Family Dynamic, Not Static
By Stacey Noem
Josh and I have lived in and worked with intentional communities for 20 years. One of the important truths about community life is that whenever someone joins or leaves a community, the community that had been is now no longer. That is to say, when the membership of a community changes by even one member, the previous community ceases to exist and a new one takes its place.
While this might seem like an extreme approach to understanding community, anything less is to severely underestimate the power of interpersonal relationships and the nature of community dynamics. In the last several months this reality has come to the forefront in our family.
Now that Oscar is in college, we have some months of having all three children at home (over summer and now with an extended winter break) and during other months one of them is gone for extended periods of time (during the academic semesters). The dynamic in the house is completely different in each of these two contexts.
When Oz is home we initially tended to think of that time as our “regular” family dynamic when we are at “full strength” and all together. But after he had been at college for two semesters, we began to realize that the dynamic with him away was not “less than” the dynamic with him present. It was just different. And it was actually different in some ways that were better than when we are all together.
For example, Simon-Peter, our middle child is fairly reserved when his big brother is around. But when it is just the four of us, he becomes much more talkative and he takes more initiative in family interactions. For whatever reason, he just takes more agency when we are a family of four and tends to blend in more when we are a family of five.
There is an adjustment period whenever our little family shifts from five to four and back again. In order to settle in, it is essential that we adjust our expectations for the dynamic at hand. Otherwise, we run the risk of missing unique opportunities with one another in the present moment because we are grasping for the past. Community by its nature is not static and the same is true of family.
Additionally, we each individually grow and shift over time. Joshua and I are not the same parents, let alone the same people, we were when we were in our twenties or thirties. It goes without saying that each of the children grows and changes constantly. But, throughout their teenage years, these shifts are the most significant — they start the decade in grade school, it spans high school, and ends in college! It would be a disservice to them to expect that they will always have the same interests, perspectives, and preferences.
One of the most essential parts of parenting, and of belonging to a community, is allowing others the space to take risks in becoming who they are not yet. However, that also means giving the whole group — family or community — space to also take risks to become who WE are not yet. With the help of grace, hopefully, this means growing in the image and likeness of God.