I’m wondering: Is it just shyness? Is the kid just a late bloomer? Is it autism? How do I express to the parents that they should probably talk to their pediatrician and take it from there without sounding interfering? Am I interfering? Should I just let them figure it out on their own? Any advice is appreciated. — Concerned Friend
Absolutely, 100% mind your own business on this matter. You are a friend, not an expert. Even having a similarly-aged child doesn’t make you an expert on child development and where your friend’s kid “should” be. A child’s development, especially if he or she isn’t hitting milestones at a rate similar to other kids of the same age, can be a really sensitive topic, made even more sensitive if it’s broached, unsolicited, by a friend. Please trust me on this. There are three possibilities in this scenario: Your friend’s child is delayed and your friend is aware of this and doesn’t need or want you to point it out; your friend’s child is delayed and your friend knows this on some level but is in denial and does not want you bringing it to her attention; your friend’s child isn’t actually delayed. None of these possibilities allow for a positive outcome if you voice your concern. Does that mean your friend’s child is going to suffer without support in your silence? No.
There are many ways your friend’s child can get support without your speaking up, and, for all you know, she already IS getting support and your friend hasn’t shared those details with you. Eventually (probably this fall), your friend’s daughter will go back to school – and, by the way, perhaps your friend withdrew her daughter from preschool because there was a global pandemic raging on and she was concerned that in a crowded school her daughter was at risk for contracting the virus and bringing it home. Maybe she didn’t mention this reason to you because she wanted to be sensitive to your choice and not make you feel guilty about exposing your child to said virus when the alternative choice was entertaining your child at home for months on end while trying to work. Anyway, when the child goes back to school, other adults besides her parents – adults who are experts in child development – will be privy to her behavior and will be in a much better position than you are to voice their concerns if there is, in fact, reason for concern. At school, evaluations can be conducted and services can be provided. In addition to teachers, there are social workers, psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and a host of supports available for kids who need them. These adults are trained to spot differences in child development, spot where support might be needed, and create programs to address kids’ individual needs. Additionally, a pediatrician would be able to detect whether a 5-year-old isn’t verbal or is otherwise showing concerning signs regarding development. This isn’t your job. Your job is to be a friend.
One way you can be a friend is to keep your mouth shut about your concerns unless your friend broaches the topic herself or you suspect her daughter is in real danger. Neither of those scenarios seems to be the case here. So treat your friend like you would any other. Discuss things you’re both interested in discussing, and should your friend ever confide in you anything about her daughter that jibes with your guess of the situation, avoid saying “Oh, I knew it!” or “I always suspected this” or anything that suggests you’ve already got it all figured out. You don’t have it all figured out. You don’t know what your friend is truly going through. If she wants to share her experience with you some day, let her guide that discussion. Comments like, “Have you been able to find support?”, “What would you like your friends to know?”, and “You’re a good parent” will be welcome.
You buried the lede here which is that you were living in your mother-in-law’s home and only moved out when she asked you to. I mean, how bad was all this emotional abuse you’re sharing if you continued living in her home? If it were really as bad as you suggest, why wouldn’t you have moved out sooner? Because it was free? But she’s the one taking advantage of her situation? Hmm, ok. What does your husband say about all of this? Where was he and what was he saying and doing when your MIL was emotionally hurting you? He’s the one you need to be concerned about. You know your MIL is mentally ill. You don’t know the details of her treatment and whether she is, in fact, of “stable mind.” If your husband, whom you don’t mention being mentally ill, isn’t defending you or supporting you or finding a home for you to live in so you don’t have to be under the same roof as a woman who abuses you, THAT is the problem here, not whether your MIL is using her illness against you. And if you’re so curious about bipolar disorder and want to know more about it and how it affects a person’s brain and behavior, I’d suggest doing some research on the topic. Google will be your friend here. I’d also suggest looking for books for family members of people with mental illness or bipolar disorder. Getting an understanding of the illness and how it can affect loved ones and how loved ones can best support someone with bipolar disorder will go a long way in maintaining a real relationship with your MIL, should you choose to have one, rather than something solely transactional (because she’s providing free housing and you have to interact with her, for example).