Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Parenting Process in the Prenatal Period: A Developmental Theory

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Parenting Process in the Prenatal Period: A Developmental Theory

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: It has long been accepted that there is a developmental process women progress through during pregnancy as they take on the parenting role. This paper develops a theory of the unborn baby's role during the prenatal period as an active instigator in this parenting role. Referring to the work of Arnold Gesell and adapting it to the prenatal period, the author theorizes that the unborn baby's growth and development drives the developmental process of the parenting role prenatally. Pregnancy is viewed as the beginning of a lifelong process and a unique time when parents are especially open to exploring their changing roles with the baby as an equal contributor.

It has long been accepted that women progress through stages of development during pregnancy as they take on the tasks of pregnancy and begin their parenting role (Rubin 1967, Leifer 1977, Cohen 1979). While these stages are elicited by pregnancy, the early-childhood literature also abounds in the belief that the parenting role (i.e., how we perceive our parenting role) is well established in the formative years of our own childhood. Uddenberg (1974) spoke of the earliest socialization for mothering behaviors beginning during the early-childhood years, when one is being mothered as well as observing mothering within the family context. Although Uddenberg spoke of this socialization in terms of the mothers, it is true for fathers as well.

A major psychological impact of pregnancy involves the reawakening of unconscious, preverbal issues stemming from the parent's own experience of infancy and toddlerhood. These issues relate to how an individual was nurtured and treated by his/her own parent. Precisely because such early socializing experiences are preverbal and not readily available to consciousness, "education" concerning emotionally-charged issues such as dependency, helplessness, separation and autonomy is likely to fall on deaf ears. Pregnancy is a time when people begin to think about how they were parented and perhaps how they may want to parent the child they are about to have. Becoming a mother or a father means taking on a new identity, which involves a complete rethinking and redefining of oneself.

Belsky (1985) found that a woman's perception of pregnancy and parenting were influenced by factors such as the woman's physiology, the quality of her marriage or significant-partner relationship, as well as life stresses and sources of support. A person's developmental history shapes personality and psychological well-being which, in turn, influences parental functioning. This developmental history sets constraints upon the perception of pregnancy, the "image-making stage" (Galinsky 1987) discussed below and upon the influence that infants can exert (Belsky and Tolan 1981).

In clinical practice over the last eighteen years my work has been with families in the formative years of their parenting process. My first experience was with parents whose children were involved in preschool special education (birth to age five). These children were developmentally delayed due to varying factors, from known syndromes, environmental deprivation or unknown etiology. As I supported, assisted and encouraged these families I began to see that early intervention needed to be just that: early. Even in the child's infancy stage, issues stemming from the parent's own childhood could be seen to be interfering with their efforts to take on the parenting role.

For the last nine years I have been involved with parents during their pregnancies, and have observed their parenting roles emerge during that time. Having specialized in infant development, I also have begun to merge the newborn-infant literature with the prenatal medical interventions, clearly seeing the continuum that intrauterine life and early infancy form. The nature of the parenting role in both settings seemed to develop in direct conjunctions with the growth and development of the baby, both during the pregnancy and in the postpartum period. …

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