Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Developing Stepfamily Loyalty

If there is one word that captures many of the dynamics of stepfamilies, it is "loyalty." There are so many differing loyalties which run deep and guide behaivors. Many of these loyalties conflict with each other and end up driving wedsges between family memebrs.

One of the conflicts which is common in stepfamilies is balancig the loyalty for spouse and bio child. If you are the bio parent, your parent relationship with your child preceded the marital relationship. When there is conflcit between your spouse and your child, it is very tempting to side with the bio child [developed loyalty] because it appears that they are treated unfairly by your spouse [developing loyalty]. This is a common situation and provides numerous challenges to the blending or "crockpotting" of families. This kind of conflict is often the source of the de-blending of the family. Situations such as these are notorious for presnting themseves as requiring you to choose one side or [betrayal] the other.

These conflicts are really a question. That question goes something like this: "Are we really a family?" This is not so much a question of wanting to be a family or not. Rather, it is more pragmatic. "Will we really pull this off or is this destined to end?"

When conflicts are understood as this question, it can send a chill up your spine, but it does not need to. Rather, what is needed involves a calm spirit and the firm commitment that you do not have to choose only your child or only your spouse. Rather, you must keep in mind what you are doing in the big picture - form a family. You are loyal to the family.

Here are some steps to preserve all loyalties:
1. Require couple time, bio time, step time, and whole family time to be define of the flow of life.

2. When #1 defines the flow of family life, then standing up to your most developed loyalties for the benefit of the family feels less like betryal because of the history and expected future of being together.

3. Use language which acknowledges each subgroup in the family in such a way that it is understood and expected that these subgroups are not only important to family life, but in fact ARE family life.

4. Trust the process. The question of "are we really a family?" will be asked hundreds of times over the year, perhaps thousands of times. Do not get sick of the question. Rather, be glad it is asked because it is an opportunity to show that, yes, we are indeed a family.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Slight Trajectory Adjustment

When I think of the word, "trajectory," I think of an object in motion headed toward something else. I think not only of the present location of the object, but also of the direction, the speed, and the potential impact of the object. Maybe it is like canoeing down a river.

Stepfamilies have trajectories. Certainly the question, "Where are we as a stepfamily?" is a really important question, but so it, "Where are we going?" That is the trajectory question.

For some stepfamilies, just asking the question is frightening. "Where are we going?" It can feel like canoeing through raging rapids and being afraid to ask about upcoming waterfalls.
The problem with canoeing down a river is that you can't just turn around and go back. But in stepfamilies, some people long to do just that. There is no turning around. That is the bad news. The good news is that you do not have to go ver that waterfall. A slight change in trajectory is what is needed. If we could get everyone paddling on the same side of the canoe, we might change our direction slightly, even though we are still going with the flow of the river. If we change our direction slightly, we might get close enough to shore to grab on the a low hanging branch and then we could all pull ourselves to shore and rest.
With only a slight trajectory adjustment, as opposed to fighting the entire river, a family can move to a safer and saner place - and hopefully avoid the waterfall.
Deciding what to do about the waterfall is much more roductive sitting around a campfire than in a canoe. Certainly you can't just wish the waterfall away, but you do not have to be a slave to it either. Your slight trajectory adjustment can get your family to the side for a breather, and then time to make decisions.
As you canoe through stepfamily life, consider making a slight trajectory change which can lead you to a safe and sane place for decision making. Then figure out what to do about that waterfall. Scout it out. Look for hidden portages. Maybe there is a trail. Maybe this trip is now a hiking trip and not a canoeing trip. There are many ways o deal with what is coming.