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Family Therapist
BuildingTeam Spirit in Blended (and "Traditional") Families
March, 2008 - Issue #41
All families struggle at times with feeling "connected," but it can be much more difficult in a blended or step-family environment. When parents remarry and bring together their children from a previous marriage, these children may be hurt or angry and unwilling to accept the new parent. Often, they reject not only the new parent, new siblings, room sharing and limit setting, but include in their rejection displays of love and affection.

Sometimes there seems to be no way to solve these problems. Children appear too angry and parents feel too guilty and frustrated and then lose patience. One way that may open the door to connect kids and parents is a family meeting.

A family meeting can provide a special place where children start to feel heard, to feel cared about and to feel they have some control in a positive way. Meetings also offer parents a place to show their new family how important each and every member is to the new family system. All family members must be able to attend, no matter how old. Once you pick a time that works, there are three basics to remember:

1. Start the meeting on a positive note - not because of a problem or a crisis.

2. Start with items of fun before addressing tougher issues.

3. Keep all adult issues for the adults only. Don't discuss adult divorce issues, non-custodial parent problems or monetary problems at the meetings.

With the basics in mind, invite the kids to the meeting. You can let them know that the meeting will be great time to share activity plans, weekend plans, talk about family rules, chores, privileges, allowances, homework, phone and computer use, driving the car, etc. To help you get started, I recommend the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting Program family meeting guidelines:

1. Meet at a regular time consistently.

2. Plan the time. At first you will need to be in charge of stetting the time and deciding what items are priorities.

3. Take turns. Take turns with the different jobs of the meeting: leader, timekeeper, secretary.

4. Take notes. Write notes about the agreements and plans so everyone will remember. Read the plans and agreements at the end of the meeting so no one is confused about what was discussed.

5. Everyone take part. Let all the children talk and let them talk first. If someone hasn't talked, include them by asking their opinion and encouraging them to talk. Leave no one out.

7. Cooperate to choose chores. Offer choices and rotate jobs. Let the kids start with jobs they enjoy.

8. Do what you agree to do. Parents, remember it's not just the kids who are accountable to the rules and agreements of the family meeting. Mom and Dad have to do their part.

9. Talk about good things.

10. Have fun during the meeting.

11. Plan fun family activities.

12. Have family fun time after the meeting is over. Help the feeling of connectedness continue by doing something together (a game, a story, a meal) immediately following the meeting, but make sure you don't hold your meeting during any family fun time. Fun time should be completely separate.

Remember your goals for bringing the family together: to share good feelings, have fun, make plans and talk about problems. Ask your kids what they would like to talk about so that you can include their issues in the agenda. Everyone needs to feel that their input is important.
Fun is always on Kim's agenda.
For more guidance, e-mail Kim at kschafer@insidescv.com.
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