Imagine you’re a mother and grandmother in your 60s. You live alone by choice. You raised a daughter by yourself after a brief marriage ended in divorce. Initially you dated a bit but soon determined you wanted to be the best mother possible. From that point on, your decisions all hinged on what would be best for your child.
Your commitment paid off in a wonderful mother-daughter relationship and a child who grew into an emotionally healthy adult with strong values and her own opinions. She matured, married and had her own child. Now it was grandmother, daughter with husband and their daughter, a close and happy group for over twenty years. Life was loving and comfortable in a safe, predictable routine.
Suddenly the unexpected happens — your adult daughter divorces. Not only that, within a relatively short time she remarries. The family feels totally fractured. Each member struggles with their own perceptions of this major event.
Grandmother loses a son-in-law. Granddaughter loses her father, and the mother she thought she knew, who no longer seems to have enough time for her. A new relationship seriously dilutes the quality and amount of time she has available. Husband no longer has a home or family. Everyone is devastated.
This hypothetical vignette illustrates how quickly life can change, how the choices of one family member impact the entire clan, and how often we are required to adapt to change that is beyond our control. Similar scenarios are played out in hundreds of families every day.
The outcomes depend on a number of factors. In the above example, each party will experience a different reaction. Grandma might be happy her daughter is free from a bad relationship. She might also feel badly for her son-in-law and granddaughter, both of whom are in some way displaced. Or she could be angry at her daughter for supposedly ruining their tightly knit family. Grandma has also lost her primary social system. In response to those feelings she might take sides and thus create conflicting factions that could completely sever relationships. She might support daughter and write off son-in-law, and/or refuse to accept the new one. The possibilities are endless.
The daughter could either be very sensitive or oblivious to the impact of her decisions on the rest of the family. She is a key player, who will also have her own reactions to those of others in the family. What can she do to ensure that love and understanding endure and triumph over fear and resentment?
Change in any form challenges us at many deep levels. Change calls upon our abilities to accept what is and find ways to adapt. It takes us from our comfort zones and puts us face to face with self-doubt. We question our capabilities at several levels. What can or should we do, and will it be right? What does right mean? Is right the same for you as for me? Whether or not we realize it all these issues arise whenever life changes.
For the end of the story tune in next week.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. Send comments and questions to email@example.com or call 394-2861. Visit her Web site at http://www.etseven.net.