In a normal, healthy family hierarchy, the parents unite when providing leadership for the family; in this hierarchy, the child just plays the progressive role of cooperation. On the contrary, a dysfunctional cross generational coalition occurs when a child’s coalition with the parents is inverted. The child forms a coalition with one parent- the allied parent, against the other parent that is the isolated parent. The child draws power from the coalition to become inappropriately preeminent in the hierarchy of the family above the other parent. As a result, the child feels that she is authorized to judge the competence of the alienated parent. In a dysfunctional cross generational coalition, the regular parental system boundary is diffused while the parent- child triad gets incongruously rigid. The rigid boundary created can be stable and last for a long time if correct measures to correct it are not taken (Schwitzer and Rubin, 2015). The following is a conversation among three family members that illustrate a dysfunctional cross generational coalition.
A Conversation among Three Family Members That Illustrate a Dysfunctional Cross- Generational Coalition
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Felicia, her mother (Laura) and father (Lawrence) are standing in their living room. They have just left the principal’s office where they had a meeting to discuss the behavior of their daughter which is deteriorating and the school was afraid that she was becoming a bad influence on the other school girls. Felicia was caught by the dean of students smoking marijuana and therefore she has been suspended from school for the rest of the school year; the academic year has three more months before its elapse.
Laura: (speaking harshly) How could you smoke pot in school grounds? It is illegal and dangerous! Don’t you know that smoking is bad for your health?
Felicia: ( speaks in contempt ) Everybody does it mom! ( Eye rolls ) it is not a big deal.
Laura: not a big deal eh? You don’t see how this would have gone totally wrong? You were smoking an illegal drug on school grounds. Leave alone a suspension; you would have gone to jail.
Felicia: Am I high right now? You are blowing everything out of proportion mum. Everything is fine. Tell her daddy.
Lawrence: Relax honey. Everything is okay; it is just a suspension not like she has been totally expelled… (Turns to his daughter) but seriously young lady, how could you get caught. I always tell you make sure you are careful.
Felicia: It is not my fault this time. I was minding my own business in the bathroom and this lady comes in and starts complaining of the smell. I swear I did not speak to her the whole time she was calling out. If she did not get the teacher, then I would never have been caught. Snitch!
Lawrence: It is okay Felicia, I will get you a home tutor and you will rejoin school next year if you want to. On the other hand, I can get you admission to another school if you want to.
Felicia: Thanks dad. You always get me; unlike her. She always insults and never listens to my side of the story. Always jumping into conclusion and turning me into the villain. Argh it is so frustrating.
Laura: Seriously, you too? Are you going to blow this off Lawrence as if it’s a trivial matter? Lawrence you are spoiling her; the next time we get a call, it might be from prison or the hospital. We need to handle this head on. We need to punish her for this transgression. I won’t let you spoil her.
Felicia: do you hear her daddy? She says I will go to jail! Or I will die soon! ( Felicia starts crying and Lawrence hugs her)
Lawrence: don’t cry honey; it is not your fault. You know how your mother is. ( They walk out the front door ). Come, I will take you to the mall.
Laura: Really Lawrence? You support her again and make me look like the bad guy? You need to punish her for a mistake instead of giving her a present for it. ( Laura is left alone in the room; she is distraught as she paces around the room talking to herself).
Analysis of the family conversation
From the text above, it is evident that although Laura seems like the more reasonable parent, she is discredited by both her husband and her daughter. The father and daughter coalition demeans the mother and makes her feel incompetent. The father (who is the allied parent I this scenario) has pathogenic parenting behaviors that have led to the creation of a cross generational coalition with Felicia against the mother (who in this case is the disrespected parent). Most often, in the triangle of cross generational coalition, the secluded parent is often the normal range and affectionate parent (Childress, 2016). In the above scenario, Laura is the secluded parent and most responsible; she authoritative and still caring and wants what is best for her daughter. On the other hand, the secluded parent is permissive. They listen to their children and agree with everything their children say. They support their children in the bad and the good and never listen to their spouses. They do not punish their children for violations and instead reward them often. For this reason, they never agree with their partners when it comes to matters of the children.
A common characteristic of a dysfunctional cross generational coalition is inverted hierarchy. In such as hierarchy, the child will often judge the capabilities of the parent that is left out of the coalition. In Laura’s family scenario, Felicia talks rudely to her mother and doubts her adequacy to raise her. She claims that her mother does not want what is best for her and she is blowing everything out of proportion. Due to the inverted hierarchy, the child feels that she plays a part in the leadership and decision making process of the household and therefore ignores the decisions made by the secluded parent. Felicia did not listen to anything her mother said and was not ready to receive punishment from her mother either. She sided with her father against her mother and they both decided to make the decision for the household. Felicia has elevated her roles in the family from an appropriate obedient child who follows the rules of the family to being the decision maker in the house.
If this family had a healthy relationship, both Laura and Lawrence would have worked together in the leadership of their child. The parents would judge the child’s behavior to be either appropriate or inappropriate then inflict the punishment or provide the reward based on their parental judgment of the child’s behavior ( Anderson and Sabatelli, 2010). On the contrary, in a cross generational family, the parents do not work hand in hand to administer sanctions. The allied parent will always side with the child and leave the other parent out of the decision. For instance, when Felicia was caught smoking in school grounds and was suspended from school, her parents could not settle on a punishment for her. While Laura wanted to punish her daughter for her contravention, her father pampered her and even took her shopping. The parents could not work together even for a minute so that they can make a unified decision.
Anderson, S. A., and Sabatelli, R. M. (2010). Family Interaction: A Multigenerational Developmental Perspective , 5th Ed. The Vital Source
Childress C. A. (2016). Strategic Family Therapy for a Cross- Generational Coalition. PSY 18857, Claremont, CA: 1- 18
Schwitzer, A. M. and Rubin, L. C. (2015). Diagnosis & Treatment Planning Skills: A Popular Culture Casebook Approach (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oak, CA: Sage.