QUESTION: There are six of us stay at home moms who have “coffee klatch” once a week. We live on the same block and our children play together regularly, the younger ones, ages six through eight, and the older ones 10 through 12, are great friends. One of the moms obviously favors her younger daughter over her son who is older. The son is nervous around his mom and it seems he’s concerned about not displeasing her. We’ve heard her scold him over small things. We other five moms are of the mindset that in this day and age, parents were more aware of how their behavior toward their children can affect the child’s self-esteem and ultimately their success in life. This mom doesn’t seem to have a clue.
We’re all around this child a lot. He’s not hyperactive and he hasn’t acted inappropriately over the several years we’ve known him. Our hearts go out to this little guy, but we don’t know what to do or how to talk to his mom. Is there any way we can rescue this boy from always having to “walk on eggs” around his mom?
~ Concerned Moms
Dear Concerned Moms,
My initial answer to you with this young boy, given the favoritism that his mother shows his sister and the discrimination really that she shows her son, is to model how to treat him. Then, if necessary, merge into dropping hints and finally confrontation if needed. Many parents have their own unresolved issues. This may cause them to be rubbed the wrong way by a conflicting personality of, not care for, or even abuse one or more of their children. As you mentioned, shame, lack of attunement to, verbal or emotional abuse, and emotional neglect affect children. These treatments lay a child’s neural pathways a certain negative way. They end up hard-wired from this and it becomes the lens by which they view people and the world. In this case possible insecurity, lack of self esteem, or mistrust.
When the mother says or does something negative or does not notice a positive action of the child, lean your body toward him and build him up or normalize a perceived mistake. “Billy, I love the way you helped Lisa pick up the toys today,” or “Billy, don’t worry about it. We all spill juice at one time or another. I did it just last week!” From there, if mom says something negative about the child, interject. An example can be, “Actually, I think Billy is a pretty great kid. He might need to hear that more.”
As a last resort, privately sit her down, without shaming her, and let her know you’ve noticed that she treats Billy different than his sister. Ask her why that might be. She may open up about something that happened to her or she’s going through. This can be an opportune time to suggest she get support from a counselor.
I hope these tips help. This child is blessed to have you moms in his life.
Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian, MFT
Dear Concerned Moms,
Your concern for this little boy is admirable as it most definitely comes from a good place. You truly want to do what you feel is best for him and for that I applaud you.
However, as a father of young children myself, I feel that you need to tread with extreme caution. Whenever we perceive that a child is being treated unfairly we naturally want to interfere. But often, interference can have an extremely negative reaction and can backfire terribly. Think about yourself for a moment. How would you react if someone gave you unsolicited advice regarding how you should raise your children? You would probably not respond kindly to such interference, and rightfully so, as it will be perceived as a vote of no confidence in your ability to raise your own children.
King Solomon wisely states in Proverbs “educate a child according to his way.” In other words, there are many ways to raise children and sometimes we need to recognize that although we may disagree with a certain method of education nevertheless there can be value to it.
Finally I need to state that all of the above is only applicable in situations where there is no neglect or abuse. Obviously, when a child is in danger, we have a moral responsibly to intervene, contact the proper authorities and do everything in our power to protect an innocent boy or girl.
I pray that you find the proper guidance to make the right decision first and foremost for the little boy, but equally important for his parents and yourselves.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
QUESTION: My problem is a neighbor I’ll call Jane [who] we’re quite concerned about. Our families have lived next door to one another for almost 30 years and now we’re all retired. Five years ago, my neighbor’s husband passed away. He pretty much took care of everything for the family except cooking and housekeeping. They have two grown sons who have moved out of the area, so my husband I try to look out for Jane as much as we can.
For the last couple of months, when Jane drives to the store or to get her hair done, she gets lost. She does have a cellphone so she calls us, and either my husband or I go and lead her home. Although we’re in touch with Jane’s sons, and she knows that we are, she begs us not to tell them about her getting lost. As she pleads with us, she says, “They’ll put me in a home!” We want to do the right thing and we don’t want to betray her. Help!
~ Long Time Neighbors
Dear Long Time Neighbors,
Watching the decline of someone we care about can be very disheartening. Bless you for being available to your neighbor and for keeping her best interests and safety in mind. The harsh reality is that we do lose some of our mental acuity as we age. Sometimes the decline comes from the aging process while at other times trauma can hasten the onset of various challenges. Your neighbor has suffered the loss of her longtime partner and the person who managed many of the household tasks. A loss of this kind can be accompanied by a sense of confusion and the inability to manage seemingly innocuous activities.
In watching out for your friend, you’re fulfilling the request that we love one another (John 13:34-35) and care for orphans and widows (James 1:27). Whereas, the actions you’ve taken are both noble and honorable, there may be reason to contemplate the full spectrum of your neighbor’s health. If she is having difficulties maneuvering trips around town that she’s probably accomplished for years, there may be cause for concern about other things she may be forgetting. Perhaps she neglects to take her medications properly, which might cause her physiological imbalances. What if she forgets to eat or leaves the stove on? There is a possibility that other things are being missed, forgotten, or neglected of which you have no knowledge. My guess is, judging by your obvious concern for her, that you would feel horrible if anything happened to your friend.
There may be wisdom in suggesting she have some comprehensive tests done to judge whether her current state is temporary or indicative of more serious disorders. You may have no other choice than to alert her children regarding your concerns. This action may cause her to become distressed or even angry, but there is the possibility of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If caught early enough, there are effective medications that can slow down the process and increase her quality of life. I believe her sons have a right to know of their mother’s present condition and, even though she may have fears, it may be in her best interests to consider alternatives. There are some wonderful options these days.
Understandably, these are difficult decisions for you and the fact that you care so much for you neighbor is touching. However, at the end of the day, the choices concerning managing her health care belong to your friend and her family.
Lucinda Guarino Leader, Social Responsibility
Spiritual Services YMCA of the Foothills
Dear Long Time Neighbors,
First of all, thank you for being a good neighbor. Thank you for caring about Jane.
Second, let me jump into the heart of the issue of your liability. Let me be blunt.
Can you imagine what could happen, what would happen, what will happen eventually when Jane can’t reach you or when she’s out on her own alone? Perhaps at first glance your problem appears to be an ethical dilemma. But it isn’t. It’s a safety issue. If something were to happen to Jane and her kids didn’t know the depth of the problem but you did and then her kids found out you knew and didn’t tell them, how would you feel?
My brothers and I did for our mom exactly what Jane fears. It wasn’t easy but safety supersedes all. I’m also thinking about details you haven’t mentioned. If Jane loses her way home, what other things are being forgotten?
Medication? Household safety? Meals?
I remember talking to my mother on the phone one day and she sounded like a zombie (whatever a zombie sounds like). Our stepfather, who had Alzheimer’s, had been dispensing her medication. As my brothers and I sat and talked it over, we knew that we could never be sure about anything anymore unless mom (and her husband) were in an environment where they were safe and cared for.
What virtue is there in hiding the truth from her kids and keeping Jane at risk? The kids may suspect already. They just don’t know how bad it is. You may not either.
Tell the truth. Tell it soon. Tell it before it’s too late.
Rev. Jon T.
Light on the Corner Church