What Dr. Luke has to say about how Families Achieve Balance


Today Dr. Luke will talk about how families achieve balance as they go through different stages of life. This is important in that lack of balance can cause great stress in life or help us to grow. Let us start with a story of a family.

Li Mei was a 38 year old woman who lived in the middle of China in a rural village. Her husband worked hard as a farmer and salesman and she worked in a store in the small city they lived in. Her daughter was 12 years old and was a fairly good student. However Li Mei was noticing that her daughter was going through emotional and physical changes which were a little more disruptive than she figured her daughters moving into adolescence would be. She and her husband had discussed this but she was not clear how to handle these changes. Some times she was so upset with her daughter she yelled at her and then she felt bad. At other times she did nothing. What was the right thing to do and how to be more balanced. Her husband was equally frustrated.

One day Li Mei was talking with a friend of hers about this topic as both had daughters the same age. Her friend told her that the local hospital at times had talks about topics like this and suggested they go together as they both had interest in this topic. So they both went and listened to a pediatrician with an interest in this area talk on the subject.

The pediatrician started by saying that family therapy researchers agree that normal families will go through a series of stages.  The stages are compared often to the stages that an individual goes through as they develop from infancy to adulthood.  We know that there are certain developmental tasks that each family has to achieve during each particular phase.  If these tasks are not achieved successfully, the family will probably experience difficulty in the next stage.  This is very similar to developmental stages in a child.  If the child does not achieve the developmental tasks of one stage, they will have difficulty in the next stage.

The pediatrician continued by saying that another similarity between families stages of development and children’s stages of development is that most problems tend to occur when the family is moving from one stage into the next.  This is true for the child and it is also true for the family.  We will see this more clearly as we look at the various stages of the family.  Li Mei was very interested as the pediatrician talked as this seemed a lot what was going on in her family.

The pediatrician said that there are six stages of family development that have been defined by family therapy researchers.  The pediatrician said that she would   discuss each stage and the necessary developmental changes that are required within that stage.

Li Mei was surprised but still interested when the pediatrician said that the first stage of the family is titled: between families; the unattached young adult.  This is actually the time when young adult individuals separate from their families of origin.  This is included as a first stage of the new family because it is necessary before the other stages can occur successfully.  In order to form a new family, the individual has to be able to emotionally separate from their parents.  Of course, this does not mean that they don't continue a positive and important relationship with their parents.  It does mean that they are able to make independent decisions and be responsible for themselves.  During this stage, the individual has to be able to develop intimate peer relationships and establish themselves in work area if they're able to accomplish the emotional separation from their families, the development of healthy peer relationships and the establishment of themselves in work, then they are ready for the second stage.  Li Mei thought she had done a fairly good job with this stage.

The pediatrician then said that the next might be the most important. She said that the second stage is the joining of families through marriage.  This is the stage of the newly married couple.  A key emotional change that must occur in the stage is the commitment to the new family system.  During the stage, the new couple has to adjust their individual ways of doing things.  They have to make decisions about who is in charge with each family activity and responsibility, and how they are going to do things.  They also have to change the way that they relate to their families of origin and their friends.  They must make their old relationships accommodate for the new family.  Again Li Mei thought she did fairly well with this stage though she knew she and her had troubles and issues to work through.

The third stage, the pediatrician said, is the family with young children.  In this stage, the couple has to adjust the marital system to make space for the children.  The husband and wife now take on parenting roles and have to decide how they will parent and who will do what.  Again, they have to alter their relationships with their families of origin to include parenting and grand parenting roles.  Li Mei thought she and her husband had done fairly well here though she knew at times she got upset with her husband’s parents with their lack of help.

Li Mei knew this next stage is why she came to hear the pediatrician. The pediatrician said the fourth stage of the family is when the children become adolescence.  In this stage, there has to be an increased flexibility of family boundaries to include the children's gradually increasing independence.  There has to be a shifting of parent-child relationships to permit the adolescent to move in and out of the family system.  Also in this stage, there is a refocusing of midlife marital and career issues.  Finally, during this stage, the couple may begin to shift toward concerns for their parents who are now older.  Li Mei knew all of this was so right. She and her husband were wrestling with how to be more flexible with their daughter plus both of their parents were older with health concerns of their own.

The pediatrician continued saying the next stage that is the fifth stage, is launching the children and moving on.  During this stage, the children are establishing themselves in their independent family life and there must be a change in focus of the marital system to a couple again.  They have to develop adult to adult relationships with grown children.  They also have to realign relationships to include in-laws and grandchildren.  Finally, during this stage, the couple usually has to deal with physical disabilities or the death of parents and grandparents. Though not at this stage Li Mei knew this stage would come soon enough. It was good to hear about these things now.

The sixth and final stage which the pediatrician mentioned is when the family is in later life.  The tasks of the stage are to maintain the couple's functioning and interests in the face of physical decline.  They also must explore new roles and interests as they grow older.  Also, there is a need for support of a more central role for the middle generation and, many times, there is an increase in the focus of the experience of the younger generation. Li Mei knew this was where he parents where and it was good to hear about the challenges they faced.

So, the pediatrician stated, these are the six stages of family development that are usually accepted by family therapy researchers.  As you may imagine, adjusting to each new stage in the family can be difficult and problems can develop.  For example, a young husband and wife may do very well at relating to each other before they have children.  However, when children are born they have to change their relationship.  They no longer have as much time for each other and they have to establish how they will parent children.  As any parent knows having children changes life drastically.  If the couple cannot agree on parenting techniques, or if one member of the couple feels displaced by the children, relationship problems can occur.  Another common difficulty in relating to the new stage is when the children leave home.  If a couple did not fully work through their relationship issues early in the marriage, these problems may have subsided after children were born, simply because attention was focused on the children.  The uncorrected marital problems may actually not surface until the children leave home.  At that time the couple is faced to focus on each other again and difficulties in the marriage become very apparent.  Research has shown that most marital separations occur very early in the marriage or after the children leave home and become independent.

This ended the pediatricians talk. Li Mei was very glad her friend had suggested they come. The time was very helpful. As they left Li Mei’s friend told her that there was a person who had helped her with her daughter more than any talk could. The reason was that this person had changed her life to give her new purpose and meaning in life. This person, her friend told Li Mei was Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Bible, which is the book which told her about Jesus Christ, had given her a lot of information about raising children.

Li Mei wanted to know more about this person Jesus. She wanted to know how to be a better parent. Li Mei’s friend turned to a place in the Bible which said, ‘train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from the path (Proverbs).’  Then she showed Li Mei about how Jesus loved children so much he had them come to him. Then she showed Li Mei what was the most important place to her which said, ‘for the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,  gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5.22).’ Li Mei’s friend told her before she accepted Jesus Christ in her heart she had trouble with many of these but especially peace, patience, and self-control. She did not know how overcome these. However, she learned that Jesus gave her power to overcome these.  Though she was not perfect she had learned how Jesus could give her peace and as a result these other virtues.

Li Mei’s friend turned to another place in the Bible which showed, ‘therefore we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and are justified by faith in him (Romans 5.1).’  Lie Mei’s friend told her that she now had peace with God through Jesus Christ. This peace allowed her to have purpose and meaning which she had lacked in life up to the time she had accepted Jesus Christ as her savior.

Li Mei asked her friend how she could come to know this Jesus and receive the same type of peace, purpose, patience and self-control in her life. She knew she needed this to overcome the problems she was having with her daughter and she also knew she was powerless to deal with these problems herself.

Li Mei’s friend told her that was the most important thing was that she recognizes that she was separated from God because of her sin and that the sin was her problem and not other people’s problem.  It was this separation from God which now gave us lack of purpose and meaning in life and which in eternity will also give us separation from God.  She again showed her a place in the Bible which said, ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 2.32).’ This meant that all people have sinned and because of their sin have fallen short of what God wanted for them. 

Li Mei’s friend next turned to a place which said, ‘but the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6.23).’  Li Mei’s friend told her that this meant that the payment for our sin was spiritual death or separation from God but now and eternal separation from him after we die. However, God gave us eternal life, beginning now if we accept him.  This eternal life is a free gift.  All we have to do is believe that he died for our sins in our place. Li Mei’s friend turned to yet another place in the Bible which said, ‘but God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5.8).’ This meant that God loved us so much that when we did not deserve his help God sent his only son Jesus Christ to die for us. He died on the cross for our sins so that we might have new life.

Li Mei’s friend went on to show a final place in the Bible which said, ‘if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved (Romans 10.9).’  If we believe this then we are saved and have life now which is abundant and eternal life.

Li Mei’s friend asked Li Mei to pray the following after her. ‘Dear Lord Jesus I know that I am a sinful person and that I have sinned before you. I know that I need you to take care of my sins. I believe that you died on the cross for my sins. I believe that after you died on the cross for my sins you rose from the dead and now live to show your victory over sin and death. I ask you to come into my life and give me a new life. Amen.’ After Li Mei prayed this prayer she did have a new peace and purpose in her life which gave her better self-control and patience with her daughter.

You too can have this same new life in Jesus Christ if you will pray and believe the same prayer that Li Mei did.