The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up

For a while there, whenever our dual-family family was ironing out some major issues—like which kid was living where, and for how long—we’d have these really intense family meetings.

We’d all sit around the kitchen table after dinner, or in the living room, half of us sprawled on the floor… and we’d talk.

One of the adults would bring up the main issue to handle, and at first, it would seem just like a regular business meeting.

Here are the facts. Here are the problems. Here’s what I think we should do….

And then another adult might reasonably respond.

And then that’s when the bees would start streaming out of their nest. The bats would pour out of their cave at sunset. The fire ants would bubble up from their mound.

Because, of course, everyone felt the need to chime in on their position.

Depending upon their personality and whether they were an extrovert or an introvert, some of us were (cough) a little more vocal than others.

It would get pretty messy.

And sometimes, voices would be raised.

Occasionally, someone would storm off (only to drift back again).

Luckily, we all seemed to recognize when someone had been quiet for too long; conflicting emotions visible in their face, eager to be expressed, yet fearful of being vulnerable, amping up the volume.

Often, there were tears.

During really stellar meetings, every single person in our stepfamily/single-parent family-family would take their turn and cry, their voice rising with confusion, hurt and anger.

You can imagine how long this all took.

And how tired we all were afterward!

But here’s the thing….

It was always such a SURPRISE to hear how others really and truly felt.

Really.

I mean, some of this stuff just seemed to come out of left field.

Like, Really? That’s what was going on with you? That’s what you thought I meant? That’s why you were doing and saying this? Because of this other thing that I had no idea about?!

Which is kind of pathetic, in a way….

Why weren’t we paying better attention to each other! To all the hidden clues in words and behavior? To facial expressions and little dropped hints? To conversations skirted around?

EVERY TIME we had one of our awkward and tumultuous family-family meetings, we’d get to this point where I’m SURE we all thought, Oh crap. We’ve really done it now. One, or two, or even ALL of us have dropped so many bombs here that we FOR SURE have blown up whatever connections existed between us before.

We’ve gone too far.

We’ve broken this.

We are screwed.

And I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this sense of sheer terror, this sense of fear and brain-scrambled, mental overwhelm, this ache in my stomach—like we were a bunch of kids playing with live dynamite in a remote fort tucked into a hill.

Who would find us when it all went off and the ground collapsed over our heads, burying us alive? And why in the world were we doing all this without the help of a trained counselor, a therapist, like normal people???

Somehow though… somehow… we’d keep going. We’d keep talking. Keep cajoling. Keep asking questions.

Keep listening.

And after so many verbal and emotional expulsions (the only word that seems to describe how it felt), something else would finally be detectable in the air.

Hope…. We sensed ourselves actively moving to a better place.

Respect…. For each other and our struggles, our pain.

Resolve…. To treat each other better. To pay closer attention. To do the right thing, even if it was hard.

Awe…. For being able to do this with each other, for being brave enough to look at the raw sloppiness of our inner selves, the stuff we normally hide from others – and show it.

Love…. For each other, for our vulnerabilities, our fears, our tender spots, even for our known and vehemently-denied handicaps.

And finally… gratitude. That we have managed to create something so fragile and beautiful, and yet also strong enough to bear the weight of each other.

Our family-family meetings always revealed the truth of things in all their messy, bumbling glory, in the end.

And with that truth came a new understanding of what was important to each of us… the breakable parts of each other that we must treat with extra care… what our new choices now were for moving forward.

We may not have left those meetings knowing exactly what was going to happen, but it was the clarifying light of that chaotic, but cathartic truth that let the right things unfold in the future, and those problems always ended up eventually “going away.”

I can’t even remember what most of them were now!

So…. I ask you:

In what ways do YOU feel like you don’t understand the truth of other people in your family-family?

What do you think you might be missing?

What do you feel is being kept from you?

What are YOU not telling others when it comes to things you are hurt or angry about?

In what ways might you be blind to some of the biggest priorities and fears of others?

(I love learning about these hidden forces at work in our dual families, so this week, I’ll be announcing a new course to share what I know, and to help you create more understanding in your own “family-family” for the new year aheadeven if things are really tough. You’ll have a chance to pre-register soon.)

What are your thoughts? I want to hear from you!!!


© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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Comments

  1. We don’t have family meetings. We are too far away, and the one time we did have one, it was a little weird.
    But sometimes I wish we did…..

  2. Kate, are you the mom or stepmom? You could always talk over the phone…. :-) But yeah, I know *exactly* what you mean about it seeming weird!

  3. I WISH this could happen for us! We were in counseling and BM was convinced that all we were ever trying to do the entire time was “gang” up on her. She also said she needed to know what topics we were going to bring up before hand so that she could come up with responses to them since she has no one “on her side”. The thing is, hubby and I wanted to become her partners…her co-parents…but she couldn’t ever do it and quit on the sessions:( Now, when there are important discussions to be had, she insists that its either JUST her and my DH at the meetings. If I go, she says she has to bring her Mommy (who is incredibly manipulative and confrontational and NOT a parent in this situation) so she has someone on her side! We aren’t out to get you biomom!!! We just need to chat….hear how you feel….ask you “why”….try to understand you….find the best way for the kids together….*sigh*

  4. Hi Jennifer, from Jennifer!

    Eeek, sounds tough. In a way, I can relate to the fears of being “ganged up on.” I remember when Carol (my co-author and stepmom to my kids) and David, my ex, got together. I’ve talked about this in the book, but I can’t tell you how exposed and insecure I felt, knowing they were dissecting his relationship with me, even if only in passing (many stepmoms have told me they steer clear of doing this). There wasn’t any way for me to verify whether they were talking about me or not, but my worst fears were that they were (and they later affirmed this).

    Not to say that you’re doing the same! I’m only discussing the above to illustrate a point. So there’s the feeling of exposure and being “defenseless.”

    The other weird thing was having to negotiate with a perfect stranger over issues related to my kids! It was very disorienting. My ex and I had had these kids together, but now, all of a sudden, there was this person I didn’t know in the picture who had the power to make decisions (even if only by influencing my ex), when I had never given that to her. On some core level, it seemed like an affront. And this may sound strange, when you only have the best interests of your stepkids in mind, but it always seemed *wrong* on some level to let another person have jurisdiction over my children that I hadn’t approved of and “vetted.” Does that make sense?

    Sounds like she feels threatened and like the power distribution feels uneven to her. She’s trying to pull it back to what’s she used to by only dealing with your husband during sessions. And she wants her mom there as another authority figure.

    Have you two ever met, alone? Do you think that might be a possibility? Perhaps if there were some way you could connect over the KIDS, if might work….

    I know it sounds scary. :-)

  5. Although the idea itself causes me great anxiety, I would love to meet with her alone one day. I can only hope that she would go for it as she continually sees me as a free nanny and NOT a parent. Thank you so much for the insight on her emotions. It’s really hard for me to “get” her and I think that you hit the nail on the head with a lot of what you said. I hope that one day we can laugh and share stories about the kids as friends and, if I am really lucky, that she might even thank me for not being an “evil stepmom”…a girl can dream, right?! Thank you for all of your hard work and all that you do!:)

  6. Although the idea itself causes me great anxiety, I would love to meet with her alone one day. I can only hope that she would go for it as she continually sees me as a free nanny and NOT a parent. Thank you so much for the insight on her emotions. It’s really hard for me to “get” her and I think that you hit the nail on the head with a lot of what you said. I hope that one day we can laugh and share stories about the kids as friends and, if I am really lucky, that she might even thank me for not being an “evil stepmom”…a girl can dream, right?! Thank you for all of your hard work and all that you do!:)

  7. We don’t have family meetings. We are too far away, and the one time we did have one, it was a little weird. But sometimes I wish we did…..

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