The phrase ‘life stage’ is a bit of a bugbear of mine. People talk about us all being in different stages of life. The couple who are married are in a different life stage to the person who is single, and the couple who have children are in yet another different life stage to those who have are married but don’t have children. It’s the sort of phrase we take for granted, including in the church.
The concept of stages can easily – even if unintentionally – propagate the idea that to be married or to have children is a marker of success or of greater maturity.
But I think the phrase is based on an unhelpful assumption and can communicate an unhelpful mistruth. The concept of stages suggests progression from one to another, on and on, as if working up towards some target. And so, this language can easily suggest that those who are at a later stage are more successful or more mature than those who are at an earlier stage, and when applied to life, the concept of stages can easily – even if unintentionally – propagate the idea that to be married or to have children is a marker of success or of greater maturity. Sadly, this is something which has often been believed both in society and in the Church. If we appropriate this language, we risk affirming this unbiblical idea.
I think I’ve probably spotted this because I’m an adult who’s single and who will probably never marry or have children. When I hear talk of those who are married, or who have children, or whose children have left home, being or moving into a different stage of life, I look at my own life and realise I’m probably in the stage where I will remain until I die. I’ve peaked already while others go on to greater success and greater maturity.
This is why I prefer the language of ‘life situations’. It is true that life can be quite different based on whether we’re single or married, whether we have children or not, and whether those children are still living with us or have flown the nest. But no one of those situations is inherently better than another. They are not a ladder to climb or targets to aspire to; they’re just different gifts with which God blesses different people at different times. Our situations are different, and it can be helpful to acknowledge that, but we’re not in different ‘stages’.
Language can often communicate more than we mean it to, and sometimes it will be having effects of which we’re not even aware. I think this is one example where that can be true. So, I’m trying to learn not to talk of ‘life stages’, but to talk about ‘life situations’ and to be grateful to God for the blessings he’s given me in my situation and the blessings he’s give those around me in their situations.