Lisa is a single mum to Kasha, aged 15 and to 5-year-old Hari. Lisa and her partner, Jane, separated 10 months ago and Kasha lives in a flat with Jane, 2 miles from Lisa and Hari, visiting regularly. Lisa came for therapy concerned about Kasha’s volatile and unpredictable behaviour and the effect of this on both her and on Hari. Lisa and Kasha had been working at improving their relationship but Lisa came to her therapy session this week with a story to tell about events at home and her responses to them, which she agreed could be shared as a way of potentially helping others in a similar position.
This is Lisa’s story:
‘I was hoping that Kasha and I could repair our relationship and was feeling optimistic because the summer had been so calm and we had been enjoying our time together and with Hari. There had been fewer miscommunications between us, and we were having more fun. Hari was responding to the more settled atmosphere and was less clingy and irritable with me and wanted to be near his sister more often.
I was relaxing into Kasha spending more time at our home. We were like a mum and daughter again, but I always knew that she could quickly shut down and be detached and unresponsive and would then blame me for things I was not aware of having done. Anyway, Kasha stopped speaking to me over the weekend. I had no idea why, but she just wouldn’t communicate verbally. Her body language though was explosive, she seemed so angry and unapproachable. Hari picked this up and became upset- refusing to do as I asked and throwing things around. I was really confused and scared.
This situation escalated, and I lost my temper as she was so rude and dominated the house. Later, Kasha refused to let me into her room to say goodnight and this worried me as she has trashed her bedroom in the past. With this on my mind, I couldn’t sleep as I was so tense, so I went downstairs and lay on the sofa and as I lay awake I could hear Kasha walking around and banging drawers. She then came downstairs, and I pretended to be asleep, but she stood over me with a cushion in her hands and I was afraid she wanted to smother me. I was scared she would hurt me and scared for Hari.
The next day I called Jane, who came round, and together we explained that this behaviour was unacceptable and that she could no longer stay with me. She objected and blamed me for being ‘a cow’, but she reluctantly gathered her things up and left with Jane. I have never told any friends about how hard it has been to parent Kasha over the years- they only see the lovely parts of Kasha, which I’m pleased about as I don’t want to shame her. One of the things the therapy I have been having has helped with, is to focus on my wider network of relationships and on asking for help. I have struggled with this because I am afraid that people will judge me and everyone is so busy with their own lives.
However, I did something very unusual for me this weekend, I decided to take a risk and ask for help. I couldn’t bring myself to open up directly to anyone at this point, but I looked at my WhatsApp app groups and saw how many I am part of. I am a member of a women-only choir, and used to go regularly but over the past 6 months, my attendance has tailed off. However, I recalled the friendly faces and laughter and how good that made me feel. I decided just to put a simple and short message on the group chat. I said: ‘Hi choir group. I’m having a very hard time personally at the moment. I miss you all. Please could you hold me in mind and think about me please. I would really appreciate it. Love Lisa.’
I held no expectations that anyone would respond, but the outpouring of support and love was immediate and some even sent private direct messages with offers of meeting up for coffee and to talk or of practical help. I was overwhelmed to realise that others thought so much of me and wanted to support me even though they had no idea what the issues were. I have messaged 2 of the people who sent me direct messages and I’ve arranged to meet up separately with them one for a walk and talk and the other for a coffee. I don’t know whether I will want to talk about what is happening with Kasha and the difficulties at home generally, but I might. I am surprised at how in control I feel of this process. It’s a new experience for me to be asking for help and I’m taking small steps but I feel I’m no longer so isolated and alone.’
Lisa and her family are a composite of many of the parents and children I have worked with over the years and I felt that creating this story would stand as a way of celebrating the small steps so integral to our work in NVR (Non-Violent Resistance). So many parents have bravely found a way to reach out to others in ways they themselves choose. There is no one right way of building a network of caring support, and steps may be tentative and indirect, but each of these small acts is an act of resistance against the cultural forces which operate to silence and shame parents. Sometimes as therapists we just need to allow space for parents to explore the ‘how’ themselves, to choose the timing, and we can bear witness to this in therapy, validating their courage and encouraging them to persist. Each of these moments is a small step to reclaiming a fuller life.
Highly Specialist Systemic Psychotherapist & Registered Social Worker
PartnershipProjects Senior Clinician, Supervisor and Trainer
NVR Association (NVRA) Accredited Practitioner and Supervisor