My daughter stole my car and money, and left her infant child with me. I don't know if she'll ever return. What should I do?
- You aren't required to take in your granddaughter as your own, but the fact your daughter left her to you suggests she trusts you.
- A written custody agreement will allow your granddaughter to get proper medical care, education, and a stable home.
- You also should ask for help from your loved ones, get on the same page with your ex, and have a plan in place if your daughter were to ever return.
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I have a daughter from a previous
In early 2018, my daughter and ex began having problems getting along with each other. After my daughter turned 18, she left home. About two weeks later, she showed up at my door looking for a place to stay. I told her that her mother had been looking for her and she should go home and mend fences, but my daughter said she felt in danger around my ex. This did not seem implausible to me.
My ex, my wife, and I talked it over and decided to let my daughter stay with me if she lived by the house rules which we established in writing, but it was not a month before the rules were being fully ignored. My daughter came and went at all hours of the night, skipped her community college classes, and she was drinking and possibly using drugs too. She was abusing our hospitality.
When we confronted her, she decided to move out and we didn't see or hear from her for several months, until she showed up at our doorstep right before Christmas. Crying, she admitted to making so many poor choices, being disrespectful, and treating us badly. She also said she'd gotten pregnant while living away from us, and pled with us to take her back in. My wife and I were so moved by her commitment to turn her life around for the sake of her child, we relented with the return to the rules of the house.
For the remainder of the pregnancy, my daughter did great. She was back taking college classes, eating healthy, getting prenatal care, and helping around the house. We were honestly surprised and thrilled. My granddaughter Mailee was born on July 10, 2019, with a head full of hair.
Mailee and my daughter came home, and things went back to as normal. My wife and I took turns babysitting while Sara continued with classes and began looking for a job. In October of last year, Sara told us she had an interview for a great job and needed to borrow our car. She did, but she never returned home. We discovered that she had taken cash and a credit card from my wife's purse, so we reported the car stolen and cancelled the credit card. Three days later, police discovered our car in a Walmart parking lot 125 miles away. There was no sign of my daughter. MasterCard said that someone unsuccessfully attempted to use the card at an ATM in New Jersey a week after that.
My wife and I are still caring for Mailee. Even if my daughter returned, I don't think I could ever trust her again. Do we have any choice but to raise Mailee ourselves?
Let me start with this: You're a great father and grandfather.
The circumstances you're dealing with aren't easy (that's a big understatement), but the steps you've taken to set boundaries with your daughter, and act as a caretaker for her daughter in a time of need, are commendable.
No matter what you decide to do next, it's important you make that choice with Mailee's best interest in mind, which I'm sure you've already considered.
Mailee isn't your de facto responsibility, but it's clear that your daughter isn't in a good place right now to care for a child. Based on what you've told me, she's likely been struggling for years. Though you tried to help her to the best of your abilities, it's clear that you must now make a decision about Mailee's future on your daughter's behalf.
According to Kelly Scott, a therapist at Tribeca Therapy in New York City who formerly worked with families in court rooms, your daughter's actions suggest that she trusts you and your wife to be Mailee's caretakers.
"It sounds like what she's really communicating through the choices that she's making is that she views her dad and her stepmom as safe people, and that's a big deal," Scott told me. "She didn't just randomly drop her kid off to a stranger. She went to a place that she thought was safe for the child, so I think that's both a very beautiful sentiment and also a very painful [one]," because it requires you take on a responsibility you didn't have in mind for yourself.
You always have the option to find alternate living arrangements for Mailee, but the way you've written about her and your daughter makes me think you feel it's your obligation to keep her under your roof.
If you just can't see a world in which you give her up to be raised by someone else, there are ways you can take on the responsibility without feeling suffocated.
Sort out your granddaughter's custody so she can go to school and get vaccinations
Scott says the first thing to prioritize is to make sure Mailee's custody is squared away so she can stay in one home and avoid being fought over by multiple parties, whether that's your daughter, ex, or someone else.
A custody agreement will also ensure you can get Mailee the medical check-ups and schooling she needs as she keeps growing.
"What if the mom is gone for three years or four years and and this kid needs to be enrolled in school? If she needs to get vaccinations? The logistical stuff needs to be considered because we have no idea how long this is going to go on," Scott said.
She added that a written custody agreement doesn't have to be permanent or act as a full-on adoption. Rather, it's used to help Mailee have a sense of stability as she enters her formative childhood years.
Despite the differences you've had with your ex, you should also include her in this decision. She is Mailee's grandparent too, after all. You should both discuss how you see Mailee growing up with her mom out of the picture, what would make for the most stable and nurturing environment, and what your plan will be if your daughter ever comes back.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
You should also consider asking your ex, and other
Even if you ultimately made the decision to care for Mailee, that doesn't mean you have to do it alone and bare the burden of childcare yourself.
Instead, tell those around you who love and support you what you've been dealing with and see if they can pitch in with babysitting, cooking, cleaning, or any other responsibilities that may have fallen off when you had to start caring for Mailee.
Have a plan if your daughter returns
The fact that you set house rules with your daughter to begin with tells me you have a handle on setting child-parent boundaries. Still, you should think about what you'll do if your daughter ever comes home.
Whether she demands you give her Mailee or not, you'll have to set boundaries with Mailee's best interest in mind.
"That may look like not allowing [your daughter] to come back and just sort of bounce around between homes," Scott said. "It may look like setting a limit on behalf of the baby, saying, 'Listen, this kid needs a stable life and it doesn't make you a bad person that you can't provide that, but it seems like you can't provide that. So I'm going to show love for both you and for your child by making sure that I'm doing everything I can to create a stable life.'"
It'll be a heart-wrenching moment if you ever have to tell your daughter she can't take Mailee, but having your priorities straight before that day comes will help you make the right decision for your family.
As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all of your questions about dating, love, and doing it — no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of
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