Please help me reach out to my niece and nephews
August 23, 2016 5:33 AM   Subscribe

My brother and his wife are divorcing. While I think that's probably for the best, the way they are going about it is not good. I would like to send my niece (12) and nephews (9 and 6) a letter or small something to let them know that they are loved. But I'm terrible at this sort of thing. What should I send? What should I say?

More details - not sure if this is even necessary.

My brother and sister and law have a history of basically being immature. She nags and is very jealous and suspicious. She yells and calls him stupid and dumb all the time. He flirts and talks with other women and doesn't get it that he's having emotional affairs, which then upset his wife more. Basically, it seems that a divorce is really the right thing, and they are both to blame.

My brother moved across country for a good job opportunity and his wife seemed both supportive and excited about the move. She waited until the kids finished the school year, quit her job, and sold the house and moved everyone out to join him. They bought a new house. Three weeks later, my brother asks for a divorce. She promptly loaded up the kids and moved back to their old hometown where she has extended family, possibility of a job, and a network of friends.

My brother is apparently depressed, isn't talking to any of his siblings, but tells our mother that the kids understand and are fine. He was shocked that his wife moved back to the hometown - he imagined she would stay in the new town with the kids. He seems to have shut down completely, and seems to have a very unrealistic idea of what has happened and what is going to happen.

Those sweet kids are *not* fine and are having a rough time. They feel abandoned by their dad and they're confused and upset.

I'm just an aunt in another city altogether. But I love those kids and my kid loves his cousins. We cannot visit right now. What can we send or do or say to let those kids know that they are loved?
posted by banjonaut to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you in contact with your SIL? Can you record some pen pal videos of your kid to your niece and nephews?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:45 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about a weekly Skype/facetime? Make it casual and fun -- just checking in, how's school, what movies have you see -- not a therapy session where they can unload on you or where you ask them to process what is happening. It seems like you want to just be there for them as an aunt, and we have technology that can make this happen regardless of distance. I guess it depends on your relationship with SIL. Maybe ask her to join the chats so that she doesn't feel like you are trying to get access to the kids and plant any ideas in them about their mom or dad?
posted by archimago at 6:10 AM on August 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you have a good relationship with your SIL, I would reach out to her first. That way she can give you a feel for what the kids need/would like. Even if your relationship isn't great, you can still reach out and say you and your son want to have a relationship with your niece/nephews no matter what your relationship is like with your brother. It may help your relationship with her, it may not.

Definitely keep any conversations light and fun. Video calls would likely work well. If you are able to, let them come to your home for a visit, with or without their mother. They may ask you heavy questions on their own, they may not, but having an adult/extended family in their lives that cares about them unconditionally is a wonderful thing. You're a good aunt. Good luck with navigating such a delicate situation.
posted by melissa at 6:22 AM on August 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

Those kids are thinking and feeling continuously, every day, during the summer when they may not have school. I'd call more than once a week. Maybe every day, briefly.
posted by amtho at 6:55 AM on August 23, 2016

Call and care, and maybe also send them a little care package once a month. Kids LOVE getting surprises in the mail. You could send them each a book one month, maybe a little craft kit each one month - something they can do without a ton of supervision in case the parents are overwhelmed, but that will make them excited and remind them that Cool Aunt Banjo is thinking of them. You don't have to go high bar - a card with a dollar or two in it, a card with a pack of stickers in it will do fine. I think if you do that sporadically, and also use archimago's suggestion regularly, it'll go a long way.

Agreed with all that you don't take sides between their parents - listen and sympathize if they start talking, but don't START the hard conversations. Aim to keep it light - you're friendly and cool and fun and you care about them.
posted by telepanda at 7:34 AM on August 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

Can you offer to have the kids come visit while SIL gets back on her feet? Regardless of her fault in what sounds like a crappy marriage, having your spouse uproot your entire family and then immediately file for divorce is...a doozy.

Taking the kids for a week, if that's possible, could do wonders for both the kids and the SIL. And the fun you have would provide a basis for further contact that's fun and good and not just "your life is falling apart and I love you." (The second thing is good too! But balance is probably better?)

I'm sorry for everyone involved, including your kid. This sounds like a tough one. They're lucky to have an aunt like you.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Please accept my condolences for your family's difficult time. Your brother has a gem of a sister!

If you're in contact with SIL, extend an invitation to see them. You can also check if SIL set up e-mail accounts for them. Yahoo allows parents to set up family addresses for minors. Please be aware that SIL might be able to access her childrens' e-mails because they're using her PC. When you contact your neice and nephews, let them know:
+ that your brother, you, their paternal grandparents and counsin love them and care about them
+ that your brother, you, their paternal grandparents and counsin look forward to seeing them.
If the kids already have e-mails, especially a Google one, they've got the possibility of using Hangouts. Hangouts is competitive with Skype and Apple's Facetime and iMessages.
The neice probably already has e-mail and maybe a YouTube account. You can send messages and videos to her by posting comments to her YouTube videos. (That's the only way my ex allows me to send messages to our little sweetheart.)

Building on telepanda's thoughts: Have your brother (or you+your kid) send a little back-to-school care package to each kid at school. The care package could contain fun school supplies, such those from Yoobi for each. Things like a fun eraser or cool pencil case or neat pencil sharpener. Look online for the school's supply list or call/e-mail the kids' homeroom teachers. Each kid's package should have a card with a notes+positive affirmations of love and devotion in it from dad (or you and your kid). Another thing to put in each care package would be a little snack such as a Dole fruit cup and spoon to be eaten during lunch. (Be sure to ask the teacher about prohibited foods because of others' allergies.). The care package contents shouldn't be extravagant/less than $5 each because it might be taken away if the package is taken home.

He needs to make sure that he's registered as each kid's parent with the school and that the school is going to include him on any mailings and e-mails.

Depending on the judge, jurisdiction and agreement between the parents, the mother might have to bring the children back to your brother's city.

Please suggest that your brother use his employer's EAP for this difficult time. His employer can't find out the identities of the EAP users.
posted by dlwr300 at 8:08 AM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Make sure you build trust with your sister-in-law first. No parent likes the idea that another adult is attempting an end run around them, at their own children.
posted by My Dad at 8:11 AM on August 23, 2016 [15 favorites]

Yeah, need to emphasize here that your overture should be to your SIL. She's the one you're going to depend on for contact with the kids. You don't need to get into throwing your brother under the bus, just let her know you consider her family and you want her children and yours to remain close. Offering to host the kids for a visit is a great idea. She may be short on funds for travel, so if you can afford it, offer to help with that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:15 AM on August 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can you send a postcard every week?
Consistency is good, and postcards are good so your SIL knows what is being said and isn't weird or suspicious about what might be in closed letters addressed to the kids.

Maybe you can find a pack of fun animal postcards or ones with silly jokes on them?
It would be nice for the kids to have regular reminders that you (and other people) are thinking about them fondly.

Ask SIL if care packages of candy and magazines or comic books would be ok too.
posted by rmless at 9:35 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

My teenaged niece and nephew went through this a few years back when their mom left. I was in your position - just an aunt wanting to help. It was easier for me because I live in the same town, and was able to ramp up the time I spent with them face-to-face.

Ideally, I agree with others about having them come visit whenever they can. It would give your SIL a break, and give the kids a change of scenery. Barring that, send them lots of surprises, Skype/Facetime when you can, and just BE THERE. I also friended them both on their social media pages, so I could find things to talk about, share goofy memes, and see how they were handling things. I made it a point to never ask my niece & nephew directly about the divorce, but to let them talk whenever they felt comfortable. I also made it a point to never badmouth their mom, and to encourage them to let anger out healthily without developing worsening bitterness & hatred for their mom. I found that when we were alone and comfortable, they opened up on their own. They knew they could talk to me, come to me when they were upset.

Your niece and nephews are a good bit younger, but they're processing some very grownup feelings, so good for you for wanting to be there. Good luck - hope they adjust and that they come out of this having grown closer to you and the rest of your family.
posted by jhope71 at 9:49 AM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wonder if it would be fun to watch movies "together"? Like, plan to everyone watch the same movie on Friday night, and then have a facetime/skype hangout Saturday morning and talk about your favorite parts?
posted by spindrifter at 10:42 AM on August 23, 2016

Send a monthly care package to the kids via regular mail. Get your kid to help pick out stuff at the dollar store, put the package together, and write a note to send along with it, saying you're all thinking of them.
posted by lizbunny at 2:03 PM on August 23, 2016

I don't know that I'm phrasing this right, but.... if this all happened recently, it might be a difficult time to set up major expectations around weekly calls, possible visits etc. Whether or not it's fair, your SIL just got a divorce dropped on her and she might be a little wary on opening up to her ex's family for awhile.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, do reach out to SIL and offer support and desire to stay connected. But also, please try to be gentle with her if she's aloof or doesn't think it's a good idea right now with everything else she's got going on. Be aware of pushing too hard during a sensitive time and souring SIL's feelings to you.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:40 PM on August 23, 2016

Response by poster: These are great suggestions, thank you! You people are the best.

Fortunately, I am on good terms with my sister in law. I will still ask though. I really like the postcard idea and video chatting. I'm still wanting to send a meaningful letter or something that the kids can hold onto.

Yes, the whole thing is crappy and You can bet I'm staying out of it.

I wish they could stay with me, but I am 12 hours away by car, so it will be a while before any visits. I'll still make the offer though.
posted by banjonaut at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2016

When my husband's brother was divorced last year, and in the year since then, I think the most difficult thing for their children (8 and 10 now), has been how my husband's family treated and treats the ex-wife, their mom.
It is as if she died or actually really worse, she has become invisible and unmentionable, and if they mention her at all it is derogatory and mean. This makes it really really much harder on the children than necessary.

I now only see them when they are with their dad, my BIL, about 1 or 2 times a month and I think that they actually would benefit from the other adults in their life not slacking off their mom - eg.: BILs new girlffriend telling the little girl her clothes are crap, saying your mom must have bought you that etc etc. My BIL also talks horribly about his ex, in front of the kids, despite the fact that she was in my opinion 200% justified to leave him (not my story to tell but involved him accumulating massive secret gambling debts, a gambling addiction which he wanted her to finance, womanizing etc).

So I think - from seeing this going on for more than a year now - that one of the best things you can do is maintain the good relationship you have with your SIL and assure the children, simply by remaining in a positive relationsshipo with her, that it is ok to love thier mom.
You don't need to say it explicitly, it will be enough to show you are not cutting her off and bad-mouthing her to them. I notice each time I talk positively about my BILs ex-wife how the children take note and even volunteer stories of how mom is doing and how she has managed to fix up the (previoulsy horrid) house etc., tame the debt he caused etc.
They need to know it is ok to love the parent that left. I don't have concrete things you can do, but I think just maintaining a positive realtionsship with their mom will strengthen them.
posted by 15L06 at 4:28 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

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