Stages of parenting

by | Mar 4, 2020 | New parent, Parenting

I was recently in Minneapolis, hanging out with the grandkids. I get up there a couple of times of year – usually once in the dead of winter and once to enjoy their beautiful summertime. 
One way I cement a long distance relationship with them is to have consistent activities when we’re together to create strong memories. A ‘suitcase surprise’ gift every day, lingering baths, early morning play, going to the same coffee shops and playgrounds fill our days and provide continuity between visits.
While I love reconnecting with the children, mostly I love hanging with my daughter. Being the parent of adult kids is really fun! Conversations take on a whole new perspective and it’s a joy to relate as adults who see eye-to-eye on many things and have different points of view on others.

Parenting is a lifelong journey. There’s lots of research that looks at child development and adult development. But not a ton of research that looks at stages of parenting. Ellen Galinsky takes a thoughtful look at this in her book, The Six Stages of Parenthood.

Here’s a brief summary of each of the stages…  see where you fit in! I’ll focus primarily on the earlier stages of parenting here. The last two stages will include a simple definition.

The Image-Making Stage. In this stage the main thing we do is prepare for parenthood, imagining what it will be like. It includes getting ready for change, examining yourself, changes in the relationship with your partner and with your own parents. There’s a lot to process here! You have ideas about the kind of parent you want to be, based on your own childhood experiences and in this stage you’re kind of rehearsing in your mind what you will be like. It’s an introspective time, as you reflect on your own experiences and plan for an unknown future. You’ll begin to attach to your baby even before you know them, whether you’re giving birth or adopting. In this stage there’s a realization of ’no turning back’! You’re committed, you’re in, you are jumping in with both feet!

The Nurturing Stage. The transition into this stage is little abrupt – as soon as that baby arrives you are no longer imagining what it will be like, you are a parent! It’s time to reconcile the imagined child with the child that is born. The most important thing that happens is you form an attachment with the baby. Attachment develops as you care for your baby – listening, observing, learning their cues and movements. You’ll be able to recognize different cries and what they mean, you’ll know when your baby is hungry, sleepy, hurting, bored, afraid and wanting to play. You’ll figure out how to nurture your baby even when you don’t feel like it and work through changing relationships – because a new baby changes your interactions with your own parents, the extended family, your friend circles and especially other children in your family. You have to figure out how to change as your baby changes. Going from a newborn to a walking, jabbering toddler in such a short time requires some flexibility in your daily expectations. You may go back to work during this stage and figure out how child care effects your parent-child relationship and learn to trust outside caregivers to take care of your baby. This stage lasts about 1 1/2 years or so.

The Authority Stage. The moment your sweet little toddler looks at you with a stern face and replies “NO” to a request you have entered the Authority stage. All of the sudden your baby has changed. The thing you wanted to happen has happened… they’ve learned to express their own thoughts and ideas. Lots of new parenting skills are required as you learn to understand your child’s cognitive development and their need to assert themselves. You’ll learn how to avoid battles of the will and work with your child to manage conflicting desires. You’ll watch as your child enters the widening world of preschool, playgroups, and experience the push/pull wanting them to go vs wanting them to stay close with you. This stage lasts until your child is about 5 years old.

The Interpretive Stage. When your child starts kindergarten they become a citizen of their own new world. They begin to take themselves places on their own. In this stage, you’ll begin to interpret the world to your child. There’s a defining of who the child is as well as who the parent is. For example, when your child starts school they’ll interact with other children, their teacher and begin with interests like sports, music, etc. As interests emerge, these may be similar or dissimilar to parents, adding to the connection/separation process. Also during this stage, you’ll decide what morals, values and beliefs you want to pass on to your children. Of course, your personal history is involved as you reflect on your experiences with your parents and make decisions based on those. This stage lasts until the beginning of the teenage years.

The Interdependent Stage. From puberty through high school/college years, children are increasingly independent. The  roles of parents (actually all adults) are questioned, relationships have ebb and flow and parents are forced to examine themselves in new ways as their kids turn the magnifying glass to everything in their world, questioning and demanding explanations on why they have to do things. This stage of parenting lasts until the child leaves home.

The Departure Stage. The dreaded (or celebrated!) empty nest. During this stage, parents take stock of the whole experience of parenthood. There’s lots of readjustment as your children grow up and venture out on their own. It’s a time of measuring out your accomplishments and failures as parents. This stage requires parents to loosen control and step back, giving adult kids time to redefine themselves and embrace all the changes in your relationship.

And on a personal note, I can say this is a great stage! There’s lots to celebrate, lots of time to enjoy life, to do the things that you simply can’t do in the thick of raising a family. And so many new things to learn about your kids.

Every stage of parenting is challenging, fulfilling and joy-filled. Embrace each one! 😍

Resource: The Six Stages of Parenthood, Ellen Galinsky


Meet Ann

I'm a child development specialist, parent coach and teacher trainer. I've cared for countless babies in child development programs, plus 3 kids, 3 grand babies and 5 foster babies! I LOVE babies and would come hold yours if I could. ❤️

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