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1.2 Parenting and parenthood

In this part of the course you will analyse the notion of parenting a little further and explore some of the assumptions generally made about it. The first activity asks you to reflect on the differences between parenthood and parenting.

Activity 1: Parenthood and parenting – what's in a word?

0 hours 15 minutes

Make notes on your responses to these two questions:

  • How would you distinguish between parenthood and parenting?

  • Who can provide parenting?

The two questions are connected. To help answer them, consider whether only the child's mother or father (biological or adoptive) can be a parent, and whether only they can provide parenting.


This task is not as easy as it may first appear, but the difference between parenthood and parenting is important when it comes to exploring and evaluating support services.

Parenthood might generally be taken to refer to motherhood and fatherhood, that is, equated with the people who become the mothers and fathers of children. Consequently, much of the literature on parenthood focuses on adults' experience of having children. Parenting, by contrast, might be taken to refer to the process whereby a particular kind of nurturing is provided for children, what some people might call ‘upbringing’. ‘Parenting’ is derived from the verb ‘to parent’, meaning to provide care and bring up children, something which is generally but not exclusively provided by parents. As a verb it is a neologism, that is, a new word. It is considered necessary since there is a need to challenge the former view that the term ‘parent’ always refers to one of two particular people.

Your answer to the question ‘who can provide parenting?’ may have invoked the reaction ‘parents, of course, who else?’ Yet if we look at parenting from the child's point of view, the issue is not so clear-cut. After all, people who are not the child's biological parents can well provide some aspects of parenting (Wetherell, 1995; Lupton and Barclay, 1997). Indeed, in some instances, as in adoption or foster care, other people can sometimes provide virtually all aspects of parenting. So another distinction worth making is that parenting takes as its focus the child rather than the adult, that is, it concentrates on how children's needs are met, usually, but not always, by adults related to them. This approach starts with what children need rather than what adults might or should provide for children, or what adults expect from them.

Focusing on children makes it easier to clarify what constitutes quality parenting. It certainly moves us away from the idea that parenting is simply what adults who happen to be parents are prepared to provide. It also helps us to distinguish parenting from other forms of care that children require, for example formal education or healthcare. From the point of view of the child, therefore, it may not matter too much who provides some aspects of parenting. What matters is whether needs are provided for, which in turn raises the issue of what those needs are. The next activity explores this point further.

Activity 2: Parenting children

0 hours 30 minutes

Draw up a list of children's needs that you would associate with parenting. Then try to group them under various categories or headings, remembering to focus on the children's perspective as much as possible. There are a number of possible categories, none entirely fixed, but for the purpose of the activity you may find it helpful to use the following:

  • physical

  • emotional

  • developmental

  • social.

However, feel free to use other headings or categories if you wish.


Starting the list probably presented few problems, but categorising the needs is more demanding, particularly if you have a long list. Your grouping may be similar to the one below, but don't worry if your list is different – there is no one correct answer to the question.

  • Physical: food, warmth, clothing, shelter, protection

  • Emotional: love, care, companionship, security, continuity, protection

  • Developmental: education, experiential learning, acquisition of language, play

  • Social: friendship, play, social learning.

The list is not exhaustive of course, and you may have found that some things a child needs, such as protection, seem to belong in more than one category. It may also have struck you that some needs are reciprocal: the child provides some of these things for the parent (e.g. play, companionship) just as the parent provides them for the child.


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