Family Transitions

By Philip A. Cowan; Mavis Hetherington | Go to book overview

1
Individual and Family Life Transitions: A Proposal for a New Definition

Philip A. Cowan University of California, Berkeley

Americans have always been in transition. Whereas Old World families began with a place, New World families began with an act of migration. Nor did the transition from an old life to a new one end with the immigrants arrived on these shores. From place to place and job to job they kept moving.

--( Bridges, 1980, p. 2)

"Who are you?" said the Caterpillar. "I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present," Alice replied rather shyly, "at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then."

--( Carroll, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)

These two examples are used by the author of a book titled Transitions, to suggest that people may be "in transition" a good deal of the time ( Bridges, 1980). Are Americans in fact "always in transition?" Are poor Alice's abrupt shifts of size and setting all to be regarded as transitional? It seems intuitively clear that in becoming an adolescent or a senior citizen, entering kindergarten or graduating from university, becoming a parent or contemplating an empty nest, individuals make transitions from one way of life to another. It also seems clear that some changes should not ordinarily be regarded as transitions--such as going on a long vacation or buying a new car. What about remodeling one's home or winning a promotion at work? Where do we draw the line between transitional and nontransitional change? Why is it important to do so?

At the beginning of any science, researchers and theorists devote most of their

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