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Family life cycle: what is it, stages, and transitions

Throughout his life, the composition of a family changes, as do the interpersonal relationships that are established in it.

Crisis situations occur in every family such as deaths, job losses, changes of home and the evolutionary changes of children, such as entering adolescence or their emancipation when they are Adults.

These changes and transitions are what we know as the family life cycle.There are several models that specify the stages that most families go through and what makes them transition from one to another.

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What is the family life cycle?

The family life cycle are all the stages that a family goes through throughout its life. These stages are progressive, associated with changes in the composition of the family nucleus and, also, in the relationships between its members. Every family can be influenced and altered by internal and external factors, such as the cultural system, values, social expectations and political changes.

The concept of the family life cycle is made up of several stages, which, although they vary depending on the author who see, they are assumed to correspond to the periods through which most families spend within a society. These stages begin and end with the experience of different life events, events that most families are expected to experience at some point in their existence.

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The stages of the family life cycle

The concept of the family life cycle has been approached from various social sciences, such as social psychology and sociology. Depending on who you ask, it is agreed that all families go through some stages or others. Among the most popular models we have two: the Wells and Gubar and the Duvall. Below we will mention all the stages that are proposed in their models:

1. Family life cycle according to Wells and Gubar (1966)

William W. Wells and George Gubar It consists of 8 stages that differ in terms of the presence of children in the home and their age.

  • Single stage: Young single people living separately.
  • Newly married couple: Young married couples without children.
  • Full nest I: Young couples with children under 6 years of age.
  • Full nest II: Young couples with children over 6 years old.
  • Full nest III: Older couples with dependent children.
  • Empty nest I: There are no more children in the home. He or the head of the family continues to work.
  • Empty nest II: The head of household has retired / retired.
  • Lone Survivor: Working or Retired.

2. Family life cycle according to Duvall (1988)

Evelyn Millis Duvall's model is also made up of 8 stages. In this model The age of the children is also taken into special consideration, but in this case it focuses on the developmental stage in which they are.

  • Married couples: No children.
  • Families in initial upbringing: Firstborn under 30 months.
  • Families with preschool-age children: Firstborn between 2.5 and 6 years old.
  • Families with school-age children: First-born between 6 and 13 years old.
  • Families with adolescents: Firstborn between 13 and 20 years old.
  • Families as a launching pad: From the time the first-born leaves home until the youngest child does too.
  • Middle-aged parents: From the empty nest to retirement.
  • Family with elderly members: From job retirement until the death of both members of the couple.
Young family

Transitions and crises

Throughout their life cycle, families go through different crises and problems that, although not they are usually serious or cause the family nucleus to disintegrate, they imply changes in life family.

Over the years All families have to deal with various natural events, such as births, deaths and the growth of their children, situations that can involve greater stress if there is an economic crisis or underlying relational problems. They are events that alter the structure of the family and test its adaptability.

Next, and taking Duvall's model as a reference, we can see what are the crises and stressors that a cisheteronormative family can encounter throughout its existence:

1. Just married couple

This is the stage where everything starts, as long as the relationship thrives. It is that moment when two people meet, establish a loving relationship, make life plans and get married.

In itself, the stage involves several identity crises, since both members of the couple have to assume that they are no longer single people, but the "half" of a whole. Both members of this new couple must negotiate what beliefs and expectations to adopt in order to create a new identity as a couple and as a future family.

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2. Families in early parenting

In this stage the crisis occurs when two people who are in a relationship will become three (or four) because the woman is pregnant. New parents need to adjust to their new parenting roles, bond with their child, and coordinate on parenting-related tasks.

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3. Families with preschool-age children

In this case the crisis is related to childhood, at which point first-born children gain some autonomy and become difficult to control for their parents, especially if the children are curious and want to explore the world around them. In addition, at this stage there may be tensions due to imbalances in work and family roles.

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4. Families with school-age children

The crisis occurs at the beginning of school. The child has to learn to relate to other children and other authority figures apart from their parents, while parents have to interact with other parents and teachers at the center. It is a stage in which homework, extracurricular activities, failed and approved, parent meetings appear ...

5. Families with teenagers

The main reason for crisis in families with adolescents is related to identity conflicts typical of adolescence. The family has to adjust to the onset of puberty and sexual maturity, cope with the cravings for independence and rebellion of her son and discussions that will be maintained with him or her due to various differences.

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6. Families as a launch pad

Here the crisis occurs with the imminent departure of the children. Parents have to accept that their little ones have grown up, that they seek to train to be masters of their own life, greater independence and make their own decisions about their non-compulsory training and profession to practice.

7. Middle-aged parents

There are no children at home. Parents have to readjust their identity since for many years a large part of their routine consisted of caring for of their children and, now that they are gone, that empty space has to be filled, the space that stops being a father 24/7.

Now, without children at home, they have to assume different roles, including being the grandparent of their newborn grandchildren or facing their retirement.

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8. Family with elderly members

Finally, the last stage of the family life cycle is established with a crisis caused by the perception that youth, vitality, health and partner have been lost, in case you have already passed away. The two members of the couple or the widower prepare themselves psychologically to face the last stage of their lives before the inevitable arrival of death.

Weaknesses of the classic models

The family life cycle models we just talked about were conceptualized around the 1960s.. Since then, the concept of family has been changing, in addition to several social changes that it makes It is necessary to propose new models of family life cycle stages so that they can be adapted to the new realities.

Throughout the last half of the last century and what we have been in the present, there has been an increase in life expectancy, a lower birth rate, changes in regarding the social roles of women, a higher rate of divorces and second marriages, in addition to the appearance of more single-parent families and marriages homosexuals.

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