RLL 75: Big Changes Means Big Conversations
After a brief early-summer sabbatical, I’m glad to be back and writing to you about such an encouraging topic today! Since my last post, we’ve had some serious milestones in my older daughter’s life. She turned 15 recently, and so with that have come major changes: she has her first real job as a lifeguard at a local swim club; she has gotten her driver’s permit and begun to cruise the streets, learning how to apply her book knowledge of traffic laws; and she is interested in beginning to date.
With all of these changes coming fast and furious, we (that is, all four parents) decided it was time for another sit-down conference to discuss these various topics and how we wanted to handle them. As I’ve mentioned here before, one of the major keys to a successful blended family situation is communication, and another is consistency. Thus we wanted to make sure that we all (the four adults and our daughter) understood each other and how we were going to approach these topics going forward. The meeting was a tremendous success (praise be to God!), and from it I took away two major practices that I wanted to share with you, as well as a few other suggestions.
First, always prepare the way through prayer: prayer for each other, prayer for wisdom, prayer for the meeting itself, prayer for the outcomes. Whenever we schedule these family gatherings, and despite how successful they have been in the past, there is always some anxiety that comes in the days and hours leading up to it. Will old hurts be touched on? Will we be able to come to an agreement? What if there is serious disagreement? How will we be able to compromise? These and many other questions fill our heads, and it can feel overwhelming sometimes. What is the solution? To pray and to trust that God will work things out according to His will. So, always prepare through prayer.
Second, we have found that it is helpful to explicitly state the goals of the meeting up front and to refer back to them as much as necessary to stay on track. In any meeting, it’s easy to get distracted by side issues. This is especially true if the topics of discussion are difficult and potentially problematic. Thus, it’s a big help to write down the topics ahead of time and then write down conclusions as they are reached, allowing the meeting to move along regularly as topics get finalized and/or agreed upon.
Lastly, here are a few other suggestions that have worked out well for us.
Consider having the meeting in a neutral location (that is, not at either party’s house) in order to help everyone feel at ease. We met at a local fast food restaurant with a play area, and this worked out well. Next, consider writing out the agreements made at the meeting and then texting a picture of them to everyone immediately following, in order for everyone to literally and figuratively be on the same page. Third, remember that the goal is to figure out the best solutions, not to insist on your own solution; therefore, remain patient, quiet, and respectful even when disagreeing (“A soft answer turns away wrath.”).
Here are a couple final suggestions: allow enough time for everyone to ask clarification questions about each topic in order to avoid misunderstandings as much as possible. And finally, be willing to give way on non-crucial issues. In this particular meeting, I was very grateful to my ex-wife for immediately enacting one of my suggestions about dating parameters for our daughter. She disagreed with my position, but as it was non a deal-breaker issue, she went along with what I wanted, and I really appreciated it.
As a final suggestion, be sure to express appreciation to everyone who helped make the meeting a success. And speaking of that, I’d like to extend special kudos to my wife and to my kids’ stepfather: I’m sure it’s not easy to be a stepparent in some of these meetings, and they both handled themselves with grace and patience and understanding. THANK YOU to you both and to my ex-wife for making the meeting a success!
I hope these tips are helpful to you next time you’re planning a family conference or even just a quick conversation with your blended family unit. Let me know how else I can help, and I’d love to hear from you!