This blog post is a followup to last week’s post on THE Parenting “AHA.” It outlines Galinsky’s Stages of Parent Development (plus two of my own suggestions) and aligns it with Erickson’s Stage Theory of Child Development. Why is this important to side-by-side? Because we grow as parents alongside our children as they grow. When we are thoughtful about ourselves as parents and paying attention, we can see that in parenting we grow parts of ourselves that need attention in order to help our children grow and through their challenges. We ebb, flow, stumble, strengthen, and grow parts of ourselves that need attention in order to help our children grow and through their challenges. This process is most clear when you are raising a child who is neurodivergent in some way.
Ellen Galinsky, President and Cofounder of the Families and Work Institute conducted research in the 1980s that led to the development of her 6 stages of parenting. Parent development is not super well-defined and the bulk of theories circulating on parenting stages incorporate Galinsky’s stages. I’m listing hers here and am adding two of my own: stages 6 and 7. You’ll see that these stages, which focus on what a parent might be feeling and thinking, marry well with Erikson’s stages that focus on the child in development. Chart of Six Stages of Psychosocial Development for Children Like those, these are a framework to help us understand the flow of, in this case, parent development. Even as you explore the following stages, keep in mind that parent development is iterative, progressive, and growth promoting. What it is not is linear, finite, inborn, or even natural. I say this so we can breathe.
Here are the stages of parent development, to include 6 and 7, which are my own additions:
Stage 1 – Pre-Parenthood & Preparing. “Image/Making.” Pre-baby. Parents begin to shape their role as parents and what lies ahead, even before pregnancy. Usually, this process is a life-long one.
Stage 2 – Handling/Caring in Infancy. “Nurturing.” Between the baby’s birth to 2 years. Parents settle into the reality of their baby and their parenting vs. their preconceptions. Bonding and attachment occur.
Stage 3 – Shaping in Toddlerhood & Modeling in Preschool Years. “Authority.” Between 2 to 4 years. Parents are sure of their parent identity and their attachment to their child. In this stage, they decide what kind of authority they will hold over their child. Parents create rules and figure out how to guide their child’s behavior.
Stage 4 – Mirroring & Mastering in Middle Childhood. “Interpretive.” Elementary school years. In this stage the parent interprets who they are as a parent and welcomes the reality of who their child actually is. Parents help their children experience themselves beyond the family. They prepare themselves for changes to come.
Stage 5 – Relating in Adolescence. “Interdependent.” Teenage years. Parents become aware of what sometimes is shocking with their child: dress, language, behaviors. They often redefine the authority relationship via communication with their teen. Parents renegotiate their relationship with their child to share in decision making and pass on those skills to their child.
Stage 6 – Regulating in Tween Years. “Co-Awareness/Regulation.” Tween years ages 8-12. Parents experience their child at this age as part child/part budding adult. Often, they marvel at how their child can think maturely, yet still act young and unaware of others and their world. Brain and body development for a child are unpredictable and unique to the child’s progression into puberty.
Stage 7—Separating & Connecting in Teen Years; “Inter-related.” Adolescence ages 13-18. Research on adolescent brain development indicates that teens are developing morally, ethically and socially. Teens begin to develop their own unique identity. Parents must adapt quickly, communicate adeptly, and respond with versatility to their teen’s fast growth. Parents provide experiences for their teen to integrate these parts of their development so that they can launch well. (cite from Brainstorm or Adolescent Brain Research)
Stage 8 – Launching with Young Adults. “Departure.” Young adults aged 18-25 (need to check exact ages of last 3 stages). The parent loosens control as the young adult leaves the nest, accepting their young adult’s identity. The new role is to be caring and helping without controlling in order to establish higher levels of communication and a new, more mature relationship. (cite from Your Turn or Launching research)
However you read these theories, parent development is a process of preparing, of growing, of practicing, of perspective taking, of becoming the best you can be, which is probably not perfect. What parent development is not is a process of perfecting, performing, producing, pushing our children to grow and develop beyond their and our current experiences or abilities. Our own process is customized to who we and our children are. (refer to image) So take your time, and develop your own customized path for parenting your unique child.