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Risk Points:

The first 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 be.

“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 discussed.

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.

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