Michael and Jenny came to see me because they were having difficulty with their 16 year old daughter. She was both kind and could also easily react by slamming doors or throwing things and would laugh at her dad when he explained how he felt, when she said horrible things to him.
He would end up in a shouting match with her, Jenny stuck in the middle and in turn could be nasty having reached the end of his tether. Jenny was far more pragmatic about what she saw as her daughters “growing up” behaviours and coped more easily, both because she seemed to know how to handle their daughter and was less open to her own feelings.
In the early sessions I came to understand about their daughter’s early life as well as their own and how they parented her. We explored how they each felt. Also what they saw in their daughter and how they reacted to each other.
What I became aware of, was how their daughter was far less self- assured than she showed. Whether she was eating ice cream late at night or on her phone until the early hours, she wasn’t being awkward or rebelling. She simply didn’t know any other way to cope with her feelings.
Her mums solution focused approach missed the struggle her daughter was going through and her dad wasn’t around enough to see or understand. By the time her dad made contact with his daughter, he became the catalyst for her to release feelings she couldn’t tolerate. He in turn was thrown back into his own early life feelings and told me it was as though he was a child all over again.
Helping them see their daughters’ behaviour as her internal age related struggle, as she moved from childhood to early adult life, relieved the pressure and they both stopped taking her reactions personally. Instead of disciplining her and trying to force conversation and behavioural change they let her know they were there if she needed, offered an empathic caring response to the late night ice cream or inability to sleep instead of attempting to find a solution and didn’t take the bait when she initially reacted.
They continued to set healthy boundaries although now agreeing both these and the consequences with their daughter.
Michael reported some very quick changes in her behaviour. Their daughter was calmer, her angry moments were short lived, she came to him more often and he felt relaxed and in turn home life was more enjoyable for all.
Michael is now in therapy with me as he also realised much of his reaction was linked to the unfinished business of his own childhood. His reactions with his daughter driven by his own fear, anxiety and worry and his desire to be needed.