The six stages of parenting: which one are you up to?

Parenting is a relationship and our children have an influence on us.
Parenting is a relationship and our children have an influence on us.  Photo: Cultura/Erin Lester

Children develop and go through developmental stages. We know that. Our children develop physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally. They learn to walk, talk, play, feed themselves, dress themselves, and have an opinion!

But have you ever thought about your development as a parent? Have you ever considered whether you progress through developmental stages? And if so, which stage are you in right now?

Ellen Galinsky is a ground-breaking researcher on child and adult development, and in her classic book, Between Generations: The Six Stages of Parenthood, she explores a topic that is often overlooked: What effect are our children having on us?

It's a question that we don't often consider. As parents, we can worry about what influence we are having on our children. Are we being loving enough? Are we being firm enough? Are we stuffing them up? Or will they turn out okay?

But parenting is a relationship. And that means that our children are also having an influence on us.

Galinsky says that as our children grow, we go through six predictable stages of parenthood. At each stage, we have an image of ourselves, which may or may not be realistic and helpful. The challenge at each stage is to resolve the tension and grow into the next stage rather than get stuck.

So what are the six stages of parenthood?

Stage 1: The Image-Making Stage

The Image-Making Stage is what happens when we are parents-to-be. It's a stage where we begin to imagine what being a parent will be like, and we think about what kind of a parent we might like to be.

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It's a way of preparing for a major change in our lives. It involves accepting our pregnancy, reflecting on the way we were raised, evaluating relationships with friends and family, and grappling with feelings of control/loss of control and independence/dependence.

Stage 2: The Nurturing Stage

The Nurturing Stage begins when our baby arrives. It's a challenging stage because we now have to deal with the reality of caring for a baby 24/7 – and this reality can be very different to what we imagined in the Image-Making Stage.

This stage is about accepting our new role, enlarging our relationships to accommodate our new baby, and developing a new sense of identity – what kind of a parent do I want to be and who am I now that I'm a parent?

Stage 3: The Authority Stage

By this stage our children are toddlers, and we now need to develop our sense of authority. We need to decide when to say 'No', when to say 'Yes', and how to deal with challenging behaviour.

We need to set limits and work out what to do when our children push those limits. We need to learn how to understand our children's behaviour and guide and mentor them as best we can.

Stage 4: The Interpretive Stage

The Interpretive Stage normally hits when our children begins school. When they enter into the school system, their world expands. They are open to many more influences and to other relationships and experiences.

In this stage, we need to help our children interpret or understand the bigger and wider world by answering their questions and helping them with problems they face. As they get older, we also need to let them take on more responsibility by redefining our sense of authority. We need to support our children but also begin to let them go.

Stage 5: The Interdependent Stage

The Interdependent Stage begins when our children become teenagers. In this stage, it can feel like we are losing control. Your child is becoming their own person – they are more interested in their friends and their own lifestyle, and they don't seem to need us as much.

Of course our teenagers do still need us, but in this stage, we need to accept them as almost adults. We can still guide them but we need to redefine our relationship by allowing our children to be more independent and separate, all while still keeping a connection.

Stage 6: The Departure Stage

This is the stage where our children leave home and move into true adulthood. It's a time when we reflect on a lifetime of being a parent, our successes and failures, our fond memories and regrets. It's a time when we need to adjust our sense of identity once more. We no longer need to look after and care for our children 24/7, and have more time for ourselves and our own interests.

This can feel like an ending but also a new beginning. It can be tinged with sadness but also anticipation.

The six stages of parenting remind us of the bigger picture. One day, our children will be out of nappies, and then at school, and then leaving home. It will happen faster than we think. It also reminds us that every stage of our development as a parent is an opportunity to grow with our children.

We influence our children, and they also influence us.  That is what parenting is all about.

Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author and a great believer in the power of intuitive parenting. You can get your free gift 'Unlocking the secrets of intuitive parenting' at jodiebenveniste.com.