Did you know that your family is a system? 

It makes sense if you consider the definition of ‘system’: a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized framework or method. Yes, whether you are a family of two or ten, that definition fits what goes on in your home every day, doesn’t it?

I was reading recently about the differences between an open family system and a closed family system. At first glance, closed might sound cozy, protected, and secure. An open family system sounds like it could be vulnerable to danger. But once you dig a little deeper, you discover that the main difference between the two systems is how it reacts to change.

A closed system tries to remain static.

 It’s rigid and follows the same rules even though they are no longer appropriate. There is no flow of information, so people don’t share thoughts, interests, or dreams. Thus, no new ideas come into the system to keep it fresh and vibrant.

People can’t flourish. They can only exist because the family culture doesn’t support the natural changes that occur as kids grow older and mature into the people they are intended to be. 

In the end, a closed system struggles and stresses because change is inevitable. A family that doesn’t accept it will eventually collapse.

You know about change, don’t you? I know you live with it every day in some way, shape, or form. Are you trying to deal with change in a closed system because you think that might be the safer choice? Perhaps it might help to adopt some of the practices of an open family system. 

An open family system looks for opportunities to meet each new reality that comes along.

To make changes and to accommodate them. That doesn’t mean jumping to conclusions or fixing it right away. Because we know that not all change is positive, and not everything that happens in a family is for the best. These are changes in your family that you may not have expected or wanted. Yet trying to build an open and healthy family means it has developed the skills to face challenges head-on rather than one that looks away and hopes the problems will disappear. It’s a family that is ready for the unexpected. You engage in the tough conversations, no matter what they are. Of course, this requires trust and communication. Avoiding secrets, even when our feelings are not pretty and comfortable. I know that sounds so hard to do daily, but that’s why it takes a decision of effort. 

When change comes, it’s easy to consider circling your wagons and closing up. Just maintain the status quo and hope things go along somehow. It seems riskier and more dangerous to change something.

It helps when we look at change as an essential part of new growth and ways to use our resources as a family.

Stagnant water isn’t fit to drink, and it only grows mold. So if you are feeling a little closed off today in your family system, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Adopt an attitude of acceptance. Teach everyone in your family that differences are not a threat but an opportunity for increased tolerance, understanding, and wisdom.
  2. Spend time building relationships among family members. Those family members outside of your home family can help you be more open and help you find new resources for dealing with change and challenges. Sometimes, we may not have given them the opportunity because we assume we know what they think. Maybe think again.
  3. Be flexible in changing old traditions, rituals, and rules that have become outdated. Listen to younger generations’ input and create new rules that fit more appropriately with your family’s needs and desires. It might not be as bad as you think.

And finally,

  1. Embrace change because it’s inevitable. Fear permeates the environment of a closed system. But an open system operates on a foundation of closeness, growth, and the ability to choose. These are gifts that will allow you and every member of your family to prosper, both individually and collectively. And as a family of special abilities, this is more vital to you above all else.


Meet Joy!

Joy is originally from the Central Valley of California, where she was raised on a farm and discovered her love for growing things. As the mother of a blended family of 7 adults and the grandmother of 9, she's learned many lessons about supporting the growth of people.

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