First, a huge thank you to those who were willing to read my rant of two days ago and especially to those of you who shared your wisdom and experience. It is such an odd thing to get all of that through a computer, but you each helped me in this very painful struggle to come to a decision about these little boys and I am very grateful.
In reading your posts and re-reading my original rant, praying some, examining my motives (always unpleasant to really take a look at what drives me), I have arrived at this: I am so angry with the stepdaughter for her failure to be the kind of parent I think she should be, that I've not been willing to look at her as I would a friend. I am also angry with her real family because of their inaction. Lots of money has been spent to help, but there's been no consistency of attention here.
I've always been a little smug about the fact that I'm not one of those who will make a vicious verbal attack on a family member, then turn around and smile sweetly at a friend who commits the same act. That is, however, what I've done with Hannah. I don't verbally assault her, but I think of her in only critical terms. I don't bother to look at her strengths, yet I would with a friend, even a stranger. This is basic social work intervention and, in my resentment and selfishness, I've not bothered to consider her as a human being, a young mother ill equipped to function in this world, doing the best she can.
When I wrote this in December
, I'd recognized my own tremendous good fortune after a day spent helping a struggling employee: I am mindful of those who have so little and I say a prayer for all of the struggling people of the world. I say a prayer, too, that I will be a cheerful giver when the next opportunity presents itself. I know it will come, it always does. I will do what I can.
I tell myself this is different because we have helped Hannah and helped her and helped her.
And we have, by writing checks and writing checks and writing checks. But I think the help required is of a different kind. Money, of course, but also a sustaining and kind presence, an encourager. I am still not sure where helping crosses the line to enabling. Maybe it has already, but that debate is always influenced by the little ones.
More help is obviously required here. I realized that I can set aside my anger with Hannah, use the resentment prayer on her (thank you AA for that gem) and develop a plan to improve the lives of the boys in her care. The truth is that no matter how poor the parent, children most of the time want to be at home, even in terrible cases of abuse.
This is not abuse, it's neglect. Neglect is, of course, especially insidious in the emotional damage it does to kids. They are often plagued throughout life by insecurity, feelings that they are unworthy, unlovable. I don't want that for these little boys and maybe it wouldn't happen, but the thing that makes me crazy is this substandard life they're living. I want them to feel that they're worth attention, effort and sacrifice.
They are worth all of those things and more, so I'm going to help. The biggest frustration for me has been just watching these people, this family of mine, the ones blood-related to Hannah, as they fail to act. Hannah's situation seems intractible, so nothing is done. Her younger son needs help, everyone knows it, but nothing is done. Years have gone by as I've watched them hope the situation will improve, put it out of their minds, pray it will get better without intervention. I have held back because she's my stepdaughter and I came late to the party with her daddy, acquiring the girls when they were 14 and 16 and not marrying him until 2000.
Well fuck it. They just need to get out of my way. I have felt like a wound up jack-in-the-box with no one willing to turn my crank. Writing that post the other day, listening to all of you, really working on this thing has led me to the point I've turned my own crank, escaped the confines of my little tin box. I am out of the box, unleashed, through with being so tightly controlled, holding my tongue, offering advice only when asked: I'm taking over, if only for a while. If my plan works to resolve some of basic issues in the family, Hannah may be empowered to do better.
This is what I do, I help people get on their feet. I made a career of it and I have a new client, a new family to work with. I have watched everyone sweep this under the rug, have sat by while they dick around and ultimately do nothing. I'm not blaming them; they're frustrated and don't know how to help. I do and it feels incredibly freeing to just get going.
The first thing I've done is arrange for a landline phone to be installed at their house so we can talk to the kids every day. It's annoying to have only a cell phone ~ which she may or may not answer ~ with a number that changes constantly due to bills unpaid. This phone is set up, permanent, paid for. The listings are in both boys' names so their friends will be able to find them if they need to. They can have the normal childhood experience of talking on the phone, having relatives call, being able to call their friends. It doesn't seem important until it's not there, but the lack of a telephone is isolating.
Once I got past that simple resolution to the frustrating inability to get in touch with the kids, I got on a roll. We're having them spend the day and night with us Sunday. I will take over getting the little one to his appointments for the ADHD evaluation he so desperately needs. I've accepted that she cannot or will not do this and it must be done and quickly. The older baby's dental appointment has been rescheduled and we'll get him there and pay for his retainer.
I've told Mike when we take them home Monday, we'll be going with cleaning equipment, quarters for laundry, scented candles. We are going to clean up her house. He said "how do you know it's dirty?" So innocent, my husband. I said "her car's broken, she has no money, she won't call you back, the boys have missed school, she's missed work, she won't answer the phone, she's missing the boys' appointments. Do you think she's home cleaning house?"
I've called the best car guy I know to get her car fixed. It's not drivable right now and the stress of that is overwhelming for her. It's not going to get fixed when she makes $100 a week, so we will do that because it has to be done. I know nothing about kids' sports but they did play soccer last year and liked it. They were in Tai-Kwon-Do and liked it. We'll get them set up again.
We put the older child into Sylvan when his kindergarten teacher said he couldn't read (never mind the ridiculous way reading was being taught). He is now a whiz and has had no further trouble with school, he's a star student and that's a real source of pride for him. We'll look at doing the same for the little one.
Those are all great things for the kids. So here's the one I choked on until I looked at the rough and ugly patch of heart where I keep Hannah: she needs an evaluation for depression. Everything about her indicates that she's depressed, there's a long family history of depression, it's painfully obvious that she's in trouble. That ugly jagged piece of heart where I keep her wants to blame her and criticize. Just writing that makes me cry because it's the truth and who the hell am I to feel that way about her? I have had everything, every opportunity, every blessing. Some shit too, but who has a life without some of that? Hannah did have a good childhood, but she got messed up in junior high and has never recovered. She has lived in the shadow of her older sister's brilliance and success and perfect life and that has to be hard.
Today I am praying to keep an open and soft heart for Hannah, to help her as I'd help a stranger or one of my employees or the folks I used to work with in child welfare. I remember specifically praying to keep an open mind and a teachable spirit when working with some of my most difficult clients then and it works. So I'll do the same today with this stepdaughter and I believe that approaching her with love will help. I know it will help me because I feel a great sense of relief already.