the parents during the divorce. Obviously, a baby is not capable of understanding what a divorce is. However, babies can and do pick up on the emotions of their parents; they will react to a hostile or depressed home environment.
Indeed, because of this, Mr. Dad points out that parental separation can actually be good for a baby, as it may eliminate hostility in his environment.
Secondly, living in a high conflict environment or with a very depressed parent will affect a baby’s behavior and development. A baby who is living with openly feuding parents may be prone to cry and fuss more than a baby who is not. A baby with a parent too depressed to pay full attention to him may start exhibit depressive behaviors, such as sluggishness and decreased appetite.
In order to avoid this, Mr. Dad advises both parents to put their child’s needs first and avoid engaging in conflict in the baby’s presence. (This advice is obviously applicable to children of any age.) Secondly, in the case of an infant, set up a schedule where each parent can see the baby on a daily basis. This will encourage bonding because babies have very short memories and need regular contact to build a bond. This is especially important for dads, who do not have the natural, daily connection of breast feeding to share with their child.
Finally, be sure to be interactive with your baby during the time you do have – play, sing, cuddle, etc. Don’t let your emotions about your spouse get in the way of your growing relationship with your child.
Check out Mr. Dad’s whole column here.