Mel is five years old. Her Dad is a rather immature person and when he
comes home at night he just flops in front of the TV or says he is too tired to talk to
her. Meanwhile, Mum who is also not very grown-up, is becoming more and more unhappy with
her marriage. In fact, Mum has been so miserable over the last two days she has even
forgotten to do the washing up and there is now quite a pile of dishes on the sink.
Mel, like most five year olds, would like to have a happy mother and father and like most
small children also feels her parents immaturity and unhappiness is somehow
her fault. To her, that means it is also her responsibility to make them happy
So today, while Mum was crying in the bedroom, Mel pulled a chair up to
the sink and very carefully washed all the dishes, to see if that would help. To her
delight, when Mum came out and saw what Mel had done she actually smiled! She told Mel she
was a good girl for making Mummy happy. When Dad came home, Mum told him about Mel helping
and he praised her too and gave her a smile and a little hug.
Mel was overjoyed. In her mind she had discovered an easy way to make
her parents happy, just by washing dishes. Like Phil, Mel will quickly adapt herself to
fit in with this new understanding. However, where Phils rule-maker (in the
story on the next page) tells Phil never ever do that again Mels
rule-maker is saying do that again and again.
Tomorrow and the day after that, you can bet that Mel will be at the
sink and Mum will smile and in a very short time Mel will have a new primary self which,
if it were to have a name might be responsible caretaker or look after
others first. At that time, Mel, like Phil, is discovering that parts of her natural
personality seem like polar opposites to the adapted selves, the ones that seem to be
better at making her parents happy. She is years away from learning how to keep both sides
in balance, so for now she disowns the natural parts to stop them getting in the way of
her adapted responsible caretaker self.
One of the natural parts most likely to be sent into exile is her
magical child, the part that knows how to play and have fun and paint pretty pictures but
this will seem like a small price to pay if she can only have a happy family and feel she
has a place in it.
Once this pattern is established Mel will find herself looking for
other ways to make Mum and Dad happy especially when they start taking her
dishwashing for granted, stop praising her and begin to get sad all over again. By the
time Mel is eleven she will have probably become more responsible and more grown-up than
either of her parents and will have missed out on most of her childhood.
Each time she adds a little more to her list of responsibilities things
will get better for a little while, but what Mel is still too young to realise is that Mum
and Dad are really both adult-children and nothing that she can do will change
this. So she will just keep on trying to fix things until she grows up.