Dear Savvy Auntie,

I am the proud Aunt of a wonderful 10 year old boy. He is being raised by both his 42-year old single mother and live in grandma. The father is 1500 miles away and has never been involved in his life. Except for a few boyfriends my sister has had that were introduced into and then taken out of his life, he has had no male influence in his life. (His grandfather, who is also on the opposite end of the country, WANTS a relationship with his grandson, but due to my sister's eagerness to blame the world for her past troubles and her unwillingness to own her own garbage and make amends for the pain she caused our family years before her son was born, he is not only being deprived from having a male influence in his life, he is deprived from having a GRANDPA (which both my sister and I were blessed with having during our childhood).

My sister is also a very passive parent. She doesn't tell him he has to do something but rather asks him if he wants to (in which the answer is always NO unless it's eating junkfood or playing video games), She lets him eat whatever he wants to (she serves him junkfood all day long and his meals consist of; processed mac and cheese, grilled cheese, corn beef hash, bacon, french fries) and he insists on either or and will never eat anything combined (ie fries and a hot dog or fries and chicken nuggets). He has no fruit or vegetables in his diet and whenever either grandma or I try to encourage him to try different things, she screams (usually from the other room - she miraculously hears everything) NOT TO FORCE HIM TO EAT ANYTHING HE DOESN'T WANT TO. He even refuses to try watermelon, isn't that every kids favorite? He is addicted to computer and video games and owns an x-box, Wii, 2 nintendo DS, and more games than at the Game Stop..... he is on those games for hours on end (I counted 8 hours once when I was there) and throws a FIT when he's told to get off. He rarely goes outside to play and only plays video games with the few friends he has.

I got her permission to take him on a week long summer vacation to visit his grandpa whom he hasn't seen for years. He was both excited but nervous because he wasn't sure if his grandpa was excited to see him. I reassured him that grandpa was overjoyed, excited and happier than ever that he was going to see him! We had the most fantastic week and my nephew was genuinely HAPPY, chatty (and really enjoyed grandpa, grandpa's wife of 18 years, and the whole family unit as it was for a week). Until of course he talked to his mother on the phone, in which he then became quiet and reclusive for a period of time afterward. I could hear his mother on the other line and all she said to him was "do you miss me", "how much" ... .... not once did she ask what he's doing, if he's having fun, etc. (she does this when he comes to visit me too). He made mention on more than one occasion during the course of this vacation and for all to hear that "mommy spends day and night on Facebook and doesn't give me food" .... It's all VERY DISTURBING.

She would never (ever) harm him physically - as a matter of fact she over loves - but I'm concerned she's harming him emotionally and doesn't even know it (she's clueless and doesn't want advice from anyone, especially from me)..... what in the world can I do? I lose sleep. I worry SO much about his emotional well being and his future health due to his horrible diet. She is a recluse and has no adult friendships. She can't even communicate face to face with other adults. Her only "friends" are long distance whom she communicates with online. She goes through jobs like toilet paper and hasn't worked for close to a year. There is nothing I can do about her and I've given up, but I can't and won't turn my back on my nephew, who has the right to grow healthy, strong and normal. Please tell me what to do, I love this boy so much! Thanks!


Dear Anonymous,

Your nephew is so lucky to have you! Although your values are admirable and very good, unfortunately they are not popular right now. There are aunties and grandmas all over the country that decry the technology obsession and junk food diet, but that is the prevailing parenting mode. So….what can you do?

Well, it seems as if you are doing quite a bit, do continue! Vacations, outings, visits and contact with you is all being absorbed even if you don’t see the results as yet. Keep in mind that he is also part of a larger community of school lunches, coaches, teachers and doctors who hopefully are in support of a healthier life style. Although you seem angry at your sister, if you could sympathize a bit with her perhaps she would be open to some counseling and/or changes; at the very least, school sponsored parenting programs.

You could get more familiar with your nephew’s topics of interest and take him to Game Stop, interest  him in comics, introduce him to online clubs or actual clubs and expand his areas of interest. You could set up a weekly “visit” by phone or Skype so that he can rely on your involvement. Check out if there is a Big Brother in his area or Boy Scouts to encourage relationships with males.

I know how frustrated and sad you feel; however, I have seen children from this kind of environment emerge like butterflies from a cocoon.

Best of Luck,
Natalie Robinson Garfield ,

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