It's like watching a train wreck. (long)

ArabellaMillerDecember 27, 2001

I am friends with a woman who is at the early stages of what looks to be a messy divorce. We have only been friends for a few years, but since we both moved into this very tight-knit, and very uptight, upscale community at the same time, and have kids the same age, we became fast friends.

About 6 months or so ago, I started to cool off the friendship, as although I like her very much, we have VERY different parenting ideas and it was becoming intollerable to have her 4 year old son around. He hits, bites, and is generally quite violent and poorly behaved, with never a word from his mother except "oh, it must have been an accident". She admits that his behavior is very bad, but just shrugs her shoulders and says "what can I do?". She thinks I am way too strict, and perhaps I am, but it's working for us. I didn't want to lose my friendship with her and since our boys are in different preschools this year, I suggested we sign them up for a class together. There is constant supervision in the class as well as other children, so this has worked out really nicely. So we still see each other at least once a week and continue to occasionally - once every 4 to 6 weeks - go out together at night without the kids.

That's the background, here's the train wreck part...

Since her husband told her that their marriage is over, she's been a wreck. She is physically and verbally attacking her husband in front of the kids, saying horrible things about him to her son and vacillates between ignoring the kids and completely overindulging them. He's still in the house, so the violence is a daily occurance. She leaves her violent older son in rooms alone with the baby and just shrugs when the baby ends up crying (I've been on the phone with her when these things have happened).

None of the things she's doing would actually qualify as neglect or abuse to her kids and I would never call any protective services anyway (unless I really thought the kids were in physical danger, which I don't).

I'd like to take her older son from her occasionally to give her a break, but he's just too wild and it's not fair to have my own son in a position where he is consistently attacked.

I don't know what kind of advice I'm looking for. Just a vent really. It's hard to watch and know that these kids are on the road to being really messed up. If anyone's been in a similar predicament, I'd appreciate your thoughts.

An aside - I used to be really envious of them because they have an overwhelming amount of money and lots of wonderful material items. Now I'm counting my blessings.

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I feel bad for you. It's a bad position to be in. It's hard to stand by and watch adults wreck the lives of the children they supposedly love.

Are you really good friends with her, or just friendly? If you are really good friends maybe you could point out to her (calmly, and non-judgementally) what you have observed. Offer to be the place she can vent, the person she can talk to about how horrible her soon to be ex is to her without involving the children. You seem to understand that it is not good for kids to hear how horrible their parents are, especially from the other parent.

This is a good example of why you should not be envious of people over money. Money is just one part of life. Not having enough money can be a problem, but once you have enough there is more to life than just money. I have seen many people with loads of money who are supremely unhappy.


    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 11:34AM
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I would look into your community to see what outlets are available for divorced and divorcing parents. You may be a good friend, but it would help your friend to find others who have experienced the same thing. Also, it'll wear you down having to listen to her problems all the time. Someone recommended a program called "Divorce Cares" through one of the local churches to my dad when he and my mother were getting divorced. My dad felt that it helped him a lot.

Divorce is really depressing and takes its toll on the entire family. My dad felt like he needed an outlet to talk about his problems and vent to instead of coming to the children. Because of the age range of the kids in my family, some of were adults in our mid-20's and some were barely teenagers. My dad felt like he was unfairly burdening the older children by talking about the divorce all the time. Fortunately, my dad was able to find solutions to some of his problems and concerns without wearing down the whole family. I'm happy to say that the divorce with the way it was handled brought my family closer together unlike a lot of families I see.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 12:13PM
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Behavioral issues in children are very problematic. They are not always strictly related to parental or environmental influences. Those can usually help or hinder though.

People you can talk to for confidential advice would be your doctor, or pediatrician; and clergy or religious counselor types. They may have experience or be able to help sort out whether the problem should be reportable. (If the youngest is being physically abused by the oldest, that can be a problem worth reporting... but a physician would likely be in a better position to assess physical risks.)

This page has a lot of divorce-related links mostly about child issues.

If she is acting as if she is angry and/or out of control, she probably is. How badly would a mother have to feel or in how bad a shape would she have to be, in order to act the way you see this woman acting? If she seems to need help, this is an area where counselors, and therapists are trained. The point is if she feels like she is suffering, or is otherwise pushed to or beyond her limits; counselors are good at helping people learn better stress management techniques and how to feel more like they can cope. Healthy people take responsibility for their mental and physical health and get help when they are faced with situations which call forth an apparent need for help.

leaving a baby with a child who is known to have violent behavior sounds like a problem which could have results similar to more direct abuse (it's 'passive' on her part, but if the end result is that the baby is being hurt or wounded, it isn't that significantly different)

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 12:20PM
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If you really feel you can't do anything for her and you were trying to distance yourself, maybe you should just stay away. I have big problems with my SIL and how she treats her kids and the only thing I can do is stay away. My advice and tyring to help won't do any good. I guess if she wants to mess up her kids that's her problem and she'll have to deal with them when they are teenagers but she's not going to do anything to influence my son. Same with my one friend who is not into being a mother at all. If she wants to be mean and expect too much out of him, I stay away. I can't be friends with a person like that. I tried to talk about how I know how stressful it is with a 1 year old around but it didn't do any good. She ignored me for over a month or more over that and I didn't say anything wrong or mention anything she had done or said directly. I don't need it.


    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 1:48PM
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I too think if she is a really good friend you should be able to talk to her and explain you know what she is going through but also the effects it is having. I used to flip out all the time and never really knew why and still dont but I didnt realize how bad it was until I just saw a friend act like me and the scared look on her kids faces. I have since been seeing doctors to try to help it.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 2:09PM
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I think you can get the boy under control (while he's with you), which is what you want. Just tell him the rules & if he breaks them, take him home after 1 warning. Once he realizes what your expectations are, he WILL meet them, but you have to be consistent & spell out what is & is not acceptable "when he's with you, at your house, etc."

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 2:23PM
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If she was my friend, I would call on her when the kids are away, talk frankly about how you see her behavior and strongly encourage her to get into some type of counseling. She needs all the support she can get if she is really going through a divorce. The husband would not need to be involved in the counseling, of course it would help if they both were, but she definitely needs it as a support just now.

She may get upset with you, but its certainly worth a try if it can get her thinking more clearly.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 9:06PM
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Thanks everyone for your words of advise and support.

I have suggested that she see a therapist, but she says she isn't ready yet. She's sort of non-functioning right now. We'll make plans to go out and she'll call at the last minute to cancel because she just isn't up for it. We have a wonderful clergyman who counsels anyone for free, but she doesn't seem interested. The divorce group is a good suggestion as well, but I'm not sure she's ready for that either.

We are good friends, but she has other friends as well. She doesn't have any family to support her emotionally though, and sometimes even the best friends aren't enough. The few times I've tried to mention counseling or dealing with her children, it hasn't been well received, so I'm nervous to say anything now.

Carlotta, I know what you're saying is true, but I just don't have the energy to deal with her kid right now. And I know she would be very angry if I disciplined him. An "expert" once told her that it's not worth it fighting with him over anything, so she should just let him have his own way all the time. (I think she must have mis-interpreted, but that's another issue...)

I think at this point, I have to just sit back and listen to her vent. I'm saddened that I can't be more helpful, but I don't believe she wants help, at least not from me. She really needs a professional.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2001 at 11:35AM
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