This essay is based on the assumption that a long-neglected topic of socialization, the determinants of individual differences in parental functioning, is illuminated by research on the etiology of child maltreatment. Three domains of determinants are identified (personal psychological resources of parents, characteristics of the child, and contextual sources of stress and support), and a process model of competent parental functioning is offered on the basis of the analysis. The model presumes that parental functioning is multiply determined, that sources of contextual stress and support can directly affect parenting or indirectly affect parenting by first influencing individual psychological well-being, that personality influences contextual support/stress, which feeds back to shape parenting, and that, in order of importance, the personal psychological resources of the parent are more effective in buffering the parent-child relation from stress than are contextual sources of support, which are themselves more effective than characteristics of the child.
PIP: This essay is based on the assumption that a long-neglected topic of socialization, the determinants of individual differences in parental functioning, is illuminated by research on the etiology of child maltreatment. 3 domains of determinants are identified: 1) Personal psychological resources of parents--the data support the contention that developmental history shapes personality and psychological well-being, which in turn influences parental functioning. In general, supportive developmental experiences give rise to a mature healthy personality that is then capable of providing sensitive parental care which fosters optimal child development. 2) Characteristics of the child--the limited evidence available may be marshaled to support the conclusion that neither temperment nor other child characteristics per se shape parenting, but rather that the "goodness-of-fit" between parent and child determines the development of parent-child relations. 3) Contextual sources of stress and support--the work on child abuse highlights 3 distinct sources of stress and support that are likely to promote or undermind parental competence: the marital relationship, social networks, and employment. The data reviewed suggest that marital relations do not so much influence parenting directly as they do indirectly--by having an impact on the general psychological well-being of individuals and only thereby the skills exercised in the parenting role. Social networks also function in this manner. They can serve to enhance self-esteem and, as a consequence, increase the patience and sensitivity that individuals exercise as parents. With respect to occupation, it is unclear at present what its relative influence will be. The more important it is in one's hierarchy of identities, the more influence it is likely to exert. That is, when work is seen as a career and achievement is an important source of motivation, "work absorption" is likely to relate to parental inadequacy. A process model of competent parental functioning is offered on the basis of these determinants.