As is the case with any metaphor, parental effects mean different things to different biologists-from developmental induction of novel phenotypic variation to an evolved adaptation, and from epigenetic transference of essential developmental resources to a stage of inheritance and ecological succession. Such a diversity of perspectives illustrates the composite nature of parental effects that, depending on the stage of their expression and whether they are considered a pattern or a process, combine the elements of developmental induction, homeostasis, natural selection, epigenetic inheritance and historical persistence. Here, we suggest that by emphasizing the complexity of causes and influences in developmental systems and by making explicit the links between development, natural selection and inheritance, the study of parental effects enables deeper understanding of developmental dynamics of life cycles and provides a unique opportunity to explicitly integrate development and evolution. We highlight these perspectives by placing parental effects in a wider evolutionary framework and suggest that far from being only an evolved static outcome of natural selection, a distinct channel of transmission between parents and offspring, or a statistical abstraction, parental effects on development enable evolution by natural selection by reliably transferring developmental resources needed to reconstruct, maintain and modify genetically inherited components of the phenotype. The view of parental effects as an essential and dynamic part of an evolutionary continuum unifies mechanisms behind the origination, modification and historical persistence of organismal form and function, and thus brings us closer to a more realistic understanding of life's complexity and diversity.