For some youngsters the painful shock comes when they have left a quiet, financially tight, but rather peaceful life in the relatively conflict free home of their grandparents and they arrive into a family where the couple is constantly fighting, and the fighting is about to escalate to violence, and at the base of it there is infidelity, ot alcoholism, or other such serious problem. This is what 14 year old Lady found. Not long after her arrival, she realized that her mother and her stepfather were locked in constant battle, shouting and cussing at each other almost everyday. At this times she would run to hide in her room, trying to calm down her sobbing younger siblings who followed behind her. One day after school, she walked into a phone conversation the mother was having that was obviously with another man and plans were being made for getting together. The mother then made her promise to keep quiet and to even cover up for her when she would leave the house. An extremely difficult situation for any child, Lady’s lack of deep feelings and connection with her mother, with whom she never had the chance to develop a close relationship, for she had left when she was very little, would make it even harder for her to become her loyal ally as requested. Moreover, she felt disgusted and her already precarious respect for her disappeared, as she considered her stepfather to be a good enough man that did not deserve this kind of treatment. He was always considerate to Lady and a caring father to his children. One day, after a big argument with her mother, Lady stormed out and ended up disclosing the whole situation to the stepfather. After confronting his wife, he decided to leave and Lady ended up with an enraged mother who called her a traitor and blamed her for destroying her marriage. She felt awfully guilty, confused and devastated, wishing like always that she had never come. Even though the stepfather ended up coming back, her mother never forgave her and her life continued to be miserable at home. That is when she started joining the wrong crowd at school, feeling totally alienated by everybody at home and finding no consolation in studying hard as she had before. Our only hope at school was that the home-based therapy requested for this family would maybe allow Lady’s mother to realize what an impossible situation she had created for her daughter in asking for her to cover up her infidelity, totally disregarding the feelings of the child and then, perhaps they could come to some more peaceful place of starting anew before Lady would end up in serious trouble.
A mother and her husband, whom she had met in this country, were in total despair when they arrived in my office. Their beautiful 16th year old daughter, who had come a year before, was starting to ignore their curfew, coming 2 or 3 hours late, while they were frantically trying to find her, calling late at night at all of the girl’s friends they knew. When confronted, she had become increasingly more rebellious and belligerent with them and they were scared to death. In trying to find out more about the family, the parents revealed that they had gotten married not that long. The father had lost contact with his children from a first marriage, as they did not want to come and join him in this country, but had rather chosen to stay with their mother back at home. He was looking forward to being a great stepfather to his wife’s daughter and was apparently very involved in directing the mother on how to raise this child. He felt very frustrated with his wife’s “lack of character” in dealing with her and was incongruously full of suggestions from his experience on being a parent, though he had not lived with his children for many years. The mother seemed very confused and scared of alienating this girl, who had grown without her, raised by aunts and grandmother. These aunts were now in this country, living not too far from them, but somehow the mother had forbidden the daughter to see them and this prohibition had fueled her tremendous resentment and rebellion, because she had always been very close to them. The reason given for this decision was that the aunts hated this sister and could not stand her new husband. So, the parents felt they kept creating conflict between them and this child, constantly fueling the child’s mistrust of them. The rest of the story was a “big family secret” that “could not be revealed to anybody”, but did explain these sisters’ feud. It was a tremendous challenge to negotiate for the child to continue to see this people, who meant so much to her, as long as she also agreed to respect the curfew set by the parents. It involved for the child and the parents to request firmly that the aunts respect and honor the mother’s need to reconnect with her daughter and stop speaking against her and her new husband, regardless of their feelings about them. And, it meant also asking this over involved stepfather to leave room for the mother and daughter to resolve their difficulties by themselves. So many dancers present and not present in this room, each one following their own agenda, and their own needs, and each one pulling on this girl’s strings. It was no wonder she seemed under tremendous stress and was getting angrier and more defiant each day. As everybody involved agreed to these changes, for the sake of this child’s welfare, the conflicts among them all decreased as did the pulls on this girl’s loyalties in the on-going battle of the grown-ups.