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Author Topic: Supporting the youngest (teenage) children of my BPD MIL  (Read 186 times)
notmarypoppins

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« on: January 12, 2021, 06:03:09 PM »

My partner and I (both in our thirties) have recently become the primary caregivers to my partner’s 13 year-old half-sister. Her mom (who is also my partner’s mom) has BPD, diagnosed but untreated, concurrent with alcoholism and eating disorders. Child services are involved and 13yo is currently very low-contact with her mom, though the goal is for them to one day be able to live together again, provided her mom shows she’s taking meaningful steps to get well (unfortunately may be unlikely given MIL’s history).

My partner and I are still in contact with MIL as we take her for groceries each week but thankfully there isn’t much talking right now. Mostly MIL manipulates her other teenager (17yo boy) into trying to get us to send his sister back. He came to live with us also after the same crisis that landed 13yo here, but snuck out after 10 days and went back to MIL’s. We’ve told him our door is always open but that he has to choose to get and accept help. We’re all waiting for family therapy to begin, but things are slow. It’s been 4 weeks since 13yo came to live with us.

In addition to family and individual therapy, how can we support this young teen? She’s been trained her whole life to put her mom’s emotional needs first and obviously finds this whole situation distressing. She’s experienced a significant amount of trauma both directly because of her mom, and because of the situations her mom put her in. I’m especially looking for resources to help explain her mom’s disorder to her in an age-appropriate way, without traumatizing her further, or encouraging her to constantly worry about her mom. She’s just beginning to understand that her mom has an illness.
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beatricex
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« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2021, 08:43:42 PM »

hi notmarypoppins,
I'm glad you're here and are wise enough to seek help and hopefully some answers.

I can speak from experience, as I have a BPD'd mom.

Perhaps, less at issue here is explaining mental illness to your half-sister, who you've assumed custody of, and are thus more her surrogate mom, than being a friend to her.

I mean, if you were ripped from your mother at 13, how would you feel?  You'd need a friend, right? 

I have been in first hand situations where a child is separated from their bio parent, and everything the "experts" do agree on is this:  they don't need to hear anything negative about either bio parent.  This means, if you talk bad about their parent (bringing up mental illness might be construed that way), they internalize it.  They interpret it as "I am bad."

 I would let the counselors talk to her about her mom.  What do you think?

b



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notmarypoppins

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« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2021, 09:35:20 PM »

Hi beatricex,

Thank you for your incite and concern. Just want to stress that this I don’t intend to “talk bad” about my MIL to her daughter, I just want to have helpful answers to the many questions 13yo is asking, that help her feel safe and validated without degrading her mom. Of her own accord she’s been reading online about her mum’s illnesses, and I’d like to be able to point her to the most accessible and helpful stuff for her age group, if it’s out there.

Explaining her mom’s illness isn’t necessarily a priority in our interactions,  it’s just the particular thing that I came to this message board for help with. I can see how my post didn’t make that clear though. We’re already doing lots of decompressing, relaxing, baking, crafts, walks, chats, movies, and other “friend” stuff, and following guidelines for fostering teens.
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Turkish
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« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2021, 10:43:25 PM »

Hi notmarypoppins,

I'm glad that to took them in and continue to care for D13, that's certainly a rough age  and as beatricex says, likely confusing for her.

It's good that you are cognizant about not alienating her from her mom (mom's doing enough by her actions).

We recommend this book for split families and parents in general. I've read it and it's a good resource.

The Power of Validation (for parents) - Karyn D. Hall, PhD

Has she expressed a desire to return like her brother?

How do you view her role there? More of cast into being an adult
taking care of an adult (Parentification) or covert incest? (Emotional confidante, or proxy for a adult significant other)

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Notwendy
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« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2021, 05:28:05 AM »

Bless you for helping this child.

I wasn't removed from my family (BPD mom) but staying with relatives on my father's side provided a significant relief from the drama and gave me some positive role models.

I too felt overly responsible for my mother's feelings. I was a good kid, but still, any mistake I might make in my own family was an unforgivable crime. Walking on eggshells was the norm.

As much as you want to address the dysfunction and help correct it, don't underestimate the impact you and your partner have on this child by being stable and loving adults in her life.

While of course you want to be clear about boundaries and the kind of things you will not allow a teen to do, and expectations such as chores in the home, giving some space to be herself and figure out who she is is good. BPD parents tend to see children as an extension of themselves and teens are trying to figure out who they are as individuals, not the projections of their BPD mother. BPD parents also have poor boundaries, either too strict or too loose. Your aim is for "just right". You also want to reinforce her own boundaries. Enmeshment is an issue with a BPD parent.

Just someone doing caring things for me had an impact. One of my aunts took me clothes shopping and helped me pick out something fashionable. A family friend baked cookies with me. Another one comforted me when I had a stomach ache. I know this sounds like normal ordinary parent-child interactions but they were not the norm for me growing up.

I agree the issues in her family need to be addressed in a manner that is age appropriate but I think this is best done by a professional. It may also help for you and your partner to work with that counselor as well. The two of you can be the loving and stable adults for her.
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notmarypoppins

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« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2021, 04:04:43 PM »

Thank you, Turkish, for the book recommendation. I’m currently reading The Essential Family Guide To Borderline Personality Disorder and I will look into The Power of Validation next.

To answer your questions: She hasn’t expressed a desire to return, and says she’s not ready to talk to MIL, but also worries that she’s hurting her mom by being here, and that her mom won’t “get better” if she’s not there. Her role seemed like a mixture of the two you’ve described - emotional incest in that she was her mum’s closest confidante, including through their split from her (abusive, likely also BPD/NPD) father, and through all the perceived attacks on MIL that were fruitless attempts by family to convince her to get sober/get help. She and MIL also shared a bed her entire life until coming here. Parentification in that she felt responsible for managing her mom’s moods, rages, and suicide threats, and protecting her from herself (ex. physically blocking the knife drawer from her mother while waiting for police to arrive). The first week here she would panic each time she didn’t know where my partner or I were, even if we’d just stepped into the next room - in her experience, anytime an adult disappeared they could be harming themselves or planning to. She’s missed an enormous amount of school to stay home and monitor MIL.


As much as you want to address the dysfunction and help correct it, don't underestimate the impact you and your partner have on this child by being stable and loving adults in her life.


Thank you so much for this reminder, Notwendy! I worry so much that we’re not doing enough to help her, and it’s good to know that what we’re already doing is valuable.

Thanks to the advice here, today I encouraged her to ask her therapist some of the questions she’s been asking my partner and I about her mom’s condition and potential future.
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Notwendy
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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2021, 04:54:19 AM »

How sad for this child, and also how familiar in ways. Parents are supposed to take care of their children, not the other way around. She should be going to school, hanging out with her friends in an age appropriate manner, have her own bed.

As an adult, I thanked one of my father's relatives for doing so much for me and she said something similar. She wished she could have done more. But staying at her house was a respite from fear, fear of my mother's moods and I could have fun with my cousins and be a teenager- go to the movies, a school dance, out for ice cream. I think being parentified as a teen- they miss this kind of thing and it's important for their social development. I am very grateful to have been able to do some of this.

I don't know if this child even knows how to begin to be a kid. I hope she has her own space now. I'd let her pick out some things to decorate- maybe some posters, let her pick some things out. She's likely been who her mother thinks she should be, and needs to have some autonomy- with boundaries. You know what the main ones are- keep grades up, household tasks, but let her choose things for her room, some clothes she likes, and eventually even have a friend over. I was afraid to have friends over sometime as I wasn't sure how mom would behave. This won't all happen at once, but I think in time, she can feel safe and have the chance to be a teenager, not a parent to her mother.

She's lucky to have a safe and loving home with you and your partner.
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notmarypoppins

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« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2021, 01:19:01 PM »

We’ve been trying to give her her own space, but so far she keeps turning it down, preferring to sleep on an air mattress in the main area of our apartment. Our apartment is large, but sort of open-concept, with only our bedroom sequestered from the main area. We’ve both offered her the bedroom, and offered to rearrange the main space to give her a private area curtained off and surrounded by bookcases, and despite us insisting that it’s no trouble, she keeps saying she prefers things the way they are. Whether it’s a safety/loneliness thing, worry that it’s a bother, or something else, I’m not sure, but she’s turned us down enough times that I don’t want to pester her about it anymore. She has made an elaborate blanket fort separate from her bed, and decorated the inside of it. She goes in there when she wants to some quiet time alone, and we’ll keep it for as long as she wants it there. She’s also been decorating around the house with small things like flowers she dries, and we’re keeping those up.

If we knew for sure that she’ll be with us long term, we’d be searching for another apartment with more bedrooms. At the moment she’s on a wait list for a temporary stay in a respite group home. We’re a bit apprehensive, but it’s at her therapist’s suggestion - she thinks she’ll feel better staying on “neutral ground.” Before coming to stay with us, her mom would tell her things like, “If you call [partner and I] for help, I’ll leave,” so she naturally feels like she’s betraying her mom by being here. The wait list is several months long and the group home would only be for up to 3 months.. We don’t know yet what the plan would be for after the group home.

We’d also love to have her friends over here, but we’re unfortunately in an area under a stay-at-home order due to Covid (which makes this whole thing so much harder). Hoping to set up a Skype hangout for her with a friend this weekend.

Thanks for the tips and ideas.
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pursuingJoy
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« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2021, 12:22:05 PM »

I have 3 teen girls, and I think you're doing a really great job of accommodating her and creating a space that's welcoming and safe. So much to think about, and I think the others posters have offered great wisdom. I just want to let you that you have some cheerleaders here. Virtual hug (click to insert in post)
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