Dear Savvy Auntie,

My 9-year-old nephew, E, still sleeps in bed with his mother, AND still wears diapers to bed because his mother is reluctant/too lazy to do what is required to help  him to break this unfortunate habit. He doesn't really know how to wipe properly. He is her "best buddy,” and is frequently staying up late with her to watch TV. He is incredibly protective of her and covers for her lies about her mental and physical ailments. His father is in and out of his life. If it weren't for my parents, E would have little normalcy in his life. They are very participatory, doing their best to make sure that he has everything that he needs.

My sister is embarrassed by her house, ashamed of herself, socially awkward and late for everything, so she hasn't been great about getting him to play dates (she’ll never have them at her house), events, or extra-curricular activities. Despite being very smart and social, E has a great deal of trouble following basic rules of interaction with other kids. He has anger issues and suffers from ADD. He is medicated, and is a different person when he's on his medications, but his mother doesn't always administer them. He can be stubborn, willful and manipulative. He resists instruction and discipline.

E and I were close when he was little but at some point, when he started acting out, our relationship became very contentious. Disciplining him gets old, fast, for all of us. My husband and I have reached out: we bought him a bike and tried to teach him how to ride it on several occasions but his fear of falling, even on grass, led him to try to rationalize why he just couldn't do it. Needless to say, we gave up and so did he. I've offered to take him to play dates, birthday parties, sports activities, etc., but I'm not taken up on this offer.

At this point, we seldom see him. E’s mother and I don't have much of a relationship; between her jealousy of my life and me being judgmental of her own, it has just become too difficult. I think because my folks are so hands-on, I feel less pressure to get involved, for better or for worse. I have a tremendous amount of guilt around all of it. I don't know if I'm doing him more harm or good by being somewhat absent from his life. I keep hoping that we'll have a great relationship when he's a bit older and I can reason with him. But then I wonder if not having a real relationship with him in these formative years will contribute to his dysfunction and prevent him from trusting me.

Thoughts, opinions, expertise would be most welcome......

Many thanks,
Distressed Auntie

Distressed Auntie

Dear Distressed Auntie,

Oh my, what a predicament! I am very concerned about your nephew, E, and his mother. I can understand your guilty feelings and encourage you to increase your contact with him; but that’s just the beginning. I suggest you call a family meeting with your parents and your sister (who probably won’t attend) and discuss both the problems and possible solutions. Can anyone else be involved? I am thinking about his pediatrician, his teachers, or coaches.

Some possible solutions include:

1. Enlisting him in a Boy Scout troop.
2. Engaging a “big brother” from the community.
3. Contacting the pharmacy where he gets his medication and asking the name of the doctor prescribing it in order to contact him or her.

4. Threatening to have your sister hospitalized.

5. Threatening to contact Child Protective Services.

Yes, the last two are harsh, but a nine-year-old in diapers on the brink of being a pre-teen, who is still sleeping with his mother and is in a chaotic, unhealthy environment is really serious. Time is of the essence. Childhood passes quickly and E’s is being thwarted, neglected, and made to be dysfunctional.

My heart goes out to you, your husband, your parents, and of course to your sister and most of all to innocent E!

I hope this has been helpful and I wish you the best,

Natalie Robinson Garfield ,

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