Advice on parenting a formerly battered child

I’ve wrestled with whether or not to post this for a few days now, but I really would like some advice for the situation I’m in. I think I have thought it all out and have a good plan, but I worry that I’ve totally missed aspects of it. I will try to explain things without giving too many personal details about my niece.

Backstory: Two weeks ago, my ex-brother-in-law dropped his sixteen-year-old daughter off at my home. This family had been more or less estranged from us for about 12 years. I have one sister B (not the teen’s mom) who had been able to keep up a limited correspondence with the girl over the years. I had only just reconnected with my niece this past summer, when B and I took a trip to Alabama to visit her.

The girl’s mom is my sister D. D and her husband are struggling financially and live in a bad part of town. D asked me if my niece could live with me, as D isn’t capable financially (hubby and I already pay for her phone service and car insurance), doesn’t have another bedroom in her house (they have a kindergartner), and the high school in that attendence zone is in a high-crime area. My husband and I agreed, and we are petitioning the court here for guardianship.

Now that the dust has settled somewhat, I am discovering more and more horror stories about the life that my niece was living. She has a stepmother with some pretty bad emotional problems. Long story short, the girl served as the stepmom’s punching bag. The girl was also subjected to some bizarre punishments like being made to sleep on the floor when she didn’t clean the cat litterboxes correctly (they have 36 cats and dogs in the house) and being made to sleep outside one other time. She is used to eating a lot of canned food (ravioli, spaghettios) and often eats that stuff right out of the can. This is the kind of thing you read about in the news, yanno? :frowning:

Anyway, so far we have set her up with a bedroom of her own, gotten her enrolled in the high school here, introduced her to some other girls her age (via our younger daughter), and helped her get a part-time job at a fast food place. I’m also trying to be very gentle with my guidance of her as she’s been ‘beaten down’ so much. We bought her some school clothes and makeup in styles that she likes (she was forbidden to wear makeup back home). I have talked with her about the necessity of getting some counseling in the near future. I am watching her for signs of anger, grief etc. so that I can help her work through those issues. I also give her lots of hugs.

What am I leaving out? Anything in particular I should be paying attention to?

Thanks in advance.

What are you missing? Punching the ex-BIL and the stepmother in the face. What about this kindergartener that’s still with them?

I think you’re doing mostly everything right, but I really, really think she needs to be talking to a therapist NOW.

I’m no expert, but I think one of the best things you could have done, which you’ve already done, is to get her a teenager-type job. Structure, reward for good work, work friends - all valuable in this case, IMHO.

I thought that might be confusing, sorry. :slight_smile: Ex-BIL and his wife (the stepmom) have no other kids at home. Unless you count the 36 animals. They live in Alabama.

My sister D and her husband have a kindergartener. They live in the Jackson, MS metro area.

My niece’s boyfriend’s mama already punched the stepmother. Blacked her eye, she says.

Yeah, I’m thinking I need to step up my advice to see the therapist. Hubby’s insurance will pay for two sessions a year for family members. It’d be a starting place anyway.

I don’t have any specific titles in mind, but it seems likely that a couple of child psych experts will have written some books on this kind of issue.

Go niece’s boyfriend’s mama! (That got confusing fast.)

On that note … what’s her boyfriend like? A source of support? Or a re-creation of her troubled relationships with the adults in her life?

His family seems solid. The mama (let’s call her S.) is a Sunday School teacher (She’s not one of these preachy religious people though) and stay-at-home mom. The daddy is an off-shore oil rig worker. They live in a nice lower-middle-class rural area in AL. Both S and the boyfriend seem like typical normal people.

I am eternally grateful to S. She was the one who called the police when she witnessed the stepmom beating the girl, and pulled her off. The stepmom spent the night in jail and was charged - probably with assault of a minor. That was one thing the BIL kept complaining about - how “the kid has all the rights !”. Of course they do you moron. :rolleyes: That’s to keep people like your wife from beating them up.

That’s a good idea about looking for literature on the subject. I will check Amazon.

Take her to Planned Parenthood or another place and get her on birth control ASAP. Not only is she a 16 year old girl with all the sexual desires and such that come with that but she was also abused for a long time. Many young girls who’ve been abused, maybe not this one but many of them, turn to sex as a way to get positive attention and to feel loved since they don’t get that at home. If she wants to be sexually active that is cool but don’t let her end up knocked up while she lives with you if you can help it at all.

What does she seem to need? If you’ve had her for a while, you should see some glaring needs (hygiene, nightmares, academics, etc). Ask her what she thinks or needs (with her understand that needing an iPod nano doesn’t qualify as need). Let her settle in for a while and get used to her new life.

Good for you for taking her in.


Good point, my sister D is taking her soon. I’ve already talked to my niece about managing one’s sex life, and she expressed a desire to get on the Pill. They are hopefully going to go within a couple of weeks. I let her know that I considered her sex life to be mostly her business, and that a woman needs to be aware of STDs, unplanned pregnancies, self-checks of the breast, etc. etc. yadda yadda. She knows quite a bit about the subject already.

She’s only been with us about two weeks, and in school a week (come tomorrow). Right now she’s still a bit bewildered and confused, so she’s not sure just what she needs. It’s bubbling up bit by bit though. I think patience and love are what she mostly needs ATM, and we’re giving her that in spades. I’m trying to plan for the future; hence this thread.

I absolutely was not going to turn her away. All she needs is an adult who believes in her, and give her a chance. I don’t care if the rest of the family has to cut back a bit; the sacrifice is worth it IMO. But thanks for the kudos. :slight_smile:

NinetyWt, you’re my Hero Of The Day. I really mean that.

… also, the 36 cats’n’dogs? At the step-mom’s home? As long as you’re stepping up so save the victims of that woman’s abuse, an anonymous call to the local Humane Society or something might be in order.

It’s the rare person who’s capable of providing proper care for that many animals at once, and something tells me this is <ahem> not the most nurturing of souls. If she’s capable of beating the shit out of a teenaged girl, she’s probably kicking puppes and kittens, too.

That’s very kind of you purplehorseshoe. :slight_smile: But, there are other heroes in this story … to me, I think S is the one who really stands out. But even the imbecile BIL had the sense to bring the child to a safe place; it’s a seven-hour drive. Even if he did do it because the DHR there demanded she be relocated (or the stepmom kicked out of the house).

ETA: I’m also concerned that the animals are not being cared for properly. I’m going to be checking out the police report from the incident which brought all this to the attention of the authorities; perhaps they have already checked that out.

I’m assuming that the school has been informed of the situation. They may be able to provide resources or references to resources (ours has a full time social worker to deal with these sorts of issues who provides therapy to some of the students).

Keep in mind going on the Pill may wreak havoc on her body and emotions (even more so, I guess), but yes, even if she seems savvy knowing she has somewhere else to turn for help and information is essential. Depending on the type of PP, you may even get contacts for subsidized child psychologists. Sadly girls with her sort of upbringing are prime targets for abusive partners, but you’ll cross that bridge when you get to it (or hopefully, never will).

And good for you and everyone who was smart enough to see this girl was in a bad situation. You might brush aside praise right now, but you’ve got a struggle ahead of you so don’t forget what an amazing thing you’re doing, and how few people would be willing to do the same.

This might be a good idea, if the school’s counseling office can keep secrets. It might be good for the niece to be “normal” at school. It sounds like you’ve given her a good start at normal teenage life, and minds (espically young minds) can be very flexible.

Sorry, I’m not expressing this well. Try not to make her feel like she’s broken. From your summary, Niece hasn’t done anything wrong. While you should keep an eye on her, she might be more normal than seems probable.

Oh, jeez. Hugs all around!

She does need therapy. Consider what type of therapy, too. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works very well for victims of abuse.

One thing that I had a problem with when I first came out my abusive marriage was beliving that what I wanted was important too. (Not needs. Wants.) Once I was living by myself, it was quite refreshing, but also sometimes difficult, to make certain decisions on my own. Even minor things as what to buy at the supermarket. I needed to learn to have a “voice.”

Maybe it would be good to let her make some decisions for your family, like choosing which movie to see or letting her decide what you’ll have for dinner. Teach her to have a voice.

No recommendations, just a quick post to say that you’re doing a wonderful thing.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the OP for doing such a good thing!
I will second (third? fourth?) the therapy thing. IMHO, just about any 16YO can use a good objective ear, much less someone who’s been through all this crap!

If your medical insurance won’t pay for regular therapy, check into what the school offers, as well as maybe your local Health Dept, as they often have therapy provided on a sliding-scale basis. If neither of those pan out, check with your local social services dept. to see what else may be available.


You are a saint!

I’ve been in a similar situation to the OP for the past two years. We took custody of our nephew, Eric, who was extremely neglected and abused by his parents. Eric is nearly 12 now.

The things we have been doing with him are the following:
[li]He has been seeing a counselor[/li][li]We have been in constant communication with his teachers, and his counselor about his situation.[/li][li]We are making it a point to explain to him when he does something that is not appropriate and why it is so.[/li][li]We try (successfully for the most part) to be consistent with him in what we do and say[/li][/ol]
The hardest thing for Eric is his dealing with his parents. I’ve posted about them before. They are both complete and total losers with no desire to do anything to improve themselves. As I said before, we’ve had Eric for 2 years and he is just now starting to understand that his parents are not ever going to change. That is probably the hardest part for him because he still loves his parents and worries about them.

I would imagine that your niece is going through similar things. Be consistent with her in your words and actions. Give her a chance to see what a “normal” family is supposed to be like and let her acclimate on her terms. Definitely get her to a counselor who can help her sort through her feelings.

I understand your situation completely. I would be happy to talk further with you about this in private if you want and give you whatever support I can. Just message me through the SDMB.

What you are doing is saving a life.

I will be a little more forceful and tell you she needs therapy. She needs to know that what she came from is NOT NORMAL and SHE HAS BEEN TREATED HORRIBLY. She is probably in a state of shock over leaving the constant state of " OH HELL WHAT DID I DO NOW?!!!" and entering in to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. She is going to need some time to acclimate to your enviroment.

Everything you and your wife have done so far, I feel, are excellent. The job is great and the make up is good too.

I am sure the school’s counsellor’s can give you some guidance and dopers will probably come along with book recommendations for you and your neice.

Maybe she could keep a journal ( written or online) for this time period, to help her sort out her thoughts and new feelings. Really, what you have done is pulled her out of a war zone and moved her into completely foreign territory ( and that’s just the house. School is probably TOTALLY COOL and NOT SO DANGEROUS now.)

This would be an excellent time for her to re-assess what kind of person she would like to be in life and what she needs to do to be that person.

Maybe start a Family Movie Night. (Or other family oriented thing) to help foster a deeper connection.

Is she interested in sports or other activities? What are her strengths and weaknesses?

Ask her if a rule is broken, what she thinks the punishment/penalty should be. ( I bet she has heard the word Punishment alot in her life.)

  • The rules she learned on were twisted and cruel.* Some re-wiring of the brain is needed to learn that if she forgets to clean out the cat litter she doesn’t get a beat down she still has to clean out the cat litter and now take out the garbage ( That’s what we do. Forget a chore, get another chore!! Whine about the New Chore, you get your siblings least favorite chore! It started with ONE now you have THREE! CONGRATS! Welcome to Camp No Fun!) This re-wiring may take weeks or years to re-knit. When it sparks, and it will, it will be a time of consistancy and patience.
    When the paperwork is final, I think you should have a Welcome our New Girl party for her! Let her pick the decorations ( her favorite colors, type of cake/ice cream) and invite all of your friends, church/work people, school staff and neighbors. Maybe some token gifts that are age appropriate or maybe set up a fund for her in her name (and yours. Joint account.) for college and ask for donations.

Give her a really big hug and tell her it won’t always be easy, but you will always love her and help her become the woman she wants to be.
You are a wonderful person!
Keep us posted!

It’s a wonderful thing that you have taken your niece into your home.

I have a couple of suggestions, in no particular order…

She might like to help with planning and cooking some meals. It’s a family activity and a way for her to learn about healthier eating habits.

Short family outings can help her to learn about the area (e.g., try a local museum or library or go for a hike at a local park)

Music or art can be really helpful for dealing with feelings. Having her own radio to listen to in her room would be nice (if she doesn’t already have one). Maybe she would like a small sketch pad?