Separation and divorce is fertile ground for children to misbehave since they are unable to handle their anger and grief. It is very common for children to develop emotional problems since they often have an ulterior motive to unite their parents and maintain the illusion of being an intact family with both parents living harmoniously. In addition, the child perceives the step-parent as an intruder who destroyed their fantasy of reuniting their parents.
Joyce, an eleven year old girl entered my office together with both parents and her younger brother; this was the picture perfect family of a highly attractive couple with an adorable son and daughter. Joyce was the identified patient who began viewing pornographic material on the computer, became increasingly defiant and threatened to kill herself when mom tried to set limits. Joyce’s parents were living together for ten years and separated last year when dad left the family to move in with his new girlfriend. Dad remained part of his children’s life despite starting a new family and having another child with his present partner; it was very clear that dad loved his children and worked long hours to support them in addition to spending a great deal of quality time with his kids.
I used a genogram to help understand the family dynamics and explore Joyce’s feelings of anger and resentment towards her step-mother, the identified villain. Joyce was able to acknowledge that her step-mother was trying to win her over while simultaneously protecting her baby, Joyce’s sister from being tainted by Joyce’s hostility towards her step-mother. Joyce was able to recognize that her ambivalence was isolating her from forging a relationship with her cherished baby sister; furthermore, the therapist challenged Joyce’s assumption that her step-mother deliberately dated an attached male. Joyce’s dad was not wearing a wedding band since he was not officially married to his common law wife; therefore, her step-mother had no indication that she was breaking up a home. Joyce was able to gain better insight and assess the matter objectively; her father did not necessarily inform her step-mother that he has a family with children. Joyce was able to relinquish her resentment towards her step-mother and asked me not to divulge these sessions to her mother. She did not want mom who is filled with hatred toward her step-mom to think that Joyce is betraying her; therefore, therapy focused on brainstorming ways to alleviate mom’s anger. Joyce tried acknowledging mom’s devotion and expressing gratitude to her mother which alleviated mom’s hostility and improved the atmosphere in the home.
The ensuing therapy focused on Joyce’s aspirations and planning how to best achieve these goals. These sessions were crucial in empowering Joyce since she was able to realize that she is able to actualize her dreams; this recognition helped her focus on a positive future and alleviated her disappointment that her family does not live under one roof.