Mothers and fathers were asked via an open-ended interview technique to explain specific interactions with their children that had been noted during a period of family observation in the home. Explanations were obtained for behavior in five interactional contexts (e.g., interactions involving discipline and interactions encouraging the child to be independent). The explanations were classified first to determine the extent to which they referred to what might have been actual thoughts at the time of the behavior. Second, they were content analysed to determine how much parents perceived themselves as responding to the child, versus how much they presented their behavior as arising from their own dispositions, purposes, and experiences. Results showed that most of the explanations did not contain what could be considered conscious cognitions at the time of the behavior. This suggests parents might have been responding automitically in the situation. Also, parents did not perceive their behavior as being mainly in response to the child. Instead they primarily saw themselves as the agents of their own actions. The latter trend varied in degree according to the interactional context. Mothers seemed more child centered in their explanations than fathers. Implications are examined for future research on links between parental cognition and behavior, and for the methods adopted to study parental cognitions. Questions are raised about the extent to which parents planfully determine their behavior and the extent to which they are aware of the reasons for their behavior.