Maternal Informal Learning Experiences that Shape Parenting Practices

Frances L. Coolman, Khara L.P. Turnbull, Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, Rachel Y. Moon, Fern R. Hauck, Ann Kellams, Eve Colson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Current understanding of the linkage between maternal education and parenting practices has largely been informed using a narrow definition of educational attainment—the highest level of education an individual has completed. However, the proximal processes that shape parenting, including informal learning experiences, are also important to understand. Less is known about the informal learning experiences that shape parenting decisions and practices. To this end, we conducted a qualitative inquiry about the informal learning experiences of mothers of children ages 3–4 years with the specific goal of understanding how maternal informal learning experiences shape parenting decisions and practices. Design: We conducted interviews with 53 mothers from across the United States who had previously participated in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of an intervention targeting infant care practices. We recruited a purposive sample of mothers chosen to maximize diversity across educational attainment and adherence to infant care practices targeted in the RCT. Using a grounded theory approach, data were analyzed using an iterative process for organizing codes and themes that mothers identified as informal learning experiences. Results: We identified seven themes representing distinct types of maternal informal learning experiences that impact parenting practices, including: (1) experiential learning during childhood; (2) experiential learning during adulthood; (3) interpersonal interactions including via social media; (4) experiences with non-interactive media sources; (5) informal trainings; (6) beliefs; and (7) current circumstances. Conclusions: Multiple informal learning experiences inform the parenting decisions and practices of mothers with varying levels of formal educational attainment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-890
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Family Issues
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • informal education
  • maternal education
  • parent decision-making
  • parenting practices


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