The choice to blend two separate families in remarriage is not an easy decision. In most cases, it takes the new family unit several years to develop an accepted, fluid group dynamic in which each person feels comfortable in their new role. Having patience and reasonable expectations at the outset is essential.
While it is already the job of most children, particularly teenagers, to test boundaries, this becomes all the more amplified in the new blended family. In this environment, a strong, solid couple relationship will make all the difference. Couples who are influenced by being popular or by feelings of guilt will emit signals of vulnerability that will be immediately gleaned by the children. These cracks in the new foundation will only fuel any anger or resentment by kids who are feeling insecure or unhappy about the new situation.
Check in with each other frequently, back each other up and keep to higher ground. Managing your emotions, with keen awareness to resist taking any of this personally, will allow you to maintain a broad perspective on the emerging family unit. Sharing your feelings with one another without blaming, creating conflict resolution plans, and developing rules and systems that are open to re-evaluation all help to guide you along.
Another helpful idea is the Family Meeting. Once a month or so, find some time to all sit down and take turns letting each new family member speak and feel heard. It is so important for children and parents to feel that someone listens and cares about how they are feeling. You could even try Reflective Listening, where you repeat what the person has said to validate that you have, in fact, heard them; then ask “Is that right?” to make sure you are understanding and “Is there more?” to assess if they have more to share. Not only will this affirm the shared thoughts and emotions, it will also prevent talking over one another and model good communication skills for their future relationships.
Encouragement and positive language is also necessary for the new family to flourish and grow in trust and love. Criticism between children or between child and parent is abusive and especially caustic to people in transition. Likewise, it is paramount that children not hear negative commentary about the non-custodial parent, no matter the history or truth of it. It will be particularly difficult for children to learn to trust their parents if they are exposed to negative banter.
And finally, don't forget to allow yourself to invite gratitude into your daily interactions, with your partner, your children and all those around you. Sharing how much you appreciate the people in your life goes a long way toward cultivating the blended family you envision.
While the challenges of creating a blended family are very real, so are the rewards and magic of that co-creation. Stay flexible, open-minded and ever humble to the task before you. Sustained awareness of the many messages - obvious and otherwise - that are shared as you journey together into your blended life will be your barometer – pay careful attention to them.
The concept of nutrition affecting our relationships makes sense. If food gives us energy, and that energy affects how we behave, how we connect with others and our overall posture as we move through our days, then it stands to reason that healthy nutrition supports healthy relating and poor nutrition does not.
Sugar cravings is an addiction that undermines our capacity for consistent, balanced energy. Simple carbohydrates are found in most processed foods and cause our blood sugar to spike and crash all day long. Eating proteins with essential amino acids and complex carbohydrates helps to regulate our daily energy pattern. This, in turn, promotes healthy, skillful interactions within our circle of family, friends and colleagues, AND within our own selves.
Food cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When we are exhausted or blue, we have low blood sugar and/or low serotonin, and the body signals the brain that it needs a pick-me-up. This signal causes a sugar or carbohydrate craving.
Serotonin is our basic feel-good hormone. If serotonin is low, we feel sad or depressed. And hormonal imbalance or weak digestion can lead to low serotonin. Unfortunately, sugars and simple carbohydrates release a short burst of serotonin — we feel good for a moment, but soon return to our low-serotonin state — then crave more sugar and simple carbohydrates. It’s a downward spiral.
Here's the GOOD NEWS! Poor nutrition, including sugar cravings, can be overcome. In order to move away from bad habits, we must first acknowledge that our bodies are going to complain initially. They have become accustomed to the sugar. But remember, this too will pass and your body will become accustomed to your new food choices. Your body will begin to crave what it gets used to. If you allow it to move through the transitional complaining period, and slowly introduce the delicious, natural taste of raw fruits, vegetables, and lots of healthy protein like nuts fish, eggs and cheese, your taste buds will adjust accordingly. You will begin to crave the healthier fare and actually become disinterested in the unhealthy food you once craved.
Try this experiment in your own relationship and see if healthier eating results in healthier relating. If “we are what we eat”, then don't our relationships depend on what we eat, too?
Parents or Friends As Life Coaches?
Parents and friends each have a unique role in your life, and so does your Life Coach.
I found the same distinction when I worked with expectant parents as a Doula. A laboring woman has myriad needs before, during and after birth - she needs the love and support of her partner or husband, the nurturing of her mother or sister and the expert guidance of her midwife. But, a Doula (Greek for "with woman") is there for her in a special way. She provides a more objective, knowledgeable, knowing presence and a capacity to join up with the woman in ways that allow her to see needs no one else in the room may see.
So it is for a Life Coach. She has the capacity to sit with you in the angst of your confusion or frustration and ask powerful questions that you or others in your life may not be considering. She brings an indispensable perspective that can illuminate and clarify your ideas into action steps.
Most parents do not focus on telling us that we're responsible for creating our own lives. Some of my clients have had wonderfully supportive parents, but it’s also true that very often parents advise from a place of comfort and fear. There are a lot of people who benefit greatly from validation and accountability from an objective outsider as they work toward a goal.
As for friends being life coaches, that’s asking an awful lot from friends. Let’s say you’re a business administrator who wants to switch into a social services career. You share this desire with a good friend, who encourages you to give it a try. But, then what? Does she help you create a concrete goal around that intention? Does she assist you with a weekly action plan to move you closer to it? Does she ask you powerful questions to eliminate barriers that could be holding you back? I’m guessing she has a life of her own and may not be able to guide you through the many detailed steps of your action steps.
As a high school gymnast, my coach inspired me to stretch beyond self-imposed limits in ways my parents or friends just were not able to do. No one individual can serve all the roles in our life, nor should they be expected to.
Having a life coach frees up your parents and your friends to be just that, your parents and your friends.
Reflective or Active Listening is an essential skill of artful and effective communication. Like any new skill, it requires practice to develop into a natural component of how we relate to others. Although many of us would say that we listen to others, the quality of that listening allows or disallows the person who is speaking to be heard or not. Hearing is a sensory ability – listening is a developed skill.
As you learn to listen more deeply, apart from your own agenda, you will find that the capacity for true understanding expands significantly. Active listening promotes a spirit of partnership, trust and authenticity that becomes the foundation of real growth potential. It is the pathway for engaging others in relationship and fostering motivation to change.
How often have we engaged in conversation, shared some deeply personal experience for example, only to feel unheard? Perhaps the listener is distracted or shifts focus onto himself by relating a similar story. He might interrupt or cut you off with a comment that shows he is not really listening to what you have said. When this occurs, what happens to our willingness to risk sharing our private truth with another? Chances are that opportunity is lost, falling “on deaf ears”, and the speaker becomes less inclined to attempt to communicate those feelings again.
In reflective listening, the listener puts his full attention on the words of the speaker. He does not interrupt at the first opening, but allows the speaker space to share fully. When the speaker pauses, the listener resists the temptation to fill the pause with commentary, perhaps honoring a moment of silence. Silence gives permission for acceptance, insight, softening, trust. Then, the listener might ask “Is there anything else?” to give the speaker permission to consider saying more. When the listener is sure the speaker is finished, summing up what the speaker said and repeating it back to the speaker is the fundamental ingredient in reflective listening. Paraphrasing, re-framing or clarifying distinctions not only demonstrates to the speaker that you've been paying close attention, but also allows the speaker to hear for himself what he has just said. This piece of listening is so valuable - it validates the speaker's feelings and helps them to sort out what they have just said and also helps the listener to confirm what they believe the speaker is attempting to convey. The listener could say something like “It sounds like you're saying ________.” or “What I hear you saying is_______. Is that right?”
Reflective listening keeps the focus on the speaker. Of course, it is important for both or all people in a discussion to feel heard, so taking turns with roles of speaker and listener makes sense. However, if the speaker has proposed the topic and has a greater need to speak, the listener can agree to stay in that role for the speaker's benefit. The main idea is to clearly demonstrate caring and concern for the speaker's agenda. All too often, messages are not adequately conveyed, not for lack of trying but for lack of skillful listening. Reflective listening requires empathy, focused attention and practice, challenging for even the very best communicators in a fast-paced culture. However, setting the intention to listen well at the outset of dialogue can allow the listener to give the gift of being heard.
Take a moment to think about the various relationships you each have that could benefit from active listening? Relationships between parents and children, siblings, coworkers, friends, romantic partners, neighbors, and community leaders could all be dramatically improved with better listening.
So, the next time someone is speaking, take the time to sit down, look them in the eye and set your own agenda aside. It is truly one of the best gifts you can give to the people in your life.
Certified Health and Lifestyle Coach, Sheryl Melanson, partners with people to transform limiting habits into mindful choices that express their values, create action plans and recalibrate their lifestyle to optimal well-being.