After a difficult marriage my elderly parents have divorced, they're in their 70's. My sister and I are in our 40's She seems to have forgotten how difficult our father was, and seems to blame my mother for all the problems we had, and possibly for the break up of the marriage. We assume that's what's going on because she won't discuss any of this with us, and we're afraid of provoking a fight as her husband tells us she's "working through some emotional problems" around her parents divorce, it's obvious to all concerned that she's emotionally brittle, possibly staving off or recovering from a nervous breakdown. She could be difficult and seems to have inherited our fathers narcissistic personally disorder. This isn't only my opinion but is shared by friends/family.

At family occasions - wider family occasions because she won't come to ours - she's frostily polite but won't speak beyond "hello, lovely day" etc.

Before the break up she was a part of our sons life, and would take him out, and always made a huge fuss of him on his birthdays.

The problem for the last year and a half (since the divorce etc) she'll use an excuse not to come visit us, or our son. She's missed two Christmases and one birthday and our little boy knows something is wrong. He no longer gets to see his aunt or her children whom he adores, or possibly see's them once a year, as opposed to almost weekly.

He knows there's something wrong, and recently got quite upset when we mentioned one of his cousins in passing.

As difficult, baffling and downright frustrating as her behavior is, I know my sister is working through something and distance is the best thing we can give her right now.

To complicate things, our father lives with me now. he has mobility issues and can't live alone, my mother has moved out of the state. My sister flatly refused to look after my father, and refuses to help physically or financially. My father can be a difficult man, but he is my father.

Recently my sister has started visiting my father, only coming when we're all out.

My Father will loudly describe the lovely visit he's had from his daughter and her children to my son, who understandably becomes upset. He's doing this to upset me, and claims he didn't mean to upset anyone and will child the child for getting upset over nothing (I did say he could be a difficult man).

I'd love to remove my son from this environment, but financially that's not a realistic option.

We are at a loss as to how to explain this behavior to our son. He's afraid to go on a family day out, because the last two times we took him out she called over, so he's afraid of missing her. However if we don't go out she won't call.

How to I explain her inexpiable behavior to my son?

I'd rather not paint anyone in this scenario as "the bad guy", I would like my son to have a good relationship with his cousins when he's older.

  • Downvoted for your ignorant misuse of mental health diagnoses - you should probably avoid using terms that have a specific meaning unless you know the person has that diagnosis. (And then it's just plain rude to divulge someone's medical information without their permission.)
    – user19912
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 18:54
  • @LeopoldoSparks: "seems to have inherited" does not look like a "misuse of diagnoses" to me, just expressing an opinion. As such I think it makes sense in the question. And the "divulging information" part applies to any personal information in a question, and is generally accepted here, as long as the person remains anonymous.
    – sleske
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 11:17
  • @sleske The "seems to" is not the issue. Self-diagnosing the father as (definitely) NPD is the problem.
    – Jeff Y
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 12:55
  • Wait, something is wrong/missing here. How are they allowed to come into your house without your permission? (There seem to be some boundary issues here.)
    – Jeff Y
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 12:59
  • @JeffY: We don't know who diagnosed the NPD. Maybe the father shared his psychologist's diagnosis, maybe not. Anyway, I think this is not a central part of the question, and not worth focusing on. And if you feel it is important, would it not be nicer to ask OP for clarification instead of directly chiding them for "ignorant misuse"?
    – sleske
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 14:00

1 Answer 1


What is stopping you from explaining it to your son in more or less the same way you explained it here? He's obviously a pretty sharp kid since he's picked up on the fact that something is wrong with his aunt. I also assume he understands that his grandparents are divorced now. Given that, I don't see why something like the following wouldn't work:

Well Billy, Auntie still loves you lots. But when grandma and grandpa got divorced, Auntie had a hard time dealing with that. It makes her sad a lot and she gets upset easily. I'm sure she really wants to see you, but right now it is really hard for her. That's why she comes to see grandpa when we aren't here, so she can try to feel better without so many people around. When Auntie gets feeling better, you will get to see her and your cousins more. Until then we just have to keep loving her and letting her get better.

I'm sure such a conversation will prompt some questions. Try to keep the focus on the fact that his aunt is having a hard time and she needs to work on getting "better" and sometimes that means she needs some alone time. It doesn't mean she doesn't love your son, just that she's hurting and needs time. And that the best thing right now might be to give her some space. Reassure your son that she will get better and that things will return to normal (assuming you believe this will happen).

  • 3
    Good approach. Only I'd be careful with promising that the situation will get better. You can express hope, but you cannot honestly promise/predict that it will get better. Making such a promise to your son may set him up for disappointment.
    – sleske
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 11:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .