When you are nurturing relationships with adult children (yours, steps, in-laws, or exes), grandchildren, and all the other characters who play a role on your family’s stage, it’s a good idea to think about your habits. A thoughtful review may reveal a few statements better left unsaid, actions better left undone. Here are six ideas to consider.
- Don’t expect your new son-in-law to be old son-in-law 2.0. Nobody replaces anybody. Maybe your daughter’s first husband installed Christmas lights on your home every year. Plan to complete that task without your new son-in-law’s assistance unless he raises the subject and offers to help. Ladders are not everybody’s thing. Neither are recalcitrant strings of lights.
- Don’t name yourself. Your invitation to call me “Dad” may emanate from a huge heart with a tender spot all feathered and awaiting your new stepdaughter, but she may receive it as an encroachment on her own father’s place in her life. By the way, adult stepchildren are susceptible to all the same emotions and stages of acceptance that younger children experience, but it may be harder for you to detect since their social skills are more developed and they don’t live under your roof. So long as it’s not disrespectful, let the kids–no matter their age–decide what to call you.
- Don’t overstuff the holiday schedule. If it’s your first Thanksgiving together, invite your newest family member to share a dear tradition. Maybe he wants to create a wreath for you to hang on your front door, or offer grace, or design place cards. Adapt your usual events to enfold your new treasure’s contribution. Is that a different way for you to think about a family member–as a treasure? I invite you to consider that perspective. What does it show you?
- Do.Not.Compare. Ever. Just don’t. Nobody likes to hear where she lands on your personal yardstick. In fact, bust that yardstick right over your knee. Banish it.
- Don’t fill every moment with noise. Many of us are not comfortable remaining in silence while in the company of others. But a break in the flow may be just what an introvert needs to contribute to the talk. Make peace with long pauses in conversation and see what bubbles up to the surface. Another approach: bring out a game that doesn’t require talking, like checkers. Working a jigsaw puzzle together may also carve out safe space for conversation.
- Don’t give up. You may go through times of tension, discord, even confrontation. Do not give up on people. Do not give up on your family. You need not sacrifice a deeply held value, but choose carefully which hills you are prepared to die on. True confession: When I reach the point where I must win, I know it’s time for me to back off and regroup.
How about you? What relationship-building tools work for you?
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil.Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Romans 12:15-18 (NIV)