Different types of family dynamics – when you are experiencing difficulty communicating, connecting, or socialising with your family.
- Are you part of a blended family?
- Are you a step parent?
- Do you have children that don’t live with you?
There’s no question that when a family unit is happy and healthy, all seems right in the world. Parents experience their greatest joys within the confines of a stable and healthy family relationship.
But not all families are stable, happy and healthy all the time. The stresses of modern everyday life, the need for better work-life balance, a family crisis of one kind or another or mental health challenges for one or more family members can bring a family to its knees at any time.
Children with disabilities, financial stresses, behavioural challenges, and sometimes just the ages and stages of different children can create challenges that may require some help to resolve. Add in the different types of family dynamics that may be involved – are you a part of a blended family? Are you a step parent? Do you have children that don’t live with you? These in themselves can pose many difficulties in determining what roles we all play in the family.
What can I do to ensure my family relationships are the best they can be?
There’s no quick fix to answer this question as a lot will depend on your individual family unit. Below are some general ideas that you can start with.
Make dinner time family time
This is a great way to spend frequent, quality time together. Family meals provide an opportunity for family members to come together, strengthen ties and build better relationships. They build a sense of belonging which leads to better self-esteem and offer parents a chance to be role models to their children.
Hold regular family meetings
Family meetings can help you, your children, and your co-parent to become closer and to communicate more clearly. By being involved in group decision-making and problem-solving, children see themselves as having responsibility for creating a good home life and they are more likely to feel like an important part of their family.
Make the time for family outings and holidays
Children who spend time with their parents participating in activities together build a positive sense of self-worth. Spending time together as a family strengthens family bonds, develops positive behaviours, helps parents relax and re-connect with their children and creates happy memories.
Developmental Stages of Step Families
With the high incidence of divorce and changing patterns of families in Australia, there are increasing numbers of stepfamilies. New stepfamilies will face many challenges and developing good stepfamily relationships takes some adjusting and hard work. Each member of the newly blended family has experienced loss and faces adjustments to the new family situation.
When a stepfamily is formed, the members may have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things, and they may have very different belief systems which may include a different ethnic or educational background, or religion. In addition, a child may feel torn between the parent they live with most of the time and their other parent who they visit. Also, newly married couples may not have had much time together to adjust to their new relationship.
The members of the new blended family will need to build strong bonds among themselves and define what roles they are going to be undertaking in the new family environment. These can be through:
- acknowledging their differences, their personal and family losses, and changes
- developing new skills in making decisions as a family
- fostering and strengthening new relationships between parents, stepparent and stepchild, and stepsiblings
- supporting one another
- maintaining and nurturing original parent-child relationships
During the early stages, the family stays divided along biological lines, with most nourishment, agreement on rules and rituals and easy connection happening within the biological subsystems.
In coming together and building a new family unit, a stepfamily follows several stages of individual and family system development. These often include:
The adults yearn to heal the pain created by divorce or death. Both partners may imagine that because they adore each other, stepparents and stepchildren will also. Stepparents may have fantasies about marrying a nurturing parent, and biological parents may imagine that the new adult will ease the load of single parenting. Children, in contrast, often continue to have a powerful and enduring investment in seeing their parents back together or reclaiming an exclusive relationship with their single parent.
Members of the stepfamily are faced with the reality of their new structure. Stepparents encounter unexpectedly strong and negative feelings-jealousy, resentment, confusion and inadequacy as they are subtly, but consistently, excluded by the spouse and stepchildren. The biological parent is somewhat less uncomfortable, as he has the support and nourishment of the children. The adult has the uneasy feeling that something is amiss but is unable to be proactive in sorting it out.
This stage finds the family, particularly the couple, openly airing differences between family members’ needs. Often this is a chaotic and intensely embattled period. The fights may appear trivial and are actually struggles over whether, after a series of losses and changes, family members will be able to make the changes they need to feel comfortable. The developmental task of this stage is to negotiate new agreements about how the family will function. These actions change the family structure and draw new boundaries around family relationships. The family can now start to function without constant attention to step issues.
This is where the results of the previous stage have given the stepfamily new areas of agreement within which they can function easily. The marital relationship becomes more of a source of nourishment and support. Stepparents and children begin to forge real relationships. It is only now, after the major structural changes have taken place and been acknowledged, that a clearly defined stepparent role emerges.
This resolution stage finds the family with solid and reliable step relationships. Norms have been established and a history has begun to build. Although some children feel more a part of the family than others, there is acceptance of this fact. Even large differences during stressful times-disagreements about who will handle certain financial costs, shifting of custody arrangements, weddings-no longer threaten the couple or stepparent-stepchild relationship.
Despite problems, a blended family is still just that—a family. Although there might be growing pains, disagreements and a few moments of discipline, everyone will eventually adjust to the new situation. Mistakes will be made, by children and by adults, but everyone will learn from those mistakes. Eventually, the household will feel less like a mixture of families and more like one solid unit.
Most stepfamilies, when given the necessary time to work on developing their own traditions and to form new relationships, can provide emotionally rich and lasting relationships for the adults, and help the children develop the self-esteem and strength to enjoy their future challenges of life.
Many families have some built-in resiliency to many of these problems. But even the best families can feel a need for help beyond the family’s own resources. If your family is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it may be time to consider engaging the services of a qualified professional family therapist.