Maternal Enmeshment: The Chosen Child

While delivering Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) in the home of a former client, the case of maternal enmeshment was blaringly evident. The 8-week intensive in-home service delivery model afforded this provider an in-depth look at the true workings of this particular family system. While the entire system presented with overt characteristics of enmeshment (seven of nine adult male children between the ages of 34 and 49 had never been married, and paid daily visits to the family matriarch; the mother prepared daily meals and provided laundry services for the seven unmarried adult males), the relationship between the 74-year old mother and one son (then age 39) was particularly disturbing. Clearly this son had been designated the “chosen child.” Other members of the family were clear in their description of this son as the mother’s favorite. While this son was now an adult, his history revealed more than 20 years of adulthood with at least nine consecutive romantic relationships of short duration. The “chosen child” in this case, along with the mother in this system, described their relationship as one of “friends.” This family expressed no disease in volunteering that the mother took the liberty of interceding on her son’s behalf to secure a date for her 37-year-old son. The target of the son’s affection denied the man a date, so the mother called to find out why the woman had not wanted to go out with her son. Neither the son, nor the mother found anything inappropriate about this, or other similar incidents. Interestingly, or rather, expectedly, the relationship between the father and mother in this family was severely compromised. The father presented as a powerful figure, answering questions for the wife and other family members. In the father’s presence the mother was quiet and conceding. Whenever the “chosen child” son would enter the room, however, the father would exit. This was a noticeable pattern over the course of the therapy. In her son’s presence the mother clearly became more comfortable. Her facial expressions changed, as did her demeanor and her willingness to engage. In the son’s presence, the mother smiled frequently, responded to questions, and even volunteered information.

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