What Is Parenting? What Does It Mean to Be a Parent?

Definitions of parenting help you know what parenting is. Beyond that, knowing what it means to be a parent can provide an insightful perspective.  Learn more on HealthyPlace.

What, really, is parenting? Often, people are excited when they learn that they’re expecting their first child. Certainly, other emotions float in and out. Questions form, such as, “Is it really better to breastfeed? What if I can’t?” or, “How do you get a baby to fall asleep in the middle of the night?” These questions and others like them are important. Two of the most important questions, though, are often overlooked: “What is parenting?” and “What does it mean to be a parent?” Understanding the essence of parenting can help you create your own meaningful definition of parenting that will guide you through the incredible roller coaster of the parenting journey.

What Is Parenting?

Examining dictionary definitions of parenting is a helpful start. Sources such as Merriam-Webster, the Cambridge Dictionary, Collins Dictionary, and define what parenting is in very similar ways. Using an amalgam of these official sources, the definition of parenting includes elements like these:

  • The process of raising a child from birth to independent adulthood
  • Facilitating the upbringing of a child through all stages of development
  • Caring for and nurturing a child
  • Fulfilling the parental responsibilities that accompany child-raising
  • The act of caring for a child rather than the biological connection to a child
  • Establishing a healthy environment as the child grows—taking actions to ensure social development and education that aligns with your values
  • Providing a financially stable home life (note: this is not the same as being wealthy)
  • Adjusting to the changing needs of a child as they grow and develop

These definitions are accurate and helpful, providing some insight into what parenting is. However, they are a bit stark and black-and-white, delineating a definition of parenting as a simple checklist. In that respect, they fall a bit short of a valuable parenting education. Parenting can also be described as the meaning it holds for parents.

What Does It Mean to Be a Parent?

Good parenting isn’t just a robotic tending to the needs of a child. While this care is crucial, it’s not the only aspect of parenting. The American Psychological Association (n.d.) describes three primary goals of parenting; only the first one involves basic needs.

  • Keeping children healthy and safe
  • Preparing kids for independent adulthood
  • Teaching values that align with the parents’ culture

Similarly, the organization Proud 2 Parent (2017) lists these concepts as parenting definitions:

  • Meeting basic needs
  • Protection
  • Preparation
  • Love
  • Leading

Keeping kids safe and healthy and providing basic needs are crucial survival needs. Parenting involves these other missions, too, responsibilities that infuse parenting with deeper meaning.

Preparing children for adulthood is the overarching role of a parent. A phrase to illustrate the idea is this: You’re not raising a child; you’re raising an adult. Every day, parents make choices and act in deliberate ways to help shape their children into people with character, respect, a sense of responsibility, motivation, and skills to help them be both successful as kids and as adults. Leading relates to this preparation. Parents’ actions speak louder than words; indeed, leading by example is more effective than lecturing.

While it seems like this preparation and leading by example are heavy responsibilities that require multiple parenting skills, they’re also fun. This preparation is done largely through outings together, playing games together, generally living life together. Preparation is about actions.  It can create strong parent-child bonds and infuses parenting with meaning.

Parental meaning, maybe even stronger than preparation, is the act and attitude of unconditional love. Raising kids can be challenging and peppered with difficult times; however, when your relationship is rooted in love, you have a bond that remains strong and can bring you together any time you disagree and argue. Loving your children nurtures them and helps them thrive. A hug, a kiss on the head, laughter, and the joy of being together is perhaps the best description of the meaning of parenting. It’s what parenting is all about.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2022, January 11). What Is Parenting? What Does It Mean to Be a Parent?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Last Updated: January 16, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info