One of the most common concerns I hear in my psychology practice around co-parenting is fear that one parent will “turn” the kids against the other parent. Parents well up with tears when they admit their deep fear that with new custody arrangements kids will begin favoring one parent over the other. They’re insecure that the parent-child bond may not be as solid as it needs to be. 

Let’s start with the underlying question behind this fear: will your kids forget about you and stop loving you? Unequivocally NO. This is not just me trying to assuage your fear that your parent-child bond is not strong enough to sustain the divorce. Science supports that your children will never stop loving you. Attachment is a biologically adaptive mechanism which we all have.  As  children we bond and connect to our caregivers in order to survive.  Think back to what kept babies and children alive when our species was roaming from one location to the next looking for food and shelter. Children are high consumers of resources as they need to be fed, carried and taught how to live. 

Adults need to spend their emotional resources on their children to bond with them deeply. This bond has a protective feature that  keeps parents from giving up when the going gets tough. This parent-child bond is stronger than you may imagine.  Even though it may not always seem to be the case.  


dad and kids
Here’s why:

 While parents develop a biological strong bond to their children, children also create a deep biological bond and desire for connection to their parents. The parent is their only way of getting all the resources they need. They need their caretakers to survive. Since this need for connection is essential for safety your children will always maintain it. Even in the most horrific circumstances when parents hurt their children, kids will still try to get the love of their parents. Children need to be taken care of physically and emotionally. Children need to be mirrored which means they need a parent to reflect their experience and help them make sense of the strong feelings they feel. 

There has been research on the health outcomes of children in orphanages who grow up without the opportunity for healthy bonds with adult figures. The lack of attachment impacts their entire lives including their emotional regulation skills, physical growth and behavioral impulsivity. One of the most seminal studies about attachment by Harry Harlow in the 1950s involved monkeys who were separated from their mothers. The baby monkeys were given the option of walking towards two fake mama monkeys. One mama monkey was made of wire and had a bottle with milk and the other one was covered in soft cloth but had no milk. The babies always chose the felt mama. They wanted to be held and snuggled even more than fed. So, the next time you feel your kid pulling away or you fear you are losing them snuggle with them. For some children physical touch might not be their preferred way of connecting so reach out to them with whatever their version of snuggling is (i.e. watching a movie, walking your dogs, going for a drive). 

The bond of attachment between a child and their parent is essential. Children look for you the way bees look for honey. I want to be clear that the bond of attachment does not always look like your kids telling you they love you and hugging you. Sometimes they may be upset, scared or even angry with you. However, regardless of their outward behavior they want and need a connection to you. 

The next time you notice your fear of being abandoned or unloved by your child put a hand on your heart and remember that you have a biological attachment to your child. Some of my clients like to imagine a white light or a string from their heart to their children’s heart when they are separated. Even if they go away for a night, a week or a month with their other parent your bond of attachment is in their DNA and nervous system. Their love and connection to you is not going anywhere.   Your bond with your children isn’t going anywhere, you’re literally wired to keep connected.  Spend more time enjoying your children and less time worry about keeping your bond strong.  Whenever you start hearing that pesky voice say, “what if they stop loving me?” allow yourself to feel your connection with all your senses.


woman by the window
Kimberly A. Cook is a Partner with Schiller DuCanto & Fleck,LLP, the country’s largest matrimonial law firm, located in Chicago, Illinois. Kimberly is known for guiding her clients through complex family law matters including prenuptial agreements, divorce, custody and child support, with grace and dignity through their difficult time while giving them the tools to move forward into their best life.Kimberly’s legal work speaks for itself. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, has been named in Super Lawyers Magazine, listed in the “40 Under 40 Illinois Attorneys to Watch,” and named in The Best Lawyers in America. Kimberly received her B.A. from Spelman College and her J.D. from the Catholic University of America – Columbus School of Law. While in law school, she served as a judicial intern for the Honorable Gerald B. Lee, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the Honorable John Mott, Superior Court of the District of Columbia – Domestic Relations Division. Kimberly spends her free time sharing her legal experience with the community as a speaker, volunteer and mentor. She is a member of the Black Women Lawyer’s Association and the American Bar Association. Her civic engagement includes her membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and the Economic Club of Chicago.

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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. 


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