The Six Stages of Parenthood

The Six Stages of Parenthood

The Six Stages of Parenthood

The Six Stages of Parenthood


Almost all books for parents focus on the way children develop. Ellen Galinsky, instead, writes about how parents develop. Drawing on the work in adult development of Erik Erikson and DanielLevinson, she describes six distinct stages in the life of a parent: the image-making that occurs during pregnancy; the nurturing rolethat swallows parents up from birth through the first couple of years; the authority parents must develop as small children showindependence; the interpretive stage when parents explain the world and their values to school-age children.


Parents grow? Parents go through stages? What does that mean?

Change in children is visibly dramatic: The newborn baby who just fits in the crook of our arm, measuring no longer than the distance between our elbow and our hand, will double and triple in size within the first years of life. We use expressions like "spring up" and "sprout" to describe children's growth, and though the process may often seem interminable, in retrospect it seems as if a projector has tripped onto fast speed and their feet, their faces, and their hands are soon magically as large as ours.

The changes in children's capacities are equally dramatic. The baby who is unable to grasp a bottle will, within a matter of months, be able to hold a spoon and drink from a cup. The toddler who walks as if he or she is tipsy will in a year or two be able to climb to the top of the jungle gym and hang upside down. The young child able to communicate only with shrieks and cries will soon have a large and proficient vocabulary, even be able, as a preschooler, to say, "I hate you means I love you because it's backwards day."

The underlying psychological changes that children go through are more subtle. It's less obvious why the young child seems to slide back and forth between dependent clinging--"You do it for me"--to demanding--"I can do it myself," even donning a superhero cape. In fact, these changes have been carefully studied. The young child, in this particular example, has become aware that he or she is not permanently attached to and protected by the parents, sees also that the world out there is fraught with hidden and not- so-hidden dangers, and feels vulnerable. This child in turn clings to the parents, warding off fear, then puts on a superhero cape, a shield, that transforms the child into the savior and the saved.

The cognitive changes that children make can also seem mysterious--not the more apparent growth of abilities, such as the acquisition of language and the capacity to compute, but the shifts in thinking itself and moral reasoning: the development of the capacity to abstract, to see the world in more than an egocentric frame-

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