Penelope Leach, a well respected British child psychologist and author of a best selling parenting book has sparked controversy this week after making a number of comments about the children of separated parents.
In her new book, Family Breakdown Leach claims that there is ‘undisputed’ evidence that separating children from their mothers ‘reduces brain development’ and could also create ‘unhealthy attachment issues’.
Leach goes on to say that parents often put their own needs first, writing “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.”
Unsurprisingly Leach’s comments have caused a huge stir with many parenting campaign groups such as ‘Fathers for Justice’ and ‘Families need fathers’ disputing the claims.
Ian Maxwell, a spokesperson for Families Need Fathers, told the Independent that Leach's argument was "worrying" for fathers and went against "common sense". He also noted that the role of fathers in their children’s lives has developed considerably.
But it is not just fathers that disagree with Leach’s comments. Kelly* is a single mother who shares custody of her three children who are aged 2, 4 and 6, with her ex-husband. She says that during the early days of their separation it was “absolutely vital” that the children had sleepovers at their fathers’ house.
“They need to know they still have two parents,” she says, “quality time with both of them is very important.”
Kelly also believes that single parents need support and that the best person to provide respite is the father. “Without a break parents can burn out,” she explains.
“When couples are parenting together, they each have time to themselves or time with each other. A single parent shouldn't miss out on this just because they are no longer in a relationship with the other parent.”
Bek* is in a different situation, like Kelly she shares custody of her three children, however she is not the primary carer. She believes that having her children for sleepovers is “very important.”
“It was devastating enough to lose custody through the courts, the idea of being told that my kids weren't able to sleep over with me would be unthinkable,” she explains.
“There are so many bonding experiences in that simple sleepover - eating meals, cuddles and bedtime, waking up in the mornings together.”
Family therapist Abi Gold takes a fairly pragmatic view. She says that while there may be some repercussions for children, kids need to have access to both of their parents. “It’s not a perfect situation, but parents are trying to do the best that they can,” she explains.
Gold suggests that in order to minimise the stress for children who are having regular sleep overs with their secondary caregiver parents should stick to a clear routine. “Make sure that there is a regular pattern so that the kids know what is happening,” she says.
It is also a good idea for children to have their own space and possessions in both their mothers and fathers home. “Kids who live like travellers and don’t have a spot to call their own can start to feel transient,” Gold explains.
Gold also notes that most parents are fully aware of their children’s needs and are doing their best. “You can’t go wrong if you are trying your hardest,” she says.