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Quality Time and Child Access

Recently, the Washington Post reported a study by Canadian and American researchers that concluded that “quality time” is more related to successful outcomes for children than the “quantity of time” parents spend with their children.  A bit of history may contribute to this discussion.

I would start this history with the decades during which courts handling custody matters used a “maternal preference.”  Children of “tender years” were presumed to be better off living with their mothers rather than their fathers.  Then, as sexual stereotypes began to blur, there was a significant movement in the United States that centered on “fathers’ rights.”  These advocates argued that fathers were as capable as mothers of raising their children and should have equal time.  Equal time, they argued, was not just about fathers’ rights, but children’s interests.  There were studies that showed that children, particularly girls, who spent more time with their fathers had better, happier lives.

As is often the case with a passionate movement, the fathers’ rights movement engendered a reaction.  One of the responses was putting forth the idea that “quality” time was more important than “quantity.”  In other words, the traditional model favoring mothers could be justified by saying that fathers merely needed to spend quality time with their children.

In time, as a family law practitioner, I saw this argument get debunked in studies that established that “quantity” was just as important as quality.  Quality had become associated with intense parent-child interaction.  Those advancing “quantity” said it was important for children and their parents to be together in all sorts of circumstances, including boredom and conflict.

Now, the latest development, reported in the papers, comes at a time when more families are two parent families, more women are working full-time jobs, and “quantity” may not be available.  No problem, the researchers say.  You need not feel guilty if you are spending quality time with your children.

Observing these changing psychological pronouncements over time should convince even the most scientific thinkers that we do not know a great deal about children and parents and their interactions.  Today’s psychological science is just the latest, not the final, thinking.  I always advocate that clients have more than one source of advice, look to trusted people and sources, and test their own instincts as a parent.  So long as they focus on what they know and observe about their children, and put the needs of the children ahead of their own, they should find support in the family court.

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