My quirky, genius, self-centered, deeply insecure, pathological boundary pushing mother took my 5 year old “out” without telling me while we were visiting over the holiday.
I didn’t know where he was, he was in his pajamas (it was 40 degrees out), she did not have a jacket for him. She did not have a *carseat* for him. I ran around her house and yard in a panic trying to find him before my sibling suggested she might have him. She wouldn’t answer my texts or calls but did answer when sibling called her, she said she would drive slowly on surface streets (so it’s totes fine!), and that she was coming right back. My dad worried I would over react and send her into a depressive episode.
When I asked my 5 year old about it he said he wanted to tell me before they left, but she seemed mad when he suggested it, so he thought he should just do what she said.
So husband and I decided she’s so fired she can’t ever be unsupervised with our kids, and probably we won’t stay at their house anymore. But setting this hard of a line puts awkwardness on my (mostly) rad dad, and some amount of awkwardness on the rest of the family who think I’m taking it too far.
I did tell her “Never Again” and “I Can’t Possibly Think Of Every Boundary That Needs Setting” and “I Don’t Know How To Feel Safe With You Around My Kids”. She says she’s very sorry and just that she didn’t want to deal with the logistics of taking kid out for an adventure. She says she didn’t realize my anxiety was that limiting (spoiler, I don’t have an anxiety disorder). When I said if something happened to my kid while with her that “would be the end of our relationship” she said she didn’t realize the stakes were so high. But Captain, the stakes are absolutely that high.
I don’t think I’m over reacting, but am I over reacting? Or is my mom the most fired? Can we just decide never to stay there again and let the chips fall? She does a many rad things but they don’t cancel frequent Super Bad Judgment Boundary Smashing. Can I still accept gifts from her that don’t smash boundaries? Why does my mom suck this hard?
Sad, Hurt, and Angry
Dear Sad, Hurt, and Angry,
You are not overreacting, and FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK your mom for this behavior and fuck supposedly “rad” family members for enabling it by acting like your reactions to bad stuff your mom does to you and your kid are in any way responsible for her mental health.
Taking it as a given that we don’t take people’s children out of the building without letting them know first (or at least leaving a note, your mom had so many choices that wouldn’t have been upsetting and she chose literally none of ’em) even if we are related to everybody, there are three additional specific things your mom did that take what could be a mistake or a stressful-but-possibly-resolved misunderstanding in another family over to “Nope, burn it down and see what you can replant in the ruins, if anything” territory for me:
- Your kid wanted to tell you where he was going but your mom got mad at him when he suggested it so he felt like he couldn’t. Bullying or encouraging a child into keeping secrets from their parent is not okay, it is totally what actual kidnappers/child predators do, kids need to know that this is a sign to DEFINITELY tell the parent what is happening and adults need to know “If you try to get my kid to keep a secret from me, be ready to be out of our lives.”
- Your mom didn’t pick up the phone when you called & texted her, but did when your sibling reached out. “It’s bad to use your cell phone while driving, Captain Awkward!” yes, it is but also, bullshit, she knew why you were getting in touch, and she had a goddamn duty to pull over at the first safe opportunity, text or call you back and say “Lil’ guy is with me, sorry, should have let you know, we’ll be home soon!” and set your mind at ease. She knew you’d be furious, she knew she was in the wrong, so she avoided you.
- She apologized but then immediately blamed you (& your supposed anxiety disorder) for the problem. Fun fact about anxiety disorders: You can have one of those disorders AND things can happen in your life that literally anyone would be anxious about, having your mom take your kid somewhere without checking with you and then avoiding your calls & texts when you try to check up on him is one of those things. She violated your trust and this is how she tries to earn it back? Nope.
I think pulling back from unsupervised visits and staying with your folks is a very good idea. Your responsibility is to yourself and to your kid right now, so take whatever space you need to feel safe and to re-establish healthy boundaries. If you want to keep lines of communication open without engaging deeply (Greeting cards are great for this, sending the overflow of 5-year-old drawings in the mail to Grandma & Grampa also works to deliver love without pressure for interaction), do whatever feels right for you. If what’s right for you is “NOTHING, I WANT TO DO NOTHING” then do that.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be forever. It certainly can be forever if the situation never improves, but you don’t have to decide that or enforce it on that basis right now, and in your shoes I would resist any pressure from anyone to either make it forever or reassure them that it’s not. To that end you can say, “Hey, I don’t want this to be forever, but until I can trust that this won’t ever happen again, until I trust that y’all understand how serious this is, and until y’all stop treating me like I’m the one doing something wrong, this is how it’s going to be.”
To that end, you can also keep naming the fucked up behaviors. Don’t let the discussion shift to “The boy was fine, he was with his Grandma, in my day we didn’t worry so much about car seats” or “Are you going to keep him away from his grandparents….FOREVER?” or whether you or parents these days have too much anxiety or whatever. Until you get a real apology and whatever else you need to put this behind you, as long as your mom or other family members keep pressuring you on her behalf, your best tactic to defang their manipulation is to Keep. Naming. What. She. Did.
For her: “Mom, do you understand why I am mad? It’s not just for taking your grandkid for a ride. It’s ’cause you could have told me or asked me first but you didn’t. It’s ’cause you got mad at him when he wouldn’t keep it a secret. It’s because you wouldn’t even put my mind at ease when I texted & called you. It’s because your apology came with a side of blame, like me being pissed off and upset about this is a mental health problem. If you’re trying to rebuild my trust, you have a funny way of doing it.”
For your dad/other family members: “She took my kid for a ride without even sending me a text or leaving a note. She got mad at him when he wanted to tell me where he was going. Bullying little kids into keeping secrets from their parents is never okay! She avoided my calls when I tried to track them down, like, okay, he’s safe with Grandma, just let me know that so we know to stop searching crawlspaces and suspicious holes in the ice! When I got understandably concerned and upset, she tried to blame me for being “limited” by having too much anxiety. If you want to work on someone about this, go talk to Mom about her behaviors instead of trying to police my feelings.”
For everyone/both: “You want me to come back and visit, or leave the kids with you sometimes, and put this all behind us? I’d like that, too, someday, so, show me that I can trust this won’t happen again by taking the time it did happen seriously. Show me that you’ve learned from this. At minimum, going forward, you can’t take my kid anywhere without letting me know. You can’t pressure him to keep secrets. When you have my kid, you can’t duck my calls. You can’t treat my caring & concern for my kid like it’s inconvenient for you or a sign that I’m irrational. And use the goddamn carseat. You don’t have to agree with me or understand it in order to do it. Not negotiable. ”
You get to be the parent you needed somebody to be when you were small, Letter Writer. You can still love your imperfect parents and try to find a way to have a good relationship with them if you want to, but good on you for standing up for your kid’s safety and holding true to your boundaries! ❤
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