It’s official. Our daughter has moved away to start University. In one day our family system shifted from four to three -- at least those of us living at home. It’s making me think on a very personal level about system theory and patterns that we witness in teams experiencing change. System theory says that every time someone leaves or joins a system (family, team or group) that the organic nature of the system changes. There is an automatic adjustment and recalibration. Often times the changes happen at an unconscious level. If the system needs certain roles or relies on certain skills, inevitably those remaining on the team will step into unoccupied roles. This assures the continuity of the system (functional and emotional).
In families, just like in teams, each person plays a formal role. In this case our daughter is the oldest child. As the oldest child, she has played certain roles in all of our lives. She’s been the responsible one assuring that tasks get done on time and according to plan. She’s also the tradition holder assuring that holidays unfold with certain reliable ceremony. She values relationships and always spent time with each of us individually.
In our family system we have two nested systems – two parents and two kids. As parents, we are still parents of two yet the way we’ll interact with them has now changed. It’s like we have become a virtual team as one of our members will only be connected virtually through Skype, text, FB and phone calls. The home team of three will shift and change. We’ll create new patterns and routines that will work for our dynamic.
When family systems change, just like with teams, it’s important to talk about the obvious changes – the ones you can anticipate. When one member is gone and their strengths and skills leave with them, it’s important to plan for how you’ll mange the changes. Speaking about the changes is important so that there are no assumptions. In our case we had a gender balance – two males and two females. Now, I’m the only female. Who knows what that means for our family dynamic. Who will watch the reality dance shows with me?
It’s also important to pay attention to the subtle signals that will emerge; the things that people are experiencing and not talking about. Our son is already demonstrating more of a need to be close to us and hug us. As Mom I know he’s giving us the hugs that were reserved for his sister. It seems that by being the “only child” he’s already taking the opportunity to be seen and heard more as he often followed his sisters’ lead. This phenomenon is common on teams where people will quietly assume new informal roles held by a former colleague. If the system needs nurturing then others will start to demonstrate it in new ways. That’s exactly what our little system is already doing.
It’s a fascinating time. There are lots of adjustments ahead. However, I hold a sense of confidence in knowing that we’ll calibrate to find a new balance and still be connected with each other – just in new and different ways.