Dear Worried Aunt,
Obviously your sister is a difficult person. I’m going to assume that she is “ordinary difficult” as opposed to “personality-disordered difficult.” I’ll explain some of the challenges of dealing with personality-disordered people in another post. Based on the “ordinary difficult” assumption, here is my advice:
- There is substantial evidence that children can successfully cope with adversity if they have at least one positive role model. It is a tremendous benefit that your niece and nephew have frequent contact with your mom, because it sounds like your mom is a stabilizing influence in their lives.
- If you are able to have the kids come spend time with you, this will give them another point of comparison. For example, they may think, “Mom always yells at us and tells us we’re bad, but Auntie doesn’t say that. Maybe we’re not bad.” It’s easier for kids to cope with a dysfunctional home life if they know that the whole world doesn’t operate the same way.
- I know you think the kids need therapy, and I agree. I also understand why you’re worried your sister will freak out if you suggest it. I’m wondering if you could avoid the freak out by putting all the blame on her ex-husband. You could try saying something like, “I’m so mad about all of the trauma that (Evil Ex-husband) put the kids through. He should be paying for them to have weekly therapy! Have you ever thought about taking the kids in? I just saw this really scary article about the effects of domestic violence on children…”
- You are in such a tough spot. I wish there was more I could do to help. Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Good luck.