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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Family Identity Begins At Home, Even in Blended and Step Families

Every child needs a place where they know they belong.  When they aren't included in the recess games or invited to the party, we can provide confidence that they are included and wanted in our homes, in our hearts - this is the privilege of family: Belonging.

Divorce complicates this because there is a division of loyalty among two homes.  The people who were once family (husband and wife) are no longer related to each other, but the child is still connected to both.  This is a difficult concept for children to grasp and it rocks the core of their security.  Many wonder if their own connected-ness can be as easily severed?

At the core of family identity is belonging, and we may not realize that a child moving between two home may not feel a sense of belonging in either place.  Belonging is about having security in relationship to a group of people and gives a sense of worth that translates to all other groups: peers, school, church, community.  It can help them deal with challenges and difficulties and creates an important foundation for their own family one day.

I think often about our home and ways to create a sense of belonging for my children along with my step daughters.  They have lived here for many years and we have been here for just over one.  Balancing the identities of everyone requires some thought, but it's doable.

  1. When I first married Mr. Wonderful, I was excited to embrace my new last name!  I am proud to be Mrs. Robinson and wanted to Monogram the front door, the fireplace, all our napkins, you name it!  But my children have a different last name.  They are sensitive to the fact that our names aren't the same.  If I put a big "R" on my front door wreath, they don't connect with that.  It makes them feel more like an outsider than a part of the unit.  So, I have a monogram in my room, but elsewhere I'm keeping things more generic.
  2. Routines create a sense of predictable, consistent peace for a child who needs to know what is expected.  Bedtime stories, family meals and even cleanup provide stability.  Chaos in the home can create chaos within a heart, so habits like making the bed, wiping the counter, putting away dishes remind children that they are part of the family, not just sucking its resources.  A phrase I use often is "We are a family and families help each other." 
  3. Consider Tagxedo art on display somewhere in the common areas of your home.  Each family member can contribute words and it they will be artfully displayed together.
  4. Celebrate individuality.  Display artwork proudly, embrace photos of unique moments, create
    holiday traditions.  Notice what makes each person unique and embrace that - make sure he or she knows that the family isn't the same when they are away.  Communicate in a positive way, not reinforcing that you understand the need to be a part of another home, but that there is a place for them here. Always.  "Our home isn't the same when you're not here," isn't a negative message, but reinforces that their presence is a welcome part of your space.
  5. I've always been a big fan of tradition and it is possible to merge two unique families into new, but familiar, tradition.  It's fun to learn how to do life together.
  6. Create opportunities for each person to talk, listen and be heard.  Mealtimes, bedtimes, and transition times between activities or school often provide space for this.  Emphasize the importance of courtesy, not interrupting and hearing others, too.  We don't have this skill down among my elementary children, yet, so I use phrases like, "I'm listening to --- right now, but I want to hear what you have to say in just a minute."  Or, "It's ----'s turn to talk, you're next."  
  7. Provide a sense of history.  My children beam when I talk about their baby days or relate a story from their grandparents.  Baby books, portraits, older toys and valuable heirlooms are important - perhaps more so in the families of divorce because so much of that feels lost as the original family disintegrates.  I can be intentional about rebuilding that sense of history and we get to write a whole new story from which these souls will launch.

The message that your child is valuable, respected and loved begins at home but resonates into the world.  By teaching them a positive sense of self and belonging we can encourage them to be confident wherever they are.  They can gain a sense of self, learn to voice their thoughts, make personal choices a shape their own futures as part of our legacy.

I'd love to hear your ideas about providing identity for your children,  as a family unit and an individual.  Do you think about this?  Are there any step moms who work to include non-bio-children?  That's what I'm writing about next.

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