7400.201 Courtship Marriage and the Family
  Topic 15 - The Family Life Cycle

The Family System consists of three distinct parts: Courtship (dating, engagement), Marriage (the couple), & Family Life (children, kinship patterns).  Everyone who marries has experienced all three to some degree.  However, there are at least four basic types of families in American culture:

    1. Traditional Nuclear Families - a mom who provides nurturance and close care for the family, a dad who provides financially for the family, and children who go to school and are active. All these people live together in a house of their own. Less than 20%
    2. Single Parent Families - either unmarried women having and keeping children, unmarried women having children and giving them over to other family members to rear, or women working and caring for children after divorce. The fastest growing family form in the United States today (about 21% of the total).
    3. Step-families - reconstituted or blended families (custodial parent remarries someone with no children). -blended when two custodial remarry -binuclear families - when a divorced couple remarries others (approximately 15%)..
    4. Two-Job Nuclear Families - Everybody works We haven't kept up with family matters nor made arrangements for the children (nearly 45%)
Regardless of the type of family, its importance to society, to children and adults is easy to underestimate.
The Family is a) responsible for the production and socialization of children, b) the first line of defense against deviant behavior, and c) the first place that children learn morality and ethics - principles that should serve them all their lives. The consequences of effective socialization of children should ideally include:
  • the development of marketable, productive skills
  • the abilities necessary to relate to others in the society in nondestructive ways
  • an orientation consistent with ethical and moral judgments.
    If the family is ineffective in socializing its children- the consequences are serious, for society and for children themselves and Children will be unhappy and society will crumble. (a little drastic? Watch the evening news!)

A Casual reading of the text will tell you that race is somewhat of a factor in all this.  Single parent families are close to the norm among African-American, or Black, families.  There is an inordinate (disproportionate) amount of poverty and crime in areas of most towns and cities where the majority of the families are black.  This is a simple, statistical fact.  However, like most simple statistics, the stats on poverty, crime and race often do not tell the whole story, statistically, politically, or otherwise.

The truth probably is closer to this: 
the cause of poverty for nearly twenty-three percent of our nation's children is divorce, not being of any particular racial grouping.  Divorce is the culprit because about half of all court awarded child support goes unpaid by fathers to children.

And while on the topic of attempting to see the truth - there's this:  61% of all responding to surveys say that they feel family life is "the most important element in my life."   People always respond favorably to questions like this, however, the reality of our lives is a little different. There are other indicators that tell a story that departs from the Ideal.  To decide whether or not American Values support families and children's welfare, look at the evidence.
  • -we lie to children
  • -we speed through school zones
  • -we won't fund adequate child care
  • -our schools are being abandoned by state legislatures around the country
  • -SAT's go down every year
  • -more than a few fathers don't provide for their children
  • -family violence rates continue to climb
If we cared for our families like we say we do, these and many other statistical facts would cease to exist.

Where do our values reside? Compare what really happens to what we believe in?

Children in the 1960s compared to the 2000s

    • -poverty rate in 1960 11% - 2000s to 25%
    • -academic achievement continues to decline
    • -suicide rate among teens has tripled from 2.3 per 100,000 to 8 per 100,000
    • -incidence of obesity increased by 15% to 30%
    • -delinquency cases are higher
    • -reported abuse and neglect is higher
    • -Aids and Crack-babies didn't exist in 1960 and now are correlated with promiscuity and drug use of parents.
All this can be traced to parents abdicating their roles, increases in number of single parent families, increases in number of step-families - and all that comes from higher incidence of divorce, greater numbers of mothers who MUST work to meet the very basic needs of their children.  It is an economic problem.
II. Parenting Across the Lifespan
There are differing challenges and differing problems along the family life cycle.  Six stages in the family life cycle have been identified: 1) the unattached young adult, 2) the newly married couple, 3) the family with young children, 4) the family with adolescents, 5) the launching and moving on, and 6) the family in later life.

 Various changes occur over the family life cycles and our relationships with each other also change. Younger and older couples are more alike in some ways than couples in their middle years. There are various communication styles in conflict: denial, topic management, noncommittal remarks, irreverent remarks, analytic remarks, confrontational remarks, and conciliatory remarks.

 People’s experiences in passing through the family life cycle will depend on a number of things, including various kinds of changes that occur in society. First, there is the experience of the death of one’s parents or of a child. Another change involves grandparenthood. A third change relates to marital disruption and remarriage.

The newly married couple tends to have certain family strengths that are at a very high level. One of the important tasks facing the newly married couple is that of forming their own marital system. One of the more important tasks is establishing a pattern of resolving conflicts. Another challenge is the dilemma posed by your need for closeness and the danger of a fused relationship.

A. Children's Potential Effect on the Couple's Satisfaction with their marriage:

  • 1. Passage of time - monotony, routine, lack luster
  • 2. Children's Changing Demands
    • -increased social schedules
    • -changing needs due to maturation and growth
    • -changing modes of discipline & displays of affection
  • 3. There is an increasing disturbance, or "noise" level in the house as children grow in years.
Two mediating factors related to marital satisfaction:
  • 1. Nature and flexibility of interaction habits (couple)
  • 2. Extent to which the couple have accomplished developmental tasks related to themselves and parenting.
In the third stage of the family life cycle, the couple commits itself to an additional person and to changes in the family system. Spouses face the challenge of the new roles of mother and father as well as those of husband and wife. Marital satisfaction may decline in this stage, but for some couples in the child-rearing years, marital satisfaction increases.

 Three areas of concern can make the fourth stage–the family at midlife–particularly problematic. These areas are aging parents, adolescent children, and midlife concerns. At the midlife stage, the effects of the aging population are increasingly evident. People must deal with their aging parents, which may include caring for parents who become ill, disabled, or frail.

  •  Adolescents undergo important physical, intellectual, and “social definitional” changes. At adolescence, then, parents and children must work out a new system. Adolescents also need increasing autonomy and independence.
  •  Because conflict arises out of opposing needs and interests, the unique needs of adolescents make this stage one of increasing conflict. The most frequent sources of conflict between adolescents and parents are everyday matters. Adolescents see most of their stress arising from daily hassles with parents.
  •  Parents who have responsibilities for adolescent children and aging parents at the same time are the “sandwich generation.” A growing number of Americans, therefore, are turning to some kind of formal care rather than assuming all the burdens of caregiving themselves.
  •  In addition to facing responsibilities for their children and their parents, the couple in stage four faces marital and personal challenges. Midlife is a time when people become increasingly concerned about their own aging process. Not everyone has a midlife crisis, but everyone faces a set of challenges and concerns at midlife.  Men typically deal with four fundamental concerns: mortality, destructive and creative tendencies, recognizing and developing both the masculine and feminine aspects of their nature, and the need to be attached to and separate from the social environment. Women tend to reach the midlife crisis point sooner than men.
  •  Obviously, the intersection of the turmoil of adolescence with the parental crisis of midlife creates a fertile climate for considerable family strain and diminished satisfaction with life. When families do have conflict, it may partly be due to a lack of rites of passage. Various rites of passage may occur profitably a number of times during the adolescent years.
V. In stage five, the couple must deal with the children moving out and being on their own. Family therapists stress the need for “differentiation,” the need for each member of the family to be an autonomous individual as well as an integral part of an intimate group. When the children leave, the parent-child relationship also changes. In addition to their relationship with their children, an empty-nest couple faces a number of other changes. At least some couples never experience, or have little time to experience, the empty nest.  It may be difficult for a couple when the children leave home. Some men find it painful for the children to leave. Women who have invested themselves completely - or almost completely in child rearing will also find the empty nest painful. For most people, stage five represents a time of increasing marital satisfaction and renewed family strength. Overall, then, the empty nest is likely to be a stage that is gratifying and filled with a new zest for living. . Relationship with aging parents

  • 1. older parents serve as role models to two generations trading some financial support for advice
  • 2. the relationship can be painful and distant if:
    • -there is unresolved resentment and conflict
    • -midlifers have fear of having to be caretakers
  • 3. Instrumental Care-giving - become more of a social concern and less of a personal one.
  • 4. Launching of children - empty nest - situation most difficult for mothers who haven't prepared properly.
III. Post parental years and aging:

According to the age continuum by which many of us live:

Last Child Born-------------- Last Child Leaves --------Retirement
born-------- by 30--------------------------by 48---------------------by 65-------80

Most of us will have 15 years left after 65!

In 1950 life expectancy was only 65 years - some of the relationship problems people face today may be due to extending the lifespan into stressful, unhealthy years.

Erikson's Epigenetic Principle states the stages of adult development to be:

  1. young adulthood - intimacy vs. isolation - where we fall in love and marry.
  2. middle adulthood - generativity vs. stagnation - where we bear and rear our children
  3. late adulthood - integrity vs. despair - where we look back on our lives with concern that we've done a good job with the resources we've been given.
Middlescence - the Midlife Authenticity Crisis, as termed by Gail Sheehy
In middle to late life, one begins to question the meaning of having lived? We begin a process of self-examination of past-through the present, asking ourselves questions, such as:
  • Are our dreams fulfilled?
  • Do people love us?
  • Have we achieved all we wanted?
  • Did we do right by our children, and are they doing well?
The primary factor in resolving midlife crisis is the maintenance of positive relationships with friends and family.  Increasing numbers of people are experiencing the grandparent role. For the most part, grandparenting is a positive experience in people’s lives. There are different types of grandparents: formal, fun seeker, surrogate  parent, reservoir of family wisdom, and the distant figure. Another  typology identifies four different roles: historian, mentor, role model,  wizard, and the nurturer/great parent.

Grandparenting is challenging and is not just about pleasure: Conflict may  also arise in the grandparent-grandchild relationship. When asked about  the relationship with their grandparents, young adults agree that it is very  important to them. While the grandparent-grandchild relationship is not as intense as the parent-child relationship, it is a unique and potentially  highly gratifying relationship.

In the aging family, there is a shift of roles. Like every other, this stage has its satisfactions as well as its problems.
  • Retirement can be a critical time for a couple. When a married individual first retires, marital quality tends to go down because of the adjustments required. In part, adjusting well to retirement depends on whether the retirement is a voluntary one. Once the initial adjustment is made, marital quality tends to go up.
  • A couple in the sixth stage is more likely to be oriented martially than parentally.  That is, spouses are likely to focus more of their time and energy on their  relationship with each other than on that with their children and grandchildren.  For most couples, marital satisfaction in this stage tends to be high, higher in fact than at any stage since the couple was first married.
  • Although the aging couple is more martially than parentally oriented, family relationships are still very important. Still, conflict between parents and adult children can continue into later life. Other relationships are also important at this stage of the family life cycle.
  • At nearly every age level, women are far more likely than men to face the death of a spouse. The distress comes from a loss of intimacy, a loss of identity, and the negative connotation associated with being a widow or a widower. Many  individuals get on with their lives by dating and eventually marrying again.

Into midlife by 50, successful crisis resolution includes:

  • 1. a high quality of wisdom - what works/what doesn't
  • 2. a high level of self-awareness
  • 3. satisfaction with work
  • 4. being a mentor for young people - no kidding!
  • 5. maintaining activity, adaptability, and self-approval
In the popular press, there has been some discussion of this situation in the context of male menopause. Actually any thoughtful person, regardless of their gender will have these thoughts. It has nothing to do with biology, however .... The female climacteric (menopause defined as: the discontinuance of menses - loss of estrogen - Symptoms: hot flashes, dizziness, aches & pains, fatigue, sleeplessness, anxiety, intolerance, lack of concentration), was once thought to be the signal of the end of sexuality. The good news is that while the symptoms can be a real bother, sexuality is a couple thing right to the end (if the couple wants it).
Reasons for decline in interest in sex, for women and men as they get older :
  • 1. illness
  • 2. decline in energy
  • 3. fewer sexual outlets - divorce, death, illness
  • 4. monotony or boredom
Advancing age means a decline in biological responsiveness to sexual stimuli: however given the CAPACITY for human sexuality, no one EVER has sex as often as he or she is CAPABLE.

IV. Adapting to late life

15% of the U.S. population (30 million) is 65 years old - 75% of the pop. will live past age 65.

    A. Disengagement - Letting Go - gracefully accepting mortality - a popular theory in the 1970's "Disengagement Theory" meant moving out of the main stream. Actually people want to stay in the main stream engaged with family, friends, community. But getting old in a youth oriented culture is not enjoyable.

    B. Stereotypes of elderly - due to youth culture's influence, there are negative images of older people who have been defined as outliving their usefulness. Maintaining a high level of self-esteem is difficult with bad jokes, hatred, and intolerance at every turn.  The keys to happiness in late life:

          1. Financial Security
          2. Good Health
          3. Family and Social Participation
While we can't always do a whole lot about 1 and 2, inclusion in the family and maintaining a friendship network is well within our grasp, and it means a healthier, longer, more enjoyable life.


  • 17% women - 3.5% men by age 65
  • 38% women - 7.5% men by age 75
Women outlive men by 7.5 years. Loss of spouse especially in later life is the most traumatic event after years of a lifestyle - sense of being lost.