4 Seasons of Parenthood

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How Parenting Changes as Your Child Grows

Serve, Lead, Mentor, Befriend

Did you miss any of these seasons with your child? If so, there is hope!

Four-year-old Nicole was a terror. She ran around my office with no limits while mom and dad looked like deer in headlights and exclaimed, Dr. Sells, what do we do? Mom went on to explain, “Nicole screams when we try to put her in time out, kicks her older sister, and her favorite word is ‘No!’”

Mom stated, “from birth to 2 years old, Nicole was a little angel. I even got through the ‘terrible twos’ with no problem. Dr. Sells, what are my husband and I doing wrong?”

Many of you reading this story can relate and emphasize with these parents. Like the seasons change from fall to winter and spring to summer, it seems that your child or teenager changes also. And not always for the better. The question is why? And what concrete tools can we use to stop it? In this article, I will discuss the four seasons of parenting (service, leadership, mentorship, friendship) and the developmental milestones in each season. I’ll also answer key questions and provide tips and tools to survive and thrive in each of the four seasons.

The key question to ask when you closely study each season is “Did we miss any of these milestones? If yes, how many, and which ones?

Missing one or two milestones per season may not be a cause for alarm. But if you miss some of them, there can be trouble ahead. Take heart if you missed one or more seasons. The good news is, with the proper tools and effort, you can get it back.

Season #1: A “Season of Service,” Birth to 2 Years of Age

  • The child is center of the universe around which the parent orbits.
  • The male parent generally stays on the sidelines.
  • Less time and energy for marriage activities such as sex, one-on-one time, or attention to husband and his needs.
  • The parent “orbits around the child” and micromanages the youngster’s life.

Key Question

To prepare for the next season, what will orbiting less and more active authority look like? And can we write it down in a contract format that can be tweaked as we go?


Write down your limits in a contract format. For example, if you are going to start to use time out consistently at ages 3 and 4, predetermine and write down the who, what, when, and how. Who will be in charge of time outs (mom, dad, grandparent, all three), under what circumstances will they be used (says no, will not pick up toys after one warning, etc.), when will time outs be used (each instance of noncompliance, after one warning, etc.); and how will they be done (on a step, in a corner, with a timer, etc.)?

Visit kcchild.com/samplecontracts for example from the Kansas City Child Guidance Center (KCCGC) for how to mediate important transitional discussions.

Season #2: A “Season of Leadership,” 3 to 13 Years of Age

  • Arguably the most important season to master.
  • Without clear leadership and hierarchy, more emotional and behavioral problems can result than in all of the other seasons combined.
  • Parents stop serving and claim authority over offspring.
  • Must be on same page with their parenting philosophies.Also time to re-energize the husband-wife relationship.

Key Questions

Who controls the mood of your household? If the answer is your child or teen, they may be “drunk with too much power,” and you need to regain your leadership role.

Do you have clearly written and predetermined rules and consequences that communicate to your child and teen that what they have is a privilege they must earn with good behavior? Or is your parenting style “off the cuff” with rules and consequences that are full of loopholes?


Establish a written daily routine on a large poster board and hang it on the refrigerator for all to see. From what time to get up and what is required to time go to bed. This structure will also be the guardrails your child needs to feel secure.

Season #3: A “Season of Mentoring,” 14 to 17 Years of Age

  • The child is prepared for emancipation and ultimately for a friendship.
  • The mother needs to do less and less for her children.
  • Father needs to take a more active role.
  • Parents use discipline that would have worked in Season #2, but it backfires if used too late.
  • Goal as a parent is to prepare children to NOT need you.

Key Question

Is my teenager prepared and mature enough for emancipation? If not, what is missing?


If there is not an emancipation plan, you need to get one with your teenager. The best first step is to get a giant poster board, write on it in big letters “emancipation plan,” and put a line down the middle. Then work with your teenager to list in the left column all the things you have accomplished so far (a job, a plan for college, etc.) and in the right column all the things your teen still needs to learn (how to develop a budget, do his share of the chores, etc.) with a clear timetable.

Season #4: A “Season of Friendship,” 18 to Adulthood

  • Many parents see friendship as the ultimate goal, but attempting friendship too early will backfire.
  • Today the goal is often to be the child’s buddy instead of servant, leader, mentor, and friend in that order.

Key Questions

Is my child doing everything they need to successfully launch into adulthood and move out of the house? If not, is there a clear timetable with goals, and are we holding them accountable?


Unfortunately, today we have more “failure to launch” kids than any generation before. You must be able to appropriately discern when your child needs extra years at home for economic reasons vs. just being at home for convenience. If it is the latter, your job as parent is still not quite over. You must have the ability to set boundaries with accountability. Otherwise, as one young adult told me, “Why grow up if I have free rent, free food, and can come and go as I please?”

I hope this guidance will help you better navigate the waters between you and your child and that it will help you know when to re-energize your marriage and when it may be stressed. The most important takeaway is that you are not alone, and if you missed a season, you can still get it back.

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