Mr. W, my fiancé, and I have been stumbling a little in our blended family adventure. I wouldn’t say it’s been awful – we’ve been more successful than not. But there are little things that have served as speed bumps while combining households into one. And when we went to counseling to learn how to tackle those hills, we had definite questions for our therapist, particularly these:
What our role was as a step-parent. How to give direction to a kid that isn’t yours. How to not take it personally when a step-kid was being totally unreasonable. How to get the kids to actually talk to each other instead of tattling to us. Learning how to let go of some of our own expectations in favor of one that involved all of us…
“Why don’t you try a family meeting?” our therapist asked. And I inwardly balked at the suggestion. I mean, it was a great idea in a family TV series kind of way, where everyone already gets along and then hugs by the time 30 minutes ends. But ours was not that kind of family. Instead, we were the kind of family who could grumble about what the other members were doing – as long as the offending member was out of earshot. I was better at listing my irritations to the group as a whole rather than just talking to the person directly. And the last time I felt it was safe to hug my step-son was two Christmases ago before he left on a ski trip with his mom. In fact, this last Easter my mom patted my step-son’s growing mane, and my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets.
A family meeting was a terrifying idea.
However, I wanted to prove that I would try anything in the name of unity. So I told the counselor we would do it, and to put it on the agenda to talk about this week. Then I went home and placed FAMILY MEETING in big, bold letters on our calendar.
“You should just call it a Gripe Meeting,” my step-son muttered when he saw it. My kids were gleefully enthusiastic about listing every single one of their complaints, especially the ones that had to do with flatulence.
“Save it for the meeting,” I finally told them.
Meeting day finally arrived. After dinner, we all piled into the living room. Mr. W, Frizz, Taz, and DQ all stared at me expectantly, waiting for me to lead how this was going to go. In my lap was a notebook with a few guidelines jotted down, and ready for me to record the important points of the meeting.
“Ok, here’s the rules,” I told them. “First, whoever has the floor gets to speak. That means to wait your turn. Second, one of us will always take notes during the meeting. Today it will be me. Next, we’ll each get a turn to talk about the stuff that’s been bugging us. But before we do that, each of us has to say one nice thing about everyone in the room.”
You could have heard crickets chirping. After a brief pause, they all looked around the room and let out a few nervous giggles. Taz went first. He was silly about Mr. W and his sister, but when he got to Frizz, he told him how much he loved it when Frizz played baseball with him.
“You’ve been an inspiration to me in running,” Frizz told me sincerely, speaking about both of our efforts to hit the pavement that had been proving to be a source of connection between us. We all agreed that DQ was hilarious and a huge help, and that Taz was great at baseball and did extra tasks without complaint. I admired Frizz for how dedicated he was to the things that mattered most to him. And I thanked Mr. W for his efforts in orderliness and schedules that allowed our home to run as smoothly as it does.
When it came time to “gripe”, it started off slow. Luckily, I had jotted down a few complaints I had overheard throughout the week. Suddenly we were all remembering the issues we’d had, and were even laughing about them, all of us able to relate to the “suffering” at hand. A few changes could be made immediately. And a few things would take a bit of time through trial and error. 27 minutes later, the meeting adjourned and we were all smiling and feeling good.
It felt like overkill to schedule weekly meetings for our family. But we all agreed that this was a great idea to implement on an as-needed basis. I’m starting to think that maybe my therapist has some good ideas up his sleeve after all…