As I reflect on my eldest child’s marriage engagement announcement, I would be lax if I did not acknowledge this special occasion as a pivotal transition point for my family. Just as people have their own developmental path, families also uniquely grow, develop, and change. The family life cycle includes common transition points that families experience as a way of identifying times of change and/or potential stress on the family.
Typical family transitions may include:
- A couple relationship becoming more committed
- The birth/adoption of a child
- A child starting childcare/primary/secondary school (ask any parent sending their child off on the first day of school)
- A child becoming an adolescent
- Work/career/school changes for any member of the family
- A child getting a driver’s license
- A child leaving home (first and last child in particular)
- Adult children becoming more committed in relationships with significant partners
- Parent/s retiring from work
- The birth of grandchildren
- The death of parent/s, grandparent/s, and other significant family members
There are unique family transitions and they may include:
- Parental separation
- Parents establishing new relationships
- Unexpected death
- Financial difficulties
- Onset of mental illness
Change within a family is inevitable. So how should families best approach a transition? With communication, communication, communication. Here are some tips:
- Talk it out. Every person in the family needs plenty of time to talk about problems and concerns, as well as hopes and dreams. People going through a family transition sometimes need to talk even more than usual in order to fully process that life is changing as they know it.
- Practice listening. It can be difficult to listen without judging, giving advice, or making suggestions. When someone else talks, try not to interrupt and try not to respond immediately with a story of your own.
- Avoid misinterpretation. Which really means do not assume anything, especially someone else’s intentions and feelings. It is really easy to misinterpret others. It is easy to get the wrong impression based on body language and tone of voice. Ask for clarification and repeat what you think you are hearing. Just as easy as misinterpreting others, people in your family can misinterpret you. Think about your choice of words, consider your nonverbal cues, and remember to be clear with your communication.
- Seek feedback. In order to improve your communication do not be afraid to ask people in your family questions like, “What do I sound like to you?” or “What did you hear me say?” This allows you to build your communication skills based on what they tell you.
As autumn approaches the days grow shorter, the leaves change colors and the seasons change. Just as seasons transitions from one to the next, families experience transitions, and they change, never to be the same. Remember, communication can help you navigate life’s changes. Communication is a tool that can help you process life’s changes and it can help you grow stronger together.
All the Best,
Patricia Carroll | UW-Madison, Division of Extension
Associate Professor, Dept of Family Development
Human Development & Relationships Educator, Dodge County