Parents spend lots of time reading and discussing the developmental stages of their children. But what is often forgotten and isn’t discussed much is that parents have their own distinct stages of parenting that they too go through or get stuck in.
Psychologist, Ellen Galinsky, in 1981 wrote the book Between Generations: The Six Stages of Parenthood in which she explored the dynamic of how raising children influences adult develop via the interactions parents have with their children. While the study was small, over 200 parents, the stages can be useful to explore with parents.
The first stage, parental image, follows the birth of the first child. In this stage parents begin to form an image of themselves in the role of parent. They had parents, but now they are charged with the task of being parents. Parents often make vows of how to be different from their parents. However, the demands of the role of parent often push those vows to the side.
The second stage, nurturing, is very demanding. Parents in this stage offer their style of attachment to the baby who quickly becomes a toddler. Parents make and develop patterns of interaction as they respond to a human being who is extremely vulnerable and has many pressing physical and emotional needs.
Next comes what the author describes as the authority stage. The baby is now a fully fledged toddler between two and four. In this stage the parent comes up against their own skill level. The child’s independence is surfacing and she or he can now challenge the parent in a way they couldn’t before. If a second child arrives at this stage of the parent’s development, stress increases dramatically.
Integrative is the fourth stage, which follows the child through five (preschool) up to 12 (grade 7). Children are gaining more and more autonomy and have expanded their social skills. Parents have new and challenging tasks. This stage requires modelling and teaching children about setting realistic goals, motivation, effective communications and maintaining and/or re- establishing their authority with the child.
The independent teenage stage, involves adolescents who are struggling with their self-concepts, their relationship with responsibility and maturity. The challenge in this stage for parents is to provide emotional support and encouragement while at the same time maintaining their own maturity, authority and responsibility.
Often eagerly awaited by both the parent and the child, is the last stage, departure. The baby that started all this parental development leaves home, goes to school, finds work, lives with roommates and/or partners, moves across town or across the country.
However, in our present culture, the departure is often delayed and does not occur until the mid-twenties or even thirties; and doesn’t always go in a straight line.
Parents in this stage, often look back and self-evaluate their role. Adult children, also look back. He or she self-evaluates and will have their own opinions of what their experience was of the parent/child dynamic.
Parents and adult children often live more than 50 years as adults in the world. This new dynamic may go really well, but often it has some scars and needs attention.
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