Blended families can have additional issues that overlay all communication. These can create tension, fragile interaction, and false expectations. Countless volumes have been written on the subject of effective communication. Our goal here is to provide some ideas regarding how we have wrestled this alligator in our blended family, but these ideas are helpful to all families.
HOW MISCOMMUNICATION HAPPENS
Miscommunication in our family most often occurs when the following circumstances are present:
- We are more interested in formulating our next response than listening to what is being said.
- We voice our comment or statement then cut off responses by saying we don’t want to talk about it or by walking away or shutting the door. We call this shutting down the conversation or person.
- We are distracted by other thoughts or activities and don’t pay close enough attention.
- We prejudge or anticipate certain responses.
- We have pre-formulated opinions and jump in with a quick answer or talk over the other person before we know what was going to be said.
- We try to fix the problem when all the person wants is someone to listen.
- We fail to ask enough questions to clarify what is being communicated.
- We convey our thoughts or responses in words or a tone that cause a defensive reaction rather than promoting listening.
- We read things into the conversation that are not intended.
- We are impatient and try to rush the conversation.
- We commandeer the conversation, inadvertently robbing others of title to their own thinking and problem-solving process.
- We internally demean the intelligence or worth of the speaker thereby giving ourselves permission to ignore what is said.
SHUTTING DOWN OR PROMOTING COMMUNICATION
The point is that there are numerous ways to shut down or promote communication. Leah has a gift for drawing the true feelings out of our children in their own comfort zone. She can seamlessly slide back and forth between right-brained general creative communication and left-brained specific task and schedule-oriented communication. Clark possesses the ability to communicate on different levels as well, but usually he must make a conscious decision regarding the general and specific discussions.
We have children of both types in our blended family. Some tend toward the artistic and chafe when they have structure, schedules or study plans that need to be addressed in specific. Others will immediately organize their schedules with times and objectives. Both types can then fail to think outside the box, frequently setting themselves up for unexpected head banging and frontal assaults when sudden change occurs.
NIMBLE AND FLEXIBLE STRATEGIES
In addition, our children’s approach to life can bounce back and forth, depending on situational demands. As a result our blended family communication has required us to develop nimble and flexible strategies. We manage the delicate balance through actively listening and understanding. We must walk that fine line and not irritate a child by pushing for too many specifics when they think they are done with the conversation. There will always be another opportunity to reinforce a point. On the other hand, we cannot back off too early without raising questions they at least need to think about.
We have previously discussed the value of showing your children and spouse respect. Listening to understand naturally demonstrates that respect. Children must know that you appreciate where they are coming from, respect their position, and value their thoughts. In doing so, parents are more likely to find that children will listen to their advice. Most of what we have discussed is common sense that can be patiently and effectively employed in relationships. However, there are outside distractions that can severely challenge a blended family’s ability to communicate.
Excerpted from Living in the Family Blender: 10 Principles of a Successful Blended Family by Clark and Leah Burbidge. Blended family issues impact the vast majority of Americans. Yet, even so, society often sidesteps the topic, while literature leaves a bleak landscape nearly void of practical advice from those who have lived in the trenches. Living in the Family Blender provides practical guidance upon which any family may build better relationships and a life filled with joy and purpose.
Clark and Leah Burbidge are 14 years into their blended family experience and loving life more than ever with ten children with their eight spouses, eight grandchildren and counting. Their practical “autobiographical/how to” guide is contained in a new Gold Medal award winning book, Living in the Family Blender: 10 Principles of a Successful Blended Family, July 2019, Deep River Books.