Fall Transitions for Families

By Melanie Rathgeber, MC, MA, RCC

Families change over time and transition through different stages. In psychology, we use the term Family Life Cycles to describe the patterns of changes and transitions that most families go through. Transitions from one stage to the next are often where challenges are seen.[1]

The start of September can bring many transitions for individuals and for families. My nephew is leaving for university today and I can’t help but think of all the emotions it brings for him, as well as his parents. For him, it brings feelings of excitement, adventure, and independence. His parents of course have mixed emotions. They are proud and are confident they have prepared him well for this next stage in life. However, many of you will know that this time can also bring feelings of loneliness and sadness: the feelings that come with an ’empty nest’.

With any major life transition, we can experience excitement and anticipation. At the same time, we can expect there to be feelings of loss. Transitions signal a change in our identity — yes the building of a new identity, but also the loss of an old one. As with any loss, we experience new thoughts and emotions in order to adapt. We need to allow ourselves time and opportunities to reflect upon the past, and then to envision our life in our new reality. It can be tricky. For a while, we feel like we are going back and forth. Will my nephew feel like a brave young man setting out in the world, or will he feel like a child, needing the advice and guidance of his family? For a long time, he will likely feel both. He will waffle back and forth, and at times it will feel confusing, but eventually he will become more comfortable with his new identify while looking back fondly (but not forgetting) his life with his family.

For his parents, the feelings of loss will be more central. They will notice his absence in their daily lives; they will notice the difference in conversation at the dinner table; ; they will miss the sounds of banging drums coming from the basement (okay maybe they won’t miss that so much!). But underneath, there will naturally be feelings of excitement for them too, though they will not come as quickly or easily. There is excitement about pursuing new individual interests (or rekindling old ones), there are chances to reform a stronger bond as a couple, similar to the bond couples have before their children are born, and there are new traditions to build and to look forward to. There will be new weekend trips to visit their son. There will be holiday celebrations with special significance. Because after all, now when he comes home he will truly notice and appreciate how clean the house is, how good the cooking is, and how much he truly still needs to be part of his family, just in a slightly different way.

If you are experiencing a life transition and want to learn more about feelings associated with loss and change, you are welcome to book a counselling appointment or consultation with Melanie.


[1]Gerson, R. (1995). The family life cycle. Phases, stages, and crises. In Mikesell RH, Lusterman, DD & McDaniel S. (Eds.). Handbook of family psychology and systems theory. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Gerson, R. (1995). The family life cycle. Phases, stages, and crises. In Mikesell RH, Lusterman, DD & McDaniel S. (Eds.). Handbook of family psychology and systems theory. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.