from Ron L. Deal
Well, you survived the Building A Successful Stepfamily conference, now what? I’ve put together a few ideas to keep you moving in the right direction. By the way, if this is your first time to visit our web site, be sure to:
After the Conference Activities:
Activity One: Putting Action in Your Action-Plan
If you haven’t already, schedule some time as a couple to discuss the action items you identified during the conference. Perhaps you can schedule a “lunch meeting date” to share your thoughts and ideas. Don’t put it off—this is important.
Activity Two: A Crockpot Family Experience
Ask all the children to help you in the kitchen with dinner. Have a recipe ready for a Crockpot dish of your choice. Let everyone add one ingredient to the pot. As they do, talk about how your family is like this dish. Note to the children that you are not stirring or blending the ingredients by hand but are relying on the Crockpot to bring everything together slowly over time. Also, talk about how long it takes to cook different foods in a Crockpot noting that some of you might need a little longer than others. Allow people to ask questions and make applications to your family.
Activity Three: A Family Travelogue
Do you remember me talking about how each person in the stepfamily has traveled a different path to where you are
now? Here is a family exercise developed by Patricia Papernow to help you listen and understand one another better.
Enjoy a 30-second kiss today!
Start a group. Find a group of stepfamily couples with whom you can meet on a regular basis for fellowship, study, and encouragement. Don’t walk the journey alone!
Maintain some old traditions—for the kids sake—and create a new tradition for your stepfamily.
How does knowing that the Crockpot is still cooking help you to relax and enjoy your family as it is now?
Tell your pastor/minister about our ministry resources.
What if people in your family went to a foreign country for a month? Upon their return you would probably ask them for a travelogue, that is, the story of their journey. You'd ask where they ate, what food they liked, what famous sites they saw, what was most exciting or disappointing, etc. You'd want to know what the journey was like for them. Showing similar interest in each family member's biological, single-parent, and stepfamily journey affirms the person's experience and can teach you what it is like to be him or her. (CAUTION: while this tool can facilitate bridge building between family members, it can also reveal great pain in others and might reveal parts of yourself that need changing.)
At a family meeting ask each person to share his or her travelogue, that is, a personal account of the stepfamily journey. Remember, the task is to maintain enough curiosity ("tell me more") and empathy ("that must be tough") in the face of differences and disappointments that each person is able to share joys, pains, heartaches, and experience without fear of retaliation or rejection. As people share, everyone must maintain a non-defensive attitude. Focus on listening, not defending yourself.
To begin, say something like: "You know, everyone in our family has traveled a long way to get to where we are. And even though we're in the same family, we've probably traveled different paths to get here. Maybe we could share what it's been like so far. Starting with your first family and single-parent years, let's all take turns and talk about what this journey has been like until now. The rest of us will listen just as if we're listening to someone who's been to a foreign land. We'll ask questions and try to imagine what it must have been like for whoever is talking."
Once you've opened the door to honesty and understanding by sharing your travelogue first, give children a chance. Here are some questions that might help.
· What were the good and bad aspects of your parents' divorce (our divorce) for you?
· How did your life change after that?
· What have you lost that hasn't been regained?
· What do you think has changed for others?
· During the single-parent years, what was good or okay for you? What was a pain? How was life different for you?
· What was your first impression of your future stepparent/stepchildren?
· How did life with your mom/dad/children change once the remarriage occurred?
· What hopes or dreams did you have for this stepfamily that haven't come about yet?
· What painful emotions have you been feeling lately?
· What fears do you have about this stepfamily or yourself?
· Describe insider and outsider roles with older children. First, ask everyone to share whether they are an insider or outsider and why. Then discuss what it would be like to be in the other's (insider/outsider) shoes.
· Discuss the common myth of instant love and share how you envision love developing between stepfamily members.
End your travelogue meeting in prayer.
The travelogue exercise can be repeated in your home over time. Family meetings are the perfect time to ask questions and be updated on everyone's travels. Biological parents might also find one-on-one time with each child to discuss their current travelogue.
Activity Four: Maximize Your Fun-Factor
Carve out some time together as a couple to enjoy a little R&R. Remember, fun activities and leisure time together is an important quality of highly satisfying stepcouple marriages.
Schedule some marriage builder time together:
1. Plan to attend a class/workshop at your church on communication skills.
2. One date at least every two weeks (preferably weekly)
3. Extended time together without children (e.g., a day at the Mall) every 3 months.
4. An overnight stay every 6 months (even at a local hotel)
5. A “couple vacation” once a year (e.g., 3 nights at a resort)
Activity Five: Teen Talk
Get a copy of Life in a Blender, a booklet I wrote for 10 year-olds to young adults. Read it first, then give it to your child and ask them to read it on their own time. Later you can come back and ask a few questions to keep the open dialogue about them and your family going.
· Could you relate to anything in the booklet?
· What “blender emotions” have you experienced?
· When do you feel stuck in the middle (loyalty conflicts)? What do I say or do that makes you feel stuck?
· What do you wish I understood about being you?