As young adults enter the culminating phase of early adulthood
(ages 33–45), they enter the settling down
(ages 33–40) stage. By this time, their careers (at least the first one) has been established and a spouse found. If a couple have not already done so, they will probably decide to have one or more children and start a family.
Parenthood is generally thought to strengthen marriages, even though research indicates that marital satisfaction often declines after the birth of the first child. This decline may be due to such stressors as changes in usual roles and routines, increases in family responsibilities, and additional strains on finances. But marital satisfaction need not decline. If the marriage is already positive and the spouses share parenting duties equally, the stresses of parenthood may be minimized and not significantly interfere with marital happiness.
Regardless of the many joys of parenthood, new parents are not always prepared for the responsibility and time commitment that raising a child requires. This is especially the case when parenthood is accidental rather than planned, or when the child is difficult and prone to irritability and excessive crying. Some young adults also have troubles seeing themselves as parents, especially when they feel that an important activity, such as attending college, has been lost because of parenthood. Others, especially young women, may struggle with the issue of having to choose between the desire to pursue career versus staying at home to raise their children.
One growing trend is the postponement of marriage and childbearing until people are in their 30s. Two advantages of waiting are that both partners are more emotionally mature and have a more stable relationship, both of which provide the necessary tools for weathering the storms of parenthood. Nontraditional family units represent another interesting trend. Examples of these include blended families (or stepfamilies, in which new family units are made up of children from previous marriages), single‐parent families, and same‐sex families. Meanwhile, some couples choose to remain childless. Couples who have children do not necessarily regard themselves as more fulfilled than couples who do not. The critical factor in a couples' satisfaction and happiness seems to be their ability to choose their lifestyles. Couples can learn more about family planning, conception, birth control, and other pregnancy options from organizations such as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, National Right to Life Committee, and National Abortions Rights Action League.