SD's impact on DD(4) and how to explain things to DD
My DD is 4 now and starting to understand more about the world around her and asks many many questions about it. This includes questions about her half-sister and I’m not sure how to approach telling a child about some of the bad things that happen and concepts she isn’t ready to understand.
SD’s negative influence on DD worries me, but it’s less of behavior issues and more of the problem of her being around means that DD is exposed to issues like mental illness, drug addiction, moms abandoning their kids than just behaviors.
I’m not as worried about DD picking up bad behavior from SD because we’ve been very clear to DD to not copy SD and if she does, she will get in trouble. DD has seen and heard DH yelling at SD when she’s in trouble and she doesn’t want him to yell at her. We don’t have many behavior problems with DD and she’s a very sweet kid who wants to get along with everyone.
(Short recap: SD is almost 16. She struggles with mental illness. DH has her full time, but she’s been in a mental health facility after a suicide attempt and she’s back home now. SD’s mom is currently in jail.)
Until recently DD hasn't asked all that many questions about SD. There’s been issues in the past with DD hearing SD call me by my first name and thinking she can do the same. I’ve explained to DD then that I’m not SD’s mommy. She later asked where SD’s mommy is and I told her that I didn’t know (and I didn’t). She seemed ok with these answers.
A neighbor recently had a baby (and also has a 5 year old that DD plays with) so DD has been learning a little about pregnancies and baby bumps. I think this has brought up more questions about SD’s mom.
Recently I’ve explained to her that some mommies and daddies don’t live together and some mommies can’t be with their kids. She’s really upset about this and can’t wrap her head around it. I don’t want to tell DD that SD’s mom is in jail or even explain what jail is. Or about drug addiction. Or why SD can’t talk to her mom. I’m sure she’ll meet kids in preschool who have divorced parents, but I don’t think she needs to understand everything going on with SD’s mom. I want to pretend like SD's mom doesn't exist.
Wednesday morning DD and SD were in the family room and DD said something to SD that set SD off. DD came running to me crying because SD had been mean to her. DH yelled at SD and she stormed upstairs, slammed her bedroom door and then refused to get ready to go (she’s in a partial hospitalization program during the day at psychiatric hospital). DH was late for work and had to pick SD up in her pajamas and put her in the car (SD is only about 4’10 and under 100 lbs so any time she refuses to go to school or appointments, DH can still physically make her go).
The other issue is DD and her understanding of what’s going on with SD's mental health issues and based on what she knows, she says things that may appear to be very rude or insensitive.
DD knew SD was in the hospital (she’s had several inpatient hospitalizations) but DD’s only experience with hospitals was when my dad had heart surgery. When my dad was in the hospital, I explained to DD that grandpa’s heart was sick and the doctors were making him better. When SD went to the hospital, she asked where SD was sick. DH and I explained that SD’s brain is sick and the doctors are making her better.
DD doesn’t understand what’s going on with SD and I don’t want her to know about suicide or mental illness or any of SD’s problems.
On Wednesday after DH dropped SD off at the partial hospitalizations, SD was a crying, sobbing mess the whole day and vented to her therapist about what DD said and spun it to seem worse than it was. This program SD is in has a major focus on “fixing the family dynamic” and they want DD involved in family therapy and helping her cope with having a mentally ill half-sibling.
Honestly, I want DD oblivious to having a mentally ill half-sibling. I want her to have no idea that there are moms in jail or moms who walk out on their kids. I don’t want her to learn about divorce until she’s at least a few years older. I want DD to stay in a bubble where she doesn’t need to learn about the problems in the world until she’s old enough to handle it.
Are there any better ways of trying to explain to a very inquisitive 4 years olds about stepfamilies without worrying her? I've reassured her that her mommy and daddy will be here for her always, but she knows SD's mom abandoned her.
And no matter what DH and I tell DD, I have no control over what SD tells her - which is what my worse fear is. It's not DD learning swear words from SD, but DD getting upset because she's learning of situations she's not old enough to understand from someone who's saying things they know will upset her.