Dear Prudence

Help! I Think I’m About to Enter a Nasty Custody Battle … With My Mother.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for this.

Woman holding a young girl's hand who's wearing a backpack.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Q. Older Sister: My mother “Stella” had me at 15. My grandparents raised me, and Stella was gone for most of my childhood. She got married when I was 15 and had my half-sister “Jane.” I went to school out of state and didn’t see much of Jane until her dad died when she was 10. Stella reacted poorly—she dumped Jane at my grandparents for four months without any contact. I moved back in to help with Jane. We got very close.

Stella showed up again and promised to seek grief counseling. What she actually did was join a support group and immediately remarry a widower with three younger kids. She adopted the younger two. Jane didn’t react well. She fought with everyone and even ran away once, and her grades tanked. And last month, I got a hysterical phone call from Jane…

Her stepfather hit her. I couldn’t reach Stella at all. So I drove five hours to get Jane. The right side of her face was completely swollen. I told Jane to pack a bag and come with me. Stella tried to stop me and “explain.” I told her Jane could come with me now or we could get the authorities involved. Jane has been staying with me ever since, and she wants to stay permanently. Her other grandparents live out of state and want Jane to live with them. Stella keeps making excuses about what happened and blaming Jane for acting out.

Our last conversation she told me I couldn’t possibly be ready to be a mother; I told her I couldn’t be a worse one than she was to me. I am not sure if I am ready for this. I live alone and work requires me to travel a lot. Jane needs security and supervision. We found a therapist, but summer is almost over. What should I do?

A. Your situation may not be an ideal one for Jane, but as you point out, it sounds like the best one available. For your part, you should make sure you have a strong enough support system to help you and to help Jane, if you two keep this arrangement going. For Jane’s part, you’ll want to reach out to the state to find out what your options are for obtaining custody. This would, of course, involve authorities, but you’re likely to find that that’s going to be your best option for accessing services, acting as Jane’s medical representative, getting her into school, etc. There are structures set up for situations like this—for instance, familial fostering—so see if you can take advantage of them.

Additionally, we had a question about guardianship come up last week and a few readers wrote in with information about guardianship assistance, which varies by state but which might also be able to help you and Jane. Here’s one website with information, with a big thank you to the reader who sent it in.

Classic Prudie

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate.