#435: Getting the silent treatment for an honest mistake.

Dear Captain Awkward:

Quick backstory: my mom and stepdad babysit my daughter for free one afternoon a week while I work (I telecommute the rest of the time). My mother offered to do it right after my daughter was born and I was thrilled. I’ve checked in with both of them a few times to make sure they’re still ok with it, and they’ve responded enthusiastically every time.

Lately things have been weird. A few weeks ago I had an appointment before I went into work and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to take the baby, so I asked Mom ahead of time if they could take her a bit earlier and she said yes. I told her I’d let her know for sure if it would be at the usual time or earlier, but forgot to call when I’d promised, and then my phone died just after I left my appointment, so I ended up showing up at the usual time (without calling) and apologizing profusely to both of them for making them wait around for me. I was expecting them to be annoyed, but I don’t feel like it was a HUGE deal – it was an honest, though inconsiderate mistake on my part, and I promptly apologized for it. 

When I got there Mom berated me for half an hour until I finally got a word in edgewise to ask her what she wanted me to do, other than apologize and not do it again. She told me that she needed to vent at me because she was angry, and she needed me to show more remorse. I apologized again and prepared to leave, but on my way out Stepdad confronted me (he’d been in another room, not out of earshot, for the preceding conversation) and began an identical tirade. I cut him off almost immediately and told him that while I was sorry for inconveniencing them, I really couldn’t stay to talk right that second because I had to get to work.

Ever since that afternoon, Stepdad hasn’t spoken a single word to me. I tried to talk to Mom about it, but she simply said that Stepdad is angry for good reason and that I should apologize to him more. I feel like an asshole, but also kind of unfairly treated, and I’m not sure how to move forward, or how to deal with this should something similar arise in the future. Though obviously I will be more considerate going forward.

My best guess about this is that your Stepdad feels like you dismissed him when you left without listening to him because you had to get to work. In his mind you owed it to him to listen to everything he wanted to say. But you DID have to get to work, so I don’t know what could have solved that moment, really. You’re not a child who has to sit still for a finger-wagging lecture, and the total silent treatment seems disproportionate.

It could also be that he doesn’t want to babysit anymore and is seizing on this as a pretext. But because he hasn’t said so in so many words and is choosing to use the Silent Treatment, all we can do is guess. It could mean “I ate a serrano pepper that I thought was a jalapeno and now my mouth hurts so I can’t talk.” Or “I am in a pissy mood and don’t feel like chatting.” “There is some ongoing fight I am having with your mom that this inadvertently played into.” Pro-tip: If you make people guess about your feelings and desires, they might guess wrong, and that will piss you off further. Oops!

A few things I’d suggest:

  • Buy them a thank-you gift, like a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. Write an apology note to go with it. “I am sorry, Mom and Stepdad, that I inconvenienced you, and especially sorry that I could not stay and talk things through that day. Please enjoy a night out on me.
  • Tighten up your game with how you schedule things with them. Be extra on time for any pickups and drop-offs, schedule things far in advance. I’m sure you were doing this fine before and that this was a one-time thing, but if there is anything you can do to show them that you are hyper-aware and respectful of their time, do it. When someone’s pissed off at you, running 5 minutes late because of traffic will feel like “SHE ALWAYS TAKES ME FOR GRANTED AND IS AN HOUR LATE ALL THE TIME FOR FUCK’S SAKE” to them.
  • This is cheating a little bit, but if you have a partner and s/he gets on well with your folks, let that person handle the logistics of scheduling childcare for a little while. Then call your mom just to say hello & see how she’s doing. Take her to lunch or to some social thing she’d like. Your folks might feel (fairly or unfairly) like you only talk to them when you want babysitting, so put a little nurture into the relationship and see if it doesn’t improve.
  • If your mom and your stepdad stopped babysitting your daughter, what would you do instead? Do a little research so you are not so beholden to them and feel like you have other options. Do you have a partner whose family or friends could take her for that day? Can you hire help or send her to daycare for that window? I realize that this looks like giving a possibly reluctant Stepdad what he wants without a fight, but this is both your child and your livelihood you’re talking about, so whatever shakes out in your relationship with your folks you need to make sure that both she and you are taken care of.
  • Go ahead and make alternative arrangements for looking after your daughter for a period of a few weeks. Give them a break from babysitting her and you a break from worrying about this. Don’t make a thing of it, just say “I won’t need you to take ___ this week, thanks!” You don’t have to tell them your alternative arrangements or why. This isn’t Discussion Time, this is Re-assessing The Situation Time. This is Giving Everyone A Little Space To See If Things Resolve On Their Own Time. If they’ve been feeling taken for granted, this will alleviate that and show them that they can actually ask to stop being caregivers if they want to. If they really love having her and miss seeing her every week, this will help that sink in.
  • After this break, talk to your mom. “It’s really helpful to me when you look after (daughter), and I know she loves spending that time with you. But I definitely don’t want to inconvenience you and Stepdad or wear out your good will. In a perfect world, how would you like this to all work out?
  • If your mom says “We would still love to have her and continue the old arrangement!” take her at her word and resume normal interactions. If Stepdad has a problem, they can work it out between them. You don’t have to manage everything about everyone’s feelings!
  • If she brings up reservations, you will be in a position to say “That’s fine! We can make alternate arrangements and find times when you can just visit with her without the responsibility.”

In the meantime, when you run into your Stepdad, greet him normally and briefly and then don’t engage with him beyond that. When someone doesn’t really want to engage with you and is showing that to you, it’s important to be respectful of that. See: Previous letter. Maybe he just needs to be mad for a while, and that’s also okay. But he is the one who is acting strangely by not talking to you at all, and you don’t have to reward the Silent Treatment by continually auditioning for the person’s approval and trying to read their mind. If there is no way you can apologize or make up for what was, seriously, a one-time miscommunication about an hour or two of extra time on a day they were scheduled to babysit anyway, and you’ve done your best to make amends and apologize, the decision about whether he talks to you again or how he feels about you is really out of your hands.

One more broadly applicable question here is, “How can I be sure that someone who is doing me a favor really wants to be doing me that favor?

I think you have to take people at their word. Your mom volunteered to do childcare, so she wants to do childcare. You are safe to assume that she wants to do childcare.

And then you have to check in with them periodically and ask if everything is okay. Which you did. And they said it was. So it is.

And then you have to trust that they are adults and will speak up about their own needs and boundaries if things change. Which maybe they will not, but if they don’t, you can’t manage that for them beyond a periodic “Is this still okay?” check-in where you give them the opportunity to raise any concerns. Periodic = Every six months or so, not every single time you see them or you talk. Constantly second-guessing people and asking “Are you sure? Are you REALLY sure? Are you SURE you’re sure? About being sure? Are you positive?” is irritating and unnecessary.

143 thoughts on “#435: Getting the silent treatment for an honest mistake.

  1. Isn’t it kind of disproportionate to berate someone for half an hour for being late? Also the “you’re not sorry enough/I want to vent at you more” is … strange to me? There has to be a point where “rightfully angry” becomes “abusive”. (For the record, I don’t think this has to be an abusive situation, it doesn’t really sound like it. Only LW knows. But maybe mom and stepdad are a bit too much invested in their (grand-) parental role and the LW being a child they can tell off when and wherever they please.)

    1. I think it’s disproportionate, absolutely. All the LW can do is apologize, do what she can to make sure her kid is taken care of, do what she can to make the relationship run well, and ignore the silent treatment right back until it stops on its own. Adults don’t have to grovel at other adults over a one-time honest mistake.

    2. Yeah, this is what’s raising BIG HONKING RED FLAGS for me, as well. Healthy people don’t say something like they need to yell more at a grown adult.

      1. Me too. “You’re not sorry enough” is something an abusive (emotionally, verbally, physically) ex used to say to me ALL THE TIME. When I read that the LW’s Mom said that to her, I was like OH HELL NO.

        1. Thirding this (or fourthing or whatever). I don’t know the specifics of the LW’s relationship with the parents and my own experience may be coloring my view here, but that line jumped out at me in neon red. Beyond simple overreaction, the attempt at emotional control and manipulation just…ick.

          1. I’d just like to say, this thread has been really helpful to me. That kind of behavior is something my mom pulls at me a lot if I go home, and while I have been doing a lot of work to parse out exactly what kind of relationship I a) want and b) can reasonably expect from her, it’s REALLY NICE to see the behaviors she considers normal and fair to be pointed out as creepy, damaging, and unfair. Thanks for the perspective, folks! It’s really helpful.

        2. Nth’ing the AW HELL NO here. A ‘you’re not sorry enough for me; kneel and despair before me’ / ‘you aren’t showing enough despair for me’ setup like this was the last straw that led to me estranging my original parents, so I am possibly reading a bit more into this situation than there is. But that doesn’t make it any less of a gross thing to do.

          I’d really kinda like to know if this is a regular thing for them, or a freak incident. The tone of the letter doesn’t make it sound like it’s the latter.

          1. Ja, I was wondering the same. I hope this isn’t the run of the mill because if so… aie!

          2. ::nodding furiously::

            It’s like what everyone says about “arguing constructively” — you can stay angry and hurt, but at some point you have to be able to give the other person something they can do to fix it or else just stop yelling about it. And by “something they can do to fix it,” that doesn’t include “go back in time and don’t hurt my feelings,” or “feel badly enough that it magically erases my hurt.”

          3. Ethyl, I think it’s less that and more “I must make you as miserable as I am feeling before I can forgive you”.

            My mother did this, and it’s one of the things that led me to stop talking to her almost 6 years ago.

    3. I think the Captain’s advice is really good here. And yeah, in my experience when a response is disproportionate, it’s because there is something else going on also. You just don’t always know what it is, and maybe never will.

      1. Speaking of “treat a child like that,” what’s going to happen when Daughter is 5 and colors on Grandma’s walls with a crayon? Or even something more innocuous? Will Grandma and Granddad berate *her* for half an hour then too?

        Fuck that noise and these toxic people. (Comment is unfairly biased by my own experiences as a child with a toxic grandmother, so take with any necessary salt.)

        1. I think this is a good point. It’s not okay to treat a person of any age like that and in the grand parents/grand child relationship, they wield even more power. The LW will not be able to be there to witness/stop them, so it really is worth thinking about.

    4. So glad to see this was the first comment. I was thinking exactly the same thing. “Yeah, I know you apologized profusely, but I’m still feeling angry, therefore you must not have apologized enough” is super uncool. The person is entitled to continue feeling angry for as long as they continue to feel angry, but they are not entitled to blame someone else for not apologizing well enough, and they certainly aren’t entitled to take all out on that person.

      People need to take responsibility for their own feelings. Just because X person did Y thing and I have feelings about it, does not mean that X is obligated to deal with all of my feelings. They are obligated to respect my feelings, but they cannot be expected to control of fix them. Only I can do that.

      1. Exactly. This is the kind of behavior my stepmother would pull, about “not being sorry enough” because clearly, I am wholly and entirely responsible for everything you feel, even after I’ve done all I can to make it right. After a certain point, all you can do is just let it roll off (it’s also a good time for the use of “I’m sorry you feel that way”).

        1. I was on the opposite side of this behavior with my ex husband. He would “apologize” but the apology included excuses and always ended with blaming me for his behavior. When I would point this out he would rage out about how I wanted him on his knees groveling or it wasn’t good enough (that was not the case). So, there is that perspective; did the LW apologize and then excuse her behavior, and I’m also thinking her Mother is living with a guy that thinks giving long term silent treatment for a minor transgression is OK, so maybe Mom has experienced the “apology” that isn’t one from Stepdad, and while she accepts it from him she maybe lost it on daughter due to power dynamics. This is just throwing it out there, I didn’t even see where I was going with this until I actually typed it.

          1. Oh, the apology offered with excuses. I hate those. I ‘ve had to explain to a number of people that an apology should never contain an excuse. They can explain the behaviour after I have accepted the apology, but until I accept the apology I have no interest in the excuse.

          2. Yuck. My mother used to* do that…I always hated it when she’d feel moved to apologize for something, because then she’d turn it into a rant and get really angry at me. So yeah, apologies can be…fraught. Even when they’re sincere, depending on who you’re talking to. I still don’t like it when someone apologizes to me. Which is not a reasonable reaction to the (sincere! lacking in abusive subtext!) kinds of apologies I get from the people in my life now (yay).

            *for all I know, she still does. I don’t speak to her anymore. The lovely thing about being a self-supporting adult is you really don’t have to interact with your parents if you don’t want to. (That may of course be a more drastic solution than is appropriate for the LW’s situation, but it worked for me.)

          3. I have a funny line with that because I don’t want EXCUSES but if there’s a REASON then I do find it helps to know that – so when I’m on that end of it, I’ll sometimes say, “This absolutely doesn’t excuse it, but [circumstance]. I know that doesn’t make up for it though” and if applicable “I’ll make sure to allow for this sort of thing in the future so it doesn’t happen again.” I think that’s one of those personal quirk things, because I really want to understand people’s motivations, I’m big into the psychology behind interactions. But I do try to remember that it can be really hard to tell the difference between a reason and an excuse and to emphasise that I’m providing the former, NOT the latter.

      2. With my ex-husband* and myself, we had to learn to negotiate this, since he cools down quick, and I take a longer time. He would come to me after a fight and apologize, and I would still be in the fight in my head. I learned to say “I am not ready to accept your apology now, I am still angry” and he learned to be ok with that (vs. “but I’m APOLOGIZING. You HAVE to accept it on MY TIME.”). But it took talking about it when neither of us was angry to get there.

        *no abuse, good relationship, just not “right.” We go back and forth on being able to be friends.

        1. I think this is a really good point. I had a partner who would apologize and then POOF! I was suddenly not allowed to be angry any more because Apology Magic. That took some working out.

          To be clear, I don’t think that’s what happened in the LW’s situation. And there’s definitely a difference between “I am still angry and need time to get over it, so please give me some space” and “stand there and be late for work so I can get my own personal yelling time in.”

          1. Consider, though, that (while LW was right to cut him off) she did so after having been late, with no contact, in a way that was disrespectful of his schedule – and then turned around and said, in essence, “Sorry, but *my* time is valuable, and by the way there’s another appointment that I *am* going to be on time for.” I can see why he would take that as a massive fuck-you.

          2. But it wasn’t another appointment, it was her job. Being late for that may well have serious consequences for the LW. While what she did was inconsiderate, I think her response was appropriate and it certainly wasn’t such a massive fuckup that her stepfather should be able to get her fired because he wasn’t done yelling yet.

          3. Of course she shouldn’t have gotten herself fired to placate him. But, again, I can see why he would get the takeaway of “I care about being on time when it’s important to ME, but I don’t give a fuck about being on time when it’s important to YOU.”

          4. I have been guilty of that, I’m afraid. Especially if their anger involves being like Mojo Jojo and repeating, reiterating, and restating why they are angry. I’m trying VERY hard to not be this way, and it pushes all my buttons when someone keeps on about it. Is it a “I didn’t get it all out and need to say more” thing, a “I am unsure that you’re listening and so I repeat myself” thing, or like what the OP is talking about? With my my mother it was most often the last one, so I find it hard to not just shut down and think “Jesus F Christ, you already told me 26 times, and I heard you!” mode.

          5. OTOH, she’d already been there for half an hour being yelled at by her mother, and the letter says he wasn’t out of earshot so he would have known that. Presumably he knows what time she starts work, so if he’d known he wanted to yell as well, he could have come out earlier than right when she needed to leave. It’s not like she was only there for thirty seconds. I mean, he has other things he’s doing and I don’t expect people to just drop everything, but surely half an hour is enough time to get to a place where you can take a break for most tasks, if expressing your upset is important enough to you.

    5. I feel like there’s probably some kind of acceptable ratio between (minutes late) and (minutes spent berating). Needless to say, I do not think that Mum and Step-Dad have found it.

  2. The Captain’s advice is, as usual, very thoughtful and spot-on here.

    What somehow irritated me is how you write about how your mum said “she needed [you] to show more remorse” and “that [you] should apologize to [stepdad] more”. What is that supposed to achieve (leaving aside the fact that I’m not sure there is such a thing as “more remorse”. I personally either feel guilty about something or I don’t but there are no levels inbetween. But that’s probably different for everyone.)? You already made it clear that you feel very guilty and that you’re truly sorry this really unfortunate thing happened, so please don’t let your mum guilt you into, I don’t know, losing all your sleep at night because you feel so bad.

    I hope the Captains suggestions help and wish you all the best!

  3. I think it’s time for you to make other arrangements, LW. If they’re still acting like this way after the fact, then it’s clear that they are not happy with the arrangement. Keep in mind that this doesn’t just affect you, your mother, and your stepfather. Your daughter is definitely going to be affected by any animosity between you and your parents.

    Think of it this way: Do you want your daughter to spend all day with someone who won’t even speak to you?

    If you only need childcare one day a week, then you should be able to find someone who can watch your daughter for a reasonable price. Depending on how old your daughter is, she might even like spending time with a bunch of other kids her age.

    1. I think Michelle brings up a good point, and if you do find other childcare arrangements and get a hurt response from your mom/stepdad, perhaps you could point that out. “I’m not comfortable leaving my child with someone who won’t speak to ME.”

      1. Just have to say I agree. I would take this entire situation as their way of telling me the arrangement isn’t working. It clearly ISN’T working, and just find another arrangement for your child. Then again, I’m of the opinion that asking family members for regular child care services (as in, every week, every day, “every” anything, any set schedule) almost never ends well. The bottom line is, they are performing a service that in any other situation you would have to pay for, and no matter what, in my opinion, people will begin to resent this.

  4. I really like the note and gift idea. It’s a nice gesture for the regular help they offer to the LW anyway. So no biggie to give the gift and see if there is an impact. It may be an elegant way to calm things down.

  5. “she simply said that Stepdad is angry for good reason and that I should apologize to him more”

    That would be a red flag for me even if it hadn’t come before the part about “more remorse” and 30 minutes of berating not being enough. When you fuck up, you apologise. You do it in words and tone and context that show that you understand what you’re apologising for and why what you did required an apology, offer to do what you can to fix it, and express an intention not to do whatever you did wrong again. Then that person either accepts your apology or doesn’t. If they accept it, they can still have bad feelings about whatever you did, and they can need some time to decide if they’ll forgive you or not. They can require you to do something to fix it (pay for the broken vase or the vet bill, show you how to get the virus off your computer.) But I don’t think they can legitimately ask you to just keep apologising “more” (louder? longer? prettier?) until it’s ‘enough’ for them. What do they want, blood?

    1. “What do they want, blood?”

      Yeah. And emotional control of the LW. That phrase tells me it’s not about the two hours of their time, it’s about keeping a hand on the leash so that the LW knows who’s boss.

    2. “What do you want, blood?” is how I answer people who behave like this. I estranged from my mother because of stuff like this – I was never remorseful enough, grateful enough, loving enough, for her. And occasionally I get friends who do stuff like this, and after the “What do you want, blood?” I usually distance myself from them, too.

      I like the idea of giving them a gift, with an apology and looking into alternative childcare arrangements. How do they treat your daughter when she breaks the rules?

      I fail to see how LW can apologise to her stepfather ‘enough’ or even ‘at all’ if the man is giving her the silent treatment. Giving someone the silent treatment is bad enough, but dishing it out because LW wasn’t prepared to stand there and take a SECOND half-hour telling-off for a minor mistake is a bit childish.

    3. Maybe what they want is an actual apology that acknowledges the other person recognizes they fucked up, instead of an eye-rolling “I *said* I was *sorry*, GAWD” and and expectation that having mouthed the ritual words, all should be forgotten?

      I mean, look, I agree with you completely that this you’re-not-sorry-enough can be a way to emotionally abuse someone. But the flip side is true too (datdamnwuf already talked about this upthread) – that people who are selfish takers act like saying “I’m sorry” means they don’t have to actually THINK about what they did, or consider (much less hear) why it’s a problem for you, and if you try to say one. single. word. about your feeling after they’ve said “I’m sorry”, then YOU’RE the horrible person who is seeking blood and can never let go and why oh why can’t you just get over it.

      1. I’m sorry, but where are you getting the impression that LW did a huffy, eye-rolling apology? I’ve seen you post similar comments on other threads, and my reading of the letter doesn’t seem to support this. Can I ask why you think she did this, rather than, as she said, showed up and apologized profusely?

        1. I did not say that LW did a huffy, eye-rolling apology. I was reiterating the point brought up by several others here, that the flip side of “what do you want, blood?” is “but I invoked the Apology Magic, so STFU”. And, again as others have pointed out, LW’s letter is pretty sparse on a lot of context. LW says she “apologized profusely”, but then immediately follows up that she doesn’t think it was that big a deal, because it was an ‘honest mistake’ and she apologized immediately.

          So my comments (and those of others) were not, LW was a brat and deserved everything that happened. It’s that “geez, I apologized, what do you want, blood?!” can be a response to some abusive seeking to punish, but it can also be an abusive response meant to shut down an appropriate reaction to bad behavior.

          1. Neverjaunty, your points have been made. Come back another day in another thread, I’d like you to stop posting in this one please. Thank you.

  6. Oh LW, I feel for you. This is what my relationship with my mother has been my entire life. The Captain’s advice, as always, is good.

  7. Hi, LW. I agree with the Captain and others that this sounds like a situation where a small accident on your part has been blown out of proportion by your mom and stepdad. I did think of a few extra questions it might be useful to ask yourself and assess, however. I put these forward not in an accusatory way, but because my own current situation with my parents has given me pause to think about how, sometimes, family expectations can change and catch us off-guard.

    When you drop off/pick up your daughter, are you usually in a rush, do you chat briefly, do you take off your coat and have a cup of tea, etc.? Do you spend time with your mom and stepdad outside of the once-a-week childcare day? Have your mom and stepdad’s lives changed recently in a significant way (difficulties at work, retirement, illness, death of family or friends, etc.)? Without trying to diagnose the underlying trouble, clearly some frustration has been building for your mom and stepdad. That frustration may or may not have anything to do with you, and if it doesn’t, your mom and stepdad may not be inclined to use their words to tell you what’s going on. It may be something more general, too: are they people who tend to help others and then expect favors to be returned? Are they people who are good with small children or are children a strain for them? Are they people who love to help others but sometimes bite off a little too much and get stressed over favors they said they’d do?

    I’m asking these things as what-ifs. Recently my relationship with my parents has been a little bit weird, not because I’ve started interacting with them differently, but because their daily routines and state of life has changed (ie. retirement) and they’ve been more temperamental just because they’re adapting to things in ways they weren’t expecting they’d have to, and I, as their kid, am tangentially involved just because I’m family. They’re having trouble using their words to tell me what they expect from me, because this is a new situation for them, and I can wait for them to be ready to talk. You may also be able to wait (e.g. scheduling childcare with someone else for a few weeks, etc.) but if not, maybe these questions might be helpful in exploring ideas around their sudden change in attitude. I wish you all the best!

  8. LW, I hear you – I’m sorry you are going through this. The Captain’s advice is sound. Though I would also advise you, going forward, to do some thinking about just how much, and when and why, you want them to be involved in your and your daughter’s lives. Not that you need to cut them out totally, I’m not telling you to ditch them. And my own experience with my mother may be coloring my view here, so take what’s helpful to you and leave the rest. But people who use tactics like the silent treatment over a minor, one-time event, or explicitly tell you that you aren’t sorry “enough” and they have a right to make you stand there and listen to them berate you after you have apologized (I mean Holy Batman, that is not ok), are not operating in an adult fashion with you. They are attempting to emotionally manipulate you and retain control over you, and their weapon is guilt.

    Their anger isn’t just (or even necessarily mostly) about their wasted time, something that shouting more at you will not restore to them. It may be coming from something going on between them. It may come from resenting taking care of your daughter but, due to their own internal crap, not feeling able to say no to you. (Note: Not your responsibility to fix! They are grown-ups responsible for managing their own crap.) It may come from something else. But in their current way of *expressing* their anger they are mistreating you, and in my experience people don’t suddenly do this sort of emotional manipulation out of the blue without ever having done it before – it’s a pattern, and one that will continue as long as it works. It might be advisable for you to read some other posts here on CA, if you haven’t already, and to ask yourself if there is a pattern of behavior here that might be escalating. If so, figure out what interactions with them you want and and can tolerate, and whether or not you think asking them to not pull this crap/setting different boundaries with them is the way to go.

    I also heartily second the recommendations to make alternative arrangements for your daughter, either temporarily or permanently, while things shake out. It will ease the pressure all around, and it will keep any negative emotional overflow from this from impacting your daughter as much. You may be able to build a more solid positive relationship with them in the future, or you may decide to reduce/alter your contact with them, but you need to take care of your daughter and yourself first of all.

    *hugs if wanted*

  9. I fully agree with all the Captain’s advice! One thing that struck me, however, was the “making alternate arrangements for a few weeks” thing. I totally think this is a reasonable suggestion and I also agree with some of the above commenters that perhaps this arrangement is no longer the best situation for everyone involved. BUT I just want to suggest that it’s possible that the mom or, more likely, the stepdad will view this as the LW “punishing” the M&SD, as if the LW is trying to escalate the situation: “I see your Silent Treatment, and I raise you Witholding My Child From You!”

    Again, I think taking a break from this arrangement is actually a really good idea and could give the LW a better sense of how sustainable the arrangement is in the long-term, but I think they should also be prepared for such a move to backfire/be willfully misinterpreted as the LW trying to be hurtful, even when they obviously aren’t.

    1. Yeah, I can see the parents taking this as escalation/punishment as well. I’d consider bringing the thank-you/apology gift to this discussion where you bring up the alternative babysitting arrangements.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this LW. This is definitely an overreaction on their part.

      1. I agree with you both that this is possible, but:

        1) Would that be such a terrible thing? “If you are mean to me, I might avoid you” is pretty standard boundary enforcement.

        2) The LW can’t really control how the parents feel about anything. This is about doing what’s best for her and for her kid, and hopefully healing relationship with parents with a little bit of time. But what’s best for her and child come first. The LW doesn’t actually have to give them ANY access or ask for any permission about how to handle childcare arrangements. I would not encourage her to disrupt an overall good relationship over one small, weird thing or remove access from the grandparents at all! But she can change things up if she wants to.

        3) There are a million plausible and actually good reasons that are not punishment that the LW should give if they chose. “So and so volunteered, so I thought I’d give you guys a break.” “Trying out a backup child care arrangement to see if daughter likes it.” “Want to make sure we have a range of options available in case I have to work more than 1 day/week.” I’d personally stick with as little explanation as possible so she doesn’t end up lying, and also let them be the ones to inquire about when they’ll see the daughter again. The plain truth works: “You guys were so mad when things went haywire last time, I thought we could all use a break.”

        1. But this is not “if you are mean to me, I might avoid you”. This is “if you are mean to me, I am going to keep your baby grandchild away from you.” Which can be a very appropriate thing to do, but let’s face it, emotionally speaking the guns don’t really get any bigger.

          1. But the suggestion isn’t about cutting off contact, it’s a practical suggestion about arranging alternative babysitting and giving LW and kiddo a break from relying on mum and stepdad/chance to try out alternatives, and giving mum and stepdad a break from the responsibility of babysitting. The family could still spend time together while they were having this babysitting break, just in a different context.

            Buying into the idea that the child can be used as an emotional weapon is dangerous, even if it’s in the context of worrying about how other’s will use/think she’s being used.

          2. Manatee – of course a child can be used as an emotional weapon. I don’t understand why you’d think otherwise. LW may still need to make other arrangements, or limit her mom and stepdad’s access to her child, but what seems dangerous to me is to ignore whether it could carry any message other than “sorry to burden you”.

          3. Where was the baby in all of this? I think the message “if you berate me in front of my child, I will not bring my child over” is not a terrible one to send (if accurate). I mean, yeah it might seem like escalation. In my experience, setting boundaries with my parents after a blow up like this one *is* read as escalation. But in the meantime, I’m having less contact with them, so it serves at least one purpose which is giving them less opportunity to yell at me.

          4. “If you berate me in front of my child, I will not bring my child over” is a good message to send. But it should be sent by using words as well as by action.

          5. ‘In my experience, setting boundaries with my parents after a blow up like this one *is* read as escalation. But in the meantime, I’m having less contact with them, so it serves at least one purpose which is giving them less opportunity to yell at me.’

            Quoting this because I love it. Thanks, suspectclass

      2. I guess my feeling is… if mom and stepdad are going to make the price of admission in the childcare arrangement “accept whatever their idea of appropriate anger expression is, for whatever offenses they choose” it’s maybe not worth it. If the GPs want to see kiddo once a week, then that’s great! So great! But not for that price.

        Given that this is how I would feel, I would just be clear “you are both welcome to have Babykins visit whenever [is a good way to manage it]. But I was just so stressed about upsetting you with timing, on a crazy work day. I can’t handle that again. So, I think it will work best if we have [someone else] watch Kiddo when I work. Then we can plan fun times without scheduling stress like that for both of us.”

        If mom is going to have her personal standard of unacceptable behavior, I’d rather worry about offending her when I don’t have other trouble on my mind, like appointments and work and so on.

        If they want to see it as punishment, well, I can’t help that. It’s not meant to be. If they want to have Kiddo once a week, they can stop losing their composure disproportionately to the problem. Easy solution! And not a punishment, just a price of admission.

        1. I completely agree with you and the Captain. I realize in hindsight that my comment didn’t go far enough–I definitely didn’t mean to say “finding an alternative arrangement might cause HURTFEELS, so don’t bother.” I was trying to say that the LW might encounter fallout and meant to suggest having some scripts prepared. The ones you and the Capt. have offered sound excellent!

          Good luck, LW! I hope things work out for you.

          1. Right. I didn’t mean anything other than “the LW might consider that her parents could react like this” so she wouldn’t be caught off-guard. But of course, the Captain is right.

    2. I had this thought, too. I thought that there might be a way to combine a couple of the Captain’s suggestions in a way that might provide multiple benefits.

      Give them a gift to something that happens on the usual baby-sitting day, like theater tickets for a matinee, or a ball game, or even movie tickets that take place during the usual baby-sitting time. That way, the LW can put in place the alternate arrangements and utilize them in the service of the token of remorse that they seem to need without making those alternate arrangements seem like a threat.

      One of the reasons I like the idea of showing them that the letter writer can (I really hope zie can!) provide alternate childcare is that the parents may feel that they *don’t* really have a choice about babysitting. They may feel that they can’t say no, because who else will take care of the child? Showing them that there are other options, without presenting it as a threat (unless that’s what the LW wants to do to enforce boundaries), may allow them to relax, know the pressure isn’t all on them, and see the childcare as the chance to hang with the child instead of an unwanted burden they can’t avoid. If they are getting older, they may worry about that sort of thing, but can’t admit it, or feel like they can admit it.

      1. This is a really good idea, I think. I also worry a bit that people who are angry at the parent might indirectly take it out on the child. I mean heck, I’ve felt taken advantage of in childcare situations before (I SAHM with my 3 kids and so have more than once been a backup/emergency care for a friend who then said something like “oh sorry I didn’t get back on time, I figured you were just home anyway.”) and to be honest sometimes it takes all of my being-a-good-adult moves to not lose patience with all the kids in my care because I’m stressed about something else. Someone with an inclination toward berating someone for ages might not have the patience necessary to keep it from coming out on the kid.

        I also think it can really help the non-confrontational among us to think about how we are modeling boundary-setting for our kids. I mean sometimes it’s easy to just go with it and let it blow over, but if it’s showing your kids that that is the way to handle something, that’s different. At least that’s helped me in the past…

  10. The “you’re not sorry enough” line left a bad taste in my mouth like so many have commented on already. That is really not an appropriate response to someone’s tiny mistake when they’ve “apologized profusely.”

    I guess, I honestly can’t see the huge deal. You came at your usual time/your phone died/then you had to get to work and couldn’t stay to be berated any longer. This doesn’t seem like something someone should hold a grudge over. But then again, people are very strange.

    Also just because they’re your parents and they love you (and they watch your child) they don’t really get to hold things over your head like that. It is ridiculous and is treading the line pretty closely to something abusive. They may not mean it like that but it definitely sounds like it.

    I would take a suggestion from CA. I heavily suggest letting them take the week off and finding a cheap baby sitter. I would definitely keep the baby sitter and lessen your parents watching your kid to way, way less than they’re doing now. You should schedule a time that just you and they could sit down together and chat. Let them finger wag and you apologize/explain yourself/explain why you feel it is best that they not watch your child for a while. A good reason would be, “I don’t want you to feel like it is your job and I am taking advantage of your kindness,” or “I would feel better paying someone for it so that if something like “previous thing” happens in the future I will not have to feel as horrible about it/you will not have to feel used.”

    I would definitely, definitely, definitely give your parents long break from watching the child just to let them cool off.

    1. As somebody posted upthread, it could certainly be a “deal” if LW is only paying attention to them when she needs babysitting, or if LW has a habit of being unreliable. That still doesn’t make their reaction appropriate, but there is a difference in parsing how to deal with them if the situation is that this is one unusual lapse, vs. something that’s been building.

      1. I am not disagreeing with you.

        I was just offering my opinion and support to the LW. Whatever the case, I feel like the LW should definitely take a break from letting her parents watch her child.

  11. While I partly agree with a lot of what’s been said so far, I can see other ways of looking at it too.

    E.g., is it possible that there were other bad feelings going on before that LW didn’t pick up on? E.g., does LW sometimes have a tendency to take the parents for granted or be inconsiderate in other ways that she might not have realised, and this was really the straw that broke the camel’s back?

    Are they the kind of people who think out loud a lot, and need to vent to process things?

    Were they really stressed out or worried something was wrong when LW didn’t show up?

    Was the relationship previously good? Are they good with the kid?

    I know the stepfather comes off as immature in this, but I tend to err on the side of family relationships usually being important enough to accept people’s occasional unreasonableness if they’re basically decent people who care about each other. Sometimes people are hard to get along with or have an immature side, but that’s true of all of us, I think.

    Without having more to go on I personally really wouldn’t assume the relationship is bad or abusive… I wouldn’t damage my own well-being to resolve it, but I might give a symbolic gesture like a gift, and go out of my way to be extra punctual.

    1. I’d also wonder how long they actually had to wait, where they were waiting (their home or LW’s), and whether coming early involved changing their plans for the day significantly. It actually does seem like, in some circumstances, it could be kind of a big mistake to me, not a tiny mistake.

      Not saying they handled it well, but if it feels to them like part of a larger pattern or if they were really stressed out by the time LW arrived, I can kind of see it genuinely feeling like a really big deal to someone, and their feeling like she could have called earlier or borrowed someone else’s phone or something.

      1. Mm, ‘a bit earlier’ isn’t much of a guide to how long it was… 15 minutes? Half an hour? Two hours?
        I know that waiting around for a long time without knowing when/if someone is going to show up, when you’ve made time for them in your day (and also can’t do anything else in case they do eventually show up), is something that makes most people pretty mad. Obviously, even if that is the case, their response is a bit of an overeaction, but I’m curious how long they were actually waiting for.

      2. The LW said she MIGHT be earlier than normal, not that she would necessarily be earlier. There was always the possibility that she wasn’t going to be earlier, so the grandparents wouldn’t have had plans that this interrupted. This isn’t about the time, IMO; it’s all about promising to call with an update and then not doing so. Which makes the treatment completely disproportionate, which generally means It’s Really About Something Else. Whether that something is reasonable or not, we don’t know — what we do know is that the behavior of the grandparents, as-reported, is not how adults go about dealing with issues.

    2. I also feel like there’s just not enough information here to really understand the situation. Taken as an isolated incident, it’s just…bizarre. It’s possible that the LW relies on her parents to watch her child but never visits them for other reasons, doesn’t show gratitude for their help, etc. They may simply have built up enough resentment over this (even if they do genuinely enjoy their granddaughter) that the lateness was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

      It could also be that the LW is extremely loving and conscientious toward the mom and stepdad, and they are just the sort of people who respond irrationally to small things. There’s no information in the letter about whether this is a common reaction for them or something out of the blue.

      In either of those situations, I think it’s a great idea for the LW to seek alternate childcare arrangements. In the former, it’s a one-sided situation that’s taking advantage. In the latter, they probably aren’t the best people to have a major influence on a small child (what happens when the kid breaks a glass or pees her pants?)

      If this really is out of the blue, then I think it does warrant a discussion with the mom (since stepdad isn’t speaking). After a cooling off period perhaps LW could take her mom to lunch and say something like, “I feel really awful about not letting you know about my appointment a few weeks back. I can understand that you’d be angry, but you and stepdad’s reaction seems really out of proportion for what happened. I’m concerned that you might be angry with me over something else or that maybe watching daughter every week is too much to ask. Can we talk about it?”

    3. I think this is one of those “take them at their word” scenarios. If the issue they are raising is the lateness, that’s the issue you can deal with. If it’s something else- being inconsiderate, or whatever- they have to say so. Displacing frustration onto this one incident doesn’t really communicate the problem, if displacement it is.

      I suppose LW could say “Mom, [Stepdad], I’m still really bothered by the fact that my being late was so upsetting. I feel badly about having caused a problem. Is there anything else going on that compounded the issue?” But after that, it’s sort of on the ‘rents to articulate their needs, so LW can decide if she can meet them.

      1. Their word doesn’t really match their behavior though, and it’s true that we don’t have enough information – is this how Mom and Stepdad usually behave when they’re upset with LW, or is this a completely out-of-the-blue reaction?

          1. And it’s good advice! Just noting that which fits the LW is hugely dependent on what kind of relationship they already have.

      2. Completely agree with this. Trying To Guess Why Your Family Is Angry With You: it’s the least fun game in the world.

    4. “I tend to err on the side of family relationships usually being important enough to accept people’s occasional unreasonableness if they’re basically decent people who care about each other.”

      This should go both ways, though, and I don’t see that from the (step)parents towards the daughter, who, after all, only forgot to call to say she’d be late and has already apologised profusely.

      1. Sure – I would probably make the same comment to the stepdad if he had been the one writing the letter. The reason I directed that at the stepchild is because he or she is the one ‘here’ to talk to, asking for advice.

  12. I agree with the Captain and other commentors. One thing to add is that sometimes when people are upset, either mad or sad or whatever (but in this case mad), what they really want is acknowledgement rather than apology. Apologies still need to be given, but acknowledging their feelings and validating their feelings goes a long way to defusing the situation. Something like “Oh, I can see that you are really mad at me. I would be, too. I caused you to wait for an hour, and that’s frustrating.” Or repeating back what they say:
    “We waited a whole hour for you.”
    “You had to wait for me for a whole hour. I’m really sorry.”
    “I’m furious!”
    “You’re really mad at me. I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again.”
    Maybe the LW did this, it’s not clear from the description. It’s a tip to try in future situations (with the caveat that you never have any idea how someone will respond to anything, so it might be effective, and it might backfire).

    1. Yes, this, exactly. The reason my folks and I sometimes get into spats is because I feel like they never really acknowledge how I’m feeling (or worse, they dismiss me outright and say I should feel something else entirely!).

      Acknowledgment and validation would go a long way and help communications, I think.

    2. THIS. My strong feelings about this may come from my family being very gaslighty and very “It’s never okay to have negative emotions. It means you’re selfish and needy.”-esque. As I’ve gotten better at boundaries and spent more time in healthy environments, its the total lack of acknowledgement that my feelings are valid that turn little misunderstandings and mistakes in my family into big problems for me. I’m still (probably disproportionately) mad about something that happened almost two months ago, not because it happened, but because when it happened, and I Used My Words to say, “Hey, that wasn’t cool and it hurt my feelings,” I first got total radio silence, followed by, “Why haven’t we heard from you?” whereupon I Used My Words again to say, “Well, I was upset about X thing and was taking some space to cool down. Can we talk about it now?” Then, instead of an apology, I got yelled at for 30 minutes about how immature I was for being upset and how the world doesn’t resolve around me and how no one /meant/ to hurt my feelings so I had no right to be upset and how they don’t understand why it’s a big deal. So here I am, still upset two month later over something that wasn’t really a big deal. But the lack of acknowledgment of my negative feelings as legitimate–at the time or later–made it into a Big Deal for me.

      Not that that is necessarily what’s going on with you or your fam, LW, just to say that this is good advice in general.

      1. I’m so sorry; I’ve been in a similar situation, and it totally sucks to get yelled at for doing the grown-up thing and clearly articulating your feelings and desires. I just wanted to tell you that you’re awesome and clearly doing a great job.

        1. D’aww, thanks. I am sure you know validation is always needed when you feel like this, and is very appreciated.

          In happier news, the one time they visited me since I moved out years ago, I got to play the, “Actually, this is my house, and therefore, and in my house, we follow my rules. And in my house, when people are angry with each other, they take some space from each other to calm down and then come back to talk about it like reasonable adults. They do not stand around yelling at each other.” (in response to her yelling at me for walking away from her when she was yelling at me) It was AWESOME.

          1. Hey, I wonder if this is why my parents are so reluctant to come visit me instead of having me come visit them? They’re very big on “our house, our rules” and…those rules make it an environment where I’d really, really rather not spend any time there if I can help it.

            I’ve had similar interactions with my parents, doing the adult thing and Using My Words, and I’ve honestly just concluded that they’re never going to get it, never going to be polite and respectful to me and stop trying to emotionally manipulate me. So I call my mum and chat about light-hearted things, and end the conversation if it heads anywhere murky.

          2. You seriously deserve some snaps (applause/internet hugs if wanted) for this. And for enforcing your boundaries. AWESOME!

      2. “It’s never okay to have negative emotions. It means you’re selfish and needy.”

        Wow. Long-time lurker/reader, but this comment described my family dynamic to a T…just wow. Thank you so much for articulating this for me; it crystallized a growing awareness of some things that I’m trying to debug about myself and where these patterns came from. Not only did I get the message that negative emotions should be squelched away somewhere where they won’t bother anyone, but also that even the fact of having needs was an imposition and a bother and that I should not expect anyone to acknowledge those needs. Click moment reading this thread….arrggh.

        1. Yep. My family growing up was perfect middle class white very intelligent family, high achievers, etc. What my father, especially, said was what went. We didn’t go to the doctor unless it was serious. And so on. Now, when I stay with my uncle for school (I study extramurally and have to go up twice a year for contact courses), we have frequent conversations of “What do you want for dinner?” “….” Because I don’t know how to decide that sort of thing without the extra context of what is convenient for everyone, what their usual patterns are, what’s in the house (whereas they’re happy to get take aways if I want or buy things I like). When I was being assessed with the anxiety disorders unit it was a similar thing, they asked what I wanted to do in life and I was replying about what was logistical and of least bother for other people. I actually find it very hard to communicate to my parents about anything now too, because I learned not to. It hurts their feelings and I’m trying to work on it because our relationship is actually better in many ways than it used to be so it’s worth maintaining, but it can be really hard. And, yeah, I’m REALLY bad at Using My Words when I’m upset. I normally hold it in and try to process it myself until I get over it, which doesn’t stop it from happening again if people don’t know Thing X upsets me.

        2. UGH, is le suuuuuuck. Sorry other people have to deal with this too. But congrats on recognizing it and working on it. Jedi hugs of solidarity!

          1. Oh, and sidenote on rejiggering expectations, my current boy keeps blowing my mind in situations where I text him to say I’m ill but the doctor can get me in today, and he’ll ask what I need from him, and I’ll say something super minimal like, “Can you manage dinner for yourself even though it’s my turn to cook?” and he’ll be like “No, I meant what is the address of the doctor and what time do I need to be there to take you home? Oh, also, I’ll get some stuff to make you soup.”

            I like this one. =)

      3. Much sympathy.

        Also, you’ve probably noticed that they clearly think that the world does revolve around their feelings, and that they felt entitled to yell for half an hour because their feelings were hurt. I am not suggesting that you call them back and say “the world doesn’t revolve around your feelings either, so you have no right to complain to me when you’re upset” and then hang up, but remembering the parallel might be useful.

        1. Yes, this. It’s amazing how well it can word to calmly turn that nonsense back on them. “The world doesn’t revolve around YOUR feelings, you know.”

    3. Just want to point out that the repeating-for-feelings-validation thing drives me bonkers. It feels too close to someone taunting me by repeating everything I say.

      1. For me, it depends on the implementation and context. JUST repeating back what I say verbatim is irritating, especially if there is not follow up or processing. But “I understand you’re upset because I did X. I’m sorry, how can we move forward?” is, to me, preferable than “I don’t understand why you’re upset. How do we get you to stop being upset or best ignore the reason you are upset?”

        We don’t have enough context to know the backstory of why the parents are so upset. But it doesn’t seem the LW does either? The parents may not have good reasons for being upset, the reasons may be totally irrational or totally unrelated to the LW, but there ARE reasons somewhere. Figuring it out seems to be the key to a solution, whether that solution is alternative arrangements, reduced interaction, giving them space to get over totally unrelated issues, never being late without calling in the future, or staying to have dinner once a month on the nights they watch daughter. I don’t know. But I think doing more digging/asking/introspection might shed some light on the situation.

        LW–do you have siblings or aunts/uncles your mom would gossip or complain to? Normally, I try to avoid the family gossip chain, but sometimes it can be useful for finding out the real reason someone is upset (while avoiding the temptation to fan the flames by defending yourself to Gossipy Aunt) and quietly taking it back to that person to talk it over.

  13. LW didn’t specify how old zie is, or how long ago zie became a parent, but I wonder if mom and step-dad are having issues with the changing boundaries in the relationship now that LW is a grown up. (Like, really REALLY a grown up, what with the child and all.) This doesn’t sound like adults talking to another adult, this sounds like a parent scolding a child for coming back after curfew.

  14. IAWTCA. (I Agree With The Captain’s Advice.)

    Apologizing more isn’t going to make you feel any more sorry than you already do (except sorry for yourself). I find for myself that the more I apologize the *less* sorry I feel for whatever it was. I’ll take responsibility, I’ll acknowledge that it was a shitty thing to do, I’ll apologize, and I’ll take reasonable action at reparation (especially “plan specific steps for it not to happen again”), but I won’t sit there and say “I’m sooooo sorrry” over and over.

    However, if you feel like you want to make one more shot at it to possibly appease them, you might consider asking if there is any other specific action you could take that would make them feel better (that isn’t “let me berate you” because that is Not OK).

    1. I think you’re really onto something when you say that apologizing more rarely makes you feel more sorry, and often less so – and it often doesn’t make the ‘injured party’ feel as much better as they thought it would anyway.

      Concrete actions to improve or CHANGE the problem that caused the conflict are usually more genuinely helpful to ALL the parties, IMO.

  15. While I think the Captain’s other advice on this disagreement is on the money, I feel a bit uncomfortable about the “Go ahead and make alternative arrangements for looking after your daughter for a period of a few weeks. Give them a break from babysitting her and you a break from worrying about this. Don’t make a thing of it, just say “I won’t need you to take ___ this week, thanks!” You don’t have to tell them your alternative arrangements or why. This isn’t Discussion Time, this is Re-assessing The Situation Time. This is Giving Everyone A Little Space To See If Things Resolve On Their Own Time. If they’ve been feeling taken for granted, this will alleviate that and show them that they can actually ask to stop being caregivers if they want to. If they really love having her and miss seeing her every week, this will help that sink in.” part.

    I think that the grandparents might take their grandchild-access being summarily stripped from them without discussion as… having their grandchild-access being summarily stripped from them without discussion. I would pretty much guarantee that this will be A Thing. I think the grandparents will resent the reminder that their ability to see their grandchild is provided at your discretion and can be removed without notice, even when they have actually done nothing wrong except a bit of lengthy-but-justifiable complaining. They would probably see this as a punishment, when, in fact they are doing the OP a continuing and valuable favour and although they did over-react to the scheduling mishap, they did have a right to complain about it IMO.

    If the OP wants to use this particular Captain’s suggestion, I’d suggest offering the grandparents a ‘holiday’ from childcare with their agreement and with plenty of prior notice. It would then have the benefits the Captain wants it to have without inadvertently putting the grandparents’ backs up.

    1. And yet … I think, especially if this is part of a pattern of behavior, “I control your access to my child, [and you will not treat me OR potentially treat my child the way you’ve just treated me]” is a hard, but good, boundary to enforce.

      Grandchild access is not a right, after all.

      1. Of course it isn’t. But there is a big difference in “this isn’t working – let’s try something else” and “I’m withdrawing this relationship AT YOU.”

        I mean, take it out of the grandkid context. You and Friend carpool to a regular event and you get on each other’s nerves because Friend hates the way you drive and Friend finds your driving terrifying. Friend suggests maybe you guys should drive separately for a while. Isn’t there a difference between Friend saying “Hey, look, this is driving us both nuts”, vs. Friend saying “Well FINE, Miss Leadfoot, I’ll take my own damn car from now on”?

        1. Well, yes, but if you and Friend drive other places with each other and are still okay with doing that, it’s maybe less fraught? “The carpooling to work isn’t working, I think we should stop that. But if you want to go for lunch on the weekend, come over to my place, and we’ll figure out whose car to take when you get here?”

          This doesn’t mean they can’t see their grandchild; it just (okay, I understand it may not feel “just”) means that they aren’t babysitting her once a week.

          1. Yes, exactly. Change the dynamic from “you see us only when you do me this favor” to “seeing you, no favor required” to see if that helps smooth things.

      2. Or if it is (I have family members who only see their grandchild thanks to a court order, since they’re estranged from their child) it’s not the same as “seeing your grandchild several times a week”.

      3. But first, you have to express that it’s a boundary. Otherwise, LW is responding to the silent treatment with more silent treatment.

      4. Well, yeah, but the goal here is to help LW deal with a pair of difficult people who are quick to take offense. So if there’s a chance that this could inflame their hurt feelings instead of soothing them, it might not be a good tactic. And I agree, actually–I think that this will seem to them like either withholding or…as though LW is offended about getting yelled at, so she’s taking her baby and going home. It is a good boundary to enforce in general, but I’d wait until things have cooled down first.

        (I really doubt she’s been doing anything wrong. They sound like they’re overreacting, because they like to overreact.)

        1. But we don’t know that they like to overreact or that they are quick to overreact. LW didn’t say either that this is SOP for Mom and Stepdad *or* that this is totally out of character for them. We don’t know if LW is normally diligent and has a good relationship and they blew up over one little thing, or if LW has a pattern of treating them like servants.

      5. I guess it’s not actually a right to have a relationship with your grandparents, at least not legally, but this comment bothers me somehow. Kids have strong and important relationships with many different people, not just their parents. At the end of the day parents do have the right and ability to control the relationship between their child and other family members they’re close to, but it seems like a really extreme thing to do, and very hard on the child as well.

    2. There’s two types of Seeing The Grandchild though.
      1. They are providing a service and doing LW a favor and seeing their grandchild making LW ask them first and agreeing to the visit. Putting all the great power and responsibility on them.
      2. They come to LW and request a visit, with both of them or just their grandchild. Putting the social power in LW’s hands.

      I think the Captain is only pushing to cut off 1. If someone feels they are Doing You A Favor sometimes they will be disproportionately upset if you don’t show (in their opinion)proper thanks. It’s not ‘punishing’ them, it’s changing the playing field to remove a power imbalance.

    3. It seems like the intent is just to relieve them of childcare duties for a bit, not cut off access to grandchild. If LW wanted to make that perfectly clear, they could follow up “I don’t need to you to take ___ this week” with “But we can arrange a visit later in the week if you like.”

      1. Yes. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the LW should limit access to the kid, but changing the nature of the access from transactional/a service to fun social interaction might go a long way into preserving a good relationship. Maybe the LW and her parents can trade off hosting a weekly dinner night or something where the grandparents can love on their grandchild as much as they want and no one will feel indebted to or burdened by anyone else.

    4. ‘I think the grandparents will resent the reminder that their ability to see their grandchild is provided at your discretion and can be removed without notice…’

      I’m sure they will. But frankly I’m leaning towards the view those are their feelings to deal with. Not that the LW shouldn’t be prepared for this eventuality (with some firm-but-loving scripts, as discussed above). But I also don’t think per should tie perself into knots trying to avoid either of them ever experiencing a negative emotion.

  16. LW, your parents’ behaviour is inappropriate. I wouldn’t call it abusive when directed at an adult who can shrug it off, but if they don’t have a problem doing it to you, they won’t have a problem doing it to your daughter.

    1. It’s certainly possible, but I wouldn’t assume this for sure. A lot of people have very different standards for how they interact with children vs adults. E.g., being massively more patient and understanding with kids OR sometimes speaking less considerately or respectfully to them – it can go either way.

      1. In my experience, people who not only think that they are entitled to verbally abuse another adult for several minutes, but actually say so in so many words are not likely to treat children any more responsibly. The nature of the out-of-line behaviour may be different when the target is a child, but the damage is the same.

        1. I guess it depends how you read it, because I didn’t see anything in the description that sounded like anyone was verbally abusing anyone. To me it sounded like a plain old vent/rant, and the LW didn’t sound particularly traumatised or intimidated by it, just stressed and frustrated.

          People have conflicts and get annoyed at each other sometimes, it’s a normal part of life and usually healthy. Most of them aren’t abuse.

          1. My impression was more influenced by the LW’s objective description of the behaviour than her personal reaction to it. The things that I noticed that I would consider abnormal are:

            The mother’s rant went on for a half an hour.

            “You’re not sorry enough.”

            The step-father, after listening to this from the other room, heard the LW getting ready to leave and thought, “my turn!”

            The step-father tried to punish the LW for weeks afterwards when she did not stay to hear it (people may be entitled to vent, but they are not entitled to an audience)

            The mother sees nothing wrong with the step-father’s ongoing behaviour.

            Regardless of whether their behaviour can be classified as abusive or not (I don’t think there is enough information to make that determination), the precedent already set is already reason enough not to leave a child alone to their supervision.

  17. … she needed me to show more remorse.

    Sounds like a classic grievance gap.

    That’s what I call situations where somebody apologizes for an infraction, but isn’t as apologetic as the wronged person thinks they should be. Grievance gaps tend to expand over time. The more Wronged Person tries to wring more remorse out of Wrongdoer, the less remorse Wrongdoer feels (because, as others have wisely pointed out, they don’t feel like the infraction was that bad). And the less remorse Wrongdoer feels, the more angry Wronged Person gets.

    I’ve been on both sides of grievance gaps, though I’ve never gone off the deep end like LW’s parents (yikes). It’s almost always destroyed the friendship.

    CA’s advice seems sound for LW’s situation. If it’s not a derail, do you have any general tips on how to bridge a grievance gap?

    1. I think ‘grievance gap’ is an excellent term for that and I may well use it. I have also been on both sides of it and I solution often lies in what has already been suggested by other commenters above. Not so much the fawning and saying “I’m soooo sorry” (which, indeed, often only makes you less sorry), but the actual acknowledgement of not only the thing you have done wrong, but the consequences of that wrongdoing *for the other person*.

      All too often, when I am on the wrong-doing side of the grievance gap, I may realise that I did something wrong, and apologise, but I will not realise what my wrongdoing did to my friend, how it made him/her feel. In fact, the very reason we get into a fight about this whole thing is because I didn’t think I was doing something all that wrong to begin with. So even when I apologise, the friend still feels like their feelings are not valid (or at least like I don’t think they are valid) and still feels misunderstood.

      The solution, then, is to try and find out what exactly my friend is feeling that is making them so upset. No matter that I think this was only a small infraction, what did it do to them? Then I can apologise for the consequences and *then* things can move towards a resolution.

      1. If I’m angry at someone it also helps if they do something thoughtful. Like, even if they honestly can’t understand why I’m angry, if they go out of their way to do small things for me or send me pictures they know I’ll like or w/e, it’s a sign that it isn’t me as an entire person that they don’t think is important or don’t really get, but just this one boundary or opinion. (Obviously not repeating the thing I was angry about is necessary for this too. eg “not touching Chris” isn’t important to them and they don’t know why it would bother me, but “Chris doesn’t like being touched” is.)

      2. Thanks, guys. I was pleased with myself for coming up with “grievance gap,” but quickly realized that finding a name for it hadn’t helped me solve it. I’ll be trying those suggestions. They’ll probably work best when everybody has started out with good intentions (honest, understandable mistake with bad consequences).

        When the parties disagree about how inherently bad the behavior was, aside from the consequences, well … maybe there was an African violet in the friendship’s future anyway.

    2. Oh, god, yes, “grievance gap” is exactly it, and I would so much want to at least lurk on an extended conversation about that amongst the Awkwardeers. There is a massive grievance gap in my life, where something that I did wrong (with significant contributions from the person I wronged) had very outsize consequences for that person. I have been using the concept of the Eggshell Plaintiff to work it through in my head, but that is only part of the thing of it. (The Eggshell Plaintiff is a concept in tort law, where even if the average person would not have been injured by your negligence, or not as severely, you are still legally responsible for the damage done to the Eggshell Plaintiff, not to the theoretical sturdier plaintiff.)

  18. I like the captain’s advice….but like someone said upthread, I do wonder how much time you stuck them with. if it really is a difference of 2 hrs, that is actually a really big deal in my opinion. seriously, wouldnt you be pissed if you boss at work unexpectedly made you stay 2 hrs after the time you expected to be able to leave? In my area, daycares charge you $20 per minute that you are late picking up your kid…youre getting free daycare for your parents, i think you should respect their time very very carefull, instead of getting pissed that they were pissed at you. maybe your parents expected to go to a doctor appointment, or to meet a friend for lunch, and they couldnt even get ahold of you by phone to ask you where the heck you were.

    Also, the thing you said about your phone just dying bugs me. I’m a working mom too….and when you have a kid, you cant just forget to make arrangements for your kid, you also cant just forget to charge your cell phone and say oh well, it just died, like it was an act of god or something, and act like its no big deal that no one can contact you, and make no attempt to let the people watching your kid know whats up. What if there was an accident with your kid and they had to get in touch with you immediately? Are you saying that you couldn’t even use a landline at your work to call your parents and explain that you would be late? Or you could have borrowed someone else’s cell phone to call. I do think you may need to examine your attitude and consider that your parents might be partly right to be upset.

    1. I don’t think anyone is arguing that they did not have the right to feel upset. Of course they did! The argument is that their way of *expressing* their anger was disproportionate and possibly verging on abusive. It’s not their feelings about the matter that are being pointed out as wrong, it’s how they act on those feelings.

  19. I have to admit I’m somewhat confused about what happened here, timeline wise. I feel like everyone understands perfectly what’s going on, so I’d love it if someone clarified.

    Normally, LW drops her daughter off at her parents’ before going to work.
    Now, LW had an appointment before work and she “wasn’t sure if [she]’d be able to take the baby” with her to that appointment or if she’d have to leave her with her mom–so she asked her mom if she could take the baby earlier, meaning before the appointment.
    Is that correct so far?
    So when she says “I told her I’d let her know for sure if it would be at the usual time or earlier, but forgot to call when I’d promised”, that means in the end she was able to take her daughter with her to that appointment but forgot to inform her mom of that, right? And she then wanted to drop her off after the appointment but before work, at the usual time.

    Is that right? I’m sorry to dissect the letter like that but I’d love to think of something helpful to say but I can’t really do that because I don’t quite get it. /major embarrassment
    Can someone help me?

    1. Yeah. I read it that the LW normally drops the kid off before work (let’s say 9) but on this particular day she had an 8:00 doctor’s appointment and wasn’t sure if she could bring her child. She told grandparents that she might have to drop the kid off at 7:30, but would call them the day-of to let them know for sure. But, because of reasons, she didn’t make the call and showed up at 9 like normal. (all times completely made up, obvs.)

    2. I read it differently! It was confusing to me too, but I interpreted that the parents usually pick the child up at the LW’s place.

      So timeline: LW leaves with her baby for the appt., parents show up early to pick her up but LW is not home, parents wait for LW to return (could be long, since parents are accounting for the time it would take to get to the appt., do the appt., and get back), LW returns to her home where her parents are waiting, berating ensues.

      If this is true, the wait was probably longer than some other commenters assumed. It could have been quite an inconvenience to the parents. But either way, the advice from CA makes sense to move forward.

      1. I considered that but thought it less likely because her stepdad was in another room doing something for at least half an hour after she arrived – it’s possible that he’s comfortable enough in her house to go and occupy himself somewhere else, whether she’s there or not, but not really my first conclusion. (Also I would assume that if they arrived at her house before the appointment and found she wasn’t there, waiting five minutes would be enough to indicate that she has left for the appointment, doesn’t need them, and they are free to leave and come back at the usual time. Unless their house is quite a long way away, either the wait was short enough that there was no point in leaving, which makes their reaction even more disproportionate, or it was long enough that them waiting at her house for her doesn’t make sense.)

        1. You’re right, it’s pretty unclear.

          Though I assumed they babysit the daughter at her own house (which people in my experience tend to do with babies – so much easier), in which case it would be actually pretty surprising if they weren’t comfortable in her house.

    3. So they were waiting around for the length of the appointment – a time period when they’d already said they WOULD have been free to babysit. From my perspective, the people delivering half-hour tirades and “silent treatment” sulk-a-thons for minor eff-ups are being wildly inappropriate, whether it’s out of manipulativeness or lack of emotional control. I would not want them to be in charge of my kid.

      1. The issue is not whether the parents had a right to feel put out. They may have skipped a social engagement or rearranged errands to make themselves available to babysit, and have every right to feel annoyed that the LW did not have the courtesy to let them know their sacrifice would not be necessary, after all. That’s disrespectful of their time.

        It also seems more likely than not that there was SOME pre-existing irritation or bad dynamic that the LW’s goof tied into… whether it was what the parents saw as a pattern of irresponsibility/inconsideration (fairly or unfairly — sometimes parents get it in their head that their kid is inherently irresponsible based on what they were like as a teenager, despite the fact that that “kid” has grown up and gotten a lot more responsible), or dynamics between mother and step-dad (e.g., step-dad resenting assistance mother willingly gives to daughter).

        The real issue, though, is the mother’s over-the-top berating, giving the impression that no amount of remorse would have sufficed (which does, perversely, tend to induce less and less sincere regret on the part of the offender) + the Silent Treatment for weeks after the offense. The Silent Treatment being the worst, because it is inherently non-constructive: you can’t work things through with someone who won’t even talk about it with you.

        It actually kind of forces feelings-bomb-y behavior. Ordinarily, it’s not a great idea to guess what someone is thinking based on their behavior, and then change your relationship with them based on that totally subjective interpretation — so saying “clearly you’re annoyed about looking after Kid, so I’m going to stop having you babysit on a regular basis” would be the wrong way to go. You should talk! And find out! And adjust your behavior according to what they SAY is wrong (or not, if you don’t think they have a point, or you are not inclined to accommodate them in the way they are looking for).

        But when they won’t freaking tell you what the issue is, because that would involve talking to you — well, that’s when you are forced to say “It doesn’t seem like this is working out as well as I thought it was; the way you guys blew up suggests you are feeling some resentment about sitting for kiddo, so I’m going to make other arrangements.” And then, if they say they still want to sit for the kid, communicate some MUTUAL EXPECTATIONS — them, perhaps, that you will give them as much notice as possible if you need to change the schedule, you that if they are annoyed they will talk it out with you calmly and constructively instead of exploding in front of your kid.”

  20. Did this half-hour of berating happen *in front of* LW’s daughter? Because if so, no. That is something up with which I would not put. It really models poor behavior & isn’t something you’d want your child to learn (or even witness, from a person who’s in a position of authority over them). I would also wonder, is this how they address conflict with one another? And is that happening in front of your daughter, too?

    1. And if it did, my experience is that over time, the witness assimilates into their pattern of what’s normal, the reality that it’s okay to talk to Momma like this. Because that is their experience. So be very careful of how this is dealt with and how often it happens.

    2. My read was that the daughter was present, but that the daughter is still an infant, too young to process that anything bad was going on.

      (Nice handle, BTW. “Rocky Racoon” will be going through my head for a while now. ;))

      1. My read was that the daughter was in the other room with stepdad, but I don’t know, just kind of assumed.

        1. She was dropping off her daughter before going to work, so for the daughter to get to the other room either she would have had to go there or he would have had to come out and presumably he’d have started his yelling earlier. (Or I suppose her mother could have taken child there and then returned to yell.)

  21. Here’s something that occurred to me after reading everyone’s comments: the reaction by LW’s parents seem to indicate (and let me state it clearly that I am only GUESSING) that there is perhaps another dynamic going on between Mom & Stepdad. When the offer to watch the baby was first tendered, was it offered by Mom without Stepdad there? The reason I ask is because I often read in other advice columns a new spouse being highly irritated at having to watch a step-grandchild when they had counted on being able to enjoy a new [child-free] life with the new spouse.

    Mind you, none of that is LW’s fault, and as I stated before, I could be imagining a great deal of ‘backstory’ here, some of which LW might not be aware. Making the offer to allow the GP’s some time off is still a fabulous idea. Being prepared to find permanent, alternative child care is an excellent idea. Reassuring the GP’s that LW would love to have a visit with them and without the expectation of childcare is very good. The latter also allows LW to do several things. First, is to see if the drawn-out haranguing would happen while they were disciplining the grandchild. Second, is to see if step-Dad is still clinging to his not-speaking-to-LW stance. Third, is to ask the GPs while they are both present if the weekly childcare is something they still wish to do. LW, assure them you would not be angry if they speak the truth. Encourage them to agree between themselves about their decision. Let them know that while you will not pester them every week asking if it’s still ok, that they can always come to you at any time if they wish to change the arrangement.

    I hope this helps and that LW finds a solution so that everyone can move forward.

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