Q: A few months ago my stepson’s mother lost her best friend in a tragic murder. In the past His mother has shown signs of a mental disorder–though she refuses to get help or to admit it. She is depressed much of the time. Calls my husband crying and sometimes that crying turns to rage in which she yells and cusses at him. Since the murder of her friend she has gotten worse and she is now exhibiting behaviors that I believe may harm my stepson emotionally. She is either extremely happy/giddy or crying and angry. My stepson is only ten and she has continually fed him details of her friend’s murder and now details of the pending trial. She has even told him he could attend one of the hearings–my husband says no way. Stepson is terrified, emotional, and obssessed with these details. We are seeking therapy for my stepson but wonder what exactly constitutes mental or emtional abuse? Are we wrong to think that her behavior may cause irreversible damage to our child.

A: No. You are not wrong. The boy’s mother has forgotten that adults are supposed to protect and shield young children from events that are too traumatic for them to handle. Instead, she is reversing roles and asking her 10 year old to help her manage her pain. From your description, he may be showing signs of secondary trauma. Your husband should consult his attorney about what he can do to put an immediate stop to this. You and your husband can’t make his ex-wife get the treatment she clearly needs but you can protect the child. Your stepson needs to be able to rely on the other adults in his life to keep him safe, especially when his mother isn’t up to the job.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie