I have a question about how to help my almost 14 yr old niece. She is bright, but has struggled with school often. She was held back at the 4th grade. I understand that often the transition at 4th grade is more difficult than transitioning into high school. During 4th and 5th grade my brother often tried to help her with homework and it seemed to help. Her home life is quite difficult. Her mother has a significant personality disorder (probably borderline) and is extremely angry most of the time, with the anger directed at my brother. She simply isn't rational at times, and is often very defensive bordering on paranoia for no reason. My niece is actually a lot like my brother and they get along well. Divorce is eminant. My niece got D- on the big subjects--english, math and science. Often she didn't turn in assignments. My brother is in overwhelm mode and wasn't seeing how critical it is that things need to change for her if she is to finish high school and hopefully find something she would like to do. I live 6 hours away but would like to help her since her parents are too wrapped up in their own stuff. (I am working to get my brother to see what's so at stake here). Even if my husband and I paid for say, Sylvan tutoring, I don't know that her parents would get her there--my brother sometimes has to work, and my sister in law has all sorts of excuses. We're wanting her to visit for a week, for a respite from the craziness, and to see what's going on from her perspective. I've also contemplated calling her to go over homework in the afternoons, plus a little help from Skype, etc. I think if my niece lived with her dad her life would be more stable, but he works nights. I think she'd rather live with him, as her mom is often angry at her for no reason. We have told her she is welcome to call or visit any time. Any ideas or suggestions?
Right now my husband and I are brainstorming. My and my brother's family are by and large well educated--doctors, professors, etc. But my niece's mom was the first in her family to get a GED, so I don't know there's an agreement or understanding as far as how important school is.
Hello! Please remember that my responses are informational only, we are not establishing a therapeutic relationship.
Living as a child with a mother with BPD can range from being immensly difficult to downright traumatizing.
I think that your idea of having her come for a week to give her a respite and find out what things are like from her perspective is a wonderful idea.
She knows that her mother is difficult, but I wonder how many people have validated that experience for her ---difficult is actually an extreme understatement. For a child, it can be downright impossible to deal with a parent like this.
She gets that something is wrong with her mom. She is very close to her dad and they have discussed how difficult her mom's early life was. But it's still a huge load for her as she's very sensitive. She often tried to break up their fights.
Although I think the homework help is valuable, it may be that the personal support is even more valuable. Yes, that does sound like a huge load for her.
Which trying to break up the fights is really inappropriate --she never should have been in that position.
Her mom wanted the kids to see the fights to show them how terrible my brother is.
Even when he protested.
That is cruel.
She really needs you and your husband's support, I think. I know she has her Dad, but it's good to have people one step removed as well.
I liked your idea of helping her with her homework via Skype, but keep in mind, the emotional suport might actually be more of what she needs.
That's what we've been thinking. Plus my husband's sister and husband want to support her as well. My sister in law and brother have been very isolated from family. I finally got through to my brother this spring and got him and my niece to our wedding in late March. It was like they'd been let out of the cage.
She needs to see normal.
Yes, I agree--she does need to see normal. And actually, "let out of the cage," is a very fitting description for what it can be like.
I'm trying to get my brother to get her into summer school so she might be able to start the 8th grade.
She may have some difficulty concentrating in general. But --summer school is good just to get her out of the house even.
I hadn't thought of that--summer school to get her out of the house!
:) The house can be so trapping in situations like this one.
Is she allowed to see friends?
I think she's allowed to see friends. She's active on Facebook and texts a lot.
I've sensed that social stuff with friends is the most important thing in her life right now.
Relief from hell at home.
It sounds like it's taken awhile for your brother to admit to himself the true nature of what's going on? Yes, she probably is desperate for some relief.
But the social stuff seems to be crowding out everything else school wise. She doesn't turn stuff in.
That's a tough one --that maybe she doesn't see the importance of school right now.
Her grades really took a downturn this spring as things have really heated up. Yes, I don't think she sees the importance of school right now.
She needs to make the connection between success in school and her independence in the future.
Meaning --that's her ticket to becoming an independent adult.
And --free from Mom so to speak.
Maybe that's something you can talk about --what an education can do for her down the road.
That's a good idea--connecting success in school and becoming independent, not having to work at McDonalds. Yes, freedom from mom. I get that as my mom was an alcoholic and I'm still grateful to the art school that took me in--jail break!
So -- you can share your personal experience, that might make the idea come "alive" for her.
And that's something we could talk about better if she visited. Yes, sharing that she's not the only one who felt trapped. I had a very hard time conceiving of a future in my teens. Fortunately I liked school and did well.
I have a feeling it may be hard for her to text or talk on the phone. Her mom quit her job at McDonalds and my brother is saving money for supporting 2 households.
That's one of the biggest problems teens face --difficulty conceiving a future. Yes, during the visit would be a great time to share this with her. Maybe show her some pictures of yourself at her age if you have some.
So, it sounds like more tough times are ahead, even if he leaves her.
I think pictures are at my stepfather's, although I have a rather surly picture of myself in a family picture:-)
Maybe she will like that. ;)
Yes, more tough times. But it has to be done. My brother's pulled a man hole cover over himself to deal with his wife, and that man hole cover keeps him from seeing what my niece needs at times. He's been very downtrodden for a long time and I feel like I have to jumpstart him. But someone has to.
Yes. Have you heard of the book, Stop Walking on Eggshells... ?
Yes. Also, I Hate You, Don't Leave Me. Haven't read them. But I should.
They might be helpful for your brother too ---
I think he's put off separation and divorce because he'd be supporting 2 households, and probably not sure what her reaction would be.
It's going to be an intense reaction.
He has no privacy, so he couldn't keep books like that around. She looks at his cell phone to see who he's talked to, calls them up and interrogates them!
He hasn't given the attorney his phone number for that reason. They are to call me, and I can call him. She'll ignor my phone number.
There's no good book that I know of for your niece. There's finally a book for adult children of parents with BPD. He really seems completely ill-equipped to deal with her. Yes, he really needs you too!
He is far too old to have to behave like that --don't know how he has done it for this long ---
Thanks. I will try to send him links on line. She doesn't have his password. We are all in our 50s (not his wife) and this is soooo old.
Yes -- he needs to get empowered --and to realize that life is way to short to live like this any longer.
I know that the reality of trying to support two households is daunting, but he probably will be tempted to do too much in that regard too.
I've also talked with him about BPD. She's typical--it's the rest of the world that has the problem. And he's her biggest problem as far as she's concerned. I visited in Feb. The hostility was unbelievable.
Yes, but I'm sure she's happy to have him support her. Did he grow up with you with the same mother?
Yes. A friend pointed out that in essense he married our mom because she was a very angry person too, and my dad was clueless.
So my brother's clueless.
And --he came with a high tolerance for it, it sounds like.
Yep. He hates conflict, but she drives him to anger. Even the kids try to call her off of him.
Depending on the nature of the fighting, seeing parents fight is sometimes considered reportable child abuse. And, in many states, verbal abuse is now reportable.
Interesting. They have called the cops on each other once.
She threw a bunch of his CDs (he loves music) down the stairs and he called the police. In Utah she would have been carted off to jail.
Yes, it's something to keep in mind -- if either of them ever talk to a mandated reporter --and there's suspicion that abuse is occuring, it would result in that mandated reporter calling Child Protective services.
mandated reporters include teachers, doctors, therapists, and clergy.
What is a mandated reporter--a teacher or counselor? I've never heard that term.
There are 37 different types --ranging from teacher to coroner --most common are teachers, doctors, therapists (counselors) and clergy.
Although, therapists are the most aware --I've seen a number of teachers ignore a lot of things...or try to ignore them.
OK. I've asked my brother if she's talked with a school counselor and he told me that once there was an inquiry from the school which he thought was very overblown.
Funny, I just remembered that.
I wouldn't be surprised that teachers often ignor it.
He may think it was overblown, that doesn't necessarily mean that it was --he's forgotten normal too it sounds like.
A "mandated" reporter is supposed to have severe consequences for ignoring abuse.
Yes! Normal is feeling terrible all the time.
Yes, so that's why they follow up, or should. I tried to explain that to him.
And have to give their name when they call --other people can call anonymously.
Yes. Maybe I could call anonymously.
I can see where his concern is keeping the peace --at a high cost.
He just doesn't get how horrible this all is. Yes, he--and my niece--are paying a terrible price--and it's not always that peaceful!
That's a big problem --that he is not seeing how horrible it is.
I'd like to work with him helping him formulate issues in the divorce--how unstable his wife is, how having his daughter would be much healthier for her--and I think she'd rather live with him.
Yes, I bet she would. It seems like you can be a big help to him if he lets you.
I have to say he has moved--emotionally?--quite a bit this year. A year ago he couldn't conceive of separation--it was just spoken of in anger. But now he's been in touch with an attorney, has saved money and is looking at divorce, not separation.
So there has been progress.
That sounds like a big step forward.
I think he might let me help.
That sounds hopeful.
I should offer it to him. Maybe go up the day before he visits the attorney, stay at a motel so she doesn't know I'm there, and go with him to help him ask the right questions and ask for the right stuff. We've even suggested he hire a sitter, or someone to supervise the kids at night when he's at work. I've also been pushing him to look for day work.
Having someone at home when he's not would help with custody.
That sounds like a good plan.
It's hard when you are so emotionally involved to think of all the questions that need to be asked.
So it sounds like school is important, but so is getting out of the mess. Yes, it is hard to think of all the questions. We could brainstorm before the session.
Yes --school can always be made up --having your spirit broken is a lot harder to fix.
I think the stress of living with his wife has kept his brain is chaos mode for so long that it can be hard for him to gather this stuff together.
Makes a lot of sense.
Yes, making up school can be accomplished, but it's so much harder for repair the psyche and spirit. ANd that's what I see is getting so worn down for him and his daughter.
Yes --one can only take so much --
I know when my mom's drinking was bad, and we moved a lot since my dad was in the service, it was hard to concentrate.
Yes, that's a natural, logical consequence.
I agree, one can only take so much. I don't think he realizes that. He's sick a lot. No big surprise to me, but he can't understand. So I then explain, well, when you're under this much stress, you can only take so much.
I don't know if it would help to show him this transcript, but you should be able to print it --or it will remain in your account, at least.
That's good to know. I will definitely show him this transcript. Hopefully I can send him the link. So this tells me it's really important to get her for a week--do fun stuff like horseback riding lessons, art (I'm a painter) and tourist stuff like a riverboat ride. ANd talking in between.
That is my opinion --that seems so needed and valuable for her right now.
OK. I will persuade my best. Sometimes her mom is very irrational and won't let her go to things--everyone was surprised when she agreed my niece could come with her dad to our wedding.
I thinking she needs some other adult grounding.
I certainly hope that she will allow this trip --that would be terrible if she won't.
Yes it would be terrible if she wouldn't. It would be good to do it before divorce hits, who knows what will happen then.
Yes. If she sees any benefit for her for your neice to take the trip --that could be helpful.
Yes. Maybe see that she can get my niece out of her hair for a few days!
A break for her.
Yep. I feel like I have a little more of a game plan now. If I went to help my brother at the attorney's, then I could bring my niece home, making it look like I just showed up to pick her up. It's not my nature to essentially sneak around, but these folks are forgetting about the most important thing--their kids, esp. my vulnerable niece.
I'm glad that you have a game plan. Yes, I know that sneaking around is not ideal. do take the time to read through the books, even if you only skim --they might help you to help your brother down the road.
OK. I'll get the books, at least to skim. Since I've not had day to day contact with someone with BPD, I know it's different from my brother's perspective.
Yes --but on the other hand, not being on the "front line" enables you to give him a much needed perspective.
So my goal is to help my brother and niece come out of this fairly healthy. Help them cope and understand. Once she's feeling safer/better, school might settle down, even if she has to play catch up.
Yes, that sounds like a good summary of the priorities --as I see them.
Yes, I do have a different perspective. I've told him on more than one occasion he's like the frog that starts out in a pot of cold water, and doesn't try to get out once the water's boiling, but a frog dropped in boiling water fights like mad to get out.
I'm realizing he may really need my help in initiating the divorce. I'm trying to not be codependent here.
I didn't hear anything codependent from you --but it is always a good question to ask yourself as you consider various actions/offers of help.
Good to get a reality check, and I appreciate it from you.
You are welcome. And --I should be signing off about now.
Yes, me too! Thank you so much for all your help. It's really helped me sort the priorities here. Take care.
You too. And best wishes to you and your family.
I am a Psychologist and Mother of 2.