Parents & Professionals

Parenthood is a topic I became interested as a young, inexperienced masters student, struggling to learn how to work with parents. I encountered an article written by Alice van der Pas, an alumna of Smith College where I was enrolled, and a formative correspondence ensued, culminating in her inviting me to give a presentation in the Netherlands in the early 1990’s on my work with a teenage mother.

Throughout my teaching and clinical work, parenthood continued to be a topic of practice and study. When I eventually became a parent myself — late in the game — I staggered, sleep deprived,  through an array of advice books advocating everything one must do to be a ‘good parent’, ranging the gamut of contradictory views, all offered in absolute terms without any consideration of my particular context or the possibility there might be more than one ‘right’ answer to my parenting questions.

Parenthood is complex and idiographic: no single approach or theory fits all parents and children, and well intended ‘help’ can unwittingly make parents feel like they do not measure up to some invisible standard. Parenthood is a complex identity and a profound developmental experience in its own right, and yet the question of what it is to be a parent gives way again and again, in theory and research, to the question of what children need, and what parents ought–and often fail–to do in relation to their children’s needs.

What is the experience of being a parent, and what are the motivations and needs of parents? How do parents feel the most helped or supported? Starting with these questions, and the phenomenology of parenthood is, I believe, a very useful way to begin any form of teaching, researching or theory building on this topic. It helps students to be more clinically effective, and helps research to obtain meaningful results.

I find my own curiosity and research questions about parenthood moving towards the complex forms: Step-parenting, parenting in intentional communities, non-traditional families. I am particularly interested in parental ambivalence, and the complex interweaving of the inner and outer worlds of the parent.