These are strange times, friends. If you feel like you’ve lost your grip on everything around you, you’re far from alone. (And if you’re reading this blog post in 2021 or beyond, please tell me things get better!)
I don’t know about you, but I have spent the past few months feeling like I lost the ability to make decisions for myself and my family. Feeling nervous to step outside. Feeling whiplashed between optimism and depression. Right now it seems we are all doing the best we can, but every surface we stand on is unsteady. It’s not just me, right?
I started feeling absent and disconnected, drifting past family members in the kitchen. But upon reflection the past few weeks, I have realized the importance of focusing less on the world crumbling around me, and more on what I CAN still influence, my home and family.
It was time to regroup, get my hands back on the wheel, and drive this household confidently, even if we have no idea where the car is going right now.
Enter blended family council.
Put simply, family council is a combination of weekly meetings with all members of the household, and monthly “interviews” between parents and each child individually.
It used to be a solid routine in our home, but it had fallen into the 2020 abyss along with March, April, and May, and was enhancing the feelings of helplessness and disconnect for our family. So, we’ve brought it back, and I’m sharing the details so you can try it too—because we all need to feel a little more secure and connected right now!
Now, full disclosure—I did not dream up the idea of family council meetings myself. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and we were tasked with implementing the family council system by our religious leaders. I just tweaked the concept to better fit the needs of our unique stepfamily!
Here’s how it’s done:
1. The Weekly Meeting
Once per week, ideally a day your stepchildren are always there, you hold a family council meeting with the purpose of getting everyone on the same page and setting the tone for your household.
This discussion should include a review of the past week—things that went well, things that went poorly, and individual accomplishments—as well as look into the week ahead. Agree on a family goal for the week, and share individual goals as well.
Discuss the custody schedule for the week as well as any happenings coming up (ex: James has a soccer game Saturday morning. He will be at his mom’s this weekend but we are going to come watch him play!)
Write down these details and post them on the fridge (or text to everyone’s phone) so they’re seen throughout the week. Then end the meeting with something fun! This week, our “fun” item of business was voting on the location for our socially distanced summer trip next month. Other ideas include a round of a game like Heads Up or making a quick dessert together.
Do whatever ends the meeting on a fun note for your family!
2. The Child Interview
We have found this routine to be crucially important, and I recommend it to any blended family. Once per month, send your partner off on a dinner date with their child. The stepparent DOES NOT ATTEND. Other children DO NOT ATTEND.
The purpose of this dinner is for the biological parent to interview their children individually and asses how they are feeling about themselves and their family relationships. (For “ours babies,” both parents can attend or take turns!)
For a stepchild, this may be the only chance they get in a month to talk to their parent about guitar lessons without being interrupted by a toddler sibling. It may be the only chance they get in a month to feel comfortable saying “I feel like my stepmom is ignoring me lately” or “My stepdad is more hard on me than my siblings” without the stepparent being in the next room.
Plus, in these uncertain times (ugh, I am so sick of that phrase) your stepchild’s mental health could be suffering more than you and your partner see or realize. The one-on-one time is a great bonus, and makes the child feel special, but the true purpose of the “interview” is to give each child a chance to voice their wants and needs and really be HEARD by their parent.
I challenge you to implement this Blended Family Council system. Try it! You and I both know you have the time. Summer break (which feels like it has been four months long already!) is a great time to try something out, and we could all stand to feel a little less scattered and a little more in control.
We may be disconnected from the world, but that just means it’s more important than ever to be connected to your family.
P.S. Family council is a great time to address your house rules!