The other night I watched a re-run of a 2010 episode of 16 and Pregnant featuring pregnant teen Lori, herself adopted as an infant. Lori's adoptive parents refused to help her raise her son, pushing adoption at every turn, finally forcing Lori to "choose" adoption over "parenting." Of course without financial help from her adoptive parents (the son's father was a teen himself), Lori would have had great difficulty in raising her son. "Parenting," though, took on a gloss beyond the financial issue; it suggested that keeping her baby required a mystical skill, something beyond the capability of a teenager, tipping the balance to "choosing adoption." (Lest we get into an argument about the desirability of teens raising children, we need only look to President Barack Obama, entertainer Oprah Winfrey, activist Jesse Jackson, all born to teen mothers, and poet Maya Angelou, a teen mother. Not coincidentally, these notables are all African-American.)
WHEN DID PARENTING BECOME A VERB?
"Parent" as a verb was used as early as 1663 according to the Oxford-English Dictionary but its meaning was akin to "origin." However, its use before the 20th century was extremely rare.
Cliff Price of the New Oxford Review shares my distaste for the word, comparing his reaction to it to children's instinctive revulsion of broccoli:
"This usage has crept into common parlance and become pervasive within the past twenty years. ....The conversion of the word 'parent' from noun to verb is an insidious instance of the illegitimate sort of neologism [a new word]. 'Parent' in English has always been a noun meaning the immediate, biologic ancestor. It expresses a relationship based on a natural fact. In the current usage as a verb, however, 'to parent' has no such clear meaning. Expressions such as 'parenting class, 'parenting magazines,' and 'how to parent well' are not instructions in begetting. ...'Parent' is being used as a vague replacement for 'child-rearing,' or 'raise' or 'nurture' or 'bring up' children. The verb 'parent' implies the things done by a parent,' without specifying what those things are or specifying the identify of the person doing them. Further, it negates the meaning of parent: a man or woman in an undeniable relationship with a child by reason of a biological fact." (emphasis added)I think that may be precisely the reason that adoptive parents and the industry are so attached to using parent as a verb. If someone is parenting a child, they must be parents, negating the meaning of "parent" as an originator of something or someone.
Former Baltimore Sun editor John Carroll is more charitable. He "disparaged parenting but reluctantly gave into it for lack of a simple equivalent. Child-rearing didn't seem adequate to the purpose. The purpose was to indicate an attitude toward bringing up children that involved father and mother equally, emphasizing nurturing over smacking the little creatures, and generally reflected yuppie culture."
Lisa Belkin of the New York Times notes "now that parenting has become a verb--an active, measurable, competitive thing--it brings with it an expanding job description. We create one for ourselves, different from our neighbors', or even our partners', but always broader than the one our parents used decades ago."
LET'S DEEP-SIX 'PARENTING'
To Margaret Nelson of The Washington Post, American parenting styles are sharply divided by class. "Compared with professional, middle-class parents, parents of lower educational and professional status are more likely to impose non-negotiable limits on their children's behavior. Rather than sitting down and watching television with their children, for example, they simply block certain channels."
So there you have it, "parenting" means what the speaker wants it to mean. I'll bet, though, that if pregnant teens were given the choice between nurturing their child, or having biological strangers do it instead of between parenting and adoption, more would "make a plan" to keep their babies.
A Journalist's Guide to Adoption
Oxford English Dictionary
Cliff Price, Parent is a Noun, Not a Verb
John McIntyre, "You Don't Say," Sept. 2010
Lisa Belkin "Unhappy Helicopter Parents," July 7, 2010
Margaret Nelson, "Helicopter moms, heading for a crash," July 4, 2010
Natural and Real Language