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The Teenager Who Was a Liar
Helping a family redefine its story
By Salvador Minuchin, Michael P. Nichols, and Wai-Yung Lee
Adolescents bring their own brand of headaches to their families. Using a personal arithmetic, they know they're two or three years older than their parents think they are, and they demand a relaxation of the rules before they know what to do with the autonomy they insist on. The parents are caught. They've "been there," but that was a different time. They'd like to share their wisdom to protect their adolescent from the uncertainties of life, but find themselves with a child they don't recognize. Since they're uncertain about how to protect their child, they increase control, while the adolescent, certain that this is unfair, tests the rules. A therapist who enters this minefield needs to empathize with both camps, working both sides of the street, like any competent professional, in the search for better pathways.
As if coping with the demands of adolescence weren't enough, doing so in a blended family adds a whole new set of challenges. Blended families have to go through the same process of accommodation and boundary-making as any families, but with one big difference: in first-time families, parents have time to forge a bond before they have to deal with children, but blended families don't have that luxury.
The Boyds are a threesome: Mary, Richard, and Whitney, who is 15 years old. Whitney is Mary's child from her first marriage, which ended in divorce when her daughter was an infant. Mary married Richard one year later, and now they've come to therapy because Whitney can't be trusted. She lies compulsively, and most of the time, she's caught in the lie.
When they enter the room and settle down, Mary takes the lead, telling me that her daughter "has lied to us as long as I can remember." This is clearly impossible, but it isn't the logic of the statement that's the problem, but the intensity of the assertion: "as long as I can remember." The family's interaction has been restricted by a story that started at the beginning of time