Q. Dr. Heller, I am a physician who 'hooked up' with a borderline as a junior medical student 11 years ago. It has been hell ever since. We have two children, ages 8 and 10. I have done everything in my power to insulate them from their mother's rages, attention getting, acting out, and especially, inheriting the illness themselves. However, I think I'm behind the 8 ball in protecting my daughter.
The mother has custody. However, because mom is infatuated with making money as a CRNA, I have the children much--over 60% of the time since last Fall. She works countless 24 hr. shifts at $1000 a pop. Whenever mom isn't included in our plans, is neglected, isn't given the attention she needs, she takes it out on the kids, as always. This has been going on for years. She's not violent, but usually ends up doing something she knows I would disapprove of. She knows that if she manipulates the kids a particular way, I'll say something--she'll get her ounce of attention and be satisfied for the moment.
For example, I forgot to tell her where a baseball game was being played last week, and she was very, very angry. I knew retaliation was coming. I found out from my kids that mom rented 'The Shining' last night and it was all my daughter could do to tell me all about it. Mom knew I would never approve that this violent, R-rated movie be shown to the kids--which is exactly why she showed it. Knowing better, I didn't react. She'll likely try some other tactic.
When we used to argue about the kids, she always threatened, if I tried to get custody, that she would take them 2000 miles away and I'd be paying her $2000/month. When I ignored the threat and kicked her out anyway, that's exactly what she did. I had to take her to court to force her back to Denver from Maine. Boy did she love that attention. She returned last Fall.
Anyway, I can't keep wasting my career, all my time, and all my money protecting the kids from getting infected by their mom's illness. She absolutely cannot be confronted about anything negative, or she'll literally blow her bloody top. She is very fragile and has to be handled with kid gloves--like you're handling Nitroglycerine, or she takes it out on the kids. She doesn't know she is a borderline and always refused to get counseling in the past when we were together.
My concern is not for her, but for the kids. I am beginning to see some traits in my daughter, because mom has her doing exactly as she did at my daughter's age. Mom still acts like a three year old, but otherwise functions well at work. She is still seeking approval and attention from anyone. She is getting some attention from a music instructor where she and my daughter take lessons now. My daughter is under quite a bit of pressure, because, at 10, she is emotionally older than her mom and it's obvious that daughter feels the pressure to placate mom's need for attention. That's a huge responsibility for a ten year old, and I can tell she has found it easier just to act like mom and be her 'friend.'
Mom worries me because she is very open about sexual activity and will certainly allow my daughter to do anything she wants, and will likely counsel her in safe sex early. However, mom has a hard time counseling the kids about anything from an adult perspective. I've had to have the father-daughter talks myself regarding puberty changes. Mom hasn't really broached the issue, yet. Anyway, I have sacrificed my medical career (interrupted residency), many good jobs, all my money, and now likely my house to this problem. If it weren't for the children, I would have forgotten about this sick person long ago. But, when kids are involved, everything changes. Something needs to be done to effect some long term protection for the kids. If mom is approached about the possibility of being a borderline personality, she could not even begin to conceive of what it may be. She's completely out to lunch. Though she is a registered nurse and now a nurse-anesthetist, she has no conception of how to raise kids and couldn't treat the slightest injury or fever in the children. But, she knows it all when confronted. She was raised by a neglectful alcoholic and acts like an infant when he is around. Her antics bespeak borderline right down the line. Any ideas to help me out of this rut? I'm not going to get anywhere until I'm satisfied my kids are out of danger. I've devoted all my time and money to spending as much time with the kids as possible, to protect them, even when they were in Maine. The kids get very defensive about mom when I express doubt about their activities. I think they know she is sick, but are too small to know what to do about it, other than just defend her. So, we usually don't discuss her at all, if we can avoid it. I actually saw them more after they had moved to Maine than I did when they lived here. In Colorado, it's very, very hard for any man to gain custody of kids. There must be some end to this nightmare game that I have to play with this borderline just to see my kids as often as I can.
A. There are only a few things you can do, and I highly advise you to do so
1) get into counseling yourself and get on the path towards a happy life, even though your kids are in the situation they're in. As hard as it is to understand sometimes, you being upset doesn't make their situation any better, it only makes you worse.
2) Get everything in your life straightened out, your kids will need you as a role model, not as the "anti-mom". They'll need you as an example, particularly with a good relationship. This is not a minor issue, if you genuinely love and care for your children this is the most important thing you can do. The single most significant gift a parent can give their child is a happy, mentally well parent.
3) Have the children get counseling when they're with you, some individual some Family. A good therapist can make a huge difference. They will eventually be in counseling, as least you can make a difference before they have to have it.