A popular pronatalist assumption is that we’ll just “know” how to parent when we have children. The truth is we see far too many people who are unfit parents. Rather than think we’re all supposed to be naturally good at it, when it comes to how we think about parenthood there have been some smart thinkers from the past we can learn from today. Take this group of experts and authors of The Parent Test:
In the late 70s, Ellen Peck and William Granzig, authors of The Parent Test: How to Measure and Develop Your Talent for Parenthood, came up with a way to think about parenthood that we’d be wise to adopt today. Consider how the concept of aptitude can be used to help predict whether people have the qualities to be good in a particular occupational field. Peck and Granzig suggest we apply that concept to parenting. They argue that that “the concept of aptitude can help those interested in becoming parents predict their probable success and happiness in that role.” Just like there are people who are not cut out for certain kinds of jobs and occupations, from an aptitude point of view, “it is reasonable to assume that there are people who are not cut out to be parents.”
In other words, some people have a greater aptitude for parenthood than others. In the realm of parent education, we are sorely lacking in ways to assess people’s aptitude for parenthood before they take on this job. We are also sorely lacking in ways to educate adults about various ways to use this aptitude other than to have their own children. But we do this routinely with career aptitudes.
Take the example of musical aptitude. People with high musical aptitude don’t all end up doing the same thing with that aptitude. Some people find they enjoy research, others play in a band, and still others decide they are best suited to become music critics. With parenthood, we don’t do this; people don’t assess their aptitude for this job before they have kids, and they are not required to figure out what ways would be best for them to use this aptitude if they do have it.
As Peck and Granzig argue, aptitude for parenthood can vary greatly. People don’t have the chance to realize that they “may have an aptitude for dealing sensitively and patiently with one child but not with more.” We don’t find out if we “may be able to handle parenthood in an urban setting with convenient day care but not in a small town as a 24 hour a day parent.” We don’t have a way to find out whether we “may be impatient with infants but superb at stimulating the thinking of a preschooler.” We don’t have a way to find out whether we are best using our parent aptitude in some way other than becoming a parent, such as teaching or vocational counseling.
And we don’t have a structured way to seriously assess whether it’s too early to use our aptitude for parenthood just yet because of too many unfulfilled dreams and commitments.
Peck and Granzig break down aptitude into six “components of capability” as it relates to parenting. They look at this from a couple’s point of view:
- Expectations: What expectations do we have about parenthood? How realistic are they?
- Resources: How do our resources measure up to the generally accepted requirements for the job of parenthood?
- Skills: Do we have the needed skills for the job of parenthood? If not, how can they be developed?
- Motivations: How strongly and for what reasons do we want to enter the process of parenting?
- Traits: How well do we match the personal characteristics of happy, successful parents?
- Interests: How sincere are our interests in all the elements of parenthood?
Today, rarely if ever, do would-be parents think seriously about these questions, crucial as they are. It’s because they don’t know to do so. And that’s because of the assumption that parenting is a right rather than a privilege for those who can do it well.
In today’s society, what if wanna-be parents were required to show they can meet these kinds of components of capability before they take on the incredibly important job of parenthood?
* Updated from original 2012 post, in part an excerpt from The Baby Matrix. Like all post materials on this site, it is copyrighted.