Attachment theory was developed from the work of a psychoanalyst, John Bowlby, after World War two, at a time when there were many children orphaned by the war, or who had to live with relatives or strangers for many different reasons. The theory is that humans need attachment to a primary carer during infancy, for their normal emotional and social development.


In separating families, there is debate about how this affects over night arrangements for young children, say under the ages of two or three. The debate is often presented as an argument about whether Dads can have overnights with littlies, but in reality it is about whether it is best for those children to remain overnight with their primary attachment figure. Biology pretty much determines that this will be Mum in the majority of separation cases involving infants.

It is disappointing that Bettina Arndt has written her article in today’s Age from the perspective of a debate about Dad versus Mum, at : with the emotional title ‘Empty days, lonely nights’ and a photo of a Dad with his young daughter. This discussion should be about what is best for children, and not about characterising the research as pro or anti Mum or Dad, which is what Arndt has done.


There is legitimate debate about attachment theory and about how it should be considered in making arrangements for children when parents separate. It is the potential for ’empty days, lonely nights’ of children that we should be focusing on. Attachment theory is about the wellbeing and development of infants, it is not about the natural grief and sorrow of parents who are forced apart from their babies as a consequence of separation.


Nobody wants to see either parent suffer in this way,  and all psychologists, lawyers and others who advise separating families need to be cognisant of developments in the attachment theory debate. Arndt’s article is a useful summary of the different research currently published, and makes important reading. It is just a pity that she allowed herself to come down on one side of the gender divide, and confine quotes from experts only in support of her own argument, including her analyses of the work of Associate Professor Jennifer McIntosh.


Let’s talk about the kids, and work to better understand the research, rather than setting up material for evidence in contested Court hearings? What a perfect occasion for parents to work collaboratively with their advisors to do the best for their kids as far as they can know what is best. Arndt’s article sets back the possibilities of collaboration in favour of a more adversarial discussion. Not helpful Bettina.

Child rights when parents is different from the original theory on attachment theory.