Parent Development Theory: Understanding Parents, Parenting Perceptions and Parenting Behaviors

By Mowder, Barbara A. | Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview
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Parent Development Theory: Understanding Parents, Parenting Perceptions and Parenting Behaviors


Mowder, Barbara A., Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology


For the importance of parenting, with the long-term implications for children, families, and society, there is precious little psychological theory specifically on parents and parent development. And, while there are many parent education programs available and certainly substantial research on parents (e.g., Baurmind, 1975, 1991), none are based on an overall theoretical model regarding who parents are and how they develop in relation to the parenting role. This article provides a theoretical framework, the Parent Development Theory (PDT) to assist professionals in organizing their thinking, practice, and research regarding parenting.

Originally called the Parent Role Development Theory (PRDT), the PDT considers parenting by examining the important social role which parents play (Mowder, 1991, 1993, 1997). The parent role is important to understand since it is through this role that individuals perceive what parenting involves and consequently parent children. At various points on any given day, individuals perform other social roles, such as being a friend, teacher or learner, employer or employee. But when individuals interact with their children, they are performing the role of being a parent. Therefore, the PDT defines who parents are, examines the parent role individuals play, clarifies how parents and parenting develop and change over time, and explains how the parent role relates to parenting activities.

The parent role is one key to understanding parents since the role is performed by individuals who create the role as well as respond to role demands (Mowder, Harvey, Moy, & Pedro, 1995). The parent role is partially an individual creation in that people conceptualize parenting based on their own prior experiences in a parent-child relationship, their thoughts and feelings about being a parent, and their child rearing expertise and understanding. But while part of the role is individually thought about, shaped, and refined, other aspects are externally imposed, like legal requirements, in socially well-developed countries, regarding children's protection and welfare.

Parents' perceptions of their role are not only affected by their own developmental experiences, changes, and needs, but also by their changing, growing, developing child. For example, children need continuous care as infants, but as they grow their parental needs change. Thus, parents of infants spend a good deal of time tending to their children by feeding, diapering, cuddling, and holding. As infants become toddlers and then preschoolers, their developmental needs change and parents increasingly focus their efforts on encouraging, guiding, and supervising child exploration. Parental awareness of their child's developmental changes and corresponding needs, not to mention each child's unique characteristics, is tempered by the on going yet evolving parent-child relationship. For instance, family dynamics such as spousal or partner conflict over issues such as child-rearing can affect parents' interactions with their children as well as their parenting perceptions. In addition, the broader social-cultural context also influences parents' views of their parenting role; parents' religious orientation, for example, potentially affects parents' perceptions of their role as well as associated parenting activities (Levine, 2003).

The PDT addresses the issue of parenting by examining how parents, their parent role perceptions, and consequent parenting shifts and changes over time as parents adjust and respond to their own experience, their children, the parent-child relationship, family dynamics, and the social-cultural milieu. Therefore, the PDT is a resource for child developmentalists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and other child-oriented professionals who seek to understand parents and parenting, especially in relation to children's growth and development.

Relevance of Theory for Child Oriented Professionals

Much of the most significant work child-oriented practitioners, such as counselors, psychologists, and social workers, do include parents (Wise, 1995).

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