Families come in all types, shapes and sizes. Some families contain a single parent and child(ren), while others involve co-parenting relationships. Some are blended families where children from previous relationships share a common home either full or part-time. There are traditional, nuclear families (parents and kids) and extended families with grandparent(s) and/or aunts and uncles sharing the family home. Same-sex couples with children are no longer uncommon.
No matter the type of family unit, one thing they all share is that they are complicated. Plus, the more people and generations involved, the greater number (and types) of relationships. We all know that relationships can be messy!
A Model For Thinking About Families
When I talk to families about their families, I often describe a mobile. If we think of a mobile, it’s elements are in balance. They are in relationship with each other, and it is the relationships that keep the mobile functional.
Now imagine that we cut out one of the pieces off the mobile. What happens? The mobile falls out of balance, goes askew, and can no longer do its job.
Families (no matter their size or make-up) are like mobiles. When everything is going as expected (relationships continue as usual) the family is able to function. It may not be going “well”, but the family carries on.
Problems start when something happens to put the family structure out of balance. Perhaps one of the members leaves (either through death, divorce or moving away). Sometimes a new member joins the group through (re)marriage, birth, adoption, friendship, etc. Maybe a person in the family has changed the way they behave with others, and is now refusing to fill a role they have done for years. Perhaps someone has been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening disease. The structure has changed in a fundamental way.
Families in Therapy
When a family comes into therapy, one of the first steps is to get a clear picture of what the ‘mobile’ looks like. Who are the members? What roles do they fulfill? How do the relationships between each of the parts work?
Once we have a clearer picture, we can start to look at rebuilding the structure to put it back into balance. How do we incorporate new members? How do we mourn members who have left and look at who will take on their role(s)? Are these roles still necessary? What emotional injuries need to be healed between members? With blended families, we are creating a new mobile.
No matter the type if family, in the therapy process we explore the relationships between each person(s) and how they contribute to supporting each member as well as contributing to the overall balance of the system (family).
Family life isn’t perfect. It can be difficult, frustrating, and anxiety-provoking. However, it can also be wonderful! Being part of a family is where we can learn about ourselves, grow, help others, share history, and ideally have our needs met.
If you feel that your family life is not what you would like it to be, or an event has put your family out of balance; please contact me and let’s explore how I can help.