There is often denial in families about the emotional troubles of others in the family. This is particularly true when a mother is emotionally unstable and family members look the other way instead of stepping in and dealing with the issue. The problem with this kind of denial is that children are affected by a mother’s mood swings, alcohol use, rage, verbal put downs or neediness. The same woman that no one in the family can deal with is left in charge of the children.
Often fathers have no idea what to do and avoid the situation by withdrawing and resigning themselves to a wife’s mental difficulties. Fathers are the adults who have the most impact and power to change the situation but many are afraid to rock the boat for fear of angry outbursts. Extended family members could also step in and insist that a mother get some help or could at least be willing to talk to the children about mom’s problems and let them know that it is not their fault. Many times daughters are left to try to care for and help their mothers with mental issues. We call this kind of child the “parentified” child since they are attempting to fill the role that a parent should undertake.
Families do not have to remain helpless in the face of a mother’s refusal to seek treatment. There are a number of people who now specialize in doing interventions with emotionally unstable family members and even if it may be an upsetting experience, the problem now has a name and the children will know that someone cared about what happens to them. When the problem is brought out into the open and made clear, the children no longer have to wonder if they are bad and somehow caused it. If you cannot tolerate your family member’s emotional outbursts, imagine how her children might feel. It takes courage to bring out these types of problems and there can be some difficult fallout but the alternative is to continue to whisper and dance around the issue without really confronting it.