Fear Not Change
14 Nov 2016
By Mike-Veteran Bio Dad in a Blended Family, and Independent Thinker:
Einstein once said that the world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. This reminds me of the “Grandma’s ham story”. In preparation for a three generation Christmas dinner, a mother was teaching her daughter how to make the family ham. She started by cutting both ends off the ham. The daughter thought this was a strange step and asked WHY. Her mother confidently assured her that this was how her mother taught her, and was essential to the perfect ham. The young girl, unconvinced by this “how it’s always been done” answer, approached her grandmother for a better answer. The grandmother responded by saying that she only did that because her old oven was too small to hold the whole ham. I tell this story to embolden you to challenge the way things are done. In this case, how non-biological parents are integrated into a blended family.
Change is a word that invokes a wide range of feelings. To some, change is bad, and invokes feelings of anxiety that one will lose what they so covet today. To others, change is exhilarating with promise of a better outcome, and the chance to define what the future will look like. I tend to think both are correct. With change comes risk and opportunity. The counterpoint to this is the old adage that nothing every really stays the same. Change occurs whether you are a willing participant or not. I have made a career out of change. I lead change initiatives for a fortune 50 corporation, and help employees, management and customers work through the 7 emotional phases of change. It’s real, and you can’t skip a step. To do so only prolongs the length of time and trauma an individual faces in making the transition. Maybe you are reading this and you have spent years in a blended family operating to societal norms. Perhaps you are about to take the leap into a blended family. You are here because you are seeking a better path which will yield a better outcome for you, your marriage and especially the wellbeing of the children. I write this as a biological father in a blended family. However, these 7 steps are ubiquitous and useful to know as they will apply to the children, your spouse, the other bio parent, your extended family, friends and even you. This is far reaching!
- Immobilization: This is the inability to comprehend and mentally move when someone has just presented a change that is unexpected. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. Your best bet here is to continually and calmly reinforce the change and benefits from it.
- Denial: There is a lot of variability here depending on just how much faith people have in your words. If you mean what you say and say what you mean, then this will not be a problem. If you have a tendency to make false threats to try and scare people into your desired response, then others will think you are bluffing. Continue to follow the advice in number 1, and do not change your story.
- Anger: DUCK! The anger response is real and you will be astounded at how many people in your life will feel the need to express this anger to you. The most obvious culprit will be the other bio parent who feels he/she has the most to lose by sharing their mom/dad special parking spot with you. Depending on how they react will amplify the anger that the children and your spouse express. Yes, your spouse may not be on board with this in the beginning. They may like being boss hog of the house and/or not want to deal with the blow-back from their ex. Don’t think it stops there. People with no vested interest in your family will feel threatened by the notion that a non-biological parent is as important as a biological parent. This is a special right that many people fiercely defend. Keep your cool. Do not engage in hostility in kind. Diffuse the anger by providing them the opportunity to express their feelings, while calmly explaining your justifications. Yes, this will be a very tough challenge. Stay strong and know that we all have done it and there is light at the other end.
- Negotiation: Nobody has accepted the change yet. You may notice people vacillating between anger and negotiations (aka: really mad and syrupy sweet). Here they will try and make their case for a compromised position. Not because it is a better construct, but because it will result in less change for them. That is not a desirable outcome, and these negotiations (if allowed to begin) tend to never stop, which means some point down the road you’ll be back to where you began. Expect this will happen and hang tough to your non-negotiable change terms. Remember what I said in number 2 above? If you are a person who generally waffles, this will be a harder step.
- Depression: This will likely be the hardest phase of all. When you see people you love looking miserable, it will shake your confidence to the core. You will feel guilt and uncertainty on whether you are doing the right thing. You are, and these feelings mean you really do care about their welfare. This is a stage everyone must go through in change, and it is the point when they are finally accepting that you have heard them but you are not going to concede to their wishes for things to stay the same. This is where love saves the day. Be attentive and gentle here.
- Exploration: Finally some good news! You will start to hear the first positive words of the change as these people are able for the first time to explore the potential benefits from the change. DO NOT play the “I told you so” card, unless you want to spend some more time in number 3 above. Rather, help by talking about the positive opportunities this presents for all of you in the future. Don’t look backwards, look forwards.
- Acceptance: This where the change is setting its roots through behaviors. You can help by celebrating and praising these positive behaviors that support the change. Their confidence will grow with your positive recognition, and by seeing the tangible benefits of the change itself. BE CONSISTENT.
Remember that there is no set time for a person to process through these phases of change. Your actions can help or hurt, but you don’t get to set the timetable. Expect to have people move through at different rates, which means your interactions with each will be slightly different. Don’t try to rush someone through it, or shame them for being behind another person. People are more complex than any of us can ever fully understand. Just be patient and stick to these key steps.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead