Separated parents who share the care of their young children and allow them to stay overnight at both of their homes are damaging them, a parenting expert has claimed.
Penelope Leach, one of Britain's leading childcare experts, said shuttling children backwards and forwards between two homes and allowing them to 'sleepover' with the parent they do not normally live with can affect the development of their brains.
Her comments have angered fathers' rights groups as children usually stay primarily with their mothers when their parents divorce or separate.
Ms Leach, a former president of the National Childminding Association who has written a number of books about caring for children, says allowing under fives to spend a night with one parent when they primarily live with another creates “unhealthy attachment issues.”
She also claims in her latest book, Family Breakdown, that there was “undisputed evidence” that a period of separation from the parent they normally live with - typically their mothers - can adversely affect a child’s brain development.
She argues that “When people say that it’s ‘only fair’ for a father and mother to share their five-year-old daughter on alternate weeks, they mean it is fair to the adults – who see her as a possession and her presence as their right – not that it is fair to the child.”
Ms Leach said when lawyers bid for their client to have overnight access with their young children they are ignoring evidence about the distressing and damaging impact on the child.
Leach said the rights of the child must always outweigh those of the parents and added: “It can be damaging to the child to divide time equally between the parents.”
Ian Maxwell, from Families Need Fathers, told the Independent on Sunday that society had moved on from classic attachment theory when bonds between mother and child were seen as the strongest.
He added: “The bond between fathers and children is just as important and we would question the evidence Ms Leach is citing for the primacy of the maternal bond.”
He said her argument did not accord with common sense was described her claims as “worrying.”
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