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Family Life Cycle - Topic Overview

What is a family life cycle?

The emotional and intellectual stages you pass through from childhood to your retirement years as a member of a family are called the family life cycle. In each stage, you face challenges in your family life that allow you to build or gain new skills. Gaining these skills helps you work through the changes that nearly every family goes through.

Not everyone passes through these stages smoothly. Situations such as severe illness, financial problems, or the death of a loved one can have an effect on how well you pass through the stages. Fortunately, if you miss skills in one stage, you can learn them in later stages.

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The stages of the family life cycle are:

  • Independence.
  • Coupling or marriage.
  • Parenting: babies through adolescents.
  • Launching adult children.
  • Retirement or senior years.

Why is it important to understand the family life cycle?

Mastering the skills and milestones of each stage allows you to successfully move from one stage of development to the next. If you don't master the skills, you may still move on to the next phase of the cycle, but you are more likely to have difficulty with relationships and future transitions. Family life cycle theory suggests that successful transitioning may also help to prevent disease and emotional or stress-related disorders.

Whether you are a parent or child, brother or sister, bonded by blood or love, your experiences through the family life cycle will affect who you are and who you become. The more you understand about the challenges of each stage of the cycle, the more likely you are to successfully move on.

What can disrupt the normal cycle?

The stress of daily living, coping with a chronic medical condition, or other life crises can disrupt the normal life cycle. Ongoing stress or a crisis can delay the transition to the next phase of life. Or you may move on without the skills that you need to easily adapt and transition to the next phase of life.

How can I improve my family life cycle?

Be assured, you can learn missed skills and improve your and your family's quality of life at any stage. Self-examination, education, and perhaps counseling are ways to improve yourself and your family life. These are also actions that can help you manage other issues, too, such as going through a divorce or being a part of a nontraditional family structure.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 03, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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