With a background as an engineer in Corporate America, my job required that I solve complex problems. One tool that I used to fulfill my responsibilities was facilitating group meetings. As the team facilitator, I managed teams through the stages of development, resolved personal conflicts and/or hindrances to progress and expedited the team to achieve peak performance.
The four stages of team development are as follows:
1. Forming—the initial introduction of group members also referred to as the “honeymoon” phase. Everyone is cordial, on their best behavior and excited about the new team.
2. Storming—as members attempt to settle into their respective roles, storms often arise. Unclear expectations, jockeying for power and feelings of inadequacy flood the team with catastrophic results.
3. Norming—as conflicts are resolved and guidelines established, members become confident in their purpose and contribution to the team.
4. Performing—like a well-oiled machine, a team that effectively navigates the first three stages will achieve optimal performance. Each joint work to supply the other.
This aspect of team building is quite similar to the challenges of merging families. Keeping It Simple, a short story by Veronica Grabill in the book, Blended Families An Anthology explains how her family maneuvered through the stages of stepfamily development. A portion of her story is below:
I met Vic at a church event. Divorced for four years, he was the custodial parent of his seven-year-old daughter, Ashley. I a divorced mother of three children; LaKeisha was seventeen, Ryan was nine and Lauren was four-years old.
During our months of dating, we selected activities that included our children to develop their acceptance of our relationship. We rode bikes, hiked at John Bryan State Park and then stopped by Young’s Dairy for milk shakes. Some days, we played on the swing set in the backyard.
As our relationship flourished, we involved the children in planning our wedding. My kids struggled to accept a new father and sister. With Ashley being an only child who lived with her father, her adjustment to three new siblings and a stepmother was not easy.
We felt it was vital for our children to feel a part of the dynamics of being in a new family. When we went house hunting, we focused on purchasing a home that provided all the children with their own bedroom to personalize as they chose. As the oldest child, LaKeisha had a lower-level room with a deck. Her siblings had hopes of moving down there once she moved out on her own. Ryan, our athlete, had a soccer and basketball décor. Ashley wanted peacocks painted on her wall that we decorated with rich burgundy tones. Lauren chose teal and lavender with dragonflies to decorate her room. This ownership provided each child a place in the family and a sense of belonging.
Everyone had assigned chores including making the bed and being dressed for breakfast. This expectation worked amazingly well. The kids needed parameters and guidelines and the routine relieved lots of morning stress.
We had family meetings on a regular basis. The gatherings gave everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. Anyone could call a meeting whenever they had something on their heart—be it a complaint, concern or hurt feelings. This format enabled us to put everything on the table and avoid emotional eruptions from built-up anxiety.
As a bedtime ritual, the kids took turns having devotions in their room. Vic and I prayed with each child individually in his/her room prior to turning out the lights.
We committed to finding a church together. We wanted to get involved and worship as a family. We didn’t want to go to his church or my church, so we set out to find a church together. We visited seven or eight churches before we found one that the family called home.
From the onset, we committed to attending the kids’ school activities and sporting events as a family. The you-go-to-your-child’s-event-and-I’ll-go-to-mine philosophy was unacceptable.
Vic and I talked about the benefits of sessions with a professional counselor. We discussed it as a family unit and then made an appointment with a Christian counselor. Each child shared his or her feelings about the divorce and remarriage in a non-threatening environment. We wanted our children to understand that they were not at fault for the failed marriages. The sessions with the unbiased person were priceless. They knew that Vic and I would do everything in our power—with the guidance of God Almighty—to be committed to this marriage. The assurance put them at ease.
Vic carved out time with each child. The one-on-one interaction made them feel special. Every Saturday, he took a child for breakfast at a restaurant of their choice—just the two of them.
All of the kids followed the same visitation schedule. They left on the same day and returned home around the same time. This technique worked for several reasons: no one felt left out or missed out on anything while they were at their other parent’s house. It also gave Vic and me much-needed time to ourselves.
When the kids returned home, we did not drill them about activities. We did not want to make them feel guilty for having fun or loving the other parent. This rule helped to smooth the transition between homes. We did not criticize what they did with the other family. Nor did we try to compete by comparing events, vacations or shopping trips. We created an environment that was normal, loving and accepting: a stable home for the children.
I am happy to say that thirteen years later our marriage is solid. We have successfully raised our children to be responsible, outgoing, social individuals. They have spread their wings and ventured out into the world.
The bestselling author of Blended Families An Anthology, Valerie J. Lewis Coleman has helped thousands of families navigate the challenges of child support, visitation, discipline and more. With over twenty years of experience in family and relationships, this expert has given advice on varying issues including baby-momma drama, defiant children and disapproving in-laws. On her journey to assist others with building strong families, she shares her personal testimony and practical tools to help you stop the stepfamily madness in your home! To learn more about Valerie, her books and overcoming relational matters, visit PenOfTheWriter.com.
Photo credit © Darren Baker