Stuck. The session had barely started when I knew it would be “same old, same old” – surface, circular talk going nowhere. The parents and two teen daughters, both adopted, hunkered down in their predictable places – parents on opposite ends of the sofa, daughters in pulled away chairs – all looking at me, wanting different things.
The daughters were at war with each other that was getting worse each day. The mother had come for help and I suggested family sessions which she felt made sense. Her husband balked at the idea but showed up in the end. The family had been seeing me for more than a month and nothing was moving. The parents felt their daughters were the problem while the daughters used the time to blame each other for having to be there.
“So,” I said, “let’s cut to the chase. What’s really not working in this family for each of you?”
All four squirmed where they sat. The parents looked at each other and the two girls smirked. No one said a word. Finally, the father said, “I just want these three to get along. They’re always going at it and it drives me crazy.”
“You’ve never been there for us,” his wife said, “and the girls are a full-time job for me these days. I need some backup once in a while.”
” M-o-m-m,” both girls said as one, the older finishing, “Dad does all he can!”
“But I am always the heavy with you two,” the mother went on. “I feel like you both hate me at times for that. He just stays out of our fighting when I need him most.”
“Honey, they’re g-i-r-l-s,” the husband blurted. You wanted a daughter, then another. If we had a son…”
He stopped abruptly. There was a long, jagged silence. Then he added, almost whispering, “I don’t know girl stuff,” and went silent again.
I let the silence work for me then said to him, “Can you hear your wife’s aloneness?”
“She’s a great mother. I know the girls are a handful but…”
“You don’t know girl stuff,” I cut in, “so you just let the three of them go at it.”
“What else can I do?” He spread his hands, glancing at all of us.
“Glad you asked,” I said. “I think your wife and daughters can help with that. It’s what families are for.”
Unstuck. Of course the issues were larger than his disconnection but we finally had a workplace. My job was to keep the family talking and helping them collapse the gaps between them. It was too early to thank the daughters for getting the family to a place where that could happen.