The wisdom of Granny Witch to Embattled

There's always advice from Granny Witch

November 2014

  The Second Judgement Counts

When a 13-year-old girl/woman behaves like a two-year-old

Hone, small image.Dear Granny Witch

A couple of years ago, a friend invited me to a lecture you gave in our small town on Family Day. You talked about your work with families that you still enjoy after more than 50 years. You see your role as helping families develop creative solutions to “puzzles” they encounter in their life together. You gave an example of a family that year after year, in spite of all the best intentions, managed to start a huge argument on Christmas day that lasted for days. Yes, on Christmas day, right in the middle of “Peace on Earth” season! You approached this problem as if it were an interesting puzzle rather than a pathological situation.

So, Granny Witch, would you like to try your hand at solving the puzzle that is Maria (not her real name)? Maria is our 13 year old daughter. She is basically a good girl, but she has two very bad habits that disturb me greatly. She is touchy to the point that she’ll turn her back on anyone who criticizes her even in the mildest way and she is very obstinate. Things must be done her way and the rest of the world has to agree. She never left the “terrible twos” development stage, she just changed numbers so to speak. She is now in her “terrible thirteens stage”, though I would never dare say that to her face, of course. Maria and I argue often, far too often, over the stupidest things.

The most frustrating thing we argue about is how Maria dresses, or rather, doesn’t dress. Granny Witch, I’ve been brought up to dress in a modest way. To me, underwear should be worn under clothing and therefore hidden from sight, that’s why it’s called underwear. In my day, tights were stockings, meant to be worn under a skirt or long blouse, not as the only article of clothing from the waist down. Make-up was meant to be discreet and reserved for special occasions. Cleavage was o.k. for actresses on Oscar night who needed to present a good show to make up for bad showings in their movies, but not for going to a movie with other 13 year olds. Maria will not hear my opinions. She informs me that I am ancient and what can you expect from a wrinkled dinosaur who teaches medieval history at college and has no sense of fashion?

Granny Witch, I teach about battles all the time. I certainly don’t want our home to be a battleground and I don’t want to have to tread through my daughter’s life as if there were mines at every step. Our family life would be much more harmonious if we didn’t have to deal with a thirteen year old girl/woman who is applying most of her energy to becoming a full-blown card-carrying tramp. Please help me.

Signed: Embattled

Dear Embattled,

  Imge: Drawing, The Second Judgement, by Julien Mercure, courtesy of  Geneviève Hone.
  Image: The Second Judgement, by Julien Mercure.

Battles and arguments of all kinds seem to be humanity’s lot, but I quite understand that you don’t want your family home to be the site of frequent disputes. Right now I invite you to find a peaceful place within yourself as you read this and allow yourself to not work on your problem with Maria the Terrible for a few moments. Take a couple of deep breaths and let me tell you a story a story from the time when I was a young and inexperienced witch.

I had everything to learn, but I was an eager student, ready to help whatever part of humanity it would be my privilege to serve. I was certain that I had chosen the right profession and planned to enjoy my work for the rest of my life. I was then an intern in the psychiatric wing of a children’s hospital and was quite proud to have been chosen to work with eminent professionals. The first file I was handed concerned a boy who at 10 years of age showed all the signs of becoming a serious psychopath, this according to the diagnosis and prediction of the referring physician. I was asked to find out if the family was consciously or subconsciously “hiding something” and of course offer support and counseling.

The file contained loads of test results, reports from experts and the opinions of the many professionals so far involved in the case. I thus began to explore the fascinating world of psychiatric diagnoses. At bedtime I curled up with a dictionary of clinical psychiatry, but I couldn’t sleep because I was too excited with all I was discovering. I began to look at people differently, now that I had the words to articulate my thoughts and feelings about them. Within a few days, I diagnosed one of my brothers as a kleptomaniac because he hadn’t yet returned the fountain pen he had borrowed from me the previous week.  I whispered to my mother that her sister was very probably a dipsomaniac, having observed that Aunt B. seemed to enjoy many pre-and-post dinner drinks. And not wanting to be left out, I diagnosed myself as suffering from a mild case of illyngophobia.

I worked really hard at understanding the family that had been assigned to my care, examining parents and children from every possible angle and telling my supervisor daily what each family member was “suffering” from - and that was my final opinion.  But the following day, I would present yet another final opinion! On the one hand, I loved this process of “diagnosing” because it made me feel important. I was becoming part of a select group that knew all there was to know about the human psyche. On the other hand, I was beginning to question if it was fair to categorize people as I was doing, or in other words, judging them. If I continued along those lines, I knew I could become insufferably judgmental.  I began to doubt my choice of profession.

My supervisor finally put me out of my emerging misery.  She explained that I must respect and value the opinions of colleagues who had worked with this family. “It is their job”, said she, “to ‘judge’, i.e. to observe, to glean information and to form a diagnosis. Most of these professionals do this very well while showing great care for their patients. But you, young Witch, must develop a way of thinking about families with which you can feel competent and comfortable. Let me suggest something.

She went on to explain, “It will be part of your job to form opinions and draw conclusions and share these with your clients and colleagues. To avoid doing this in a judgmental manner, never formulate to yourself or to others only one judgment. Always come up with two judgments. The first judgment will be based on your clinical observations. The second judgment will be based on your belief that everyone, even when doing unacceptable things, is doing the best he or she can do to deal with pain or anxiety. So, young Witch, learn to work your judgments in pairs so your judgments can complement each other. ” I follow this advice to this day.

Getting back to you, dear Embattled, you seem to be quite skilled at forming the first in a pair of judgments concerning Maria. Your first judgment is that she is a Terrible Thirteen who dresses in an inappropriate manner and is working on becoming a tramp. You might want to revise this judgment one day, but for the moment hang on to it even if you know that this first judgment on its own doesn’t lead to the peace in the family you wish for. Now try formulating a second judgment to complement the first one, a judgment in which you recognize that Maria is doing the best she can, in her own way. For example, “Maria is growing and may be concerned with her self-image.” Or “Maria may need to impress the girls in her class because she doesn’t quite know how to fit in.” Don’t aim for truth here, aim for empathy. Give Maria the benefit of your faith in her.

Experiment with this approach. Just the fact that you are trying this new form of connection with Maria might bring you closer to her.  

Now as I say goodbye, take another couple of deep breaths, and remember that you, in your own way, are always doing your best when interacting with Maria!

Granny Witch