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Orientations to parenting: factors that facilitate parents doing their best Passmore, George

Abstract

Despite the volumes of literature compiled on the study of parenting, there has been little qualitative research conducted from parents' points of view to investigate the processes that enable parents to do their best. The aim of this study was to explore what helps parents orient to their roles and their children. Orientation was proposed as a holistic construct that guides parents in their approaches and organizes the experience of being a parent and which can be viewed as a serving a function of maintaining an equilibrium for parents. The processes and factors that facilitate orientation were examined using Flanagan's Critical Incident Technique (1954) in two contexts: a) when parents are close to being the types of parents they wish to be, what is helping them to sustain their orientations to their roles, and b) when parents are off track and struggling in their roles, what helps them to make a shift in their orientations or return to their initial, preferred orientations. 271 critical incidents were collected from interviews with ten parents and fifteen categories of incidents emerged. These categories were organized into six groups: a) the supportive presence of other adults/parents, b) understanding the parenting endeavor, c) reflecting on self in role, d) emotional processing, e) actively establishing the desired parent-child dynamics, and f) spirituality. The findings of this study add to the literature on parenting by describing, in the voice of parents' experience, how parents maintain an equilibrium, in which they stay on track with their childrearing, and how they return to equilibrium when they have experienced disorientation in their parental roles. These categories provide clues to what factors support a sustained parenting style (Baumrind, 1967,1973,1995) and add a richness and holism to the research on the determinants of parenting (Belsky, 1984,1993). They argue for counsellors and parent educators to go beyond a focus on informing parents about child development and the behavioural performance of parenting strategies, and to attend to the processes that orient parents if they are to truly help struggling parents to maintain a shift in their childrearing. These and other implications for future research and practice are detailed.

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