Friend's troubled marriage / parenting issues affected friendship. Should I talk?
My friend, Sara, has been in a real troubled marriage for almost 5 years. She got married when she found out she was pregnant and his family pressured them into it. After they married, her husband wasn't around. She gives birth to their son and they continue to stay together despite him constantly "disappearing" and she was left alone to raise the baby.
I've always been that shoulder for her to cry on and have always listened to their problems, and I've encouraged her to leave him for the sake of her child and for her happiness. Just when I thought she worked up the courage to leave him, she got pregnant again. When she got pregnant for the second time, she and her husband bought a house a block from her parents so they could help out. When this happened, her parents discovered that Sara wasn't taking proper care of the first child. He was being left alone while she slept all hours of the day, the house was a complete wreck and he wasn't being fed and bathed like he should have been. They told me about this and I stepped in trying to get her help. Together, the three of us worked to try to get her into therapy, etc. She didn't go and said everything was fine, even though she was telling me daily that it wasn't fine.
She has the second baby, and her parents are pretty much left to raise the first one. Her marriage continues to go down the tubes and they have awful financial troubles that make things worse. Sara became more isolated since her husband constantly left her with no transportation to go anywhere or see/talk to anyone outside of her parents and me. In caring for the second baby, she was more attentive to him but her parents continued to take care of her first child most of the time. About every 2-3 months, I would have long conversations with her about her life and kids and encourage her to do what is best to give them the best life possible. Sometimes she was agreeable but other times she wasn't.
A few months ago, she came to me finally admitting she needed help with all the issues that her parents and I have been asking her to get help. With her parents, we worked to put the steps in place for her to finally leave this awful person she's married to and get her into therapy and support to finish school, go to work and care for her kids. When it came time to set the plan in motion, she backed out. She told me that her marriage was going to be fine and her husband was changing.
This was a huge blow to me, who spent a lot of hours researching local support groups and gathering resources for her to make the move. Her parents staged an intervention with her shortly after that but it didn't help. She didn't respond to their pleas to get help and told me she thought they were overreacting to how she cares for her children.
Now, she's pregnant with their third child. When she told me, I reacted very angrily because I can't understand how or why she would do this when she doesn't care much for her other two children and after all the horrible things she's told me about the husband. She insisted everything was better in the marriage and this pregnancy was planned. She and I haven't spoken since she told me she was pregnant.
I walked away from the friendship because her day-to-day life was literally driving me insane. The news of her third pregnancy did it for me. I had to be the one to finally tell her parents about the third pregnancy because she couldn't do it herself because she hid it from them for almost 24 weeks. They have decided that will continue to help raise the kids, just like they have been for the last 5 years.
Her mother has asked me to reconsider our friendship and has invited me a baby shower for Sara. She's asked me to let it go and be there to support her daughter, but I don't know if I should.
I miss Sara and do care for her and her children. I find myself many times wanting to reach out but I can't go through the day-to-day like I did before. I know her parents are caring for the kids, but I wish she would get help for herself.
I'm not sure if reaching back out to Sara is the best thing to do. Her mother has tried to get her to reach out to me but she says its like Sara is living in her own world where there's nothing going on between me and her.
Some of us are lucky to have true friends who care for us whether we recognize the need for them or not...but in your case, you need to look out for yourself if you have doubts to further assisting your friend after your considerable past efforts. It's not so much about you being there for Sara, it's about whether you can do it without causing stress to yourself. You said it all when you stated that Sara needs to do it herself because all and any efforts to help her, including yours, are in vain if she can't or won't help herself first.
Respectfully, it's her decisions and it's her life and her marriage. There is nothing you can do if Sara chooses to go the another way however wrong or misdirected it may seem to you.
Thank you for your response. I greatly appreciate it. You're right that there's nothing I can do concerning Sara and her choices.
I guess I am struggling with my decision to walk away because it makes me feel like I have abandoned our friendship. Sara has no one outside of her parents and his family that she interacts with, and she spoke to me daily about all of these problems since she had no one else who would listen to them.
But I also struggle that this issues caused problems in our friendship; the husband found several text messages and Facebook messages from me to her talking to her about her situation and he refused to let her meet with me for lunches or dinners out. When I got married two years ago, he nearly caused a fight to break out before the ceremony when he accused a wedding guest of looking at Sara and he had to asked to leave. Sara, of course, left as well, missing the ceremony and reception. There are countless other stories that show how her marriage and his behaviors affected having a good, true, equal friendship even outside of me listening to her problems and working to get her help with her situation.
Her mother has pointed out to me to abandon my friendship Sara because of this third baby outside of everything else that has happened feels wrong, and that is where I'm stuck. I know I feel better knowing that at least in walking away that her children, first and foremost, are cared for. But in walking away, i know Sara isn't taken care of and is left alone after a nearly 10 year friendship with her.
From what you describe, it sounds as if you have been rather consumed by Sara's difficulties, indeed you described her u-turn on the decision to leave her husband and start afresh as a 'personal blow' to you after all the hard work you had done researching the support she would need. I imagine this must have been very difficult for you.
It can be so hard when people we care about seem unable to find their way, especially when they shun our offers of help, and it's not uncommon to feel rejected and unvalued.
I don't know how long you have known Sara but would you say that her current behaviour is a-typical i.e. she's not what you would describe as her 'normal self'? Although I cannot say for certain, from what you describe (not looking after the baby properly, sleeping a lot, the house being in a mess etc), it is possible that she is suffering with depression. If this is the case, then she will not be acting rationally. Depression alters how our brains work and the part which deals with planning and decision making becomes temporarily impaired. Even small decisions can be difficult to make. Is this something you have noticed with Sara?
If so, then this may help explain why she is unable to go through with plans. Although this can be frustrating for those who support and care for people with depression, it is useful to remember that it is not a personal slight against you.
If Sara has a low opinion of herself then she may make decisions that put others' needs, such as her husband's/ his family's, above her own. Unfortunately simply telling someone that they're worthy or deserve better (whilst it may be true) isn't effective in lifting someone's self-esteem. If she is depressed, then she is likely to feel judged and be introspective. Though well-meaning, she may interpret the opinions that you and her parents hold about her needing to make a new start, as judgement against her or an indication that she has somehow 'failed'. A sense of personal failure is often found in the depression 'mix'.
Our motives for making decisions can be deep rooted, complex and lacking in any obvious logic, but they are normally borne out of how we see ourselves and the world. Whether we feel powerful and worthy, for example, or of low importance and in need of protection. So whilst the choices Sara has made are not the choices you would have made, and may even be choices that are damaging to her own physical and emotional well-being, they are nevertheless her choices, even if her choice is to make no choice.
I have found that pushing against someone's views and beliefs more often than not creates a resistance which may not be helpful and may even entrench the view.
Furthermore, if she is fairly isolated socially, this is unlikely to help. Does she attend parent-child-related activities and clubs with other parents?
There are an infinite number of possibilities here, but your post was not so much about Sara as it was about what you should do about your friend.
I wonder if you have considered a middle ground, perhaps, where you can be around for her, but on a less 'intense' basis? Maybe seeing her less frequently or for shorter visits. You seem to value the friendship and contact with her children, albeit you are perhaps not getting that much out of it at the moment, but that can be the nature of relationships - they ebb and flow as individuals face challenges and difficulties.
You could consider sending her a little card, maybe telling her she's too important to you to not be in touch? You could perhaps let her know that you realise her choices are her choices. We all have the ability to make choices; some of them will be good ones, others not so good. You've no doubt made a few bad ones yourself along the way? A friend's job is simply to be around to pick your pal up when they're down, dust them off and set them straight again. Perhaps try not to get so 'sucked' in as looking after your own emotional well-being is really important too.. Depression, if she has it is more akin to a marathon than a 100 metre sprint - you need stamina. Hopefully, in time, Sara will start to feel more able to control the situation she is in, and find a more constructive way forward for herself and her children.
Sorry...meant to add:
My advice in a sentence would be to "back off slightly emotionally (for self-preservation), but keep in touch with her and resist giving unsolicited advice so she knows she has a non-judgemental friend" on her side.
I appreciate others may have a different view, but if you can draw anything useful from this, then I am happy :)
I greatly appreciate your time and response.
I've known Sara now for over 16 years, since we were young girls. She and I took different paths in life after high school, and many of her decisions (quitting school, marrying her husband just because she is pregnant, etc) are out of character of the girl I grew up with. I have no doubt in my mind that she suffers from depression, and I often think that a lot of why she stopped caring for her first child when she had the second child was rooted deeply in post-partrum depression. She's admitted to me a couple of times that she thinks she'd benefit from therapy at the very least but she's never followed through with it.
I feel that I became deeply rooted in helping Sara because of the stories her parents have shared with me concerning the welfare of her children. If Sara's parents were not helping, I would have no hesitation to call CPS. Her children have gone without clothing and food and have been left in dangerous situations. So my personal disappointment in her backing out on leaving her husband a few months ago was not just in my frustrations of how much time I'd spent in locating and getting these resources but also knowing that these children are going to continue to suffer because their parents can't/don't do what they should, and that intensified when she told about the third pregnancy. Because how could someone who does not care for her children choose to bring another into the world?
To answer your question about isolation: Sara only sometimes goes to school for activities concerning her child, but most of the time, her parents go because she doesn't. Her child missed his first week of school because she had failed to take him to all the proper doctor appointments for updates and vaccines beforehand, if that tells you anything.
I've pondered the middle ground angle, and it may work. I am considering it.