May 272013

If there is one thing that is true about families, it is that families, all families, are constantly in transition. They are changing all the time.

And family is always family. No matter what it looks like.

By Aron Nels Steinke,

Some families have two parents, a mom and a dad, and everyone lives together in one house. Some families have two moms or two dads, or one mom and no dad, or one dad and no mom. Some families have two parents who live in different houses. Some have parents and grandparents in the same house, and some kids live with grandparents. Sometimes two families with kids and parents join together to form a whole new family.

And family is always family. No matter what it looks like.

Sometimes families start out one way, and change into something that looks pretty different.

Even if families don’t look like they are changing, they are. As kids get older their relationships change. Rhythms and traditions and schedules change. Some relationships get deeper and closer, some grow more distant. New siblings are born. Older siblings move out. Relationships with extended family members change as new cousins and nephews and nieces are born and grandparents, aunts or uncle die. Life changes and families change.

And family is always family. No matter what it looks like.

When a new baby is born, everyone in the family has to shift around and find their places within the dynamics and structure of the changing family system. When parents divorce, shifting and reorganizing the family is one of the biggest challenges. When two families come together to form one, each person has to figure out their new role within both their old family structure and the new blended one. It’s like a thousand rays of light, all intersecting.

Life is tricky. Parenting is tricky. And change may be the trickiest of all. Put them all together, and it’s no wonder we struggle. We are worried about the unknown. When we can’t see the path ahead, we tend to assume it must be dark. But just because we don’t know what it looks like, doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Change brings growth. Growth brings new possibilities. New possibilities bring beauty we never expected. As long as we embrace the change.

So how do we help our children embrace the change in their families, whatever that looks like?

1)   We have to trust the change ourselves. We have to believe in it and move forward with love and light and trust that the path, although unknown to us, is the right path to be on. We can communicate with our children that we don’t have all the answers yet, but that this path (whether it is the path of divorce, or blending two families, or moving in with grandma, or having a new baby) is the right path for our family right now.

2)   We have to honor each person’s relationship with every other person in the family. Relationship dynamics are multifaceted and boundless. Each child should feel safe and supported to interact with each of their family members in the way that is healthiest for them. So, mom and dad may work better if they live in separate houses, but they are still mom and dad and they are still the center points in the child’s family. Over time, as the child’s relationship with each parent changes and morphs, these relationships should be cherished, nurtured and supported by everyone. In the same way, two families coming together need to remember that this same thing is true, but times three or four or ten! Each relationship is different and separate, and at the same time connected to each of the other relationships. Make time and space for each to be honored, nurtured and supported.

3)   We have to maintain old traditions and build new ones. With all the change that happens in families, how is it that we can feel so stable? Traditions, routines, habits. As families change we can find comfort in our traditions. Our family may look really different now, but Sunday is still always blueberry pancake day. And, embracing change can allow for new traditions to be built on top of old ones. Blended families can share traditions, allowing each core family group to bring something special to the table. Honoring these types of traditions, while building new ones, is a great way for families who are moving into two separate households to bridge the change, too. These traditions, patterns, habits and routines tell the story about who our family is.

Family is about relationships. Some relationships are formed through genetics, some through choice and some through the choices of others. Regardless of how a family comes to be formed, one thing is true: It is always changing. Families that thrive do so, not because they look a certain way, or because they stay the same, but because they embrace change and the relationship growth that can happen when change is allowed to occur. Our children are not just along for the ride, they are active participants, in relationships with every family member. When we remember this, we can embrace our changing families and, as a result, find a deep level of stability within a constantly changing world.

How is your family changing? How do you talk about it?

 Posted by at 1:01 am

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