Last week I introduced you to the Family Life Cycle. It chronicles the movement of families through progressive stages of development. The theory presents a journey that all families pass through at different speeds and with different results. Carter and McGoldrick, in The Family Life Cycle, layout 6 stages of progressive movement; first, describing the central emotional issue that needs to be dealt with during each transitional stage, and, secondly, the tasks that everybody is called upon to accomplish. If you know this information and want a preventive, heads-up on what is happening, you can overlay it on to your particular family and see what the tasks and objective are that need to be accomplished during each phase. It will point out where, how and who might be stuck from moving on in the family’s journey.
John is 21 years old, living at home and going to a local,4 year college. He came to see me because he was feeling increasingly depressed. He described his situation as feeling trapped. He had wanted to go away to college as a freshman like his two older brothers had, but money was tight. His dad wanted him to go anyway; but his mother pressured him to stay at home because she was afraid that he wasn’t disciplined enough to be on his own, might get in with the wrong crowd, and she could keep an eye on him if he stayed locally. He stayed at home. But, his mom never changed her position even when he succeeded in his first 3 years and made the dean’s list. Over that same time, his dad’s business trips and endeavors required him to be away from home often; he works constantly; John describes him as a workaholic.
Let’s examine the emotional issue to be accomplished and the tasks involved for this family. This is a familiar occurrence. The main issue for everybody involves emotionally “letting – go.” That is, there have been emotional bonds established over the years that have held the family together. They are now at the first of 6 transition stages. John is the last child at home which can be even more difficult. His departure will be more difficult for the parent who, over the years, has been more emotionally involved with the children. Clearly, this is his mom; her desire to have him at home is saying that. John presently does not feel strong enough to exert his independence, make a stand, move out and start creating his life. Everybody in the family plays a role in the drama. We are not looking for bad guys or good guys. Everybody operates to meet their own emotional needs. My job is to point out where the roadblocks are.
Let’s begin our exploration. We are just going to ask some questions and hypothesize. What do you think the role of the father is in this transition? It appears that dad has moved away from his connection and emotional involvement with his wife; his move towards his business has left an emotional void for his wife. If the father takes a stand to support John’s moving out, that will leave him and his wife in the “empty nest” syndrome. Is he ready to renegotiate his relationship with his wife? Every couple has to accomplish this task whenever the last child leaves home; however, it can get stuck if one or both of the parents need that child to stay to keep the family’s emotional balance intact.
What about Mom? Seems like a good person. But who wants to be emotionally alone with a man whose career has dominated the majority of their life? It is natural, not necessarily healthy, to move toward one of your children for needed connection. Does she have any career or personal interests and goals and is she moving towards them?
John wants to get an off-campus apartment with two of his friends. He has a job that can help with the cost. Something is stopping him; blocking his normal, developmental flow; and probably, causing the depression. When I ask John to describe the scene in detail of what the day of his departure might actually look like – that is, pack up the car and pull away – what will everyone be feeling and doing?? “My dad will ask if there is anything left that he can do – but as usual, he is too late with his offer because he always seems too busy with his business to help.He will give me a half hug and wish me well – but his focus is probably on his drive to his first meeting. My mom will be in tears – I’ll have to fight mine back, I’m 23 now – my dad always said, “Real men don’t cry.” I’ll get in the car; she’ll be right next to the door – still teary – and my heart will be breaking. Who is going to take care of my mom?”
I’m not going to discuss the outcome. I would just like you to consider this possibility. If all three members of this family had known how their roles and relationships were supposed to transition to a different level, knew what their individual responsibilities were at this stage of their lives, and consulted the tasks listed in the family life cycle stages checklist, do you think that they might have done better and possibly have addressed these issue – between themselves – before their beloved son had to seek out consulting because he is feeling increasingly depressed?
I am a strong proponent of early educational programs aimed at the prevention of family problem. I am planning on presenting an on-line course in September that will be called, Invest in Your Family’s Well-Being. The program will give you a deeper understanding of family dynamics and an increased passion to make changes that will enhance your family’s well-being. If you want more information or want me to save you a seat, email me.