Advanced Elective Seminar: The Parent Role


Harriet Heath

Theories abound about how to parent. Should a parent pick up the crying baby or let her cry? Should you ostracize the acting out adolescent or build a closer relationship with him? What are parents expected to do? What is the parent role?

And how do you communicate with a newborn? Can you? Are there different ways of talking with a two-year-old? Does it matter how you do it? How about adolescents? Are they even reachable?

Advanced Elective Seminar – The Parent Role (IN 307) will address such issues as: What does society expect of parents? Do those expectations change as the child grows? How should parents go about fulfilling their role? Students will think through their answers to these kinds of issues as they read different theorists and clinicians and discuss the issues with their classmates online.

The Parent Role is a course for parents, a course for people who expect someday to be a parent, a course for people who have been parents… and even a course for people who want to reflect on how they were parented. We’ve all had parents. How many of us have examined what society expects of parents and what parents actually have to do?

This course is an opportunity to reflect on parenting as parenting has affected your life and how it may affect your life. It asks the basic question: What do parents need to do to support their children’s development  so that as adults they may become effective members of society?

Course instructor Harriet Heath

This course has grown out of my confusion as a parent. My husband taught his college class in developmental psychology in our living room. While I prepared snacks I heard a lot about child development. What I heard about parents was pretty much what they did that was wrong, i.e. detrimental to the child. It made me very defensive as a parent. And yet I knew my role was important.

This confusion sent me back to graduate school. To my surprise I ended up with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. My interests, however, continued to be the parental role. The research for my dissertation tested Erikson’s theory of generativity, namely, the role of information and support to successful parenting.  I am now a licensed developmental psychologist, a certified school psychologist and mostly a parent educator.

Since graduation I have worked with and for parents. I founded the Parent Center at Bryn Mawr College which provides parent programs at the college and in the community. I continue to provide workshops for parents and counsel parents privately who are having difficulty with a child or their children. I worked with Dr. Dana McDermott to develop the curriculum for parent educators here at DePaul and have taught here for the last five years. I am also working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with the Quakers to develop a parenting program sensitive to the values and ideals of that religious group. In between times I lecture, facilitate workshops and train parenting educators and teachers nationally and internationally.

Professional experience

My more than thirty years of professional experience——has taken me around the globe. I with Dr. McDermott worked with parents, counselors and parent educators in Moscow, Russia. I worked with my husband in the near east and in South American. I have worked with parents of children from birth through young adulthood, in public and private schools, social agencies, with religious groups, and with people from many socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. I am a past chair of the National Parenting Education Network and currently on the Advisory Board.

Besides working directly with parents I do some research and writing. The research continues to focus on parenting as a stage of development, further identifying the determinants of parental behaviors and analyzing the parenting process. More specifically I’ve asked parents how they go about doing what they do and how does being a parent affect their own development. Among other sources of data collection, I’ve drawn from my husband’s longitudinal study of men and women who graduated from college in the late fifties exploring the effects of being a parent on the participants’ maturation and how those effects have changed over time. All this research has been based on a theory of parenting which identifies the parenting process.


My approach to working with parents grew out of my research, my experience of being a parent and working with parents. Most parents, I’ve found, want to do well for their children but lack adequate information and skills. This fact let me to write a manual for parents, Planning: A Key to Mastering the Challenge of Parenting. The manual gives parents a system for deciding how they want to nurture and guide their children. The discussion series, Parenting Creatively, which uses the manual, leads parents through this system as they discuss their issues and concerns. Currently, I am writing a book, possibly titled The Nitty-Gritty of Parenting, that will include a conglomeration of information and skills that parents can use as they implement their plans. Other writing includes a Facilitator’s Handbook for leading parent groups and a book for parents, Using Your Values to Raise Your Child to be an Adult You Admire. I also assisted Dr. McDermott in editing the Child Welfare League of America’s Journal’s special issue on parenting education, wrote the lead article and co-authored the summary.

My work in parenting led me to investigate how people learn to care. My experiences teaching caring in schools and other settings gave me the background for writing for the state of Alaska the curriculum, Learning How to Care: Education for Parenting. The curriculum teaches elementary and middle school students how to care by their learning what is involved in being a parent.

Motherhood: Greatest Joy and Test

My greatest joy and test of what it means to be a parent is by being a mother. My three are now grown but I am trying to keep in touch with the issues related to parenting by being actively involved with my eight grandchildren… and it gives me a good excuse to visit my grandchildren in western Massachusetts and Down East Maine three or four times a year. The phone allows me to discuss regularly child rearing issues with my daughters. What I am learning is that parents want to do well by their children, their early life experiences and education do not prepare them to be parents and that they face issues vastly different from those with which I had to deal.  Where my confusion has ended is in the firm believe that given adequate information and relevant skills, parents can figure out what is best for their children and their families … and it isn’t always what the current “pro” is recommending. I have found that the parental role is complex, fascinating, challenging and forever changing as the children grow and develop.

Advanced Elective Seminar – The Parent Role (IN 307) is an online course that will be offered in the Fall 2010 Quarter by Professor Harriet Heath. Please visit SNL Online: Registration and Syllabi for more information.


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