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I am a 30ish years old man, living at my girlfriend's parents place for 4 months. It's been 2 months already, 2 more to go. I don't have kids (yet, but want to). With us is my girlfriend's sister and her 5-year-old daughter.

She is a single mom, not working and taking care 24/7 of her child. She is vegan, and so is her girl. She is breastfeeding. She is using non violent communication with her child, and has that education principle where she is letting her do whatever she wants, whenever she wants, with as little restraints as possible. So, no schooling at all (where we live there is nothing mandatory until the child is 6), it is all driven by her child's wishes. There are no limits apart from the limits of physics, and finances, because the mother doesn't have lots of money. Basically the mother considers her child like an adult making her own choices, capable of knowing what's best for her. This includes:

  • Eating what she wants when she wants.
  • Spending all day long, all night long on a smartphone or computer, either playing games or watching videos (of people playing games, mostly).
  • Going to sleep between 3 and 8 in the morning, depending on the days, then waking up in the early afternoon.
  • Crying and yelling until she gets what she wants.
  • Throwing things at people, hitting people (mostly her mother) when she is angry (she gets angry very easily).
  • Ordering people (mostly her mother) to do things. For example, her mother needs to ask for permission to go pee.
  • The child has no regular friends, they go out sometimes and she can play with other kids, maybe once or twice a week, nothing regular.

I am very worried about the child:

  • She looks like a video-game addict. I know because I've been there when I was 18-20, and with her character it's hard to cope with. For example, when she loses at a game, she starts crying/yelling (she is not throwing the phone away anymore since the time she broke it, yay) loudly, only getting calmed down when she's at her mother's breast. Also I've read a lot about screens being bad for kids and she spends easily 2/3 of her awake time on them!
  • The sleeping hours!
  • The education. The principle looks nice, learning things you're interested in, but in this case I feel it is only creating an addict with a horrible character, and I don't see how she's going to learn anything like this.
  • The social skills. Her only friend is her mother, and she is also her slave.
  • She also looks very skinny, compared to all other children that age I know. She eats mostly rice and fruits/veggies, and her mother's milk.

The grandparents are worried as well but they support their daughter's decision of choosing this type of education, and they are quite passive with the child.

Here is what I have tried to do until now:

  • Speak to the mother. I told her how concerned I was about her child, especially the sleeping hours and the screen-addict thing. She seems concerned too, but I didn't see any changes since I spoke with her. She thinks the freedom of her child is more important than anything else.
  • I also insisted that the mother should express her needs more to make the child understand that other people have needs too.
  • With respect to the education principles (using NVC, etc), I try to make the child think about consequences, about putting herself in other's shoes. Like, when we were on the beach and she threw sand at my girlfriend's face, asking (the calmest I could) why she did it and if she would like someone to throw sand at her face. Same when she forbids her mother to do things. Or asking why she continues playing games if it makes her cry so often. But I have very few interactions with the child so I don't think it's making much of a difference.

Being not related to the child, how can you have an impact on a child's education? What can you do concretely in this kind of situation through interaction with the child?

  • Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! Is this about interaction with the child or the child's mother? – Anne Daunted Mar 16 at 13:37
  • @AnneDaunted Thank you! Interaction with the child, mostly. – Vincent V. Mar 16 at 17:14
  • Have you suggested to the mother enrolling the child into a preschool centre prior to her enrollment in school next year, in order to ease her into the school environment? It sounds like she's going to be going straight from a very unstructured home environment to what is likely going to be a much more structured school environment, and it seems likely that would be pretty jarring (and maybe even traumatic) for her. – nick012000 Mar 21 at 4:32
  • @nick012000 She's not going to school next year. Either they are going to leave for a place where school isn't mandatory or they will do home schooling, as it seems to be possible to do so. – Vincent V. Mar 24 at 21:40
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You are too involved. She is not your child, the mother is not your sister, you aren’t an experienced parent yourself - you have no authority or bearing here. It’s excruciating to watch someone parent in a way you do not like, by all means discuss with your girlfriend to see if y’all are in the same page as far as your parenting style, but you cannot change them.

What you can do is plan an outing for you and your gf to take the child to a museum or aquarium or something. Having positive experiences with other adult role models can have a positive impact on the child.

  • I think this is a great answer. The best way to influence is as a couple (you and your GF) wanting to take their 'niece' somewhere nice for the day. Don't do it too often as you may come off as overly interested (as answer says - she is not your blood, you're not married to your GF) which is creepy. If you need any justification you can (presuming your GF knows your desire for kids one day) say you want to get more experience of looking after a kid. – Smock Mar 22 at 14:09
  • I'm sure the single mom would appreciate the break, too. – Ian MacDonald 2 days ago
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I would say there are two or three conflicts at hand here, and you need to approach them separately: between you and your girlfriend's sister, the sister and her child, and possibly between you and her child.

You mention NVC, but it doesn't appear as though in any of these situations people are coming to a mutual understanding and then finding and following through on a solution that would meet the needs of both parties, which is the core of NVC.

Here's my guesses at some of the feelings and needs involved:

1) You and your girlfriend's sister: You're concerned when you see her child acting the way you outlined above, and you need to have peace of mind. The sister might be concerned as well in this situation, but acting in accordance with her beliefs is her need, and she has a strong belief in freedom. Some possible solutions might be to go see a parenting counselor that similarly values freedom (even without the child, if she doesn't want to come) or to just come up with various ways to approach the child without impinging on her freedom.

2) Your girlfriend's sister and her child: There's a number of situations to unpack here. You mention the child throwing sand in her face, ordering her around, hitting her, and throwing things at her. From your description, it sounds like the mother does nothing about this. If she is perfectly happy with this behavior, then there is no conflict. However, I imagine that she has the need for respect, for not being hurt, and for freedom, all of which her daughter is impinging on. If that is the case, then the mother can use the NVC approach and first try to understand why her daughter is doing this (for fun? to take out her anger?) and then, once she knows, communicate how it makes her feel and what she's needing in the situation. This might be hard with a child, but if the mother is adamant and stands her ground, eventually she will get through. And after this is done, find a better solution. Instead of throwing sand at her for fun, you can splash around in the water for fun. Instead of taking out her anger by throwing things, she can punch a pillow or go in her room and yell.

As for the child's health, the mother can try using NVC for that as well, but these concepts can be much harder for a child to grasp. (I mean, the value of a healthy diet and sleep can even be hard to communicate to adults.) It doesn't mean that it's not worth trying — I definitely recommend that she does try. Your girlfriend's sister needs to have peace of mind, and the daughter's habits certainly conflict with this need. However, if she can't get through to her daughter through this assertive approach, then the situation might warrant a more "aggressive" (not violent, but impinging on the daughter's freedom) approach — such as taking away the child's phone if the child is sleeping less than 7 hours a day and telling her to go finish her sleep before she can have it back, or telling her she needs to pick at least some legumes to have for lunch.

(As a sidenote, vegan children can be completely healthy BUT their diet needs to be balanced — just rice and veg doesn't cut it. They NEED to take B12 supplements, as B12 is not found naturally in vegan foods, and should get checked for the risk factors regularly.)

Hope this helps.

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    I think you misunderstand the (confusing) relationship - it is the girlfriend's sister who has the child, not the girlfriend. – Joe Sep 13 at 19:16
  • You're right — I must have glanced over that part. Still, the needs and feelings I listed might hold. – Tin Man Sep 13 at 19:47
  • I'm not sure that the relationship is the same, though; as the accepted answer points out, it's very different when it's a child you have some form of responsibility for, than when it's one at arm's length to you. I think a good answer to this question would address that, and the appropriateness of different forms of communication, given the relationship. Some of what you said is potentially relevant, but that doesn't help the OP make the appropriate decision of when and how to actively say something in this relationship. – Joe Sep 13 at 20:54
  • @Joe The relationship is very different, for sure. However, the emotions and needs listed are still valid. I rewrote the answer to account for the different situation. – Tin Man Sep 15 at 11:56

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