This is a challenging situation for the primary reason that she is their mother. Therefore, she maintains all legal rights over her children. In the United States, mothers are seemingly given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to issues related to child welfare. Mothers are favored, or so it seems, over fathers. It’s not that way in other countries. For instance, in Iran, the father is given the benefit of the doubt and often rewarded custody over mothers.
Given that she has legal rights over her children, there may be little you can do. You can try speaking to her about the importance of being a good parent, and not behaving in the manner that she is, but it’s unlikely to work. It seems as though you’ve tried that approach and it has not worked.
People have the right, unfortunately, to be poor parents. They don’t have the right to abuse their children, of course, but poor parenting does not always equate to abuse in the eyes of the law. The fact that she is dating a drug dealer/thief would suggest that she continues to have poor judgment. You can try speaking to her about why she should change. It may not help.
A better use of your time might be trying to become a more integral part of the kid’s lives. This likely means ingratiating yourself to her in a manner that would allow you greater access to the children. Perhaps you can offer to babysit or spend time with them.
Other alternatives to consider would be reporting her to the Department of Child Welfare services. The fact that her boyfriend is a potential drug dealer and a thief means that he is likely living a dangerous lifestyle. Drug dealers interact with many dangerous people and can inadvertently put their families at risk by virtue of their chosen profession. It’s ill-advised for her to invite a criminal into her home which could put her children at risk. You can call the Department of Child Welfare anonymously. If they feel that the children are at risk, they will investigate and determine if action is necessary.
It would also be wise to document the phone calls you receive from the younger children. Record the nature of their complaints. If you decide to call the Department of Child Welfare, you could provide this information to the staff.
If nothing else, you should continue to remain a strong supportive presence in the lives of the children. It’s important to come to terms with the possible fact that your ability to help may be limited at this time. Perhaps, when they are older, things will be different. It’s obviously not good for you to be having “breakdowns.” Understandably, it is a challenging situation, but if this is the reality, at least temporarily, you have to accept it. Do everything you can to positively effect this situation but realize that there are limits. The fact that she is their legal guardian gives her immense leverage and leaves you with very little power.
I would recommend consulting a therapist to assist you in managing your emotions. In addition, the therapist might have some ideas about how you can intervene. Not having all of the details limits my ability to give you advice.
I understand your pain and concerns. Anyone with compassion would feel the same way about suffering children. It is very difficult to know that they might be enduring a situation that leaves lasting psychological damage. Do everything you can, legally, to intervene but realize that your power may be limited. Hopefully, meeting with a therapist will help you to feel less stressed.
I wish I had a more satisfactory answer for you. Good luck with your efforts. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle