Seeing Family Life as a Life Cycle

Everything that lives follows a lifecycle. I learnt recently how even our family lives trace a lifecycle. A family life cycle is the set of predictable steps and patterns families experience over time. It is a set of emotional and intellectual experiences that one has to go through in a family from childhood to old age. A typical modern family may have a lifespan of about 50 years.

One of the first designs of the family life cycle was developed by Paul Glick in 1955. In Glick’s original design, he asserted that most people will grow up, establish families, rear and launch their children, experience an “empty nest” period, and come to the end of their lives. This cycle will then continue with each subsequent generation (Glick 1989). Mastering the skills and milestones of each stage allows you to successfully move from one stage of development to the next. If you don’t master the skills, you may still move on to the next phase of the cycle, but you are more likely to have difficulty with relationships and future transitions. Family life cycle theory suggests that successful transitioning may also help to prevent disease and emotional or stress-related disorders.

Glick’s colleague, Evelyn Duvall, elaborated on the family life cycle by developing these classic stages of a family (Strong and DeVault 1992):

The Family Lifecycle

The family life cycle begins with marriage and ends with the death of both partners. But, a family never ends—it goes on through the generations. Each family sends out its satellites during the launching stage to ensure its continuity.

The typical young couple starting marriage today can predict about a two-year interval before the birth of the first child. The last baby will typically be born about six years after marriage. This youngest child will be married shortly after the parent’s 25th wedding anniversary. More than half of the married years will be spent after the children are grown and away from home. So when you are searching for your soul mate, please factor this in-out of 50 years of married life, you will be spending 25 years with just each other, depending on each other for emotional support. Also, note that this phase comes towards the end of your life not the beginning of your youth!

The husband is likely to precede his wife in death, leaving the wife a widow for approximately 16 years of the family cycle. So, when you plan financially for retirement, do take this into consideration.

This way each stage has its beginnings in the stages which have gone before and its fulfilment in the future. Wherever an individual is at the moment, he has his roots in the past and is moving toward the next stage of life.

At each stage of development, families have certain tasks to accomplish just like individuals.

Here are the developmental tasks needed at each stage:

1. Family founding

  • Establish a home.
  • Become emotionally dependent on one another ; emotionally independent of parents.
  • Work out ways of handling differences.
  • Learn homemaking skills.

2. Childbearing

  • Learn about pregnancy, childbirth, and children.
  • Gain understanding of new husband-wife relationship.
  • Develop philosophy of child rearing. i Accept responsibilities of parenthood.
  • Understand the role of grandparents.

3. Child rearing

  • Continue to learn about children.
  • Adjust financial plans and housing to meet needs of children.
  • Assume responsibility for school and community betterment.
  • Become alert to particular needs of chil- dren at different ages.

4. Child launching

  • Discard folklore about love and marriage; gain insight and knowledge to help children.
  • Enlarge child’s vocational choice by learn- ing about new opportunities.
  • Give emotional support to children as they leave home for work, military service, school, or marriage.
  • Release children to live their own lives.

5. Empty nest

  • Adjust to life as a couple after years as parents.
  • Accept the reality of your life’s accom- plishments.
  • Learn about modern methods of child rearing to improve skills as grandparents.
  • Prepare for and adjust to retirement.
  • Prepare for living alone.

No two families will follow exactly the same pattern, but the concept of a family life cycle offers a helpful approach to managing family resources. The choice of your life partner will heavily influence the health of your family. This understanding of the various stages and the approximate time couples can expect to spend in each stage helps us have the big picture of what we are getting into when we are planning to start a family. It helps us foresee the challenges and also developmental milestones and helps us take proactive decisions on housing, recreation, insurance, career, retirement and so on.

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