Family Development Tasks

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In addition to some basic family tasks, developmental tasks within a family or stages of the family life cycle (Table 4.1) must be also considered. Duvall and Miller (1985) refer to these tasks as being relative to a given stage of development in the life cycle of a family. When counselling a family it is important to assess

Table 4.1 Stage-sensitive family developmental tasks through the family life cycle

Stage of the family life cycle

Positions in the family

Stage-sensitive family developmental tasks


Establishing marital dyad

2. Childbearing

Wife-mother Husband-father Infant daughter or son or both

Rearing tasks

3. Pre-school age

Wife-mother Husband-father Daughter-sister Son-brother

Adapt to needs of pre-schoolers

4. School age

Wife-mother Husband-father Daughter-sister Son-brother

Adapting to the community of school-age families

5. Teenage

Wife-mother Husband-father Daughter-sister Son-brother

(a) Balancing freedom and responsibility

(b) Establishing postparental interests

6. Launching centre

Wife-mother-grandmother Husband-father-grandfather Daughter-sister-aunt Son-brother-uncle

(a) Rituals for young adults leaving

(b) Maintaining a supportive base

7. Middle-aged parents

Wife-mother-grandmother Husband-father-grandfather

(a) Refocus on marital dyad

(b) Ties with older and younger generations

8. Ageing family members

Widow or widower



Coping with endings and transitions

Source: adapted from Duvall and Miller, 1985: 62

Source: adapted from Duvall and Miller, 1985: 62

where each member is in his or her individual stage of development and where the family (in which they currently hold membership) is. Even if the family is not seen in counselling as a group (i.e., the client comes for individual counselling), this does not negate the importance of assessing the individual's family's stage of development. These tasks have been defined as growth responses that arise at certain stages in the life of the family, 'the successful achievement of which leads to present satisfaction, approval, and success with later tasks; whereas failure leads to unhappiness in the family, disapproval by society, and difficulty with later family tasks' (Duvall and Miller, 1985: 47). From this it becomes understandable that every individual has the potential to be working on more than one issue simultaneously. An individual who requests counselling for a specific loss event that he or she believes is unrelated to any other facet of his or her life may not be aware of unresolved family developmental tasks (past or present) that are contributing to the present loss event. The eight stages outlined in Table 4.1 range from the newly married couple, through the age-related tasks of caring for children, through middle age, ending with tasks that face aging family members and their families. Based on the prior discussion in this chapter, this model will need revision to accommodate new and changing definitions of the family; however, every model will include a beginning stage of basic family organization and move towards middle age and aging-related tasks. Whether or not all future families will include children will not preclude the concepts of a life cycle or tasks. When a major loss such as death, divorce, or chronic illness occurs unexpectedly during a critical period of a family developmental task, it is often doubtful that effective coping, attention to the family developmental task and individuals' developmental tasks, and healthy resolution of each member's issues of bereavement can be accomplished satisfactorily without support, education, and specific therapeutic interventions.

Researchers Jordan (1992) and Walsh and McGoldrick (1988) have outlined family tasks in adapting to a loss. They have also noted that the interaction of a number of other factors with the loss creates more difficult outcomes for the family. Some of these factors include the

• timing of the loss in the family life cycle;

• the effect of concurrent stressors;

• the family socio-cultural context; and

• the impact of previous unresolved losses in the family history.

Considering the above factors, it is important to determine where the family is in the family life cycle, and the possible application of the above factors. Moreover, it is also important to keep in mind the definition and purpose of a family in terms of the health, growth, and well-being of its members. A family in grief may not be capable of addressing family tasks, and this might have long-term effects on the ability for individual members to create their own healthy and functional families in the future. Counsellors may decide that it is best to address first the individual and family developmental tasks before issues of grief.

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