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By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’d love to be writing you with an easy question about makeup or skincare, but you’ve already solved all my skincare woes (oh, how I love me some Philosophy!) and I am currently banned from Sephora (self-imposed) after a particularly ridiculous shopping spree there. Plus, I have something much more difficult to worry about.

My husband and I have been married for almost two years and are expecting our first child in a couple of months. Yay! The marriage is great, my husband is an absolute dream, and we’re both very excited to meet our daughter. The problem? My mother-in-law. At first, it was just general controlling craziness that could be dealt with. Whatever, no big deal. Everyone has a crazy relative, the mother-in-law was my husband’s contribution to the marriage. I resolved to deal with her as cordially as I could and if she stepped over any lines, my husband would take over. We even scheduled time for her to come out and see the baby once she arrives.

However, I recently learned some information that is making me want to rethink my tactic. One of my husband’s younger siblings told us that in the past year, the normal teenager/Mom fights became physical, and that his sister ended up with bruises on her arms after these fights. The police were called twice but were sent away by his stepfather. In the morning, his mother would see the bruises and ask his sister where they came from. I was absolutely appalled. I mean, I had my fair share of fights with my mother when I was a teenager, but I never ended up bruised afterward. The fact that she asked where the bruises came from the next day also scares me. Is she blacking out in her anger? Delusional? As we were talking about this, my husband told me that he remembers his mom beating on him when he was a little boy because he had left something at the mall and his mother was upset she would have to repurchase it and money was tight.

Amy, I knew this woman was a bit unhinged, but I had no idea that it went so far. I am absolutely terrified to leave my daughter in her care. I mean, babies can be frustrating and I don’t want her to lose it with my daughter and hurt her. I said as much to my husband and he assured me he does not remember her being this way with his siblings when they were babies (he is quite a bit older than they are and remembers them as babies very well). He says he completely understands why I’m worried, but does not believe that his mother would hurt our daughter. The last thing I want to do is to make it so my daughter does not have a relationship with her grandmother, but her safety has to come first, and my sanity! I can’t imagine not being completely on edge if she were to watch our child, not to mention what I would do if she were to even THINK about hurting my daughter.

What I really want to do is to make a rule that she has no contact with our daughter, or at the very least no unsupervised contact until she begins therapy and some sort of anger management. Am I allowed to do this? I know my husband would support me, but despite everything she has done, I don’t want to cause a rift between him and his family, or betray his sister’s trust by letting his mom know that she told us. His mother has started therapy a couple of times, but left after one session because she didn’t like what the doctor was saying, so I don’t think she is going to like being given an ultimatum. So, I guess what I’m asking is, am I being completely hormonal mama bear crazy or do we have an obligation, not just to our daughter but to my husband’s younger siblings, to step up and do something?


Well! Okay.

You do not let this woman have unsupervised contact with your daughter. End. Of. Story.

And I don’t mean just when your daughter is tiny and small. I mean, EVER. I know it’s nice to have grandparents as babysitters and all, but hellllllll no. It sounds like she may actually become more dangerous to children as they get older and more willful/frustrating, so seriously: shore up your reserves now, because this isn’t a situation that will resolve after those first postpartum weeks.

Look, I’m no domestic abuse expert here, BUT:
Yes. Someone needs to intervene on behalf of your husband’s younger sister. She was a baby once, too. She does indeed need a hormonal mama bear crazy advocate. Her story plus your husband’s memories…DUDE. DUUUUUDE. Abuse is a cycle. It doesn’t just stop or pick-and-choose which child “deserved” it vs. a child who was just teething and grumpy.

You aren’t overreacting. Help her. Find someone else who can help her. Call her school, her guidance counselor. Call the police, again, and tell them not to leave. I just…I cannot express this enough. Forget the worries about betraying anyone’s trust. That “trust” was a cry for help, even if she didn’t necessarily mean for it to be.

Teenager = child = bruises. NOT COOL. EVER.

People are protecting your MIL, making excuses…the stepfather turning away the police, your husband remembering awful stuff yet insisting that she wouldn’t hurt your daughter or probably never lashed out at anyone but him, the failed attempts at therapy…again, no abuse expert but this is a pretty classic scenario of someone with a Problem. Abusers generally don’t just hurt one child or one person. They learn to hide their behaviors; they learn to manipulate their victims. Don’t let anyone blame your sister-in-law. Don’t sit there and question over whether she’s telling the truth or not — that’s not a question for YOU to figure out, you know? Don’t worry about breaking up a home or causing a rift or people blaming you for causing “problems.” You are not the Problem.

So…look, I cannot solve that Problem for you. But if you were mostly looking for reassurance that you are not being unreasonable…well. YOU ARE NOT BEING UNREASONABLE. This woman does not come near your baby. This woman needs to be stopped before she hurts her own babies again.

1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). It’s anonymous. Please call.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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

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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  • Muirnait

    October 19, 2009 at 4:06 am

    Yes, please, please do get help – abuse is just never okay.

  • Second That.

    October 19, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I AGREE. My grandmother-in-law is the same way & there is no way in hell that I would even leave the room when my daughter & her are present. People make excuses for here, too, and she can be downright pleasant most of the time, but… NO WAY am I going to take the slightest risk that anything happens to my kid.
    I hope someone is able to help the teenager – That is a crappy situation for everyone.

  • sasha

    October 19, 2009 at 7:05 am

    RUN, DO NOT WALK to the phone and get help. Abuse doesn’t cure itself on its own, and it does not get better, it gets worse. Because your husband does not remember his mother abusing his siblings when they were babies does not mean (a) that she didn’t–no offense to your husband’s powers of memory intended, but he may have blanked it out or simply not been around when it happened; or (b) it wouldn’t happen NOW.
    And yes, never, never, never leave your daughter alone with your mother in law.

  • dana

    October 19, 2009 at 7:46 am

    yes, please call. just wanted to chime and voice my support. screw upsetting the family, help your sister-in-law. you can do this.

  • Anonymous

    October 19, 2009 at 9:14 am

    I am a frequent commenter here, but need to go Anonymous for this comment, so I hope Alphamom will still let the comment go through.
    The reader needs to put her foot down and allow no unsupervised contact. However, all does not have to be lost.
    My mother is not abusive, but has other issues. She is an alcoholic and a cigarette smoker. As such, I limit her contact appropriately. My kids are allowed to spend a few hours here and there with her, while I go enjoy some time at a nearby tea shop. But, my kids will never be allowed to spend the night at her house or spend extended time with her. One time, ONE TIME, I allowed my child to spend the night. I convinced myself that I was just over-reacting and harboring resentment towards my mother. Nope, nothing happened, but I felt terrible that I put my need to do something else above my child’s needs and let my child stay the night there.
    I do not worry about short-term care, I worry about long-term, overnight care – her getting drunk or passing out with a lit cigarette. I question whether her smoke alarms are working and I have some overnight safety concerns about her house. A few hours for dinner? Not a problem. Overnights? A big problem.
    That said, my kids do have a relationship with my mother and they do love her. She is a good, loving grandmother to them because I have limited the situation to one that she can actually handle. Will my kids have memories of spending cozy weekends or weeks in the summer with her, like I have with MY own grandma? Hell, no. And yes, that makes me sad. But it is what it is and at the very least, my kids will still know her and love her.
    I say all of this to stress that the reader’s child can still have a relationship with MIL, it just may not be the relationship the MIL or even the husband wants.
    Sadly, the reader will probably have to step up to the plate on this one, since it is very difficult for a child to admit it when a parent cannot serve as an appropriate grandparent. It sounds like the husband is already struggling with this. I do have a sibling and in-law who allow their children to stay the night at my mother’s house, even though this sibling has the SAME concerns that I do.

  • Beth

    October 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

    My mother is a wonderful woman and was a great mother to me growing up. But she suffers from alcoholism, depression, and anxiety, and she is unpredictable. While I love for her to visit us and I want my two young sons to have a relationship with her, I agreed with my husband’s insistence that my mom never be alone with my children. While I think in my heart that she would never drink while she was babysitting, I’m not sure that she wouldn’t have an anxiety attack should something bad happen. And regardless, I have to respect my husband’s feelings. I’ve never directly confronted my mom about why we don’t have her babysit. We’ve just never asked. When it has come up a few times, I’ve made excuses about how I think it’s just too physically demanding for her. While I do thing that your MIL needs help, I think that your husband should take the lead in confronting her. But leave your baby out it. Don’t make your baby a condition of her compliance. Because it could end up so much uglier than you could imagine. Absolutely do not let your MIL have unsupervised visits with your baby. And if push comes to shove, then you would have to explain why you don’t want her to babysit. (And that explanation should come from your husband, not you.) But if it doesn’t come up, you don’t owe her an explanation. Good luck!

  • Morgan

    October 19, 2009 at 9:51 am

    I left my ex-financee in part because of a huge fight we had when I announced that I would never be willing to leave babies with his father. His intermittenly abusive angry belittling father. The man who beat my ex with a belt every week as a kid, and who hit him in to his 20s when he was angry. My ex claimed that the man had changed and would never hurt his future hypothetical grandchild. I told him it didn’t work like that, and that someone who hit children didn’t deserve another chance to do it.
    It wasn’t why we broke up, but it was a(nother) very clear sign that it wasn’t going to work out.
    (Leaving him was the best thing I ever did.)

  • HereWeGoAJen

    October 19, 2009 at 10:39 am

    If it is too hard to call yourself, pass the pertinent information on to someone else, and have them call. But make sure someone calls. Email me and I will call for you.

  • LauraL

    October 19, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Adding my voice to others: This is your reassurance that you’re doing the right thing. Get the sister-in-law some help and never, NEVER leave the MIL alone with your child.
    My MIL is not left alone with either of our kids (2 & 7) and hasn’t been since the oldest was 7months old. Not for a physically abusive reason, but I’m just saying that to reassure you that you can politely not let the grandmother babysit – ever – for an extended period of time. (Smile, tell her “Thank you for that sweet offer, but it’s OK.” Annnnnnnd end scene.)
    Unfortunately, your MIL likely will become even more “out there” when someone (hopefully you and your husband) gets help for your SIL. It breaks my heart that a teen has to deal with that, especially with a complete denial on the mom’s part and total enabling on the stepdad’s part. Poor girl. 🙁

  • Natalie

    October 19, 2009 at 11:13 am

    When my daughter was 3 months old my MIL let it ‘slip’ that her Ex (my FIL)had been accused of molestation by his children from his second marriage (my MIL was his first wife).
    My husband was adopted and he has never indicated in anyway that there was anything sexually abusive about his father but he was very physically abusive. Even though he lives out of state, when he visits he is never alone with my daughter and he is never allowed to stay in our house. I am always within 3 feet of him and my daughter. You are not being crazy. We can’t always choose who we are related to but being related to someone doesn’t mean they are implicilty trustworthy.

  • Cobwebs

    October 19, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Ditto what everyone else has said. Look at it this way: Which would upset you more–to rock the boat by insisting that your MIL get help, or to have her do something terrible to your baby because you didn’t want to speak up?

  • Debbie

    October 19, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I grew up in an abusive home. I was the only girl, so I tended to get away with less of it, but my older brother doled whatever he got from my dad back to me tenfold.
    Strangely enough, I used to be ambivalent about the “call the authorities NOW” resolution. I think it’s because no one ever called them in my situation and I used to think that things actually worked themselves out quite nicely in my family. I used to believe that things would have turned out WORSE if the authorities had been called and us kids had been put in foster care.
    HOWEVER. I now realize that things only worked out nicely FOR ME (and my younger brother, not the one who was abused). Our relationship with my parents is very, very good now, considering all we went through, in spite of all of the abuse from my brother that they never prevented. My older brother’s relationship with them? He is a broken, shell of a person. My father’s abuse RUINED him and his entire life. I sincerely believe that. And I wish that someone had stepped in to help my brother sooner. The abuse (physical and emotional) shattered his entire sense of self, and I fear that he can never be healed.
    Anyways, all this to say: even if the abuse seems mild, even if you feel like “it’s just bruises, it’s not that bad,” get that girl some help. Don’t let her be ruined.
    I agree that you should also stand your ground, make yourself a villain in the family if you have to, your baby should not be with your MIL. My father is different now, peaceful and calm and gentle with me, my other brother’s child, etc. I believe that people can change. But it sounds like your MIL is nowhere near changing.

  • Missie

    October 19, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Yes. Absolutely. What everyone else said.
    My son never spent the night at my parents’ home because my dad was an alcoholic. My dad was never physically abusive to me, but was very verbally abusive to my mom while drunk. I never wanted my kid to have those kind of memories of his grandpa. My dad loved my kid like crazy and would do anything for him, but never never never did my child spend the night at their house without me.
    You may need to explain calmly to your husband that this is a hill you are willing to die on. That there will never never ever be unsupervised visits between his mom and any children you may have, at least until they’re adults and can choose for themselves. No clue if it will come to that, but better for him to know up front that this isn’t something you can be talked in to because MIL is acting better.

  • Anyabeth

    October 19, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    No unsupervised contact FULL STOP.
    We have a situation with my FIL where he isn’t violent but he is not an appropriate adult to be in charge. So he isn’t. But I don’t keep him from seeing his granddaughter and I won’t unless something happens. He still has a relationship–he is still her Grandpa–but safety first.

  • Bitts

    October 19, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    If you don’t want to contact the relevant agencies, you could call your sister-in-law’s school (or the school where another younger sibling attends), explain to the Guidance Counselor what is going on, and they will initiate Family Services’ intervention for you. The school personnel are Mandated Reporters, so if you tell them the children who are still at home are being abused, then they *must* report it. That way, the call can come from the school instead of you (and the blame for calling can land on them). Remember to ask to speak to a Guidance Counselor.
    Also, remember the agencies will keep you anonymous if you ask them to. Nobody has to know you made the call.
    You MUST take care of this, Lisa. Be the person who protects the children who are still at home. Be the person who your husband needed *someone* to be for him when he was a child. Be the mother your child already needs you to be.

  • caleal

    October 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Seriously. Everything Amy said. I’ve worked with DV survivors, and everything Amy said is spot on.
    And furthermore, with a child who is so small like a baby, it only takes one screw up. Even if she’s never hit a baby before, all she has to do is snap once. Children are so small, and untreated blunt force trauma can have devastating effects very quickly.

  • dana

    October 19, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    yes, please call. just wanted to chime and voice my support. screw upsetting the family, help your sister-in-law. you can do this.

  • M

    October 19, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I had the same situation, too, with the teenage girl living with my mother in law and everything. The mother-in-law pushed the issue and my husband let her know that she would not be allowed to babysit our daughter. Funny thing, his mom even understood.
    I work with our shelter and have found that people are so unwilling to lay the abuse word out there. They think “abuse” and they picture broken bones. Don’t let your baby be involved on some sliding scale of abuse. Even unkind words can hurt a child.

  • eva

    October 19, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Yep, ditto to all of the above. My daughter does not spend the night at my parents place and does not have unsupervised time with my dad. Period. He was far far too abusive and unpredictably reactive. Isn’t it amazing how many of us all lived through similar horrors and yet this is still kind of an undiscussed/unadmitted issue until many years after the fact?

  • Quinn

    October 20, 2009 at 12:46 am

    What everyone said. Absolutely what everyone said. Do not leave your child alone with this woman.
    Now, as for your sister-in-law. She is in danger and needs your help, NOW. Not only is her mother doing her serious psychological damage, but she’s at risk of running away, among other things. A lot of runaways are escaping abusive situations. I know your life is probably in an uproar right now, but is there any way you could take your sister-in-law in for some time? It would get her to a safe place, and hey, older kids can be unbelievably helpful with a new baby. 😉
    Call the guidance counselor, call the helpline. Hell, call the helpline just for advice working your way through the situation. You don’t want to sit on the sidelines here, if only for your relationship with your sister-in-law. Even if things work out, ten years from now she’ll wonder why you didn’t step in and help her out.

  • Quinn

    October 20, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Oh, and I do have some experience with this. My mother has issues with denial/projecting, possibly due to alcoholism, possibly due to what I suspect may be borderline personality disorder. She used to say all sorts of horrible things and either totally wipe it from her memory or actually rewrite it so that *I* was the one saying it to *her*. I cannot tell you what it’s like having something seared into your memory utterly and seemingly honestly denied. Over time it can make you question everything you know is true, right down to your own sanity. It’s taken me years to untangle the psychological damage.
    Seriously, if you swing it at all, please offer to take your sister-in-law in. Channel those mama bear hormones to her benefit. 🙂

  • teri

    October 20, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    something about my FIL never felt quite right. he drank more than i thought he should, but not quite enough that most people would call him an alcoholic. dh thought i was being over protective, but he honored my feelings. my FIL was never left alone w/ my children. after my FIL’s death, stories began bubbling up. due to brain deterioration (alcohol induced?), he became “aggressive and angry” towards my MIL. her words. given a few other clues dropped, i think he was abusing her. i am glad i listened to my intuition and limited his contact w/ my children.
    my children saw their grandparents frequently, but i never left them alone. i always had an excuse ready when my MIL would push for dh and i to leave the children w/ them.
    if your instinct says “no,” listen… carefully.

  • Anonymous

    October 20, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Well, I’m going to be the dissenting voice here and say that there really is not enough information to know what is *really* going on.
    They say there are two sides to every story, but the only side we’re hearing here is the side of the teenager who got in the fight(s) with her mother (it sounds as if the woman who sent the letter didn’t see the bruises herself, but rather was only told about them.) Some teenagers can be *very* bitter towards their parents, and some wouldn’t think twice about lying for no other reason than to hurt them.
    And even the teenager said the bruises were only on her arm. Is it possible that the mother just grabbed the girl’s arm? Maybe even to stop her from hitting or throwing something? And maybe the mother didn’t know where the bruises had come from because she didn’t realize that she’d grabbed the girl hard enough to leave bruises in the first place?
    The husband says he remembers that his mother beat on him once… What does “beat on” mean? Did she give him a spanking, or whack him with a 2×4? And he remembers only one incident?
    Personally I don’t even like spanking, and if there is real abuse going on then definitely everything everyone else has said here goes, but there is not nearly enough information here to be condemning the future grandma at this point. Quite honestly it doesn’t sound as if this woman has a problem with violence towards kids, otherwise the husband would remember a lot more incidents against him and his siblings. I think you’re all seriously jumping the gun on this one.

  • Anonymous

    October 21, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Can you talk to your sister-in-law privately? It might be nice for her to know someone is looking out for her, and perhaps you can get a better idea of how serious the situation is. No one deserves to be hit, especially hard enough to leave bruises. How terribly sad for everyone involved. As for your own child, I would never, ever leave a child alone with someone who physically lashes out in anger.

  • rachel

    November 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    maybe your mother-in-law is getting worse as she’s getting older? possibly an extra 5-10 years have made a bigger difference in her patience level and ability to take care of infants. i definitely agree with SUPERVISED visits only after you have your daughter and your MIL needs professional help.
    that being said, i know that you and your husband aren’t seeing eye to eye about this issue right now, but judging from your article he sounds like a WONDERFUL husband in a situation that could very easily break a fragile marriage apart. you’re asking him to completely change his view about the woman who gave birth to him and raised a man who seems like he’ll be a great father. just keep in mind how hard it’ll be for him to come to the realization about the scope of her anger/abuse problem.