When we think about families, we usually think about personalities — that your sister has a temper, that your brother is sensitive — or about interactions and emotional climate — that everyone argues all the time, or that dad rules the house, or that there isn’t a lot of affection. Or we can think in terms of roles — the martyr, victim, hero, mascot, loner, rebel.
But we can also look at families in terms of structure. This was the basis for structural family therapy, which was developed by Salvador Minuchin in the 1970s and is still used by family therapists today. From this perspective, there are healthy family structures and those less so. Here are the five basic types; see where your childhood family and current family fit.
1. Our healthy model.
This is Minuchin’s model of a healthy family. To help get you oriented here, we have parents represented by P, the children as C. There is a hierarchy in that the parents are on top having more power and control, the children on the bottom having less, and the solid line between them indicates that there is a clear boundary between the adult and child worlds.
The solid line between the parents indicates that they have a strong adult relationship where they are not only emotionally connected but also equally responsible. As parents, though their styles may differ, they are on the same page: They agree about expectations, consequences, and so on, in managing the children. And if this is a single parent rather than a two-parent family, the same criteria apply — there is still a hierarchy in place, and the parent is clear and consistent. Finally, the solid lines connecting the children means that even though there is some normal amount of sibling rivalry, the children get along and support each other.