|One day in Bulgaria I was
talking to a mother and her 15 year old daughter
who I will call Desi. Just then the daughter
received a call on her cell phone. After she
finished she and her mother got into a bit of an
argument. At one point the daughter shouted,
"But I miss her!". Then she started to
The mother sat
there with a cold, disapproving look on her face.
She let the daughter cry alone. Because I knew
the mother well I asked if I could tell her how I
would feel if someone were talking t me the way
the mother had been talking to her daughter. The
mother agreed. I told her I would feel
invalidated and not understood. I would feel
uncared for and alone if I were left there to cry
without anyone giving me a hug. At this point the
mother got very defensive. She started attacking
me verbally. Among other things she said "It
is easy for you to be a father for a day!"
She also said that she had many problems and was
under a lot of stress. She said I didn't
understand and that no one understood. Then she
put her head down on the desk and started to cry.
I just put my arm on her
shoulder and listened while she cried. Then I
gave her a small hug. In a minute or two she
apologized and I told her that it is true that I
don't understand all the details and asked if she
wanted to help me understand. It was clear that
the mother did not want her daughter to spend
time with her friend, Maria. The daughter,
meanwhile told me that Maria used to be her best
friend, but now they have grown apart and hardly
have any time alone together to really talk like
they used to.
I asked the mother to
explain why she felt so strongly about Maria. I
asked her to give me some examples. One example
was that one day a few years ago the mother had
made plans with her daughter to meet her downtown
for 30 minutes. The mother said she really wanted
to spend time with her daughter. But as it
happens, Maria had called her daughter just
before they were supposed to meet. Then she went
to meet her mother on the street as planned, but
she only said "I can't meet with you now. I
am going to go talk to Maria." Then she
hurried away. I asked the mother how she felt and
she told me she felt unimportant and abandoned.
I felt encouraged the
mother could identify these specific feelings.
But I told both her and the daughter that it was
not the daughter's job to fill the mothers need
to feel important or to help her avoid feeling
abandoned. I said to the daughter,"These are
things your grandparents needed to do, but did
not." I told the daughter that for the
mother to expect her to fill the mother's unmet
childhood emotional needs was role reversal.
The mother agreed with me.
Then she apologized to her
daughter and said "I love you", the
daughter accepted her apology immediately and
they hugged each other and cried.
For me, this was a real
Feb 26, 2008
(Some facts have been
slightly changed to protect the mother's