Family sagas: CyberShrink

Of all the relationship questions that Cybershrink answers every week, many are not about romance.  Parents, siblings, children, blended families (and don't forget the in-laws) all provide enough conflict to keep his forum cooking.  Here are a few family issues:

 Q: Can we have them arrested?

My niece (17) and little sister (16), have decided to move out of home and move in with gangsters in the city where they live. These are men of 21 and older. My father suspects that my little sister is also on TIK. He has contacted the police and social workers in the area, but they never call back. My little sister has also decided to drop out of school, and as much as my father is trying to get her to go back she just gets aggravated and rude. We want the police to arrest these girls and actually lock them up so that they can see that being delinquent is not a way of living. There is nothing more we can do - we are at our wits end and scared that the next call we get is to identify their bodies. Your advice will be appreciated.

A:  This does sound sinister, and like a thoroughly lousy decision made by the girls. Sounds like the silly girl thinks she's in for something glamorous and exciting from the gangsters, rather than the grief she will inevitably find.

It is disgraceful that local social workers and police don't even respond to your calls, but sadly that's not unusual. Have you tried calling every Child Welfare organisation and office you can find? Maybe Childline? I'm not sure that the police can actually arrest the girls just for being stupid - what they're doing is foolish and dangerous, but probably not illegal - unless they get involved in prostituion or drug dealing, or something like that.  Please contact Childline (0800 055 555) as they will know the legal steps to take in this situation.   

Q:  My sister is gay and refuses to tell my parents

My sister, who is 8 years younger than me recently admitted to me that she was gay. I have always had my suspicions and living in a small town, things don't stay secret for too long. I asked her and she told me the truth. Now, I am happy for her and I want her to be happy and live a great life. I am very supportive. The problem is she doesn't want to tell my parents.

She still lives with them and basically lives a lie. She is constantly lying about everything. I don't understand how she could live like that and even sleep at night. Mum already has her suspicions too. It kills me inside knowing that I know. I will not tell my parents. It's her place to do that, but I hate living this secret with her. All her friends know. She has had plenty of girlfriends before and is seeing someone again. But she lies about her whereabouts.  Do I just leave it?

A:  Whether or not to tell is her decision and privilege. It's likely that she hesitates to tell them, because she does not expect them to be understanding and supportive in the way you have been. Apart from the issue of her sexual orientation, I'm not sure what it is she's having to lie about. Presumably about her girlfriends?

Chat with her about her concerns, about how she expects your parents and perhaps others in the family, others to respond. Help her to consider the advantages and disadvantages of her talking directly with the parents about this, and the risk of disclosure arising accidentally, unplanned - which will probably be more difficult to handle.

You don't mention her actual age and situation. Usually its harder being gay in a small gossippy town, and many find if they move to the big city, for college or work, they have more freedom- to live the lifestyle they prefer. Gay or straight, it's harder to be discreet when living with your parents.

Q:  Can I have him institutionalised?

My husband is very ill. I'm convinced he is bipolar, however, after dealing with this for about 2 years now I still cannot get him to seek medical help.  In moments of lucidity after a manic episode he asks for help, but as soon as I try to take action it causes the cycle to begin from scratch.  I cannot even plead with family for help as everyone thinks I'm being a ''know it all''. How can you help someone if they not even willing to get a proper diagnosis?

The problem being is that his mood swings can be unpredictable and he has started to become abusive when in a rage. I need to do something to protect myself and my children. My children are being subjected to stuff that I'm concerned will seriously negatively affect them!  I still want to be there to support him, but how do I get him the help that he so obviously needs?
How do I go about institutionalising him so he can get the help he needs before he harms himself, or one of us?

A:  Sadly, one often comes across someone who to others seems clearly unwell, but who refuses to admit it or to seek help and expert advice.  Unfortunately, until they do, one really cannot help them.

If they are considered by a doctor to be a significant risk to themselves or to others, then there are some possibilities of seeking compulsory assessment or even treatment. Something like Bipolar Disorder sounds possible (of course an accurate diagnosis is necessary to decide what treatment might help) but there are other possibilities.

Is there, for instance, a possibility of drug and/or alcohol abuse, and maybe cycles of withdrawal and then re-intoxication? You can discuss this with your GP if you have one, and if he knows your husband. If the children are at some risk, Child Welfare might be able to advise you, but the issue needs to be kept focused on how to get a proper assessment and treatment of your husband, rather than any thought of removing the children from your care. Do you have any option of taking the children and staying with your own family to protect yourselves and help him recognise that this is a serious matter?

Q:  Concerned mother needs help with daughter stealing, lying and eating

I do not know which field of expertise will be required to deal with this. She is 9 years old and has previously seen other physiologists, but I haven't seen any results. She is 9 years old, overweight and has a problem with stealing and lying. Her history:

She never knew her father, I am a single mother and he died when she was 4 years old.  The first "father figure" she ever had was just before her 4th birthday. We stayed Mr X for 4 years and in this time he abused her emotionally. He was continuously insulting her and had no people-skills. He was unable to compliment her in any way, or even provide fatherly attention.

After 4 years she finally told me that she was very unhappy and no longer wished to stay there. After questioning her, she told me that she was scared that I loved Mr. X more than I loved her, and she was scared that I would leave her or hate her.  At that time she was caught stealing money from us. After extensive questioning she eventually admitted that she needed money to buy her friendships. I explained to her why that was not acceptable. Eventually we moved out and lived alone for about 8 months.

I met a wonderful person (Mr. Y) who has a daughter of his own (a year older than my child). We get along famously and he is very, very good to my daughter and I. We moved in together beginning of this year and initially all went well. Lately, she started lying to us, took Mr. Y's wallet and stole his daughter's money from her room. She even claimed a "lost" wallet from school which wasn't hers. We are continuously catching her lying to us about insignificant things.

Over and above this, my daughter is overweight and we're trying to help her lose weight. We encourage her to eat less, exercise and drink plenty of water. There are no sweets or sugary foods in the house and yet she just gains weight. Eventually she admitted that she was eating behind our backs, begging food from her friends at school. She promised to stop this behaviour, but just today was again caught eating too much. (i.e. 30 minutes after breakfast have a sandwich, which is completely unacceptable). We've tried everything. We have punished her, spoken to her, explained to her, given hidings and taken away her privileges – and nothing seems to work.

A:  I wonder what on earth the other psychologists did with her. She needs a clear code of discipline and behaviour.  This means rewards for behaving well (and not lying or stealing) and consequences for breaking the rules and for lying or stealing. NO excuses acceptable.

Scheduling proper mom-daughter time together, to chat about all sorts of things, and to make it clear how much you love her is extremely important. If she feels she isn't getting enough attention from you, then misbehaving usually works by bringing more attention. Hidings are pointless, but losing the use of cellphone or watching TV for a week is are far more effective deterrants.  And talk with her friends about how important it is for them NOT to feed her ANYTHING that isn't on her diet. See a good dietician to be sure she is on a healthy and filling diet to lose weight, and remember that some exercise is also essential as part of the plan.

Q:  Nephew being labeled a psychopath.

My nephew is 11. He hasn't had an easy life - Child Welfare removed him and his sisters from their mother when he was 7. He was placed with my sister late last year (she has 2 boys, 16 &  18) after he got a 4-year-old cousin to perform a sexual act on him. For a while things were going really well with him living with my sister and her boys, but then he tried to molest her 16 year old. She had him evaluated and the psychologist (UN based) says he is psychopathic. Can an 11-year-old be diagnosed as a psychopath?

What help is available for kids like him in Gauteng. My sister must protect her own children and therefore does not want him staying with her anymore.  He can't go back to his mom as she is still in the same position that got the kids removed in the first place - she doesn't want to change her lifestyle. His sisters's father also won't have him in their home as the first incident took place there and they have a little girl to protect. My situation doesn't allow me to take him at the moment as I am caring for my dad who has cancer.

A:  Its hard, isn't it, to picture an 11-year-old molesting a 16-year-old.  If he would pick so unlikely a target, one wonders if he has tried it with other kids in the neighbourhood or at school, rather than just cousins?

Presumably, it seems likely that the youngster in question was himself abused when younger. You don't mention why Welfare removed him from his mother when he was 7, but they don't do that lightly. And presumably in the 3 or 4 years since then, before being placed with your sister, he was either in other foster homes or in an institution, so abuse is a real possibility. The psychologist's report sounds unhelpful.  Some would indeed diagnose a psychopathic/sociopathic/antisocial personality disorder in someone so young, but this is controversial. 

There should have been more of an emphasis on the issue of what could be done to help him and those who worry about him, what sort of treatment or facility might be available and where.  Maybe that was included in that psychologist's report, as omitting those issues would be less than competent. But otherwise maybe a new assessment by a child psychologist who will pay attention to these essential issues, may be needed.

Q:  Older sister is full of hate

My sister is 7 years older than me, and I cannot remember a time when I felt as though she really loved or even liked me. She always has had a nasty streak towards everyone, but especially towards me and my parents.

She says that my mother loves me more, yet she was the one who got spoiled rotten with private schools and a university education. I don't have a problem with those things, but I do have a problem with her ill-treating me and the rest of the family. She lives overseas and when she comes home each year, everyone is anxious and nervous because she is extremely rude.

She's the kind of person who can go for months, even years, without talking to someone even though there was never an argument. She'll ignore you at the drop of the hat. You'll be talking and having fun one minute and, the next thing you know, she's ignoring you for a year! She'll come home after years and insult my mom and dad, and scream at them in public places. Nobody wants to be around her.

Everyone is too polite to take this up with her and, anyway, she's in the habit of just stalking off when they try. So, this year I spoke to her and she told me to "get out of my house".  Now, of course, she won't talk to me. She is, however, in the habit of sending nasty emails to me and the most recent one only said "F*** Off" . How bizarre.

I wish my parents would keep away from her because she is unstable, but they love her and they're too polite to deal with it.  How can I protect them? I'm out of the country too and, when they visit her when she's in SA, they take my daughter with and I'm scared she'll harm her because she has really been behaving in an odd way. She has loads of money and a husband (which she's always craved to have) and is still so bitter. Any ideas?

A:  Some people never ever feel as though they have or received "enough", and never take responsibility for their own choices and actions in life, preferring to blame others.
She needs to be told that she is not welcome at home unless she can behave in a friendly and pleasant manner, and that her bad manners are unacceptable. Fortunately, in life, you don't NEED her to be loving or kindly.  

And tell her that while she is in the habit of sending nasty e-mails, they will be deleted without being read. Who knows what is wrong with this unpleasant woman? And she probably will take care not to allow anyone else to get close enough to find out. Try to advise your parents and any other family, to reduce their exposure to her until she can become stable and pleasant. She sounds like a spoiled brat, and accepting her unacceptable behaviour will only encourage her to get worse. Another reader suggests this, and I agree:

Don't let your child go with your parents to visit her if you are worried.

Q:  My daughter

It is with a very heavy heart that I write this post. I don't know how to address this situation, for fear of causing a family feud. I am concerned about my daughter and the way she treats those around her. She appears to have anger management issues, and takes her anger out on those around her. Not physically, but verbally.

I am extremely concerned about my grandchildren (one in particular) who are caught in the middle of this. She also has a very obvious favourite child, and although I have addressed this with her, she simply will not see that there is a problem.

The eldest child has, in my opinion, far too much responsibility placed on her for a child of 8 and is always getting into trouble for things that she hasn't done. She is forever being yelled at to clean up her sister's room, pick up the toys, hang up wet towels etc, that the younger one leaves lying around. The youngest lies incredibly, denying that she did anything wrong, and loves playing on the fact that she is a " baby", although she is 6.  Hence the eldest gets into trouble.

The more the little soul tries to ask why she has to do things that her sister should be doing, the more trouble she gets into for daring to ask, and gets yelled at even more. Whenever my daughter speaks to her husband and children, it is with such anger and almost a tone of  loathing  - and this is killing me, as I don''t know how to approach this situation. I have been very worried for a long while now, but haven't said anything to anyone.  Maybe did not want to acknowledge that there was a problem with MY child. The cherry on top is that her sibling has just come back from spending time with her, and has come to me in confidence, to say that she is very worried about her sister, as something is drastically wrong. She has observed all the same characteristics that I have mentioned about her behaviour towards her children and husband.

It's made me realise that I have to find a way around this issue. I admit I am afraid of my daughter (so are her siblings and her father). I am not afraid of her physically, but I am afraid of her because of the way I know she will react.  She is very headstrong, and very "angry" , and I am scared that she will write us off for daring to get involved. I'm primarily concerned about the small children in this situation, but just how and what do I do? Please help me to figure out how to get this resolved.

A:  I understand your concerns.  A 6-year-old is not a baby, and it sounds as though this one is being trained to be a selfish, dishonest and spoiled brat. And when she moves outside Mommy's care, she will be bitterly disappointed to discover that others in the world don't give her the same privileges.
Ironical, isn't it, that you have difficulty admitting something is wrong with YOUR child - part of whose problem is her difficulty in admitting that there is anything wrong with HER child?
It's helpful to have the unsolicited confirmation from your other daughter than you are right in your concerns.

Do you know how the husband feels about all of this (he has to be aware of it, maybe feels hopeless too)?  It may be worth tactfully approaching him and discussing the issue with him?
Counselling could help, but of course would only be able to do so if she acknowledged that there was a problem needing solution.

You have the problem of lacking what the lawyers would call locus standi - a position giving you an unassailable right to intervene. If there are serious concerns about the children, Child Welfare might be able to help - but they tend to concentrate on gross physical abuse and neglect rather than on these equally important but more subtle forms of abuse and neglect.

Do you have a difficult family situation?  Write to CyberShrink for advice.

More info:

7 ways to deal with difficult people

10 tips on coping with the in-laws

(Joanne Hart, Health24, April 2011)

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