In my collaborative family law practice, I routinely work with parents who are desperate to reduce the effects of separation and divorce on their children. That can sometimes lead to a quest to become the ‘perfect parent,’ who is attuned to their child’s every need. However, a study recently reported in the Globe and Mail indicates that the definition of a perfect parent is likely different than what many of us have in mind.

In the study, researchers at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania set out to assess attachment levels by observing interactions between 83 mothers and their infants. Forming a secure caregiver attachment in childhood is associated with positive outcomes later in life. The study participants had low socioeconomic status, which often means experiencing additional family stressors related to having a low income.

‘Good enough’ parenting

What the researchers found is that attending to an infant’s need for attachment every time is not required to have a positive impact on the baby’s development. Even babies whose parents responded to their cries promptly only 50 per cent of the time still displayed positive attachment to their caregivers. One of the study’s conclusions is that ‘good enough’ parenting is much closer to ‘perfect’ parenting than we previously thought.

A quote in the article from the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Woodhouse, sums it up this way: “It turns out that babies are pretty forgiving, and that there’s a lot that you can get wrong and still have a secure baby,” Dr. Woodhouse says.

Resilient children and divorce

As a family law lawyer, I know that going through separation and divorce is a stressful time for families, but I’m also aware that children are remarkably resilient when parents aim to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.

So often, parents, especially in family law disputes, think they have to be perfect and ‘get it right’ with their kids every time. Some not only hold themselves to this unattainable (and as it turns out often unnecessary) standard but their former partner as well. The latter can cause significant conflict and can lead to costly and stressful litigation.

Handling a separation and divorce using a collaborative law approach often means including parenting coaches who can help parents reign in unrealistic expectations while supporting their child through the process. Everyone in the family benefits from avoiding litigation.

Studies such as the one carried out at Lehigh University are useful in helping separated parents understand that the pressures of parenting are real (especially without the assistance of a partner and also in families that have not encountered a separation); and while it’s understandable to hold yourself (and your former partner) to a high standard, you’re both likely doing a much better job than you think.

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