• Haim Omer

The mysterious case of the sick adoptive mother

Updated: Jan 5

This is one of our seminal cases. It helped us to understand the deep meaning of parental presence. Gina was Yaara's (14) adoptive mother. She suffered from a disease of the joints. The illness attacked her once every few months and she would remain bedridden for a couple of weeks each time. Also in normal times she was hindered in her movements. In spite of her disease, Gina worked, took care of the house and was active in the community. She had a wide social and professional network which allowed her to be very active even when she was bedridden. Yaara suffered from ADHD, but until the age of 12 she had functioned reasonably well. But since she turned 12, things changed. She became aggressive towards Gina, cursing her and calling her names. She started fantasizing about her biological mother. She said to Gina: "You're not my real mother!" She called her "cripple!" She blamed her for staying in bed whenever she had an important event at school. She started to disappear from home. She became obsessed with sex, dressed in a provocative way and, whenever Gina came to her room, would quickly hide her smartphone. Gina's husband, Marcus, was gentle and loving, but refused to set Yaara any bounderies, or even protect Gina from her. He stopped coming to therapy, when he understood he was expected to help Gina set limits to Yaara. He believed that only unconditional love could cure Yaara's deep scars and make her come back to herself and to the bosom of the family.

The therapist and Gina prepared a message that Gina delivered to Yaara in a soft but decided tone:

"You think I'm not a whole person or a whole mother because I'm ill. You're wrong! I never gave up anything because of my physical problem. I never stopped working, neglected my children, or my appearance. I've never given in to my illness and have no intention of doing so. You're also wrong if you think I'm not a hundred percent your mother. I am your mother in my heart and mind, and in everything I do! You're going to find out how much I'm your mother, even if it displeases you! You can rave and holler, but it won't make me any less your mother! You think I'm weak and cannot cope with you. You'll find out how wrong you are! I chose to be strong, but in my way. You'll find out that I'm there as a mother, also when you're not looking for me; that I'm your mother, even when you don't think about it; that I'm present also when you're not at home, when you're at school, when you're with friends, when you're asleep; that I'm your mother twenty-four hours a day, every single day of the year. I'll be your mother when you least expect it!"

With the help of her social network, Gina deployed a vast program of parental presence. When Yaara would come to a friend, the friend's mother would come to her with a positive message from Gina. At school, the teachers told Yaara that they talked to Gina constantly and were updating each other about what was happening. When Yaara stayed at a friend's house without permission, Gina came to the house, although it was late at night. It turned out she had talked to the friend's mother beforehand. Gina confiscated Yara's smartphone and installed a protected program against pornography and use between midnight and eight in the morning. She got in touch with all of Yaara's friends. There were a few older boys among them, who had no idea that Yara was 13. Two of the boys understood that Yaara had to be helped. They protected her from problematic contacts and told Gina, when something untoward was happening. All of those measures were accompanied by loving gestures. Yaara would find a message of appreciation from her mother smuggled in her math exercise-book. There would suddenly be a picture from a family vacation on her table. She would find out that Gina had gotten her the marron glaces she was crazy about. When Yaara told Gina she didn't want any sweets or presents from her, Gina answered: "I cannot force you to eat them. They'll be in the fridge until they get stale!" Yaara wanted to show she had a strong will and didn't eat them. But when Gina brought a new batch a month later, she ate them clandestinely. After a while she accepted them with pleasure. In two months time Yara's behavior and her relationship with Gina had improved greatly. A special moment arrived when Marcus told Gina that she had won their daughter back by her "unconventional means."

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Haim Omer \\ Founder of the NVR