The Transition to Parenting
Christoph M. Heinicke
University of California at Los Angeles
The transition to becoming a parent represents a major life change. Interest in this developmental change is universal. Professionals writing in the 1940s through the 1960s stressed the adjustments necessary to deal with the arrival and care of the infant. Global descriptions of the essence of these adjustments differed. Some authors concluded that the birth of the infant represented a crucial positive fulfillment of the developmental and psychic needs of the woman (Deutsch, 1945). Other writers characterized pregnancy and the transition to parenthood as a period of crisis (Bibring, Dwyer, Huntington, and Valenstein, 1961; Hill, 1949). Shereshefsky and Yarrow (1973) saw this developmental disequilibrium as an opportunity to facilitate positive change through intervention. They systematically assessed the impact of counseling on the adjustment to pregnancy and early infancy. One of their most important findings was that clarity and confidence in visualizing themselves as future parents anticipated a more adequate postnatal adjustment.
Other pioneering longitudinal studies (Grossman, Eichler, and Winikoff, 1980) stimulated detailed description of the transition to parenting and to delineation of those aspects of the family system likely to influence family development. Both for its own sake and as a guide to more effective intervention, investigators recognized the need for more specific information about the determinants of parenting.
Interest in the transition to and determinants of parenting grows out of efforts in the late 1970s to define those prebirth and ongoing parent personality and support characteristics that were likely to be associated with the positive development of the child's security of attachment, autonomy, and task orientation. Once one had defined such potential “paths” of influence, the task of intervention would be to change not only the child's behavior and the parent–child transactions, but the functioning of the parents as well. We carried out such an intervention with the preschool child (Heinicke, 1977) and achieved some significant changes in all of the above domains, but the extent of the impact on the child's task orientation was not that extensive. Reviews of the literature (Belsky, 1984;