The Expanded Family Life Cycle, Book Review Example


The purpose of this paper is to reflect upon Carter and McGoldrick’s (2010) text, The Expanded Family Life Cycle. This text provides an examination of the biological and social underpinnings of the family unit, as well as how this unit has changed over time. A summary is provided for chapters 12 through 17, followed by a personal reflection of overlying themes from the text. This paper concludes with a brief summary and outline of key points.

Chapter 12

Chapters 12 through 22 of Carter and McGoldrick’s (2010) text present psychological themes related to familial life cycle transitions and phases. According to these authors, families experience transitions and phases in a similar manner as the individuals of which the family unit is comprised. These changes and transitions can impact individuals and families in multiple ways, and Carter and McGoldrick (2010) provide an analysis of these psychological issues at each stage of family development.

Chapter 12 discusses the development of the individual, and how this developmental process ultimately impacts his or her adult family. Characteristics of development in modern society are first presented, including issues related to technology, the media and differences in societal and cultural values. Additionally, various psychological roles and responsibilities are described, such as finding a means to support one’s self and seeking a partner. Differences in male and female development are also discussed, including the varying biological and psychological needs associated with seeking a partner.

I personally feel that the developmental period, particularly that of young adulthood, has a tremendous impact on the types of relationships individuals seek and parents they become. As mentioned by these authors, successfully engaging in key developmental tasks can influence education, employment and future child rearing. Therefore, this phase represents an ideal clinical opportunity for psychologists and counselors.

Chapter 13

The development of the couple is then presented in Chapter 13, continuing the discussion of male and female relationship needs. As can be evidenced by divorce statistics, interracial marriage increases and the institution of gay marriage, it is obvious that the concept of marriage has transformed considerably over the past several decades. These changes have had a significant impact on the concept on the concept of “family”, and society has had to redefine its perception of what constitutes a “couple”. According Carter and McGoldrick (2010), becoming a couple is largely a process of fusion and the establishment of intimacy between partners. Any two individuals are capable of undergoing this process, regardless of sexual orientation (Carter & McGoldrick, 2010).

Chapter 13 then discusses the interaction of couples with extended family members and in-laws, as well as how these new relationships impact the couples’ relationship dynamic. Sibling issues, an often neglected developmental topic, are considered based on their impact on adult relationships. Finally, cultural differences in marriage and gender roles are then discussed. Societies vary greatly in their approaches to marriage and families, thus, individuals within these relationships encounter a range of potentially conflicting values (Carter & McGoldrick, 2010).

I feel that sibling relationships have not received the research attention they deserve, as they have the potential to influence future relationships much more than the parent-child dynamic. More studies are needed related to the psychological implications of various sibling relationships, as well as interventions for high-conflict scenarios. Sibling relationships often have a strong correlation with the types of partners one seeks.

Chapter 14

Carter and McGoldrick’s (2010) text delves into the psychological underpinnings of parenthood in Chapter 14. The process if becoming parents is one that is rife with emotional and cognitive implications that can have lifelong impacts (Carter & McGoldrick, 2010). In this chapter, Carter and McGoldrick (2010) present issues related to parenting expectations, demographic considerations and the impact individual emotional factors on parenting. Furthermore, gender roles are discussed in relation to their effects on young children. Discussion then shifts to varying child-rearing practices and alternative parenting dynamics, such as adoption, lesbian and gay couples and single parenting. Finally, implications for psychologists and counselors are presented, including how to assist fathers in parenting and how to assist parents adapt to modern societal issues.

Parenting is becoming an increasingly complex process, and the changing conception of the family unit has added to this complexity. In working with families, I believe it is critical to explore how these demographic factors are influencing each member. Not all children adjust to societal and familial transformations in a similar manner.

Chapter 15

As mentioned above, the family undergoes similar transformations as individuals. Brought on by both individual and environmental factors, familial transitions are inevitable. In Chapter 15, Carter and McGoldrick (2010) explore the sociocultural context of these transformations, particularly emphasizing the adolescent phase. Adolescents have much different psychological needs than infants, and parents must continue to adjust to meet these needs. During this phase, children form gender identities and begin to adopt various social and cultural values. Physical and emotional changes also have a large impact on adolescents, and subsequently the family unit. Many of these changes are derived from adolescents undergoing puberty and forming ideas about sex and their sexual orientation. Therapeutic interventions are described for adolescents experience conflict over the development of these sexual identities, and strategies for foster more effective parent-child relationships are presented Finally, research and recommendations for improving parental bonds are discussed, including how to foster community within the familial unit.

An equally important concept to consider is how children react to parental relationships during this phase. Children respond to their parents’ behaviors, and their sexual identities’ often draw from those of their parents. Therefore, therapeutic intervention must consider these parental sexual behaviors, roles and identities.

Chapter 16

Chapter 16 provides an evaluation of the family unit during its midlife phase. This phase is characterised by the “launching” of children into alternate living situations (e.g., college, employment). Furthermore, the midlife phase is associated with a range of psychological changes that can impact relationships. Following the launching process, couples undergo individual changes related to midlife that can influence the relationship dynamic. Middle age represents the longest life cycle phase for both men and women, although men and women experience this phase quite differently. Men experience fears of aging, dying and not attaining individual goals, whereas women often experience a newfound sense of freedom following the launching phase. The success of the family unit during the midlife phase depends largely on the sense of community fostered in previous stages. Furthermore, midlife is associated with several tasks, such as preparing for late stages of familial life.

I feel that insufficient attention has been given to the continued influence of the parent-child relationship throughout early adulthood has been neglect. Research has largely emphasized the development and adolescent phase, while limited studies have explored the family impact during early adulthood. As parents and children experience a considerable shift in the dynamic of their relationship during this phase, I believe that this topic represents a promising direction for future research.

Chapter 17

Carter and McGoldrick’s (2010) text includes a presentation of familial issues during its later stages in Chapter 17. This chapter begins with an analysis of the aging family, and the significance of family bonds in keeping children together and managing issues such as ageism. Becoming a grandparent also represents a significant element of the late-stage familial unit, and Carter and McGoldrick (2010) discuss how this dynamic develops through adult-child relationships. Furthermore, family bonds and the strength of these relationships impact how parents and grandparents are cared for in their later years. During this period, elderly individuals may experience illness and dementia that can be quite difficult on the family unit. Carter and McGoldrick (2010) provide evidence related to successful aging, the importance of having meaning and social connection during these later years and continuing to maintain relationships. Finally, these authors discuss clinical challenges during this period, and advocate a resilience-oriented approach for intervening.      

Similar to siblings and the adult child-parent relationship, I feel that greater attention should be garnered to the influence of the grandparent-child relationship. This text extensively reviews the psychological process of aging, but neglects how this process influences children and grandchildren. Furthermore, the impact of death on young children is an area that merits future research.

Summary and Conclusion

The purpose of this paper was to provide a summary and reflection of The Expanded Family Life Cycle. A summary of Chapters 12 through 17 was provided, highlighting major themes from each section. A personal reflection based on overlying themes from each chapter was then presented. While this text offers extensive evidence to support its recommendations for clinical practice, several topics necessitate further research attention.


Carter, B. & McGoldrick, M. (eds.) (2010). The expanded family life cycle (4th ed.). Pearson: Allyn & Bacon.