Feeling at Home in Blended Families

Blended families come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes there are two sets of children who are living in the new family home at the same time, but more often children will be entering the new family home and leaving again at various intervals. For instance, Mom may have her 2 boys living with her during the week and staying with their biological dad every weekend. Mom’s new husband may have his daughter and son coming to the new home every Wednesday evening and alternate weekends. With kids coming and going like this, the new home can have a chaotic flavor to it. However, firmly established family routines can counter this feeling, adding predictability and stability to the family.

To help increase feelings of stability and cohesiveness in your blended family, consider the following tips:

Try to Establish a Family Dinner Hour
If there is any day or days in which all the children from both previous marriages are in the house at the same time, try to establish a family dinner hour. For instance, let’s say that all the kids are together in your home every Monday night and Tuesday night. In that case, try to limit after-school activities for at least one of those nights (or both nights, if possible) and make a standard routine of having dinner together as a family. Mother and Father will arrange their schedules to be present and all the kids are available – it’s only a matter of committing to the importance of being all together that one (or two) night(s). In our culture where everyone is busy with so many work-related, school-related and personal development activities, it is not easy to arrange a weekly family dinner. However, if you can find a way to do it, your family will definitely feel more like a family. Moreover, family dinners have been found to be valuable to the development of kids (even from non-blended families!) for many reasons. Emotional stability, family cohesion, a chance to get to know each other and strengthen bonds – these are only some of the benefits of family dinners.

Arrange Routines Appropriate for Each Child’s Stage of Development
In some blended families, there are two different age-sets of kids. For instance, the children from one previous marriage might be 2 and 4, while from the other partner’s previous marriage, the kids are 10 and 13. This age-gap situation is more common in blended families than in non-blended families. It is important that each child is treated in a way that is appropriate for his or her age. The little kids may need to go to bed by 7p.m. while the big ones stay up till 9 or 10. Blending families does not mean ignoring real differences. The “family bedtime routine” becomes a matter of working through two different bedtimes in the household each night.

Not Blending Well
Sometimes kids from divorced homes end up “falling between the cracks.” For instance, 14-year old Jake stays with his Dad’s new family every other weekend. Dad has two children from his new marriage, aged 3 and 5. Jake’s step-mom Carol is very busy with the kids and she doesn’t seem to know much about teenagers. She’s always on Jake’s case to clean up his room when he comes or to be quiet so the little ones can sleep and so on. Jake feels like an intruder in what should really be his home. He reacts by being sullen with Carol, and he doesn’t care much to please her. He resents his Dad for breaking up his family. All-in-all, Jake’s sense of stability and security have been deeply challenged. If Dad added a couple of simple routines during Jake’s visits, Jake might have a much better adjustment. For instance, it would be great if there was always at least one family dinner during Jake’s stay (see above). Perhaps, Jake could choose a task that he would like to do with the younger kids during his visit – give them a bath, or read them a story, or play ball, or cards or something. If there was one activity that Jake did with those kids every time he came, this routine could help make him an important part of Dad’s new family instead of just an outsider who enters the house. Step-Mom could make a routine of sitting down for 5 minutes with Jake each visit just for a one-on-one chat – catch up, chat, bond. Perhaps that routine would center around a favorite treat that she has ready for him at each visit, whether that is a can of soda or a home-made brownie or whatever he likes. Doing the same thing over and over again is what turns an activity into a routine. In order for Jake to feel that he is in a home – his home – and he is not just a visitor to a hotel, he needs to have some regular responsibilities and accountability. A curfew, a task (take out garbage, clean the yard or whatever) and other normal family routines will help him feel that he is actually IN a family when he is staying with his Dad.

Reducing Chaos
Routines are important to every child. However, they are even more important in helping to stabilize blended families. Parents need to be organized, responsible and consistent. Children get picked up and dropped off at regular times. They go to bed at the same time during the week and the pre-arranged time on weekends. In other words, there is no “free for all” just because a child is not always home. If the child has homework to be done, he is assigned a time in which he needs to do it. Dinner time should be regular – not 4 p.m. one night, 8p.m. the next night and 6p.m. the night after that. Eating at home is important and home-cooked food should be a big part of the menu. In other words, parents are doing everything to maintain the flavor of a stable, normal home environment as opposed to a vacation spot where everything goes. If you are finding it hard to establish consistent routines within your blended family, meet once or twice with a mental health professional or family counsellor who can help you put things in place. The enduring benefits of establishing healthy routines will be worth whatever investment you make.

Family Rituals and Routines

Rituals and routines add stability to family life and contribute to the smooth running of the household. Let’s look at some examples of rituals and routines that many people find helpful.

Bedtime Rituals
Bedtime rituals are useful for helping children’s minds and bodies settle down to prepare for sleep. Many parents start the bedtime ritual an hour or 45 minutes before the child’s actual bedtime. This allows for a leisurely transition from a high level of energy and activity to a slower paced rhythm and winding down for the night. A typical beditme ritual for young children consists of the following activities:

  • bedtime snack
  • wash face & brush teeth (with some nights including a full bath)
  • getting into pajama’s
  • bedtime stories
  • quiet time
  • lights out

Bathtime Rituals
Some people have a bathtime ritual for their young children. It helps kids focus on the task at hand – getting clean! Once the bathtime ritual begins, children stay in the bathroom until its completion (no running down the hallway). When children do the same thing in the same order each time, the process of cleaning up becomes automatic and easy for them. Here are some components of a bathtime routine:

  • wash face and brush teeth
  • get undressed as bath is filling
  • play with bath toys for a few minutes
  • wash hair
  • wash body
  • play a few minutes more
  • get out of bath and get dressed

Dinner Rituals
When families sit down to eat together – whether that is once or twice a week or whether it is every night – they may observe some rituals that foster decorum and civilized behavior at the table. For instance, in some households each child sits in the same chair every night. This makes for efficient seating instead of a nightly battle about who sits where. Some people may have prayer rituals before and/or after eating. This makes the meal a sanctified activity connected to something even larger than the family itself. Some people have a ritual of talking about the events of their day at the table, or sharing some positive news, or discussing a hot topic in politics, religion or current events. Instead of everyone talking at once, the father or mother may be designated as the “chair person” who helps initiate and maintain the flow of conversation. Some parents ask their children to wait until everyone (including the parents) have been served their meal before they start to eat. In some households, some meals are selected for special routines. For instance, some people celebrate Sabbath meals or weekend meals. These may have several courses such as a soup or salad course, a main course and a dessert. Some people assign tasks to each child or each person in the family: one sets the table, one serves the entree, one serves the main course, one serves dessert, one clears the table and so on. Or, a family might have a different routine altogether – for instance, it might be expected that each person takes off his or her own plate and washes it or puts it in the dishwasher. Whatever the particular routines and rituals, automatic processes at the dinner table help the meal run more efficiently and smoothly.

Special Rituals
Having unique family rituals can be both fun and emotionally enriching. Families can create any rituals they like – having popcorn every Saturday night, going on a drive every Sunday afternoon, going to a particular beach every weekend in the summer, having a favorite meal every Monday night and so on and so forth. Pleasureable weekly, monthly and seasonal rituals help family members bond and create wonderful memories to treasure for a lifetime.

Household Routines
Routines can be established for virtually anything: how laundry gets organized, washed, folded and put away; how rooms get cleaned; how food shopping happens, how people pack for trips and so on and so forth. All routines help tasks flow more quickly and smoothly. As children grow older and can participate in household routines, they are able to incorporate important self-care routines into their consciousness. In adulthood, they will find it easy and natural to look after themselves and their homes. The less routine there is in a household, the more difficult it can be for children to pick up the rhythms of household management. In fact, the more chaotic a household is (lacking routines), the more challenging it can be for the children to decipher and learn the steps involved in self-care and household management.

Some families have routines for meals: dinner on Monday is always chicken, dinner on Tuesday is always pasta, dinner on Wednesday is always ground meat and so forth. Establishing this sort of routine makes shopping easy and routine as well (i.e. go food shopping once a week and always purchase one chicken, one type of pasta, ground meat etc.). There can be routines for making lunches, routines for getting out the door for school and routines for cleaning up toys and other messes. Routines do not have to be rigid, inflexible sets of rules and laws. They can be fun, flexible and loose. The main characteristic of a routine is that it contains certain elements that are repeated over and over again. It is the repetition that causes routines to be easily learned and applied.

Family Meals

Dinnertime is far more than the time when the family eats dinner! It is a time when children learn tremendous life lessons. Let’s examine a few examples of the profound effects of the nightly ritual we call “dinnertime.”

Routines Help Provide Security and Stability
Some families have dinner together every night of the week. In such homes, children enjoy the benefits of the predictable, regular ritual. Having dinner together is something the kids can count on. It structures the evening into “before dinnertime” activities and “after dinnertime” activities. It is a time when everyone will come together as a family, providing all the emotional security that family togetherness provides. In some homes, the family comes together for dinner only on the weekend or on selected nights of the week. Here too, the predictability and dependability of those particular dinner commitments help children feel grounded and stabilized. This is particularly true when children are shifting in and out of different households due to the divorce of their parents. Landing in a place that has a regular dinner ritual helps that place feel like a home. It reduces the feeling of chaos.

In homes where everyone eats at different times and rarely sits down together, the benefits of ritual and communal eating are lost. Children lose out on the stability and security that a regular family dinnertime can provide.

Dinnertime Teaches Children How People Get Along (or Don’t)
In some fortunate homes, dinnertime is a loving time. People share the news of the day. There is laughter, empathy, and discussion. Kids learn how to communicate, following the model of their parents. They learn how to show respect for others, take turns, listen, support each other and care. In such homes, parents are often parenting in an “authoratative” parenting style – warm and loving, with firm boundaries. When things go wrong at the table (i.e. one child bothers another), they handle the situation calmly and purposefully – effectively estabishing the rules for proper table behavior.

In some homes, parents haven’t got as much control of the situation as they really need. The children may be a bit (or a lot) more out of control, as a consequence. Perhaps there is bickering, teasing, or outright fighting at the table. Maybe the parents try to manage the situation with shouting, threats and punishments. Or perhaps the parents are the ones doing the bickering and arguing. Either way, the feeling of the dinner hour is tense, chaotic and unpleasant. Not only are children NOT learning how to communicate in healthy ways, but they are actually learning how to communicate in unhealthy ways!

Dinnertime Teaches Values
In some homes, parents teach their children to wait for their parents to start eating before they start to eat – as a sign of respect and appreciation. They might teach their kids good manners – to ask for items to be passed instead of reaching across the table themselves, to say please and thank, to ask to be excused, to thank the “cook” and so on. In such homes, dinnertime is used to teach children how to behave in socially acceptable ways. In other homes, anything goes. Etiquette is not on the agenda. Kids eat with their mouths open, talk with their mouths full, grab with their hands.

In some homes, children are taught to eat what’s on their plate. In other homes, they’re taught to eat until they feel full. Some kids are forced to eat what is put before them, while others are allowed to have something else to eat if they don’t like what is being served. However parents decide to manage food issues teaches kids a “philosophy of food.” Consider the following examples: “In our house we went hungry if we wouldn’t eat dinner.” or “In our house, we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we ate dinner.” or “In our house, Mother would make 5 different dinners – one for each of us.” or  “In our house, you could have cheese on bread for dinner every night if you wanted to.” These experiences become embedded in the child’s memory banks and come to haunt him when he becomes a parent. He’ll either want to do what his parents did or absolutely refuse to do it their way. In either event, the lessons of childhood dinnertimes tend to last a lifetime.

Positive Family Memories

Why is it so important to build positive family memories? Throughout life, purchase walking down memory lane can be a wonderful, heartwarming activity for anyone. Thinking of the fun and special times the family spent together can provide a real boost during periods when life is difficult. Going through the family history can affirm how far everyone has gone! Being able to remember people who have passed away, or are not accessible for some reason, can help keep someone’s presence alive. And there is of course a sense of bonding and family unity when you know that everyone has journeyed together all these years.

How can parents help build memories for their family that will last? Consider the following tips:

This may sound like common sense, but it’s still worth mentioning. Before thinking of ways to preserve memories, why not start by proactively creating moments you and everyone in the family will want to look back on? Don’t over-plan an event; it’s not about how grand something is but rather about how the event feels to everyone. In fact, even a simple get together in front of the TV can be a memory everyone will want to treasure – especially when there has been laughter and warmth involved. Simple moments can create cherished family memories.

Don’t Hesitate to Verbalize How a Family Moment Has Struck You
Create the habit of sharing with your family what a special moment means to you. “This is great, isn’t it? We haven’t gone fishing together in such a long time!” When kids know that a moment matters to a parent, they are more likely to appreciate it. Similarly, encourage your children to share what strikes them about what the family is doing. It may feel awkward at first, but it’s also training them to attend to the value of the simple things in life!

Invest in Photo Albums, Video Recording, Journals and Scrapbooks
This is the digital age. Preserving a memory is not as expensive and as labor-intensive as it used to be. You can make memories in many media including old-fashioned photos, on-line galleries, audio and video recordings and even fabric crafts (i.e. pillows, shirts and mugs bearing the family portrait!). As much as you can, spend time in making materials that you can use to remember the times you want to remember. You can even make scrapbooking into a family event. How about that: the family’s efforts to preserve memories can be a memory to preserve too!

Do Reminisce from Time to Time
What’s the use of building memories when you can’t go back to them on occasion? Start a ritual where the family can get to recall all the great things the family has done — it can be something that you do every Thanksgiving, for example. Do put on your wedding video, or the documentation of baby Joshua’s first steps on the TV, on random occasions. These may be simple activities but it can create closeness in your family. When you can look back happily on what was, you can look forward happily to what will be.

Funerals and Death Ceremonies

The death of a loved one is one of the most painful and most stressful experiences in the world. It’s literally the end of a family structure, and a push towards life without the person who passed away. While funerals and death ceremonies can never heal wounds or bring what’s lost back, they can provide symbolic closure to a difficult moment.

Why are funerals and death ceremonies so important when grieving? Consider the following:

Acknowledgment of Pain
The family is in pain, and rituals can help acknowledge the fact. Funerals and death ceremonies provide that moment when each member can say “I am devastated.” Being able to feel the emotions that come with a loss is the first step in grieving and eventually moving on. If feelings are repressed, they just get bottled up inside the person — which can force grieving in less than optimal ways. In a way you can say that funerals and death ceremonies are the family’s way of saying: “it’s alright to feel confused, sad and angry.”

Moments of Support and Sympathy
Funerals and death ceremonies are family events, and also involve non-family members who are significant to the person(s) who passed and their survivors. This is because the death of a loved one is a situation difficult to manage in isolation. You need the support of all the people who care about you — your friends, neighbors, co-workers and extended relatives. Funerals and death ceremonies are opportunities for those who lost a loved one to help each other get through the worst. It’s also a way for people to express their sympathies, prayers and wishes to the family.

An Opportunity to Say Goodbye
In the events leading up to funerals and death ceremonies, the loss may not be really felt in full yet. Shock and confusion may still be the prevailing emotion, as well as normal denial of the situation. The rituals, then, provide family members with the opportunity to say goodbye — and acknowledge that the deceased has gone, but will be remembered. For example, seeing the deceased’s casket lowered to the ground can be a symbolic way of letting go. The same goes for leaving flowers and candles on the grave. Many people who, for some reason or the other, never get to attend the funeral and the death ceremony of a loved one often have trouble accepting the loss.

A Way to Close Open Issues
It’s not unheard of for unfinished business to exist between the person who passed away and his or her survivors. Perhaps there were things that were left unsaid. Or maybe the relationship with the deceased wasn’t always pleasant and left a mark. Funerals and death ceremonies provide opportunities to be able to close these issues in a positive way. Family members, for example, can create a ritual where they all get to express a final message about or to the deceased. Letting go of the person can also involve letting go of past resentments, unmet needs and things that will never be.

Children and Funerals
Children find funeral and mourning rituals as helpful as adults do. However, some young children may find burial services traumatic. For deaths that are not involving very close family members like parents, siblings and grandparents, it is not necessary to bring young children to the cemetery burial. When close family members are involved, take the personality of each child into consideration before deciding what to do. If possible, get advice from a professional or clergy member. Older children may benefit from attaining more closure after witnessing burial (just like adults do) but some younger children may develop fears and anxieties around loved ones “suffocating” in a box or in the ground. Each child is different. Whether or not a child attends the burial, however, it is important for all children to partake of mourning rituals in order to facilitate grieving and healing. Family get-togethers, “shiva” in the Jewish religion and other ceremonies help surround children with loving familial and communal support. It breaks the isolation of loss and helps them feel that life and loving support, continues. Consider professional grief counseling if you see that your child is suffering from intense and/or unremitting grief after loss.

Weddings and Other Celebrations

Family celebrations are not just occasions to have fun, but also important learning opportunities. Most parents tend to exclude children in making plans for family events, seeing them as more of a distraction than a key participants. But when parents give children an active role to play during preparations for weddings, anniversaries, victory parties, and religious milestones like baptisms, dedications, and bar/bat mitzvahs, they help them learn a lot about their family, their faith and their core family values.

In what ways can parents involve children during weddings and other celebrations? Consider the following tips:

Always Explain What is Behind a Celebration
Milestones and achievements are worthy of celebration – but why? Explain to your child what is so special about a wedding (i.e. commitment, love, spiritual values, community relationships and so on) or other special event. Try to take it beyond the food and fun. You can say something like the following, modifying it to fit your own values: “Uncle David is getting married to his girlfriend Carol! Carol will become part of our family now – she’ll be your aunt. Weddings bring more people into our family to love. Maybe one day David and Carol will have children and those children will be your cousins. We’re all going to the church/synagogue/mosque for the wedding because people get married in front of all their friends and relatives and God. A person’s wedding day is one of the most important days in his or her life. You can help make it special by helping us make the cookies for their engagement party.”

Involve the Children in the Planning of the Celebration
Another way parents can make family celebrations fruitful for children is to involve them in the planning and preparation stage.This may be most appropriate when arranging a party at home for one of the members of the nuclear family. “We’re making a birthday party for Daddy’s 40th birthday. We’re starting to think of what we should do to make the party special. So far, we’re thinking that we’ll have balloons and a banner and we’d like you guys to make up a funny poem or story to tell about Daddy. But what other ideas do you have for the party?” When children are part of the effort, they will naturally learn to appreciate celebrations in their lives. These special events don’t “just happen.” Loved ones go to a lot of trouble to make things beautiful, meaningful and pleasureable. Most importantly, children will learn the intense pleasure of doing for others; it is very satisfying to bring happiness to other people and all too often, children are robbed of that particular pleasure. Involving them in part planning and participation provides education in how to give, as well as the pleasureable experience of giving itself.

Give Your Child a Role in the Celebration
As a family member, your child is more than a guest. If there are important family occasions, give kids a role, such as usher in a birthday toast or flower-girl/ring-bearer in a wedding. Being part of the actual ritual makes a child feel involved and appreciated — a part of the family. It also facilitates bonding with the rest of the clan. Family occasions after all mean solidarity in the family — so it makes sense not to leave kids behind! When photos are taken and the child sees him or herself as an important part of the celebration, it helps create lifelong impressions of the importance of giving, loving and celebrating.

Use Occasions to Help Kids Manage Difficult Transitions
Some family occasions can be emotional moments for children. Having a big celebration like a bar mitzvah, graduation or wedding right after a parent passes away can be very hard on a child. Or, having such a celebration while a parent is deathly ill, can be very difficult. Similarly, having such a celebration when the child himself is dealing with serious illness or trauma can also be hard. In addition, the re-marriage of a parent after a death or divorce can be difficult, as it’s both a hello to a new family life and a goodbye to the old. In all these cases, sensitivity is required. Don’t force a child to participate if he doesn’t want to. Allow him to have his natural feelings of grief and/or resentment. You can use “emotional coaching” (the naming of feelings) to show him that you understand and accept his emotions. For instance, Jan and Ted divorced 3 years ago. Jan had since become involved with a new man, named Joe. She had dated Joe for 7 months but only introduced him to her son 2 months ago. The boy had been complaining to his mom that he didn’t want to come to the wedding. This is what Jan said to her 10 year old son a few weeks before she was to marry her new boyfriend Joe. “I know the wedding day is going to be a hard one for you. You still miss Daddy and wish that he were part of our family again. That is very natural. And I know that while you kind of like Joe, you really don’t know him all that well yet and you’re not sure how this is all going to be for us. And the truth is, we need time to see how things are going to be (although I’m marrying Joe because I believe he’ll be a good man in our family). Right now, I guess you’re more upset than happy about all this. I can really understand why you don’t want to be at the wedding. We still have a few weeks to decide things. We’re not going to insist that you do anything that you aren’t comfortable with. We’ll talk more about this later. ”

When there are mixed emotions or just negative emotions, parents can include the child by asking him what level of involvement he’d like, where he’d like to sit, what role he’d like to play. Respecting the child’s responses and working with him can be healing as well as caring. When a child feels that he won’t be pushed, it helps him WANT to be part of things (in his own time). At times like these, it isn’t about what other people will think; it’s about what the child really needs.

Reducing Stress at Family Gatherings

While the idea of happy family gatherings is heartwarming, the reality of these get-togethers is more complex. Family gatherings can be fun or they can be stressful. They can be uplifting or maddening – or they might be a little of everything! It all depends on who is in the family and how you feel about them. Family members are people who are thrown together by birth and marriage; they are not like friends we have carefully chosen. These are people we must deal with whether we like them or not. Quite often, there are difficult people included in the group who may have caused us pain and aggravation. Usually, there is one or more person who has hurt us and disappointed us and there are some others who are just plain annoying.  Fortunately, there are also likely to be some who we truly enjoy being around. All of these “loved ones” come together for family celebrations and holidays to enjoy feelings of closeness and community.

Let’s look at some tips for minimizing stress and increasing the pleasure of these gatherings.

Family Relationships are Important to Kids
Children are nourished by family gatherings. The extended circle of love makes them feel secure in a world which is often fragmented and isolated. The ritual celebration of holidays brings a sense of stability and meaning to the child’s world. If your children are going to experience the family scene, you can help to make it as positive as possible for them by keeping your negative thoughts to yourself. Children do not benefit from hearing how you can’t stand the sight of Uncle Joe or how you will not be talking to Cousin May. If you have any conflicts with any family members, try to keep them under wraps for the duration of the gathering. Kids don’t have to know all of your business. Even if YOU don’t like a certain family member, you can still allow your child to enjoy that person’s company. (If you think that anyone is a threat of any kind to your child’s well-being, either don’t invite the person or don’t allow your child to attend the event).

Prepare Kids in Advance
Let your children know what you expect of them in advance. If there are rules you wish to establish (no yelling, running, cursing, grabbing or whatever), tell them before the gathering. You can also warn them that there will be negative consequences AFTER the gathering if they misbehave. Try very hard not to discipline children during a gathering as the embarrassment they feel can harm them. Of course, you’ll need to be realistic too – children who are seeing their cousins and other relatives can get over-excited and a bit wild. From their point of view, they may be having the time of their lives. Simply remind them quietly to settle down if necessary.

Do Not Disturb the Festive Atmosphere
Refrain from anything that might contribute to tension at the gathering. Don’t talk about “hot” topics. Don’t correct your spouse in public. Don’t criticize anyone or anything. Don’t argue with a relative about anything – it isn’t worth it. Your job is to keep the gathering upbeat and positive. This is a party! Keeping it this way is your gift to your children.

Teenagers are Independent
Often, teens go through a period where they don’t want to attend family gatherings. Usually this is temporary. Once they have found a life partner or  have kids of their own, they’ll be very interested in family gatherings again. Meanwhile, you can ask your teens to please attend for a short while and then allow them to go to do their own activities whether that involves leaving the house to be with their own friends or going to their own rooms to pursue their own activities. If your teen really doesn’t want to come for even 5 minutes, don’t push it; this may change by the next gathering or over the course of the next few years. As long as you report having a great time, the door remains open for your teen or young adult to join you on another occasion. If your adolescents are happy to attend the gathering – that’s great! You might even put them to work! At this age, they can help with serving and clearning or table setting or whatever. Try to listen to their ideas and suggestions and implement them, giving them a voice in how things will be set  up, arranged or conducted. This can help them “own” the scene and enjoy it even more. If you are at another relative’s home, encourage your teens to offer their assistance. This is sure to earn them positive feedback, helping them to feel important in the family scheme of things. But don’t over do it – a few minutes of helping is all that is necessary. Let your teens just relax and talk to people. Welcome them in joining the “grownups” in more adult conversation if they show an interest to be there. If they want to hang with the young people, be careful not to correct them or criticize them in front of others. No warnings not to drink too much and so on – do all of that in private before you get to the party. This is not the time to be “parental.” Just smile and wave!  By treating your teens as if they are no longer little kids, you can help them become “young ladies and gentlemen” within the family context – you are promoting them to the next level. When they experience their enhanced status, they are more likely to want to attend future gatherings.

Terminal Illness in the Family

It is hard to have to deal with serious illness in a loved one. However, when the illness is considered to be terminal (fatal or incurable), it is all the harder. Of course there are all the present, practical concerns such as arranging health care, and maintaining the continuing functioning of the family. In the case of terminal illness there is the additional stress of seeing someone you care about battle a disease he or she isn’t likely to win, along with the anticipated grief of loss and unresolved issues from the past. There is no way to make terminal illness in the family easy to bear. But there are some things that can be done to help lighten everyone’s load.

If you are dealing with terminal illness in the family, consider the following tips:

Educate Yourself about the Illness
When dealing with terminal illness in the family it is helpful to get to know the disease as well possible. Understanding the symptoms to expect, having an approximate timeline for the unfolding of the illness and learning about experimental treatment options available to the patient, can help the family maintain some sense of control amidst a chaotic situation. Grounding the family in sound medical opinion can help in making plans and decisions.

Talk about the Terminal Illness, Even with Your Sick Family Member
When there’s a heavy emotional issue in a household, it’s very tempting to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. This denial may be well-intentioned; perhaps you don’t want to upset your sick loved one by discussing an obviously painful subject, or perhaps the family wants to protect its younger members from any further trauma. But keeping silent on the issue just forces everyone to repress negative emotions.

The best support system for family members of a terminally ill patient are fellow family members who understand what is going on. Let the crisis be an opportunity for everyone to bond together, and offer each other much needed care and understanding. Families have been known to find grace in troubled times, grace that helps make members be closer and more resilient.

This may also be the opportunity to say to your sick loved one the positive things you haven’t said before, to express love, gratitude and forgiveness. Get to know your sick loved one’s wishes; wishes for both for immediate concerns like the treatment plan and arrangements for care, as well as future plans for the surviving family.

Share Responsibilities
There are many things that need to be done when there is terminal illness in the family. There’s caring 24/7 for the sick loved one, making sure that household duties such as getting dinner on the table is still happening and looking for additional finances to meet incoming large medical bills. If possible, don’t assign just one caretaker to help prevent care-provider burns out. Instead, look for ways everyone can contribute to manage the crisis. Even younger kids can have a role to play; in fact, new responsibilities can ease feelings of helplessness about the situation.

Make Sure Everyone Takes Self-Care Seriously
Terminal illness in a family causes serious stress, which is why it’s important that everyone — even the youngest family member — knows how to stop for a while and take care of one’s self.

Having a friend or professional outside the family to talk  to can help; during a crisis issues and emotions can get so messed up, it helps to get a fresh perspective. Making sure that everyone gets ample “me” time for rest, relaxation, fu, normal life and maybe a bit of meditation and prayer is also a good thing. Similarly, keeping the entire family’s good health in mind, through proper diet and exercise ensures the family members get a new start everyday.

If it’s an available option, joining a community support group is a good way to aim for self-care. Support groups are made up of people going through the same experience, which helps in removing the feeling of aloneness and intense stress that comes with terminal illness. If a support group is not available in one’s state or area, an online support group may work just as well.

Moving to a New Home

There are many reasons why families move from one home to another. Change of location for employment, separation or divorce, expansion of the household or the desire to be near extended family members are common motives behind a move. Another possible reason for a move is a change in financial situation: having a tighter or looser budget can prompt the desire to go house-hunting. Sometimes people move in order to change neighborhoods, looking for safer areas, or areas with more similar cultural or religious values, or areas that are more family-oriented. No matter what the reason for a move, the project itself is always challenging. Financial cost, physical efforts and psychological stress all make moving a serious undertaking for adults.

Moving with Kids
Just as moving is stressful for parents, the many changes that come with going from one home to another can take its toll on children. A child’s attachment to a home goes beyond liking the physical structure of a house. There’s also the many roots a child has made in a particular place. Moving means saying goodbye to friends and playmates, transferring to another school, maybe even adjusting to new weather conditions. In the case of divorce or separation, moving also means a new distance from a loved and cherished parent.

How can parents help ease their children into the transitions that come with changing residence? Consider the following tips:

Don’t Blindside Your Child with a Move
As with all changes, adjustment is better when there’s minimal shock. Even before making the decision to move, sit down with your child and discuss the idea of moving. Gauge how much resistance he has to the prospect and where his feelings are coming from. Use emotional coaching (the naming of feelings) to show acceptance and understanding of your child’s reaction. “Yes, it can be very upsetting to have to leave your friends,” or “Yes, I know you love this house so much,” or “Yes, it would be a bit scary to have to start a new school.” DO NOT “undo” your emotional coaching by then trying to talk your child out of his feelings. Instead, just acknowledge the feelings and stop talking. This gives your child the space he needs to reassure himself. If you don’t say another word, the child will often continue the conversation saying things like, “but maybe we’ll have an even nicer house” and so forth. Even if the child doesn’t say anything right now, it’s fine. He needs time to process the information and mourn his losses. You don’t want to rob him of this important work by trying to cheer him up. When the child sees that you are moving regardless of any objections he may have, he will help himself to make the necessary adjustment.

For very young children, help prepare them for a move by reading story-books on the subject of moving. Your local librarian can help you select age-appropriate materials that explain and illustrate the entire process of moving homes.

Prepare Them for the New House
Fear of the unknown is what gives many children anxiety about moving. When kids know very little about what is to come, they tend to imagine the worst. If the new residence is near enough, scheduling a visit or a drive can be helpful for a child. If it’s some distance away, pictures and websites can be useful. A little sales talk will not be amiss; share with your child all the things they can look forward to in the new place. Make it feel like an exciting adventure.

Seek Their Help in Packing
If a child is willing, let him help in putting belongings in boxes and bubble wraps. While packing can get very emotional — for parents as well as for children — it’s helpful in orienting the psyche to the reality of moving.

Let Children Say Goodbye to Those They are Leaving Behind
There are real losses and it’s healthy to make sure your children face them. Give them time to say goodbye to friends, classmates and neighbors. Drive them around town so that they can have a last look at the community they are leaving behind. If advisable, organize a going-away party. Goodbye rituals for the home are helpful also — give your child some privacy to walk through the empty rooms and halls before finally saying farewell. If possible, take pictures of everyone and everything that will be left behind. These can be put in a special album for regular viewing anytime the child wants to walk down memory lane.

Unpack Your Child’s “Security Blankets” First
The first night in a new home is usually the toughest, especially if the new residence is yet to be arranged and decorated to resemble an inviting living space. When this happens, it’s best to unpack first all the things that give your child comfort and security such as their toys, linens, pillows, blankets and photographs. Being able to hold on to something familiar while in a strange new place is helpful, especially for really young children.

Have a “Hello” Ritual
If the family had a goodbye ritual as they bid farewell to their old residence, they should also have a hello ritual to welcome all that there is to come. Schedule a drive around the new neighborhood so that your child can get acquainted to his or her new environment. Check out what activities your child can enjoy there; do visit the local playground or the community center that offers classes and clubs. And if you can encourage your child to meet new people, like the other kids in the neighborhood, then they can adjust better to being in a new place.

Give Your Child Time
Lastly, be patient. Kids can’t be expected to adjust to change overnight. Expect sleepless nights, temper tantrums, and even crying spells during your first weeks in a new house. Don’t reprimand your child for these perfectly normal reactions. Instead, offer your emotional support (welcome and accept feelings!) and be patient. Soon their new home will be their true home.

New Baby in the Family

The arrival of a new baby can be threatening to an older sibling. After being the sole apple of parents’ eyes, a new “creature” suddenly taking all the attention can trigger jealousy, anger and sadness. Younger children may fear that parents will no longer love them once the new baby settles in. They may also develop resentment over having to give up certain things, like sole use of a a bedroom or a particular game or activity.

What can parents do to help their young children adjust to the arrival of a new baby? Consider the following tips:

Prepare Your Children
The best way to buffer a child’s anxiety is to not blindside them with the changes that are coming. In the last trimester of pregnancy, inform your children what to expect. Show them pictures and videos of infant development – your library and the internet are great resources! Emphasize that babies are helpless, and therefore will need a lot of mommy and daddy’s care (just as they did at that stage): they need to be fed, held, changed, burped, dressed, bathed and all the rest. Let them know that it won’t always be that way because babies turn into toddlers and kids who can feed themselves, dress themselves and use the toilet.

Give Your Children Responsibilities
Kids may feel less left out, if they know they have a role to play in the new family structure. New responsibilities can make children feel needed – indispensable and appreciated –  unlike the baby who just cries and cries! Kids can assist in many ways; during feeding, bathing and dressing the baby. Just remember to thank and compliment them for a job well done! Also, if these “helpers” are little guys themselves, make sure to allow them to continue to be little in their own right. A two year old, for instance, is not a big girl! She is “Mommy’s best little helper.” When a toddler or pre-schooler is allowed to enjoy the benefits of littleness even though a baby has entered the family, the young child suffers much less. She is not “de-throned” or promoted beyond her stage of life. She continues to be loved and coddled as the little person she truly is, even though there is now an even littler person in the house as well.

Highlight the Positive
It’s fine to talk about the benefits of siblings that will eventually come. Remember – it takes a really long time (especially from a child’s perspective) before a sibling can become a fun playmate. However, it is certainly something to look forward to. “Just think – one day you and little Joe will be able to play ball together! Won’t that be fun?”

Explain Why Rules can be Bent for the Baby
One of the common causes of resentment against a new baby is perceived preferential treatment. A 7 month old baby who accidentally breaks his or her older sibling’s toy is not likely to be reprimanded; after all, what does the baby know? Instead, the older sibling may even get the brunt of the blame, for handing the toy to the baby to begin with! It’s important then for parents to explain to their older children that babies are not accountable for what they do, and it’s up to bigger people to make sure that they do not get in harm’s way.

Spend  Quality Time with Your Older Children While You Hold the Baby
Jealousy can be minimized if parents ensure that they don’t neglect their older children. It’s understandable that parents are overwhelmed and exhausted after bringing a new baby into the family. However, the other child or children still need so much parental attention. Put the baby on your lap and invite the others around for storytime. Or, put the baby in the stroller and take the others to the park. Or, wear the baby in a carrier and take the others to the mall. Babies just need to be held, and older children just need to be interacted with – so it can all happen at the same time. There is no need to leave the baby at home while you take the others out. In fact, this can increase insecurity in the other children as they see for themselves that you are willing to abandon your infant. Little kids are more than happy to have the baby come along and be involved in all their activities. They love the feeling of being one big happy family.

New Mothers Need Extra Rest
Sometimes this temporary absence leaves toddlers and pre-schoolers feeling abandoned. One way around this is to invite little ones to lie down for nap time in Mom’s room (if they’re the cooperative types) or to make sure they are with a favorite babysitter or engaged in a special activity while Mom naps. This may be the time to invest in a new toy, craft kit, computer game or video.

Remember to “Gush” Over the Toddlers as Well as the Baby
One way to do this is to talk to the baby “through” the toddler. “Look Tara! Do you see that cute face baby Jon just made? Isn’t he funny?” This is preferrable to ignoring Tara while talking directly to the baby. In the latter scenario, Tara is likely to feel ignored or less important or less adored; her “solution” might be to try to get your attention inappropriately.

Cut Them Some Slack When They Act Out
When there is a new baby in the household, kids may act-out to demand your attention. They may regress behaviorally, and act as if they are infants themselves. They may misbehave at home or school. Understand that all these mini-rebellions are just means of expressing their upset feelings (confusion, fear, sadness and anger); be extra patient and ignore the bad stuff as much as you can for a couple of months. Once the baby has become “old news,” you can return to normal standards of discipline.