Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Failure To Launch

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 2, 2012

Gina is at a loss about what to do with her twenty-three year old daughter, Karen, college drop-out. high school academic super-star, now doing odd jobs and living at home. “Let’s think about your options,” I say, trying to initiate a discussion about how to approach this issue. “You could kick her out of the house,” I say, being somewhat provocative in that I know this would be a challenge for Gina. Gina winces at the thought. “What are you afraid of?” I ask, knowing that she is worried about Karen’s survival, but also wondering how she will phrase her concern. “I am worried that her life will get worse if she has to think about supporting herself.” “What is wrong with her life getting worse?” I ask, continuing my provocation. “I just don’t think I could tolerate it.” Gina insists, as if her point of view is obvious to all. “I am not sure how you are tolerating the current situation,” I say, again, pointing out that Gina is going to be uncomfortable with every option. “Yea, but I am more uncomfortable with the idea of not giving Karen shelter.” Gina says, again, looking at me like there is only one way to think about her situation. “Motivation is a very important issue.” I say, suggesting that without a need, some people lapse into passivity. “I just feel so reluctant. Further, my husband would not go for it either. He seems to like Karen being home.” Suddenly, I feel my understanding has shifted. “I did not know that,” I say, pointing out my surprise. “Maybe their relationship is keeping Karen stuck in that she is afraid that if she changes her life then your husband would be upset.” “Yea, I have thought about that, but I am not sure.” I begin to think of the Oedipal triangle, and how much relationships can both propel development forward and/or keep people in a stagnant place. “I will talk to my husband, but if he is part of the problem, then I am really stuck.” Gina says, looking overwhelmed. “You don’t think your husband is open to looking at his side of the street?” I ask, assuming that he is motivated to help Karen. “I think he wants to think it is Karen’s problem, not his.” Gina says with deep pessimism. “See what happens,” I say, encouraging her to talk to him. “Meanwhile Karen will continue with her dead-end life,” Gina says with anger and concern. “Yea, but things can change, and maybe you can prod them along.” I say, recognizing the feeling of hopelessness that Gina feels.

2 Responses to “Failure To Launch”

  1. Shelly said

    Could it be that Gina’s husband enjoys having Karen around as a buffer against intimacy (in all its forms) with Gina? This would imply that Karen’s role in the family is not such a healthy one. On the other hand, of course Gina wishes that Karen would “grow up” and find a job, live independently. To ask a parent to abandon a child is a scary thought. Even I know that you were asking Gina to explore her feelings of the idea, not to consider it seriously.

    • Shirah said

      Yes! I agree with your comments, except that how Gina handles Karen is indeed a very delicate situation. However, if she decided, with her husband, to tell Karen to leave her home, I would not consider that “abandoning” Karen, as there are many ways in which Gina and her husband could assist her in that transition. As you know, it is not black and white, although Karen might feel it to be that way. Thanks.

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