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Ask Rene: Should I Call Child Protective Services?


Dear Rene:

HELP! My 27-year-old son and his 31-year-old girlfriend live in total filth! Clothes are piled almost to the ceiling, in the closet and surrounding the bed. Alas, this is nothing new; everywhere they have lived has been atrocious! Empty bottles, old rotting food, mold on the bathroom sink and tub, just about every imaginable filth. And they refuse to clean it!  When I talk to my son about it, he says they like living that way.

But here’s what worries me. They have a beautiful 16-month-old daughter being raised in this environment. His girlfriend has already lost two kids because of neglect and filth while living in their own apartment. So I invited her to come and live with us when she got pregnant with my granddaughter.

I know I should just look the other way but I can’t. The conditions are terrible and even with the door closed it’s sickening. I don’t want to call Child Protective Services because I don’t want to lose my only granddaughter. Please help me. I don’t want to lose my son but I can’t live like this anymore. If they move surely Protective Services will take my granddaughter. I don’t know what else to do.

Signed, Desperate granny

Dear DG:

Living with family for extended periods of time is stressful enough without having to deal with a situation like this. I think, as much as you don’t want to do it, you’re going to have to put the hammer down. So strictly from an outsider’s perspective, here’s what I’m thinking…

WHAT’S THEIR MOTIVATION? I cannot believe that, given the choice, anyone in a healthy state of mind would actually opt to live like that. So that leads me to one of three conclusions, they never learned how to clean, they’re just lazy or there’s a mental illness component involved.

If they don’t know, they can learn. If they’re lazy, you’ll have to come up with a way to motivate them, which frankly sucks, as they should be self-motivated at this age. So figure out which works best, the carrot or the stick and then use it.

Now comes the hard part. I know you don’t want to do this but you may be forced to make them choose between the rules of your home (no more food in the bedrooms, basic cleanup, etc) or getting a place of their own.  But here’s the rub; I think they know you don’t want to lose the grandbaby and are running roughshod all over you because of that. You need to understand this situation could end one of two ways; with them leaving and taking the baby with them or you risking disease and your own sanity living like this.

Speaking of the potential for mental illness, this is something you need to rule out with a diagnosis from an expert. Yours is a convoluted situation because I’m not sure what your son’s work/health insurance looks like and frankly, not sure how you could force him to get to a therapist. But many cities have a mental health hotlines; I’d make a call there to see if they can guide you in the right direction.

CALLING CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES: In many cases you can make an anonymous complaint to Child Protective Services and if your son’s girlfriend has already had two children removed from her care, then she’s must be on CPS’ radar. This is outside my area of expertise but I do know this; raising a child in the conditions you describe is tantamount to abuse. Something HAS to be done because it will have a lifelong impact on her not to mention the potential disease and illness she could be exposed to. Maybe after the report and CPS gets involved, they can force your son and his girlfriend to clean up their act?

THIS IS YOUR HOUSE: Lastly, I’ d just encourage you to remember that simple fact. You work hard to pay the mortgage (you didn’t mention whether they pay rent) and you have a right to expect that people, related to you or not, will come in and respect your home – and you. Your son and his girlfriend are not doing that and that’s wrong. I can hear the exasperation in your letter to me and I know you feel trapped. But ask yourself this; is it worth your health and potential sanity to remain in conditions like this? And as I said before, it sounds like someone needs to step in anyway, as the child’s well-being is also at stake.

One other suggestion.  I’m not sure what your son was like growing up but perhaps if you got him alone you could explain how stressful this is for you and ask him to help. It might be worth a shot before opting for the more serious solutions.

Good luck, Grandma!

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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