The family life cycle consists of five different stages that the majority of people go through between childhood and old age, each of which teaches a separate set of life skills. The independence stage occurs when a child leaves his or her family of origin to start adult life. When he or she decides to partner with another adult and start a family, he or she enters the coupling stage and then the parenting stage. When these children leave the family home, entering their own independence stage, the adults continue through the last two stages of the family life cycle: empty nest and retirement.
As a child begins to support himself or herself emotionally and physically, he or she enters the independence stage. At this point in life, a person typically begins to discover different parts of himself or herself outside of how he or she was raised, and begins to learn how to develop close, healthy relationships outside of the family. Once a person begins to support himself or herself, his or her work ethic is typically developed.
When a person decides to join his or her life with another, he or she enters the coupling stage of the family life cycle. Developing another family unit, outside of one’s family of origin, typically teaches each person in a relationship how to work closely with another and aids in developing an ability to look out for others first, rather than focusing entirely on one’s own personal needs. Learning these skills tends to prepare a person for the following stages in the family life cycle.
Large portions of couples decide to raise children, entering both parties into the parenting stage. This lasts from the time a couple gives birth to or adopts a child to the time those children enter their own stage of independence. Both parenting small children and teenagers gives each individual an opportunity to learn new life skills, such as how to take into account the needs of the entire family rather than just the individual and his or her partner. This stage also tends to reconnect an individual with his or her family of origin, developing a new extended family dynamic.
Once the children go off on their own, an individual enters the empty nest stage. At this juncture in the family life style, an individual typically focuses on his or her career and learns to adjust to his or her home life without children. It is also common for an individual to reconnect with his or her family of origin again, as the older generation of a family usually requires help with daily life. During the empty nest stage of the family life cycle, learning how to develop a relationship with the people one raised is also common.
The final stage of the family life cycle is the retirement stage. At this point, most individuals place a large amount of focus on enjoying or adjusting to life after work and often deal with potential or existing health issues. During the retirement stage, it is also common for individuals to look back on past stages and combine all of the skills and knowledge learned.