Stages of Family Growth Life Cycle

In planning for any parish ministry you’ll first want to consider your audience and the circumstances of their lives. This tool highlights various life stages and the rewards, challenges, the spiritual tasks, and suggested ministry models associated with each stage.

Keep in mind that cultural and ethnic backgrounds play an important role in how life stages are understood and handled. Also note that divorce, death, remarriage or a catastrophic event may interrupt this growth cycle at any point and thus raise other rewards, challenges, spiritual tasks and ministry resources.

Single Adult Family Stage

Reward

  • Autonomy
  • Intimacy with Peers
  • Career plans
  • New relationship with family of origin
  • New experiences

Challenge

  • Differentiate self and family
  • Developing community of support
  • Tasks of intimacy/skills
  • Establishing start of career
  • Loneliness

Spiritual Task

  • Vocation Discernment
  • Dealing with moral values as an adult
  • Establishing an adult faith relationship with God/community

Ministry Models

  • Young Adult Groups
  • Adult Faith Enrichment
  • Faith in Action Opportunities
  • Young Adult Affirmation
  • Mentoring resources
Established Family Stage

(Courtship/Marriage/Forming New Family Unit)

Reward

  • Couple time
  • Romance
  • Freedom
  • Intimacy/belonging

Challenge

  • Realign relationships with families of origin
  • Adjustment to living together: sex, marital chastity, money, lifestyle, friends, work, religion

Spiritual Task

  • Develop couple spirituality- entering the covenant relationship; domestic church
  • Finding or forming a church
  • Accepting /negotiating differences in faith expression

Ministry Models

  • Marriage preparation programs
  • 2nd marriage/Blended Family preparation
  • Interfaith Marriage Ministry
  • Natural Family Planning Resources
  • Young Marrieds Support Group
  • Marriage Enrichment programs
  • Married retreats, annual renewal of marriage vows
First Child in Family Stage

Reward

  • Generativity
  • Joy in watching child develop
  • Enriched identity as a family

Challenge

  • Less couple time-making room for another in family system
  • Less personal freedom
  • New role as a parent
  • Develop new relationship to extended family, to own parents and to spouse’s parents/family
  • Childcare

Spiritual Task

  • Expand family spirituality
  • Develop religious traditions/rituals
  • Awareness of vocation of parenting
  • Expand generosity of service
  • Nurturing couple relationship

Ministry Models

  • Marriage Enrichment programs
  • Baptismal Preparation programs
  • Young Marrieds small groups
  • Family prayer materials
  • Values Education/Media Awareness
  • Faith-based sexuality education
  • Single parent support network
  • Parish Parenting Program/network
  • Christian Sexuality Materials/media
School-Age Family Stage

Reward

  • Joy of seeing children develop, excel and form peer relationships
  • Shared tasks in home
  • Family bonding, shared memories
  • Family’s world expands

Challenge

  • Pressure/pull school and outside activities on family
  • Challenge of being primary religious and sex educators
  • Less time for couple
  • Dual career/childcare issues
  • Individual issues of each child
  • Adjustment when last child enters school
  • Adults dealing with issues of addiction, mid-life, family of origin

Spiritual Task

  • Accept each child’s strengths and limitations with grace
  • Nurture couple relationship
  • Teach/model values and morals
  • Maintain healthy boundaries
  • Incorporating faith practices
  • Pass on faith to children through traditions, rituals, prayers, stories
  • Family as “servant “community
  • Making peace with family of origin

Ministry Models

  • School-age parenting programs
  • School- age religious education
  • Family-centered enrichment
  • Marriage Enrichment programs
  • Ministry to Marriages in Crisis
  • Divorce Ministry
  • Single parent support network
  • Ministry for children with losses
  • Family Counseling Services
Adolescence and Family Stage

Reward

  • Joy in watching child develop
  • Beginning of new kind of relationship in family
  • Increasing independence and competence in children

Challenge

  • Challenge to parental authority (negotiating)
  • “Middlessence” meets adolescence
  • Less time with extended family
  • Continued mid-life challenge in marriage relationship with extended family
  • Needs of aging parents adds more pressure
  • Teen rebellion, sexual issues, addictions, etc.

Spiritual Task

  • Letting go of children while maintaining family unity, values
  • Cooperate with larger church for adolescent faith development program (Search/Lifeteen)

Ministry Models

  • Youth Ministry Programs
  • Marriage Enrichment
  • Ministry to Marriage in Crisis
  • Ministry to Teens with Losses
  • Parenting Teens materials
  • Drugs, Alcohol, Sex Education
  • Media Awareness Training
  • Single parent support network
  • Parish Parent Support Systems
Letting Go Family Stage

Reward

  • Friendship with children
  • Parents ‘entry into new arenas (career, volunteer)
  • More time with spouse, friends

Challenge

  • Re-negotiating couple relationship
  • Caring for own parents
  • Extra financial burdens
  • Breaking continuity of family

Spiritual Task

  • Letting go, “healing the dream”
  • Redefining spirituality of couple

Ministry Models

  • Bereavement Ministry
  • Marriage Enrichment
  • Ministry to Struggling Marriages
  • Support for People Caring for Aging Parents
  • Support for dealing with mid-life issues
  • Support for Widowed, Separated and Divorced
Empty Nest Family Stage

Reward

  • Freedom: finances and time
  • Children settling in
  • Grandchildren
  • Back to coupleness

Challenge

  • Loneliness
  • Children returning home
  • Letting go- pain of loss (evaluating self as parent)
  • Entry of in-laws, grandchildren
  • Unexpected parenting of grandchildren
  • Preparing for and retirement

Spiritual Task

  • Emphasize personal spirituality
  • Exploring new opportunities
  • Wisdom, acceptance, trust
  • Dealing with own, spouses’ and parents aging
  • Realizing relationships to include children’s spouses, in-laws and grandchildren

Ministry Models

  • Bereavement Ministry
  • Marriage Enrichment
  • Support for Struggling Marriages
  • Support for Widowed, Separated and Divorced
  • Celebration of Aging Church Members
  • Retirement Groups
Aging Family Stage

Reward

  • Fulfillment in life
  • Decrease in tasks, more free time
  • New relationships with widows, friends
  • Grandchildren

Challenge

  • Loss of energy, work, identity, health, spouse, family members and friends
  • Shifting generational roles
  • Staying connected with younger generation

Spiritual Task

  • Acceptance
  • Preparing for eternity, life review
  • Integrates
  • Emphasizing personal spirituality
  • Wisdom, acceptance, trust

Ministry Models

  • Bereavement Ministry
  • Outreach to Homebound Elderly
  • Like-to-like Social Group for Seniors
  • Hospice
  • Parish Nurses
  • Reminiscence Opportunity for Older Church Members
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