Lesson 7 of 7  - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

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Sample Structural Maps of
High and Low-nurturance
 Stepfamilies

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member, NSRC Experts Council

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Map Symbol

Stands for current nuclear-family member:

SP1 , SP2 , SP3 , ...

Living Step-Parent "1," "2," "3," ...

BP1 , BM1 , BF2, ...

Living BioParent "1," or BioMom "1," or BioFather "2"

DF1 , DM2

D = a dual-role co-parent - e.g. stepFather and bioFather "1," or stepMom and bioMom "2."

C1 , C2 , ... 

Dependent (minor) Children. The number refers to which co-parent/s are they related to - so BF2 and BM2 are the bioparents of each C2 child. Biosiblings can live in the same bioparent home, or in different  homes (split custody).

O1-2 O3-4, ...

An Ours child born to a re/married family couple like SF1 and DM2.

[BP], [BM] or [BS];

A [dead] or [absent] and still psychologically-important BioParent, BioMom, or Bio-Sibling ... (e.g. an aborted, stillborn, or grown child).

[HP], {God}, [Allah]

The Higher Power/s that significantly influence one or more household members, if any.

R1 , BGM, ...

Key Relative "1", or a powerful BioGrandMother, or ...

F1 , or Pr, or ...

Important Friend "1", or Professional person (priest, counselor, ...)

(CP2 or (C

An excluded or rejected Co-Parent "2" or Child.

CP1 || CP2

Two Co-Parents with blocked verbal communications.

(CP2+C1 ) or
(C2+C2)

Psychologically over-involved (enmeshed or codependent) Co-Parent "2" and Child "1", or enmeshed Biosibs "2."

 

" _  _  _  _  _"

and

"__________"

Co-parental responsibility lines. Put people above the line who have the most consistent impact in directing current household residents’ feelings, actions, and attention. Ideally, all resident co- parents would be always above the line, and minor kids below.

       Dashed responsibility lines signify generally open adult- child communications. A solid line means communications are blocked (people above and below the line don’t disclose honestly, hear well, or problem-solve effectively).

C ... C arro-lft1.gif (74 bytes)arro-rt1.gif (72 bytes)C... C

Biokids visiting between co-parents’ homes

CP<<||<<CP,
CP>>||<<CP

One-way or mutually-hostile co-parent relationships, with blocked (ineffective) communications.


 High-nurturance Stepfamily Structures - Baseline Examples

        There are almost 100 normal multi-home nuclear-stepfamily structures, from combinations of child custody, prior unions and child conceptions, "ours" children, and prior deaths and divorces. Most of these structures fall into three basic types: two, three, or four-home stepfamily systems. A few structures are one-home, where a widowed bioparent remarries a non-parent or another widow/er.

        The homes comprising all four stepfamily types follow the same basic principals for a functional two-parent biofamily (baseline 1 above). Recall that most individual co-parenting homes have two or more alternating structures: (a) minor kids at home, and (b) some or all minor kids visiting their other co-parent/s. In a given stepfamily home, one structure may have a higher nurturance level than the other.


4) Baseline 2: High-nurturance new and mature
  two-home stepfamily structures

        When bioparents and stepparents first live together, normally the stepparent does not have as much co-parenting authority or responsibility as the bioparent: map _ below. This is true whether there are minor stepkids resident or not. The stepparent and custodial bioparent are, ideally, co-equal partners in the non-parenting areas of their lives. Both these co-parents are still consistently "above the line" - i.e. no minor child nor any non-resident makes the major decisions in their home. Communications in and between both related stepfamily homes are open enough here.

        After enough time, the resident stepparent earns (vs. demands) equal co-parenting authority and responsibility, as granted by the other members of both homes: map _ below. These two traits don't come with a marriage certificate! Co-parents who try to rush or force stepparent authority usually produce personal, marital, and stepfamily stress and conflict. 

        How much time does it take stepparents to earn co-equality? My experience is that it can take anywhere from two or more+ years after cohabiting, depending on many variables. In significantly low-nurturance multi-home stepfamilies, true co-equal co-parenting never evolves.

     BP1
       - - -
      SP
   - - - - -
   C ... C  arro-lft1.gif (74 bytes)arro-rt1.gif (72 bytes)


BP
2
- - - -


  SP  BP1
 - - - - - - -    
  C ... C  arro-lft1.gif (74 bytes)arro-rt1.gif (72 bytes)

BP2
- - - - -
  

A) High nurturance new- stepfamily two-home structure: clear, open household boundaries, and clear communications.

B) High nurturance mature two- home co-parenting structure: open family boundaries, and clear  communications.


5) Baseline 3 - A high nurturance, mature, two-home,
two-structure
stepfamily, before and during
child visitation.

        All communications are open in and between both homes; Co-parents are in charge (above the line) in each home. The divorced BioFather is not cohabiting or dating. The StepFather has no biokids, and has earned equal co-parenting authority with BioMom. He has earned the respect and co-operation of his three stepkids, over some years.

        All members have adequately mourned  their key losses from the bioparents’ divorce and family splitting, and BioMom’s remarriage. All three adults can (usually) talk openly and respectfully, and can compromise well-enough together on co-parenting decisions. There are no enmeshments, rejections, addictions, or living or dead controlling relatives. Each home has clear firmly-flexible boundaries.

SF BM
- - - - - -
C  C  C
BF
- - - -
 
SF BM
- - - - - - -

 

BF
- - - - - -
C  C  C

Structure 1): kids home Structure 2): kids visiting

 6)  Baseline 4 - A high-nurturance three-home,
  four co-parent, mature stepfamily structure

…with one "ours" child (O), and child visitations () between all three homes. The other structural  states (during visitations) of these three related homes aren't shown here. Neither ex mate (BF1 and BM2) is cohabiting, remarried, or dating seriously. All communications are open within and between homes, all four co-parents are in (usually) charge of their respective homes, and there are no resident, dependent, or controlling relatives. All three homes have clear, effective boundaries.

        All members have mourned their key divorce and remarriage losses enough, so they don’t need to exclude other stepfamily members. Note that BM1 is also a stepmom to C2, and BF2 has a stepdad role with C1. We’ll note them as DM1 and DF2 to symbolize their complex dual co-parenting roles.

BF1
- - - -
C1



DM1  DF2
- - - - - - -
(C1) O C2


BM2
- - - -
(C2)

High nurturance three-home, four co-parent, three-child nuclear-stepfamily structure


7) Baseline 5: A high-nurturance, mature, four-home, seven-co-parent  
stepfamily structure, with three minor kids.

        Both BF1 and BM2's ex-mates have remarried, one to a previously single man (SF) and one to a divorced biomother (DM3). Child visitations occur between all four homes, causing several structural states. Not all are shown. Communications are open within and between all four dwellings; no kids are above the line or co-parents below. 

        Adult/child boundaries are stable and mutually accepted. C1 lives with BM1 and SF. Child C2 lives with (dual-role) biomom DM2 and stepfather DF1, and C3 usually lives with her custodial BioFather BF3. There are no "ours" kids yet. No stepparent has adopted their stepchild. At times, all co-parents have "kid-free" week-ends, because of visitation combinations.

        There are no interfering or seriously dependent relatives, live-in helpers, or boarders in this four- home nuclear stepfamily. No one is seriously ill, debilitated, excluded, or withdrawn. There are no major ongoing hostilities, coalitions, enmeshments, or alliances among any of these 10 related stepfamily members. If you're thinking this is unusual, you're right: this is an ideal example. 

Pre-visitation
household
structures

SF   BM1
- - - - - -
C1


DF1 DM2
- - - - - - -
C2


DF2 DM3
- - - - - - -

 


BF3
- - -
C3

A high-nurturance four-home, seven co-parent, three-child nuclear-stepfamily structure.

Visitation
household
structures

SF  BM1
- - - - - -
   


DF1 DM2
- - - - - - -
C1


DF2 DM3
- - - - - - -
C2  C3


BF3
- - -
 

        The sample structural maps above give you an idea of how the several types of multi-home stepfamily "look" before and during visitations. They are our baselines, in that they are wholistically healthy: there are no major dysfunctional structural elements present. These are the structural household and family targets most aware co-parents shoot for, over time.

Sadly, few real step-homes that I’ve encountered match these targets. They look more like some of these examples. How does your multi-home stepfamily structure look?
 

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Updated September 29, 2015