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the outline of how to draw your structural maps. After drawing adults and
kids, the co-parenting responsibility line, and communication symbols...
2) Add Communication Symbols ...
Once youve placed each resident in their main emotional position in your homes
structure, focus on whether each regular resident can communicate
or not in this (non-visitation) emotional
co-parenting-home's structure. Guidelines: Think
first about the adult couples (hopefully) above the co-parenting line: does each adult usually
safe enough to say clearly and honestly what they currently feel, and
need or want?
respectfully listened to (vs. agreed with)?
both are true, are these people able to discuss and really resolve mutual
conflicts often enough (in your opinion)?
If they - or any two
people on your diagram - can meet these three conditions, its likely that they have
generally effective ("open") verbal communications. If they often dont
meet these three conditions, draw a vertical line between them to symbolize a communications block. Use color for emphasis. If you're unsure,
If you feel a major trait
of your home is that co-parents and kids cant meet these three conditions regularly
(now), make the main horizontal co-parenting line solid. Whos
responsible for removing any verbal communication blocks in your home? See co-parent
By the way, ponder whether
you feel prayer or meditation is significant communication with important
spiritual and absent members of your home. Also consider phone, e-mail, and written-letter
patterns of communication - and their absences. They all count!
Coalitions and Antagonisms
Now you have members of your home located, and family verbal communication factors
symbolized. A final aspect of your homes emotional structure to map are any
specially intense emotional polarizations between certain members. These can be
unusually strong bonds between adults and/or kids, like (Ann+Ed).
Note such regular alliances by circling the partners, using "+", or another
Sadly, dislikes, distrusts, rejections, indifferences, and antagonisms
are common in and between average
stepfamily homes. Be honest about acknowledging any such relationships regularly
affecting your homes basic emotional climate now (map what is, so you can
problem-solve!). Use "lightning" lines ( www ), slashes ( // ), "x"s, or any other symbols to show conflicted
members - e.g. Al>>||<<Jill. Needless to say, such relationships rarely
feature effective verbal communications
4) Add Home Boundaries
As a final option, ask yourself "whats the unspoken rule that currently governs
this home: are new people, customs, and ideas usually welcome here? Do
the adults invite friends and relatives to visit fairly often? Are the kids
friends consistently welcome, and do they feel comfortable visiting this home? Are the
people in this home usually interested in the world, and in different customs, beliefs,
and new ideas? Are our adults selectively open with some trusted people in sharing
important aspects of our family and household life?
If you feel most of these
are true, then the emotional and social "boundaries" of this home are
Draw a dashed square or circle around everyone in the home to symbolize this. This
implies that someone in the home sets these open boundaries (limits). Who?
If there were no boundaries,
all kinds of other kids and adults would be free to enter the home, use the resources
there, and leave when they wanted. Strangers, old lovers, remote kin, would come and go
without comment. There would be no sense of privacy. If the adults in this house freely
told acquaintances or strangers intimate details of their relationships and home life -
and encouraged the kids to do the same - the home would have no "container" - no
"us-ness". Such homes are often very
The alternate condition is,
the adults silently or openly decree that new people, ideas, and beliefs are not to
be trusted, and arent welcome to cross the threshold. Kids are told rigidly who they
can invite in or be with. Its clear that "people who act and believe
differently (than we do) are wrong, untrustworthy, or bad."
Such distrusting adults
often rigidly enforce the rule "Our familys affairs are nobody elses
business - we dont talk about ourselves with others!" Not freely
describing yourselves as one of a set of linked stepfamily homes is a form of this.
homes may be said to have closed emotional and social
If your home
often seems to be like that, draw a solid circle or rectangle around it.
When adults feel an unusually
high need for personal and household privacy, the prevailing emotional climate inside
their home is often tension, anxiety, guilt, distrust, and repressed anger. Over time,
this infuses the personalities and attitudes of any resident minor kids.
post-divorce distrusts and wounds havent really healed in and between ex
mates, the adults often unconsciously erect rigid emotional boundaries between their
homes. Their kids often feel caught in the middle. Insecure stepparents can promote
similar distrusts and boundaries - and/or can feel increasingly conflicted and
stressed because of them.
Look at the symbols and relationships
youve created to show your homes (non-visitation) emotional
structure. Stand in the imaginary shoes of each of your regular residents, one at a
Would they agree that they and the other members seem to fit where youve mapped them? If youre unsure, sketch some other combinations, and see how they feel.
Come back in an hour or several days, and scan again. Evolve your best fit. Avoid trying
to be perfect! When you're satisfied enough...
6) Add Other Co-parents Homes
Now, on the same page, repeat the same diagramming process youve just done, with
all regular adult and child residents in the household of each of your co-parenting
partners. Include the home of each living co-parent emotionally important to each
of your minor bio and stepchildren - including bioparents you rarely hear from.
adults do help shape the emotional life and welfare of their biokids, so they
affect the emotional climate in your home and re/marriage. Recall - you
havent begun mapping your homes during child
Do the same assessments and
notations for special (spiritual, unborn, dead, absent, and professional)
communications blocks; key relationship
and oppositions; and social and emotional
Take your time
mapping each home: the more time you take, the more awareness youll harvest.
When youve finished
this set of diagrams, notice your thoughts, and how you feel. Write about these, without
editing anything. See what happens.
Youve finished your baseline multi-home structural maps
now. The next
step is to evolve other structural maps for some special conditions. These include:
Typical intact (1-home)
biofamilies dont experience the first two of these. When average stepfamily homes
experience any of these four, they usually undergo major structural
relationship) changes. Members typically feel extra stressed - or relieved, if
they gain privacy and quiet.
If the co-parents dont all co-operate, communicate, and
try to problem-solve together, these stressful shifts from the baseline emotional
structures of their homes usually corrodes re/marriages and stunts stepfamily
bonding, over time.
Lets look briefly at
each of these four special situations
When stepkids go to see or
stay with their other bioparent, the emotional structure of both the sending and receiving
homes change. The network of emotional roles, priorities, activities, and relationships
within each household shift - either immediately, or as time goes on.
"in charge" of each home ("above the line") may change a little or a
Resident kids may be
"demoted" in importance - or pleased with new co-equal playmates. Stepparents
may feel ignored and resentful, as their bioparent mate focuses on their visiting biokid/s
(or dumps them on the stepparent!). Conflicts and chaos may erupt "endlessly"
over child discipline styles, values, and preferences.
Stepparents and stepsibs may
feel "invaded" by visiting kids, while the visitors feel like strangers and
invaders. Communication blocks, alliances, and
rejections can bloom quickly, or with time. Insecurities can activate, so some members
demote themselves in the household structure.
Child and/or adult scapegoats
may appear. Certain adults or kids may withdraw emotionally or physically - or be
rejected. These all may be triggered, amplified, or healed by phone calls with people
remaining in the sending home.
Structural shifts in sending
and receiving homes may differ between
vacations together, and summer-long visitations. If any period of visitation time
includes birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays, unique home restructurings may occur.
Depending on how many
related homes you have, how many dependent minor kids, and how their various visitation
schedules overlap and interact, you may have one or several different structural
scenarios to map here.
Experiment, using the same symbols and conventions you used for
your non-visitation diagrams. Try for attitudes of curiosity
and wonder, vs. blame or defensiveness. Once again -
these maps are meant to be learning
tools, not weapons.
Another stepfamily factor
that can cause significant shifts in both sending and receiving homes emotional
structures is money.
The basic issue is whether (some) co-parents and kids are
locally conflicted or not over the amount, timeliness, usage, attached conditions, and
"fairness" of child support payments. If payments are late, or amounts
disputed, co-parents can fight in and between homes, and minor kids can be used as spies,
weapons, threat-bearers, or victims.
Some stepfamilies have
little or no conflict over these, while others without effective co-parental leadership
and problem-solving are increasingly stressed. Bio and step relatives can get polarized
and become involved. Such reactions may happen rhythmically every month, or just
occasionally - e.g. when special expenses arise, insurance coverage changes, or new wills
Some stepfamily homes
have both incoming and outgoing child support - at different times of the month, or
the same. Other homes have only a one-way flow. Some co-parents have powerful, unfinished
divorce-era stressors attached to child-support payments due and received, so the stress
cycles (and restructurings) that arise are about more than just current responsibilities
One at a time, think of
each child in your multi-home stepfamily for whom child-support is due and/or
Considering the variables above, experiment with different structural maps of both sending
and receiving homes, starting with yours, when funds are due and received. What do
you discover? Pay special attention to whether communication blocks appear within and/or
between your homes, and whether certain family members withdraw, conflict, and/or
shift positions above or below the co-parent-responsibility line.
Try journaling about your
thoughts and feelings, as you focus on these particular stepfamily restructurings. If
you have few or no structural changes from child-support stressors - congratulations (or -
youre in major denial)!
Other kinds of events that
can cause major emotional step-home emotional restructurings are regular and special
celebrations, and unique or cyclic relationship conflicts.
National and ethnic
holidays, birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations, retirements, births and Christenings
or Bar or Bas Mitzvahs, moving out of state, and the like are usually emotionally-charged
events. The degree of emotional importance varies by family member, custom, and
Typical new stepfamilies normally have many unclear and conflicting values and
priorities - and poor communications - over "whos to do what, when?" at
these special times. Therefore, their household emotional structures commonly shift
(perhaps chaotically), until "regular life" resumes.
of the most likely stepfamily stress-triggers at these times is if some
members haven’t yet reached a stable consensus on
as a family?"
Depending on the nature and impact of
the celebration, sometimes the structural shifts (e.g. relationship rejections and
exclusions) become permanent.
often takes four or more years of annual celebration and vacation cycles
after re/marriage to begin to forge clear, stable expectations in and among all
co-parenting homes about "Whos to do what, when?" Our society provides no
clear guidelines here for co-parents and relatives - and professionals - yet.
Another factor that
can increase the structural impact of celebrations is whether the celebrating kids and
prior family and personal losses
well enough. If they havent, stepfamily celebrations tend to be more
painful, stressful, and confusing. The more people who are
in their grief, the greater the stepfamily
The other major class of
events that trigger big emotional restructurings of related step-homes is one-time and
recurring conflicts between co-parents, and/or stepparents and stepkids.
Typical kinds of stepfamily conflicts that often cause big stepfamily relationship-shifts
battles over child
visitation, custody, and/or financial support. Legal battles
can also erupt over enforcing or changing prior
divorced bioparents. These legal agreements are often forged in times of intense upset and
conflict, and usually dont anticipate or fit multi-home stepfamily
stepparents), co-parents wills and estate plans,
and disagreements over insurance-coverage responsibilities and amounts;
cutoffs (unhealed hurts and angers, and communication
stoppages) among former in-laws or bio-kin; and
intense, ongoing values disagreements between bioparents and stepparents living
together over the primacy of their relationship. When a bioparent cant find
compromises, and cant spontaneously put their re/marriage before their
biokids most times, stepparents grow increasingly disillusioned and resentful,
withdraw or confront, and may ultimately find a way to cause re/divorce, if their
partner wont change.
Loyalty conflicts almost always
exist with - or cause - stressful (persecutor - victim - rescuer)
If persistent or severe, specially if one or more of the
people involved is
dominated by a
these can become
major re/divorce threats.
The keys to solving these
predictable step-home and stepfamily restructuring triggers are co- par-ents motivation,
and building effective problem-solving
Think about recurring
specific holidays that emotionally affect your home and whole stepfamily. Using the
symbols and conventions above, sketch structural diagrams for all involved co-parental
homes that fit each of these times. Then review the list of typical step-stressors above.
List any "regular" stres-sors in your and/or other co-parents homes,
and map your homes emotional structures when those con-flicts are at their peak (in
You've worked hard to build
your maps! Now let's focus on
Once youve invested
time and energy to evolve these maps of your stepfamily homes - what can you do
with them? Some options:
at least your co-parenting partner/s
to evolve their own sets of structural maps. Then compare and discuss them co-operatively, vs. judgmentally or
defensively. Youre all on new ground here, so give yourselves permission to
not be perfect family leaders right off the bat. Go for progress, not perfection!
Consider explaining these mapping symbols and conventions to your older kids - or
simplified versions to younger ones. Have them draw certain structural maps
(like the "baseline" and "visitation" homes) - for exploration and
creative learning. If your kids trust that you and other members wont criticize or
reject their renditions, their creativity and insight will teach you valuable information,
and give you all food for helpful discussions.
Show your structural maps to selected relatives - and/or any professionals (e.g.
counselors) youre using
- to enhance their awareness of your stepfamily homes,
relationships, and dynamics. Their constructive feedback can also add rich
perspective (and some worthy reality checks) to your perception of your stepfamilys
these structural maps are
powerful visual teaching tools for people who arent used to
"seeing" stepfamilies as complex multi-home, multi-parent systems.
Consider adding some structural-mapping terms to the way you all discuss (and
problem- solve) events in your home/s. For example, after mapping and
discussion, some families start saying things like "S/Hes above (or
below) the line," and "theres a communication wall between Jack and
Nita," as non-blaming ways of
feedback. If all members understand what
exclusions are (in family-structure context), you all have clearer
language and more problem-solving tools together.
Re-do these maps on your
anniversaries without looking at the old diagrams.
Then compare old and new versions to see whats changed - and what more you want to
support group for stepfamily
co-parents, consider having everyone make
genograms and structural
maps. Then use
them, and the mapping process, as rich discussion topics together.
Pause, breathe, and recall why you used this worksheet. Did you get what
you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what
you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident
Continue with some "thought provokers" about your stepfamily homes' several
structures and strengths.