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Examining Parental Internal Processes Associated with Indulgent Parenting: A Thematic Analysis

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This study examined the external influences and internal processes in parental beliefs, perceptions, and emotions regarding the parenting of adolescent children and the role of parental indulgence.


Interviews of 29 parents of adolescents, who were approximately 15 years old, were conducted regarding the perceptions of parental indulgence they had experienced and currently practice. The study incorporated a family ecosystem approach with qualitative analytic methods including MAXQDA to identify thematic findings.


Findings revealed three themes and their subthemes: (1) Responding to the external world: Family life adjustments and indulgence, which encompassed (a) Family life adjustments (i.e., divorce, separation) and managing (b) Increased demands (i.e., responsibilities at home and school); (2) Reflecting on the parenting patterns in hindsight—Internal search for clarity and effectiveness with an in-depth (a) Parent reflection process regarding their choice to indulge, and (b) Clear parenting choices, or, exceptions to indulgence; and (3) Reconciling personal experiences of being parented: Discontinuity and continuity, involved reflections on parents desire to change or keep the parenting practices modeled by their caregivers. Emotional experiences were shaped by parents’ own perceptions that parenting needs to be effective, but vulnerability occurred when faced with distractions in the family due to internal pressures such as marital disruptions and external stresses of social norms and cultural expectations.


Results demonstrate how parents emotionally cope with pressure and how multiple emotional undertones potentially drive their decisions to indulge. Directions for future research are discussed.

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Author Contributions

S.N.W.: took the lead in conceptualizing this paper, analyzed the data, and was the lead author in writing the paper. C.D.: designed the study, collected the data, and collaborated on the analysis and writing of the paper. M.R.: collaborated with the design of the study, analysis of data, and writing of the paper. M.C.: collaborated with the design and editing of the paper.


This research was supported by two grants from Kappa Omicron Nu and a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R03HD088787). Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed within this work do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding organization/agency.

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Correspondence to Sarah N. Wolford.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study involving human subjects were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Florida State University.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Wolford, S.N., Darling, C.A., Rehm, M. et al. Examining Parental Internal Processes Associated with Indulgent Parenting: A Thematic Analysis. J Child Fam Stud 29, 660–675 (2020).

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