Academic journal article Child Welfare

Parents as Developing Adult Learners

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Parents as Developing Adult Learners

Article excerpt

Drawing largely on the literature from adult learning and development, this article presents parents as continuous learners whose critical reflections on their experiences with parenting can be rich fodder for their growth and development. Theories and models are highlighted that may suggest a wider repertoire of approaches for helping professionals who are facilitating parents in their learning and growth.

Parenting is part of the "curriculum of modern life" (Kegan, 1994). For most people, regardless of personal qualities, life circumstances, and overall preparedness, being a parent can be among the most challenging task of adulthood. This view does not overlook that being a parent can be enormously fulfilling, or that many individuals are quite successful at it. However, talk to any parent and, at some point-often at many points-along the long trajectory of parenting, parents confront some particularly challenging moments and episodes. They may be crisis situations or encounters in the everyday flow of events. When the parent attends to and appreciates these moments and episodes, they can be potentially powerful opportunities for learning, growth, and development-for both parents and their children. When unattended or disregarded, however, these moments and episodes may derail the parent with unhappy results for one or both parties.

In the helping professions, interactions with parents tend to center on problems and deficits, often very serious ones. In such contexts, the parent may come to be seen narrowly as representing Problem A, B, or C. In contrast, a learning orientation (rather than a problem orientation) to working with the parent would focus on the potential for growth of both parent and child. What if professionals were to keep at the center of their interactions with parents these two questions:

* What opportunities for learning do these challenges present?

* How can this individual be supported further in developing her or his skills and habits for continual learning and growth?

These questions place learning as a pivotal ability and process that can equip individual parents to meet the complex realities of parenting.

Drawing largely from the literature of adult learning and development, the authors' goal in this article is to create an image of parents as continuous learners whose critical reflections on their experiences with parenting can help their ongoing growth and development and better equip them for parenting tasks. A related goal is to highlight theories and models that may suggest a wider repertoire of approaches for professionals who are supporting parents in their learning and growth.

Presuppositions About Parents as Learners

The authors frame the discussion with three presuppositions about parents as learners that are posed, to start, as questions:

* Can parents learn from their experiences?

* Can parents self-author their expectations, values, and behaviors to be more effective?

* Can parents grow and develop beyond their current capabilities?

The answer to these questions, with their embedded presuppositions, is a qualified "yes." Within each presupposition is a set of deeply layered factors that can spin the answer for any given individual to "yes," "maybe," and even "no." Some individuals do not learn from their experience, or self-author, or develop new capabilities. The authors' position is that given an environment supportive of a parent's learning and development, as well as a parent with some motivation to learn, these three presuppositions will become realities for most people. An important part of the equation is the interdependent, cyclical nature of these presuppositions (e.g., the ability to learn from experience helps build ability to be self-authoring, which is influenced by the principles someone uses to organize experience). Another key part of the equation is the presence of professionals equipped to help individuals mine lessons from their parenting experiences; face the risks of changing their values, attitudes or behaviors; and build a stronger foundation of knowledge and skills relevant to parenting. …

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