FAMILY LIFE CYCLES: THEIR EFFECTS ON OLD PEOPLE'S FAMILY RELATIONS
The term "family" as it is currently being used denotes "a community of parents and their children" ( Winkler, 1987:151). Family research and sociology in East Germany (GDR) are centered around this family concept, which is also the basis of all measures the GDR has introduced with regard to families or taken in the field of family policy. Therefore, researchers deal primarily with family life cycle relations between spouses or companions in life and their economically dependent and minor children. This includes developmental conditions within families in their social, educational, and personality forming roles; the relationship between family reproduction and the processes of reproduction within society; and the relationship between family functions and the way of life. The role families play for old people has always been of minor concern to family researchers in the GDR, who have thus neglected important aspects of family life. These aspects include harmonious personality development and a meaningful life for men and women during all phases and cycles in family development, including old age.
It was not until the early 1980s that initial efforts were made to deal with these problems in a scientific manner. For the first time ever, a closer look was taken into old people's interests, needs, and value orientations. Also studied was the responsibility of children, grandchildren, sons- and-daughters-in-law, vis-a-vis older family members, especially in cases where the latter were in need of care. No consideration is usually given to those dynamic changes in the life and family cycles that result from socioeconomic transformations, quantitative and qualitative population trends, and the effects of the advance of science and technology. These social changes affect the relations between generations and within families in a variety of ways.