Family Bliss or Family Feud?
Okay, it might not be either or. No doubt there are times when your kids, and his/her kids, act like best friends; in this case, eureka! Have a cocktail and celebrate! I’m also willing to bet there are times when your offspring are simply nasty to one another leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth. In this case, oops! It’s time to reflect and regroup.
I’ve learned a lot from my own personal journey experimenting with family mixtures, and I’ve made a career as an author and coach by combining my professional experience as a child and youth counsellor with my personal experience as a mom.
People seem to appreciate when I share stories about surviving relationship disasters and I’ve had some strange experiences with blending my daughter and prospective partners’ kids.
For example, there was a time when a boyfriend and I were very pleased with how well my daughter and his son got along; then, I got concerned when they seemed to like each other a little too much.
There was this other situation when a boyfriend and I worked overtime trying to bridge the age gap between my daughter and his daughter, and our efforts seemed futile.
I’ve also learned a lot about the challenges with blended families from my experience as a foster mom. I’ll never forget the terror in my daughter’s eyes… “Mom, Amanda said she’s going to kill me!”.
My experience working with family dynamics has revealed a few common challenges that people seem to face. Many of these challenges are compounded by our behaviour, and our behaviour is influenced by many variables. Here’s a list of five variables that I address most often with parents:
- Communication Styles
- Emotional Intelligence
- Parenting Tool Kits
- Time & Energy
Some people will read this list and think “Well, none of that applies to my situation, I’m all good.” And, other people might read this list and think “My situation is hopeless, I have none of the above in good order.”
Two different extremes and neither are helpful conclusions. Blending families is not a straightforward process that starts at point A and ends at point B. Wherever you are on your journey of combining your families, the above noted variables offer a place to be honest with yourself by way of thoughtful reflection; and when we invest some time for thoughtful reflection, we can better troubleshoot challenges with our loved ones.
People reflect in different ways. Some examples include: journaling, conversing with a support person, voice recording, talking to a pet; I’ve even seen a variety of reflection videos on social media. The WHAT we use as a reflection outlet doesn’t matter as much as the HOW we spend our time reflecting.
When people aren’t intentional with the HOW, they can spend a lot of hours pondering and ruminating in reflection and come out feeling no different.
Here are some pointers on how to prepare for a reflection that will more likely leave you feeling refreshed and optimistic about next steps.
3 Steps To Finding Your Zen
Step One: Plan Ahead
First of all, plan ahead. Choose one variable to explore and jot down a reflection question that you’d like to work with. The following questions can be used for any above noted variable, and can also be modified to address your specific situation:
- What did you learn about communication from your parents and upbringing?
- How comfortable is each family member with discussing “F” words? (Feelings)
- What verbal and non-verbal ways do you express yourself? Rate the effectiveness of each expression.
- What have you learned about effective parenting from observing your parents, as well as, other adults from your past?
- How much time and energy are you, and your partner, willing to spend on nurturing a balanced blended family? What is realistic?
Step Two: Find the Time
Secondly, set aside a specific time for reflecting; and STICK WITH IT. Start a timer (15 mins, 30 mins, 45.7 mins…) and devote your full attention to reflecting until the timer goes off. If you get distracted by your phone, interruptions, wandering thoughts, etc. that’s okay, just smile and kindly redirect your attention back to your reflection.
Step Three: Don’t Overthink
Lastly, avoid striving for results. Sometimes your initial reflection question triggers more questions and you go deep into exploring that variable. Other times you kick off a reflection with a certain question and your focus goes in a different direction.
*For more tips and tools on navigating family dynamics, check out my workbook “A Map to Limitless Parenting”.
In the end, no matter how “good” or “bad” you evaluate your blended family situation, there’s an abundance of variables that are continuously influencing your family dynamics. Make reflecting and regrouping part of your routine and share your findings with your partner and kids. This will help to decrease those oopsies and increase eureka.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences with family mixes and what you found most helpful in the process. My email is below and I look forward to connecting!
(To get Amber’s book “A Map to Limitless Parenting: Connecting With Your Kids Through Mindful Communication” click here.)