The saying “there is nothing more constant than change” truly fits the experience of family life.
Indeed, no family remains the same through the years. Children grow up and become teenagers, and then adults. Parents move through young adulthood to become middle aged and eventually to become members of the seniors population. The number of children in the family grows and contracts, as births, adoptions, deaths and marriages occur. Priorities of each family member will change, as well as the relationships between people. Even events outside the family, such as an economic recessions or job loss, can significantly impact everyone in the household. The immediate community will also influence attitudes and outlooks. And significant life events, such as illnesses and trauma, can change the course of family living.
The following are just four of the many dramatic transitions families go through, alongside some tips on how to navigate them:
The Birth of a New Baby
The birth of a child is one the first major transitions in a couple’s life. It requires such a major shift in priorities that it’s not unusual for new parents to experience intense stress. But the key to starting a family is adequate discernment and preparation. If a couple invests a little time in planning their envisioned family, then they need not be blindsided by the many changes that come with their first pregnancy. Reading books, taking classes or joining online forums focusing on the challenges of baby’s first year can really help new parents know what to expect and how to deal with it. Why wait until crisis hits? Knowledge is power!
Expanding the Family
Is the birth of a second, third or fourth child a major family transition? You bet! Expanding a family requires a lot from parents. Parents don’t just need more hands to deal with more tots; they also need a more stable source of income to keep up with their expanding family’s many needs. Flexibility is also required in attending to each child’s individual needs — after all, each member of the family has a unique personality and is going through a unique developmental stage. There is no one size fits all in parenting multiple children, and unless parents are up for the challenge, they will experience extra stress. Now may be the time to take a more serious look at parenting courses and resources. Parents need more options in order to be able to meet the differing needs of each child. If it’s financially feasible, this may be the time to hire a little more help – someone who can assist with children or household tasks. Parents may have to do more tasks than they did before; for instance, a father who was not very involved in childcare when there was only one child in the family, may have to take on many extra parenting tasks now that there are more kids to look after. Or, a mother who was able to manage her full time job while raising two children may now find that she can’t continue when her third child is born; she may opt for part-time work or even full-time mothering. Of course, changes such as this may also necessitate other lifestyle changes such as cutting down expenses.
Kids Turning into Adults
One of the more sensitive family transitions is the change of children from young kids into full grown adults. Many changes happen, of course, during the transition from child to teenager. Parents have had to offer greater levels of autonomy and independence with each advancing birthday. The ultimate independence comes, however, when a child is ready to leave home. This is often a very difficult transition for parents. While the child is eager to move out into the world, the parent feels mixed emotion: pleasure at seeing the positive outcome of an undertaking that occupied two decades (raising the child) and sadness and grief over losing the companionship that a child brings. It can be hard to let go. Parents have to learn how to treat their young adult as an adult instead of the little girl or boy the person used to be. To parents, a twenty-two year old child might as well be a two year old child – it’s still the same person they carried, dressed, bathed, fed and guided for all those years. While parents may feel this in their hearts, they have to work hard to show new respect for the individual who stands before them. There’s no more asserting one’s authority. The parent-child relationship will now be based on mutual positive regard and respect or else it will be distorted in pain. Parents have to take a back seat and let their child do the driving of his or her own life. When consulted, they can offer advice but they need to learn from offering the unsolicited guidance that was their right not so long ago. Parents may find it helpful to read up on how to negotiate relationships with adult children – there are books and online resources that can provide insight and practical tools. If there are relationship problems at this stage of the game, family counselors can help you negotiate and resolve them.
The Death of a Loved One
Transitions are not just a cause for excitement; they can be tragic as well. The loss of a family member is one of the most painful family transitions there is. Death is a word nobody wants to hear because it means permanent physical separation from a loved one. When a family member becomes terminally ill, or experiences a fatal accident, the pain is almost unbearable. The challenge becomes: how to grieve and yet still move on as a family? Sometimes grief counseling or pastoral counseling can help. Techniques like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and EMDR can help speed and complete the healing of unresolved grief or death-related trauma. Professional therapy is appropriate when grief lingers longer than a year or when it interferes with functioning, or when it is accompanied by feelings of depression or anxiety.
Going with the Flow
How can families deal with transitions effectively? There’s only one way: being able to adapt to change. With so many changes happening both within and outside a family, it’s important that individual members are dynamic and responsive to new situations. Family transitions are crucial turning points; if family members are resistant to change, the transitions become a source of stress instead of a source of growth. What is important is to be able to let go — but also let come. Nothing stays the same forever, and it’s important that we are open to the blessings of the next stage in of our family life.