Depressed relative - ignoring children's needs?(30 Posts)
Need some advice.
A close family relative was diagnosed with low mood/depression summer 2012; symptoms of crying, anxiety etc. a lot to do with money issues which are now resolved. She's in her mid forties and has four children age range 14 to 8, youngest two have recently been diagnosed with a specific learning difficulty.
Since last year we've all supported where we can. She threw herself in to reading books. Literally, 4-5 books a week. This went on, she went back to work (part time nights shifts, no more than 2 a week) and was referred for counselling. She went to one session and didn't go back; the comment made to me "the counsellor told me to stop reading and do more with the kids. She just doesn't get it".
So, fast forward to now. I've found out she's still dealing with it in the same way but to the extreme - she's reading all of the time, from the minute she wakes up to when she goes to bed.
She's replaced crying and feeling anxious with reading; now allegedly at the detriment of her children. I've been told the middle child is helping the youngest with their reading and homework each night, she doesn't read with them; she literally gets up, reads, older children help young ones get breakfast, she takes young ones to school, comes home, reads all day, picks kids up and goes back to reading; she'll do dinner or her DH will do it when he gets in from work.
Her and her DH have started going out more too; so every other weekend getting quite drunk on a Friday night (they get a baby sitter for kids) and then Sat morning the kids take care of themselves whilst she stops in bed for most of the day (reading) and her DH gets up with them
I keep asking if she spoke with the youngest' school yet about the diagnosis and she's half heartily said she would before half term. That has been and gone and still no 'get up and go' in her to get some support for them. My DP is a teacher and has given her advice and recommended a book on the diagnosis - she's still not read it.
I'm concerned. I trust the source that has told me, although it could be exaggerated a little. I can't give too much away here as it will out me. The person has said her DH is ignoring it and burying his head in the sand with her - so does more with the children etc.
We're close and we used to speak a lot, she's been a big support to me in the past. However she never calls me though - I always call her and I always ask how things are and she dismisses her feelings saying "I'm ok" and then we talk about what's happened that week or whatever.
I know the children are absolutely fine and not in danger; they are very independent and always have been, but this information I've been given is concerning me.
It isn't what you'd deem as a stereotypical 'neglect' scenario in my eyes. Both parents work, they take them out and have a good support network around them.
So, what the hell do I do? Do I even do anything? I know a bit about mental health illnesses but is this normal to completely throw yourself in to something at the detriment of actually living your life and seeing your children are 'ok'?
AIBU to perhaps talk to her DH to see if any of the information I've been given is true? I could talk to another relative but would be worried she would be a bull in a china shop with the information I give her (detailed above).
If you're all close enough to be comfortable then yes, I would talk to her DH.
It's a tough one really. The kids aren't in any danger but it does sound neglectful
Thanks for replying AndHarry. I do feel I could speak to him. Just don't want him thinking I'm criticising him or their parenting decisions. The youngest children really need some support and I suppose I am judging their decision to do nothing and rely on an 11 year old to help them.
It sounds plausible to me. When I'm really struggling I just want to escape reality and concentrate on something simpler (usually MNing...I know, I know). It's like self medicating.
The counselling may just be too much to handle, it can be very upsetting and exhausting. What about a support group?
It's one of those things, the person has to do it themselves, you cannot force them to get on with things.
Very true some people - horse to water scenario
You seem like you have enough tact to avoid giving that impression if at all possible OP. What outcome would you hope for from such a discussion?
Why are the kids 'taking care of themselves' on the weekend when the DH is up with them? Can't he take care of them? It's not even that hard when they're that age (unless he's depressed too), it's not like toddlers or something. Have you tried being nice to the poor woman? The counsellor sounds like a bit of a dick, too- normally they aren't supposed to tell people what to do, they are supposed to do reflective listening and all that (tbh I don't find it useful but it's a damn sight better than some judgemental person telling you how much you're supposed to do with your junior/secondary school age children).
It could just be a phase and a way she's dealing with things that won't turn out to be a long term thing?
I'm not saying it's good or even that there is a valid comparison, but reading is definitely one of the less destructive ways people deal with such overwhelming situations.
Tons of people use it as escapism, it's just that the situation she's in means she wants to block it out rather than get away from it by reading to recharge her batteries.
How long has the extreme reading being going on?
Is it getting 'worse'?
Is it helping her do you think? If it's helping her manage her anxiety and feeling she wants to cry all the time, that's a progression isn't it? Although I get what you mean that it's replacing one with another.
Could she be avoiding telling the school because it'd only make things more real for her if she did and she hasn't got the strength to face it just yet?
It's only my opinion, but I wouldn't interfere in a direct way. Letting them know you're there if they need you (which you're already doing keeping in contact) in a general way is a whole world away from pointing out what they probably already know and are dealing with in their own way.
I see what you're saying fudgeface, the children are fine, they're old enough to fend for themselves. I don't like it one bit that middle one is reading with youngest - that's not her job.
Counsellor sounded rubbish I agree. She could have requested another one as it was via occ health through work so was privately funded.
What would I want to get out of talking to her dh? Perhaps making him aware that what she's doing isn't healthy, that her youngest two shouldn't be being looked after by a 11 year old, that she needs to get professional help & realise that her health isn't going to get better if this escapism tactic continues.
Crossed post with agentzigzag - good points raised.
Think the increased reading has happened over time, mainly this year.
I know she was reading but not so much - She reviews them via Amazon so I see the review on my Facebook feed and I noticed more and more the last month or so.
It's only my opinion again, but I can imagine that reviewing the books could be a helpful focus for her.
Something she can grab hold of when she feels like she's in free fall.
Over time she might start to find other things help and the reading drops off, and as the children are in a safe and supportive environment I would say she's just doing the best she can under the circumstances and doing pretty well.
Much worse for her to feel pressured and for the reading not be enough for her any more.
Even if she isn't the perfect parent there is a husband in the situation, so the children do have responsible adults around (elder child, husband). I am not trying to say this sounds ideal, it doesn't and the children may well feel puzzled and a bit neglected by their mum, but ultimately, if the whole family is caring enough even if she is perhaps not doing her bit, then that is ok. She does sound like she is functioning she is doing the school run, cooking (albeit later than you think ok).
I think you should express concern for her and her wellbeing and say nothing about the children. It will be implied anyway and if you start talking about it then you will sound very accusing and judgmental. But saying you are worried she is becoming book obsessed to the husband might be a good way in.
Having suffered horribly from anxiety its so hard, I hit the internet and spent hour after hour on it, I made sure dd had clean clothes and had food and everything else but honestly I just wanted to be left alone. Sometimes I was just going through the motions with her until she went away.
I KNEW I was doing it but I could not cope.
She needs help and support. Agree support group might be better than counselling.
the children may well feel puzzled and a bit neglected by their mum, but ultimately, if the whole family is caring enough even if she is perhaps not doing her bit, then that is ok.
I really have to disagree with this, if mum has checked out into her books to the extent that she is neglecting her dc's emotional needs then it's not okay and she needs further medical help. A child can have a wonderful, caring, involved father, but if the other parent is at best emotionally absent (at worst neglectful) then it is still damaging to the dc(s).
If it's a shortish term thing while she gets her head together Andro, that must be better than some of the alternatives I can think of?
If she's moved on from crying/overwhelming anxiety to reading could that say it might be?
The situation sounds so fragile, if the OPs not trained to know which tack to take and her friend hasn't chosen to go for help by herself, wouldn't that risk upsetting the children even more if the OP falls out with her leaving her/them even more isolated?
But it's not a short term thing. It's been going on for well over a year, since summer 2012.
The children may not be neglected in the physical sense but certainly they are being emotionally neglected. An 11 year old taking over the parenting role is not good at all.
Whilst your relative is self medicating with extreme reading there are consciences for the children. Can you step up a bit and help out a bit more?
Thank you for the input so far.
I'm concerned that it isn't short term any more. Like I said, diagnosis was summer last year, so nearly 18 months later there has been no improvement in how she's feeling.
I would like to step in and help more but I don't live nearby (around 50 miles away). I think I may initiate a visit on my day off this week though as you've all given me food for thought tbh. Rather than taking the approach to go via her DH, I will increase my contact with her and talk through how she's feeling first.
I've fallen down here as I've not called as much the last month because of work / family / home (excuses I know) so perhaps I can improve on my part before speaking to her DH.
I have some experience of MH via work and dealing with people off sick and occupational health, but I'm no means an expert. She is unwell and it isn't a case of "snap out of it" like many people think she can (inc. the source who gave me the additional information).
Cheers everyone. You've helped me think this through with lots of different angles.
I would talk to her about having more counselling - there are many shit counsellors who like to dole out some awful advice, she should try another.
All you have to go on is someone else's interpretation of what is going on which you say may be exaggerated. In terms of actual neglect the children are going to school, being fed (by the mother) and the father is stepping up. Why can't he hear the children read at night?
I do think you are right to offer an extended hand of friendship to this lady and she may be appreciative and want your counsel and your advice. But she may not and although you may believe what is happening (and this is hearsay) is not ideal, you may risk driving her away.
I don't listen to my children read most nights either, I work ft and am on my own most of the time (so effectively like the dad in this situation except I do school runs and cook all the time as well). I don't think this of itself is cause for alarm.
I would find out for yourself, as you are intending to do, the extent of the situation without someone else's rather judgy interpretation (lots of dads go to play golf all day Sat and don't spend time with their kids) and how much the family is functioning as a whole. You can then offer support or even just a listening ear if appropriate.
You might also encourage her to return to the GP, again, if it seems appropriate and she will listen to you.
Reading all day instead of MNing like the rest of us? Tsk tsk!!
seriously I am not sure what point you are trying to make? The school have got this child's diagnosis and have a duty to deal with it.The middle child is helping the little one with her reading.That's fine.
They are being fed , going to school , the mum is getting herself to work.Have you got younger children I wonder 8-14s don't require or want the same level of parental input as youinger children and especially in a larger family get and give attention to one another.
If there was anything you could do to help 'fix' her depression, I'm sure she would have done it herself already. Drugs don't work for everybody and counselling only works for people who need advice or have problems they need to talk about, it has no use for people who have genuine depression which is a physical illness.
There's nothing to be done except for her to find a way through it, if reading and going out with her husband more helps her, great, that's a starting point, she's not so bad she's stuck in bed all day.
I don't think that an older child reading with a younger one is a big deal. The kids aren't being neglected or abused, one parent isn't at a hundred percent but the other is and there is a wider family around them.
Offer help if you can but stop gossiping with relatives and if you've nothing useful or nice to offer (taking the kids out for the day or spa offer for her..), don't.
Not gossiping at all Zaty, not quite sure why you think that. I've purposely not spoken to anyone in my family about what I've been told as I don't want it to be gossiped about
What books is she reading? Are they self-help books?
Maybe she needs improved medication, cbt is an option. She shouldn't have to stop reading but it sounds like an obsession. She should see gp again possibly for referal to mental health services.
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