After reading this material and reviewing the reflective questions, you will be able to:

  • think about the different phases of the family life-cycle and recognize the phases in relation to your own family.
  • recognize the phases of the family life-cycle with service users in relation to their families.
  • understand how stages of the family life cycle might affect a family or family members wellbeing.

Models presenting the development and life-cycle of the family can be useful to understand the life situation of a member of the family or to get an idea of different things affecting the everyday life of the family. Here we present two different models of family life-cycle which are divided into different stages or tasks:

Megawanzi, Zeitlin and Kramer (1995) have presented seven stages of family life-cycle:

  • newly established family (childless)
  • child-bearing family (infants and preschool children)
  • family with school children
  • family with secondary-school or adolescent children
  • family with young adults aged 18 or over
  • middle-aged family (children launched)
  • ageing family in retirement

Another model has been presented by Carter and McGoldrick (1999). In this model there are eight stages, each including different tasks for the family:

  • family of origin experiences
  • leaving home
  • pre-marriage stage
  • childless couple stage
  • family with young children
  • family with adolescents
  • launching children
  • later life

In this short Youtube-video there are six phases presented.

These models are very traditional ones and can be easily adapted to families with children. However there are also other models available, like the one presented by Peltona & Hertlein (2011) for voluntary child free parents, by Golberg (2010) for lesbian and gay parents or by Deacon (1997) for families with adopted children. These are only few examples.

In terms of your own family and the families you are working with, think about the following reflective questions. Search for more information to support your answers by using the references presented at the end of this section.

  • At the moment, what stage do you think you and your family are at?
  • What about your siblings, parents and other relatives?
  • Think about some of the service users that you encounter in your practice, what stages in the family life cycle are they at?
  • Sometimes the family experiences several different stages at the same time, (e.g. having a baby and a teenager in the family at the same time). How do you think this might impact on the family life cycle?
  • From the family life-cycle viewpoint; what kind of effects can mental health problems in the family have on stages of the family life-cycle ?

Different models of the family life-cycle give us some understanding on the phases families might be at. The idea of family life-cycle is to provide us with one theoretical framework to review the current situations of the families we are working with. It is not a comprehensive framework but more like a window into the life of the family to help us to understand. Some of the phases might be difficult for the family and some easier.

Carter,B and McGoldrick, M. (Ed.) 1999. The Expanded Family Lifecycle. Individual, Family and Social Perspectives. 3rd Edition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Deacon, SA.1997. Intercountry adoption and Family life cycle. American Journal of Family Therapy 25 (3), 245-260.

Furmans F, von der Lippea H & Fuhrera U. 2014. Couples' evaluations of fatherhood in different stages of the family life cycle. European Journal of Developmental Psychology 11 (2), 242-258.

Gartner RB, Fulmer RH, Weinshel M, Goldklank S. 1978. The family life cycle: developmental crises and their structural impact on families in a community mental health center. Family Process 17(1), 47-58.

Greco O, Rosnati R, Ferrari L. 2015. Adult Adoptees as partners and parents: the joint task of revisiting the adoption history. Adoption Quarterly 18(1), 25-44.

Goldberg, AE. 2010. Lesbian and gay parents and their children: Research on the family life cycle. Division 44: Contemporary perspectives on lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Megawangi, R., Zeitlin, M. & Kramer, E. 1995. Psychological approaches to the family. The United Nations University.

McGoldrick M, Carter B & Walsh, F (Ed). 2003. The family life cycle. Normal family processes: Growing diversity and complexity (3rd ed.) (pp. 375-398). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

Peltona, SL & Hertlein, KM. 2011. A Proposed Life Cycle for Voluntary Childfree Couples. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 23 (1), 39-53.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.