Here’s one example that might sound familiar:
In a family of four, there are two parents, and 2 elementary school-age children. A grade-school child is ill and cannot attend school. Both parents typically work outside the home but now one will stay home with the child and miss work. The parent has used up all the paid days off and now the family not only cannot go on vacation this year but is missing income. There is no longer enough money to allow another child to participate in a sports program. The parent that is working was considering changing jobs but now feels it necessary to stay in the current position because of the fear of losing additional income in an unfamiliar environment.
Here’s a different example:
In a family of four, there are two parents, and 2 middle school children. The older of the two, a young teenage girl, is sexually assaulted. The parents want to support the girl but also want to separate themselves from the tragedy due to societal stigmas. The parents also want to protect the younger child. They institutionalize the girl and their lives go on as normal as though nothing has happened.
In the first example, though uncomfortable decisions may need to be made the family is adapting, will likely rebound, and be stronger for having worked together and present a constructive model for dealing with life issues.
In the second example, the parents are not able to maintain the illusion. Resentments are formed, resulting in how the teenage girl has been isolated and removed from the family; family friends are sometimes supportive and sometimes reject the friendship (because they also do not want to be stigmatized); one parent begins to have trouble at work; and the family decides to move away and start over pretending nothing has happened.
The family never deals with the tragedy and expects the young teenage girl to take on the responsibility of “fixing” herself if she wants to be a part of the family again. The younger sibling understands that there is an expectation of perfection or that child might also be isolated from the family. The child must pretend that all is as it always was or that child’s life might be upended as well. The parents eventually divorce and the younger child, confused by the separation of the family and events, begins having trouble forming healthy relationships.
In my dream world, after I was raped, my parents went into therapy with me rather than letting me know it was my problem, not theirs. In my dream world, my family circled around me, helped me understand what had happened and how to move forward in a positive and healthy way. Instead, my relationship with my family was strained at the best of times and neither my parents nor my siblings ever dealt with what had happened to me and, subsequently, to all of us.
I was on my own.