Family Relationships

You ever put a bunch of wires in a box on a shelf? If you wait just a little while, you end up with an impossibly tangled box of wires. It seems that you can leave it undisturbed on a shelf for months and when you go to retrieve one, somehow they are all got tangled together. This phenomenon does not seem to occur unless there are more than two wires. Two wires in a box are easy to untangle if they do get tangled.

Relationships are a lot like wires in a box. If the relationship is just two people, issues can get sorted out pretty quickly. It may be that the two people agree to disagree or decide they aren't going to "go there". Two people can decide they don't like each other and decide they will allow a generous amount of space between them. Put three people in a relationship and issues can remain unresolved for years. It's no wonder people have difficulty with their families, relationships can't be managed in groups, only in two's.

Beth has been very angry at her mother for undermining her relationship with her daughter, Melissa. Beth struggled with postpartum depression and her mother worried how she was handling her responsibilities as a new parent. Beth's mother checked in frequently with her granddaughter Melissa, and tried to make sure she was okay. Sometimes, things were not okay and her grandmother's help was needed. Beth often felt inadequate as a parent and her mother's "help" often felt like a validation of her inadequacies. As the years went by, it became clear that Melissa was not just taken care of but had become somewhat manipulative with regards to her grandmother. Melissa was able to get what she wanted just by expressing how her mother hurt feelings or treated her unfairly. When Beth said "no" it was not uncommon for grandmother to say "yes".

Beth had two relationships to resolve, her relationship with her daughter and her relationship with her mother. Trying to control her mother through her daughter or vice versa would never work.

When Beth sat down with her mother she acknowledged that she did have trouble after childbirth. She expressed her appreciation for the help her mother gave her, even if she was unable to say so at the time. She related how this experience left her unsure as a parent and caused her to doubt herself. Although she was feeling better and doing better, she felt her mother only saw her for how she use to be. Beth explained to her mother how Melissa had gotten her to buy a new game that had been taken away as a punishment for getting in trouble at school.

Through a series of conversation, Beth's mother began to realize she was being manipulated by Melissa and that was a big problem. Melissa's best interest was always the most important issue and this type of manipulative behavior would never serve her well. She was glad to hear that Beth was aware of her difficulty with depression. She felt a greater sense of trust that Beth was able to acknowledge when she was struggling. Beth's mother decided that when Melissa was upset with her mother Beth, she would listen and offer emotional support but not do anything to bail her out. Instead, she would circle back privately with her daughter Beth to share what was going on with Melissa in a general way to see if there was anything she could do to be supportive.

These changes did not take place over an afternoon but through a series of conversations between Beth and her mother over months and years. Beth and Melissa had quite a few conversations as well. After Beth grounded Melissa, Beth picked up the phone and called her mother in front of Melissa and explained to her what Melissa had done and why she was in trouble. The clear communication between the two, both Beth and her daughter and Beth and her mother, left an unencumbered relationship between grandmother and granddaughter. Melissa was upset about being grounded and her grandmother always loved her even if she did misbehave.

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