When Parents Aren’t Enough
In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on neighbors who care ceaselessly for their disabled son—to the neglect of their infant daughter.
A: Good point—why hasn't a physician inquired as to how the disabled child is being cared for? Many people are suggesting various private and public agencies that could be contacted. It's fine if the neighbor wants to get the ball rolling that way, but it must be gotten rolling immediately. And if Child Protective Services is the agency that's called, they will come in and make an assessment, not immediately swoop away the children.
Q. Sister's Attitude Is Wearing Thin: At a family gathering my sister Vanessa commented to me that my soon-to-be stepdaughter could "stand to lose some weight." My fiancé's daughter is 13, 5-foot-3, and 105 pounds. Vanessa always makes nasty comments about people she feels are overweight: my mom, our other sister, me. She is 5-foot-9, never weighs more than 110 pounds, and seems to see obesity as a moral deficiency. In the past Vanessa has said nasty things about my fiancé, too, for no other reason than he's chubby. I have asked her time and time again to stop, but she never listens to me. Now that she's started criticizing my stepdaughter, I'm wondering if it's healthy to have Vanessa in my life anymore. I don't even want her at my wedding, because I know she disapproves of my fiancé. My parents are well aware of Vanessa's issues with weight, and we've all tried to help her make healthier decisions. Nonetheless it would hurt them if cut Vanessa out of my life. Am I being too harsh on my sister?
A: I don't know how a 105 pound teenager goes about losing some weight—is Vanessa recommending the removal of a leg? Vanessa has an eating disorder and from the sound of it a personality disorder. (There's a lot of that going around on this chat.) You must tell your sister that weight discussion is off the table, especially when it concerns teenagers. If you're around her and she brings it up, just say, "Vanessa, we talked about not talking about this, so let's change the subject." If she won't, walk away. Don't disinvite her from your wedding, just assign someone to be her minder and keep her away from your stepdaughter.
Q. Big Sister/Little Sister: My best friend Jen and I are in our mid-20s and both still live at home. Jen has a younger sister, Mary, who is 12 years old. Mary has been diagnosed with ADHD, and clearly has several other undiagnosed problems going on, but her father, who has joint custody, refuses to allow her any treatment, whether therapy or medication. While this is sad enough, I've noticed over the last several times I've visited for extended periods of time that Jen and her mother constantly belittle and demean Mary. Mary gets very obsessed with things (right now it's astronomy), and wants to do nothing more than tell everyone about the cool things she's learned. Jen and her mother will tell her to shut up, that she's being weird, or that no one cares. Mary's starved for attention and I love to give it (I'm one of the few people who can get her to behave for more than 20 minutes without acting out), but I'm not around nearly enough. I have no idea what her home life is like with her father, since no one is allowed to speak of him in Jen's house. (Mary switches between him and her mother every week.) I want to encourage Mary to flourish into a happy young woman who's not afraid to speak up and be passionate about something, but I have no idea what to do. Please help
A: Please contact Mary's school and report this to the principal or guidance counselor. Mary sounds like a bright girl who needs help and instead is being demeaned and bullied by her own family. You are also friends (for now) with Jen. Perhaps because she grew up with rotten parents she doesn't have the perspective to see how her sister is being harmed. But you should try to provide it. Tell Jen some of the compassionate things you've said here about Mary and how it pains you to hear her insulted. Maybe Jen will wake up. If not, your friendship is doomed.
Q. Friendship: Within the past year, I've become very good friends with a girl I went to school with from middle school through high school. We're both now out of college. During college, we got together over breaks to catch up, and now that we're both back home after graduating this past May, we get together almost every week for coffee or shopping. I'm happy that she's becoming such a good friend and I'm realizing that I missed out on the opportunity to be a good friend to her earlier. The thing is that throughout middle school and high school, I was friends with another couple of girls who made fun of her mercilessly. Because I was friends with them (and because everything they said about her just amplified those annoyances about her for me) I went along with it and made fun of her too. I'm ashamed of how I acted and know that making excuses for myself is not OK. She knew we did this, even though it was never to her face, and she had a miserable time in high school both because of this and other reasons. She knew that my other friends were the instigators, but I don't know how much she knew I was involved. Either way, I really want to somehow apologize to her on behalf of me and everyone else that made her feel that way in school. I like to think that we've matured and that she has, in a way, forgiven me because she's never brought it up and we always enjoy spending time together, but I still feel like it's an elephant in the room every time we're together. Should I apologize? I don't even know how to broach the subject.
A: Apologize. Start by saying how much her friendship has meant to you and what a delightful she is to be with. Then say something's been tearing at you, and that's how she was treated in high school. You don't have to go into details—and you certainly can't apologize for the other miscreants—just take your lumps and say you were an immature twit and you feel sick about the part you played in making her high school years difficult. It sounds as if she has already implicitly forgiven you, so it will be nice to make this explicit.
Q. Love My Baby Girl, I Just Don't Like Her!: I have always been great with children, and have been a loving and doting stepmom of two for years now. The problem is that my 8-year-old stepdaughter annoys the tar out of me! Her littler brother is a hellion, and handful, and I adore both of them. But always prefer the company of my stepson to my stepdaughter. I have nephews, and a brother, so I've never been around girls. But, I've raised my SD since she was a toddler. I love her to pieces, and am very protective over her, but the idea of having her follow me all around the house or climb on me, or of playing "ponies" with her, annoys me so much! She's needy, and timid, and very immature for her age (acts more 4 or 5 than 8) and I worry that it's just the type of person she's growing in to that I don't like! I was always annoyed by girls like that in school. Am I a horrible person? Or, is it natural that some people just connect more with one gender than another? I love to get nails done with her, or go to the movies, or to plays. And other girly activities, it's just the sitting around the house stuff that makes me batty! What do I do?
A: Give yourself credit for taking on two difficult stepchildren and being the most loving and accepting mother to them you can be. There's a dirty little secret that even biological parents can connect better to some of their children than others. That doesn't mean the love isn't equal, just that the way personalities mesh is not. Your awareness of your annoyance will go a long way to keep it in check. Give yourself permission to be a human being. But if there really seems to be something amiss with your stepdaughter, you should suggest an evaluation. She's been through the loss of her parents' marriage (or the disappearance of her mother) and the arrival of a new mommy. It could be that some counseling will help her grow into the best young woman she can be.
Q. Re: Big sister/little sister: Why not contact CPS for this child? If she has health/mental issues that aren't being taken of, isn't she as neglected as the baby in the first letter?