Someone I love is being hurt, can I do anything?
February 5, 2008 2:47 PM   Subscribe

I think the way my brother parents is damaging my nephew. Should I mind my own business?

Bottom line: I have a serious problem with the way my brother and his wife are raising their son. They yell at their not-quite two year old for everything. Even for hugging me, his aunt. "Don't teach him to hang on people! He ain't a baby!"

He's too big to spank (very large child, looks like a four year old) so they flick him with their fingers to make him cry, sometimes smack his head. Very little affection, no praise, lots of screaming. He doesn't talk and is terrified of everything, even new toys. However, he is very well behaved, which they credit to their discipline.

Don't suggest I call CPS; I simply won't. It isn't bad enough for that. Also I have no influence over my brother; if I were to overtly meddle (ask him to reconsider his child rearing tactics) he'd step up his mistreatment to prove he could.

They all live with my mother, who has some say in how the baby is raised, and she is the main source of affection for my nephew. However she is a weak woman and would not openly defy my brother.

I'm watching this sweet little baby become more and more messed up every day. I think. Maybe I need to mind my own business. Maybe a rough rearing isn't that big of a deal.

What do I do?
posted by esereth to Human Relations (48 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Short answer: nothing.

Long answer: stay more involved in your nephew's life. Offer to babysit all the time. Be a solid, positive influence--show him love and support. Do this without making it seem that his parents suck.

If you really, really care, you're going to have sacrifice your time. Realize, though, that this kid could be an absolute terror when you're not around--and that his parents are doing the best they can.
posted by gsh at 2:54 PM on February 5, 2008

Since you will not call CPS and confronting your brother on his parenting skills is out of the question as well, I suggest you do the best that you can, as in any situation. Be the awesome aunt. Start now. Can you take your nephew out from time to time (and preferably on a frequent and consistent basis)?. Would your bro allow that? Say that you'd like to babysit so your bro and sis-in-law can go out on a date or whatever - any old excuse to get your hands on that sweet little boy and take him to your place and let him play and be himself. Hug him and hold him. Tell him cool stuff about himself, love him. I would hate for any child to ever feel like he wasn't loved. And it sounds like your nephew is getting a dose of that at an early age by the people that should love him the most. At least he should have one person in his life that loves him dearly. Be that person within the confines of not confronting your brother or calling CPS.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:56 PM on February 5, 2008

Don't interfere. The child sounds fine (plenty of two year olds don't talk) and you're not involved enough to have any say in how he's being rasied.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:57 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you won't call CPS, and you don't think that speaking to either your brother or your mother would be effective, what other options remain?
posted by box at 2:59 PM on February 5, 2008

It sounds to me like you're describing emotional (and physical) abuse. You say "it's not bad enough" to call child services, and then say that your brother would actually increase his treatment (including flicking a child with his fingers to make him cry, smacking him in the head, and withholding affection) just to "show you" not to meddle. I'm sorry, but that's breathtakingly fucked up.

He sounds like a bully that everyone in the family -- you and your mother included -- walk on eggshells to placate. IMO, this is a deeply unhealthy environment for a child, but unfortunately you've ruled out the obvious solutions in terms of intervention (either professional or your own). So I guess the only thing left is, as others say, to try to be as present for your nephew as possible, in order to be the most positive, affectionate adult you can be for him as he grows up. That will help, but it won't ultimately counteract wholesale bad parenting.
posted by scody at 3:03 PM on February 5, 2008 [9 favorites]

"not-quite two year old"

"flick him with their fingers to make him cry, sometimes smack his head."

"Don't suggest I call CPS; I simply won't. It isn't bad enough for that."

Are you fucking kidding me? What do they need to do to the child that will provoke you to call CPS? He is only two. Do you think their behavior is going to get better? I imagine this is their first and only child, so far? They need help. Your nephew needs help. You don't have to even tell CPS who you are. CPS knocking down their door may very well straighten them up.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 3:05 PM on February 5, 2008 [15 favorites]

You think hitting a 2 year old in the head and trying to make him cry isn't bad enough for child services?! Are you serious?!!

You've already ruled out all sensible options, so sit back and continue doing nothing while your nephew gets more and more fucked up. All the hugs in the world from you aren't going to make up for ass-hole parents.
posted by missmagenta at 3:09 PM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Uh, you have no idea what you're talking about. Your evaluation of the situation is hopelessly biased. And no, what you describe doesn't constitute child abuse in any way, shape or form. More than likely any attempt to interfere will do a lot of harm very little good. There's a good chance you'll permanently sour your relationship with the entire family. Parents are pretty damn touchy when it comes to how they raise their kids. And children, though I know TV insists otherwise, are not made of glass. They are not fragile, helpless little creatures that will be forever scarred because they were subjected to 'very little affection.' So just mind your own business. You will know when/if your nephew is subjected to actual child abuse and when that happens you can start asking some questions. It's unlikely it'll come to that and , unless your brother suffers from some sort of drug or mental affliction, your nephew will turn out just fine.
posted by nixerman at 3:20 PM on February 5, 2008

I would give advice like the advice given by missmagenta and B(oyo)BIES but I know it might not help because you are in a 'family' situation. Family situations are very difficult. You are aware that you might permanently damage your relationship with someone who is supposed to be close to you and you are trying to be sensitive to others in your family. However, your nephew is just a little baby and you are witnessing first-hand some pretty destructive abuse of the emotional and physical type. I cannot tell by your question whether these people are admittedly overwhelmed with their role of parents. If they are overwhelmed, you could offer to take him off their hands for an indefinite amount of time. It may just postpone the inevitable but I don't know what else to say to you if you are not going to contact CPS. I think the next best thing for you to do is try to help educate his parents and enlighten them with information about how the way they are treating their son is going to make for a very unhappy adulthood for the kid. Your mother is also contributing to the emotional and physical abuse if she is doing nothing to stop it. Nevermind if she is shy or weak or whatever. She is guilty too. Can you videotape the abuse somehow and play it back for your relatives? I don't know. I think there is not a good answer in this case and it is an example of how helpless we really are in some situations involving other people's children. I feel terrible for that baby boy. His parents are very, very dangerous for him to be around.
posted by mamaraks at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2008

I gotta tell you .. my heart breaks for this child. From your description, a lot of damage has already been done. Please reconsider your decision not to call CPS. This abuse, and it IS abuse, make no mistake about it, doesn't sound severe enough at this point that your nephew would be removed from the home, but I'm thinking that the CPS folks will help your brother and his wife with some parenting skills. As others have said, you can do this anonymously. Please think about this .. your poor nephew sounds absolutely cowed and beaten down. This is so sad. He's lucky to have you. Do the right thing. Get him some help.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2008

And no, what you describe doesn't constitute child abuse in any way, shape or form.

Really? And your expertise is what, exactly?

esereth, was there abuse in your family? (you don't have to answer that here if you don't want to.) I mean, is your brother like this for a situational, temporary reason, or was he raised to think that behavior like this is normal?

It's not the worst thing that could be happening to your nephew, but why wait for the worst? As others have said, if you won't call CPS, then your best bet is to babysit as often as possible, both to give the parents a break and to give you nephew a look at how other folks live. And to give him a place where he maybe isn't scared all the time. Good luck.
posted by rtha at 3:30 PM on February 5, 2008

If you were to disclose this information to a physician or psychologist, per the usual "Informed Consent" that you must sign in order to undergo counseling, the psychologist would be under obligation to report this behavior to CPS. This affirms that the actions against your nephew do, in fact, qualify as child-abuse in the eyes of the law.

What you describe is physical abuse against a two-year old who not only cannot advocate for himself (much less even understand the concept of advocacy), but who most likely does not understand that what he is doing is perceived as wrong by your brother and sister-in-law. They are punishing him for behaviors consistent with being a toddler; at what point does this treatment become too much or bad enough? When he is on a hospital gurney suffering the trauma of a subdermal hematoma to his skull?

To be aware of this and not report this type of abuse is both irresponsible and unethical. Please contact someone who is involved with child abuse prevention. You can call Childhelp at 1-877-723-2445. You can call anonymously if you are fearful of retribution by your family; they will likely offer sound and helpful advice.
posted by numinous at 3:33 PM on February 5, 2008

uh, nixerman, you have no fucking clue whatsoever.


That is abuse. Esereth, call CPS. yeah, blah blah blah, you don't want to. Suck it up. What's better, ensuring that your nephew is no longer abused, or maintaining some sort of relationship with people who are abusing their child?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:36 PM on February 5, 2008

Besides keeping an eye on your nephew, I'd look closely at your brother's wife. If she's contributing equally to the unhealthy treatment of the son, that's one thing (and your question implies that indeed she is) but if she's turning up with unexplained bruises, etc., the situation may be even more complicated than it seems.
posted by Morrigan at 3:48 PM on February 5, 2008

So... what do they do to the child when they are actually angry? A little smack on the head (if that is what it is) may be cruel but not full blown abuse, but they are conditioning themselves to accept that the head is an ok place to hit, and it'll only take one good angry punch or full blown smack to cause brain damage of some type. Physical negative reinforcement as the dominate means of correction is piss poor parenting.

I agree that children are fairly resilient, but also at that age they are veritable sponges you can be as supportive as you want but you are not the primary source of stimulus for this kid. This is, of course not saying he is going to be permanently damaged by this, but the odds are higher that he will be. From a Mandated Reporter standpoint if I saw that behavior, or was told about it in a situation where I could identify who was perpetrating it I would, and would be required to, report it. Not to get the kid removed from his family, but to get the family into parenting class. Frankly it sounds like mean, petty behavior which has a good chance of being passed on.

So, yeah, no easy choices here. There is the right thing to do and the easier things to do.
posted by edgeways at 3:48 PM on February 5, 2008

Based on what I know about California CPS, You need to be aware that calling CPS may or may not result in anything happening. Most likely they would contact the parents, hear their side of the story and then decide how to follow up. (Remember, you don't have to determine it is really child abuse, you just have to call to say you are concerned that a child is at risk.) If you are lucky they might require a parenting class. But there is also the chance that nothing will happen. (It is very unlikely that they would take the children out of the home in this situation.)

I'm not saying, "Don't call", I'm just saying don't expect the phone call to magically improve the situation. In fact, if you think there is any chance this situation might deteriorate over time, then calling now wlll be very important to document what is happening over time.
posted by metahawk at 3:55 PM on February 5, 2008

I know you've ruled out CPS because you think their actions aren't severe enough for that. Even so, please consider letting CPS make that recommendation. Every CPS worker I know has a pretty full plate as it is. Trust me, if they think it's not a big deal, not much is going to come of it. But if they do think it is a big deal--well, they are in a much better position to objectively determine that than you are. I've seen enough of these situations to tell you that the odds are really good that things will only get worse as your nephew grows. Now would be a good time to try to change the path he's on.

As other people have said, if you won't tell CPS and you won't confront your brother, I don't know what else is left. Unless you discuss it with someone (clergy, physician) who would in turn be likely to call CPS.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:55 PM on February 5, 2008

You don't want to call CPS because you don't want the boy taken away from your brother and his wife and you don't want to be the one to do it. But if you really believe this is abuse, you HAVE to do something. Situations don't get better just by wishing on a star. If you think your brother would step up the behavior if you spoke to him, that suggests that either he is ridiculously defensive or your approach to him is usually confrontational. It shouldn't be surprising that the baby is being brought up to be "tough" if this is your own family dynamic.

If you are honestly worried, I suggest you approach your Mother. Does she feel the same way? Remember, she sees much more of the discipline and day-to-day interaction than you do. Your view may be skewed--issues between you and your brother, for instance, may cause him to act differently towards his son when you are around.

So, let's say Mom agrees. Then you *both* approach your brother and his wife together, with specific examples and suggestions for improvement. Don't make it, "You ALWAYS do this," or "You NEVER do this." That's a recipe for failure.

If Mom does not agree, perhaps her input will make you re-evaluate your own impressions. If not, then the next step is to talk to your brother and his wife. Yes, you HAVE to talk to him. Again, use specific examples and suggestions.

The last and final step would be to make that call, which can be ANONYMOUS, by the way, to Children and Family Services. I would suggest, though, that you not make the call anonymous. Go and talk to someone, as a concerned family member. Suggest that what you feel would be best for the situation is PARENTING classes for your brother and his wife. That sounds like the best solution all around.

Like edgeways said, there is the right thing and the easy thing. Be sure you know what the right thing is, and then DO it!
posted by misha at 4:04 PM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: B(oYo)BIES , missmagenta , Kangaroo,numinous,dirtynumbangelboy

The reason I'm not okay with calling Child Protective Services.

The reason I say "it's not bad enough."

There is a big chance, from what I've read (most recently, Wounded Innocents by Wexler ) that the interference of CPS in the dilapidated town they live in has a larger chance of hurting my nephew than helping him. I don't want him taken away in the night all alone to state care or anything like that, away from his grandmother, put in a place where no one loves him and god knows what would happen to him. That is worse than flicking, worse than yelling.

Also, I know in the back of my head that my nephew's rearing was common in normal families up until forty years ago.

CPS is not my answer.

RTHA- because I know my brother's childhood I understand totally why he parents this way. We are all victims of victims.

Thank you those who suggest active participation in my nephew's life. It isn't a good solution, but I don't think there is one.
posted by esereth at 4:13 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

esereth: can I suggest reading Difficult Conversations and engaging in one with your brother?
posted by shivohum at 4:23 PM on February 5, 2008

Your nephew's parents are doing a bad job of parenting. Mine did, too. Even though they tried their best, and never, ever *meant* to cause me harm, they were physically and emotionally abusive.

The reason I'm a functional, happy adult is because I had someone (my grandparents) to turn to. As soon as I was able to make a choice, around four years old, I chose to stay with them every chance I got. I lived with them most summers and school vacations. This was seen as "vacations" and "time with close family," not, "let's get this poor kid away from the crazy parents," so my parents were usually ok with it. My father was very jealous sometimes, but he put up with it. And you know, I was a tough kid to parent, so it was good for my parents to have a break, too.

Trying to change your brother will only result in acrimony. Nothing you can say or do will change your brother. Being there for the kid as much as they'll let you will give the kid something he needs desperately - a stable, safe place, and the knowledge that he's not bad.

If your nephew's parents are abusive, someone else will probably call CPS eventually, a teacher, a neighbor, another relative. If you do, you run the risk of CPS doing nothing, and he'll lose you, too. CPS isn't magic. Don't risk it.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:26 PM on February 5, 2008

I would suggest calling CPS. I know it seems a bit scary, but they will be able to determine just how far is too far. The call would be anonymous, and they are required to send someone out to the home in a certain timeframe. To me, this sounds like excessive discipline common in first-time parents and usually results in an easy treatment plan. They will probably recommend a few parenting classes and check up on the family after three or four months to see how things are going. They may want to interview other family members as well, which would include you. Everything you say will be confidential. CPS doesn't like to remove children from the home and only do it in cases of an emergency, so don't freak out about that. If this does happen, they will try to place the child with a family member, which, could be you if approved. I highly highly doubt this will happen. Also be aware that you might not hear anything at all after you call CPS. It doesn't mean they didn't do anything, it just means that no one is saying a word about it. Go on as normal with your life.

Your brother isn't a terrible person, he just may not know any better. Don't let this burden fall on yourself to try and keep the kid safe. Wouldn't you rather your nephew have a great relationship with his parents instead of you serving as a part-time parent?
posted by idiotfactory at 4:30 PM on February 5, 2008

Your mom's affection to the child makes a difference, and so does yours.

I will add, it is frustrating to have a toddler (and to be one, I should think). Maybe when he can talk, there will be less frustration, and things will get better. I certainly hope it does.
posted by ysabella at 4:31 PM on February 5, 2008

I don't know if this helps any, but in my experience as a teacher I sometimes witness situations in which there's a lot of misunderstanding between parents and children - particularly very conservative parents (who believe in obedience and filial piety) and their considerably more liberal children, who... well, don't even know that they're liberal yet. A 2-year-old is out of my scope, but I've found that rather than be the "other adult" that will incite feelings of resentment and jealousy in the parents, it helps to serve as a mediator to help the two parties understand each other. Unfortunately, in your case... that party is a 2-year-old.

So agree with everyone to keep a close relationship with your nephew. But also keep a close relationship with your brother and his wife - that part's considerably harder. I know that whenever I speak to parents, oftentimes they don't know why their kids are acting a certain way and they think that when their kids "misbehave," it's their fault so they're terrified of their kids misbehaving in front of company, and will enforce that at home at every given opportunity. I think it helps to communicate to parents, who don't always know what they're doing, that their kids are separate entities from them and furthermore, some actions are right and natural for children and does not reflect poorly upon them at all. The paradox is that when they no longer feel like they have to defend themselves as a good parent, then they feel more free to behave more naturally towards their children - which inevitably is to show more affection and grant more freedom.

Good luck with this situation.
posted by reebear at 4:51 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't worry. When this kid gets a little older he'll start punching other kids in daycare or acting out in other ways, or he will keep wetting his bed, or other such behaviors. In which case the abuse will escalate, and in about ten or so years, he'll be headed to Juvie. IF not sooner. OR he'll just turn to pot to relax, or maybe when he's fifteen he'll get a gun and blow away his tormentors. It happens.

I am married to a formerly abused child. Let me tell you that the damage starts very early and goes deep. You need to tell SOMEONE who can talk to these two-a pastor, maybe? And yes, they will be mandated to report, but like was said above, they won't be snatching the baby away just for this. They will probably just ride your brother's butt some. And trust me when I tell you it needs riding. If he is that ignorant a parent at this point it can only get worse.
posted by konolia at 4:59 PM on February 5, 2008

It's good that you understand why your brother is behaving the way he is. I wonder if it would also be helpful for you to consider whether your own experiences are clouding your perceptions.

If I were to overtly meddle (ask him to reconsider his child rearing tactics) he'd step up his mistreatment to prove he could. That's not a frustrated or ignorant parent, that's a disturbed individual who will perpetuate the family pattern unless someone really stops him.

Also, I know in the back of my head that my nephew's rearing was common in normal families up until forty years ago. I'm 46, so that puts me in the right time frame. I was not screamed at or smacked when I was a toddler. But then, my family wasn't normal. It was alcoholic. Maybe if I were in a normal family I would have been screamed at and smacked.

You recognize that your nephew's treatment is wrong. Obviously many people here believe the treatment is actually abuse. That could be a clue that your definition of normal might not be the common one.
posted by PatoPata at 5:20 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just let it go a few years.
They will have to start hitting him with a closed fist by the time he's 5 just to get his attention. Once that starts happening I guess you can feel justified in doing something.
posted by whoda at 5:26 PM on February 5, 2008

There are 3 options.
1) Do nothing. The danger here is that they will escalate. Seriously what trouble can a 2 year old get into that isn't 10x worse as a 4 or 5 or 6 or 10 year old? My concern here are "flicks to the ear" and "smacks to the head", two things that are certainly much different than a firm smack on the bottom. Morally, if in 3 years they kill him, break him, or otherwise harm him---how will you feel then? Criminally, if you come forward at that point, you're liable.
2)Talk to them. They won't hear anything. For serious.
3) Call someone like the DHHR or CPS. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FILE A REPORT WHEN YOU CALL, you can simply call and ask questions or ask for suggestions from them. If you do this, you need to document what you see happening, along with times and dates you witness it, and you also need to document the times and dates you call CPS/DHHR/whatever agency you call AND WHO YOU TALK TO.

I tell you this after working with a largely abused population for a long time. It sounds tremendously callous for me to quantify them like that---but it's the truth.

Additionally, you say "flicking his ear to make him cry". Do you mean that the intention is to make him cry, and so they flick his ear, OR "they flick his ear and so he cries because he's a gigantic 2 year old." Looking at the way you word things is ENTIRELY IMPORTANT when describing these events to authorities or people you are asking for help.
posted by TomMelee at 5:28 PM on February 5, 2008

The unfortunate reality is that CPS is extremely unlikely to do anything unless or until the child ends up in the hospital or has actual, documented bruises and scars - big ones. What you're describing is just not in their scope and I doubt they'd even send your brother to parenting classes. They're desperately overworked and understaffed and nothing you have described would, sadly, make even a pinging noise on their radar. So you can give up your worries or hopes that they're going to come in and grab the kid. They don't do that anymore, even when they should. That's the bad part.

The good part is what everyone else is saying: you can make a big difference in this child's life. Not only that, but by doing so, you can model good parenting for your brother and his wife and while it may not help much, it sure as hell can't hurt. So hug him as much as you can, spend as much time with him as possible and do everything you can and remember, kids are surprisingly resilient. It's a tough road and I wish you - and your nephew - the best of luck.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:33 PM on February 5, 2008


Wow, really? The horror. The humanity. Where, oh where, is Superman?

Honestly, this thread is a disaster and emotion long ago triumphed over common sense so there's not much else to be said. I will say though, for all that CPS, as I am familiar with it in the states of Massachusetts and New York, is not a solution to anything. Anybody who calls CPS to help them deal with a family problem now has two problems. CPS isn't some sort of "bad parenting" police that shows up to save the day every time some parent "abuses" their children. It's a very last resort where the coercive power of the state is brought to bear on wholly private circumstances because some member of the family is in danger or is being subjected to a clear pattern of neglect. Unless this is the case then involving the state authorities is, as my grandma used to say, taking three steps forwards -- right off a cliff. It can only end badly.

(And most likely CPS or any authority will do absolutely nothing lacking any compelling evidence but the brother will figure out the OP was involved. I can only imagine where that will leave the OP.)

And no, inflicting pain on a children is not abuse. While a lot of people in this thread seem to imagine that they have the One True Way to raise a child, they don't. There are many paths and ways and while some ways may be better than others they all end up in pretty much the same place. Parents have been spanking and pinching and bopping and shoving and yelling at and neglecting to praise their children since the dawn of time. And yet, somehow, the planet hasn't fallen apart yet. That's because none of these actions are so terrible or in any way abusive and because children are generally pretty damn tough. So no this isn't abuse, it's physical discipline, and it's well within the right of any parent whether you agree with it or not. If the worst this kid is subjected to is the occasional ear flicking but both his parents are present and love him very much then he's got nothing to worry about it. The green has a clear tendency to leap to the worst conclusions based on very little information and advocating the most extreme solutions but I'd like to suggest that, in the case of potentially breaking up a family, it might be prudent and wise to do too little rather than too much.
posted by nixerman at 5:38 PM on February 5, 2008

IANAL or LSW (I am not a lwayer or licensed social worker, but I am a court appointed special advocate/guardian ad litem who represents the interest of children who have been found abused/neglected/dependent in a court of law)

I have to nth contacting CPS and letting professionals be the determining factor to what is abuse/neglect/dependency based on a legal definition. Despite what you say in your original post - It is bad enough for "that" (contacting CPS).

Not every finding of abuse results in removal of the child. One possible scenario if the child was determined to be a/n/d is that relatives would be considered for placement as a priority. This would give your mother an opportunity to have temporary custody if she agrees to the guidelines of the program, which may or may not require the nephew's parents to leave her home in the meantime. Either way, the care of the child is temporarily changed so that long term considerations can be made, hopefully for improved parenting by the birth parents, or for a protective caregiver to be determined instead.
Please know this - You are NOT sentencing the child to foster care simply by calling CPS. Being proactive in communicating the details of your family with CPS would be your first opportunity to ensure your nephew is not lost in foster care or ripped from your family as a whole.

Physical abuse may be found based on their methods of punishment, neglect may be found as a cause for developmental delay, if that is part of your nephew being non-verbal. I doubt either of those findings would happen in the jurisdiction I live in, however opening the door for CPS intervention can mean the parents might be requested to work with CPS on a voluntary basis. It can lead to services such as parenting classes, anger management classes, additional community resources. This seems like a best case scenario for your nephew, and he is the most important part of this equation.

If you are still not prepared to speak to CPS, please consider contacting a local intermediary resource such as CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) or another child abuse group for further advice and information.

For the record, I found the details of your nephew's treatment extremely disturbing and if it were my nephew I would have already confronted the parents, and if that did not lead to a change in behavior I would contact CPS immediately, for the welfare of my nephew above all else. I think the fact that you posted this here is telling of how much you love and care for your nephew, and I believe you want to do the best thing possible for him.

I wish your nephew a childhood where he may remain a child.
posted by prettymightyflighty at 5:41 PM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well, you've backed ask.mefi into a corner.

I think the only solution, given your parameters (no CPS, etc.) is this:

Have an intervention. Get your parents, some of their friends, etc...and see if you can sway them to your opinion. And then have everyone confront the parents.

It'll be tough and awful. Best of luck.
posted by filmgeek at 6:02 PM on February 5, 2008

And yet, somehow, the planet hasn't fallen apart yet. That's because none of these actions are so terrible or in any way abusive and because children are generally pretty damn tough.

Dogs are pretty damn tough too, but if you kick them you're still a fucking white trash piece of shit.

I think, esereth, your best bet based on the information provided is to - regardless of whether you get government agencies involved or not - is to be the sane, stable one so your nephew has somewhere to turn instead of pulling a Menendez and blowing their heads off some day. All you can do is your best to be a good example and with luck maybe one day soon your criminally retarded brother will electrocute himself and his wife trying to jerry-rig a 220V rent-to-own stove to run on a 110V outlet and you can raise the kid to be a good guy instead of, as is likely, yet another sullen uneducated child abuser who lives with his mother. So, thank you for trying. :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:10 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

If the worst this kid is subjected to is the occasional ear flicking but both his parents are present and love him very much then he's got nothing to worry about it.

What part of Very little affection, no praise, lots of screaming sounds like "love[s] him very much"? Jesus.

Just because the human race has survived despite the depredations we have subjected ourselves to isn't exactly a stellar recommendation to keep doing what we've been doing. I mean, "Well, if it was good enough for my dad, it's good enough for me (and will therefore be good enough for my kid)" is just stupid.

esereth, if you're still reading this - and I can hardly blame you if you're not - you know that what's happening in your brother's house isn't right. You have far more information about the context and specifics of the situation than we do. You've read the options laid out here. Do the right thing, not the easy thing - whatever that may be for you, and your family, in this situation.
posted by rtha at 6:15 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is more than one way to raise a child; not every parent must dote on their children in a Disney-esque fashion.

I'll risk saying that perhaps you don't have children, (maybe a cat that you love a lot!) and maybe are over overestimating the 'harm' of the situation. Children need discipline; if you've been in a public place lately you'll see the results of a generation of children bought up by parents that think disciplining their children means they don't love them.

Please don't risk further damaging your relationship with your brother; respect the right to raise their child how they want, provided he is well looked after, which seems to be the case here, moral handwringing aside.

I'm watching this sweet little baby become more and more messed up every day.

Your appreciating of the situation is based on partial-experiences, and doesn't represent a whole. You do not live with them, which makes it hard for you to know the nuances of the situation. Your reasoning is inductive, which is logically invalid.

Maybe I need to mind my own business. Maybe a rough rearing isn't that big of a deal.

This will perhaps be hard for you, but it is your only course of action. Children since the crack o' dawn have been smacked, yelled at, and otherwise made to cry by their parents. To imply this means the parents don't love their children is simply wrong.

Please avoid the hysterical comments of the "YOU MADE HIM CRY NOW HIS CHILDHOOD IS LOST AND HE WILL BE UNHAPPY AND GROW UP TO BE A MURDER AND NOT A MEMBER OF THE SUNSHINE RAINBOW FORCE AWAY!" ilk. Such comments only serve to attempt to guilt you into doing the wrong thing, based on a perverted sense of morality.
posted by oxford blue at 6:19 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't interfere. The child sounds fine (plenty of two year olds don't talk)

If a child is noticeably behind the normal developmental learning curve, the kid should be evaluated by the public school system for learning disabilities. Our younger son was a very late talker. At first we figured getting him into a pre-school would help remedy that. After a few months of that, the pre-school recommended having him evaluated by the school district. Just after he turned three, he started 4-day-a-week schooling that gave him lots of speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. He's now a junior in high school, no longer gets any special services, takes some Advanced Placement classes, plays drums and piano and sings in the school choir. If we had let him languish even another year or so, he may never have been able to accomplish this much.

One way to appeal to your brother and his wife is to say that if your nephew does need these services, it's better to get them sooner than later, and.... it's almost like free daycare!
posted by Doohickie at 6:58 PM on February 5, 2008

What's your situation? Could you offer to take care of him for a while?

I know that might sound crazy. But I have a son, and I have a brother. Although my brother has no children, if I were in your situation, I would say at the most opportune moment possible: "why don't you let us take care of junior for a couple of weeks?"

If his reaction scared me, I'd hedge - say "oh you just seem stressed and I just meant we could babysit for a while."

My friend did something like this for her cousin's child and she's now raising him. He is a whole different child now.
posted by peep at 7:35 PM on February 5, 2008

This is just heartbreaking and I'm sorry you and especially your nephew are dealing with this. Something you may want to consider: if your brother is doing all of these things to your nephew in front of people, what is he doing to him when no one's around? The abuse (and yes, I consider it abuse) may already be more than you know.

Please reconsider asking for outside help.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:36 PM on February 5, 2008

I didn't talk till I was 4. No learning disorders, possibly a language issue, but who knows really?

Having said that though - the treatment of your nephew is mighty disturbing. A difficult conversation is in order. It's hard, but make it about the nephew, not about the brother being sucky.
posted by divabat at 8:40 PM on February 5, 2008

Jesus fucking Christ, are you kidding me? They are beating up the kid.
Flicks to cause pain, smacks to head and that isn't bad enough to call CPS?

No offense, but this is one of those situations where you should not rely on your instincts, because you don't have any. You have a moral obligation to intervene on this child's behalf. You obviously are concerned enough to ask the question, so DO SOMETHING. At the very least, threaten to do something.

AND ALL TWO YEAR OLDS TALK UNLESS THEY HAVE A DEVELOPMENTAL PROBLEM. Sometimes the child is born with the developmental problem, sometimes the child develops one because his parents are sadistic assholes who think hurting him is fun.

The child needs help already - he's not talking. Convince them that maybe the kid has some other problem (i.e. one they didn't themselves cause) and that they should get him help. Of course, they won't want to do this because they know that any doctor or therapist is going to ask if the kid is beaten on the first visit. So you should anticipate their reluctance and plan around their resistance. Volunteer to take him yourself.

Please do something. The kid needs your help. Don't let this kid grow up and learn that you watched his parents beat him but you stood there and did nothing.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:42 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also I have no influence over my brother; if I were to overtly meddle (ask him to reconsider his child rearing tactics) he'd step up his mistreatment to prove he could.

Overtly meddle. Call CPS. If your brother tries to prove he's the top dog by stepping up the abuse, break his jaw. I'm not kidding.

The good behavior you're seeing is the child being terrified. This is not discipline, its breaking his will. This child will become a bully. He will become an abusive spouse and father. He is already confusing love with violence. And he's only two. Call CPS and do something.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:47 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Please do something, even if it is spending a lot of alone time with your nephew, and showing him affection, and teaching him that not everyone is cold and mean. I went to elementary school with a kid named Eddie. He, too was big for his age, and very quiet most of the time. But if someone raised their voice to him, he would literally tremble, just shake like a leaf. And then he'd cry. And of course, kids being kids, everyone picked on him because of that. I later found out from a friend of my mom's (the friend lived across the street from Eddie's house) that his parents were forever fighting tooth and nail. It wasn't unusual for the police to be called. Don't know if they ever hit or yelled at Eddie, but I'm sure that's why he lived in a constant state of terror like that. Don't let this happen to your nephew.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:54 PM on February 5, 2008


Oh come on. Speech development can vary widely in kids. Being behind the curve doesn't mean there's a problem - that's why it's a curve. Sure, suggest to your brother to have him checked if you like, but watch out for the hysterics around here. Yeesh.

OP, maybe you can describe a bit more about the discipline being dished out: "a flick of the finger to make him cry" - does that mean when he misbehaves they flick him, and he cries because he has been disciplined? Or do you mean they just go and flick him to provoke tears for their amusement? Because those or wildly different things. Corporal punishment does not equal abuse, although I'm sure others here would disagree. Not that your brother doesn't seem mean and unloving regardless.

Assuming it's the former, what can you do? Listen to Sassyfras. Having you and your mother around to moderate things, play the doting relatives and keep an eye on is terrific. You get to be the fairy godmother. You can't make his father show him love, and that's too bad, but you can heap on plenty of your own. Children will soak up love wherever they can get it - let it come from you. Peep's idea of taking the kid on for a weekend is great too, and might help you understand the situation more.

It's not an either/or thing with your brother either - I'm sure you could mention things to him, make suggestions, in a way that wouldn't seem like meddling. They live with your mom. Have you talked to her about the situation? What does she think? Is she concerned? Is that how she raised the two of you? Does your brother have other kinds of problems, like drinking? If you see eye to eye with your mother, then you should be able to count on her to report abuse to you if she sees it in her own house.
posted by BinGregory at 10:14 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow. After reading all these answers, I would suggest trying to ask an expert. Clearly, nobody here can help you. Perhaps you can just ask the CPS or your doctor if they can recommend a child psychologist/behaviorist in your area who you can talk to and ask about this.

Getting more involved with the kid is good no matter what I would imagine.

Good luck.
posted by chillmost at 1:21 AM on February 6, 2008

"And no, inflicting pain on a children is not abuse. "

Yeah, but if you came up and flicked me on the forehead, I'd have you arrested for Assault and Battery, so I really doubt a parent should be doing it to their child.
posted by whoda at 6:36 AM on February 6, 2008

Esereth, this is what I see coming into it. Everyone's already reacted to the fact that your brother and sister-in-law flick your nephew with their fingers and smack his head. I share their reaction, but let's put that aside. Specifically, you're telling us:
  • You say he gets almost no affection.
  • You say he gets no praise.
  • You say he's screamed at a lot.
  • You say he doesn't talk.
  • You say he's scared of everything.
  • You say he's scared of things which should not naturally incur a fear reaction, i.e., new toys.
  • You say he has no family member at his residence interceding for his welfare.
In another question, Mefites talked about how their lives were changed by events in their past. It remains one of the more amazing reads on the site. Read it and realize how people's view of the world is constructed from the worldview they're given as children.

Your nephew is learning to fear everything. He's being taught that displaying affection is wrong (his parents' reaction to hugs). He is being taught that he has no worth (no affection, no praise). Even were physical smacks and flicks not occurring, those life "lessons" profoundly screw someone up. Imagine what an adult who has those kinds of lessons burnt into the subconscious of his brain would be like. You've got an opportunity to stop that now, before it gets too firmly entrenched.

You say you don't wish to have your nephew turned over to CPS because there's a "big chance" that it would hurt more than it would help. You link to a book that I must point out is an opinion piece (and, judging from the cover, perhaps a bit sensationalist) and not a nonfictional analysis.

Even were we to say the book was right and the foster-care system is a bad place to send a kid, on one hand, you've got a "big chance" that he'd be hurt if he went into foster care, and on the other hand, you've got a sure thing that he will continue to hurt if he stays with his parents.
posted by WCityMike at 10:32 AM on February 6, 2008 [15 favorites]

Would you be willing to take him? Because if you call social services, there is a very good chance they will ask you to, however I am not a social worker (but my grandma was!), but still my knowledge is only anecdotal. I know it isn't an easy decision, but if you are in a position to take him, I would call social services and let them know you are willing to provide a home for him.
posted by whoaali at 10:33 PM on February 6, 2008

There are ways you can help:
When you are with the child and the parents, praise the child and point out his good points - intelligence, good nature, good sleeper - whatever they are, if you voice them, it will help his parents feel good about him.
Offer to babysit often. You know how hard they work, and you'd be so happy to spend time with your delightful nephew.
Encourage your Mom to be kind, gentle and loving with him. As often as possible.
When you are with him, give lots of positive feedback: "You are so lovable, You are a smart child, You are important to me, You are worth loving," etc.
Are there any good role models around? Maybe they belong to a church with a child care group during services: encourage them to participate so the child will have some respite.
When you see your brother or his wife doing good parenting, praise them, reinforcing the good behavior.
No matter how hard it is, spend time with the child. If you're unwilling to contact Child Protective Services, then what are you willing to do?

CPS is often underfunded, overworked, undertrained, poorly managed. But there are many, many CPS workers who care deeply about child welfare. If, at some point, you get to where you are willing to call on them, there's a good chance that they will offer real assistance. It's not necessarily removing the child from the home; they can order parenting classes, respite support, supervision and whatever else they think will enable the parents to keep the child safe and at home.
posted by theora55 at 1:58 PM on February 7, 2008

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