Dear Annie: My parents and brother live in another state. A few years ago, my brother went through a nasty divorce. He and my 11-year-old niece, “Jenny,” are still estranged from the ex-wife.
The issue is how my mother is reacting to the divorce. She was very shocked by the events leading up to their separation, and I think it has damaged her trust in people. She seems to be transferring this anxiety onto Jenny. Mom wants to protect Jenny from all disappointments in life, and together they have developed an “us against the world” mentality.
Annie, there are other family members who love Jenny and want to be part of a loving support system for her, and yet we feel shut out by the alliance with my mother. Jenny goes to her grandmother almost exclusively with all of her feelings, and I get the sense that Mom enjoys being so important to her.
I know that my mother loves Jenny immensely, but I’m not sure whether she is helping or hurting. What do you think? – Ambivalent in Alabama
Dear Alabama: If your mother acts as Jenny’s confidante and works through the girl’s feelings of abandonment or grief over the divorce, she is helping. Jenny may find that her grandmother is easy to talk with and seems to understand her best, in which case, she is more likely to confide in her exclusively.
However, if Mom is deliberately keeping Jenny away from family members and encouraging her to blame her mother or father, mistrust others or behave secretively, she is doing harm. Your brother may be preoccupied with his own problems and grateful that his mother is taking charge. We recommend you try to connect with Jenny when you can (don’t push), and encourage her to speak to her school counselor as a backup.