section may be the source of the old saying about things going from bad to
worse. Kathy’s family may have hit an all time low in the areas of problem
solving and decision making. There also are several patterns in this section of
special interest. To best recognize them, look at these risk points from Jess’
“Kathy did not think she
would ever get the sound of Jess’ screams out of her head. She had cried and
screamed the whole way out the door. She did not want to go but Dan was
relentless. He did not care about her feelings. He was satisfied just by seeing
Kathy standing there helpless.”
Remember Jess is a little girl who does not understand any
of this. She only knows her mother and grandparents do not like Dan and do not
want her to go with him. They are not talking with her about going with Daddy
in positive terms and are as upset about it as she is, although they are trying
to be more adult about it. Dan just wants to get Jess and leave so he
says little. His issue is with Kathy and her letting him see his daughter, not
with helping Jess feel less afraid and more comfortable. What do you think would
have happened if Dan had quietly said this to Kathy?
Kathy, we have a real problem with Jess. Neither of us
wants to see her so upset. Can we try this? Can you, I, and Jess walk in the
yard for a few minutes before we go? She needs to see we both love her. I do
and I know you do too. Can we see if we can help her calm down a little before
she and I go? We can be nice to each other for a few minutes for her, if not
for us. Will you try this with me?
Jess is trapped between the adults. From her perspective,
she is not in a winnable position. She gets upset, cries, and aligns with her
mother. If she were living with Dan and his mother and the adults behaved the
same, it is likely she would not want to go with Kathy. As you see, events have
little to do with Jess and she knows it.
“She was beginning to
worry about changes she had seen in her daughter since this all started. Jess
had become extremely moody and somewhat withdrawn. Kathy had expected this
Kathy had expected Jess to have serious problems and Jess
did as her mother expected. How do you think Kathy would have reacted if Jess
had been happy about seeing Dan? Children do tend to behave as their parents
expect them to behave, especially in unusual or difficult situations.
Additionally, Kathy and Dan did not try to sit down and discuss what was
happening with Jess. From Jess’ perspective, she was having a very bad time of
it and neither her mother nor her father seemed to care.
“Jess did not really hold
Kathy responsible but Kathy could sense that her daughter wondered why she had
not done anything to stop this terrible thing from happening.”
Jess likely did not hold Dan responsible either. You also
may want to ask what this terrible thing is from Jess’ perspective. In
the short-term, the terror has mostly to do with all the anger, tension, and
pulling back-and-forth on her. Her fear and confusion are but background for
the adult battle. That must indeed be a terrifying place. The long-term
terrible thing comes later.
“When Kathy questioned
Jess about these visits, she said Dan took her to Gramma Patty’s and dropped
her off for the day. She said it was cold in Patty’s house and she usually just
sat in front of the TV with her coat on. Jess also said Patty set her outside
for long periods of time.”
First assume this is literally true. What does it mean?
Patty’s house is cold, Jess is sent outside to play, and she watches a lot of
television. Is Jess’ telling Kathy going to change things? Sadly, it is not.
Jess tells Kathy about her problems and nothing happens from her perspective
and no one talks to Patty. Suppose Kathy had been proactive about Jess’
problems and had said this to Dan. What difference would it have made?
Dan, Jess has been having a lot of colds and has not been
feeling well. Would you mention this to Patty so she will be aware of the
problem. Jess said she has been getting cold at Patty’s and goes outside a lot.
I suspect Patty is used to having her house cooler than Jess is used to. Maybe
she could raise the heat a little and not let Jess spend so much time outside,
at least until she gets over her cold. Do you think that would cause any
problems, at least until Jess feels better?
“Your father and I have
been talking and we have come up with an idea for dealing with this problem of
Jess being sick and filthy when she returns from her visits with Dan, Miriam
Not surprisingly, Kathy’s father and Miriam have a solution.
Since Kathy has not taken much responsibility for her family’s difficulties,
her parents are there to her rescue. Also, recall that her father came in,
picked Jess up, and took her off to bed. Her parents’ plan turned out to be
something Miriam told Kathy about and she and Kathy would follow through with.
“Your father and I
decided since we cannot afford to hire a private investigator, then maybe we
should do our own detective work, Miriam said.”
Her parents have decided and Kathy is being told what
she and her mother will do. This simply continues the long-standing pattern. As
you think about this, ask yourself what behavior and attitudes would have been
more productive for Kathy’s family, for her, Dan, and Jess. Recall that even
Miriam said the plan sounded crazy.
“Kathy had been worried
Dan might try something stupid but he did not.”
Here you see another long-standing pattern. Dan is perceived
as a monster who might do stupid and irrational things. How would things change
if he were only seen as a jealous man who paid little attention to his wife and
daughter and was unusually close to his mother? He is hardly a saint but is not
a monster either. Now also suppose, despite her perceptions of her behavior,
Kathy actually had been flirting with Dan’s friends some and was not making
much effort to get along with his mother before she and Dan split. Would this
change your view of what is happening? The point is this. Each person in your
family understands what is happening from his or her point of view. What one
person thinks is going on may not be at all the same as someone else thinks.
Assessing your family’s risk starts with your trying to see events from other
perspectives. Why does each person think his or her behavior and attitudes are
appropriate and reasonable when you do not think they are?
“She should have known
better than to get her hopes up about this. Dan always seemed to get things his
Kathy continues to see herself as the victim. Do you think
Dan sees himself as the one who always wins and gets his way? Also think about
this. Each person in the narrative has developed a personal perspective. Things
are happening to them individually. Events are not seen as bad outcomes for
their family. Rather, bad things are happening to, being done to them
one at a time. There is no sense that anyone has a family perspective.
Everything that is happening is happening to Kathy’s family but is anyone
interested in that perspective? It does not seem so.
“Since the day she walked
out of Mr. Benton’s office with the bad news about the pictures, Kathy had been
almost zombie-like. Every day was like the same day over and over. She would
just wake up, make breakfast for her and Jess, go to her classes, come home,
make dinner, and go to bed. When Dan picked up Jess for her visits the last
several weeks, Kathy could not even go to the door anymore. Miriam was the one
who saw that Jess left alright. Kathy felt bad about it but she just could not
deal with things anymore.”
Here the circle closes. Jess is moody and withdrawn, Kathy
is now moody and withdrawn, and Miriam is dealing with Dan. He is the outsider.
Kathy’s family is now her, her mother, her father, and Jess; and Miriam is
taking care of Jess. Note too that Dan still comes for Jess each visitation day
and appears to be trying to maintain his relationship with her. Whatever
motives may be attributed to him, it may be that part of his motivation is to
keep something going with Jess.
“Kathy was almost sure
Dan would give up on these visits once the divorce was final. He would no
longer have to get back at her. Their life together would be completely
It is easy by now to see how Kathy plans to solve her
problem. Given time, Dan will just go away, she hopes. This is a product of her
individual perspective. If her plan works, Dan will be out of Jess’ life
forever too. Wonder how Patty and Dan feel about that prospect. No consideration
is given to the idea that Dan and his mother might actually want to have Jess
as part of their family. Everything boils down to the victimization of Kathy,
“For five minutes, Kathy
and Miriam watched as John spoke to Dan. The next thing they saw was Dan
heading toward his car. Kathy could not believe her eyes. He was leaving! John
came into the house and looked at her and Jess. He won’t be bothering you
anymore. And with that, he turned and walked out of the room. No one ever found
out what was said on the porch that day but whatever it was had kept Dan away.
He no longer came to pick up Jess and he did nothing by way of contacting his
It does not matter what John said to intimidate or threaten
Dan. The fact is he said something and Dan left. John finally reached his goal.
Kathy and Jess were back home and Dan was gone. Father knows best and Kathy’s
family is no more. It is once again John’s family and Kathy is where she has
thought for many years she really belonged. What this means for Jess is yet to