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Shared Custody For An 8 Month Old?

by Valerie Barbarita
(AR, USA)

My daughter is 8 months old. I have been separated from her father for six weeks and although he has 100% financially taken care of her, I have been her primary caregiver from birth.

Her father is wonderful with her but loses sight of what's best for her when it interferes with his wants. I offered to sign paperwork for partial custody Friday evening until Sunday evening, every week but he said he would fight me for joint custody because he deserves as much time with her as I do.

I am concerned about my daughter's mental development, I just think she is too young to understand being bounced around and away from me even for the weekends I agreed to.

I don't want to lose the bond and trust I have earned from her.

What is best for her?

Comments for Shared Custody For An 8 Month Old?

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Co-Parenting - What Is Best For Baby? - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Valerie,
My heart goes out to you, custody issues can be really hard to manage at any age, but it is so hard to let go and trust a baby will be OK with Dad. You clearly have a very deep bond with your little girl, and NOTHING will break that. You have said that her father is wonderful with her, so you clearly don't doubt his ability to take care of her.

You know what will have the biggest negative impact on your baby? If you are distressed and if there is a lot of disharmony between you and her father. The best thing for your little girl, is for Mom and Dad to have her welfare foremost in their hearts and to be able to put the relationship "stuff" to one side. This is very difficult, because when a relationship has broken down to the point where parent's can't live together, then being able to negotiate about custody or financial matters can be very difficult.

It usually is the Mom that has the primary care giving role with babies, because of breast feeding, traditional roles, maternity leave or that Dad can bring in a higher salary. But apart from breast feeding (and breast milk can be expressed) none of those conditions actually mean that a baby is better with Mom. What a baby needs, is the loving attention of both parents, and if Dad is available to take on a bigger role in raising her, then that is actually wonderful for her development, as well as a very powerful bonding experience for them both. Going between you both, could be a very positive experience for her, and learning to rely on someone other than Mom, and to trust her needs will be met, will actually help to build resilience in her.

However, if his having joint custody means he has to put her in daycare for the week-days he has her, when you would be available to take care of her yourself, then I would agree, it would be better for her to be with you, than in daycare at this age. But if he is available and willing, then it actually is his right to joint custody - and it is actually the right of your baby too. Some courts will favor Mom though when a child is so young, but I would really encourage you not to end up down that path if you can avoid it.

I would really encourage you to get some counseling for yourself, there is a lot of grief in ending a relationship, and the difficulties with communication and negotiation etc will be taking it's toll on you. Getting some help to deal with all the issues around separation, will help you build some resources and feel a bit more relaxed about letting your precious baby go. I know it is not an easy thing to trust that your baby will be OK in someone else's care, a Mother's instincts is to want to keep a little one close by. But the biggest impact on your little girl is when Mom is upset or anxious. You may notice she is much more likely to start crying or be grizzly when you are starting to stress about handing her over to Dad.

Part Two Follows . . .

Co-Parenting - What Is Best For Baby? - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Even if she does want you at some times, like when she is teething or bumps her head or something, learning to accept comfort from someone else is a very good internal resource for her to build. He clearly loves her very much, and you have to let go and trust in that love. Your little girl will let him know if she needs something, and you really do not have to worry that you will loose any of the closeness and bond you have with your baby. Developing a bond with him, and having someone else as a primary care-giver, does not take anything away from her relationship with you. It adds a much richer and wider experience for her and the more close relationships she has that she can deeply trust, the better start she has in life.

It is very sad if children get used in power struggles between the parents, as you say, it is her needs that are most important and custody decisions need to be based on which arrangements are in the child's best interests. There are also other factors, like grand-parent involvement as you both need support, and again, the more close relationships your baby develops, the better for her development.

I know you would have liked me to tell you that as the Mother, you are the best person to be taking care of your baby full time, but I know of many single Dad's who have done a fantastic job of raising their children from babies, both full time and part time. The most important thing is to develop a good parental relationship with the other parent. It may be helpful to get some mediation counseling together to be able to work out arrangements with as little dis-harmony as possible.

My marriage ended when my youngest was 18 months, and I know how hard it was to let the kids stay overnight for that first access visit. And my ex-husband had really had very little to do with the children, so I did not really even trust that he would know what to do. They were absolutely fine, and it was a really important start to his building a relationship with them.

Part Three Follows . . .

Co-Parenting - What Is Best For Baby? - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

It will be hard for you to let your baby go, and it might be helpful to set up some support for yourself for those times. You don't want to sitting at home alone missing her and worrying about her, it would be better for you to use that time to take care of yourself, or build your skills in other areas. Taking a class, or even a part time job might be some things you can consider to make good use of the time. Make sure you have friends and family you can visit and get support from, but to also have some fun with. If you fill yourself up during the time apart, then when you are having your time together, then you will be refreshed, full of energy and be available to give her a much higher quality attention than if you are feeling tired and depressed.

Yes, you do have to allow yourself to grieve, both for the end of the relationship with her father, but also for the changes in your parenting role. But don't let yourself go down the drain with it, make sure you find ways to feel good about yourself, and enrich your life in some way. Your little girl needs a happy fulfilled Mommy, and she will adjust quite happily to having two different homes.

Take care of yourself Valerie, and trust in both your love for your little girl, and the love her father has for her, she will be fine, and in fact, this experience will give her added resources, skills and development opportunities.

Wishing you many blessings,
Annie D


Co-Parenting
by: Suze

Dear Valerie,
I know exactly how you feel, I split with the father of my baby when he was 6 months old, and even though he had not had very much to do with taking care of him, his Mother had been a great support to me in the early days as she knew our relationship was not that good, and she wanted to make sure she was a big part of Nathan's life.

We got pregnant accidentally, and did try to make a go of it but having a baby in the house just created so much stress, that the relationship couldn't hold up.

I was so upset the first night Nathan was away from me, I cried all night. I texted my ex about ten times to check if he was alright, and generally made a nuisance of myself.

It took about three months of me stressing out, and actually being a right pain, before I finally realized I was making the whole situation worse. The afternoons before Nathan would leave, he was grumpy and crying, and it made it harder and harder to hand him over. My ex kept saying he was fine once he got back to their place, but of course I didn't believe him. I didn't realized it was my attitude and stress that was making Nathan upset!

I finally got some counseling and realized my ex actually had a better support system with Nathan than I did, plus I could see Nathan starting to respond to his father, with his eyes lighting up and getting excited. At first I was jealous, but with the help of counseling I learned that my baby was not here to make me feel good, it was up to me to feel good and get my life back on track and be a better Mom. I am a bit ashamed to say I did not behave very well over that time, and I now know it was mostly my behavior that was making co-parenting with my ex such a drama.

I have decided to go back to school, and make my son proud of me, and I am still getting counseling to help me be a better person. I have learned that the better I know myself, the better Mom I can be.

And even though it has taken a while for me to realize it, I do know that my son is fine with his father, and that he needs us both in his life, and he actually probably got less clingy care with his father, than with me!

Good luck, I know it is not easy, but your ex sounds like he is good with your baby, so I'm sure she will be fine.


Learning To Let Go
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Suze,
Thanks for writing in with your experience. It is really helpful for parents to hear how other Mom's cope with a similar situation.

It sounds like you have come a long way, and learned a lot about yourself in the process. Congratulations on deciding to go back to school, you are a wonderful role model for your son, and the boost to your own self esteem by continuing to learn and grow is so valuable.

Our kids want us to be happy and available, and if we stay stuck in our distress, or pain, then we are not able to really be there for our kids.

Well done for getting some support to help you be a better Mom, and cope with the changes in your life. You are doing a great job!

Annie D :)

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