Cycle of Tears in Nature
In previous articles, we discussed briefly the cyclic nature of family life. We will talk about it again. This promises to be a somewhat boring but necessary article, which will give a description and overview of the whole cycle. Its goal is to be a framework for helping to illustrate with concrete examples every stage of the family life cycle and its development.
As in any system, the family is formed, developed, and then, when the original couple later ceases its material existence, continuously renews itself just as the living coral grows upon the petrified, dead coral ‘generations’ before it. The cycle of family development and the life of every generation have eight clearly delineated, interrelated stages.
The first stage involves the separation and individuation of the young adult from the family of origin (the family in which he was raised and educated), and starts to live independently. This step is the final act of a complicated, contradictory, long and sometimes painful process. It can work out amicably and either abruptly, or gradually. The child leaves to the dorm at the university, or to live with relatives and the like.
It can also
work out through a conflict, with statements such as:
The desire of the parents for maximum control of their offspring is on the one hand a real necessity in order to protect the growing and quite inexperienced individual from the temptations of the world. On the other hand, the parents want to hold on the object which encompasses an enormous genetic, emotional and financial investment.
The second stage involves the formation of the couple. Two young people (who, hopefully, learned to live independently) enter into a union which, in time, develops and unfolds into a marriage unit. Then - the relationship between the families of origin. What the relationship will be between the two young members of the marital couple and with their own and future relatives depends very much on and starts from the very first meetings with the future ‘in - laws’ and during the preparation for the wedding. How this develops will come into discussion a little later when we talk about the multi - generational family.
In the third
stage we have the appearance of children. As a rule the birth
of a child drastically changes the life of the young couple. The infant in the
house is the beginning of a new calendar, a new era. “That
was before the birth of the children”. This sounds like BC,
i.e., before children. The new responsibilities, drastic
change of lifestyle and the anxieties connected with the first childhood
illnesses, all overshadow the main issue of who was the initiator of all of
these changes. Was it the couple or was it their
parents? Was it a mutual desire to have a child or did one of
the members of the couple want a child more than the other?
All these circumstances will, in time, determine the dynamic of the
development of the child and his relationship with the parents,
grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and
stage - the growing of the children and the gradual letting go by the
family. In the process of its maturation, the child needs
less and less of the parents’ care.
At an older age, the child learns to separate from the mother a little longer, spends a night at grandmother’s etc. After the entrance into nursery school or kindergarten, the child finds itself for the first time, one to one with the world which lies outside of the limits of his family and he needs to learn how to build his relationships with peers and other adults without the immediate help from his relatives. Next comes the sleep over: the first time in his life he leaves his parents’ home to be in a different surrounding. For him it is a temporary escape from family control and an expression of an open preference of the company of his friends to the company of his parents and the anxious anticipation of something new. For his parents, it is a feeling of an uncustomary emptiness in the home. Gradually the family allows longer and longer absences for the child, e.g., summer camps, etc.
is more or less complete independence and separation from the
family. That usually is realized only to a certain
degree. The higher the degree of independence the more
healthy and self sufficient will be the relationship on all levels of the family
The empty nest is the fifth stage. Let us underline that every step of the child in the direction of independence results in a specific test of a family's sturdiness; more precisely, the relationship between the parents as spouses. The exit of the children leaves the parents one to one with each other. If during their common mutual lives they did not build a self sufficient type of relationship beside their relationship with and through the children, in other words, if they did not succeed in maintaining their couplehood, the family may fall apart.
During the sixth stage, the parents are transformed into grandparents. If everything is fine in the process of their relationship and they learn to value each other, they will spend time together and will not be “in their children’s hair” but only to some degree to participate in the raising of the grandchildren.
If, however, the spouses are deficient in their mutuality, but manage to live through the crisis of the ‘empty nest’, they sooner or later will mostly become grandparents. This is the stage of “golden autumn”.
stage arrives and with it old age. After autumn comes
winter. The forces of life are weakening, and aches and pains
come into play. The relational comfort at this stage depends on how successful
the unfolding of the family cycle has been. In immigrant families this becomes
more difficult because of the demise of the traditional structure and a greater
distance between the generations.
The question of what to do with the aged needs a specific discussion.
stage brings about the death of the original couple, when the exit of one of the
spouses is often soon followed by the death of the other. For
the children this loss may be complicated by the problems connected with
dividing the inheritance. Oftentimes, the contradictions in
this respect lead to conflicts and long term
The above - described model of a family life cycle is a specific system
of coordinates. With the help of this model we can analyze
the existing dynamics of a concrete family and the possible scenarios which it
may follow throughout its evolution. The experience of
working with families shows that the more concrete and material the stages - the
healthier and more functional the life of the family and the lives of its
In conclusion, let us note that the process of separation of the young adult from the family is the most critical factor of its development. It starts with the birth of the child and is supposed to gradually ‘shift gears’ allowing more independence. Around the age of 10 to 12 years, the child should be fully prepared to develop into an ‘independent contractor’ which, under intense and constant supervision of his parents, makes more and more complex social choices presented and configured by the parents/family. It concludes basically by 18 to 20 years of age when the first stage of the family cycle begins.