07 Nov
Help! My Friend’s Kids Are Sick With The Ick And I think It’s A Trick!

Dear Mouthy Housewives,

I have a very close friend whom I’ve known since childhood. We lost touch, and then reconnected after we’d both married and had kids. She’s sweet, warm and kind but lately, I’ve been plagued by the thought that she might be suffering from Münchausen  Syndrome By Proxy.

Her two young, high maintenance children are always sick. She works part-time at a hospital to make ends meet, so I just assumed she was bringing viruses home from work. But it seems like every day they have caught some new, terrible plague or are going to the ER. And she tells everyone about it on Facebook. Even her closest friends are starting to reply to her posts with, “Again?? Really??”

She has a lot of the classic red flags- She used to have a severe eating disorder, she has anxiety and self esteem issues, and she’s very clingy with her kids-she doesn’t like them to be out of her reach very often. Her marriage is often rocky. Yet for some reason, she even keeps talking about wanting more kids.

I hate to think my good friend could be doing something awful, but the more I read about the disorder and compare the information to her, the more uncomfortable I feel about it. I don’t know what to do.

Signed,

Cautiously Concerned

——————————————–

Dear Cautiously Concerned,

Before we begin to discuss your friend, let’s talk about the Internet for a minute. First, I understand your anxious researching of symptoms. I, myself, am an expert in this. In fact, at this moment I am probably dying from African trypanosomiasis. The problem is that while I have most of the symptoms of this disease, in reality, an illness tends to be more complicated than a simple checklist.

The other thing to keep in mind about the glorious interweb and its social networking, is that some people confuse Mark Zuckerberg’s creation with actual therapy sessions. It’s also hard to really know a person from their Facebook posts. For instance, most of my FB friends assume I’m only interested in images of cats in costumes but this is not the entire picture. I also like photos of dogs in funny hats. So it’s important not to put too much diagnostic weight on anyone’s Facebook status.

Now, on to your friend. Münchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSbP) is a serious and extremely complicated condition. One of the main problems in its diagnosis has to do with the similarities to an actual, organic issue with a child. It is possible that the stress in the household has caused the two children to have anxiety or depression that can manifest itself in physical ways. It’s also possible that there is something in the home that could be causing all types of illnesses, such as a mold infestation.  Or the kids are just being the petri dishes of bacteria that most children really are. I’m not saying that MSbP couldn’t be happening but I’m also not saying that it is. It’s important in a situation such as this to rule out other possible causes.

Also, anxiety, depression and being a helicopter mom do not necessarily translate into MSbP. The eating disorder early on in her life was probably a symptom of her anxiety and depression and is not necessarily indicative of someone who will grow up to abuse her children. Certainly, these days, with Kate Middleton, LeAnn Rimes and Rachel Zoe as role models it’s difficult to find a woman who doesn’t have an eating disorder or is not contemplating one. (Does the Grapefruit Diet work?)

You seem like a really good friend. And there may be reason to worry, but before jumping to conclusions (don’t worry, we all do it) I’d suggest a serious sit down with her. Try and get her to open up about her marriage, the stresses in her life, and how she may or may not be dealing with them very well. If you are still extremely concerned, keep track of how often her children are sick or in the hospital and how she reacts to these situations then seek the advice of a medical professional. Even then, I would proceed with extreme caution.

Good Luck to you and your friend,

Tonya, TMH

13 Responses to “Help! My Friend’s Kids Are Sick With The Ick And I think It’s A Trick!”

11.07.11#1

Comment by Plano Mom.

I cannot tell you how much medical deductible I have wasted on ER visits for nothing. For my daughter, I always knew right away when she was seriously sick, but for my son, a hangnail sounds like he’s on death’s door. He’s fooled me a couple of times on a false appendicitis, often enough that I’ve wondered if it can be performed as elective surgery so we can be done with it. Good advice to proceed with caution and assume the best/normal/not so much the worst.

11.07.11#2

Comment by Darthwiggie.

Hah! I have the SAME friend. Her kids are forever sick/ill and so is she. I’ve gotten a little passive-aggressive I’m afraid: when she talks about their latest deadly diagnosis, I usually respond with a “Haha you guys always make me laugh with your funny and outrageous stories.” If she ever calls me out on it, I’ll pretend I thought she was just kidding.

I suppose I could also try to one up each of her posts/tweets with something WE’VE all come down with, like yellow-spotted tongue fever or something, again pretending I think she’s just over-exaggerating to be clever.

Gotta run, just caught Tonya’s African triptosomething. Good thing we have our own room at the ER.

(PS yes your friend probably does have some issues and finds comfort in the replies of others for whatever reason. She probably needs counseling for a deeper rooted problem that is exhibiting itself in this manner.)

Tonya Reply:

It is possible that my African trypanosomiasis is transmitted over the Internet. Sorry about that.

11.07.11#3

Comment by N and Em's mom.

Munchausen by proxy is very rare. People do crazy stuff-example: feed or inject chemicals into their children. It is a serious accusation of abuse, and it doesn’t sound like you really understand what Munchausen by proxy is. If she has anxiety issues and takes her children to the ER more than necessary, she is out the co-pay and lots of time. If there is anything abusive about her trips to the ER, she will be reported to CPS.

Cautiously Concerned (OP) Reply:

I’m pretty well researched in the disorder. It’s not an accusation I’ve made, simply a concern.

Not all Munchausen suffers do drastic things like injecting their children with toxins. Some fabricate or exaggerate illnesses. Some project their own illnesses (real or imagined) onto their children. It’s not always as serious as a parent attempting to physically harm their kids, and I’m aware of that.

N and Em's mom Reply:

My response does sound harsh. From all the posts I’ve read, you are a concerned friend doing all the right things for a mom who is anxiety-ridden and overwhelmed. Facebook can be so misleading; it is hard to know if what is posted on her page translates to the doctor’s office. I’m sure that her anxiety does rub off on the kids. The other possibility is that her kids really are sick all the time. Either way, she is lucky to have someone who cares about her and is willing to help.

11.07.11#4

Comment by Meredith L..

In an adult, I find this sort of behavior annoying. I had a friend in college who was always sick and canceling plans, usually for something as innocuous as a random stomach ache. Annoying.

But kids are kids, and they handle all the little germies and diseases of life differently. My son has the immune system of an ox (is that a thing?), so when he has a runny nose for 6 weeks now I assume it’s the weird weather and let it go because he has zero other symptoms.

However, we are still on our way to the pediatrician for the second time in three weeks because now he has a weird bump on his eyelid, and two weeks ago his teachers told me he said it hurt to pee. *sigh* Annoying, but a necessary part of parenthood.

On the other hand, I have friends whose kids get very sick very easily. Some have asthma, severe food allergies, or other chronic conditions that manifest in various trips to the doctor month after month for the same issue. It’s no fun for ANYbody, and I know that it is extremely painful for my friends to watch their children suffer.

Give you friend the benefit of the doubt first. If she’s already stressed out, and her kids are really sick, then all these trips to the doctor and the hospital are probably not helping her emotional state. The best thing you can do is let her vent it all out to you, and see if there’s anything you can do to help out.

Tonya Reply:

That’s great advice. Yes, offer to help her out! Thank you, Meredith L.

Cautiously Concerned (OP) Reply:

That IS great advice, thank you.

I’ve offered to help. I’ve offered to babysit on a regular basis, but her reply is always, “No, I can’t–Johnny* won’t tolerate anyone watching him but me, he’ll scream the entire time.”

*names have been changed, friends

So I’ve offered. Frequently.
I’ve invited her over for mommy nights, away from the kids, and she sporadically accepts and seems to genuinely enjoy herself when she does. I’ll be first in line to say she needs a break. But with her husband gone a lot, and inlaws unwilling to help out much, and the kids being unable to separate from her, it’s hard to give her that.

I’m not trying to villainize her. I’m concerned, not angry or accusatory. I love her to death and it hurts my heart to even think that anything would be amiss in that area, which is why I turned to TMHW. To see if I’m overreacting. And, it seems, I probably am.

Tonya Reply:

We are here to help!

I think you are a really good friend. When we see our friends hurting it’s hard not to go to all of the dark places and contemplate all of the worst scenarios. So, I wouldn’t say you were overreacting, I would say you were being human and very concerned. You stated that you didn’t want to think this way about her and that’s clear in both your question and your responses here.

Meredith L. Reply:

Sometimes we have to take ourselves to the worst-case scenario, mentally, just so we can check it off as a non-issue. I don’t think it makes you a bad friend, I think you just want reassurance that this situation *isn’t* the absolute worst it can be.

You *are* a good friend, and I’m sure she realizes that. Like I said, sometimes all you can do is give her a safe space to vent it all out. Sounds like she doesn’t have a lot of that in her life.

11.08.11#5

Comment by Plano Mom.

Meredith L., I came back to read some more, and this quote was absolutely PERFECT for something going on in my life… thank you so much!

“Sometimes we have to take ourselves to the worst-case scenario, mentally, just so we can check it off as a non-issue. I don’t think it makes you a bad friend, I think you just want reassurance that this situation *isn’t* the absolute worst it can be.”

11.08.11#6

Comment by rojopaul.

Get a new friend. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but this sounds too much like the one-sided friendship I had–for years. My friend was always struggling. In her case it was financial issues, spouse issues, depression, etc. These types of people drain us of our love and desire to truly help and never get better. And nothing you will ever do will help. There are people out there who really do need your help. Discernment is figuring out which ones you can really help. For your own peace of mind and sanity, realize you can’t help this lady. Remain Facebook friends if you want, but other than that, cut the ties and move on. I’m guessing your own family is suffering while you are trying to save your friend and her family. You tried to help and you can’t. Move on.

Consider Checking Out...