Embracing In Loco Parentis

Okay, you may not have expected references to Latin to be a part of a blog on parenting; however, I think it is important from the very beginning to recognize that when I refer to “parents,” it is really a more general term than the biological people who became pregnant and gave birth to a child.

In loco parentis is a Latin phrase that means “in the place of a parent.”

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

This is a legal term used to describe the responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent.

For our purposes, this is a phrase that invites us all to appreciate that children are “parented” by more than their biological parents. While in many (if not most) cases, biological parents have the greatest influence on children, and it is important to incorporate from the very beginning of our exploration of parenting, the idea that anyone who functions in some capacity as the parent to a child can be viewed as having many of the same powers of a biological parent. It is also important to appreciate that every child is impacted by all those adults who “parent” him or her, whether for brief periods or throughout a child’s childhood and everything in between.

Dictionary.com states that the term “parent” includes the following: “ a father or a mother, an ancestor, precursor, or progenitor or a protector or guardian.”

“Parenting,” the site says, can be defined as “the methods, techniques, etc., used or required in the rearing of children.”

All this to say, we need to keep a very broad perspective when discussing parents and parenting.

It can be cumbersome every time I use the term “parent” to add all of these addendums to embrace those who are in the role of caregiving for children. At the same time, I think it is important to honor how many people “parent” children, and therefore, have the responsibility to do so in ways that nurture, guide, and have positive impact on the lives of those children he or she is parenting.

Think about your own life.

In addition to perhaps your biological parents being the ones who primarily parented you, who else often was in the role of parent? For some, there is a family network that includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and even close friends of the family. I know I was parented by my “Aunt Lois,” who was very special to me throughout my childhood.

I recall how she embraced me as almost one of her own children, and she wasn’t even a blood relative, but rather a very close friend of my mother’s. She was always my aunt—it didn’t matter that we were not biologically related!

In the same ways, foster care parents and parents who adopt children, while not biologically connected, are nonetheless truly the parents of the children in their care.

By embracing this appreciation for who qualifies as a parent, we can generate a pretty extensive list of potential “parents ”who have the power to deeply impact children’s lives. Teachers, coaches, leaders in youth groups and scouting, neighbors can all be in the role of in loco parentis.

As we continue with an ongoing exploration of parenting and what promotes health in the lives of children, we can embrace this much larger view of who a parent can be. This allows us to appreciate all who have the potential power to profoundly influence the lives of children. It also means that all those who are acting in loco parentis accept responsibility for doing so with intentionality and integrity.

So please, as you read this blog (and any other blogs or information on the subject of parenting), broaden your perspective to include all those who are in loco parentis, to appreciate that all children are our children.

Invitation to Reflect:

You are invited to take a few moments to consider what in loco parentis means to you:

  • Who in your life parented you in addition to your own biological parents (who may or may not have been significant in parenting you)?
  • As you think of those people who were in loco parentis in your life, what were some of the ways each impacted you: your beliefs, attitudes, ways of interacting with others, the decisions you made about how to live your life?
  • Who in your life do you parent beyond your own biological children, if you have children to whom you gave birth or fathered?
  • What impact do you think you have had/continue to have on each of these children?
  • How aware were/are you of the importance you had or are having in their lives?

In my next blog, you will be invited to embrace the idea of “Principled Parenting.”

Diane Wagenhals


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