by Dr. Ryuko Ishikawa

In my previous column, I talked about the importance of communication between parents in raising healthy children. Communication with the respective in-laws is also equally important in promoting a functional family. In the case study I discussed before, the husband was unable to communicate openly with his wife. One reason for this was because she was emotionally cut off from him, and there was almost no conversation.

I suggested to him that he talk to his wife’s mother about the difficulties he was having in his marriage. Her mother acknowledged that the environment in which she raised her daughter caused her to be the way she is. The wife came from a very strict and traditional Japanese family with a very strong father figure. She had a very strong placard of what a man should be; he must be strong, a fighter and so forth. The criticism she was directing towards her husband had to do with the fact that he was not living up to this impossible ideal. The wife, moreover, was raised very strictly, and never learned how to make her own value systems.

Problems arise when communication is cut off within a family unit. When the husband spoke to his mother-in-law, communication flowed again. Through this openness, his mother-in-law came to the realization that perhaps she was too strict in raising her daughter. Speaking openly with his mother-in-law eased the tension within the family system, and made the husband feel at ease. He was able to cope with things that he could not before.

On the other hand, the husband was raised in a family strongly influenced by Western beliefs. You can see how the husband and wife were attracted to each other; the beliefs with which they were raised were almost in complete opposition. As they were 180 degrees apart, their maturity levels were basically the same. So you can see that this marriage is very difficult to manage! A lot of effort on either side of the marriage is necessary to promote maturity. We must work on ourselves with theoretical guidance. Specifically Family Systems Theory—which I am able to advise you on.

For a functional family, parents must work on their own issues. Be more focused on managing yourself and less focused on managing others, and you will be able to raise responsible children. Children learn from you!

Dr. Ryuko Ishikawa began her professional career in Japan after graduating from the Toho University School of medicine. Among other accomplishments, she was awarded a research fellowship in psychiatry from Yale University.
She was the chief psychiatrist at Tokyo Metropolitan Umegaoka Hospital, where she helped create the first children’s psychiatric hospital in Japan, as well as the chief psychiatrist at the San Mateo County Department of Mental Health in California. She is licensed in both the US and Japan. Since 1982, Dr. Ishikawa has been seeing patients in both her California and Tokyo offices. She is planning to do seminars/lectures in 2007. For more information, please see