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please help me, help my niece


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I posted the attached in relationship problems but I think it perhaps belongs here:

Please help us my family are having problems with an ex sister in law.

Our story is a long one so forgive me I'll try and keep it short. I have an ex sister in law with some kind of personality disorder/mental health problem that as far as I am aware she has never actually been treated or properly undiagnosed. The reason we know she has a mental health problem, other than the way she behaves is because many years ago when her daughter was 3 years old she accused my brother of abusing his daughter and went to court to try and prevent him seeing her. The judge ordered that my niece be seen by a child psychologist and she insisted in being present when the child psychologist saw my niece. The child psychologist said that she believed there was no truth in the alligations and furthermore she believed my ex SIL's needed psychiatric treatment. My brother and sister went back to see the psychiatrist to ask for a further explanation of her comment on my ex SIL and she said that her first impression of my ex SIL was that she had some severe kind of psychiatric disorder. She said that it probably manifested itself sometime in my ex SIL's childhood long before she met my brother.

My brother and his (now) ex wife divorced about 9 years ago. They have a daughter who is now 11 years old. For many years, whilst she caused us tremendous trouble, obviously more so to my brother than the rest of the family, this had little affect on my niece and my brother thought it was best for the sake of his daughter to put up and shut up. But my niece is growing up fast and we are very fearful for her future. Her mother has had very tight control over her all her life and whilst she was young that was fine but now that she is growing up we are worried the effect this could have on her. My niece is very grown up for her age and very intelligent (she has had some glowing reports from her school who cannot seem to fault her) but when it comes to her mother she is surprisingly naive. Her mother won't let her use knives or go near a kettle and sends her to bed at 7 p.m. prompt every night. Whilst my niece was young that was fine but not now. My ex SIL is a compulsive liar. She lies about everything from little stories about people they know and things that have happened e.g. we recently took my niece away for a few days (this is a court order that my brother be allowed to take her on holiday for 10 days max per year and this is the maximum my ex SIL will allow, the court order was made about 6 years ago and has not been revised) my ex SIL insists my niece calls her every day whilst she is away (although my niece says her mum does not insist, if she does not call her, she gets a lecture) during one of these calls that I witnessed my ex SIL asked her why she hadn't called and my niece said she had tried to call her and had left her a message on both her home phone and her mobile (I know this is true because my brother was with her at the time), my ex SIL said she hadn't received either message (I have never in my life left a message that has not been picked up and I cannot think why she would lie about this (my niece believes her)). About 99% of the things my ex SIL says is utter rubbish. To top it all she is a total hypochondriac. She's had every organ in her body tested for some illness or other and the doctors can find nothing wrong with her.

We are fearful that as my niece grows up she is going to need more and more independence from her mother and her mother will deny her this. Firstly my brother would desperately like more time with her but this year he has experienced a reduction in time with her. Secondly, we want my niece to be able to enjoy more freedom as she grows up. At the moment my niece is not even allowed to go on school trips or to her school leavers disco or other event and we are afraid that this control her mother exerts over her will continue and if my niece kicks out against or my brother tries to intervene she will try and use other more cunning plans to prevent her. In a nutshell we are afraid that by the time she reaches her early 20's she will either really have kicked out against her mother and perhaps run away and got into all sorts of vices or she will be a quiet puppet still living at home jumping to her mothers orders and we desperately want her to have a normal life.

We believe that it is now unhealthy for my niece to spend so much time with her mother exclusively. We have tried to encourage her to phone one of us when she is with her mother but she is not allowed (she is not even allowed to call my brother). My sister has repeated put her phone details on my nieces mobile but they are repeated mysteriously erased (my niece believes there's a fault with the phone!!)

My niece is always quizzed when she goes home and my brother nearly always has a list of complaints from my ex SIL from cruelty to my niece's pet rabbit when my brother took it to the vet to threats that she will call the police because as she says my son (aged 5) was left in the care of my niece for 5 minutes whilst I answered the phone. My brother is told this is illegal and will be considered by the police as neglect!!)

We are concerned that my nieces problems have only just begun.

My question is can anyone offer some kind of advice on how we can deal with the situation. Is there such a thing as an organisation or self help group or services that deal with relatives of people suffering from mental health that can help us.

Many thanks for your time and any advice you might have and I am sorry if I have rambled a bit.


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This is a slow motion train wreck in progress, isn't it.

I wish I had something to offer but on first reflection I don't, except to question whether you've (your brother) talked with an attorney at all? This is a custody issue, and there is the possibility here of serious abuse occurring. It's at least worth getting a legal opinion on the possibility of expanding the joint custody.

Something you might look into is the parental alienation literature. We did a podcast interview with Dr. Amy Baker some time ago on this topic, which seems relevant, and I encourage you to listen to it.


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Hi Mark

Thank you so much for taking the trouble to read my post and give me your thoughts and opinions.

We are from the UK and the legal system here is somewhat archaic and tends to favour the mother in most cases. Unfortunately the report the psychiatrist wrote that I mentioned in my post above was written many years ago and was primarily a report on my niece not her mother. The psychiatrist, we don't feel, was strong enough in her judgement of my ex SIL. She simply said that she would advice my ex SIL to seek psychiatric help to help her come to terms with my brother's contact with her daughter. It was only when my brother revisited this particular psychaitrist that she said that from what she could see my ex SIL was suffering from some kind of psychiatric disorder. In short I don't think the report itself could be used in a court case.

Also my niece is now 11 years old and the courts in the UK tend to ask children what they want and make a judgement on that. We know that my ex SIL would dictate to my niece what to say and my brother is worried that the whole thing could back fire. As an example of what could happen I have a friend who went to court to increase his access to his son who was a similar age to my niece. His son said to the court mediators that he wanted to spend his time with his mother and new baby brother and step father. My friend now has no contact with his son at all whereas before he saw him on alternative w/ends and he had a few days holiday with him every year. At the moment my brother sees his niece every other w/end and for 10 days once a year. He is supposed to have her every other Xmas and Easter but this has not been happening but at present at least he sees her.

Another thought we have had is that if my brother went back to court to gain extra time with his daughter especially if he claimed that my ex SIL was suffering from mental health his daughter is likely to have an opinion. Despite everything my niece loves her mother dearly and doesn't want to see her upset. We are afraid that she would turn against my brother if he took these steps.

Despite the obvious fact that my ex SIL is suffering from some kind of mental illness, it has never been diagnosed or treated at least as far as I am aware it hasn't (I suppose she would be unlikely to tell us if it had). And I can't see how we could force her to get treatment. The psychiatrist she saw with my niece told my brother that she wrote her a really scathing letter after she wrote her report saying that "...clearly (the psychiatrist) didn't know what she was doing .....".

I have listened to the podcast on parental alienation you kind directed me towards. I found it extremely interesting. My ex SIL I know has slated not only my brother but my entire family to my niece - calling us fat, stupid ... you name it. She has even encouraged my niece to kick my brother (when she was about 2) and told her that my brother had stolen from her. I once sent my niece a picture of her holding my son when he was about 1 week old and her mother took it from her saying that she was taking it for cleaning!! Up until the age of about 6 or 7 my ex SIL had successfully convinced my niece that she was extremely poor and that my brother wasn't providing her with enough money to live off (at the time my brother was giving her about 40% of his take home pay). My niece would steal money from my brother to give to her mother. It was only when I asked my niece how her mother could afford half the things that she had and if my brother was so wealthy how come he couldn't afford any new clothes, that my niece stopped stealing. My niece however, is extremely fond of my brother and the rest of my family and I think she know sees through a lot of the things that her mother says.

Sorry this has been another long reply.


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  • 3 weeks later...

AS your niece gets older she may make her own choices in regards to who she wants to live with and spend the most time . You mentioned that she is starting to see her mother for what she really is, which is a good sign. Unfortunately, I don't believe there is much you are going to be able to do with the mother. She does not want help, and may not even see that she needs it.

i'd continue with the relationship you have with the little girl and be there for her. Let her talk about her mom and don't put the mom down in front of her, or call her crazy or any of that. The girl is getting older and will have her own say so about what is happening.

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