Stages of Parental Development
University of Massachusetts Medical School
A recent chapter (Demick, 1999, p. 177) on parental development began with the following paragraphs:
I have a seven year-old daughter and a four year-old son. After recently being instructed to wear a coat in below freezing temperatures, my daughter informed me that she did not have to comply with my directive because she was accountable to only two people in the world: God and Bill Clinton. During a recent dinner conversation in which my daughter was asking about foreign languages, my son's eyes piqued as he asked, “Dad, how do you say 'vagina' in Spanish?” Not usually at a loss for words, I needed several moments to regain cognitive equilibrium before attempting to respond to these novel and unexpected stimuli.
While numerous life events have the potential to lead to higher stages of development and, specifically, to foster cognitive development, the experience of parenthood as one such life event is a relatively unequivocal example. As Berger (1994, p. 478) has noted, “From the birth of a first child, which tends to make both parents feel more 'adult'—thinking about themselves and their responsibilities differently— through the unexpected issues raised by adolescent children, parenthood is undoubtedly an impetus for cognitive growth” (Feldman, Biringen, and Nash, 1981; Flavell, 1970; Galinsky, 1981). That not only cognitive but also psychosocial development is affected by parenthood has been supported by several sources of work reported in our (Demick, Bursik, and DiBiase, 1993) recently edited volume on Parental Development.
Since that time, my daughter and son, now aged 15 and 12 years, respectively, have continued to supply unexpected stimuli, though differing in content and form. These stimuli, which have necessitated the continued reestablishment of dynamic equilibrium in my self-world relationships, or in what I have alternatively termed my person-in-environment system (e.g., Wapner and Demick, 1998), have clearly been occasions for my own cognitive and psychosocial development. As Gutmann