Lesson 7 of 7  - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

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Using Your Structural Maps
 - Food For Talk
p.5 of 5

Celebrate your strengths, and
identify change-targets

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


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The Web address of this 5-page article is http://sfhelp.org/sf/map.htm

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        This concludes an article explaining and illustrating family structural maps.

  Talk Provokers

        Review the premises for healthy ("functional") stepfamilies, and edit them as you wish. Then review the functional (baseline) stepfamily maps (examples # 4 -7). Now focus on individual homes in your maps, and then on your stepfamily as a whole multi-home family system.  

        For productive discussions with yourself and others, explore questions like these:

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "How many co-parents do we have in our nuclear stepfamily? How many homes do they live in now? Do all our co-parents accept that they belong to the same multi-home stepfamily? (Lesson 7). If not - how is that affecting our minor children? What specific differences might it make if all our three or more co-parents acknowledged that we’re all in this together - for years to come?"

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "In this house - and in our whole stepfamily - what are our specific structural strengths?" Examples:

_  Our co-parents are solidly in charge of (one or all) home/s;

_  No one regularly feels excessively excluded or ignored;

_  Communications between various people in and between our homes are normally clear, direct, and effective;

_  There are no serious enmeshments, alliances, or oppositions now in and between our several homes;

_  Our stepfamily relationship structure is pretty functional and stable, both before and during child visitations (and/or other specially-stressful times);

_  We now have all the human resources we need to effectively make needed structural changes in this home, or in our whole multi-home stepfamily;

_  My partner and I can usually talk clearly and honestly enough together about our home’s and stepfamily’s structure; etc.

What other structural strengths do you see in your home? In your whole stepfamily?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "In this house, who’s really in charge most of the time?" If anyone other than the resident co-parents is - or if no one is - you’ve just defined a vital re/marital and co-parental problem to resolve. It will not go away by itself.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "If the resident co-parent/s aren’t in charge of (a certain home), how does that affect each of our resident and visiting minor children, over time?"

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "If a minor child in this home is consistently above the (co-parenting) line…" or "if a resident co-parent is usually below the line…" "...what would it take to get them to move above the line and stay there?"; "Who’s responsible for helping them do that? What will happen if they can’t or won’t?"

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "If there are significantly blocked communications between two or more members of this home - or between two of our stepfamily homes - what would it take to fix that?" "Who’s responsible?" "If we don’t get this fixed, how will that affect me/us?" "How will it affect our resident and visiting minor children, over time?"

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "If someone in this home feels rejected or excluded, are they doing that to themselves, or is someone else pushing them out?" "What do I (or we) need to do about this, if anything?" "What may happen if I (we) don’t?"

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "If the emotional and social boundaries of any one of our homes are too rigid - or too vague and flimsy - how does that affect me and us?" "How does it affect our minor kids living there, over time?"

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "Who in our stepfamily generally determines the relationship structure of this home? Of our whole multi-home stepfamily?" "Is that OK?" "Is it working well enough?"

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  "What would happen if I asked the other co-parents in our stepfamily to draw their own structural maps, and discuss these questions co-operatively?" "What benefits might that bring to them?" "To us all?" "What’s in the way of doing this together now?"

        Pause again, and give yourself a chance to become aware of where your thoughts want to go - and what you’re feeling (or not feeling…). Write about these now, for later review and sharing. They’ll never be as fresh as at this instant …


        Millions of American multi-home stepfamilies (re/marriages) fail, within ~10 years of their founding. One of several key reasons is their great structural complexity, and the related challenge to co-parents of managing them effectively.

        The emotional structure of any family’s home is composed of invisible things like roles, rules, leadership and power, communication flows and barriers, membership inclusions and exclusions,  and psychological boundaries. To avoid re/divorce trauma for you and your dependent kids, it can really help to see and understand the emotional and role structure of each of your co-parenting homes, and all your related homes together.

        Two flexible visual tools can help partners see their complex stepfamily: genograms, and structural maps. The Web pages on these tools aim to spark your curiosity, thinking, creativity, discovery - and constructive stepfamily discussions. These maps are meant to help you get to know and more effectively manage your multi-home stepfamily - not to blame yourself or other members!

        Try not to get hung up on "Having to do these diagrams right" - e.g. exactly according to the guidelines here. Catch the spirit of these illustrations and suggestions, and evolve your stepfamily’s own "right," by choosing symbols and mapping conventions that really fit you and your unique people.

The basic aim here is to help you visually symbolize, clearly and concisely, (a) what are your household and stepfamily structural strengths, and (b) what are aspects of your emotional structures that you want to improve, over time.

        As co-parenting teammates, work toward clarifying your common beliefs about wholistic family health. Then get clearer on what you are trying to do together as household co-residents, and as a whole multi-home stepfamily. Genograms and structural maps let you clearly symbolize your family composi-tion and structure, and some key problems.

        Learn the territory, set your goals, hold hands, keep your knees loose, take your time - and enjoy the adventure together!

        Pause, breathe, and recall why you used this 5-page article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or "someone else"?

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Updated September 29, 2015