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Asking for advice re supporting family member and her children

(4 Posts)
KFP Mon 13-Jun-11 15:12:47

I have been directed to this section after posting this elsewhere.

I am a regular poster but I have name changed for this (not very subtly) - not because I am bothered about anyone on MN knowing who I am, but just to put a little distance between my usual user name and my RL identity in case any family member suddenly takes it into their head to come on MN.

A close family member is suffering from depression - very recent diagnosis. It is believed to have been going on since the birth of her first child. We did suspect post-natal depression at the time but she was very resistant to any support or assistance and pushed family members away very aggressively.

Some of the behaviour that she has displayed over the last few years has been simply more extreme examples of some personality traits she has always had which has made it very difficult for anyone to be sure whether she was suffering from depression or not.

There were a lot of problems after the first child was born - I don't want to go into too many identifiable details and some of the problems are quite complicated to explain - but she caused a lot of upset in the family for no apparent reason. It was as though she was casting around for excuses to be angry and hostile.

Her partner has always dealt with some of the negative traits by backing her up publicly, and even seeming to encourage her, but then admitting to family members in private that he knew she was being completely unreasonable and that he didn't know how to resolve it. This obviously made it very difficult for her parents/siblings to talk to her about what was going on as she was able to say 'well DP agrees with me so I must be right'.

Things were never really resolved but after a few months her behaviour calmed down again and it looked like things were back to normal. In retrospect I think her behaviour was still not back to its pre-pregnancy state, but we had got used to making allowances for her and we fell into the habit of saying 'oh, that's just her way' and putting up with it.

They had another child and things seemed fine, but over the last few months she has clearly deteriorated. She makes extremely high demands on family in terms of assistance and childcare and shows no gratitude at all - her expectations are very, very high and any inability, particularly on the part of her parents, to meet those expectations leads to very unpleasant behaviour and comments. For example, both her parents work full-time and one parent has health issues. She regularly asks them to collect/look after the children when they are actually working and is angry when they won't leave work to do so.

She has also been doing some worrying, or at least sub-optimal, things in terms of parenting - leaving the children in their rooms for long periods of time, taking the baby out dressed completely inadequately for the weather, driving them around without car seats, that sort of thing. She is very open about what she is doing but refuses to change anything. One of the children has started displaying some behaviour that may or may not be a reason for concern - hysterical crying for no apparent reason, insisting that everyone is going to leave him and refusing to be comforted, head banging, appearing to "fake" accidents and needing a huge amount of comfort. She is very, very negative about the children, mainly to others, but sometimes in the presence of the children, and she appears to want to avoid being in charge of them at any time. She almost never has sole care of them - they go to nursery part-time, they spend every weekend with their grandparents and their father is responsible for all their morning/evening care. There have been a number of occasions where she has paid someone to come and babysit during the day rather than look after them herself. Her parents are very, very worried about the children - more so than I expected which makes me think they suspect that more is going on than meets the eye.

I am now wondering if she is almost trying to push someone into taking action and taking the children out of her care. I have no doubt that if her parents said they were taking the children to live with her, she would agree.

Thank you to anyone who has got this far. My question is this and is directed particularly to anyone with experience of supporting someone through depression or who has suffered depression themselves. How do we help? It would be very easy for the family to step in and take over caring for the children but if that happens I honestly don't see them ever going back. She has minimal motivation to seek help - she has always been very resistant to any sort of help or advice - she has started medication but there is a suspicion that she isn't taking it properly, and she is also doing things she isn't supposed to do while on the medication. If the children weren't there to force her to make some efforts I don't think she would bother at all.

Her partner isn't really much help - he has confided in two family members that he is thinking of leaving her because he can't cope. He won't challenge any of her behaviour concerning the children or the fact that she spends vast amounts of his money on whims. He is more than happy for her family to take over the bulk of the childcare. I think he likes it when they are alone together as she is happier and they can go out and do the things they did before they had children. Our real fear is that he will leave her, she will hand the children over to her parents and they won't see either parent regularly and she will sink further into depression and lose everything.

She won't talk to anyone about it. She won't accept advice. As far as I can see all she wants is not to be a mother, or responsible for anyone, anymore.

Does anyone have any advice at all on how we help her through this and how we make sure the children are safe? One of the problems is that we genuinely don't know how much of her behaviour is the depression and how much is just her normal personality. Everyone is struggling to know how best to go forward.

Any advice would be appreciated.

runningonmt Mon 13-Jun-11 15:50:29

I think I would do the following .........

Tell her how you feel, tell her what you are worried about, tell her you are worried about both her and her children. Tell her that you want to help her. Tell her that you love her and can see that she is suffering. Ask her what she would like you to do to support her through this but also tell her that you are not prepared to do NOTHING because you are concerned about her and her childrens welfare. Tell her that if the shoe was on the other foot that you really hope she would do the same for you.

Tell her that you feel that her condition is seriously effecting her judgement and that is not a critisism just an observation and that you are there for her.

Tell her that if things continue the way they have been then she will loose the chance to make ANY decisions regarding her children. If her children are taken into care (which may be a possibility) she will may have a real fight on her hands to get them back. Tell her that asking for help if she is out of her depth is not a weakness but a strenght but most of all BE HONEST WITH HER. You are not helping her by tiptoeing around her (no one is) - it sounds to me that she is crying out for help but she doesnt know what help she needs.

Tell her that if she does nothing to safeguard the children then you will (and mean it) but you would rather do it with her agreement then against her. She needs to feel that people are on her side and are willing to take responsibility as she is not able to at the moment. You would never forgive yourself if anything happened to the children and in the long run,neither would she. She may hate you in the short term but it is better to be hated than to let any serious harm come to the children. Even better - have this converation with her in front of her partner or one or two other family members.

At my worse (depression) I could not make any sort of decision, even what to cook for dinner never mind look after children - she needs time to start to get better and it is very hard to do when you have responsibilities - at the moment she needs to give 100% effort on herself - everyone else needs to share the load to make sure she has the best chance of recovery. She needs to understand that you are not the enemy here but that you are trying to support her in the only way you know how. (write it down in a letter too to leave with her to reflect on). Tell her she has got 24hours or a couple of days to think about it then you are coming back to either help her make some proactive decisions or you are going to start making some on her behalf if she is unable to. Give her options to choose from (she may be too overwhelmed to even know where to start).

It is obvious you care deeply for her dispite her odd behaviour - if you didnt you wouldnt be posting on this site. Remember that you are doing this out of love and then step up and do what you have to do - one day, when she is feeling better (and you have to believe that she will get better), she will know that you had the balls to help her when she needed it the most - so will the rest of the family.

My heart goes out to you and I am sending you strenth and courage to do what you need to do. I wish there were more people in the world like you x

KFP Mon 13-Jun-11 18:20:35

Thank you so much for your advice. It is interesting to hear your point about options/deadlines - we have been very worried about appearing to back her into a corner as she is likely to cut herself off even further.

Ultimately I won't be the one having the direct conversation - I think it will have to be her mother, probably assisted by her older brother, but I will certainly talk to them about the points you raise - the letter might be a good option as I really don't think anyone is going to get very far into the conversation before all hell breaks loose.

We do all care - I suspect she doesn't realise how much, but we are having real problems reaching a consensus about how to deal with this. We are all coming at it from slightly different priorities and concerns and hoping to reach the same place if that makes sense.

runningonmt Tue 14-Jun-11 21:59:37

makes perfect sense to me ..... dont give up on her please x smile

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