Case Story. Read the section on relational maintenance and material on dialectics then read the case study. Then, answer the questions with this material in mind.
Cathy’s Story Case Study
When I think of my childhood, there are many things that come to mind. One of the harder things I remember of that time was when my stepfather, Ray, came into my life. The relationships between my stepfather and me has always been a difficult one for me. Relating to one another was the basis for this struggle.
After my mother divorced my biological father, there were only the three of us living in the home; my mother, my brother and I. The three of us became very close and relied on one another heavily. My mother worked midnights, so my brother, Bobby, and I didn’t get to see her very much and valued every moment we had with her.
I don’t remember the first time my mother brought Ray home to meet us. Looking back, it seems as though he just materialized into our lives. One minute it was just the three of us, the next minute I had a brand new family. Ray has two daughters from his first marriage, Brandy and Casey. They are the same ages as Bobby and me and we all got along very well before Ray and my mother got married. We all began doing things as a group. We went on trips together and spent a lot of time with each other. This all seemed very natural to me at the time. I was pleased to have two new playmates.
Ray and I got along pretty well in the beginning. I can remember being confused about his relationship with my mother, and I didn’t dislike him. One afternoon everyone was over at our house and Ray decided to teach me how to say my name correctly. I had a speech problem when I was young and had trouble pronouncing words. He sat me down and said, “Okay, say Caaa” and I said “Caaa.” Now say, “Theee” and I say “Theee.” Ray had a huge grin on his face , looked down at me and say “Now put all those sounds together” and I said “Cacky.” Needless to say, Ray’s smile disappeared but he continued to help me. I am proud to say I can now say my name correctly.
Ray tried hard to fit into our family and I respected that, but I wasn’t ready to let him in. I still had the fantasy that my parents would get back together and Ray seemed to be in the way of that happening. Ray also took a lot of my mother’s time away from me and I resented that. In my five-year old mind, I believed that Ray would eventually disappear just like he had appeared.
When my mother and Ray told me they were getting married, I was devastated. It shattered my fantasy about my parents and it made me wonder how much time I was going to lose with my mother. Ray was no longer just a new person in my life, but was going to become my father. I already had a father that I loved and I was not about to replace him. This is when I begin to dislike Ray.
After my mother and Ray got married, we moved to a new city. I blamed Ray for taking me away from my house, friends, neighborhood and everything I had ever known. Ray had the task of adjusting not only to a new marriage, but also adjusting to two new children. My brother and I did not make this transition easy for him. We didn’t hide our resentment of him and this put a strain on all the relationships in the family.
Ray had always been a firm disciplinarian and this tension in the family only made it worse. I felt like I was being grounded for everything I did. The more Ray disciplined me, the more I hated him. My mother was put in the middle of all this. We both wanted her to be on our sides and we constantly competed for her approval. I can remember being grounded for one reason or another and Ray telling me that I was not allowed to watch television for a week. While he and my mother were out and Bobbly and I had a babysitter, I snuck into the living room and watched TV. The babysitter told Ray and my mother when they came home and Ray was livid. He insisted that I be grounded for another week. My mother thought that was a bit harsh and they proceeded to get into an argument over it. My mother became so angry that she stormed out of the house. Ray looked at me and said, “See what you did? You upset your mother. This is all your fault.” I was so angry that I didn’t talk to him for a week after that.
My mother continued to work midnights after she and Ray were married. The lack of time she had to spend with us only made us compete harder for it. Ray would become angry when my mother spent time with me and I would become angry when she spent time with him. This competition seems to run our lives. We fought about many things, the competition was always the cause of the fights.
One night my mother and Ray were going out with some friends. I was upset about the fact she was going to spend the whole night with him. I started crying and asked my mother is she would at least wear the macaroni necklace I had made for her. She said, “Of course I will, it’s beautiful.” I stopped crying and walked her to the door where Ray was waiting for her. Ray noticed the necklace and said, “You’re not wearing that, are you? My mother said, “Yes, Cathy made it for me.” Ray rolled his eyes and said, “If you were that ugly thing, I’m not going!” My mother looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, Cathy, but I don’t feel like getting into a fight about this. I swear I will wear it to work tomorrow.” I burst into tears and ran to my room. I was so angry. It seemed Ray was winning the battle for my mother’s time and attention. I wished he would die. I thought everyone would be so much happier if he did. I fantasized that it would be exactly like it was before Ray came into our lives and I would have my mother’s undivided attention again. Well, he didn’t die and the struggle continued.
I dreaded even seeing Ray and I went out of my way to avoid him. My mother continued to work midnights and I felt completely alone. I felt like no matter what I did, Ray was always going to receive the bulk of my mother’s attention. As the years went by, I completely isolated myself from my family. I was tired of the arguments and nothing seems to be getting better. I started look for alternative ways of getting the attention I needed.
During my sophomore year in high school I became involved in drugs and alcohol. I spent less and less time at home. I disregarded all Ray’s rules and openly disobeyed him. I would stay out as late as I wanted and when Ray grounded me, I ignored him. Needless to say, this did not help our relationship. I felt so much hate toward him for trying to control my life. He wasn’t my “real” father, so why should I listen to him?
The tension between us continued to build through my high school years until we were not speaking to each other at all. We both refused to hide our feelings about each other and continued to put my mother in the middle. I would go to her and say what an awful stepfather we was and he would go to her and say what an awful stepdaughter I was . We were competing for her approval.
The situation became so bad that I moved into an apartment with my boyfriend two weeks after my eighteenth birthday. Ray was very upset that I was “living in sin.” Ray practically disowned me because of this and refused to speak to me. That was fine with me.
My boyfriend and I broke up and I moved to California to live with my biological father. I called my mother up one night crying because my father was using cocaine and I couldn’t deal with it. She talked to Ray about it and she said, “She can’t live under those circumstances. I’ll buy her a plane ticket and she can come home and live with us.” When my mother called me back to tell me what Ray said, I couldn’t believe it. My mother said, “Cathy, even though you and Ray have had your problems, he loves you and thinks of you as his daughter, not his stepdaughter.” I was amazed that this man with whom I had been fighting all these years really loved me.
I moved back home. We still had our fights, but there was much more respect between the two of us. We began to understand each other a little better. I began to see what I had made my share of mistakes and that Ray wasn’t to blame for everything. Our relationship didn’t heal overnight, but we both gained a new perspective on the other.
Since I have been at college, the distance has helped our relationship immensely. It has given us time to understand ourselves better. My mom and Ray come up to visit me about twice a semester. We all get along very well on these visits. At the beginning of this semester we went out for lunch and Ray and I began talking about our relationship over a few beers. Our discussion became pretty sentimental and I told him, “You know, even though we don’t always get along, I want you to know that you have been more of a father to me than my own father has. Ray smiled and said, “And even though we don’t always get along, you’ve always been my daughter and I love you.”
A small part of me, the child in me, will always resent Ray for certain things, but a larger part of me, the adult in me, will always appreciate the things he has done for me. On rare occasions, we still compete for my mother’s attention, but it is much more subtle and hardly ever leads to an argument these days.
How can dialectical tensions be seen in Cathy’s Story?
Is there evidence of reframing in the story? How so?
What were some of your general reactions to the story?
What moral lesson does the story seem to be revealing or reinforcing?
If you could give Cathy advice during her rough period with Ray, what would you say?
If you could give Ray or Cathy’s mom advice during Cathy’s rough period with Ray, what would you say?
Does the problem (tension within the family) sit with anyone in particular (Cathy, Ray, or Cathy’s mom) or is it a problem they are all creating? How?
Are there elements of Cathy’s story you can apply to your own life?
What can be learned about interpersonal communication from this story?
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