Dear Savvy Auntie,

My sister and her husband are separating after nearly 10 years of marriage. It has never been a great marriage to begin with and is now turning into a very ugly separation. While they agree on joint custody, they don't agree on anything else. They constantly fight over money and who is getting what while this is taking place. They moved into two separate apartments on June 1.

Their 6-year old son has always been a bit wild as discipline has not been something they often did. It however has gotten quite out of control at the moment as he's watching what is taking place. He kicks, hits and pushes them. Has begun using bad language, throws things and calls them names. He says he can do it because he sees them do it (and rightly so, monkey see, monkey do).

They've fought so much about everything including who can currently come over to the house. My brother-in-law has even gone so far as calling the police because he doesn't want my parents to come over. My nephew witnessed all of this and children's aid has now become involved to monitor the situation.

I'm really concerned about his well being and what we (my fiancé and I) can do to help. There is a rift in the family and we don't speak with my parents either, so I can understand partially why my brother-in-law doesn't want them around. My sister refuses to get professional help or counseling, and I just want to try and figure out a way to help before children's aid takes him away, or he does something really bad at school (as he's been acting out there too) and gets expelled or hurts another child.

Thanks so much.
Concerned Aunt


Concerned Aunt

Dear Concerned Aunt,

I am sorry to hear that your sister and brother-in-law are at such odds. I am hopeful that when they have separate residences the intensity will ease. Your nephew obviously needs structure, discipline and you…a loving aunt. Of course, your suggestion of professional help would be most beneficial, but, you can be helpful in the meantime. The book “The Boys and Girls Book on Divorce," by Richard Gardner is an excellent resource. You and your fiancé should read it first and then introduce it to your nephew in small doses. Leave it around where he can look at the pictures himself. Perhaps, you can offer some structure by having a regular special time with him.

Keep the planning to a minimum as quality time is what he wants to the moment. Ritualizing your time together by having the same food each visit or reading the same books is a very good way to build structure and his sense of security. You can stay in touch with him by sending him notes, if he is computer savvy…by emailing and by telephone. He could be encouraged to respond with drawings or your number on speed dial. Primarily, you want to validate his feelings, assure him that his parents are having adult problems that don’t have anything to do with him and prepare him for an easier future.

Natalie Robinson Garfield


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