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Dr. Steve
Dr. Steve, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 370
Experience:  19 years conducting therapy; book author; newspaper columnist; former co-host of radio show
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How and what process do I need to do to protect my 14 year

Customer Question

How and what process do I need to do to protect my 14 year old granddaughter from emotional and mental abuse by her ailing and dying father?
He has a serious heart condition, and calls her when he's drunk to ask if she would be happier if he were to have a heart attack and die? She has saved his life twice by calling 911 when he's had heart attacks. Her parents are divorced and otherwise she is well taken care of. I'm concerned for her long term emotional well being. She obviously loves both her mother and father but his behavior is unfair to her. She does well in school despite the issues she deals with. I've considered child protective services but hesitate out of fear of annihilating the relationship between father and daughter. What's your advice?
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Steve replied 7 years ago.



Great question, and I am glad you are there for your grand-daughter during this incredibly stressful period in her life. My initial question is: Where the heck is her mother during all of this??? Mom's responsibility is first and foremost to step in and protect her daughter from a father who is also obviously hurting, but has no ability to cope without placing all of his burden onto his daughter - a move that will have long-term implications if he does not stop, or if she is not shielded from his drunken phone calls (plus, no telling what he is saying when they are together).


My second question was: How do you know that he is saying these things if she is afraid to discuss the interactions with you? I am hoping that both she and you know that you know (maybe she slipped and told you on one occasion?) so that any intervention you make is not a surprise/shock to her.


I do not think CPS would be interested in stepping in to a situation like this one, but the threat floated past dad may help create a sense of perspective in him. The threat of legal action has that effect on people. However, if it is at all possible, I would have mom place this boundary rather than you - from the perspective of "family," it is better for the daughter to know that she has a strong mom who has her best interest in mind.


If that does not seem palatable, this would be the other thing I advise: Have a sit-down with your grand-daughter (this again is something mom should do, but if you feel that mom's effectiveness has been compromised for some reason, then you must take care of it); tell her that you are going to talk to dad first ALWAYS to make sure that he is not drunk. If you get the impression that he is, then she cannot talk to him... if he appears to be sober, then she can speak to him. She will balk at this because she loves her father, but if you walk her through the thought process, and how badly she feels when dad acts on in this manner, she will come around.


Lastly, it will help her to "come around" if she feels confident that dad's safety is intact. Tell her that YOU (or mom, of course) will monitor dad's phone calls for any sign of physical malady. If you feel his health is at risk, then YOU will be the one(s) who will call the ambulance, not his daughter. Take the burden of worry from her, too. It is fantastic that she is responsible and heady enough to call 911 when dad is in peril - reinforce that - but she does not need to have a constant worry. Let her know that the grown-ups in her life will step in and relieve her.


In sum, I think that she needs to maintain contact with dad for as long and as much as he is able (telling him the new rules is also imperative - he has to know the boundaries and the steps you are taking), but also needs to know that she has strong adults in her life who will take over the decisions when it is necessary for her emotional and mental well-being. I wish you the best of luck- If you are satisfied with the response, please hit "Accept." That is the only way I can receive credit for my question. Thanks-

Dr. Steve

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
In answer to your timely questions of how I know about this situation. He called her, last Halloween, while she was at my home. Several of us were witness to the call. Her mother 'threw him out' of their previous marriage because of verbal, mental and physical threats. Wise move on her part but of course said male continues to 'blame' his ex wife for his own problems. Said male was a vicitim of childhood abuse himself and is in serious denial of his own issues. I feel that it is out of fear that her mother hasn't done anything to date regarding this. I agree with you completly on the way to handle this. Having been a survivor of childhood abuse myself I can relate to the emotional pain this situation is causing my granddaughter. At this stage she is fearful of getting in trouble with her Mom, and her father's occasional temper leaves her with no one to talk to. Thank you sooooo much for your advice.
Expert:  Dr. Steve replied 7 years ago.

Hello again:


You are very welcome. I always hate to hear of kiddos who, through no fault of their own, are made the emotional crutch of parents with poor boundaries. It sounds as though you are in a good position to help tremendously, so I am confident this will begin to resolve. Best regards, XXXXX XXXXX anytime you need advice or a sounding board! If you are satisfied with the response, please hit "Accept." That is the only way I can receive credit for my answer. Thanks-

Dr. Steve

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Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Thank you for your prompt response. I'm going to first discuss what we've discussed here today with my daughter....for the sake and love of my granddaughter SOMETHING has to be done and this feels the right way.

After discussing it with my daughter, and if it's okay with her, I'll sit down w/my granddaughter and daughter and respectfully XXXXX XXXXX be part of the this very important decision and to let her know that there are 'responsdible' adults willing to take this incredible respondsibilty of her shoulders. Once the 3 of us are on the same page on this, I'll then sit down with my ex-son in law and share with him that we're well aware of his behavior and are giving him the opportunity to come to some agreement to NOT put his daughter thru this anymore. For the record, he is usually well liked and well received as he's been in the restaurant business successfully for years. For various reasons he's changed jobs and now due to his health he's sacrificing whatever monies he has for his daughter....much love there, but he needs to seek help for himself with these other issues in order to serve better the legacy he has his with daughter. Because of the pain it brings in bringing up the old memories he bulks when he does get to the point of making changes. He's sought talk therapy in the past but stops dead when it gets icky. Wish I could help him get past that. Wish me luck and guidance as I try to help this troubled family. I'll keep you posted thru this site as to what evolves.
Expert:  Dr. Steve replied 7 years ago.

Outstanding! You are well on your way!


I look forward to hearing updates. Be swell-


Dr. Steve

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Hello, Dr. Steve!

Your expertise came to mind on June 28 as there was an effort to speak with my granddaughters father re; his behavior while she's visiting him and while she's not and the way it's affecting his daughter. (fear of him, concern that he'll go off on her for unknown reasons, and the overall affect it's having on her developing personality.) The parties who spoke with him are objective, concerned family members whom the father has always held respect and love for. He had to know they were speaking from that arena. However, atypical of all his previous behavior, he was in COMPLETE denial of any and all existing issues. He said he couldn't understand why she could possibly feel that way. Disappointing to say the least, but not totally unexpected. One of the parties who spoke with him is a recovered drug and alchohol addict himself so he recognized the signs of denial.

We felt that, at the very least, the father's been made aware that we know what's going on and plan to stay abreast of his actions and behavior. All of this on the heels of us taking him to the ER on Saturday (June 26)for a pinched nerve in a bulging disc. Yes, we took him, sat with him, got his meds and even had a nurse stay with my granddaughter overnight to be certain there were no medical issues for her to have to deal with. My second daughter ( I have 6 children) is an RN with over 12 years experience and has the objectivity to speak with her Dad. My daughter lives out of the area but, has always been respected and revered by my granddaughters father. She offered to stay with her niece @ the father's dwelling. We felt it important that it be someone whom the father has respect for and someone objectively concerned.

We've also talked with the mother involved so that she would understand the importance of the needs of her daughter to have someone professionally objective to talk it a licensed social worker working with the whole family unit and/or a personal child/adolescent therapist just for her daughter. My daughter has made an appointment for my granddaughter for July 10, the earliest we could get in. Progress.

My granddaughter wasn't comfortable going to her Dad's place to visit until this weekend. She texted him to let him know of her decision. We wanted to wait until she had the opportunity to talk with a professional that will help her to gain some self confidence and at the same time provide a 'safe place' for her to express her own feelings in all of this, but her wishes need to be respected as well. My granddaughter expressed relief that the burden of telling her Dad of her concerns was lifted from her. No one legal has been brought into the picture at this time, but the father is aware that option is in the wings should his behavior deem it necessary.

Some progress has been made and much more to come forth. But, hopefully, we're all headed in the most beneficial direction for my granddaughter's well being. Her Dad, being the wild-card in all of this, will be kept an eye and ear on. Also, steps will be taken should he decide to call and badger his up, stating that he's being inappropriate, and putting more control on his text messages and calls to her.

If you can think of anything we've overlooked or have any suggestions from your perspective, I'd greatly appreciate hearing from you. Getting the mother to step up to her share of responsibilities in this matter was and will remain key. And, we've expressed our support of her decisions as long as they're in the best interest of her daughter.

Looking forward to your response,


Expert:  Dr. Steve replied 7 years ago.

Hello again:


Holy cow... you have been remarkably thorough in your process. I really wanted to dig in and let a long and detailed answer flow from my fingertips - but you have (all kidding aside) thought of just about every angle I would recommend. I hate to sound contrite, but I think you are moving perfectly in the proper direction.


Good for you... And good for your grand-daughter. Wish I could have helped more-

Dr. Steve

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Dr. Steve,

I'm assuming this help service will be available for the remainder of this month. Should anything arise I'm not sure about I'll be in touch. For now, I can only sit back and observe the process involved and see how it develops.

It will be interesting to see the affect the therapy sessions have on my granddaughter and her evolving relationships with those around here. As with any therapy it will take a conscience effort on her part. Lacking the experience, up until now, of how very helpful the process can be I can only hope the therapists can gain her trust sufficently to allow her to 'open' up. Granddaughter has requested that no one know of her therapy sessions. Gauging that @ 14 her peers would think her weird and knowing this all too intensely involved family as I do, that request will be honored.

Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX for your replies. Love can work wonders and I hope that my granddaughter will grow to appreciate all that's being done for her. I didn't want her growing up w/the jaded concept of how relationships work given what she's been exposed to through no choice of her own. Children deserve better and unfortuantely some parents get so myred down in their own issues they fail to see the beauty and innocence of those they've created.

Have a spectacular July well, be happy!


Stillwaters :)
Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Hello, Dr. Steve,

Wanted to send a more recent update. Since my letter of July 4 my granddaughter has had one visit w/her therapists with her mother in attendance initially. She has another next Monday, July19.

While we were @ my granddaughter's softball game last evening (Monday, July 12) her father took it upon himself to show up drunk or on something...we're not sure what he used. He started to mouth off to his daughter, in front of her coach and teammates, saying that if the softball calls were wrong he'd get in someone's face about it. She asked him to please sit down and he flipped out on her using the 'f' word to express his frustrations. I wasn't aware of any of this until this morning when her mom spoke w/me about it. My granddaughter asked her mother if there wasn't someone she could call to report her dad...that was last night. Today she doesn't want anyone to take her dad away from her....her biggest on-going fear and concern. I have called our local police and asked them to keep an eye on him. I haven't received a response back as yet.

My husband & I, by chance only, followed her father out of the park where the games are played and found him swerving off the highway once. While we didn't follow him the whole way home I can't say that was the only time. I didn't think anything of it, at the time, as I myself have swerved off the highway while looking at landscaping ideas....oops! The mother, our daughter, doesn't feel comfortable sending her daughter to visit w/the father Wed. evening....that is also his 49th birthday as we have no way of monitoring whether he's intoxicated or not. I explained to her she doesn't have to send her and to simply text the father in question (since talking w/him face to face or via phone is either useless or confrontational) and tell him that because of his behavior @ the game last night that she, the mother, doesn't feel comfortable sending their daughter to visit. Our granddaughter admits to not feeling comfortable but yet doesn't want to not see her father out of fear that he'll do something to himself. (Something we suspect he's verbally made her feel guilty about previously.)
I'll be talking with her this afternoon to try to get a handle on her status today. She's arguing w/her mother that she wants to go to her dads'. I've told my daughter that she has a respondsibility and a right to protect her daughter by not sending her to visit w/him. I also, shared the portion of our correspondence with her that addressed the reasons why her daughter would rebel. I've asked my daughter just exactly what concept does she want her daughter to get from this," that's is okay to be in an abusive situation?" I think not.

My daughter was asking me to call the father in question and tell him his daughter wasn't coming over. I refused, reiterating that it was HER responsibility as her mother, the stronger parent, the protective parent, to send a text herself.

So, the ongoing saga continues. I'd be interested in your take on this.

Looking forward to your reply,