section shows the bad outcomes compounding. It will be helpful to focus on
Kathy and particularly on Jess. Although both mother and daughter do turn
toward other people, they turn back to each other. The earlier pattern of
Jess went through a few years ago, Kathy was amazed at how well she was doing.
She was a shy little girl but Kathy figured it was just hereditary. After all,
she herself had been shy as a child and still was as an adult.”
Knowing how Jess is actually doing, the surprising part of
it all is that Kathy sees her as doing well, or is it? What you learn is Kathy
identifies with Jess. She is just like her mother. It is hereditary. Children
usually grow up to be much like their parents and you have seen what Kathy has
done to assure this.
“Jess just told all her
friends she did not have a daddy. Kathy let her daughter deal with the
situation her own way. She felt that was best.”
People tend to construct a reality that fits how they want
the world to be. Of course Kathy let Jess deal with Dan’s being gone by saying
he did not exist. That is what Kathy wanted and Jess’ saying he does not exist
fit nicely into Kathy’s definition of the world.
“Mom, I don’t know why
you are making me meet this Mike guy, she said shortly, with her hands on her
hips. Jess, I told you he is a good friend of mine and he wants to get to know
you. I really like him, and I think if you give it a chance, you will like him
too, Kathy replied. Jess said nothing. She just stood there staring at her
mother in disgust.”
Kathy tells Jess that Mike wants to meet her. She does not
own any responsibility for wanting to include Mike in her relationship with
Jess or Jess in her relationship with Mike. Again, men are just coming into and
out of Jess’ life with little discussion and less explanation. There is almost
no communication about things that are happening, no problem solving, and
decisions are just made no matter what the effect on whom.
“Over the next few years,
Kathy and Mike continued to see each other almost on a daily basis. Jess had
come to love Mike just as much as her mother did and Kathy felt ready to try
Here give special attention to Jess’ developing relationship
with Mike. He has become an important part of her life and she is beginning to
include him into her (Jess’) family. After all, this is what she believes her
“Just when Kathy began to
have some major concerns about her daughter’s lack of social life, Jess came
home from school and announced she had a date with a boy named Craig.”
Jess is beginning to reach out to include others in her
life. Her development is paralleling Kathy’s. They both appear to be including
others in their world. Jess has a boyfriend and appears to be expanding her
sense of self to include people other than Kathy. How would you expect this to
“Kathy did not like how
absorbed they were in each other but Jess never seemed to listen when she
voiced her concerns. In fact, Jess more or less lost all interest in her
mother. Kathy felt very hurt about the whole thing.”
Recall how quickly and intensely Kathy became involved with
Mike. Now Jess does the same with her friend. Her adolescent intensity is
strong and Kathy’s efforts to talk to her are weak. A little of it is normal
but their inability to communicate is no surprise. They never have communicated
about things important to Jess. Now that she is a teenager, she simply ignores
her mother. Also, Kathy is not so much concerned about Jess as hurt about
losing her best friend.
“Even though Kathy was
still involved with Mike, she began feeling very lonely. She lived with Dan all
those years and he neglected her. Now she lived with Jess and she was
neglecting her too.”
Jess is neglecting Kathy? Who is the parent and who is the
child? Also, recall that Dan’s neglecting Kathy and Jess was where the
destruction of their family began. Over the years, Kathy has had a consistent
pattern of seeing her problems as caused by someone neglecting her. Now Jess is
moving into the villain’s position. The underlying reality is that Kathy’s
jealousy first of Dan’s mother and now of Jess’ boyfriend is the family secret,
the one thing no one points out or discusses.
“Kathy started spending
more and more time by herself. She hardly ever went out with Mike anymore.
Instead, she drowned herself in food. Slowly, she began gaining weight. And as the
pounds went on, her loneliness and misery just got worse.”
How does Kathy deal with her family’s problems? She does
not. Rather, she withdraws.
“He dumped me! Jess said
in between uncontrolled sobs. For the next hour, Kathy stayed in Jess’ room and
cradled her in her arms. For the first time in over a year, Kathy felt needed
by her daughter. Although she hated how her daughter was feeling, she felt
thrilled at the possibility Jess would be all hers again.”
What happened? Someone dumping someone is the norm for
adolescent relationships. Instead of supporting Jess, however, Kathy saw this
as an opportunity to get Jess back. Another risk point has come and gone; and
both Kathy and Jess are worse off for the way it was managed.
“All the ice cream
sundaes and movie popcorn helped Kathy gain even more weight. By the end of the
summer, she was more than forty pounds overweight. Although she was having a
great time with Jess, her self-image plummeted. She did not mind going out in
public with her daughter but she no longer wanted to be in an intimate
relationship. Therefore she cut Mike completely loose. They hadn’t spent much
time together lately and Kathy just made it official.”
Two points are important here. First, Kathy was comfortable
in her relationship with Jess. There, everything was fine from her perspective.
She did not need the relationship with Mike. Second, recall that Jess did not
want a relationship with Mike but one developed. Mike was her mother’s friend
and Jess came to love him. Now what happens? Kathy cuts off that relationship
too, with little or no explanation. Mike is just jerked away from her as Dan
“A uniformed courier
stood in the doorway and asked for her (Jess) by name. She signed for the
registered letter he delivered and almost fainted as she read the return
address. The letter was from her father, Dan. I’m going to start dinner. She
(Kathy) paused before she went on. If you want to read the letter that’s fine.
If not, we can return it unopened. But as Jess was heading out, she stopped by
her mom’s bedroom. I’ve decided to return the letter. He has not been my father
for years so there is no reason to start anything now. She quickly left before
her mother could reply. Kathy sat down on the edge of her bed as a great
feeling of relief spread throughout her body. She was hoping Jess would make
that decision because she was unsure how she would handle Dan’s being back in
their lives again.”
Several points here are instructive but hardly surprising by
this point. First, Dan still thinks he has a daughter whether Jess and Kathy
agree or not. Why he wants to communicate with Jess after all these years is
not important to Kathy, although it may be to Jess. Nonetheless, she decides
not to read the letter. Do you think Jess wanted to read it? Whatever she
thought, Kathy made it clear she did not want her to. She went so far as to
tell Jess what to do: send it back unopened. Certainly Kathy believes she gave
Jess a choice but do you believe she did? The decision making process followed
the pattern developed over the years.
Also, note that Kathy had no concern for Jess and her
wishes. She was just glad she did not have to deal with Dan back in her life,
the point not withstanding that Dan’s goal was to reenter Jess’ life, not
Kathy’s. This apparently did not enter Kathy’s mind.
The final section of the narrative ends your time with
Kathy, Jess, Miriam, and John but is certainly not the end of the story.
Your challenge is to identify and understand the points of
risk but also is to predict what will happen to them and especially to Jess.
Several risk points are highlighted to call attention to continuing patterns
and risks. Here, think about this. Each risk point also is an opportunity.
There is the danger of bad outcomes and an equal opportunity to manage the risk
in ways that redirect the momentum toward good outcomes. For Kathy’s family as
for yours, the opportunity is to find the path to those good outcomes and to
avoid the vulnerabilities of families at risk.