The sense that I am okay

You know, as we talk, I am reminded of someone I will call Karen who was in a very similar situation to yours. You remind me a lot of Karen because she was one of those young people who are a joy to meet. She might have had doubts about herself, but my guess was that she was the sort ofper-son that others of her age wanted to have as a friend. There was something nice and beautiful about her as a person. She had a level of genuineness and caring—the sort of qualities that other people value highly in a friend.

Unfortunately, Karen, like you, found herself in a position she didn't want to be in. She didn't really understand how she'd come to be in that position and, as we often do, Karen wondered whether she might have done something to cause it. You see, her parents were fighting over who should have custody of Karen. She didn't want to be in that position. It felt like being the rope in a game of tug-of-war, but she felt powerless to prevent it. Her parents were going to court and it was all about her.

Her dad was a nice enough guy in himself and he kept telling Karen how much he loved her and wanted her to live in his house. Her mom was doing exactly the same; each of them was putting the pressure on her. "Come and live with me. . . . I'll take care ofyou." "I'll look after you." "I want you in my house." They both said the same things.

Karen had lots of feelings: She felt sad, hurt, disappointed, and misunderstood. She was old enough, by law, to make up her own mind with whom she stayed but she didn't want to have to do that. She didn't like the feeling ofbeing caught in the middle, not knowing which parent to live with. No matter what she did, for one of them it was going to be right and for the other, terribly wrong.

Although they both kept saying that she had the choice it didn't feel like it and she didn't want to make it if she did have it. She began to think of other alternatives and even suggested them to her parents. She thought to herself, Wouldn't it be nice if they got along with each other, if they forgot about their squabbles, and if we could all just live together as the happy family that we used to be. Unfortunately, she knew that was not going to happen, and so she suggested that maybe she could live with one of them for part of the time and the other for part of the time. She wished she could make both of them happy and, indeed, feel happy herself.

Unfortunately, that wasn't to be. It seemed that they both wanted all or nothing. When they were unwilling to compromise, her dad got louder and angrier in his arguments. Karen didn't like seeing him like this. Mom was different. She seemed sad and desperate—and that perhaps swayed Karen her mother's way a bit, but she didn't want to side with one or the other.

She wished she could disappear and wake up tomorrow, finding it had been a bad dream and that it hadn't really happened. She'd even thought to herself that she wished she were dead. It felt scary but, if she were, they might stop fighting over her. But a part of her realized that wasn't the answer. It wouldn't make Mom or Dad happy, and she didn't want to be dead.

She began to wonder why her dad was fighting so aggressively and her mom so desperately. Perhaps, she thought, they each wanted her because they loved her and didn't want to let her go. Their expression of their love might have been strange, but it helped her feel a little better to know that their love of her was the reason she was feeling caught in the middle.

She began to think that no matter what her mom or dad did, no matter where she ultimately lived, there was something that would remain unchanged: They both wanted her because they both loved her. She was a unique and special part of their lives. If she weren't important and they didn't value her, they wouldn't have been fighting in the first place. Yes, she thought, no matter who wins, or whatever the judge decides, I will remain special to each of them. There was no changing the fact that Karen was her mother's daughter and her father's daughter. She was a special person, loved and capable of loving no matter where she lived. Sometimes she might forget it and, in those times, she'd find it helpful to remind herself: They might not agree, but they do love me. Yes, she could be loved and valued, and somehow it felt good to remind herself of that.

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