I’ve always been interested in how my family operated.
I can remember specific times in my life where I could see how I thought my family system was about to change. As a 14 year-old, I wrote a paper about my perspective on my sister’s upcoming wedding. I clearly remember stating my point of view that I was not losing a sister, but gaining a brother. Eight years later, while in college, I lost my grandmother unexpectedly, and I watched my entire family figure out how to handle the new void in the system. And now, I write this newsletter as I await the birth of a new niece or nephew. I know this new baby will again change our family system.
The thing is, change isn’t bad. It’s inevitable though.
Family systems theory, the basis of many counseling programs, sees the family as an emotional unit. When one part of the system changes, the system needs to re-calibrate. Changes in the system also happen when the functioning of a family member changes. The connectedness and reactivity within the family unit make the functioning of family members interdependent. The same happens when a family member is added or removed from the system. Sometimes this transition happens over time such as adding family members through marriage, adoption, or birth. There are other times where it is not planned, like a death in the family.
Adding family members allows the opportunity to create new bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. But, it’s important to acknowledge that the transition can be bumpy. Some family members won’t be welcoming, some won’t like the change, and others may wish it was like the “old days.”While change is hard, it can also be beautiful.
Don’t feel like you need to combat these feelings.
We have some tips for how to manage when your family system changes:
- Hear them out. Listen, listen, and listen some more to your family members who are having a hard time adapting to the “new” dynamics. Their feelings are valid and its crucial to not outcast them in the transition process.
- Give it time. Don’t expect your family or yourself to be completely comfortable right away. It’s natural for some time to pass before a new “normal” sets in.
- Encourage openness. Embrace change yourself and model for others how to be open to changes that happen in the family system.
- Establish new bonds. Identify new family traditions or “special” moments with that new family member. This can be as simple as an inside joke with your new brother-in-law or a special tradition you create each time you have the birth of a new baby.