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Family Life Cycle (cont.)

Parenting: Babies Through Adolescents

Making the decision to have a baby

At some point in your relationship, you and your partner will decide if you want to have a baby. Some couples know going into a relationship that they do not want children. Parenting is one of the most challenging phases of the family life cycle.

The decision to have children is one that affects your individual development, the identity of your family, and your relationship. Children are so time-consuming that skills not learned in previous stages will be difficult to pick up at this stage. Your ability to communicate well, maintain your relationships, and solve problems is often tested during this stage.

Introducing a child into your family results in a major change in roles for you and your partner. Each parent has three distinct and demanding roles: as an individual, a partner, and a parent. As new parents, your individual identities shift along with how you relate to each other and to others. The skills that you learned in the Independence and Coupling stages, such as compromise and commitment, will help you move to the Parenting stage.

Along with the joy that comes from having a child, you may feel a great deal of stress and fear about these changes. A woman might have concerns about being pregnant and going through childbirth. Fathers tend to keep their fears and stress to themselves, which can cause health problems.

Talking about your emotional or physical concerns with your family physician, obstetrician, or counselor can help you deal with these and future challenges.

Parenting young children

Adapting children into other relationships is a key emotional process of this stage. You will take on the parenting role and transition from being a member of a couple to being a parent. While you are still evolving as individuals, you and your partner are also becoming decision-makers for your family. Continuing to express your individuality while working well together as a couple results in a strong marriage.

Your child's healthy development depends on your ability to provide a safe, loving, and organized environment. Children benefit when their parents have a strong relationship.

Caring for young children cuts into the amount of time you might otherwise spend alone or with your partner. If you did not fully develop some skills in previous phases, such as compromise for the good of the family, your relationship may be strained. For example, divorce or affairs may be more likely to occur during the years of raising young children if parents have not developed strong skills from earlier life stages.

But for those who have the proper tools, this can be a very rewarding, happy time, even with all of its challenges. Optimally, you develop as an individual, as a member of a couple, and as a member of a family.

Specific goals when young children join your family are:

  • Adjusting your marital system to make space for children.
  • Taking on parenting roles.
  • Realigning your relationships with your extended family to include parenting and grandparenting roles.

Parenting adolescents

Parenting teenagers can be a rough time for your family and can test your relationship skills. It's also a time for positive growth and creative exploration for your entire family. Families that function best during this period have strong, flexible relationships developed through good communication, problem solving, mutual caring, support, and trust.

Most teens experiment with different thoughts, beliefs, and styles, which can cause family conflict. Your strengths as an individual and as part of a couple are critical as you deal with the increasing challenges of raising a teenager. Strive for a balanced atmosphere in which your teenager has a sense of support and emotional safety as well as opportunities to try new behaviors. An important skill at this stage is flexibility as you encourage your child to become independent and creative. Establish boundaries for your teenager, but encourage exploration at the same time. Teens may question themselves in many areas, including their sexual orientation and gender identities.

Because of what you learned when you developed your identity in the earlier stages of life, you may feel more prepared and more secure about the changes your child is going through. But if you did not work through these skills at earlier stages of life, you may feel threatened by your child's new developments.

Flexibility in the roles each person plays in the family system is a valuable skill to develop at this stage. Responsibilities such as the demands of a job or caring for someone who is ill may require each person in the family to take on various, and sometimes changing, roles.

This is a time when one or more family members may feel some level of depression or other distress. It may also lead to physical complaints that have no physical cause (somatization disorders such as stomach upsets and some headaches) along with other stress-related disorders.

Nurturing your relationship and your individual growth can sometimes be ignored at this stage. Toward the end of this phase, a parent's focus shifts from the maturing teen to career and relationship. Neglecting your personal development and your relationship can make this shift difficult.

You also may begin thinking about your role in caring for aging parents. Making your own health a priority in this phase is helpful as you enter the next stage of the family life cycle.

Specific goals during the stage of parenting adolescents include:

  • Shifting parent-child relationships to allow the child to move in and out of the family system.
  • Shifting focus back to your midlife relationship and career issues.
  • Beginning a shift toward concern for older generations in your extended family.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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