Dear Life Matters,
I don’t even know where to start but really hope that you can help me. I have a good friend who grew up with a mother who abandoned her emotionally. It seems mom was more interested in her second husband and set of kids than she was in my friend.
I have always been sympathetic and we have had many intimate discussions about personal matters. I care about her and her children, who are roughly the same age as mine and have become good friends with them.
I just cannot believe what is suddenly happening and when I try to discuss it with her she gets really angry with me. She is in total denial but she is doing exactly the same thing as her mother did.
She has two children from a prior marriage but now happily remarried and has a couple more and she is really ignoring the first two. They are both teenagers and the daughter recently had a suicide attempt and the son has been on anti-depressants.
Here is my dilemma; after the daughter’s suicide attempt, the therapist involved asked that my friend come in, calling it a “family matter.” My friend is angry with this and has literally said, “It is her problem, not mine and I am not going!” Meanwhile, her son came to me and said he had quit his medication.
I know the father and grandparents and they are very caring, but the mother has the primary custody. Should I tell them what I see going on and what the son recently told me or should I just stay out of it? My friend was so angry when I approached her the first time it truly shocked me. I don’t think she will do anything about it if I approach her again.
Very Worried and Surprised
Dear Worried and Surprised,
I am not at all surprised that you worry and are concerned. These are your children’s friends and the children of a friend that you care about.
Most likely somewhere deep inside, your friend is fearful of being like her mother.
It never feels good when your children are in trouble, and to have both of them in such serious situations, she is probably extremely defensive and feeling pretty helpless.
First of all, you know that talking to her doesn’t work. At least not a straigh head-on confrontation of the issues. She is too defensive.
Nothing is worse than being accused of or thinking of yourself as a bad mother. Only rapists and child molesters are considered worse. We don’t like bad mothers in our society and we certainly don’t want to face the possibility that we might be one. Having said that, there is a chance that you only got her initial defensive reaction and that she will come around.
I would forget trying to confront her at this point. Perhaps you can just be supportive in a way that encourages her to take a more serious role with these two children. I would say use a “back door approach,” if talking to her about this at all.
If you are supportive in a way that makes her feel safe to talk to you, she may come around. If you see no signs of this, I think you should definitely express your concerns to the father and grandparents for the children’s sake. I realize that this might jeopardize your friendship with her, but there is a reason that this teenage boy told you that he stopped his medicine. You did not say that he said to keep it a secret, all the more reason to assume that he is reaching out for help. But even if he had, I think I would not chance suicide with these teenage kids.
If the father and grandparents care and she seems preoccupied with the new husband and children, these kids may be better off with dad.
These kids need help and you would never forgive yourself if you ignored it and one or both ended up either committing suicide or in serious trouble.
Adolescents are the most likely group to commit suicide or if not that, to begin self-medicating with drugs and maybe dying from that. They just do not have fully developed brains or the wisdom to understand what they are doing.
I think you know what you have to do and it’s important that you do it. Do not wait too long; time is of the essence. But do take time to think of the most diplomatic way to go about it.
Best of luck and my thoughts are with you.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous inquires and replies to firstname.lastname@example.org Got something on your mind, let us help you with your life matters.