Carolyn Hax: Who to call when children are in crisis

Carolyn Hax
Columnist October 23, 2013

Dear Carolyn:

I live in a complex that has a lot of families in it, though it’s just my husband and me. There are always kids playing outside. All of them are sweet and polite, and I love seeing them, but I rarely see parents.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

This past weekend, I finally met one of the parents. I’ve seen as many as seven children on her porch, and I don’t know how many live in her house, but I’d say at least three. She came outside with her boy, calling him names, cursing at him, and then he ran away to play with the other kids.

It didn’t take long for me to realize she was completely wasted at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, with slurred speech, hitting on my husband, giving us hugs, trying to get in the car with us — it was bad. The looks on the kids’ faces, too, were just heartbreaking.

What do I do? My heart aches every time I see one of those children, and I want so much to fix it, though I know I can’t, so I’d settle for helping, but I’m at a loss. Is this something you call the authorities for?


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Neighbor

When it’s that bad, yes, it is.

I realize there is a sense of crossing a Rubicon when calling the police or child-protective services on a parent — of putting them in “the system,” of possibly doing more harm than good. I also understand why this sense is often enough to keep people from making the call.

At the same time, if these kids are in crisis, then it’s every witness’s duty to speak up.

That’s why I recommend Childhelp so often in this space. It’s a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of child abuse, and it has a hotline — 1-800-4-A-CHILD — that you can call when you’re in the grip of oh-this-is-awful-what-on-earth-do-I-do paralysis. The hotline staff can bring three things that are critical in these situations: calm, expertise and follow-up questions that get at the context of what you witnessed. Share the decision about what to do with someone who is available in the moment to help you make it.

Dear Carolyn:

I was married to an abusive alcoholic for 23 years; it took great courage to leave him under threats. I have healed in the 15 years since.

My daughter was away when we divorced but witnessed abusive events and a beating while growing up. Yet she wants to forgive her dad and forget, and for me to do the same, even though the ex has never owned up to what he did.

I can’t bear being around my ex at the grandkids’ birthday parties, and so I miss them. I feel like a terrible grandma but can’t stuff my feelings and go. Is there a solution?

D.

Yes, and you’ve come to most of it on your own: You tend to your own well-being as you need to.

That includes forgiving your ex’s weakness, if it would help — and forgiving your daughter for wanting or needing to forget.

As for the parties: Close bonds aren’t a connect-the-dots of milestone events. Skip the ones you must. The time you spend with your grandkids between the birthdays, the plain old days, arguably mean even more.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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