Issue at hand: A daughter is struggling with an eating disorder and the family is at their wits end. Mom starts going to meetings, gets some counseling, and after months of learning, decides to start practicing her skills on a daily basis, which it so happens will also include her relationship with her daughter.
Mom, “I realize that I do not understand as well as I could what you are going through. I’m going to go get some help for me.” And then – actually does so! Sometimes her daughter needs a ride home from school, but it is during the time of her mom’s support group. On those nights, mom has learned not to skip her class, but enlist the help of her husband or sister to pick up the little darling. Once in awhile, no one is available and mom is learning to say so. This is very anxiety producing, but guess what? This young woman is learning how to find a ride when necessary. One night after mom gets home from support group says, “Well, did you tell them about my incident yesterday?” Ramping up the sarcasm, “Did any of your new little friends have ADVICE for me?”
Mom, experienced and engaged in her own recovery is startled by her own easy breezy response, “Why Suzie Q, this group is for me and about me. Your name doesn’t even come up in the conversation. So no, we didn’t talk about your getting caught throwing up in the school bathroom. And also no, no one gives advice in our group.” Then mom gives Suzie a hug and a peck on the top of her head and says, “Whew! I’m headed to bed.” Mom has learned the signs of when Suzie is trying to instigate an argument and she neatly sidesteps the trap.
Suzie, startled by changes her mother is making begins to push for more of a reaction. She begins to up her aggression; she starts blaming her mother for her issues. Mom often sidesteps these conversations, but occasionally responds. On this day she says, “Honey, if you’d like to discuss this with a therapist, I’m happy to go with you. But you, my darling, are responsible for the life you make for yourself. I simply don’t have the power you are handing me when you blame me for everything. However, I do want to support your recovery so I am open to a respectful dialogue with a professional who can help me improve my support. Would you like me to arrange that?” Long pause with no response from her daughter, so she adds, “Hey, you want to go to a movie?” Each of these examples are ways that mom is creating and opening up space in their relationship. Our “isms” thrive when one family member is pitted against another. It stirs up chaos and confusion – best friends with “isms”. Are you contributing to chaos in your relationships? We’ll unpack these exchanges in the next few days. I would ask you to try to see how your own relationships could benefit from the practices this mom has started instituting….Change is hard. Hardly anyone looks forward to it. When families are under stress the toll it takes often means that when someone does try to take a risk and do something different, collaboration may be a bridge too far. People have learned to isolate or to blame. Here is an imaginary but not unrealistic conversation that I think we might need to figure out how to emulate.