Parent Meaning and Definition [DISCUSSED]

As a noun, the word parent refers to a person who has children or is raising them. As a verb, it refers to bringing up a child. Its use is also not limited to the context of child-raising. For instance, in business, a parent company has a controlling interest in other companies as well.

The majority of us know what a parent is and their role, with many of us being parents ourselves. But, have you ever wondered about the in-depth meaning of the word parent and how it originated? And, what should a parent actually be doing or not be doing when it comes to raising children?

This post will focus on the meaning of the word parent in the context of child-rearing. The word parent only started being used around the 15th century. It referred only to a child’s mother, father, or ancestor during this time. However, people expanded its use over time and added more definitions.

silhoutte of parents and family

Related Reading: Parenting Styles – Are You Doing It the Right Way?

The Definition of Parent

The English word parent was initially used as a noun in the 1500s to denote a father, mother, or ancestor. It originated from the Old French word “parent” and the Latin word “parentum.”  This noun form was derived using the present participle of the Latin verb “parire,” which means to produce, give birth, or bring forth.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the various definitions of the noun form of parent are as follows:

1.      a: ‘one that begets or brings forth offspring’

b: ‘a person who brings up and cares for another’

2       a: ‘an animal or plant that is regarded in relation to its offspring’

b: ‘the material or source from which something is derived’

c: ‘a group from which another arises and to which it usually remains subsidiary’

People also started using it as a verb during the 16th century (1663, to be precise). According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionar , the various definitions of the verb form of the word parent (parented, parenting, parents) are as follows:

1.      ‘Transitive verb: to be or act as the parent of’

2       ‘Intransitive verb: to be or act as a parent’

It is interesting to see how the use of parent evolved from the 15th century to the present. Before the 15th century, people knew parents mainly as elders, mothers, or fathers. The verbal noun, parenting, started being used in 1959. However, the word parenting only gained popularity and started being used widely around the 1970s.

Traditionally, a parent is someone who fulfills the role of a legal guardian for a child. The relationship between a parent and their child is usually formed through the child’s formative years and continues long into their adulthood. You are still a parent even when your children are fully grown and no longer live under your roof.

While most people may think of a mother and father when it comes to parents, many different types of parents and families exist.

You do not have to be related by blood to be a parent. Even without any biological relationship, a child may consider someone close to them to be like their parent (such as their best friend’s mom). Instead, being a parent means taking responsibility for another individual regardless of their age and providing them with guidance and care.

Being a parent comes with a certain level of responsibility, though, which isn’t only limited to caring for the child. There are several roles and responsibilities that an individual takes on when becoming a parent, including; providing the child with a home, safety, discipline, an education, love and affection, and providing for the child financially.

Of course, there is also a difference between being a parent and being a great parent. While there isn’t a list of pre-requisites or criteria to become a parent, some individuals thrive in their role as a caregiver because they want to make a difference in a child’s life.

Everyone has a different and unique definition of what it means to be a good parent. Still, some simple characteristics can make a difference to a child in their care.

These characteristics include being respectful of their child, being consistent in their demeanor and discipline, showing unconditional love, and displaying patience, adaptability, and selflessness.

Although a parent can be defined as a caretaker or guardian for a child at any stage of their life, parenting itself is a more complex and intricate concept.

Parenting refers to how a guardian or caregiver raises or looks after a child in their care. The concept of parenting is illustrated by how the parent fosters a relationship with children in their care, how they interact with them, discipline them, and how they choose to raise them.

It may be important to look at the five parenting styles to understand better what parenting means and how it may manifest in a family setting.

Different Types Of Parents

Silhoutte showing co-parenting with parents putting arms together overtop of standing children to show working together and happy family

Parents do not always have to be related to their children. There are several types of parents that you can find within different family structures. These types include biological parents, step-parents, adoptive parents, and foster parents.

While these categories are some of the more common types of parents, there are many other people within a child’s life that they may consider their parents. This understanding is usually true for adults who have assumed the role of a parent within a child’s life, regardless of their relationship.

Biological Parents

Biological parents are individuals that have passed their genetics onto their children. In the past, biological parents referred only to a mother and father who conceived a child, with the mother subsequently giving birth to the offspring.

The concept of biological parents has evolved over time. It typically only refers to individuals with whom the child shares DNA.

It has become more common and acceptable to use a surrogate as a replacement for a biological mother in more modern times. Surrogates can either be traditional or gestational surrogates.

Finding a surrogate is a commonly used practice amongst male homosexual couples. Traditional surrogates are women who are inseminated with the biological father’s sperm and therefore would be considered the child’s biological mother. It is also true for sperm donors, who are then considered the child’s biological father.

When the couple consists of two male parents, they will typically use a surrogate’s egg to conceive their child, where one or both parents contribute their sperm. In lesbian couples, one of the women will typically act as the surrogate and rely on a sperm donor for insemination.

Similarly, lesbian couples may also choose one partner to be a gestational surrogate. The other partner provides the egg, and a third-party donor provides the sperm for fertilization.

Gestational surrogates are impregnated by having the fertilized egg implanted in their womb. During this process, registered professionals gather the eggs from the biological mother and fertilize the eggs using the biological father’s sperm. Surrogates who carry babies for the duration of the pregnancy are known as the child’s birth mother. This, however, does not mean that they have the legal rights of a biological parent, as there is typically complex legal paperwork designating the original couple as the legal parents of the child and with the surrogate giving up/forfeiting those rights.

Parents Through Marriage/ Step-Parents

A step-parent is an individual who has taken on the role of a child’s parent through marriage. By marrying the child’s mother or father, the individual will take on a parent’s responsibilities.

Step-parents may often be regarded as the paternal or maternal figure of the house. This scenario is usually true if the child’s biological mother or father has passed away or is no longer associated with the child.

A child may also have two step-parents if both their biological parents remarry. Step-parents will typically need to have a conversation with the child’s mother or father to establish boundaries and mutually agree on respective roles/fully understand the roles and responsibilities they each will have to undertake.

Some step-parents may choose to adopt their step-children, in which case they will be considered the child’s legal guardian in terms of the law. In the case of an adoptive step-father, the child may then take on the surname of their step-parent and will be regarded as their relation through adoption.

Adoptive Parents

Adoption is a procedure in which a person acquires parental responsibility for a child of any age from the biological parents or legal guardians. All legal rights and obligations and filiation are fully transferred from the birth parents or legal guardians to the adoptive parents during the adoption process.

Adoption is a permanent change in the child’s status that requires legal or religious permission. Modern adoptions are typically undertaken by adoptive parents and agencies and are governed by extensive rules and regulations.

However, there are two different types of adoption, which include open and closed adoption.

Open adoption involves the child’s biological parents. They can participate in the adoption process to help find a suitable adoptive family.

The biological parents can then contact their child and the adoptive parents after the adoption has taken place.

Alternatively, many biological parents may also opt for closed adoptions. Closed adoptions may also be mandatory for children from abusive homes or homes where their safety was a concern.

A closed adoption inhibits the biological parents from contacting the adoptive parents or maintaining a relationship with their child.

Foster Parents

Foster care is a program or system in which a child is placed into a group or private home with a caregiver. The caregiver is known as a foster parent. The child may also be placed with a family member who social services and the state have approved.

The state makes all legal decisions through the family court and the child protective services agency, while the foster parents are in charge of the child’s day-to-day care.

Children in foster care are usually removed from the supervision of their biological parent or legal guardian due to safety risks or neglect. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the child’s removal from the home, foster parents may be allowed to adopt their foster child with permission from the state.

Foster parents are typically rewarded a grant to help cover the financial costs of the child and need to work closely with the child’s social or caseworker to care for them.

A foster parent must take on the responsibilities of any other parent type, including providing the child with safety, education, and medical care. Foster parents are also required to go through training to be able to register themselves as state-appointed caregivers.

Vintage picture of Traditional Parenting vs Modern Parenting

Related Reading: Is Traditional Parenting Better Than Modern?

Parents Within Different Family Structures

Of course, while there are specific legal terms for parental figures, there are many families in which other individuals may fill the role of a parent. The individual that serves this role will primarily be dependent on the family structure in which the child lives.

The most common family or household structures are nuclear families, single-parent families, reconstituted or step-families, and grandparent families.

Nuclear Families

In a nuclear family, two parental figures take on the responsibility of caring for the child or children. Considered the ‘traditional’ family structure, a two-parent household is typically seen as more stable.

In modern society, the concept of a nuclear family is relatively outdated, as there is only a small margin of families who fit into this category.

Single Parent Families

Single-parent households are made up of one parent who raises their child or children independently. This family structure may result from divorce, the death of a partner or spouse, or unmarried couples who have decided (mutually or otherwise) not to co-parent.

Although the nuclear family is regarded as the traditional family structure, we have seen fewer families with two parents in the household than before. Single-parent families are now the most common family structure. Typically, around one in four children is born to a single mother.

Extended Families

Extended families refer to families with two or more adults living in one home. These adults are typically related by blood or marriage. Extended families can consist of several relatives living together under one roof.

In these circumstances, one or more of the adults who are not the child’s parent may still assume the role of a parent. While they do not have any legal responsibilities for the child, they will usually take responsibility for the day-to-day care of children within the home.

Extended families are relatively common and are usually born out of financial constraints or cultural subscriptions. They may also be due to taking in an elderly relative who can no longer care for themselves.

Reconstituted Families

Reconstituted families are more typically known as step-families and consist of children who live with their biological parent and a step-parent. In a step-family, two adults generally assume responsibility for the children, including the birth parent and the step-parent.

Children whose parents are divorced may have two step-families if both their biological parents have remarried and they are maintaining a relationship with each. Alternatively, they may be part of both a step-family and another type of family structure, like a single-parent family.

Children with step-families may have up to two biological parents and two step-parents.

Grandparent Families

Grandparent families are families where children live with their grandparents and where the grandparents raise them. In many cases of a grandparent family, the child’s biological parents no longer live with them or are not involved with their children.

The child’s grandparents will raise them and provide them with the care of a parent and can be considered their legal guardian in the eyes of the law.

In families where grandparents take on the roles and responsibilities of biological parents, the individuals are financially strained and need to seek work to support the children financially.

The Five Styles of Parenting

Based on the Olson Circumplex Model, there are five different parenting styles that parents usually adhere to. While they are good outlines for how a parent raises their child, they are general concepts that do not necessarily apply to everyone. Some parents may mix and match the characteristics of a few of the models to create a parenting style that is unique to them.

The five main parenting styles or models are: overbearing, strict, uninvolved, permissive, and balanced.

The overbearing parenting style is characterized by a highly adaptive, close-knit relationship between the parents and children.

This parenting style also includes overprotective parents who pander to their children. Overbearing parents may sometimes blur the line between friend and parent while still imposing several strict rules and regulations with stern discipline.

The strict parenting style is characterized by rigidly enforced rules and regulations and severely limited child independence and freedom. Strict parents usually display stern disapproval for actions that do not align with the parent’s morals and values.

Strict parenting fosters a lack of intimacy between parents and their children, and the parents are usually inflexible.

The uninvolved parenting style is characterized by poor emotional connection, low levels of parental interest in the child’s life, and overly-independent children. They also have little to no rules that are enforced frequently or not at all and limited demands and expectations on the child.

All in all, uninvolved parents do not usually have a relationship with their children. They are considered “lax” or uninterested in enforcing rules or correcting behavior through appropriate discipline. This style may border into neglect at times.

The permissive parenting style is identified by high levels of intimacy between parents and children and a high level of flexibility within the relationship.

Permissive parenting is defined by parents who are highly protective of their kids. Permissive parents are sensitive to their kids’ needs and lenient in enforcing rules and discipline. They also blur the line between friend and parent and have little to no expectations for their kids. 

Lastly, the balanced parenting style is characterized by loving, nurturing, supportive, emotionally responsive, and available parents. The parents encourage a moderate level of reasonable independence in children and are consistent and fair in their discipline.

There is a balance of independence and togetherness in family unity and a combination of both security and change when it comes to the adaptability of the parents. This ideal parenting stance is why balanced parenting is considered the most well-rounded style.

Balanced parenting focuses on several different positive ways to raise and discipline children to help them grow into well-rounded adults.

Some parents may approach parenting by combining various aspects of different types. For example, a parent may generally be permissive in certain areas but can also be extremely strict or overbearing in others. However, these parenting styles are not prescriptive of how a child is raised.

Single father walking his daughter to school in a suburb

Why Are Parents So Important in a Child’s Upbringing?

A child cannot survive on their own, especially as an infant who cannot feed, clothe, bathe, or keep themself warm. Therefore, a child is dependent on an adult parent for survival and will die if not taken care of. A child also cannot teach themself basic skills, such as how to talk, walk, or feed themselves.

Parents also play an important role in teaching a child social skills and what is right and wrong, which play an essential role in shaping the child’s personality. The way you raise a child can significantly influence the kind of adult they eventually become. If you raise a child correctly, they will likely grow up to be well-balanced adults who will make positive contributions to society and the world.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Parent?

Parents are responsible for providing for both the child’s physical and emotional needs. On a physical level, a parent is responsible for clothing, feeding, and housing the child. In addition, a parent is also responsible for providing a safe home environment and protecting a child from harm. A parent should also ensure that the child gets educated adequately.

A parent also usually teaches a child essential life skills, such as basic manners, how to talk, how to walk, and how to brush their teeth, to name a few. If a child gets hurt or sick and requires medical care, a parent will either nurse the child back to health themselves or take the child to the hospital or doctor if professional medical care is needed.

On an emotional level, a parent will meet a child’s needs by spending time with them, giving them love and affection, encouraging them, giving advice, and comforting them when they are sad. A parent will also use discipline to help teach the child what acceptable and unacceptable behavior is. Meeting a child’s physical and emotional needs will help them become happy and balanced adults.

Related Reading: 11 Reasons Sober Parents Are Better

What Should a Parent Not Do?

A parent should never do anything that will harm the child. For instance, a parent should never put a child in a dangerous situation where they could get hurt or even die. You should constantly supervise them, especially while they are still very young. If a parent is temporarily unable to oversee the child themselves, they should elect another responsible adult who can keep an eye on the child.

A parent should never physically harm or injure a child. A parent should also not abuse a child verbally by berating them, criticizing them, insulting them, or yelling at them. Adults who were abused during their childhood often have psychological issues and sometimes alcohol and drug problems. These issues should always be addressed by the adult and not transferred over to the child. A child’s needs should also always be met and never neglected.

A parent should also not allow a child to get hurt or abused by others. If a parent becomes aware that someone is hurting or abusing their child, they should take steps to stop it. If, for instance, a teacher at the child’s school should be the culprit, the parent can report the teacher to the principal, who can then take steps to ensure that it does not happen again.

Continue Reading: How Does Socioeconomic Status Affect Parenting Styles? [ANSWERED]


The word parent was first used in English during the 15th century as a noun referring to a person who has children or is raising them. During the 16th century, the use of the word evolved and expanded to a verb referring to the act of raising children. It can also refer to the original source of something or in business, to a company that also has controlling assets in another company.

When it comes to bringing up children, parents are responsible for looking after their physical and emotional well-being. How you raise a child can significantly impact them for the rest of their lives. If you raise them well, they are more likely to become happy and well-rounded adults. If their needs are not met as children, this will likely affect their lives as adults negatively.

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