How mom sets the example

We’ve met Elizabeth and heard clearly her concerns for Julia, her 17-year-old daughter, who was caught drinking alcohol. Elizabeth demonstrated a dramatic tone as a response to the event. She faulted herself for Julia’s intoxication.

We learned that Elizabeth is a single parent and has another daughter, Natasha. Both girls are good students. Julia excels in sports and carries herself well in a similar body shape to Elizabeth. Both are lean, tall and muscular. Elizabeth is a professional career woman in the medical field. She works long hours. She likes to work out and eats just enough to get by.

At her request, we decide to meet initially with Julia. I plan to meet the entire family at a later date. I don’t want to undervalue Natasha’s family role. I also suggest to Elizabeth that she share her concerns with Peter, her former spouse and the girls’ father.

I meet with Elizabeth and Julia for some family sessions. Julia comes at Elizabeth’s behest. She’s alarmed that her mom would seek family counseling. Julia thinks her mom is overly dramatizing the event. “Kids drink, so what?” Julia speaks clearly as she minimizes the experience when Elizabeth caught her intoxicated. She describes her life as hectic and demanding. School, sports and domestic chores keep her busy. She’s interested in dating, yet finds that her time leaves little room. She has friends and they get together as time allows. Technology helps maintain her friendships.

Elizabeth expresses grief over the event and at one point in the session turns to July and exclaims, “How could you do this me?” Julia shakes her head and begins to cry. Once she gathers herself, Julia storms back to Elizabeth’s proclamation. “I didn’t drink for any reason to hurt you mom. I just wanted to try it! Some of my friends do it and I wanted to try it. I mean, you’ve got a big stash in the liquor cabinet. I’ve never done this before, mom.” The two embraced while sobbing and muttering apologies.

Fast forward. We bring Natasha into the family dynamic at a later session. She’s aware of the tension caused by the alcohol event. She is insightful and helpful as more information surfaces. Elizabeth drinks alcohol with dinner and later when the girls retire to bed. Natasha courageously calls out her mom. “How can you get so (upset) with Julia’s drinking? She only did it once, mom. You drink every night. You think we don’t know?” Elizabeth is stunned and momentarily rendered speechless.

We excuse the girls after an agreement to continue family counseling. The girls love their mom. We’ll decide whether to include Peter at a later date. I excuse the girls to the waiting area. I want to discuss a plan for Elizabeth without the girls present. She is shaken. She assures me that she’s OK. She says that “I’m not going to hurt myself if you’re worried about that.”

I map out a plan for Elizabeth’s consideration. We’ll continue family counseling with the girls. Additionally, I express concern for Elizabeth’s alcohol use. Her daughter’s words resonate loudly. I want to validate Natasha’s position. Whatever might be percolating beneath the surface, Elizabeth can benefit from individual therapy. She agrees. Her final words as she leaves, “I’m OK. I’m going to be OK.” I certainly hope so, for all involved.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email