Six stages of family life cycle: families with young kids • Jennifer Smith, Marriage & Family Therapist
As I continue my series on the six stages of the family life cycle, the next cycle to be addressed is families with young children. Much of the information shared in this article comes from “The Changing Family Life Cycle” by Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrick.
There is no stage in the family life cycle that brings about more profound change or challenge to the family system. Integrating children into a family 100 years ago was an economic asset. Children were born and raised to work on a farm and contribute to the family’s economic base. Today that is not the case. Children are an economic liability. People have fewer children, and the decision to do so is largely based on economics and time. More often than not, out of necessity, both parents work full time, so integrating another human being into the family system creates unique challenges and greater responsibilities for both parents. Having children changes the balance among work, siblings, parents, and friends.
The emotional process to this stage is the acceptance of a new member into a family system. Usually, the birth of a baby is a joyous event, and one that families anticipate. The timing of this birth, events surrounding the birth, reasons for the pregnancy and the state of the marital bond certainly influence the emotional response to the new arrival. When doing an intake for a new client who is presenting with issues about a child, questions concerning all these factors at the time of that child’s birth are explored. Often the factors present at the time of the child’s birth contribute to how that child is parented for many years.
The changes in family status required to proceed in a healthy developmental fashion around a child’s birth are varied. The first task is for the marital or parental system to make space for the children. At whatever time this occurs, whether early or later in a marriage, or a younger or older single, adjustments will need to be made. Being accepting and accommodating of these changes contribute to a healthy family adjustment. Many people grieve the time when they had more freedom and less demands and cannot accept this stage for what it brings.
Another task is joining forces in child rearing, financial and household tasks. This task requires a renegotiation of these factors in order to simply complete the tasks. One of the biggest challenges for couples or singles with a new baby is coping with the labor intensive tasks of caring for the child while managing all the other jobs needed to simply run the family. Inevitable sleep depravation makes life even more challenging. A third task is the realignment of the relationships with extended family to include parenting and grand parenting roles.
Often knowing the changes required in a family life cycle stage, along with a willingness to accommodate lifestyles to those changes, can contribute to a more healthy and rich experience. The blessings of children are numerous, but so are the challenges.
Printed in the August 9, 2012