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Grandma Caught On Tape Losing Her Temper With Kids

Grandma Caught On Tape

By Amalah

Amy,

I have an interesting Grandma situation that I would love your advice on. My mom has been our go to person for watching our kids while we go out of town/need an extra hand/etc. since my first was born (he’s 2.5, now we have a 6 month old). I know that she is the doting grandma (candy/tv/etc) and is perfectly okay with not following the rules that I lay out (I saw her do it with my nephews, so it’s no secret). But I gave her a pass on this because she’s grandma and she’s generally awesome with the kids and I trusted her to treat them (especially as babies) the way I would (not make them CIO, defers to safety, etc.). She lives across the country, but visits about once per quarter and when one of us kids asks (typically when my husband goes out of town for me, or when my husband and I want to take an overnight trip).

Recently my older nephew brought a disturbing video to my sister and my attention. He captured on his mobile camera her freaking out at his younger brother (6). Yelling in a pretty disturbing fashion and generally freaking out in an out of control way. It was a pretty scary video to watch despite the fact that there’s no physical abuse. My nephews are pretty difficult to handle at times but they’ve been through some trauma in their young lives, so we try to be really understanding and patient. I can see how they would push someone to their edge, but I think it’s the adult’s job to be the adult and walk away for those types of situations.

So now we are left in this spot. My husband and I have agreed that she cannot watch our kids alone now. Even if my 2.5 y.o. didn’t require an immense amount of patience, I just don’t think I can trust her again. But, she is my mom, and I’m not sure where to draw the line with relationship with the kids. Do I still invite her to come while my husband is gone? We have a nanny, so she wouldn’t be doing daytime care, just helping me in the morning/evenings. Do I mention what we saw and how it made us feel? She takes “rejection” very harshly (my dad left her after 24 years, so she has some wounds), so I want to be sensitive.

I just don’t know what to do, so I’ve been avoiding her, which I know is no good either.

Would appreciate some insight.

Sincerely,
Grandma Woes

Well, first I think you (and your sister) should have a deeper conversation with your nephew. Get the full context of the video and also whether that sort of freak-out was a one-time thing or a regular occurrence. I’m NOT saying that to excuse or justify her behavior, but I’d personally want as much information about what really goes on when kids are in her care before I decided how to proceed.

I’ve definitely had low/frustrated moments that wow, I am so glad a camera wasn’t rolling because I’d probably sound like a crazy person attempting to loudly negotiate with a pack of feral guinea pigs. But even without incriminating footage, I’ve been able to reflect on the way I handled the situation and learn from my mistakes and vow to plunge the depths of my patience a little deeper next time. So I’d want to know what sparked the yelling fit — was he doing something incredibly dangerous or unsafe, or was it truly an out-of-proportion reaction to run-of-the-mill annoying kid stuff? Since your nephew had the smarts to document what happened (go kid!!), I’m guessing he’s old enough to be a reliable-enough witness and tell you what led up to the incident, and whether it happens regularly.

And again, I’m not saying there’s an answer that justifies her behavior, or should change your mind about not letting your mom watch your children solo. Either scenario points to someone who is overwhelmed and not up for the responsibility of caring for someone else’s children. (Was this a short babysitting stint or does she regularly provide childcare for your sister?) But there is a distinction between a one-time “I just snapped and feel insanely awful and guilty” moment…and ongoing verbal abuse that she’s normalized in her head as “not a big deal, he deserves it.”

Either way, I think you do need to talk to you mom about the video. Even if your nephew says no, this has never happened before and he filmed it because it was completely bizarre and out-of-character, your mom needs to know that you know, and be given the chance to apologize and ask for forgiveness from your sister AND your nephew. And I do mean APOLOGIZE, not make excuses or attempt to justify it. If she can do that, and you’re fairly sure this was a one-time low moment of  poor judgement, then perhaps she can earn back your trust to continue to visit and help out in the mornings/evenings when you’re around. That seems fair, and fairly low-risk.

If you hear that no, she routinely loses her temper at your nephews, then you need to talk to her about both the video AND the verbal reports. Your nephews shouldn’t need to have video evidence to be believed that Grandma screams at them a lot. Someone needs to be fairly blunt in this scenario: Clearly her nephews are more than she can handle, you and your sister have genuine concerns about her anger/emotional issues and what she’s taking out on them unfairly. At this point, again, she needs to 1) admit there’s a problem and this behavior isn’t okay, 2) apologize/ask for forgiveness, but also 3) DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Therapy, counseling, anger management, something. (Which she probably should be doing anyway, given the traumatic end of her marriage and those unhealed emotional wounds.)

And unless she does all three of those things, she cannot be around your children. If she agrees to counseling and sticks with it, then okay, maybe she can come visit but again, nooooooooo solo babysitting. And your sister needs to be on the same page and enforce the same rules on her end. (Which hopefully shouldn’t even be up for discussion, since it’s her own [already traumatized!] child bearing the brunt of it.)

One last thing: None of this is to say that verbal abuse is not a big deal, or less serious than if, say, you saw your mom hit your nephew on the video. I’m just trying to square things with everything you said in your first paragraph that points to a truly loving, doting grandmother who did something completely out of character (and who I assume did not have similar out-of-control outbursts at YOU as a child, which would be a whollllllle other thing). I think she deserves to know what was captured and own what happened, and get to the bottom of WHY it happened. Is she simply overwhelmed by your nephews’ level of need and therefore not an appropriate caretaker for them? (And thus probably not for your 2.5 who also requires epic levels of patience?)  Is it her own baggage about her divorce that needs to be professionally unpacked?  I actually can see some upside to confronting her (she gets help, your nephews get a better babysitter), while keeping this sort of thing silent and in the shadows will lead to NOTHING GOOD AT ALL.

Your mom probably needs a therapist. You need a mom you can trust and not keep secrets from while you avoid her calls for reasons she doesn’t know. And most of all, your nephews need to know that when they come to the adults in their lives about anything like this, the adults will actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, even if it’s hard and uncomfortable for them. Otherwise next time, they just won’t bother, and that’s truly disturbing.

Photo source: Depositphotos/studiograndouest

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Myriam

    I too have once lost my patience and yelled and cried. “Normally”, I just go really quiet and remove myself from the situation. I usually don’t even raise my voice. If I say “no” a little too loud before my girls are doing something dangerous, they both start crying for surprise/fright. After it happened, I hugged my daughter, cried with her, and once we were all cried-out, we talked about how mommy made a mistake and should not have said that. That it was not “my daughter’s” fault, and I wil do better next time. All that to say that I would not want my whole relationship to my children to be tainted by that once occasion. In addition to talking to your nephew and getting the “before” info, and would aslo get the “after” info. Did your mom apologise to them already? Did she ask them to keep it quiet? How long ago did that happen and did she hide the information for your sister? All good info to add to Amy’s list of red flags…

  • cla517

    First, everyone in the world has lost their sh*t with a child. Everyone. I agree with the other poster that I would not want my relationship with my daughter judged by one incident.

    My issue is that your mom never mentioned it. (and neither did your younger nephew.) My mom watches my daughter alot and if my daughter has been particulary “trying” that day, my mom tells me. If she had to be stern with her, she tells me. The secrecy would be the issue.

    Also, like Amy says, you should definitely ask your nephew how often this happens. And I agree you should talk to your mom.

  • Marisa

    Oh man. This is a red flag for underlying medical issues. At her age, this could be the beginning of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Or a hormone issue or thyroid issue or high blood pressure or any number of things. I would approach it from a place of genuine concern for her well-being: that you know this is so out of character for her that you won’t be able to rest easy until you know she has a clean bill of health from her doctor. I sincerely hope it isn’t a medical issue, but I think if it isn’t, approaching it this way sends her a clear message that this behavior is wildly aberrant and unacceptable but that you love her and are not rejecting her. Your letter reads like it was pretty shocking and shook you up to witness …. Personality changes, “rages,” and out of proportion reactions to provocation all sound sadly familiar to me. And considering an older child witnessed it and she didn’t say anything, that is sort of irrational (surely she figured he’d say something). Also, if your nephew video recorded it, does that mean there have been other behaviors he’s been afraid to bring to an adult’s attention?

    Have there been other signs of early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s or some other medical issues? Weight fluctuations, forgetting words or repeating herself? Becoming paranoid or saying out of character things? Dizziness, temperature fluctuations?

    Good luck. I hope she is okay and this was just one of those things where we would all go bonkers if pushed far enough….

    • Alecia Ramsay

      I was thinking exactly this too – not that it’s absolutely what it is, but if it really seems out of character, there could be something medically wrong.

  • Caroline

    I would be so, so interested to know the context; how did nephew manage to film? Did they possibly – just a thought – set out to wind her up ridiculously? We’re all people, we all have breaking points and if these two are by the OP’s own admission ”difficult” and there are 2 of them… I just wonder. Of course there are many, many questions to be asked, but if she offers a true-sounding and reasoned explanation, shrieking ”BUT THERE’S NO EXCUSE FOR SCREAMING AT MY SNOWFLAKE” isn’t helpful. Actions have consequences. Now, if it’s the case that the kid was just doing what kids generally do and this appeared from nowhere, at which point the brother was not too traumatised to whip out his cell and start filming… which means either it’s a somewhat regular thing or a trap… and that he’s old enough to have a cell in the first place… then totally. She needs to account for herself and certainly not be left alone in charge of any kids for the foreseeable… which might well be a big relief for her.

    I mean, let’s face it, being on the receiving end of ”difficult” children, having to travel quite some distance for that privilege and then being lectured on your need for counselling and anger management… ironically… would make one… angry. Maybe she’d be grateful to not have to look after everyone’s kids and be the free overnight babysitter?

    • Meg Murry-ish

      Yes, when was the last time Grandma was invited to visit that was solely to visit with family and not just be a free babysitter? My kids are extra difficult when they are off their normal routines (such as when a parent is out of town), and I could see the getting to the point where anyone short of an actual saint would lose their temper.

      It’s also not clear to me whether Grandma regularly takes care of the nephews or if this happened on one of her quarterly visits. And as others have mentioned, it’s not clear what actually happened to cause the outburst. The fact that it only came out on video is concerning though.

      I think the family can discuss Grandma’s outburst but should also make plans that allow Grandma to go back to being fun Grandma and not disciplinary no-charge babysitter.

  • Yellow sub mom

    I’m a SAHM with a child who has been called “challenging” by two psychologists and our pediatrician, so I am familiar with losing my s–t at my child. I’m sure if someone videotaped us it would be very unpretty. My own mental health, physical health, amount of sleep, and personality play into my ability to keep things from escalating. I fail more than I’m happy to admit.
    When I see this, I see parents who can afford a nanny, who probably have engrossing careers outside of the home, who maybe don’t know how hard it is to be a full time caregiver to a child, and who have the luxury of being judgmental towards Grandma for a behavior that most parents find themselves provoked to occasionally. I really think some parents are completely out of touch with how challenging children can be when the most time they spend with their own is on weekends and vacations (aka the fun time parents).
    It upsets me that they have not spoken with grandma, and that they have jumped to conclusions about someone that at least one of the parents should know intimately! On top of that, the information was shared with them behind grandma’s back from another family member.
    Sometimes it’s like we get a high off of an opportunity to be indignant and judgemental when we feel justified instead of trying to understand and do the hard thing of really talking about what’s happened.

    • IrishCream

      Fun time parents? That’s a new one.

      Despite “only” being around my kids for mornings, evenings, weekends, and vacations, I do have a vague sense that parenting is hard, and that some kids can push caregivers to their limits. I’ve certainly lost my temper and raised my voice at my kids; we’re all human.

      I also know that verbal abuse can leave permanent scars. Without having seen the video, none of us know whether this incident crossed that line, but it sounds like it shook the OP and her family up. I don’t blame them for taking some time to think through the best way to approach the grandmother–sometimes rushing into difficult conversations can do more harm than good.

    • Anon

      Wow, clearly you have never looked at the cost of childcare and are fortunate to have the luxury of staying home with your children. As someone who has a nanny, I can assure you that my life is not filled with “luxury” more like, a nanny is cheaper than more than one kid in daycare. As for “fun parents” try cramming all of your therapy appointments, cleaning, classes, family obligations into two days and see how “fun” that is for you. Parenting is hard. Period. As someone who is surrounded by other working mothers, I don’t think “fun time parents” is even close to what we would describe ourselves as.

      I’m sorry for whatever nerve this post struck for you, but lashing out towards working parents/internet strangers is not the answer.

    • Myriam

      I work outside the home. I do not have “what it takes” to be a full-time caretaker to my children, or to be a daycare worker or a teacher. That takes, in my opinion, a whole other level of dedication and patience that I do not possess. However, I am not only a “fun time parent”. I parent, and discipline my children when necessary. They also have a tendency to test the limits with mommy and daddy, even if we only see them during the “fun times” of morning routine, back from school and dinner, bedtime routine and “errands and cleaning the house” weekends… We are a “safe space for them”, we will love them no matter what… Maybe, when you say fun time parents, you are thinking about the “every other weekend plus 1 week in the summer” stereotype of the divorced dad?.

    • cla517

      Fun time parent? REALLY? Try this. Remove approximately 50 hours a week from the time you have to do everything. Now, still do everything. Having fun? Didn’t think so. Sadly, it’s you that is being indignant and judgmental.

    • Jodie Yorg

      Little irony in you accusing others of judgement but label ‘working parents’ as only ‘fun parents.’ I won’t engage in which is harder – working or staying home. I’ve done both and find both as challenging as the other for wholly different reasons.

      I just want to +1 how trivializing this comment is to working moms and dads. This week I will commute 2 hours a day, cook dinner when I get home five, attend an IEP, 3 doctor appointments, pick up prescriptions, consult with developmental pediatricians, help with homework, play with each of my 4 kids, pump and/or nurse about 5-6 times a day for my 6 month old, grocery shop, do laundry, clean the house and work 50 hours or so. And yes, I do have the support of incredible nannies (we do nanny-share).

      And here I thought that was just called parenting

  • Ann

    I agree with previous posters that there seems to be more to the story. Why was a camera handy when this happened? Is it because these outbursts are a regular thing? Or because the kids provoked her on purpose? Or just sheer coincidence?

    And none of us have seen the tape, so I don’t know if it was much worse than that, but if the OP hasn’t lost her temper with her kids big time at least once, she’s very lucky and/or has a very good support system (including mom, who will fly across the country to watch the kids when OP needs a break). As much as the parents I know try to be perfect and loving all the time, we’re all human and sometimes lose our temper. I’m not excusing it, just saying it happens and then we try to do better the next day…

    It’s also possible that this outburst was triggered by the OP’s mom being tired or not feeling well… maybe OP should also ask about her health and if she’s not starting to find all that flying and babysitting tiring.

    And don’t forget to appreciate what she does anyway! I say that as someone whose mom and mother in law live in the same town but will not watch the kids unless it’s an emergency.