When Glass Slippers Crack

Where the ant sees a tree, the giraffe (barely) sees a twig.

Cinder Ella Grace, and Family

Cinder Ella Grace is a 16-year-old whose mother passed away when she was born. Her father, Ferdinand Grace, married the Widow Rocks when Cinder was 12 bringing her two daughters into the Grace home with her. Ferdinand had recently died while away on business and the family was grieving. The story of Ferdinand Grace’s death had been all over the news, so I was already a bit familiar when I was contacted by the Widow Rocks-Grace seeking family therapy.

Or so I thought.

One story, four versions

Cinder’s chief complaint at our first session was that her stepmother made her do all of the chores in the home while her stepsisters did nothing at all. She felt that no one listened to her; that no one cared. She was convinced that none of this would be happening if her real parents were still alive. They were treating her like a servant!

The Widow Rocks-Grace said very little throughout the appointment. She had bags under her eyes and a distant, vacant look. She seemed so… defeated.

The two sisters were an interesting lot. The eldest, Anastasia, was 18, which in their cultural context made her almost unmarriable. I mean, she was older than dirt in a culture where females are generally married off right around CInder’s age, (16). Anastasia wasn’t the most physically attractive person either, but she had been secretly seeing a really nice guy. They were waiting for Ferdinand to come home so that the young man could ask Master Grace for permission to marry Anastasia.

She knew she was losing her only hope for a good life and she was really angry. Really, really angry! She was angry at life, at God, at her father, at her stepfather, at the parakeet, at the weather. She was just… (I’ll be polite,) peeved.

The youngest daughter, Drizella, was all of 13 and just starting to mature. She needed her mother more than ever right now, having lost a father twice. (She truly loved Ferdinand, ever since he stepped in and became a “Daddy” to her.) Drizella told me privately that she wants everyone to be okay again. But nothing is okay. She is a sensitive child, and whenever things get heated in the home she ends up dropping whatever she is doing to go cry in her room.

The rest of the story

Cinder Ella

Most people know Cinder Ella’s version of the story well – The sweet young woman who has been treated horribly ever since her father died. We have heard that she has an evil stepmother (with an amazing voice like Bernadette Peters,) and two wretched stepsisters that demand she wait on them hand and foot.

The Widow Rocks-Grace

The Widow Rocks Grace had just lost her second husband; the one that saved her and her daughters from having to go work as scullery maids or possibly prostitutes. She lost a man she loved, again. She knew they were about to lose the house and any hope of stability. She knew she would not be able to set any of the three girls up in better situations.

She is so depressed that even getting out of bed for this appointment felt like trying to drag a lame horse with her bare hands, but she did it. She wants to find a way for all of them and she knows she doesn’t have it in her. She knows she is relying too much on the girls and that both Anastasia and Drizella were disappearing instead of helping, but she doesn’t have the energy to address it.


Anastasia’s story is also one of complicated grief. She lost nearly everything in her life once before. She thought she had finally worked it out so that her fate would no longer be in the hands of her parents, and now it has all come crashing down around her. Her anger helps her feel like she has at least some power. She doesn’t like yelling all the time and she knows she is being awful to everyone. She just can’t seem to find another way to get through the days.


Drizella is a tender-hearted, highly empathic person. She feels all of the pain in the household as if it is her own. It’s like being stabbed with a thousand daggers, in places she has already been stabbed before, multiple times. She is drowning in the sadness, anger, disappointment, and despair that swirl all around her. She doesn’t know what to do.

What’s true?

If you were to ask any one of these four people what was going on, you would get four very different answers. And yet very often people believe that having “proof” of what is “objectively true” in a situation like this will give them the answers they need to move forward differently.

Can you imagine what a waste of time it would be if I thought my job was to prove who is the most wrong here? Want an answer? They are all wrong. There. You have an answer. Go ahead and mete out your justice and “correct” the situation.

But wait a minute - They are also all right.

Each person’s experience of this same story is different. Cinder really is being left with all of the chores. The Widow Rocks-Grace really is far too overwhelmed and justifiably terrified of their future. Anastasia has lost her hope and Drizella can’t find the emotional ceiling or floor.

They are all in tremendous pain. If we want them to find healing, that’s where we look. Each is coping the best they can, and each person’s coping is harming the others.

Ears and hearts

What they really need from one another is listening ears and open hearts. There is no contest for who is the “most” hurt here. They are all hurting and it’s hard for all of them. If they could each step outside of what they are feeling long enough to hear what the others are feeling, and to extend genuine care, they will no longer need to do the hurtful things.

As in the tales, so in our lives

And so it is in our households: Humanning is hard. Our best efforts sometimes deeply harm others. We feel might shame over our choices, believing something is fundamentally wrong with us for being such sloppy humans. Now, in addition to feeling unloved, we also feel unlovable. In the court of justice, we are guilty. Not just guilty, but shameful. Our fundamental need to belong somewhere is in threat.

But this is the court of human relationships, not justice. As mentioned in my June 1 blog, the court of human relationships pivots on empathy, not justice. May we all, like the Rocks-Grace household, learn to see and care for each other’s struggle even as we share our own and let others care for us.

May we then take our collective wisdom and perspective, our combined strength and unity, (you and me against the problem, as it were,) and find our way to something better, together.

If your relationships have gotten lost in the tangly mess of who’s right and who’s wrong, contact me here.  Let’s talk about how you can untie the knots and find something better.