What is parental development, and how is parenthood defined? Is it a biologically based instinct, or a set of behaviors and/or skills learned at a parent's own mother's (and father's) knee? Is the development of parental competence largely a psychological process, or is it a reflection of the capacity of the environment to support or erode the establishment and maintenance of a nurturant home context?
Parental development has been variously defined, and the definitions attached to parenting have had important implications for our understanding of the breakdown in parental functioning represented by child maltreatment. For example, researchers who conceptualize parental development as the acquisition of a set of traits or abilities may fail to examine characteristics of the environment or characteristics of the child in order to explain adequately why some parents sharing certain psychological attributes may abuse a child in their care and others may not. Clinicians who focus exclusively on parental psychological variables may place a child in foster care without recognizing that there is a strong and caring extended family where the child could be placed with a minimum of trauma until the parent's emotional issues can be addressed.
We define parenting as a complex and multidimensional process.
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