Most of us are aware that there is a progress chart to measure a child's growth and development. As we were raising our children, we were able to see and observe their progress; able to go to a pediatrician or book to find out what the markers were for a child's healthy development. Parents could see if their child was on course; for example, your child should be able to roll over within a certain range of months, should crawl, pull themselves up on a table, and finally, when they would be able to walk and talk. If they were off course, helpful interventions could be provided.
There has been a similar chart developed for a family’s progress, as a unit, to mark its progression through the family's life cycle; it lists six developmental stages that every family would pass through. The chart describes the tasks and responsibilities a family should achieve before moving on to the next stage. This system was developed by Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrick, in their book The Family Life Cycle (1980). It is immensely useful. Here’s why.
The authors layout 6 stages that every family goes through - from birth till death - and describe the developmental tasks of each stage that need to be accomplished in order to move on successfully to the next stage. If you don’t develop certain skills, you were going to have to play catchup in the next stage or have problems moving on. Unfortunately, many of us - those who have already raised kids and those who are doing it now - have never heard of this useful, developmental education. Why? Family therapist and college educators knew about this system; but, you, the parents, the ones trying to steer the ship, did not receive a pro-active, healthy, preventive, educational model. There was no one teaching this information to parents; there still isn’t much available.
Personally, I feel that before you graduate from high school (college age might be better, but, not everyone goes to college) you should have taken 2 courses: “How to Save Your Marriage Before It Starts and secondly, Invest in Your Family’s Well-being. In the past, the only way you found out about a developmental lag was if you ran into enough trouble that the school’s counselor referred you and your child for therapy. Doesn’t it seem backwards? What happened to prevention!
That is why over the next several weeks I will be explaining what the central emotional issues are for the 6 stages and what tasks each family needs to be accomplishing to move on successfully.
Many of us did not have the parenting education necessary for the enormous job and incredible responsibility that we were asked to perform. No parent ever is. Why? Because, our own parents weren’t perfect either, and, unfortunately, we observed them very carefully, picked up some bad habits, and are passing them on - like being too strict… yelling and inducing fear…giving your partner the silent treatment in order to get your way.” Let’s just pause and take a deep breath. Do me and yourself a favor. Forgive yourself! You were not given all the tools necessary and there wasn’t enough education provided to help you do a better job. Apologize and make amends to your children where necessary; “I am so sorry that I yelled so much” is a start. Focus on loving them genuinely now. Take your time; it’s a process. Beating yourself up over past mistakes only digs you into a depressive hole where you can do nothing positive to make amends.
In stage one, The Unattached Young Adult - Learning to Love and Work, the emotional task for young adults is to separate from their parents and for parents to let them go. The young adult’s tasks are: become their own person, develop autonomy and independence, find a career plan and seek intimacy with peers. Those are the goals. Every parent can look at their family and compare their situation and behavior to the standard of care. Next week we will take the case of John, a 22-year old college student who presents himself to me for help because he is feeling increasingly depressed. This is an example of where his development has stalled because the emotional issue in his family has not been addressed and accomplished. If you have more interest and questions about the family life cycle you can go to my book Family Matters and there is an in-depth chapter on all six stages. In the meantime, keep the questions coming and continue the discussion further at: familyconsultationservices.com\articles.