As I Mentioned at the End of Our Meeting Yesterday, I Often Write Letters to People After

As I Mentioned at the End of Our Meeting Yesterday, I Often Write Letters to People After

Dear Helen,

As I mentioned at the end of our meeting yesterday, I often write letters to people after meeting with them to offer additional ideas. Because one idea often leads to another, these letters often help people form their own thoughts for further discussion at our next meeting. (Describing our conversation as being about “ideas,” which have various interpretations and negotiable meanings, as opposed to directives informed by “objective reality”)

First of all, I want to say how very much I enjoyed meeting you and learning about this new story you are writing for your life. (Introducing the idea of “story” where both social “reality” and “identity” are subjective and consequently open to storying and re-storying) It is clear that the old story where Nagging Dissatisfaction had trapped you, so you couldn’t move forward or backward, is a story you are no longer willing to put up with. (Describing the problem as she sees it as The Problem, and externalizing to separate The Problem from the person. Mapping a central plot of The Problem story and its influence on the person) I suspect that Nagging Dissatisfaction may have to find a different job than stirring up those disquieting feelings for you, or pushing you to the point that you feel out of control and behave toward your children in ways that don’t reflect what you love most about being a mother. (Contrasting the uni-dimensional problem-saturated story with a story possibility based on meaning, values, and purpose)

When you asked if I thought you’d need to be in therapy for the rest of your life, I said I doubted it because most people in this country find what they are looking for in six or fewer therapy sessions. (Countering privilege by sharing “professional” knowledge) After talking with you, I am even more confident that you are unlikely to be in therapy for a long time. (“Spending” my privilege to counter the demoralizing influence of The Problem story) I base my opinion on how you have already started realizing how passionate you are about the significant role you play in your children’s lives as a “stay-at-home-mom,” and how much you love that role. You beautifully described the great importance of your role in shaping their lives: you are dedicated to helping them discover who they are, what they are passionate about, and what dreams they have for their futures. (Privileging a story of conscious purpose rather than of unconscious or systemic pathological motives) As a parent myself, I can think of no job that is more significant than this one, in which you have clearly invested so much of yourself. (Spending my privilege as an older “professional” male to privilege her local meaning as a means to counter the marginalization and subjugation of dominant discourses about women)

I am very impressed that your dedication to your children’s current and future lives has made it possible to prevent Nagging Dissatisfaction’s scare tactics and lies from further intimidating and confusing you. (Privileging the emerging story of the person’s influence on The Problem by retelling the story of the subdominant plot of personal agency found in this unique outcome) As I thought about this dedication, I realized how remarkable this feat is, given three things that you mentioned:

  1. You were not “seen” in your family as you grew up, which can plant the seeds of doubt about one’s abilities and worth.
  2. Your marriage “is not life giving” in terms of recognizing what is fulfilling for you , creating doubts about how much you can hope for in life.
  3. Your mother appeared to be happy with her life story, which made it seem as if you should also be happy with your life story, despite your dissatisfaction.

(Situating The Problem in the social and historical context that covertly contributes to the construction of The Problem story with a unitary, as opposed to multi-storied, description)

Not giving in to Nagging Dissatisfaction seems even more remarkable when I consider how our culture insinuates that being a stay-at-home-mom is never enough: “you should be more.” (Politicizing The Problem by exposing an oppressive dominant discourse whose essentialist, individualizing context helps construct The Problem story) It looks to me like Nagging Dissatisfaction used these three sensitive areas in your life, teamed up with society’s message, to try to deceive and discourage you. It appears that Nagging Dissatisfaction almost had you bullied into believing that “whatever I do, it is never enough.” (Elaborating the externalization to open space for her to act against The Problem without acting against herself) But you took away one of Nagging Dissatisfaction’s most important tricks when you correctly noted that what may have been satisfying for your mother as a woman born in 1929, is not necessarily going to be satisfying for you as a woman facing today’s challenges and opportunities. (Making transparent a thin description that will lead to thin conclusions, and instead honoring and privileging the story of the person’s influence on The Problem)

Now that you have stalled Nagging Dissatisfaction’s initiative, I can’t help but wonder how your realization about the significance of your role in helping your children move forward in their own lives is likely to also help you rediscover your own passions and dreams. (Opening space for a story with future possibilities based on a plot of hope and competence) I’m also wondering how this realization in turn is likely to help you move forward in your life as well. (Speculating about a richer and thicker narrative based on personal purpose and meaning) However, doing so may stir up more of those disquieting feelings like the troubling anger, fear, and longing you mentioned. As a mother, you know that stirred emotions are to be expected with any transition. (Normalizing to counter the culture of pathology that pervades professional conversations) But I am concerned that Nagging Dissatisfaction may try to use these feelings as a way of frightening you into “going asleep” again, as it had in the past, so you won’t pay attention to what really matters in your life. (Mobilizing opposition to the problem-saturated story with its “universal truths” that obscure “local truths”)

On the other hand, the “hope” you mentioned, which brought tears to your eyes at the end of our meeting, suggests to me that you are indeed staying awake and already beginning to rewrite this story with more possibilities than Nagging Dissatisfaction would write for you. (Celebrating the new identity in the emerging story and re-envisioning a future with space for various possibilities for action) Having heard the beginning of this new story that is so different than the one Nagging Dissatisfaction had in mind, I have been wondering who in your life would not be surprised that you’ve been able to break Nagging Dissatisfaction’s spell and instead remember what really matters most to you. (Eliciting discourses about possible audiences for change to re-member with communities supportive of her re-description as a person able to change her relationship with The Problem) I mentioned how I thought catching on to Nagging Dissatisfaction’s tricks may help you move forward; I have also been wondering how this change is likely to benefit your children’s futures as well. (Thickening a plot of personal meaning and conscious purpose by bolstering a unique re-description of her as someone with an identity of competence)

Something I wish I’d asked you during our meeting was how our conversation was going for you. In particular, I wondered if the conversation was going in a useful direction, and if there was anything I could have done that would have been more useful for you. I welcome any thoughts you have about this question, because my best guesses about what may be helpful may or may not really fit for you. (Flattening the hierarchy, privileging her voice as a counter-oppressive action) You understand your life story as only a woman and a mother can; being a man, I can only understand your story as an outsider. (Exposing the politics of power inherent with patriarchy and hierarchy) I would very much appreciate your guidance in how I can be most helpful to you as you learn how to keep Nagging Dissatisfaction from interfering with this new story that you are writing for yourself and for your children. (Situating myself as a co-author of this progressive narrative rather than as an “expert,” which would invite colonization and subjugation of her indigenous knowledge and wisdom)

I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts about these ideas I’ve offered, as well as any ideas you have had about your changing story. I look forward to seeing you next week to dialogue with you further. (Situating myself as a collaborator around the evolving meanings that story her as one with personal agency. Consequently, this new plot storys her as one with the ability to influence her own lived experience toward her preferred future, which is crucial to co-constructing a story of hope.)

Warm regards,


(Expressing interest and caring in a personal, non-technical or non-“professional” way to reduce the privilege afforded to males in authority roles)