1980s: Galinsky

Marissa L. Diener and Diana Lang

Galinsky’s Six Stages of Parenthood

Ellen Galinsky, a researcher who studies changing family dynamics, was one of the first scholars to emphasize the development of parents themselves, how they respond to their children’s development, and how they grow as parents.[1] Parenthood is an experience that transforms one’s identity as one takes on new roles. Children’s growth and development force parents to change their roles. They must develop new skills and abilities in response to children’s development. Galinsky identified six stages of parenthood that focus on different tasks and goals (See Table 1.).[2]

Table 1. Galinsky’s Stages of Parenthood
Stage Age of Child Main Tasks and Goals
Stage 1: The Image-Making Stage Planning for a child; Pregnancy Prospective parents consider what it means to be a parent and plan for changes to accommodate a child.
Stage 2: The Nurturing Stage Infancy Parents develop an attachment relationship with the child and adapt to the new baby.
Stage 3: The Authority Stage Toddler and pre-school Parents create rules and figure out how to effectively guide their child’s behavior.
Stage 4: The Interpretive Stage Middle childhood Parents help their children interpret their experiences within the social world beyond the family.
Stage 5: The Interdependent Stage Adolescence Parents renegotiate their relationship with their children to allow for shared power in decision-making.
Stage 6: The Departure Stage Early adulthood Parents evaluate their successes and failures as parents as their children become independent.
According to Galinsky, all people have the innate desire to learn. There are seven essential life skills that we learn including focus and self control, perspective taking (understanding how others think), communicating, making connections (creatively), critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed, engaged learning.

Video Example

The video below showcases how we learn these seven essential life skills and why they are important in the 21st century.

The Seven Essential Life Skills.

1. The Image-Making Stage

Prospective parents enter the image-making stage when they (a) think about and form images about their roles as parents, (b) contemplate what will emerge as a result of parenthood, and (c) prepare for changes associated adding an infant to their family.  Future parents develop ideas about what it will be like to be a parent and what type of parent they want to be.  Individuals may evaluate their relationships with their own parents as a model for their upcoming roles as parents.

2. The Nurturing Stage

photo of a woman smiling while holding her baby
Figure 1. A parent holding her infant child. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Borba, Pexels License)

The second stage, the nurturing stage, occurs at the birth of the baby. A parent’s main goal during this stage is to develop an attachment relationship with their baby. Parents must adapt their romantic relationships, their relationships with their other children, and their relationships with their own parents to include the new infant. Some parents feel attached to their baby immediately, but for other parents, this occurs more gradually. Parents may have imagined their infant in specific ways, but they now have to reconcile those images with their actual baby. In incorporating their relationship with their child into their other relationships, parents often have to reshape their conceptions of themselves and their identity. Parenting responsibilities are the most demanding during infancy because infants are completely dependent on caregiving.

3. The Authority Stage

The authority stage occurs when children are 2 years old until about 4 or 5 years old. In this stage, parents make decisions about how much authority to exert over their children’s behavior. Parents must establish rules to guide their child’s behavior and development. They have to decide how strictly they should enforce rules and what to do when rules are broken.


4. The Interpretive Stage

A photo of five children of different ages
Figure 2. A family with children of various ages.

The interpretive stage occurs when children enter school (preschool or kindergarten) and lasts until the beginning of adolescence. Parents interpret their children’s experiences as they are increasingly exposed to the world outside of the family. Parents answer their children’s questions, provide explanations, and determine what behaviors and values to teach. They decide what experiences to provide their children in terms of schooling, neighborhood, and extracurricular activities. By this time, parents have experience in the parenting role and often reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as parents, review their images of parenthood, and determine how realistic they have been. Parents have to negotiate how involved to be with their children, when to step in, and when to encourage children to make choices independently.

5. The Interdependent Stage

Parents of teenagers are in the interdependent stage. They must redefine their authority and renegotiate their relationship with their adolescent as the children increasingly make decisions independent of parental control and authority. On the other hand, parents do not permit their adolescent children to have complete autonomy over their decision-making and behavior, and thus adolescents and parents must adapt their relationship to allow for greater negotiation and discussion about rules and limits.

6. The Departure Stage

During the departure stage of parenting, parents evaluate their entire parenting experience. They prepare for their child’s departure, redefine their identity as the parent of an adult child, and assess their parenting accomplishments and failures. This stage forms a transition to a new era in parents’ lives. This stage usually spans a long time period from when the oldest child moves away (and often returns) until the youngest child leaves. The parenting role must be redefined as a less central role in a parent’s identity.

Despite the interest in the development of parents, little research has examined developmental changes in parents’ experiences and behaviors over time. Thus, it is not clear whether these theoretical stages are generalizable to parents of different races, ages, cultures, and religions, nor do we have empirical data on the factors that influence individual differences in these stages. On a practical note, how-to books and websites geared toward parental development should be evaluated with caution, as not all advice provided is supported by research.

Smiling parents stand with their young adult son who is dressed in a graduation cap and gown." title="Smiling parents stand with their young adult son who is dressed in a graduation cap and gown.
Figure 3. When a child achieves a new level of independence and leaves the home it marks another turning point in the identity of a parent. (Photo Source: State Farm, licensed CC BY 2.0)

Key Takeaways

  • Parents’ roles pass through stages as children develop.
  • Parenthood stages—image-making, nurturing, authority, interpretive, interdependent, and departure.

  1. Galinsky, E. (1987). The six stages of parenthood. Perseus Books.
  2. This chapter is an adaptation of The Developing Parent by Marissa L. Diener and is used under a CC BY NC SA license.


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