Identifying Children in Crisis

Identifying Children in Crisis
A note to my readers:
As a pediatrician, there are times I have to face one of the ugliest aspects of life, the abuse and neglect of a child. This is an issue that plagues many children in all slices of our society. This is a real letter I received anonymously from a grandfather. I decided to publish it to open the doors of discussion on a topic that needs to be aired. This is the only way I can think of to keep all our children safe.
Dr. Gwenn


Dear Dr. Gwenn:

I am a grandparent with a problem. My son has a son who is in third grade and a step-daughter and daughter with his wife. My grandson is not her child and my son has had custody of him since shortly after birth.

We are concerned about how my son’s wife treats my grandson. I say it is abusive but my son doesn't see it.

We live upstairs from them and my grandson spends most of his time with us including all meals. My son’s wife won’t allow my grandson to eat any food she buys. We get him ready for school because my son’s wife refuses to. He is not allowed to have any friends in the house and he has to ask his father if he can go downstairs, to his own house. If my son is not home, my grandson is not allowed in his own apartment and is sent to us. That is the only time she talks to him. We’re usually upstairs but what if we were not at home?

Since we are here, my son simply says that my grandson prefers to be upstairs. My grandson has told us that he would like to live upstairs but there were times when he wants to be in his own room and play with his games. My grandson is an excellent student and my son is very good to him when she is not around. My grandson says he acts differently when she is around. He was a far better father before her.

The stress is terrible. She is the coldest, meanest, confrontational person I have ever met while my son is extremely unconfrontational. She is not physically abusive to my grandson at all but in my mind this is emotional abuse. This is an 8 year old kid for goodness sake.

What say you?

Concerned Grandpa

Dear Concerned Grandpa:

This is a very sad and difficult situation. You must be beside yourself with concern and feeling very paralyzed by what to do.

This is not only emotional abuse but neglect, on the part of your son and his wife. Your son is not behaving any better by enabling his wife to treat his son this way. By not defending his son’s best interest and by allowing his wife to treat his son so outrageously, he is just as culpable. Thankfully you and your wife are in the picture and providing your grandson with a safe haven. Were that not in place, your grandson would be much more at risk.

I don’t see how you can take a stand and protect your grandson without confronting his father. You could try and get more evidence from others who may see the problem and sit down with your son in a group. You can also call the police or DSS yourself, which can be done anonymously. Anyone can file a report of abuse and neglect and you certain are within your rights as a grandparent. If nothing else, it will be a wakeup call to your son and his wife.

Another path would be to talk to your son alone and offer to take legal custody of your grandson. That would put you in the driver’s seat of your grandson’s life and give you more power to keep him safe. You can also talk to a family lawyer about your rights in this situation given you are basically raising your grandson already.

The State needs to be in the loop for your grandson’s sake. Your son is allowing his new family to push out his biological son and his wife just can not accept him into the family. Developmentally this is a ticking time bomb for your grandson. So, please, make that call.

The number for DSS in Massachusetts is: 800-792-5200.

Nationally, you can call Childhelp®, 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453), for assistance in reporting in your state.

Dr. Gwenn

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Content copyright © 2023 by Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., F.A.A.P.. All rights reserved.
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