section of the narrative presents a picture of family harmony. Yes, Kathy is
distracted and does not want to participate in the family ritual: small talk at
the dinner table. Nonetheless, all seems well.
On the surface, you may find it difficult to see the points
of risk. They are there, though. Keep in mind Kathy is forty-five years old.
From the perspective of an adult woman and her aging mother, reconsider these
points in the narrative. Your goal is to identify significant events, behavior,
and attitudes and develop inferences and conclusions. Observe, assess what you
have observed, and define the family risk.
“She needed that today,
of all days.”
This suggests Kathy has a serious problem. She is
preoccupied and today is not a typical day: a potential sign of risk.
“Kathy quietly slipped
into the house, bypassed the kitchen, and went straight into the den.”
She is avoiding people and prefers to be alone. Although her
wanting some time to herself is not by itself anything to be concerned about,
it does seem unusual she would come to her parents’ house and then slip
off by herself. One clue to potential risk is behavior or attitudes that do not
quite fit the situation.
“For years, she and Jess
had eaten there every Monday and Friday night.”
In Kathy’s family, rituals may take precedence over personal
preferences and interests. Combine this point with the first two. Kathy is
preoccupied. She prefers being alone. Nonetheless, she goes to her parents’
house because it is expected. Although rituals and traditions in your
family are important, they can sometimes be a problem. They can become a
substitute for honest, open communication and a way of disguising real
attitudes and feelings.
“She figured she had
about a half hour before her mother would find her again. . . .”
She waits for her mother to come to her instead of simply
letting her know she wants to talk. This is a poor approach to communication
and problem solving. It is a mind reading game of sorts. You should know
I have a problem and want to talk although I have not told you. You should read
my mind. Notice how this becomes a pattern through the rest of the narrative.
“Even as a child, she
(Jess) was never very outgoing. That always worried Kathy but she never
encouraged anything different.”
This also will become a pattern, a pattern of seeing
problems but not doing anything about them. Most bad outcomes in families do
not just happen. Rather, they build and develop over time. Little problems
accumulate into bigger problems that fester and build toward crises and bad
outcomes. Even though the little problems were manageable, the crises may not
“I’ve just been really
worried about Jess lately.”
Kathy points to her problem; but she also leaves you to
wonder why she is worried now, considering she has been concerned for years but
has done little about it. It is like being upset and wanting to lock the barn
door after the horse has already gotten out.
“I’ve been worried about
you lately. You’ve seemed so preoccupied and distracted in recent weeks and
hiding out in the den like you’ve done tonight is just not like you.”
Here, note the phrase, recent weeks. She has been noticing
for weeks that Kathy has problems but is just now getting around to talking
with her about them. Like daughter, like mother? Kathy has known about Jess’
problems for years but has done little. Miriam has known about Kathy’s problems
but has not said anything. This is a pattern you will come to see as a major
key to the bad outcomes the family experiences.
“Do you want to talk now
or should I just leave you alone?”
What do you think Miriam’s choice would be if Kathy left it
up to her? It is likely she would wait just a few more weeks. Perhaps Kathy’s
problem will go away and Miriam will never have to deal with it.
“Actually dear, you are
forty-five,” interrupted Miriam, “but you are not alone. You have
your family and what about your job and the church?”
Since Kathy presses to talk, Miriam starts by telling her
she (Kathy) has it wrong. The problem is not what Kathy thinks it is. At a
minimum, this is certainly not an example of congruent communication.
“Mom, I know but I’m not
talking about me,” Kathy said sharply.
“Well, I think maybe you
are. Before you start handling Jess’ problems, I think you need to deal with
your own first.”
Kathy tries; but Miriam charges on. She knows better than
Kathy what Kathy is talking about and goes on to tell her what her problem
really is. Notice Miriam’s use of I think. Kathy is trying to tell her
what she thinks and feels and Miriam responds with what she thinks. With this
approach, Miriam is unlikely to ever learn what Kathy thinks, what Kathy’s
problem really is.
“Kathy, I think your
problems all started twenty-five years ago with your marriage to Dan. . .
This may be true but does not seem very responsive to
Kathy’s problems now. Also recall that Kathy is worried about Jess. She thinks
Jess has a problem. Given Miriam’s approach, Jess’ problem may never be
As you read the rest of the narrative, use your understanding
of relationships, communication, problem solving, and decision making
to assess the interaction between Kathy and her mother. You will see
parallels in Kathy’s interactions with her father, Dan, and Jess. Also, look
for signs of Individual, Marital, Parent, and Getting along risk. You
will be able to spot many risk points leading from one bad outcome to another.