Family Dynamics: It’s like the Zipper

January 15, 2012

There’s change in the air. There is always change when it comes to family dynamics now that I think about it. It’s one of the challenges of parenting: just when you think you have it right, something changes. There are new stages, new behaviours to confront, adult issues like work and financial pressures, emotions, relationships and personalities, all thrown into a mix of ever changing variables.

Family dynamics  remind me of the Zipper ride at the EKKA (the annual Brisbane show). This infamous ride consists of individual cages that spin on a wheel that also spins. There’s a lot spinning involved. The Zipper happens to be one of my favourite rides so I know. There is rocking, half spins, single spins and then…there’s the spin-spin: a spin within a spin.

{image credit}

The zipper

I feel our family is coming out of a spin-spin right now.  One of the consequences of this is my kids have been bickering more than usual over this school holidays and driving me nuts. They are a little older and I sense our family dynamics are about to launch into a new phase. There are good things about this but the transition is always challenging.

Below are seven ways our family deals with changes in our family unit.

1. Learning

I learn more about parenting my kids, from my kids, rather than from outward parenting guides. For me, parenting this way means I can do it in a way that is unique to my own family and can account for all the Zipper-like variables. It’s all about finding creative ways to solve challenges.

2. Play

I have three girls, and then a boy. I noticed very early on, differences between the genders but I’m not one to designate particular play in relation to the sex of my children as they are all individuals and play differently anyway (that is: my son will play with dolls and my girls with trucks).  However, I do notice a distinct difference between, not so much what they play with but how they play. My son uses toys in a very different way to my girls so here’s a very common scenario at our place:

“MUM! MUM! Son wrecked my game!” from Miss 6.

“Mum! The girls won’t let me play!” from son (4).

I can see it from both sides. Son does often wreck the girl’s play  (which is annoying for them) but he desperately wants to play with them (and I can understand that he wants to be included). It’s taken me a while to work this one through.  One of the ways I do this is observing my children and taking notice of which types of play work, and why.

The children play together, individually, in pairs, in threes and all together. I think it’s all great!  When it comes to encouraging play between all four of my children aged from 10 to 4 (which I believe is especially wonderful), parallel play is working at the moment, especially for my son.

An example

We’ve enjoyed imaginative play scenes this school holidays.  What usually happens is my 10 year old will contribute her wonderful creative ideas to the set up and we create two play areas next to each other, one for my two other daughters (8 and 6), and one for my son (4). It’s fascinating to watch their play come together.

{I made a smaller version of our Desert Island Play Scene for son}

family dynamics in play

This magical outdoor play space (below) is a perfect example of this. My son created a road with the bricks from our rock garden and the girls played with the fairy home. As I watched them play, it came together beautifully: my son built the road, added cars to the play and then interacted with his sisters in a positive way; the girls responded and the play meshed. It’s so good when it works like this!

family dynamics in play

Play is gold for many reasons but one is that it helps me to see where the kids are at and how we can function better as a family.

3. Expectation

I don’t hope my children will love and care for each other, I expect it because I believe in the power and value of family.  This simple mindset ensures I have a goal when it comes to interactions between the children, and I can capitalise on (but not force) opportunities that arise as we live life. I hope to both teach and encourage the children, plus allow them to work out things for themselves. It’s another example of being anchored by the big picture and living in the moments.

4. Foundation

In my “I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions” post, I listed down some of the big picture values that act as foundations for our family.  This is really important to me: that we continue to build on a strong base because it provides stability, even when life is all over the place.

5. Family Re-Group

We have a many, many family re-group sessions. Many of these happen in the car and at the family dinner table because we are all in the one place. It’s a place to talk about issues, reinforce our family values and an opportunity for the children have input.

6. Good times

When things are rough, or there are a many challenges in family life (like in the aftermath of the Queensland Floods), we find it helps to stop and facilitate an activity we enjoy as a family. It’s a way to fill the store of good times under our family belt.

7. Embrace & Discover

I’ve come to accept that harnessing family dynamics is like anticipating the movements in a Zipper Ride.  For me, it’s all about protecting our foundation (including my marriage), growing and changing to discover how the mechanics work best, then embracing the variables and going along for the ride.

How do you manage the many changes in family dynamics?

Other Relevant Posts

Do Boys and Girls Play Differently?

Parenting Siblings: Is it fair?

Siblings: Friends for Life

Family Life Stages: A Window in Family Life

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

BonnieNo Gravatar January 16, 2012 at 8:45 am

Excellent post! I remember standing in line to go on the Zipper and wondering if I would have the nerve to go through with it! I did and I’m glad because I actually enjoyed it.

I love how life throws parallels for us to consider!


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar January 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

Me too!


WendyNo Gravatar January 16, 2012 at 9:04 am

Completly agree Kelly. We have the opposite 3 boys and a 1 girl and as the children grow older the family dynamics are constantly changing. One thing I expect is that they look after each other, I do this as a buddy system (everyone has a buddy so no one gets left behind – Toy Story). It works well and ensures that they are constantly communicating. Sometimes when they are bickering I just sit back and see if they can work it out, sometimes they do and sometimes they dont, they are just children and have a lot to learn but hopefully we are on the right track.


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar January 16, 2012 at 10:19 am

“no one gets left behind” I LOVE THAT! Communication is such a huge key isn’t it…


AliNo Gravatar January 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Lovely post. I love the idea of a family re-group. We had a bit of a slog in 2010 and this year has started with a run of tummy bugs, everyone is a bit whingy and we all need a bit of a re-group. Love the idea of talking about it in the car too.


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm

We had the tummy bugs too!! I know so many people who had it; looks like it’s going around… The car is so good because no one can move. HA!


Deb @ Bright & PreciousNo Gravatar January 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Very interesting regarding gender differences in how your children play. I have 1 girl (3yo) and 1 boy (14mths) and only just discovering the differences in their approach to play. I don’t want to project a gender difference in their choice of toys, but – like you – I am observing the differences in how they play with a certain toy. I often wonder if it’s a personality thing too. With 3 girls to 1 boy ratio you have more of a sample size to draw conclusions from!

We’ve just come out of a spin within a spin right and settling into a normal (but faced paced) roller coaster. I think dynamic changes are very much welcomed in our house, but it does take awhile ‘embrace and discover’ how we deal with them.


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

I agree that personality has a huge part to play too Deb. I love how you have summarised my entire post in a paragraph.


NathalieNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 10:19 am

Love this Kelly – communication is so very important as in adapting our parenting to each child’s needs and age. Will share this now X


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Thanks Nathalie. It’s true: we have found communication just so essential when it comes to…well everything really. HA!


Kelly ExeterNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 11:30 am

Brilliant post Kelly!! I love this. I only have one little cherub at the moment but am filing this info away for the future.

And also for when the cousins come to play :)


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm

hehe– re cousins. My sisters and I have 13 children between us all. It’s loud…and awesome. It’s true dynamics change as you add more children to a family but it’s just as relevant even if you have only one child (or none even). A family is a family regardless if there are none, 1 or 10 kids! There are always changes to embrace hey…


Kelly ExeterNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm

13 children between you !! OMG :)

And you are of course 100% right – every phase my little man goes through also involves a change in the family dynamic!


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar January 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I know! You should see us together. It’s absolutely crazy but heaps of fun. Each of my 3 sisters have 3 kids and I have four…all between the ages of 1 to 12. HA!


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