#1166: “My mom kidnapped my kid for 30 minutes. How fired is she?”

Hi Captain!

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:

  1. 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.” 
  2. 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.
  3. 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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Update: 450 comments! A nice round number. Let’s close discussion here.





450 thoughts on “#1166: “My mom kidnapped my kid for 30 minutes. How fired is she?”

  1. I was expecting the “kidnap” to be an exaggeration because whose mom would do that but nope, nope, nope.

    Dad doesn’t seem so rad, though.

    Keep distance unless and until she proves herself more able to abide by boundaries (and not even ones you set specifically for her, but regular old boundaries like “don’t do all of these things any parent would not like”).

    Good luck.

    1. Right? I am side-eyeing the heck out of Dad for being all “Oh, don’t get upset or your mom will get depressed.”

      1. I’m also side-eyeing LW’s dad. He really needs to see how not okay his wife’s behavior was. LW, please tell your dad as many times as it takes that he needs to concern himself with his grandson’s safety.

      2. Yeah, Dad here strikes me as the type of enabler who’s realized that standing up to his spouse would mean he becomes the target for her shitty behavior, and he’d rather let his own children suffer than him. Not rad at all.

        1. YES!!!! This was my dad, and I have paid for his unwillingness to protect me for my entire life. (Think half century….) Dad may be rad, but his responses are bad. Sorry, Dad!

        2. Yeah… This was my mom.

          Go on let Step-dad abuse me, let him call me all kinds of vile names, and while we’re at it…screw something up yourself and let me take the blame. Don’t do anything like say “I did it” ever, any of the dozens (at least) times that happened over the years. He might get angry at YOU Mom.

        3. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

        4. I suspect “rad” mostly means “doesn’t pull the kind of crap that Mom does, acts nicely to me, what a contrast & what a relief.” It can be so much harder to see enabling behavior and to create in your mind the shape of what life *could* be like if your other parent stood up for you. Especially when this is what you grew up with & thus all you knew for the formative years of your life.

      3. I am side-eying him so hard. He is part of the problem here. No matter how rad he might be at other times, he responded to “Mom took off with my kid without telling me and with no car seat” with “Now, you need to be really nice when she comes back or she’ll be sad because you’re mad she kidnapped your baby.”

        That is-not good.

      4. Script: Mom might get depressed. I am okay with that. What I am not okay with is not knowing where my child is, my child being dressed inappropriately for the weather, and my child not being properly secured in a vehicle. It doesn’t matter what you think about car seats, these are the laws now and violating it can result in traffic tickets and discussions with Child Protective Services. If you can not handle these logistics, you are not able to handle being with my child.

      5. Yeah… A lot of times when I hear “my mom is terrible and my dad is pretty good” it just reads as “my mom enacts the bad behaviours and my dad feels comfortable letting them happen. I think he’s a good parent because he’s not an active parent.” It’s a red flag to me

    2. Dad is…actually pretty great. And recently we have had conversations where we are all clear that mom is a missing stair. But in that first moment of decision, when I was panicked, he reverted. In the end he told me I should set whatever boundary I need to and he would endorse it. I would be very surprised if he snuck her in to a meeting with us.

      1. Um, glad he’s able to see it when with you, but living with your mom may mean he agrees with whoever he’s standing next to. I hope I’m wrong, but it’s possible he’s still a risk when your mom is around and you aren’t. He can be a loving human and still have been conditioned to go along to get along.

      2. Good to know, and you’re the expert! I’m sure you can understand that his “don’t overreact or your mom will have a depressive episode” line did not set him up as a hero in this story, and please don’t feel like you have to defend him comment by comment if people are like “Zuh? Nope!” after reading that. I’m glad you can count on him, that’s a good thing to be wrong/not have all the information about.

        Your mom is so out of line here, I hope you have some reassurance to help you hold fast to your instincts. ❤

        1. No- it’s okay. I don’t feel like I have to defend him comment by comment. Im just thinking it through out loud.

          He totally dropped the ball in the moment, and after all the frank convos we’ve had this last year, I was really hurt by that. I’ve always known, academically, that he must be enabling but couldn’t find the way to feel that in my heart until this incident. Ugh.

          1. I’m so sorry, LW. What your mom did fills me with rage but your dad not supporting you the way he has a duty to as your parent just makes me so sad. You deserve better. As a parent himself your dad of all people should understand how utterly terrifying it must be to not know where your child is or if they’re safe.

          2. I too have a dad who is awesome and supportive and I adore, but whose major flaw is to placate instead of challenge my Mum’s crazy boundary pushing and hurtful behaviour. It was the only way he could have survived being married to her all these years after he realised she wouldn’t change. (And yes, divorce was an option but that’s not his thing.)
            I would so want my kids to have a relationship with their grandad, and yet have to put some really clear boundaries in with their grandma (who I can imagine totally doing exactly what happened in your letter, and reacting as if I was being the unreasonable one.)
            I get you’re going to get lots of letters side eying your dad (like blaming the DV victim for staying) so just wanted to say I can understand this. Well done for standing up for yourself and putting in those boundaries, cos I bet that was really hard.

          3. My father, too, was an enabler of my mother (nearly wrote “is an enabler” but Mum passed away at New Year; still getting used to using the past tense). He was brilliant in so many ways and all my life I’ve always been closer to him than to Mum. But he fell down badly where she was concerned, which is why I went no contact for 5 years. He’s evidently not so brilliant, because he rejected the idea of us meeting up for coffee this week. I get that he’s grieving, but it just feels like he’s still enabling her even though she’s dead now.

            LW, I understand that hurt, and I’m sorry he disappointed you so badly like that. 😦

          4. Your father’s day-to-day emotional priority is, probably, taking care of your mother. It’s not really surprising that he’s developed the habit of thinking first about managing her moods and her illness, even to the point of enabling a lot of bad behavior. Living with an emotionally immature grown-up is exhausting. Sadly, though, you can’t trust him.

          5. Just so you don’t get blindsided because no one told you: As you take the steps necessary to protect your child from your mother, you’re very likely going to see a side of your father you didn’t think was there.

            He knows what she is, what she’s like, and he chooses to be with her. It might be that he hasn’t found a way out yet. It may instead be that it suits him, and that’s what may come out where you can see it. I hope not, but it happens.

      3. *jedi hugs*
        Both of my parents were pretty damn amazing people, yet when it came to the family member who is/was the missing entire staircase, all logic & rationality got tossed out the window.
        Sometimes even the best people have extreme blind spots and weak points.

      4. The thing is, 30 or whatever of living with someone that volatile and unboundaried has conditioned your dad to react the way he does, and while on reflection he might side with you, at stressful moments he’s going to be Team Mum (or rather Team Keep Mum happy, because if she’d encountered some boundaries from your dad over the years she might now not be so bad – it’s not actually doing her any favours to keep her happy in the short term while enabling the sort of behaviour that, long term, is going to destroy her relationships). I know whereof I speak, my dad was the same, and I loved him to bits, but there was a limit to his loyalty to me. He was too scared of my mum.

      5. This is good to hear. I hope you also had a conversation with your kid(s) about the alarm bells the Captain called out if anyone tries to tell them to hide something from you in the future. That seems like a Really Good General Policy to add to your family Proceedures Manual.

    3. When somebody decides to re-enact the take the kid for the afternoon scene from Fatal Attraction they’ve lost all their points, I don’t care who they are. And DAD, GET BETTER COPING METHODS. NOW.

    4. Sadly the majority of kidnappers are people known to the child and are usually family members, most frequently grandparents and non-custodial parents.

      It doesn’t help that daycares and schools and clubs for children don’t realise this and have allowed grandparents and other relatives to pick up kids even if they’re not on a pick up list. It’s too late to reprimand the daycare worker for letting the child go when Granny is putting pedal to the metal.

  2. Sounds like there’s history here prior, LW–listen to yourself first and foremost.
    And maybe it’s too son,, but I just finished reading Shadow Daughter, and it was helpful and insightful in terms of getting okay with limiting family time. Good for you, LW, for being willing to bluntly say you were not okay with this.

  3. HOLY COW. No, you are not overreacting, LW. Not even a little. I’m angry at your dad being all “oh, if you get upset about this your mom will be depressed, as though you are responsible for her emotions! And at the rest of your family for acting like you’re the bad guy! But I imagine that, if you have been enabling someone’s boundary-smashing and inappropriate behavior for a long time, you sort of accept their behavior as normal, or you at least aim to rock the boat as little as possible. But their enabling of your mom’s behavior does not make you the bad guy, LW. I can’t even imagine how frightening this must have been for you, and how it must have messed with your kid’s head.

    1. ‘I imagine that, if you have been enabling someone’s boundary-smashing and inappropriate behavior for a long time, you sort of accept their behavior as normal, or you at least aim to rock the boat as little as possible.’

      You know, I can see my friend’s mother pulling a stunt like this, and at least some of their family members behaving like the LW’s, for exactly this reason. It is hard to overstate the weird sunk-cost/frog-in-a-pot dynamic that builds up over a lifetime of abusive behaviours like these.

      LW, count me as another Internet Stranger who fully supports all boundaries you enact and enforce here. Yes, it would be sad for your son not to have his grandmother in his life, but it could become a full-on tragedy if her behaviour continues to escalate and causes real and lasting harm to him or anyone else. Take care of your son and yourself. Jedi hugs if you want them.

      1. Actually, given the way his grandmother acts, methinks it would be GREAT for Son to be exposed to Grandma as little as humanly possible.

        LW, when I read your letter I saw my future if I ever do have kids. I’m already planning how to keep any future dependents away from my mom and they’re not even 8 years close to being here.

        So: I know how hard these situations can be. I know how hard it can be to set boundaries to protect yourself when your whole family is pressuring you to deal with (aka submit to) your mother’s abuse. No, I don’t think you’re overreacting: I think your reactions are spot on.

        Don’t give up, LW. This is for your son’s wellbeing. You can do it! Your family can fucking well deal with it.

  4. “My dad worried I would over react and send her into a depressive episode.”

    …your dad worried more about your mom’s reaction to being “found out” than about a) her having done a not-okay thing, b) the health and safety of his grandchild, c) the perfectly reasonable concern his adult child had for a missing 5yo, d) the potential fallout if something bad had happened, or e) all of the above?

    That is … not okay.

    Keeping boundaries with the mom may put awkwardness on the dad, but he sorta earned it.

    All the Jedi hugs, LW.

    1. I’m guessing the dynamic in the family is that everyone forgives and forgets when Mom screws up, because it’s easier than dealing with her taking it out on everyone else. But just because that’s the way the LW’s dad has chosen to deal with his wife, doesn’t mean the LW has to or should. If the mom goes into a depressive episode because she gets confronted or loses access to her grandchild, that’s the consequence of her own terrible choice, not the LW’s fault.

      1. I’m guessing the dynamic is that Mom is the crazy neurotic screw-up and Dad is the totally cool, totally innocent ‘nice guy’ who (sigh) just has to put up with it.

        When in reality they’re both exactly as bad as the other.

        1. Wow you really hit the nail on the head with MY sordid family past, for one. This was an eye-opener to read.

          1. Mine too. I have vague memories of my granny pulling “don’t tell your Mum” stuff when I was small and the people defending her being not just my grandpa but also my Dad (her son). It sounds really nasty to write “Fortunately she died when I was six” about your own granny but if she had lived longer our family life would have been SO MUCH worse than it was.

      2. If the mom goes into a depressive episode because she gets confronted or loses access to her grandchild, that’s the consequence of her own terrible choice, not the LW’s fault.

        DING DING DING. LW I hope you read and hold on to this perfect summation of action/consequence when your family tries to muddy the water with your apparent role in any subsequent relationship breakdown.

      3. This is basically what I was coming here to say. LW, I have recurrent major depression. Depressive episodes suck. That does NOT give me license to behave badly with no one ever getting mad at me for it. Mental illness doesn’t mean I get to be shielded from the consequences of my own actions.

        What your mom did was so far beyond okay, and she knew it at the time. You have every right to burn all the bridges.

        1. yeah, her not answering your phone calls is proof that she knew what she’d done was wrong, and that you wouldn’t approve.

          1. Her not letting the kid tell his mom where he was the thing that clinches it for me.

            There’s just no possible innocent excuse or explanation for that no matter how you try.

      4. Yeah, “quirky” being the first descriptor of Mom seems like it has covered some other questionable behaviors, at best.

        1. Nailed it. “quirky, genius, self-centered, deeply insecure” — from the LW. That gives us the narrative right there. Everyone has to understand she’s just so damn SPECIAL, you see. And fragile in her specialness.

          It’s true that our society has a thing that genius is allowed to be quirky, because we’ve learned when you try to drum the quirkiness out of geniuses, you beat the creativity out as well. Fair enough. But too many seize on that to justify ever-increasing amounts of treating other people like shit. Genius doesn’t mean “can’t learn boundaries” — rather the opposite; genius can be applied to learn others’ boundaries even when they seem artificial and strange.

          LW has been raised to believe that the constant abusive boundary-violations are the price of having someone around as dynamically “fun” as her mother is. This is not remotely true. LW, there are plenty of people that fun and creative around who don’t act like that. You’re not giving that up by having less of her in your life — you’re making room to find those who bring the good without the abuse.

  5. Thanks for pointing out that it is very NOT OK to say “Don’t tell Mom.” It’s easy to focus on the other stuff (being panicked when you couldn’t find him, the lack of carseat could have resulted in accident, etc.), but that’s the thing with a possible long term effect.

    1. Yeah, this was a great point. And can I add, that it might be a good discussion point for OP’s child as well? Of course, emphasising that it’s not their fault at the same time. The child’s pediatrician may be a good resource about how to have age appropriate conversations about consent if OP needs more ideas!

    2. Yes yes yes, “don’t tell Mom” is a massive red flag/air raid siren/99 red balloons of wtf-ness!
      Every abuser in my childhood tried to cover their tracks with some version of “let’s keep this our little secret,” which was their way of trying to make me partly responsible for their behavior (as if!) while covering their tracks. This whole letter pulled my shoulders up around my ears, but particularly the “don’t tell Mom” part.
      Especially awful is grandma’s *bullying* of grandchild into keeping her bad behavior a secret from Mom. So, even when grandchild reminds her that she should tell Mom, Grandma just goes ahead with what she wants regardless.
      LW, you are absolutely right to set boundaries with your family. 1000%

  6. Fire her with EXTREME PREJUDICE. She should think herself lucky if she gets a school picture every other year. You are totally 100% correct to react strongly, no matter what any of Mom’s apologists say. They’re probably used to working around her … but you don’t have to, and neither does your kid.
    A five-year-old with no car seat/booster seat? She knew you would say no.

  7. This reminds me of a letter where the… mom? I think MOm, which surprised me, was surprised and confused that her husband did not their daughter to go to grandma’s.

    Geee… I dunno… it could be the last time the 2 year old came back, she was missing TWO of her fingers!

    I am on team cut off grandma until she UNDERSTANDS her crime and REPENTS.

    1. UGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH that letter and letter writer are haunting me (It was a Care & Feeding column on Slate, right?)

      You have a duty to protect your kids from harm. You don’t have a duty to keep giving people chances.

      1. It was, and it also made it to Carolyn Hax. I can’t imagine what that grandmother was thinking, “What’s the problem, she still has the other eight fingers?”

        1. Like, I know kids can do very stupid things… but when Grandma can’t be bothered to answer what the flyig fox happened to a baby’s 2 fingers… than Grammy will get THE finger and no access to the child.

          1. I mean if you can’t figure out that returning the child WITH ALL OF THEIR APPENDAGES STILL ATTACHED is the absolute bare minimum child-minding performance there is no help for you.

          1. … ye gods. If any child of mine came back from Granny’s, missing TWO FINGERS?!?!??? My partner’s reaction would be immaterial; *I* would be the one insisting that unsupervised visits were never going to happen, and frankly it would be grounds to cut her off completely!

        1. Holy crap! The grandmother is absolutely out of line in willfully misunderstanding why she’s not allowed with the child unsupervised, but the wife’s (LW, in that case) behavior in this situation would be an absolute deal breaker for me.

    2. WHHHHAAAAATTT?!?!?!?!?



      I am fucking REELING here…I’m not a parent myself, but good freaking GAWD, I don’t care WHO that person was, they’d be cut out of my/my kid’s life FOREVER*, and I’d press every goddamn charge against them that I possibly could.

      *I’m assuming this wasn’t one of those terrible freak accidents that can occur even with the best supervision, so YEP, forever it would be.

      1. This column made me so rage-blind at the mother, who seemed concerned about everyone except the CHILD THAT LOST PART OF HER HAND. I want to fire that mom with extreme prejudice.

  8. It is frightening when your child is not where you think they are. You panic even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder.

    1. That cold shot of adrenaline right through your veins that locks you in place as your brain goes “…but where is she?”

    2. Yup. I flipped a couple of years ago when my kid was going through a hide-and-seek phase and didn’t yet understand she had to TELL me she was hiding.

  9. Fellow parent here. This is the rare occasion where I don’t think the Captain’s advice goes far enough. She encouraged your kid to lie to you, saying “she doesn’t need to know”. This is exact cover-up-abuse language. Why would you want to accept ANY gifts from her or stay at her house?

    Here’s what I’d do:
    1. No contact for six months. Tell her you’re doing it, then block her on your phone and all social media. If any family members object, tell them what happened, and if they don’t capitulate block them too.
    2. Accept no gifts or contact from her or through any proxies.
    3. Be willing to see your Dad, at your house or a neutral location, provided he doesn’t understands what you’re doing.
    4. But to be honest, I’m suspicious of your Dad here. He makes excuses for her putting his grandchild at risk?! He would for sure cover it up if something worse happened.

    Please please please do not accept abusive behavior. Your son is counting on you.

    1. I fully endorse this plan/list if the LW would feel safer taking an explicit break. You’re absolutely right, and the pressuring of the kid to not tell mom is 100% what chilled me to the bone when I read the letter.

      1. Yup, totally agree. LW’s mom has proven herself actively dangerous to the kid. The nuclear option is incredibly reasonable here. Honestly, anything other than complete no contact is something I would consider extremely generous on the part of the LW.

        1. As a parent who values extended family a lot: I heartily endorse this.

          Telling the kid to keep secrets from his parents is SO NOT OK. Taking him without notice, without enough clothes, without safe transportation, without acknowledgement would be enough on its own for supervised visits. Asking him to keep it secret, and then blaming you (anxiety my aunt fanny!) for your completely normal reaction takes it to the level of ‘complete cut off is justified’.

          You might make sure his day care or school are aware. I can totally see Gma showing up to drive him him to ‘prove’ he’s safe with her.

          1. (The first phrase of my post is to say, ‘Gma is so out of line that even people with strong preference for staying in touch with family will understand whatever level of reaction you choose…’)

    2. What are the chances Rad Daddy won’t bring evil Grand Mommy to the “neutral” location in an attwmpt to “mend fences” and “get along.”

      Nah. I would block Rad Daddy too.

      …. Now I am getting “Dream Daddy” flashbacks, which is not the right odea because the daddies in those games were awesome.

      1. I read the chances as 100%. Rad Grandpa is used to appeasing Bad Grandma. He will rationalize and deny but do anything to keep his home life smoother. He’s not a safe person for kids either.

        1. There’s this game a lot of guys my age play. When they were young they went out of their way to marry women who weren’t as smart or stable as they fondly believe themselves to be. They then feed that instability with cutting remarks, sarcasm, and neglect, then when the inevitable blowup occurs they play poor little nice guy, victim of their wife’s nerves and irrationality.

          Mr. Bennet, basically.

          1. Eeesh. That is literally the dynamic between my ex’s parents. They were divorced by the time I knew either of them, but the whole family had a habit of treating the mom like she was absolutely lacking in all intelligence. It was gross.

          2. Mr. Bennet is on my permanent HAAATE list. He thought it was cute and funny when his daughters behaved badly (because he couldn’t be bothered to do any actual parenting.) His lack of concern for propriety and his children allowed Lydia to get to the point of running off with Wickham, where if he’d stepped in and set some boundaries she likely wouldn’t have.

          3. Yes. I was glad to see that addressed finally instead of completely played for laughs. Elizabeth reflects, albeit briefly, on the lasting damage to their family from the disrespect with which her father always treated her mother.

          4. Ugggghhh this is my father-in-law. (To be fair, I’m not sure either of them would have married the other if they hadn’t had an unplanned pregnancy that made them feel like they must.)

          5. And poor Mrs. Bennet, who was (rationally) very concerned at what would happen to her daughters if Mr. Bennet died. Like. She was not at all wrong to be concerned, and Mr. Bennet acted like she was completely ridiculous about it.

            Mrs. Bennet is silly and not particularly smart, but she wasn’t WRONG about how vulnerable she and her children were, and if her jerk husband had taken his role as a parent more seriously she would not have been so stressed out and upset.

          6. Mr. Bennet’s sneering responses to his wife’s panicking over getting her daughters married when the only alternatives were being a governess for pennies, prostitution or starving PISSED ME OFF. How he’d act like it was cute or something that his ditzy spouse didn’t want her children tossed into the icy, rocky lap of spinsterhood while he did dick-all about anything.

          7. Oh, my gracious, THANK YOU for being other people who saw that about Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. That dynamic bugged the ever-living shit out of me. SO GOOD to hear someone else (several someones, even!) seeing it.

          8. I see Mr Bennett as the kind of man who blamed his wife for not giving him sons. You can see how his treatment of his family got worse as time went on by looking at how the girls act:

            Jane: first born, Mr Bennett is happy enough with this one, because he still has plenty of time to get a son later. She gets a solid childhood because Mr Bennett starts off with at least some motivation to invest in his family.

            Elizabeth: a daughter, but still time to have more, and from a young age she’s a great wit, which Mr Bennett loves. Favourite child.

            Mary: this is where Mr Bennett starts getting tired of having only daughters. Jane tries hard to please her father, but she’s neither as beautiful as Jane, nor as witty as Elizabeth, so he just ignores her.

            Kitty and Lydia: by the time these girls come around, Mr Bennett is completely sick of the whole daughters thing, so barely acknowledges them. The younger girls see from Mary’s example that trying to impress their father through talent or grace won’t achieve anything, but they realise that they can basically get their way if they make it easier for him to indulge them. Mrs Bennett tries to keep them respectable and marriageable, but it’s basically impossible for her because by this stage Mr Bennett doesn’t give a rat’s arse about his family anymore.

          9. Yep, she was right to be concerned – see ‘Sense and Sensibility’ for the ‘good’ version of how that could come out. If Sir John Middleton hadn’t given them cheap housing, they would have really struggled.

    3. LW, I have to say that bit about your mother getting angry at your little boy when he wanted to tell you where they were going set off my spidey-sense too, and I don’t even have any kids.
      As other posters have pointed out, this is a classic abuser’s move.
      Even if there is no suggestion of abuse, it is an awful thing that some mothers do to their adult children (especially adult daughters) – they try to “win” the daughter’s own children away from her. It sounds to me as if this is the start of that kind of behaviour pattern – in which case, this is another reason to put in a very strong boundary, now.

      1. It IS a classic abuser’s move and I didn’t know that aspect until days later, when we were home, and I finally asked my boy about it. He described the interaction so clearly that I have no doubt it is accurate (“…she didn’t say anything [when I said I should tell you first] just “hhhmmmph!”, and I thought she might be angry so I just did what she said because you have to follow adult’s rules.”), and that broke my heart all over again.

        1. LW, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this.

          Your parents sound so much like mine it’s giving me chills. My mom did that “Hmmmmph!” thing a lot whenever someone showed that pleasing her wasn’t their top priority (which is exactly what your son did and quite right of him too). It worked well because we all knew if we didn’t start appeasing her, her mental health issues would escalate. Sometimes to stuff like leaving the house and wandering off in the middle of the night in winter with no coat or phone (panicked searching of the neighbourhood on the parts of husband and teenaged daughter ensues), or to locking herself in the bathroom taking pills and refusing to talk to anyone but making sure the rustling and rattling of pill packets and bottles is very audible (panicked phone call to emergency services ensues, followed by a fun overnight stay at her bedside in the ER). I too had a father who taught me the importance of Never. Upsetting. Your. Mother., with its implicit threat that if you do, whatever horrors follow will be on *your* conscience and no one else’s. My mother’s mental health issues were a 100% get out of jail free card for her to control and manipulate everyone else with zero consequences for her.

          She’s dead now. It took me a lot of years before I was able to look back and see someone who was not the pure and saintly victim that we all revered her as while she was alive. It took a long time for me to understand that she enjoyed upsetting people, she enjoyed the sense of power it gave her, and she enjoyed knowing that she could always get away with it, because any time anyone got angry with her, she could so quickly make them be more afraid for her safety than angry. Afraid enough to apologise for the anger and stuff it all the way down and try to forget about it. Even when (TW pet abuse to the end of the paragraph) she shut my cat away in her bedroom for 12 hours when he was clearly terribly sick and he died, slowly, in horrific unnecessary pain.

          My dad blamed it on her mental health and mom went right to work on getting herself into a hysterical state about how she was a horrible person and didn’t deserve to live. It took about four minutes before I was afraid enough for my mother’s safety that I started work on calming her down and reassuring her she was a good person who’d made a mistake. Dad took her out to lunch so I could bury the cat in the garden by myself, so Mom wouldn’t have to be around the burial and get upset.

          It was so many years before I realised that feeling the power rush from how hurt and upset I was when I found the cat, was the whole entire point. My panic and despair and gut-wrenching grief made her feel alive like nothing else.

          LW, you will know best, but I think maybe you might have a mom like that too. If you think it’s even possible, then please enforce ALL the boundaries. My mom used what she knew would panic and upset me most. In your case, that’s not a cat, it’s your son.

        2. Fwiw, more than 40 years later, I’m still furious that my grandparents didn’t call my parents when I was ill at their house. And then they wanted me to not tell.

          (Because I was running a fever of 102°F (39°C) I couldn’t get from my bed to the phone for a few days. My grandparents didn’t tell my parents how sick I was when they called.)

          Why am I telling you this? Oh because if my grandparents – who were usually very respectful of my parents – did this to 12 year old me, I worry about your kid left with your parents for even 5 minutes.

          Yes. Fire them both.

        3. Oh man that is so terrible LW. You do NOT have to put up with this and have every right to protect your son from this kind of confusion and pain.

        4. LW your mother is exhibiting a lot of hostility to you. There are literally dozens of decisions she made to disempower and terrorize you in this situation. It’s about power and control, your kid was just the pawn. Expect more if you stick around. Maybe this was a manic swing since everyone seems to already know her depressive phases. I shouldn’t diagnose anyone but it would be helpful to you to find out better what you are dealing with (i.e. not quirky and not genius) but even having deeper insight doesn’t change the course you need to set to protect yourself and your little guy. We don’t need to know if people like this intend to cause harm, just that they do cause harm. I had to break off from my parents. Once my kids were older, more fully developed, empowered and savy then they could have their own relationships with my parents. Guess what, healthy young adults with good boundaries see through all the manipulations for what they are. Don’t let your kid get groomed.

        5. The part that itches my brain about all this is: WTH is g’ma’s agenda, here? I mean, what was this move a set-up for? Because I have a real hard time visualizing a grandparent suddenly go, “Oh, I know! Let’s go for a drive! It’ll be fine! Your mum would never need to know!” I’d also start scouring my experience of g’ma and all of the family history for matching patterns, because my spidey-sense is all “There’s Something going on here.”

          1. True, cavyherd. I’m still not clear what the grandma was doing with the little boy on this journey. Was the drive for some specific purpose, or was it just – I dunno, driving around because …?

      2. “Win.” Yep. My mom would have tried that eith me if I’d let her. She managed it eith my dister’s eldest.

        She actually tried with my son when he was about 17 IIRC. She said some stuff about me and my integrity (not true at all) to my son who promptly put her in her place.

        He said something like “you don’t even *know* my mom (pretty accurate really). I know what kinds of things you think are ok for a parent to do (he’d heard stories…not just from me) but my mom would never do things like that to her own child.”

      3. As someone with a mother who would is inclined towards asking forgiveness not permission…I could 100% any offspring I produced would at some point get similar treatment. She would want to go bike ridding and “tutut” my kid wanting to wear a helmet, or if my kid had meds to take she would frown and sigh sadly. The “harrumph” reaction is so telling and devastating. We can pick up on the emotional landscape from an early age.

        Believe your protective reaction. My mother has plenty of other delightful qualities and quirks but I would never trust her with a grandchild without very specific parameters.

        1. Yep. The way he described her “harrumph” was so familiar and CLEAR. I was devastated she would do it to him, but I am surprised at my own surprise. Sigh.

          1. Don’t be — you had the most common human reaction to your situation. People in your position have trouble, at first, imagining their parent ever mistreating their child, because they look at their child and see an innocent — no one would ever hurt such an innocent, would they? It seems impossible to believe. Their child could never deserve such treatment.

            The thing it takes some work to realize is that you didn’t deserve it either, and you were just as innocent. When a child is faced with such behavior from an adult they have to trust, they basically have two choices: 1) believe that the world is fundamentally unfair, dangerous, terrifying, and constantly out to get them, or 2) believe that the world is just and fair and safe and just and the only thing wrong is that they, the child, are bad and deserve to be treated badly. They grow up with this belief that they deserve the mistreatment buried so deep that it doesn’t really get faced until they realize they could never do that to a child themselves, because no child could possibly deserve it.

            It’s okay to forgive yourself, even if it’s just for having to be surprised at yourself, for having the most common human reaction, and put your focus on protecting your child.

          2. Hey, it’s ok to expect from your parent that they won’t abuse your child. Basic humaning standards, really. I’m very sorry that your mom cannot even do that bare minimum, but it’s not your fault for not foreseeing it.

          3. “The way he described her “harrumph” was so familiar and CLEAR.”
            Like – it’s really bad and naughty of him to tell his own mother what he/s doing? Aggh.

    4. I do think that going straight to the Big Guns is probably much more effective than a gradual thing.

      It may be what you need to get everyone, especially Mom, to take you seriously.

      As a parent, I often went straight to the worst possible punishment instead of slowly escalating. It meant the issue was not an issue for very long at all.

    5. “Our little secret” even if Grandma means nothing sinister by it (I’m defining it being bad vs sinister), that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Absolutely don’t teach kids to keep secrets from their patents* because it could be really important at some point that they don’t.

      My son used to confide in my sister. You better believe she told me stuff. I never said “Aunt Katelyn said…” because I wanted him to continue telling her stuff…from a safety perspective. Had it been the other way around I would have been livid. Of course he eventually told me all the stuff she’d told me already because I was chill and never outwardly overreacted…even if I was falling off a cliff on the inside. I think she was practice.

      Sorry I digressed.

      *Providing that the kid has “normal,” non abusive, safe parents.

      1. We talk about secrets quite a bit in our house. Secrets have very strict rules. It’s a good secret if 1. You’re going to tell the person 2. At a pre-approval determined time, and 3. It’s going to make them happy.
        Gifts are good secrets. Wedding and pregnancy announcements. Something awesome happened and I want to tell you in person instead of on the phone or via email.
        Secrets are never okay if 1. Someone tells you that you need to keep it a secret or you’ll get in trouble, 2. Keeping the secret feels uncomfortable, or 3. Someone is or will be hurt.

        We also talk about who our daughter can talk to if she feels like she can’t talk to her parents. My sister and brother-in-law are her godparents, and she can talk to them about ANYTHING. Grandparents, teachers, and coaches are all good people to talk to.

        1. I have issues with my sister but they are between she and I. She was always a good aunt so I was cool with my son talking to her about stuff. I knew though if it came down to it she would side with my mom. Reason #873 I lived on the other side of the country. Fortunately it never cane to that, but I was prepared.

          Son’s godmother was my BFF (she still is actually, 40 years and counting) and she was someone I trust implicitly to have his best intetests and my primacy as the actual parent in mind.

        2. Your rationale is great, though to reduce confusion for younger kids maybe it helps if you simply call the pleasant secret a “surprise”.

          1. You can also point out that 1) if they’re unsure if something is ok to hide from you or not, they can tell the other parent or another trusted adult first and ask them what they think and 2) you will never be mad if they do tell you, even if they _were_ told it was a nice surprise.

          2. Some years ago, a then-toddler in the family came up to me and said solemnly that there was a secret in the refrigerator.

            It was a birthday cake for my “surprise” birthday party. She technically kept the secret and did not ruin the surprise.

            Point is, kids will surprise and confuse with any terminology you choose; you are doing it right regardless of the specific words you use 🙂

  10. I want to talk about this:

    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.

    So in addition to pressuring the LW’s kid into leaving without telling his parents, she was also perfectly aware that there were measures she could have taken to satisfy the LW but couldn’t be bothered with them. This and the whole thing with ignoring the LW’s phone calls but not those of the LW’s sister says to me that this was a power play all along. She was trying to send a message that she’s the boss of the family and can do whatever she wants. I also think LW’s mother was hoping to use this as the thin edge of the wedge to open the door to take LW’s son whenever she wants for as long as she wants (“I decided to surprise him after school! It’s no different from what I did at Christmas, so why are you so upset?”).

    She underestimated how much resistance she would get from the LW and the LW’s husband, and is hoping to use guilt and other family members to break down the LW’s resolve. As for punishing the LW’s dad, well, he’s backing her up on this, which shows a real lack of judgment on his part. I’m not sure I’d be okay leaving a kid unsupervised with him either, since he seems to think it’s fine to to “deal with the logistics” of basic safety for a five year old. Presumably he is free to come over and visit his grandson whenever he likes. In fact, it sounds like the LW’s mom would be too; they just doesn’t get unsupervised time with him, which was always a privilege and not a right anyway.

    Sidenote: what kind of “adventure” can a kid have in cold weather while wearing pajamas and no coat? I love a good car ride/road trip as much as the next guy, but that’s hardly an “adventure”.

    1. It’s not surprising that grandpa and the other family members are backing up grandma. If they don’t back her up, *they* have to deal with all her antics and feelings. It’s so much easier to dump all that negativity on LW and insist she is the problem.

      I mean, look how simple life can be if we just ignore all this bad behavior and act like it’s no big deal?! All the problems go away! It’s magic!

      1. It felt like a power play. Most of her boundary smashing is smaller stuff, but it all feels like a power play. Along with the earnest apologies and #understanding about my new stated boundaries.

        It’s like she knows I have reservations about our ‘ship and she can’t stand to not pick the scab.

        1. If you Reddit (or even if you’re neutral on the site) I recommend JustNoMIL, a support group for people with exactly this kind of boundary-crunching, self-doubt-inducing, nightmare mother-in-law or mother.

          1. Yep, came here to post this. LW – that sub (and related subs) is chock full of advice and collective experience that may be helpful to you. Read, post, comment, whatever.

          2. Seconding JustNoMIL, with the caveat that it is on Reddit, and therefore has a lot more outright vitriol from some of the commentators. It’s cathartic to read, but on the flip side, everyone jumping to more extreme conclusions can feel a little too highkey.

          3. @bemusedlybespectacled: A lot of the long-time posters on that sub have seen, or experienced, somebody escalating to flat-out criminal behavior because their daughters-in-law (or sons-in-law or adult children or grandchildren or adult children’s significant others or some random person who saw them doing something that had to be stopped) simply told them no and stuck to it, or asked for a single, simple apology and stuck to it. So they tend to sound the alarm early and often.

            LW, the responses they advocate generally boil down to “Increase home security monitoring and barriers, save everything they say or send in case it will be needed as evidence, keep them out of your information stream, and don’t go into any space or situation that they control.” And I think that all of that is prudent advice when dealing with somebody who acts like your mother. You shouldn’t have to; it isn’t fair. But look at it this way: you’ll have a secure home and online life and you won’t have to stress about what she’ll pull this time if you batten down the hatches and stop being around her.

            Here’s the single best link at JNMIL, IMO: https://www.reddit.com/r/JUSTNOMIL/wiki/milimination_tactics It’s aimed specifically at dealing with horrible mothers-in-law, of course, but it has lots of good general advice about people who think they can do as they like with your children.

          4. I remembered this post while reading the original letter and hope it might provide some assistance.
            “At some point in her youth, Mum/MIL gave the boat a little nudge. And look how everyone jumped to steady the boat! So she does it again, and again. Soon her family is in the habit of swaying to counteract the crazy”.

        2. Yep. The game is to stick you with needles, each one small enough that you’ll look ridiculous if you try to permanently stop the game. She will, I guarantee, portray it as “LW won’t let me see my grandson because I took him for a ride in the car, she’s so controlling and unreasonable!” Probably with some insinuation that she’s concerned about your son’s wellbeing, having a mother like that.

          And even if she were right about that (she’s not), there are worse things you could do in this situation than being controlling and unreasonable. It reminds me of a Terry Pratchett quote about selfishness:

          “All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine! I have a duty!”

          In that spirit, go right ahead and be controlling and unreasonable and keep yourself and your family away from her games.

          1. And if she goes on one of those forums for parents whose kids have gone NC, she will say she just doesn’t understand why and all the other parents will cheer her on and tell her to sue for “grandparent’s rights.”

            No worries LW “grandparent’s rights” is generally not awardedunless like you divorced and wouldn’t let your inlaws see your kids.

            Courts generally agree that patents, not grandparents get to choose who their children spend time with.

            Grandparents *think* they have rights/misunderstand and then *threaten their own kids to force them to capitulate. Stand your ground.

            *I told my mom “so call a lawyer then…” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ She blinked first.

          2. It’s not just a thing of small needles. I wish it was. But the needles slowly get bigger and bigger over time, pushed into more and more vital spots. And when you snap and slap her hand and say “what the fucking FUCK knock it OFF” it’s going to be “but I always stick you with needles, what’s the big deal??” And you are the one with the problem.
            I know because I have my own Darth Mom. You cannot manage someone into being a safe person who respects boundaries. I tried for decades. Can’t be done.

        3. Yes, it’s clearly a power play. But this feels incomplete to me somehow. What is the picture she’s got in her brain of how things ought to be going?

          1. The kid is GRANDMA’S KID. She has full rights to take him whenever she wants, keep him as long as she wants, do whatever she likes with him, and be the Much-Loved Fun and Amazing Grandma. “Taking him on an adventure.” That’s the picture. It’s triangulation: kid and grandma against fuddy-duddy Mom who insists on boring stupid things like shoes and winter coats and car seats.
            Shut it down hard, Mom. You are right to prevent this.

        4. THIS. The anxiety behind knowing you’ve done a bad, and knowing your daughter isn’t afraid to call you out on your bad boundaries. She knows she’s done wrong, hence the refusal to answer your texts. But she’s just got to be on top. Got to keep creating artificial drama to ‘prove’ she’s the boss and you lose. It still sounds like a power move. She can’t deal with her anxiety, therefore you get to be exposed to more drama.

    2. I love a good car ride/road trip as much as the next guy, but that’s hardly an “adventure”.

      On icy roads, yet.

      Now, I can see where driving on icy roads could be considered an “adventure” but there is so much no here. Bees, and bees I’m willing to bet LW has heard buzzing since she was her son’s age.

      I agree with the Captain, and others, and I wouldn’t trust your father as far as I can throw him either. And I’m so sorry this happened to you, in that sympathy way of being sorry.

      1. Also, that line you pulled out? I strongly suspect that the truth is “I didn’t want to deal with the logistics” means “I knew you’d say no, so I didn’t ask.”

        1. Totally telling on herself. Gee mom, thanks for clarifying that you will do the same thing next time you have an idea you don’t want to have to plan.

          1. I’d consider filing a police report. Just in case. From this third person’s outside perspective, she has abducted a child, neglected said child (no shows coat + inclement weather), and endangered a child (driven a minor without a car seat). I know you have been socialized to not go nuclear, but this is as close to familial Pearl Harbor as it gets.

            Also, triangulating the rest of the family to switch the narrative to focus on your anxiety and not her *crimes* just screams abuse.

            It seems like she cares more about using your son to hurt you than she does about his well-being, because if she cared about the latter, she wouldn’t have made the decision over and over again allow him to be collateral damage in her emotional battle against you.

            Your instincts are spot on and your son is so lucky to have you!

        2. “And I didn’t want to bother with a carseat or a coat either, possibly because stopping to get those would result in discovery”

          And she effected this escape for what? To drive around with him?? My first reaction (as I also tried to parse just what was meant by quirky genius) was that Grandma did this in the throes of a mental illness episode and now the family was trying to figure out what new boundaries they should have since Grandma seems to be getting less stable. I have no idea (obviously) what issues she may have under the relational weirdness and power plays, but just, if it’s any comfort against the voices going “You’re the one with the issue, LW!” this whole episode makes her *look* unbalanced to the average person (I think I’m fairly average!) for darn sure.

      2. On icy roads with NO CARSEAT for a 5 year old. In addition to the abuse cover-up language, she literally put this child’s life in danger.

        1. I’d like to add that I don’t know about the law in the US, but here where I live if a street patrol stops you with a child unbuckled and without carseat you go to prison directly.
          It’s not a minor offence!

    3. “measures she could have taken to satisfy the LW”

      Hell, “measure she could have taken to make sure the kid was safe!”

      Like, a coat, and shoes, and a car seat.

    4. Oh the after school durprise thing…

      LW lock down school do they don’t release him to your mom. Or anyone who might do it for her because she’s not allowed to pick him up.

    5. The PJs and no coat really stood out for me…that’s not an adventure, that’s what a kidnapper dresses you in so you can’t run away.

    6. Logistics for KEEPING THE CHILD ALIVE. I know what happens when children aren’t secured properly on ‘oh it’s only a few miles’ car trips, my cousin had her spine severed by a seat belt that was in the wrong place because she wasn’t using a booster seat.

      I could trust someone like that with my child ever again, what other basic death-avoiding measures would they decide not to bother with in future? And try to pressure the kid to lie about.

      LW do they live close enough that they could ever collect your child from school? My in laws recently managed to take my son from school when they weren’t supposed to because they’re faaaaaamily. If you think that might be an issue alert the school about who has permission to collect.

      1. No. Thank goodness. I did think about that.

        How horrifying of your inlays! What on earth?! There’s a LIST of people who can collect the kids, if they’re not on it then NO!

        1. For your child’s safety, they still need to be alerted when there is a family member like this. Remember, your child thinks he has to obey this person. That he knows her and obeys her can be enough to give a staff member enough of a moment of uncertainty that you’re dealing with another kidnap situation. All it takes is one staff member making a mistake for that to happen. The school needs to be told when there is a person known to the child they have to be on guard against, and you should really supply them with a photo.

          1. Yes! Photo! Along with a declaration, of: i absolutely do not give permission for …. to pick up my child under any circumstances whatsoever. If she shows up and attempts to coerce staff into allowing her to leave with the child, please phone the police immediately. Then sign and date it. Tell them they’re welcome to show that to her if she shows up. Though it does sound a bit embarrassing, you can just explain to the daycare/school folks that grandma has a habit of taking kid out without proper car restraints. Most folks can get behind that as 100% no no, without extraneous detail.

        2. Seconding the notification to the kid’s school / daycare. If you try to block access, she may try to pick him up from school and drive him to your house to show you how ‘safe’ she is. While yeah, there’s a list, if the gparent parks at the school and walks up to the kids in the bus line, sometimes they can get away with it – it’s pretty chaotic, the kid trusts her, etc. Notifying the school and bus driver will have them keeping an eye on your kid, and will make them more likely to stand up to her.

          You should also talk to your kid, in a ‘sometimes you can’t trust grownups’ mode, and make sure he knows to yell / scream if Gma tries to pick him up. She’s not transporting him safely, and he’s old enough to understand. Use the tattle-tale urge to your advantage.

          We tell our kid that he can tell us anything, any question, and we will help him understand if it should be a secret. If it should, we’ll keep it, if it shouldn’t, we’ll handle telling the people who need to know. But he can tell us *anything*.

          Ren – that SUUUUUUUCKS.

          1. LW, I’m not sure if someone else posted this, but in addition to telling the school about your mother, you might want to add your father and any other family members who tried to minimize what she did to the no-permission list. If she can’t take him from school, she may send another family member that your son trusts but who you don’t.

        3. Many schools will have a Definite No list as well as a Yes list. You can even request to be notified if certain people attempt to take your child.

    7. “Sidenote: what kind of “adventure” can a kid have in cold weather while wearing pajamas and no coat? I love a good car ride/road trip as much as the next guy, but that’s hardly an “adventure”.”

      I could envision Grandma and kid taking a slow drive around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights in pajamas being a fun winter thing, except 1) bullying not to tell mom is all kinds of no, and 2) putting a coat on a kid in the winter should be automatic first instinct and 3) screening only mom’s calls is so very manipulative and gross.

    8. “Sidenote: what kind of ‘adventure’ can a kid have in cold weather while wearing pajamas and no coat? I love a good car ride/road trip as much as the next guy, but that’s hardly an ‘adventure’.”

      So, I had an experience very similar to the LW’s six years ago, and grandma hasn’t been alone with my kids since. I have a lot (A LOT) to say about this, but for now…okay, so is anyone else getting a major Cat-in-the-Hat vibe offa this? I know the book* is supposed to be whimsical or whatever, but it seems very gross and creepy to me now. I feel like this grandma wants to be a fun, whimsical figure, but the kids in that book are not having fun! They are anxious throughout, and at the end, they’re not sure whether they can even tell their mom what happened, and the Cat skates away scot-free. I know it’s just (“just”) a children’s story, but srsly, if the Cat in the Hat is your closest literary analogue, you should not be alone with children.

      *I can’t speak to the movie, but I’ve heard it’s a nightmare.

  11. The amount of awfulness on the part of grandma is gigantic and real. Causing someone’s child, or a child they are responsible for, to go ‘missing’ is literal torture, not metaphorical. Followed by bullying the child who manages to have better instincts at the Age Of Five. And THEN showing it was with at least some awareness of the awfulness when g-ma avoided LW’s calls. Topped off with a big ol’ rotten cherry of no remorse, plus trying to put it on on the LW to try and avoid consequences. Captain’s advice was spot on.

    1. Causing someone’s child, or a child they are responsible for, to go ‘missing’ is literal torture, not metaphorical

      This! There are some people I deeply and sincerely loathe, who have treated me like dirt for no good reason, and who happen to have children, and oh my fuck I would *never* just up and take their kids, let alone go out of my way to make sure they didn’t know where their child was purely to torture them. That’s just not okay. I don’t have, want, or even particularly like kids and even I can understand that is simply not ever okay. You really hit the nail on the head, it’s literally torture.

    2. This. It was literal torture. And I don’t think ignoring the phone calls was guilty evasion, it was calculated, exquisite sadistic torture.

  12. Another vote for Hell No, You’re Not Overreacting.

    She took your five-year-old child out in cold weather with no jacket, no car seat, and not only didn’t tell you or your husband but went out of her way to be sure that neither you nor your husband knew where your son was. That is, IMO, time not only to fire her, but to full-on, burn it to the ground, and then nuke it from orbit.

    And the fact that neither your father nor your sibling seem to have a problem with your mom’s behavior is a really good reason to avoid the whole damn lot of them until they get some damn sense of the magnitude of what they’re enabling.

        1. Good! Because this is EXACTLY the type of situation where your mom and dad have to realize that this isn’t a family matter. This is the kind of shit that agencies get involved in. Judges. Courts.

        2. Kindly, LW, if I were in your shoes I’d make damn sure they never had the opportunity again. You won’t need to call the police on Grandma if she becomes “The Grandma We Never Ever See”.

          I will make a longer comment later but I’ve been reading replies and this stuck out at me.

        3. It is not too late to file a police report — go in to the police station and do it. Get it on official record. You will very likely need that record down the road.

          1. One benefit of a police report is it stops her getting a freebie: The next time she pulls this will be her documented second strike. It also changes the story from “LW overreacted over Granny Joyride” to “LW takes no prisoners around child safety.” The gaslighting is what’s most chilling for me. It smells of a plan for escalation. If you were to withdraw to public meetings, would she announce she’s taking him to the bathroom or the swings, dare you to make a scene, and tell strangers “#Anxiety”? The bar is set at 30 minutes and her proceeding instead of making a U-turn as soon as you busted her. How long would your family want you to wait next time? Everyone’s boiling in the narrative that Grandma’s the good guy and her feelings are paramount. LW, you can absolutely have a no-JADE “My kid, my rules” decree. Your son’s narrative can be, “When I was five, Grandma said to go out without a coat or my mom’s permission. Now that I’m 18, I’ll decide if I want to resume contact with her.” Print this thread and bind it in a book. It will help you hold fast when time fades your memory and your family fabricates an emergency that requires you to take your son to your mom.

    1. I just want to re-emphasize this:

      went out of her way to be sure that neither you nor your husband knew where your son was.

      1. Yeah.

        I mean, my kid is grown now (26, where does the time go?!), and when she was that young, mobile phones weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are now, but I carried a pager so that her daycare center could get a hold of me while I was in class (university) or at work in case she got sick or injured or whatever. The daycare center also had the home phone number and both my parents’ work numbers plus my work number (but I was a pizza delivery driver then, so I might not necessarily be on the premises of my workplace while working, hence the pager), and they were well aware that they should not let my ex-husband (kiddo’s bio-dad) or any of his family pick her up from daycare.

        So even in a time of less-immediate communication technology, I always knew where she was and with whom (either trusted, bonded child-care professionals or my parents, or later, school teachers), and while I have had mental health issues my entire life, I still feel like I can say with confidence and accuracy that any decent parent, even the most mentally-healthy, most even-keeled parent in the history of parenthood, is going to go off the rails with panic if they don’t know where their young child is.

        There ain’t enough Hell Fucking No in the world for what LW’s mom pulled.

        (BTW, this is the user otherwise known as DesertRose; I made a WordPress account to back up my Tumblr, so it logs me in under my WordPress username half the time.)

  13. Your family’s an awful lot like mine. I’d hesitate to leave my dog around either of our mothers unsupervised, let alone a 5 year old kid.

    You are the only one who can protect your child from your family, and you owe it to him to do so. The rest of your family can deal with their hurt feelings on their own like the adults they should be.

  14. SO FIRED!!! Please don’t feel bad about keeping your kid as safe as possible. I hope some of these scripts/talking points help with the rest of your family.

    As someone who’s had to set “you won’t see my kid alone if XYZ continues” boundaries with both my mom and my mother-in-law, I can confirm that it is (usually) very effective, and I hope your family comes around as quickly as mine did. Best wishes and big hugs.

  15. Look, just the carseat thing would be a 100% fired scenario. My mom won’t even take the kids in her own car because the carseat might be installed wrong! I am having the vapors at just the idea of this trip. And then there’s the REST of it. LW, you are not.ocerreacting, but your dad is underreacting… and underwriting this behavior.

    1. yep! road safety isn’t down to one driver – no matter how carefully she thought she was driving, it takes one drunk dude breaking the speed limit in a car bigger than hers and the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

      another reasonable parent data point: my parents got my brother to give them several lessons in installing the car seat for my nephews before they’d even consider taking the boys out.

      being a grandparent doesn’t get you out of your responsibility to ensure the safety of minors even if you resent the ‘logistics’

      1. When I am leaving my kids with my mum we swap cars with her so that she has properly fitted car seats, or we install the car seats in her car before we leave. I am Australian, “It’s illegal for any baby or child under the age of seven years to travel in a car without a correctly fitted, properly fastened child restraint that meets Australian safety standards.”
        I think you can lose your drivers licence for it.
        I love my mum, and rely on her regularly for babysitting but she would lose babysitting privileges immediately just for the car seat part. Taking a kid without telling and letting my look for them, I would cut her out of my life for awhile. Everyone panics when they can’t find their child, she put you through that panic deliberately.

  16. I think as long as she doesn’t understand why what she did was so bad, the apology should be accepted as information, but your boundaries need to stay. It’s important not to put yourself in horrible stressful situations that involve triangulation. Your kid deserves a sold, not freaked out mom and you have to provide that.

    One reason I’m single now is that in my ex’s family, they believe beer is good for babies, in the bottle, and I don’t. I could not make it be okay with me, and it took a year or so to realize that I wasn’t wrong there.

    Tangent, It’s going to come as no surprise to mention that all 5 of my ex’s siblings, as well as my ex, are alcoholics, and that his older sister thought my breast feeding her was disgusting and possibly illegal; she actually said that. Good people can disagree but they don’t have to trust each other to do what they don’t even believe in, if that makes sense. My daughter is grown up now, and makes her own decisions about how much she sees these people. (parenting win, overhearing her and a friend, around age 14 or so, at a campout, discussing their high risk for addictions because of having addicted parents, and what they were going to do about staying safe).

    1. Wait, WHAT. They fed babies alcohol and thought this was normal??? They somehow have a problem with breastfeeding???

      “Good people can disagree”

      I’m sorry but I don’t think people who willingly endanger babies like this are “good people”.

      I’m so glad you and your daughter got out of there.

      1. A friend I had growing up had a mom who’d put a little whiskey in with the milk when they were fussy & wouldn’t sleep. This would have been late 60s but seriously WTF was she thinking?!

        I also knew someone that gave their INFANT coca-cola in their baby bottle. At least she stopped after I gave her a ration of shit about it.

        1. My mother gave me chocolate milk in my bottle when I was in my crib. What stopped her? Coming in to check on me and I was standing up, giggling, shaking the bottle up & down, and watching chocolate spray up to spot the ceiling.
          Why I wish she’d never started? I had cavities bad enough to need filling in my *baby teeth*.
          But she taught me never to go anywhere with my alcoholic uncle or his girlfriend driving, and explained the effects of alcohol so matter-of-factly that when i had a child I asked her how she told me.

    2. Wait, WHAT. They fed babies alcohol and thought this was normal??? They somehow have a problem with breastfeeding???

      “Good people can disagree”

      I’m sorry but I don’t think people who willingly endanger babies like this are “good people”.

      I’m so glad you and your daughter got out of there.

    3. She understands why what she did was so bad. She proved as much when she didn’t answer the LW’s phone call. She proved as much when she got mad when the child wanted to tell his mother where he was going. This is not a matter of “differences of opinion.” This is a woman who made a choice that put her grandson at risk without his parents’ permission. And what’s more, she actively chose not to seek that permission, because the odds were high she’d have been told ‘no.’

      This situation, and the one you were in, isn’t a matter of good people disagreeing. I’m sorry. It’s not. Beer in a baby’s bottle increases the risk of the baby’s death (setting aside the issue of small beer, which hasn’t been a staple most places since I think the 1800s, and which had little to no alcoholic content) because alcohol is a sedative that decreases the baby’s ability to swallow (and everything else it does to an adult, too). Taking a child out in cold weather in only his pajamas (implying, by the way, that it was bedtime when Grandma pulled this stunt) without either a jacket or a car seat ALSO increases the risk of the child’s death.

      Good people can disagree, but the LW wasn’t given the chance to do so.

      The apology should not be accepted, because it’s not an apology at all. Apologies do not go “I’m sorry I triggered your anxious behavior but you’re overreacting.”

      And Mom (and Dad! and any other pressuring relatives!) are BEYOND fired.

      1. ” (implying, by the way, that it was bedtime when Grandma pulled this stunt) ”

        I’d assumed it was breakfast time.

        1. Breakfast time. Early morning fun jaunt to the stormy waterfront. I would have cosigned and facilitated in a heartbeat.

          1. Your comment here pains me, LW. It sounds like you’re trying, still… to say ‘hey all she had to do was ask. Really, i would have been reasonable.’ Or similar. LW, i really hope once you get some distance from all this, that you’ll realize that you have ZERO fault here, zero accountability, and that you really really don’t need to keep trying to convince anyone that YOU are the reasonable party, that you’re perfectly happy to play ball. I get the impulse. You get pressure from relatives and what, and it’s all gaslighting. Please look up gaslighting on the web. Or even talk to a therapist, since it sounds like your mom’s had lifelong issues, and sounds like she’s spent a long time trying to tell you boundaries are for other people, not her and not you. Please don’t feel the need to defend yourself. If your response were 100% full on anger, that would be so completely utterly reasonable. Instead i hear sadness, and loss, and a desire for things to be ‘normal’ in some of your comments. I think you know this, from your original letter, but i don’t think your mom is ever going to have normal acceptable boundaries. Sounds like Dad will just enable that, meaning he’s got bad boundaries too. Grieve this loss. It will take time. I was in your shoes when my child was born. All those boundaries i wouldn’t set for myself, i was horrified to imagine they’d be broken on my child. It gave me the strength (sadly i wouldn’t do it for myself) to get away. Whatever ‘getting away’ means to you, whether it’s no contact, limited contact, or whatever, don’t feel you are bad because you Don’t want to be around toxic people. For me it was limited contact, which resulted in a huge shitstorm of attempts to demolish boundaries, vilify me, etc. so i went no contact, and it was the best decision i ever made. That may not be what works for you. But know that you never ever need to justify to anyone! To do what works for you. You don’t need to tell us you’re reasonable. You don’t need to ‘prove’ you’re the one with good boundaries, to your family. I get the impulse, i still struggle with it, when i encounter toxic people. Jedi hugs to you. And by the way, you must be doing something right, because your son, when faced with sneaking off, knew at age 5 it wasn’t a good idea. This speaks volumes for you!

    4. “I think as long as she doesn’t understand why what she did was so bad, the apology should be accepted as information, but your boundaries need to stay”
      Oh, I think the LW’s mother understands exactly what she did here.
      “Your kid deserves a sold, not freaked out mom and you have to provide that.”
      I think the kid absolutely deserves a freaked-out mom if someone else deliberately puts him in danger and doesn’t tell his mother, *even at his own suggestion* (says something that the 5-year-old is the sensible and rational person here – good for him!).

  17. “Hey, I wanna take Jimmy for hot chocolate, just him and me. Can we switch the car seat, or can I borrow your car? Send him up to get dressed, if it’s all cool with you!”

    The logistics of this are not terribly difficult.

      1. heck, I bet if she’d said, “Oh, let him go in his jammies, that’ll be fun, plus we can leave right away. Where’s his coat? And you need some shoes,” you’d have gone along with that too.

        I mean, what are jammies except clothes you wear to bed? Often they’re a little thinner, but sometimes they aren’t.

        1. That was a really sad part (before I knew about her intimidating him). She’s fun and does fun things. I would have helped her sneak him out without alerting all the other kids (I get it about logistics) so they could do their special outing. It would have been fun and fine. Now? No more chances to do something like that with grandma one/one.

          My husband thinks the sneaking, the feeling of getting away with something IS part of the fun for her. Like literally she wanted to share *that specific aspect* with the grandkid.

          1. But oh man, look at the picture that paints: she wants to share mischievous fun with her grandkid… and in the process she intimidates him into keeping a secret from you. That’s some ugly insensitivity right there.


            There’s keeping a secret from the other kids so that nobody has to deal with the whining. And then there’s keeping a secret from you, the mother, about where your child is and how many laws and common-sense safety measures are being ignored. I bet you’re right that she finds the secret-keeping to be thrilling. But it’s wearing thin–too familiar, not as exciting. So now she’s trying to get him to keep secrets more and set up more reasons why she mustn’t get caught.

            No. Not safe for children. She can play a computer game in evil mode if she needs to get her jollies by lying and putting people in danger. I strongly recommend no more entry to your home for Grandma.

            And make sure that your children’s schools/daycares know that Grandma is not on the pickup list.

          3. Your husband is on to more than you realize. Look what she did — she didn’t just kidnap him; she broke the law and put his life at risk to do so.

            For some people who go to dysfunctional levels of rule-breaking, it’s about hating rules or thinking they are wrong, so they break them because the rules are WRONG and they are RIGHT. That’s actually less dangerous than the kind of rulebreaking that puts a child’s life in danger.

            The kind that would risk a child’s life, and break carseat laws to do so, is likely to be driven by the person having an overweening need to feel special, and one of the things that makes them feel the most special is breaking rules other people have to follow and getting away with it for some reason that they can attribute to their own specialness. In their mind, they get to break the rule and get away with it (while everyone else should follow the rule) because they are SO VERY SPECIAL, and this feeling is like a hit from a powerful drug. The bigger the rulebreaking, the bigger the hit, the high. Kidnapping, now, that’s a really big hit — one of the most hated crimes in our society. But you know what’s bigger? A thousand times bigger? Being so wonderfully, superlatively special that you get to endanger a child’s life and people just let you do it because you’re just that awesome. The only way to get more heady than that is if it’s a child all the world knows should be even more precious to the rulebreaker, like a grandchild. That is the high of highs to someone like that.

            I don’t know this woman — you do. But think about it.

          4. Yeah, it sounded like a big part or even the main part of the ‘adventure’ was ‘let’s sneak off together without the grownups knowing and be a little naughty together’.

            I get the appeal to a point, and I think a lot of kids have fun and harmless memories of getting away with little things at their grandparents’ house that they wouldn’t at home – an extra cookie after dinner that mom or dad would definitely have said no to at home, etc.

            It’s possible to create that fun sense of mischievousness without _actually_ hiding things from the parents, though, and without doing anything the parents would genuinely disagree with, let alone anything illegal (traffic safety laws) or cruel (scared parents).

          5. ‘let’s sneak off together without the grownups knowing and be a little naughty together’.

            This scenario runs a lot smoother with a rebellious 16-year-old with a newly minted drivers license to try out in the starring role. Testing boundaries, pushing limits, and all that. Not a good look on someone who has been a parent.

          6. Your mom’s idea of fun also involves illegal failure to use a car seat and angrily forcing your kid to keep secrets from mom. The thing is, do you really believe, in your heart of hearts, that she wanted this to be an innocent ‘fun’ time with her and kid? If so, why the anger? Why the refusal to answer your texts BUT she answered sibs texts? This looks a lot more to me like an ugly power move, with your kid as the pawn, who wouldn’t have been safe in even the slightest fender bender. But she doesn’t care, when she gets to ‘win’ by taking him away and saying ‘na Na na na na’ to you… then make herself the victim, when you protest. There is something else going on here, my guess is she’s pulled stunts like this before, and she will again, with possibly increasing safety consequences. Final thought: you might talk to a social worker. If you know one in your neighborhood or friend circle. CPS considers a person a danger to a child if they knowingly place that child in a situation or home or with a person who will endanger that child. Think of it this way, if it lets you off the guilt hook. CPS could consider you and your husband a danger to the kid, if you knowingly place him with grandma alone, knowing she’s happy to drive him around without a car seat. You could always take the easy out, if that’s an easier out for you, by telling them that?

          7. I think you’re right about the fun for your Mum of sneaking around (the thrill of transgression).
            I also get the sense that she’s acting out the role of a child as well – as though she and your son are both little kids bunking off for an “adventure”, and you’ve been cast in the role of the mean old grown-up. I have seen other people do this to children and their parents as well.

      2. Doesn’t matter – the logistics are whatever they are. People who just don’t want to take the time to do the bare minimum to take a kid on an adventure while respecting the parents can just not take the kid on the adventure. She knew she was being shitty. And she doubled up on the shitty with that limiting comment.

  18. Grandma is putting her own wishes above a child’s emotional and physical safety. That is Bad Grandma-ing. Any babysitter who is more about their amusement than the kid’s well being is auto-fired. I think you’re being generous by only cutting off unsupervised visits. (But rethink the radness of Accomplice Grandpa.)

  19. LW, do we have the same parents? Seriously, there’s a similar dynamic in my family. My mom does outrageous s–t, and my dad defends her and says I shouldn’t rebuke her because it will cause her pain. Worst thing my mom did as far as one of my kids was give her (at age 1) her first haircut without my permission. I have since estranged myself from my parents entirely, albeit for more serious transgressions. Anyway, I sympathize with your dilemma . . . and also sympathize with you and agree with the Captain and everyone who has commented above. Your mother exhibits what is, unfortunately, a dangerous (literally) level of entitlement. I know you’re under a lot of family pressure, and I’m rooting for you.

    1. OH GOD MY MIL GAVE MY TODDLER BANGS WITHOUT ASKING ME and didn’t understand why it was a big deal. Enough so that 11 years later it still is in the list of why we have to be strict with boundaries.

  20. I would not take my child to visit the grandparents nor would i permit visits in my home. Why no visits in my home? Because they could pull the same slip out the back door shenanigans the moment LW’s back is turned/they’re in the bathroom/etc. I’d limit visits to public areas only. A park, maybe. But even THAT would come after a period of no-grandparents bc seriously what the HECK, that is NOT OKAY. I had to have words w/my inlaws bc they didn’t fasten car seat straps snugly enough. No car seat at all? I would have hit the roof. Grandma’s behavior is outright abusive and manipulative, not to mention dangerous, and grandpa is enabling and manipulative as well. Don’t express anger at something angrymaking bc she might have a depressive episode??? Really????? Nice.

    1. Completely agreed on not permitting them in the home. I’d make sure Grandma and Grandpa don’t have a copy of the house key, and if there are any spares secreted outside, I’d remove them. I wouldn’t put it past her to pull another stunt like this to “prove” that it’s “ok.” Lock that shit down.

  21. This same thing actually happened to me, and we resolved it calmly, and here is how it was different and how it shows the Captain is SO RIGHT.

    My mom routinely babysat my boys when they were preschool age/in diapers.

    One time she decided to drive them 60 miles away for a fun photo op at a place at which she had fun photos of me as a kid. The photos she and my dad wanted to take at this location were to be a surprise for me, a matched set with the old photos of when I went there as a child.

    I didn’t even know she had taken the kids there until it was all over.

    When I found out she had done this, I hit the ceiling. How dare she take the kids on such a long jaunt without even telling me? When the agreed on arrangement was that she would babysit at her house? When I was at work?

    When I hit the ceiling, she apologized, explained that she wanted the photos as a surprise for me, explained that she should have realized that I would be mad to know that she had taken the kids on a long car trip without informing me, even though it was a day trip that fit into the hours of her regular babysitting. And she promised to never do it again, and SHE DIDN’T.

    She understood my feelings and that I as the mom had the final say, and that was that. And so I could trust her again. And her actions were different going forward. She honeslty didn’t realize I would be upset, and whe I expressed my concern she was totally supportive of me and understood my position and realized that as the mom, my vote counted. COUNTED THE MOST.

    I’m so upset about the fact that the grandmother here wanted to swear the kid to secrecy, and that when the mom objected, her very reasonable objections were criticized, insulted and belittled.

    Fuckups and mistakes are going to happen with babysitters, even when they are grandma. The way the aftermath is handled speaks volumes.

    Unrelated, my sister in law had to clue me in that the other grandparents were enthusiastic about babysitting but were really not capable and could not provide enough supervision… I thanked her profusely and was so grateful for her stumbling on a situation where these grandparents meant well but their health and abilities had deteriorated in a way that I was not aware of. She helped me back out of a situation that could have resulted in bad things. People there meant well, but were unaware. My SIL had my back and no one had to suffer. But I made different arrangements and that was for the best.

    Babysitting situations are so hard and all parents should feel totally able to err on the side of extreme caution. New parents are in an untested situation and their own parents are not always reliable, yet acknowledging that may not always be possible. Yet we have to take action to keep the little ones safe regardless.

    Thank you Captain.

    1. I was having the same thoughts. Grandma didn’t even… go anywhere? She didn’t take the kid to buy a chocolate or a toy or to see Interesting Thing, they just went for a car ride? It feels like making LW upset was the whole point.

    2. Oh yes. She 100% engineered this whole situation to score points against the LW. Well Mom, you know what they say: play shitty games, win shitty prizes.

  22. 100% fired. This behavior of your mom’s is very, very odd.

    Also LW, is this behavior of your mom’s something new and really different from her normal behavior? If so, you might want to encourage mom gets a medical workup.

      1. Definitely on brand. Though she’s been more careful with me than with my other sibling’s kids (not the one who called her) because I’ve gone no contact once in the past for about 6 months when I was 20. I was shocked honestly that she pushed this hard on me.

        1. me thinks that because you left her, she is mad and is doing all she can to “punish” you for leaving. I don’t think she cares for that kid, at all. She is just using him as a pawn to punish you, because endangering the child upsets you.

          I would burn the bridge between this terrible woman.

        2. Ok, so she’s got a solid track record of being terrible. Full permission to go scorched earth. She won’t improve; she’ll just look for new loopholes and ways to wheedle around your boundaries AND your kid’s boundaries.

        3. “I’ve gone no contact once in the past for about 6 months when I was 20. I was shocked honestly that she pushed this hard on me.”

          Might be time for a refresher.

          Especially her pushing back against your objections

        4. LW, I want to give you a little perspective, maybe? I have two parents who are bad at boundaries, but who handle that badness differently. I think you might find the differences illustrative.

          I am MUCH more aggressive about policing my boundaries than my siblings, and MUCH more likely to articulate them rather than hoping our parents will notice.

          With my father, this means he tries to end-run around them constantly (this does not work, since I got all my siblings to agree not to enable him). He learns very little, but has learned “be cautious around J. Preposterice’s kids” because he knows there will be a Giant Ruckus otherwise, especially since EVERYONE knows the Rules About Dad And J. Preposterice’s Kids. So it looks, when we see each other, as if he’s OK at boundaries because he has learned to be specifically cautious with me, in this one area, so as not to cause a Scene. He does not have similar boundaries with any of my siblings or their children. My boundaries are me being “wacky” and unreasonable, to him. He is not allowed alone in the same room with my children, or to touch them unless they touch him first (for example, if they offer him a hug, he can hug them, but he is not allowed to initiate a hug).

          With my mother, this means that she has learned my boundaries, backed off, and _started using my boundaries about my kids as a starting place for her interactions with her other grandkids_. Those boundaries are NOT comfortable for her, but she figured that it was better to let my siblings ask her to do more than it was to accidentally make them uncomfortable by doing too much or assuming things were OK without asking. That is, she internalized and generalized the idea that her children would have boundaries around their children’s interaction with grandparents, and decided to make herself LESS comfortable so that her children would be MORE comfortable. She wasn’t good at finding that place with me — there were arguments and I ended up essentially firing her as a babysitter — but she was able to learn from the experience. (As a result, my kids were left with her for a 3-day weekend, alone, when they were 4 & 7. Because I knew it would be fine. And it was.) To her, my boundaries are “what J. Preposterice needs to feel good and safe, and maybe I should extrapolate that a bit so that I’m less likely to make my other kids feel unsafe as well, even if I think it’s a bit silly that they’re so aggressive about it”.

          Your mom and my dad are in the same category, I think — there’s a behavioral alteration, but no real understanding or empathy or consideration for us as people with real, valued feelings, or understanding that their behavior and attitudes contributed to a bad relationship between us. That behavioral alteration, for me, is Not Enough. My father is not safe for me, or for my kids, and he probably never will be. Only you know if your mother will ever be safe for you, or your kids.

        5. No, this makes sense to me. I’ve had similar experiences with my own mom, and when she pulled this same kind of move with my first kid, who was three at the time and her first grandkid, I think she thought that she somehow had leverage and authority as his grandparent. It was absolutely a flex. It backfired badly for her because to her, it was a move in a game, but to me, it was my son’s physical safety. It was like she was playing chess and I was playing FUCK WITH ME AND I WILL BURN YOU TO THE GROUND. When I told her (via email) that she wouldn’t be alone with him any more, she actually responded, “Oh, so what you say goes, and no one else gets a say?” I said, “Yes, that’s it exactly. I’m glad you understand.”

          1. I love this: “I was playing FUCK WITH ME AND I WILL BURN YOU TO THE GROUND.” Her rejoinder sounds like Issendei’s reports of estranged-parents forums.

          2. The look on her face when she realized that, in fact, she gets no say in whether she gets to spend time with YOU OR YOUR CHILD must have been priceless.

          3. Did we have the same mom? Love the chess vs FUCK WITH ME. That had me laughing out loud! (Despite the actual really sad subject matter).

  23. My kiddo has some sketchy grandparents. A guiding question that has really helped me is: “If something bad happened, could I reasonably expect adult Kiddo to forgive the accident?” So: accident on school playground with minor injury, I predict a reasonable adult would look back and say “stuff happens”. Grandma drives kid into wall, and I have to say “I really hoped she was done with all that. I am so sorry you ended up in the hospital.” Nope – Kiddo’s trust of ME is broken. Once you know grandma is unsafe, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem, unfortunately.

    1. Oooooh. Yeah. That makes sense. Knowing the risk, let’s not put any of us in that position again. And that’s on me and husband to enforce.

    2. I love this question! When I was a social work intern, my supervisor suggested something similar when I was torn about difficult decisions of how to help a kid and/or their family. It was incredibly helpful.

    3. What’s really neat about this question is that you are addressing it to the adult that your kid will become. That’s some max-level parenting right there.

  24. LW, I am an adult survivor of a “quirky, genius, self-centered, deeply insecure, pathological boundary pushing” grandmother. In my case, it was my Dad’s mother. She did so much damage to me and my relationship with my biological mother, it took grandmother’s death when I was 28 to begin really healing some of these wounds. The secrets I kept, the lies she “confided” in me, that I could only reveal when she was 6 feet under. Personally, I am Team Salt the Field and Burn the Bridges. Whatever steps you take to protect you and your child here are golden in my book. Good luck.

    1. Sad face. That’s awful. They don’t live nearby so access is already quite limited. Yours is a good cautionary tale. Boundaries stay in place. Ugh.

  25. The worse thing my grandma did behind my mom’s back was baptize my brother.

    Meanwhile I have never been baptizes, nor do I feel like I have to.

    1. was your grandma my grandma? she baptized all of us in the sink bc she was horrified that my parents weren’t baptizing us.

        1. Hearing about this stuff is always weird to me, because I grew up in a church where it was pushed that everything was symbolic. The rite of baptism is about welcoming a new child into the community – as my parents’ minister once explained to a particular couple, “Without the congregation, I’m not baptizing the kid, I’m just giving her an inefficient bath.”
          I get that not everyone follows a faith tradition like that, but surreptitiously moistening a baby still strikes me as weird. The kid isn’t going to remember or change their behavior when they grow up. Wouldn’t it make more sense to push for them to go to church?

    2. Thst sounds like a big, giant, huculean “worst” to me TBH.

      If someone baptized my kid I would go full on Hanibal is at the gates on them.

      I know to some/manypeople it’s a “meh whatever” thing, even for a lot of atheists because they see it as badically a dip in a pool.

      I get that and yeah to me too as far as how much stock I put into being baptized. But… the thing is, it’s *my* right to determine my child’s religious education/practice etc., and to decide if/when they take part in a religious ritual of any kind, not Gramdma’s.

      That’s like the Jupiter of boundary violations IMO.


    1. Same. If someone took my dog for a ride without her coat and seatbelt harness and without telling me I’d fire them from taking care of my dog.

    2. SAME! My co-op has cat friendly floors where furballs are allowed to walk in the halls, so I let my little out sometimes in the morning. I poke my head out once in a while to make sure she’s still in the hall and hasn’t tried the stairs, and she’s a good girl who stays where she’s supposed to most of the time. She also has friends who will open their doors to let her visit, which is cool with me too.

      One day she didn’t answer my call and I didn’t see her when I walked around. I immediately began freaking out and envisioning having to search the entire six-story building for her. I took a cursory two-minute look at her favorite spots — no luck. I ran back to my room to put shoes on for a more exhaustive hunt.. and one of my friends in the hall was there holding her. He hadn’t felt like leaving his door open, so he’d BROUGHT HER INTO HIS ROOM AND CLOSED THE DOOR. Let me tell you, I went OFF on him. Now if he lets her in, he always messages me on Facebook to tell me where she is.

      With how I started panicking over losing my cat in a building, and how angry I was that my friend (who I trust! Who I leave the cat with when I’m vacationing!) essentially kidnapped her.. I cannot IMAGINE what I would do if my mom tried this stunt on a human child of mine.

  26. I agree with Tea Rocket – the ‘logistics’ comment haunts me.

    Grandma didn’t want to deal with the logistics of leaving a note for mom and putting a coat on a child before leaving in the winter? Then she cannot be trusted with a child. Period.

    Hell, if you were visiting, and while I was working took my dog out for a walk (without a leash because ‘you were not going far’ and you ‘didn’t think you needed one’), without telling me, you are NOT staying over again.

    1. yeah, it’s not even really about punishment; it’s about simple (heh, heh) logistics.

      She’s not capable, so you don’t ask her to do anything beyond her capabilities.

      Though honestly I’m all in favor of approaching this like a serious discipline problem and just cutting off all contact for 6 months. Make it clear how serious this is.

      1. I’m in favor of cutting her off for the next three years.

        That was the magic number for my mom figuring out that we were not in fact close, I wasn’t sharing the details of my life with her, and that I not she was in charge of my choices/actions/life.

      2. I really like this. You CAN view this with righteous anger; it certainly merits it. But if it’s painful to make those judgements about your mom, you can just view it as a hiring decision. You wouldn’t hire an eight year old to drive your car; You wouldn’t hire your mom to have any level of supervision of your kid. They’re just not capable of the responsibility.

        1. I love the hiring decision framing. Although I also agree there’s plenty of room for rage in this story too!

  27. – “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.”

    She is fired, also, simply for saying these things in this context.

    Just as much as the behavior she’s defending does, they reveal her cavalier entitlement.

  28. As a parent, let me just say that my mother in law was relegated to only short, supervised visits when she violated our trust as parents in much less stark terms. It has relaxed a LITTLE bit over the years, now that I can trust my kids to not keep adults’ secrets and to speak up for themselves and what they know is right.

    You do right by your kids, and anyone who gets in the way or tries to undermine you can live without your and your kids present.

  29. LW, I am so sorry your mum did this to you. This is 5000% not okay, you are not over-reacting, you are not the one making it difficult here. You have every right to keep your distance for as long as *you* need – even if that’s “indefinitely.” My son and I live with my mum (rubbish housing market, yay) and I trust her with my son, but if she did this even once we would be out of there faster than you could say “yikes!”

    I hope you can also feel proud of your son because he listened to his instincts of wanting to tell you, even if he was prevented. (My shoulders are up around my ears, honestly). You’ve clearly set him along a great track already. All of the love and jedi hugs to you both.

  30. WTAF was she doing with him? I mean… she just spirited him away in his pyjamas. For what? Was that ever explained? I just can’t. What. Yeah.

    LW, I am so sorry this is your mother. You deserve better.

    1. Yes, this. Like I could (sort of, maybe, kinda) understand if she was watching Kiddo and suddenly realised she needed to dash out to the store before it closed or something? But no, she was taking him on some kind of aimless joyride and went out of her way to avoid telling her daughter about it? That’s not the behaviour of someone who doesn’t understand boundaries, that’s someone who is deliberately pushing boundaries and trying to provoke a reaction.

      LW, I’m so sorry this happened and trust your sad, hurt and angry feelings, because they are telling you that your mother is emotionally manipulative and she’s willing to use YOUR CHILD as a pawn in her games.

    2. I said it somewhere above. They went on a legit fun early morning outing to the stormy waterfront with one of his cousins. I would have endorsed, facilitated, and cosigned it in a heartbeat. Had I known. I want that fun shit for my kids. I was hoping that, since she’s been careful of my boundaries around kids for 7 years that maybe she could be rad grandma instead of boundary smashing mom. Now I know she can’t. That’s that I guess. But it makes me so sad.

      1. Yes, dear LW, it is very sad. But what’s not sad is that you are being an awesome mom yourself, and that’s something to celebrate and be proud of.

  31. Thoughts from me, a commenter with with a new baby and a bunch of family estrangements who 100% agrees with CA and the commentariat that you are absolutely not overreacting:

    1) I’ve got to wonder why she took your child in the first place. Specifically, if you do not want to “deal with the logistics” of traveling with a small child, and there’s no REASON for you to be traveling with a small child, then why travel with a small child? With the information provided, the only reason seems to be that she wanted to upset you. But like … did she SAY why? I am intensely curious.

    2) I can tell that you love your dad. He is not rad. You need to let go of this concept of him being rad dad. Good parents don’t enable their coparents when those coparents want to bulldoze their children’s boundaries. Good parents don’t hold their children responsible for their coparent’s feelings. Good grandparents don’t enable their cograndparents when those cograndparents want to endanger their grandchildren out of spite.

    I am in a situation where I am estranged from my grandmother, who has been spiteful and cruel to me, and my grandfather, who has been nothing but loving to me. But at no point has he ever called me up and said, “Your grandmother is being unreasonable and unkind. I love her very much, but I also love you very much, and I’m sorry she’s treating you like this. I miss you and would love to spend time with you, so if you’d be okay with seeing me–just me–that would make me very happy.”

    It doesn’t mean that he’s “as bad” as she is. It just means that he is not my ally here. And your dad, unfortunately, is not yours. He is prioritizing your mother over you, and it hurts and it sucks and it’s unfair and I can’t even imagine doing that to my son if my spouse were behaving like this. It doesn’t mean you can’t love your dad, but it does mean that it might help to mourn a little and grieve a little over the loss of your rad dad, and begin to accept that you have not one but two parents who violate your boundaries without remorse.

    1. 2nding the morn & grieve comment. I realized slowly that neither of my parents would ever support me against their spouse. It took a few years but I found myself in the odd space of not needing their support or approval in any degree. It took them a few years to realize that I wasn’t consulting them on any size of decision, or looking to validate anything. Sometimes I wish I had a closer relationship or could rely on them for emotional support or comfort, but it’s not that I won’t accept it from them, it’s that they just can’t provide it.

      1. There comes a point when you have inadequate parents (in whatever way, but especially the ways that prevent them from feeling or demonstrating love or concern for you) when you really do have to figure out what’s possible with the parents you have, and work from there.

    2. Great points—both of them. For #2, it sounds like this mother is the missing stair (CW: the blog and the linked post talk about sex and BDSM, though the content of the post is applicable in pretty much any social setting; nevertheless, this is probably not something to click on at work) of the family and the dad has clearly learned to cope by trying to get everyone around them to cave to her, since he knows she will do no caving of her own. He almost certainly bonds with people over the unreasonableness of the LW’s mom—makes faces behind her back while she flies off handle, generally swoops in after the fact to play the role of good guy—while doing everything possible to ensure that his wife (and, by extension, he) faces minimal consequences for her terrible behavior.

  32. OMG. I was sitting on a commuter train when I read this and I burst into tears. In public. Like, OMG. I NEVER do that.

    Just want to confirm what the Captain said: YOU are in the right here ( and OMG, you sound like an absolutely incredible Mom!) and you get to set whatever’s boundaries you need to for your own and your child’s safety – both literal and metaphysical. Horrifying. I had an anxiety attack just reading this…

  33. I’m going to go so far as to say (in two-parent families) we don’t take our OWN children out of the building if their other parent doesn’t know we’re doing it. Someone else’s kid? HELL NO.

    Betond that I’m just fuming and sputtering.

    1. I…never thought of that quite. But no of course we don’t because Existential Terror. We tell the other parent.

    2. Right? When Son was growing up and one of us was going somewhere we’d say “I’m going to the store (ex) I have Son with me” or similar.

  34. OP, do whatever the fuck you need to feel sure that your kids are safe. SHE KIDNAPPED YOUR CHILD. SHE TOOK HIM OUT IN WINTER WITHOUT A COAT. SHE PUT HIM IN A CAR WITHOUT A CARSEAT. SHE RISKED HIS LIFE. There is no such thing as an unreasonable reaction in the face of that. Literally any boundary you decide to set in regards to your future relationship with her is automatically justified and reasonable. If you ever let her so much as talk to your kids on the phone again, that is generous and I hope she learns to accept it in that spirit.

    I want to address the rest of your extended family here. That probably feels more complicated–they didn’t do anything wrong, after all, right? Well…maybe they weren’t the ones pulling off the actual kidnapping, sure. But if they put any pressure on you whatsoever to forgive your mom or give her access to your children again, then yes, they are doing something wrong. Doing that would be saying that they are prioritizing your mom’s feelings over your kids’ safety. It would mean that they are not on your side in making sure your kids are protected–whether because it’s inconvenient for them or because they don’t understand the level your mom has already gone to, I can’t say, but it hardly matters, the impact is the same either way.

    I strongly suggest you decide–you and your husband and no one else–what level of access to your kids your mom is allowed to have going forward. Don’t worry about her feelings. Don’t worry about any other family members’ feelings. Don’t worry about what’s ‘fair’. The only relevant factor is what will make YOU AS PARENTS feel that your children are safe.

    Once that’s decided, inform everyone of your decision. Make it clear that this is final and not up for debate. Anyone who really wants a relationship with you and your kids will have to accept that and respect your decision, even if they don’t 100% agree, even if it’s inconvenient for them, even if it makes your mom sad. It’s really unfortunate that your mom decided to behave in a way that put them in that position, but the situation is what it is. (Tell them that exact sentence if they say you’re putting them in a tough spot.)

    1. (I have a 5yo who is nonverbal and has a rather poor ability to assess danger, so this is LITERAL WORST NIGHTMARE territory for me. What the fuck.)

  35. So, you were concerned that maybe you were unreasonable. I tried that on for size.

    My mom takes my kids on outings. They go out in their pjs sometimes. She has rules for them in her house that don’t always align with mine.

    She has NEVER taken them off the property or even out of sight of the house, or even into the swimming pool on the backyard, without checking in with me. Not for permission, per se, but to keep me in the loop.

    As you realized, her behaviour is 800% not okay. Your reaction to it is appropriate.

    Your consequences? Entirely appropriate and connected to her behaviour.

    She was unsupervised with your child. During that period she chose to engage in multiple behaviours that endangered him in ways large and small. You’re not PUNISHING her for her actions! But you’ve lost trust in her, and can’t in good conscience give her an opportunity to make such poor choices again.

    Staying at her house perforce creates unsupervised times. You’ve seen that that’s not safe for your kid, so staying at her house is off the table for now. (“For now” might mean “until the kid is a legal adult”, if that’s how long you continue to feel unsafe. You don’t have to tell her that right now, though. You can’t tell from here how long it might take you to rebuild trust.)

    Your Dad’s discomfort is also a consequence of your Mom’s behaviour. Because none of your choices are punishments, you’re also not punishing him. If he knew she was going before she left, he enters the circle of no-trust, with no unsupervised access. If he didn’t know… he probably still loses the access, because I don’t think he’ll want to come visit without her. But then he does so by choice.

    If you feel like his attempt to suppress your upset with your mom shows an untrustworthy alignment against you (I don’t judge you either way, you know him)… well, you know the consequences of loss of trust.

    Mmmmmm, “consequences”… I love that word.

  36. Regarding the anxiety disorder comment: I think this alone shows that she has utterly no respect for you and will always do whatever she wants and will always ignore your boundaries, no matter how reasonable you are.

    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with anxiety disorders, to be clear; I have one myself. But trying to dismiss someone’s concerns and/or anger by telling them they’re only because they’re mentally ill–especially when they don’t have that diagnosis, but people do this using someone’s actual diagnosis too sometimes–is gaslighting. It is saying that your concerns are not legitimate, that they’re not something a sane person would be worried about. It’s saying that that you’re being ridiculous and even if they comply it’s only to humor you and not because your boundaries inherently deserve to be respected…which leaves room to disregard them later, because respecting them was only ever a favor they were doing you in the first place, not something they really should HAVE to do, not something that you inherently deserve.

    Gaslighters are not good people to be around. You can’t trust them. You can’t trust them to respect your boundaries in the first place, you can’t trust them to be honest when they’ve stomped over your boundaries, you can’t trust them to listen to anything you say about your reasoning. Your mom is showing you through her words and actions that this is the kind of person she is. Trust her on that.

    1. Yes. Using a medical excuse, real or alleged, to disregard LW’s boundary setting stuck out to me as well (I have a Rant about the history of medicalizing women having opinions as a way to disregard them).
      Guess what? *Even if* she were right and the boundary in question was an unreasonable one (spoiler: it’s not. It’s the barest minimum standard for interacting with a kid, imo), any reasonable course of action does not include trying to hand wave it away by blaming a disorder so she can continue disregarding it. The boundary is set, the choices for her are to follow it, decide the relationship isn’t worth it and drop out, or show she can be trusted to follow this boundary *before* trying to push back on any unreasonable (of which, again, there is absolutely none here). By immediately trying to steamroll the supposed unreasonableness, she is instead immediately demonstrating her total inability to earn any trust.

    2. Grandma is basically saying her daughter is “hysterical”.

      A mother who sees her child is missing, so she might PANIC about her child’s wellbeing?

      [insert gif here]
      Audrey II: Nooooooo SHIT, Sherlock!

      It’s not like OTHER parents might have suffered from missing, kidnapped, or DEAD children because they lose track of them in times less than 5 MINUTES. 30 minutes of an unaccounted child might drive any parent up the walls.

      This grandma? Can not so kindly fuck off.

  37. I’m a mom with a 2-yr old and from the very first lines I was screaming NOOOOO with every fiber of my being. Full body reaction to the blase attitude about car seats. To telling your kid not to tell you?? 100% no, forever and ever. I would absolutely cut off all unsupervised visits, and never stay overnight again. Anyone who tells you you are overreacting gets the boot too. They are wrong. They are way undereacting and if there is awkwardness it’s all on them.

  38. But but but…she’s his GRAAAAAAAANDMA. Plus, she raised you and you turned out okay!

    End sarcasm. So sorry you had to worry about this – sounds awful.

  39. Sweet fancy moses any ONE of those things would be disqualifying, let alone ALL OF THEM TOGETHER!

    Okay I say that, but I also know how hard it is with habitual boundary-smashers to feel confident when you drop the hammer on them. Especially parents. I haven’t dealt with this magnitude (NO CAR SEAT?????) but my in-laws are constantly clueless about kid safety. They never once even bothered to cover an outlet when we visited, they have an unsecured pool in their back yard, and they adopted an extremely large dog that they only partially trained. The last time we visited them our under-5yo kids vanished from their bed when we checked on them at 9pm, and my spouse eventually found them outside in the dark at the pool with their grandpa. Who did his best “I had NO IDEA you’d freak out about this!” to which my MIL gave her habitual sigh, shrug, and “whatcha gonna do” response.

    My spouse to this day worries that they overreacted by yelling at their dad.

    It’s so hard to stand up to one’s parents anyway, but when it’s about your own parenting decisions it’s exponentially more difficult– are they going to judge me for making a choice they don’t understand? are they going to think I’m judging them by not doing what they would do? If I still don’t feel like an adult how can I be on equal footing with them anyway?

    I feel for you, LW. I hope that the collective shriek you hear in these comments can help you feel confident in your resolve to fire this person, even if your own brain questions the need.

    On a side note: is this disregard for kid safety a generational thing? My parents aren’t as bad as spouse’s, but they’re very much “oh it doesn’t hurt that much, get over it” when my kids cry. They act like protecting kids is coddling them or making them too soft or something. It’s bizarre because objectively OF COURSE I WANT TO PROTECT MY KIDS WHY IS THAT A QUESTION but when I see it happen in front of me I’m paralyzed with self-doubt. Why do they think it’s cool to be nonchalant about kid safety? How on earth did that become a thing?

    1. I think the older generation simply forgets a lot of what it takes to care for a child. My kid is 10 and I have definitely lost the hypervigilance I needed when my kid was younger.

      1. Thanks, that’s a much more charitable explanation, which is nice. I still definitely wish that my parents could be a little more sympathetic to my own (hyper)vigilance, but it couldn’t hurt for me to be a little less angry about it. I appreciate that!

      2. My kid is 24, and I’ve lost the hypervigilance I needed, but I haven’t gotten stupid!

        I think it’s an arrogance, and maybe people who are grandparent-age find themselves more likely to be arrogant. They think because they’re alive, they’re smart or something, instead of just damned lucky.

        1. Yeah, my kid is 26, so I’ve definitely long since lost the habit of constant vigilance of the parent of a young child, but lemme tell ya, that shit comes back in a hurry if I’ve got primary (or really, any) responsibility for a young child. Kiddo’s godson is almost seven years old, and when he’s around, you best believe I go back to “Silence is not golden; silence is suspicious as fuck!” mode.

          It probably helps that for my entire life, my extended family has always had people of all ages, including young children, around, so I learned the vigilance appropriate to the caretaker of little human(s) well before I had my own kid, but that habit comes back with the quickness when the situation arises that it’s needed.

    2. I think some of them are so stuck in that ideology that they refuse to acknowledge there’s a huge difference between a bumped chin or a barked knee and literal drowning. Trying to keep them away from unfenced pools and using things like coats and carseats and (most importantly) asking their parents before taking them anywhere (!) is not wrapping them in cotton wool, it’s basic risk management.

      1. I’m “grandparent age” (55) and honestly I know kids shouldnt be around unsecured pools and that they need car seats. We knew that way back in 1987 when Son was born.

        I think it’s more lazy/tired than anything else tbh. When Son’s friend had a baby 7 years ago I baby proofed my house anywhere he’d be, locked up places I didnt want him, moved the bleach to a top shelf, etc. because … safety.

        It’s a lot of work that didn’t feel like “soooo much work” when I was 23. Now, I needed a nap after covering all of the outlets before I put the locks on the cabinet doors. And…I was seven years younger.

        Honestly nobody better be bringing a baby over these days. I’d be lucky to move the Ajax out of the way before I needed to lie down. 😗

      2. Yeah, I understand being fed up with overprotective practices that keep kids indoors and not playing and keep them from learning any independence.

        But you have to evaluate the severity and likelihood of different risks and not just blindly treat all protective measures as excessive.

        What’s the likelihood of the negative outcome? What’s the severity of it? What’s the long term benefit to the kid of taking the risk? How much is the kid’s life experience actually limited by the protective measures?

        Like with the car seat – the likelihood of an accident is small, they’re not wrong about that, but the consequences are extreme, and the benefit to the kid of ignoring the risk is pretty close to nil.

        On the other end of the spectrum, I would find it harmful to keep a kid from learning to ride a bike because of the risk of accidents, because the benefits of learning it and using it are immense. But wearing a helmet, learning traffic rules, and starting on quiet streets? There is a big benefit and little cost to taking those protective measures.

        1. ” the benefit to the kid of ignoring the risk is pretty close to nil.”

          Yeah, lots of kids find a booster seat more comfortable, because they can see out the window, etc.

    3. It reminds me of those stupid Facebooks memes about how “I survived: spankings and no helmets and rusty swings and swimming without a lifeguard and riding in the car without seatbelts” and oh my gosh, these poor overprotected kids these days, that was the way to live… ”
      Yes, grandparents, car seats and seatbelts and helmets when riding a bike ARE essential because we know better now!

    4. Depending on how sensitive and/or melodramatic the grandparents are, I think “updated best practices for child safety” are interpreted as implicit criticism of THEIR parenting. Like, oh, you’re saying I was a bad mom because I didn’t keep you in a car seat for as long as it’s recommended today?

      1. Or “You survived so we can’t have done too badly”. Yeah, no.
        I survived, but not all the kids I knew did. One friend’s death even resulted in a change in the law. (Yet my mother still rolls out that line!)

        1. Yeah, child mortality has decreased steadily in the US over the last 50 years, including SIDS (because now it’s ‘sleep on backs’), car accidents (bcs child seats), vaccines / medicines, and other accidents. I’d go with ‘now we know things that work better’

      2. Maybe more neutral ways to word it might be that technology has changed, or that science has progressed and we have more research on the subject now, or even just ‘it’s the law now’?

    5. Because they’re assholes, is why. It’s not a generational thing. I hear people my own age starting in with the “well when WE were kids WE licked asbestos-covered razor blades and WE were fine” nonsense, and it’s not because they’re old; it’s because they’re deeply invested in some weird view of ‘free-range parenting’ whereby paying attention to safety is a sign of weakness (and boy is it also heavily gendered). And, of course, parents who were maybe not as careful about their kids don’t want to feel like maybe they got lucky.

  40. My MIL got put on a permanent time-out because she wanted to take my son for an overnight at the house of *someone I’ve never met who lived nearly an hour away*. She didn’t actually do it, just argued about why this was perfectly reasonable and would make life so much easier for her than staying at my house to babysit, and gosh, her friend was just *so nice* and there was nothing to worry about and blah blah blah.

    And that was the last time I asked her to watch my kid. She didn’t even *do* the thing, but just argued about why she should be allowed to do the thing, and I was still like “You can forget about ever being alone with this child again”.

    You’re not crazy, LW, and your kiddo won’t miss out on some key part of childhood if you decide there will be no more solo kid-and-grandparents time ever again.

    1. “I will not only do this weird and unnecessary thing that you’re not okay with, but I will argue that you are wrong to feel that way and I know better than you.” It was nice of her to give you such a detailed and unambiguous letter of resignation.

    2. Persistent arguing is such a red flag to me. Visiting an unknown friend of the family may be a subjectively okay activity for some but the fact that she continued to argue after a ‘no’ about anything is pretty borderline infantile. Trying to wear you down like a teenager, smh.

    3. My grandparents were wonderful, but at the time I was *born* already 60 and up, so I didn’t get solo time with any of them growing up. I got LOTS of family time, and missed out on nothing.

  41. LW, the Captain’s advice sounds exactly right to me, especially her underscoring that it’s not okay to bully a child into keeping secrets from his parents. What I’d like to add is that it sounds like your judgment is exactly right too. You grew up with a mother like that, and she’s still in your life, and your whole extended family’s structured in a such a way as to test your boundaries over and over, and make you question yourself, and tell you that if you don’t go along then you must be mentally ill. That would make anyone feel unsure, plus you’re a parent and even at the best of times parents (mothers in particular) are always getting told how wrong they’re doing everything. And as you said, the stakes are that high.

    You’re doing it right. Your instincts and priorities are sound. It’s fine to doubt yourself and need to double-check (like writing this letter) but it sounds like (kind of amazingly, considering your first role model!) you’re drawing your boundaries in the right places and have a good sense of what is and isn’t your responsibility. You just needed permission to follow through, and hopefully CA’s answer and the comments here will give you that.

    Good luck, and remember (as has been said on this site before) you are not making it awkward by not allowing your mother unsupervised access to your child, the awkwardness was already there and was not of your making. Your mother made it awkward and the other family members enabling it are making it awkward, and you don’t have to smooth it over and pretend it’s not.

  42. SO FIRED!!! I already had my answer ready just from the subject line, but the letter was so much worse. If you don’t want to deal with the logistics of travelling with a small child, there is a very simple way to avoid that – don’t travel with a small child. LW is SO not overreacting!

    My MIL has an undiagnosed, untreated mental illness (incl. delusions, paranoia and total boundary obliviousness), and once when my oldest was a baby she “joked” that she wanted to adopt him and move to another city. Actually she made the “joke” on two separate occasions. We told all daycares that she explicitly was not approved for pick-ups, and when he was old enough to understand, we told him repeatedly never to go anywhere alone with Nana unless it was somewhere he was allowed to go by himself. Short, supervised visits only, and she never ever babysits, even though she offers a lot. We also avoid giving details of exactly where the kids spend their days. We’re also pretty quick to intervene when she tries to ignore the kids’ boundaries like if they don’t want to hug or kiss her.

    And I echo the comments about Rad Dad — his behaviour about this kidnapping is not rad at all.

    If it were me, I would have no qualms about cutting them off, at least until the kid is old enough to travel independently. Getting mad at the kid for wanting to tell his mom that he was going is the most dangerous, unforgivable part.

    1. “Getting mad at the kid for wanting to tell his mom that he was going is the most dangerous, unforgivable part.” IT IS! I said this upthread somewhere but I didn’t didn’t know that aspect until several days later when we got home. I’d already decided on my boundary but thinking about my boy being put in that position just broke my heart all over.

      1. Amen to this. Had a colleague who’d had a pretty traumatic teen experience with abuse, and she told me about nearly scorching the earth with a friend who told her kid “here’s some candy. Don’t tell mom I gave it to you (wink)”. Don’t tell mom is just never something you want a kid to get used to.

        1. THIS. Anyone who tries to teach a child to keep secrets from their parents should not be allowed around children at all — the degree to which it puts the child forever at risk is far too high.

        2. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWW at your colleague’s friend! The child could have been diabetic or allergic to the candy. Not to mention the darker possibilities of the friend’s child being groomed for sexual abuse with that line about the candy.

          1. Exactly. This is grooming behavior. Grandma wanted to enlist kid as an ally in her triangulation against mom. They come back from fun outing. Grandma has stacked the deck to ensure that mom is upset (deliberate sneaking out, not answering texts,no car seat), then grandma later tells kid how unreasonable mom is. Except kid didn’t perform according to his assigned role. Instead he showed boundaries, so grandma showed him her teeth too. Grandma is a scary person.

        3. Exactly. ‘Dont’ tell the grownups who take care of you’ is grooming behavior. I feel strongly grandma is grooming kid to be triangulate against mom. Grandma’s vision: they come back from ‘fun’ outing where grandma has stacked the deck (not answering texts, sneaking out, not using car seat), to ensure mom is upset. Grandma tells child, hey your mom sure does get upset over nothing. She’s sure unreasonable, right? Sounds like she wants to play a bigger, darker, game, and got angry with him because he has better boundaries at age 5, and wasn’t ‘playing’ according to his assigned role.

    2. My mom is just like your MIL and I want to thank you for sharing this advice, it’s going to come in handy some years down the line!

      1. Oh I’m sorry to hear that! The best advice we got for dealing with my MIL was to remember that bad behaviour is bad behaviour. And that while with physical illness loved ones can get closer to the ill person, you can’t do that with mental illness or you get sucked into it, so boundaries are key. From my personal experience, sometimes it feels awful to enforce the boundaries but it’s so essential. Good luck!

  43. I’m a parent as well. Your mom has gone so far beyond the pale that telling her – or the rest of the family – WHY you are cutting off contact is an act of compassion in my book. I’d tell the other family members what happened once and if they argue feel free to say “You are kidding me, right?” Some arguments are so dumb that they don’t deserve the respect of a response.

    We had to limit my son’s visits with his paternal grandparents when he was an infant so that they never had him without supervision. My son was a micro-preemie who had lung damage. During his first winter at home, he needed to be kept away from public spaces and sick people – which doesn’t sound so hard, right? Keep the baby at home; he likes to play with toys. My in-laws were so excited about showing him off that they were always coming up with really bad ideas like “Let’s take him to the local parochial elementary school who prayed for him x – months ago!” or “So many people at church want to hold him!” (Me and my husband: Hell, no! Do you want him back in the hospital? Because we don’t.)

    I tell you this because we limited their access to our son because they struggled to follow a rather unusual boundary that was needed to protect our kid. The boundaries your mom violated are standard for any kid – tell parents if you take them out; clothe them for the weather; use safety seats – so she’s really dangerous to let around your kid right now. She makes sucky decisions – and your kid isn’t old enough to hold the line yet – so Grandma needs to stay away.

    As your kid gets older, you can reassess the situation – but for now, keep your kid safe. Sending your positive thoughts!

  44. Holy cheeseballs. I was skimming my RSS feed and I had such a strong reaction to this that I literally got out of bed and marched up to my husband and summarized the scenario for him and was like “Please tell me when have a minimum baseline expectation that if your mother ever did this we would absolutely as a couple lose our collective shit.”

    He was confused because we don’t have kids yet.

    The degree to which I would go nuclear if this happened to me is such that I am basically flipping out right now and I don’t EVEN have kids.

  45. Parent of a three-year-old here to say that I love my mother beyond words, she is deeply deeply dear to me, and if she did this with my kid she would be fired into the sun.

    I saw a suggestion upthread of Skype visits but frankly, given how much of this letter is about your mother doing harm with words (telling your child to keep secrets from you, gaslighting you around your so-called anxiety, manipulating other people with threats of depression episodes), I wouldn’t put your child within verbal distance of her either. F I R E D goodbye.

  46. I would go scorched earth personally. Put your mom in a loooong time out. Like 6 months to a year, like until you can think about this without reliving the fear and panic. Then she can resume a relationship with JUST YOU. If she proves she can behave by not gaslighting you or pressuring you for info on/access to grand kids then maybe, MAYBE, she can resume a relationship with them. MAYBE.

  47. LW, you did not overreact. You deserve to feel however you want to about this. And you also have every right to do whatever the hell you want going forward. Don’t let anyone bully you into doing or feeling something that doesn’t feel right or safe. Even if it means very low contact or no contact with your parents for a while. You do whatever is right for you.

  48. After burning it to the ground, for at least a while, there’ll likely be this weird double standard: Your family may want full access & trust from you in exchange for just bare minimum window-dressing gestures toward respecting your wishes as a parent and keeping your child safe.You’re supposed to give them all your trust, all is forgiven, etc., while they make the barest moves toward normal parental responsibility and want to be credited with total respect and normalcy just for making a tiny temporary effort.

    I know I sound cynical and that’s because I’ve been through this cycle with these people myself. Your parental expectations are healthy, good, and should not move one inch. I don’t care how many moves your family symbolically makes *toward your expectations without actually *meeting them; until they ACTUALLY MEET ALL YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND MEET THEM CONSISTENTLY FOR A LONG PERIOD TO SHOW IT’S A HABIT NOT AN EXCEPTION, they shouldn’t expect your faith and trust. (Not putting a coat on a 5yo in 40-degree weather? That’s such basic care she’s not even capable of it at this point.)

    They’ll make gesture after gesture and call you extreme for not meeting them halfway. Don’t meet them halfway. This is your precious child; there is no halfway. They change to your COMPLETE expectations, for the long term, or they aren’t trusted. That’s you being a good parent. Hugs to you and your child.

    1. Exactly.

      “Can’t we compromise?”
      “My acknowledging that you exist instead of insisting that I know no such person is the compromise. If you are ungrateful, I can stop compromising.”

  49. After I rage screamed up earlier, I want to come back somewhat more calmly and note that I’m a developmental psychologist and in case the LW, or anyone else, is wondering, grandparents can be wonderful additions to children’s lives, but not having them isn’t really a problem as long as the parent(s) is/are on the ball. If they are as toxic as this gramma is, feel no guilt. Be done.

  50. Oh my god and no car seat no CAR SEAT, you have my full sympathy and also absolutely she is in no-unsupervised-visits status, absolutely, and you are handling this so well.

  51. LW, I suggest that any script you use with Grandma or extended family NOT include any suggestion that your kid was “safe” with Grandma. He was quite clearly NOT safe, between the lack of carseat, the inappropriate clothing for the weather, and the abuse grooming language. Grandma is UNSAFE until proven otherwise, and any boundary you set with her is completely reasonable. If your letter had said that you called the police on her, declared no contact, and were prepared to file a restraining order if she violated no contact, I would still consider it completely appropriate and reasonable. She put your child’s life at risk and began the process of abuse victim grooming. There is not a single action that she took in this scenario that is even close to OK.

  52. LW I know much of this may be hard to read. I wrote CA for advice years ago and the commenters said some really hard truths about people I love.

    It’s taken a lot of therapy to get on a place to accept those truths. Hang in there.

  53. I am so impressed with your SON who knew the rules! I hope you have praised the little guy. My M-I-L took my two toddlers in her car to get hot donuts while I was breastfeeding the baby, and “NaNa” had encouraged her son to sleep in to give her “Special NaNa Time” with the kids. She told the children “mommy had me plan a special surprise for daddy, so let’s hurry and get the donuts.”
    My husband was beyond furious. My husband had no qualms at all about protecting his children and we left their home that day. He changed his relationship with his parents & siblings in that moment. (Yes, 2 days before Christmas, yes no presents at home, yes 4 generation family portrait already planned for the next day that we “ruined.”)
    My son was not quite 4 and told me afterwards “don’t worry, I knew to buckle up Little Sister, and then do my buckle.” We awarded him a bravery medal!
    Focus on your son, he is your Family. The qualities that make us good daughters can interfere with our abilities to be Strong Women.
    Am I the bitch that ruined my husband’s family with my crazy rules? No, I am the Goddess that helped him create a Family of Love & Respect & Appreciation. Those 2 toddlers are in college now and I have never regretted putting their Right to a Safe Childhood First. My “reward”: the 4 kids all communicate with honesty as they are less in need of my physical care, but no less in need of my Love & Respect & Appreciation.

  54. Kids 100% do not need grandparents. They *do* need adults they feel safe around

    If you haven’t yet, I would have a talk with your kid that Grandma was in the wrong, that adults can be wrong, that if he’s ever unsure or uncomfortable around an adult you’ll believe him and take his side.

    And no, you aren’t overreacting. If you decided to cut off all contact forever, you wouldn’t be overreacting. She ought to be grateful for any supervised visits you do allow, and any family member that doesn’t agree is wrong.

  55. When I was about 6, one of the times I was visiting my dad (my parents were divorced), we went somewhere in the car. He didn’t make sure that I wore my seatbelt, and he didn’t lock the car door. So, when he was going about 30 miles an hour, the door came open and I fell out of the passenger seat and skidded across the road on my back. The road ground my skin down to the bone on my lower spine, and I still (I am 40 years old now) have 3 white scars over my vertebrae from it.

    This was not the only incidence of my father’s careless disregard for my safety. And I have grown into an adult with major trust issues and anxiety. I also do not speak to my father.

    LW, your mother is a danger to your child’s physical and mental well being. You are not overreacting. Please don’t let anyone get in the way of protecting your son from dangerous people. ❤

    1. I’m just sitting here with my hand over my mouth. WHAT.

      I’m so sorry that happened to you.

  56. Personally I would try not to get too focused on arguing about the details of the trip (clothing, booster seat, etc) because in the end they come directly from the one big major deal-breaker: taking kid away from the parent *secretly* and *without your consent*.

    If she had had your permission you would have had a chance to insist on specific rules like a booster seat. You would have been able to say yes or no to whatever detail.

    And it doesn’t sound like it would have been fine if she had run off with him and *got mad at him for wanting to tell you*, if only she had taken his booster seat too. She seems a bit like the kind of person who would run off with him secretly again but then say you’re being crazy because this time she buckled him in properly just like she said she would.

  57. LW, I think your family is full of bees. I don’t think you need to use scripts, or have a conversation, or wait for an apology. I don’t think you need more words, or more understanding, or the fullness of time.

    Your mother does weird scary things sometimes. Your family minimizes how weird and scary those things are. They gaslight you (not just your mom, all of them) into wondering if you are overreacting. They use words like “family” and “awkward” and “depressive episode” to make you responsible for the very predictable consequences of her weird scary behavior.

    You sound like a very loving, conflicted person. I’m sure your mom is a quirky genius and that your dad is totally rad. I can tell that the idea of cutting off contact makes you feel sad and guilty.

    Nonetheless, I think these people are bad for you, and I think they’re bad for your kid. I don’t think you should bring him back for visits, supervised or unsupervised. I think you should go very minimum contact for a long time. You don’t have to tell them what they did wrong or how to fix it – they actually know both of those things.

    When they’ve shown that they can respect clear and easy boundaries like, “we’ll have one family Skype call per month, do not upset the child in any way,” then you can slowly fold back more contact. I would set the rules for each re-engagement upfront, and I would immediately pull back if ANY of those rules were broken for any reason.

    Or, you could just burn the whole thing down. The only reason I’m not pushing harder for that is that I kind of think you don’t entirely want to.

  58. Good job taking care of your little person, Letter Writer. Trauma is especially confusing when it’s caused by someone we want to trust and love. I’m so sorry this happened.

  59. LW, You are not over-reacting.

    Your mother, however, is. What the merry hells did she think would happen? Did she think you’d welcome her and the kid back with open arms, and let her have unsupervised access forever after as a result of this little “adventure”? No, it didn’t work like that; the world outside her head does not operate along the same lines as the one inside her head, and she needs to start reconciling to the differences between the two.

    I suspect your mother has spent a lot of her life being depressed when the world outside her head differed from the one inside her head. So if she’s going to throw tantrums about this, just point out you’re saving her from future depressive episodes, by not letting her get into a position where her ideas about “how the world works regarding your children” can differ from yours.

  60. Well, now I am seriously concerned about whether *i* have appropriate gut safety responses around kids (note: there are no children in my life), because I read the letter and thought “whoa chill out it’s not THaT bad” and then read the response and comments and…. am preemptively gonna assume I should just stay the heck away from children, I guess.

    1. Nah- just check with their parents before taking them anywhere. And don’t try to get them to keep secrets from their parents. That literally covers all your bases.

    2. I think the issue is less the specific behaviors, and more the boundary-stomping, secret-keeping, and rug-sweeping. It could have been anything, but the fact that it was done without telling the parents, and acting like they’re the unreasonable ones for wanting to know where their kid is, is the sketchy part.

    3. Yeah. It’s not that complicated. If you start with the basic presumption that taking other people’s children anywhere without their parents’ knowledge and permission is off-limits, the rest will take care of itself. Because when you **talk to the parents,** they will tell you any other boundaries you need to know.

      Of course, if you are ever tempted to drive away secretly with somebody else’s kids in your car, you definitely should stay away from children altogether.

    4. It’s possible for two people to disagree on the issue of taking the kid without explicitly asking Mom, going out in PJs in cool weather, even the carseat front for a five year old. Honestly, all of that is iffy and weird, but some of it can be chalked up to different generational mores. (Though by this age the reasonable grandparent knows the sticking points and abides by them.)

      But refusing to tell the parents when the kid wanted to, even getting angry with him for suggesting it? That’s frankly bizarre. There is no misunderstanding there. That’s just bad.

    5. I mean, some of that wouldn’t bug ME- like I’m from the northeast and don’t think you need a coat to ride in a car at 40 degrees and the pajamas wouldn’t upset me. The car seat thing is illegal.

      But you do see that sneaking a kid out of the house and discouraging him from telling his parents is a big thing, right? That’s the main issue. And it’s so, so unkind to do to a parent. I lost my kid once. There’s this… I can’t even describe the panic feeling. You keep thinking “they’re here. They have to be here. This isn’t happening. That stuff is rare he’s HERE.” But they’re not coming and you’re looking and they’re not there and you see how many things could be unsafe and you realize how many unsafe places you need to look and OH MY GOD. You don’t take kids away from their parents. You just don’t.

      I bet LW had this running thought of how many roads surrounded the house. Of how many directions she needed to look outside. Of any streams or patches of woods. Of my god. What if someone came in and took him or he went out and that rare bad person saw him. How can I know he’s not walking down the street but trapped and taken in a car or a neighboring house. There’s that pond behind Mr Smith’s house. He knows better, right? Knows not to go there, right? But he knows to respond when I call and he ISNT and he’s not in the house.

    6. When the kids aren’t yours, safety is actually pretty straightforward. You follow whatever their parents say to do. If you’re not 100% sure that something is OK by the parents, you check with them before doing it. That’s about it.

      It’s also much easier to see things as a threat when you’re thinking in the context of a specific uncoordinated, impulsive, naive toddler than when you’re thinking in general, I think. I don’t worry at all about things like outlets or stairs on a day-to-day basis. But when it comes to spaces my nephew is in? He’s a baby, he’s just learning to move himself around, he doesn’t have things like common sense yet…he could get himself killed in like 2 seconds if no adults were watching him. Being around a little tiny person that doesn’t yet understand basic things like ‘hot things burn’ and ‘falling a long way hurts’ and ‘sharp things make you bleed’ really changes how you perceive ‘danger’.

    7. I am completely horrified by what this grandmother did, but I get your reaction, too. I commented upthread (I think it got eaten?) that this grandma reminds me of the Cat in the Hat, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I think that if you don’t have a lot of experience with kids–or a lot of experience with manipulative, gaslighting, abusive people–this might initially read as something a Wacky TV Grandma would do, and Uptight Mom would freak out, but then Uptight Mom would Learn a Valuable Lesson and everyone would hug, roll credits. Irl, this shit Does. Not. Fly. Irl, you wouldn’t take someone’s *dog* without asking them. This would be like taking someone’s dog on an unannounced, off-the-leash walk in freezing weather, and not answering your phone when they call, and then acting like they’re crazy for being mad, only it’s not a dog, it’s a small child, and you also bullied this small child into leaving the house in secret, in just his pajamas. Irl, Wacky TV Grandmas and Cats in Hats are unreliable and untrustworthy and should not have access to the baby. Also, the fact that you are actually listening to what everyone else is saying speaks well of you. It’s more that this grandma did.

    8. It really does come to checking with the parents on everything, no matter how small or trivial you think it might be. If you thought this wasn’t that bad because the kid came back without being physically harmed, I can see how it would shake you up to realize that he was abused emotionally and mentally and the grandmother broke multiple laws to put him at risk for her own desires, and you didn’t twig to all that.

      But even if you were the biggest childcare expert in history, it wouldn’t change the need to run EVERYTHING past the parents. Because you might otherwise expose the kid to an allergen that puts them into anaphylaxis, or leaves them vomiting all night, or make them face something that gives them nightmares, and so on.

      Always check with the parents.

    9. It’s not that hard:
      1) Talk to the parents about plans and any special requirements (eg, don’t give my kid cheese or milk, he’s lactose intolerant)
      2) Car seats

      LW said she’d have helped make this trip happen if Gma had checked in with her. It would have added maybe 5 minutes to throw a coat on and use LW’s car. (Not always the case, of course – expect kids to make everything about 2x as time consuming as doing not with kids)

      I mean, you wouldn’t take someone’s car without telling them, right? Same for kids.

    10. If you don’t have a gut reaction of “carseats are non-negotiable” then, yeah, I’d say you’re right. Don’t ever be in a place where you’re transporting kids around.

      And don’t tell them to keep secrets from their parents. That grooms them for abuse.

  61. Wow! I am so sorry this happened to you. I think you should assume that this was a trial run and that your mom will, if given more access to your kid, go further than this.

    It astonishes me when grandparents act like they have some sort of automatic right to (unsupervised!??) access. My dad isn’t allowed any contact with my kid because he ignores my boundaries for fun and I can’t let my kid see anyone treat Mama like that. He’s never done anything as bad as what your mom did, although IDK, he probably would if I gave him the chance.

    Again, I am so sorry this happened to you. It must have been terrifying. You have the right to your boundaries.

    1. I imagine a reasonable person who hasn’t had kids in a few decades or never not seeing the big deal about that. Carseats for five year olds are a relatively new thing. I don’t think I’m that old (30s) but that didn’t exist where I lived when I was little. Kids even occasionally sat on someone’s lap in the car, though that was starting to be a big no-no during my childhood.

      Standards change, laws change, things are different from country to country, etc. I.e., it’s possible for an intelligent adult to not know that’s required, especially if they’re not currently a parent of that age child.

      But that’s yet another reason why you ASK. To find out stuff like that.

      It all comes back to asking in the end. So you have the parents’ consent, so they know where their child is, and so they can oversee and check off on your plan, including any details you might not have know about (or even might have been different to what you would have done if you were the parent).

      1. Carseats for five year olds are a relatively new thing.

        No, they are not.

        I’m 58, and well before I had my kids, even older children needed to be in car seats.

        Google tells me in was 1986. OK, maybe relatively recently–but that was 32 years ago.
        And it’s certainly a clear thing NOW.

        1. Well, I don’t know what year they came in in Ontario, but I’m old enough to have missed them as a child, and since I don’t have kids I still don’t know all the details of the laws (buses don’t require them, but I think maybe taxis do? There’s a point when they don’t need a car seat but need a booster? etc etc)

          I’m not saying they aren’t important or don’t matter. I’m saying don’t assume you know everything you need to know, and I’m saying that pretty much all such information can be very easily obtained just by asking the parents what’s needed.

          1. Random info – car seats aren’t needed on buses because those vehicles (at least school buses, not necessarily the general public transit kind) are specifically engineered to not require them. A school bus can take a lot of hits that would total a normal car without any harm to the kids inside, and it takes a pretty extreme accident for kids in a school bus to get hurt.

            For instance, rear-end a car? Kids (and adults!) inside can easily get neck injuries even from a minor impact. A school bus? Nope, no injuries. The force just doesn’t reach the passengers in a dangerous way.

            School bus safety research is kinda fascinating tbh.

          2. There is actually a good chance that seat belts will be required on school buses where I live within the next few years. I have increasingly been reading that the idea that school buses are engineered in such a way that seatbelts are unnecessary is not actually backed up by evidence.

          3. Hi I grew up in Ontario in the 90s (born 1992) and I did not have a booster seat after the age of 3 or so.

          4. I was born in Ontario in ’69 and never had a car seat. I also used to stand on the backseat on the highway.

            This is part of why I have fewer peers than I used to.

            That said, any reasonably responsible person has had time to adjust to the fact that they’re used. LW had one in her back seat. I find it hard to believe that LWM has never noticed.

          1. Unsecured children in a car that is rear-ended get ejected, through the windshield and out onto the roadway, as much as 50 feet. This is something you learn (and see) in Emergency Medicine, a field of medicine that didn’t exist 35 years ago either.

        2. Maybe it’s the difference between car seats and booster seats?

          I’m 34 and I think I remember having just a booster seat when I was around 4-5 years old.

          The law here now is for a appropriate child restraints until the child is 7, and recommends still using something until the child is 149cm tall – which might be 10 or 11 if they’re a shorter child.

          I can imagine someone used to booster seats only for younger children kind of hand-waving it. WHICH IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE now with all the research and, oh, LAWS about safe and appropriate child restraints. I’m so glad both sets of grandparents are on board with buying a good seat for their own vehicles when we visit, and I fully expect Miss Three to be in a car seat for years and years to come.

      2. From LW’s comments about her other sibling’s children, it appears that LW’s son is not the first grandchild. They have not been living for thirty years without exposure to current child safety standards.

        Also, any honest confusion or ignorance on that point could have easily been cleared up by speaking to the LW or her spouse first.

        Because “don’t take kids without their parents’ permission” is not a new rule.

      3. I’m in my mid-forties, and I had a car seat of sorts when I was that age – a kind of styrofoam table that was kept in place by the seat belt. I do remember my mum occasionally having other kids my age in the car when I was in Kindergarten, so much less enforced – but car seats existed in Germany.

      4. Yeah, I’m old enough to understand feeling on a gut level that car seats aren’t all that necessary for kids 4 and up. Which is why the coat thing got me on a much more visceral level. Installing a car seat in a car that doesn’t already have one is going to be a pain in the ass. Giving a kid a coat is easy! And it’s easy to understand, on that gut level, why the kid would be more comfortable if he was wearing more than pajamas in 40-degree weather.

        P.S. I’m not saying it’s okay to neglect the car seat just because we didn’t use them as kids and they’re a pain in the ass. I’m saying Grandma’s reasons for doing what she did couldn’t have been all about “logistics.”

        1. I’ve known a fair number of small children whose response to coats was pulling them off immediately – thus the coat didn’t really register on me.

          What got me was “Don’t tell your mother.”

          1. Yes, and I also know many adults who routinely go on car trips without proper outdoor clothes, because ‘I’m going to be in the car and it’s warm in the car’.

            Personally I think it’s asking for trouble to be so unprepared, but I’ve heard it multiple times. So that part didn’t jump out at me either.

            It was the secrecy, the deliberately doing things she knew the parents wouldn’t agree with, the fear created in the parents, and the ‘don’t tell your mom’ parts that creep me out about this story, personally.

        2. If you’re putting a kid in a carseat, they actually shouldn’t be wearing a winter coat in the car. It can make it not work right and be dangerous.

          1. Weird that they don’t, like, manufacture carseats that can be adjusted/made to work with the full range of clothes that kids might be wearing!

          2. Nothing stopping you from laying the coat on the seat next to the kid so it’s there if and when you leave the car, though.

        3. Knowing the actual age and weather it seems like something I might not see as wrong if the mother decided on it. There are legal things related to the car seat and you should at least have the kid bring a coat and let them decide if they need it, and its not the grandma’s call.
          But it sounds like the mother was there its not like grandma was supposed to be watching the kid. Grandma didn’t even leave a note.
          Also I didn’t want to work out the logistics of an adventure so instead of asking you to do it for me or not having an adventure I decided to just have an adventure and not care about the logistics.
          It sounds like she woke the kid up, didn’t let him get dressed or tell mommy, who was there, to drive him nowhere without leaving a note. From what I can tell unless she just wanted to hurt her daughter she had no reason to do this and every reason not to do this.

      5. Yeah, true, re “just ask.”

        And of course the rest of it is appalling too.

        I think I fixated on that one because it’s a common example of “grandma knows best.” And our child has a rare medical condition that could result in brain damage or death if the right things are not done, so I’m triggered (possibly in the PTSD sense, definitely in the metaphorical allergy sense) by anything like “grandma knows better than mom how to take care of this kid.”

  62. Also: I don’t know how bad your mother’s Depression is, but there have been several instances of Depressed adults deliberately driving their car into lakes/dams with kids in the car because they thought the kids were “better off that way.”

    Another reason to be “no taking my child in the car without checking in with me first.”

    1. FFS, murdering children isn’t a side effect of depression! Something like twenty percent of women will deal with depression in their lifetimes, and even really crappy, serious depression is not linked to violence against others.

      The news is not particularly nuanced in its understanding of mental illness, and family or friends saying that a perpetrator “seemed depressed” or even “was being treated for depression” doesn’t mean we know anything about that person’s actual health.

      Please don’t reinforce the stigma associated with a common mental illness–there are already enough hurdles to treatment. This sort of casual fearmongering does immense harm.

      1. Thanks for this, Starling. I’m having trouble untwisting my thoughts on this. PterodactylParty, you’re reaching for a scenario that’s a horrible (and not uncommon) stereotype of depression. Depression doesn’t necessarily even mean suicidal thoughts. And it certainly doesn’t mean any likelihood of taking your kids down with you. And killing one’s children doesn’t necessarily stem from depression, or even from mental illness. Some people are just terrible fucking people who do terrible things.

        That thinking is an extreme version of what the LW’s mother is doing: it’s blaming a negative event solely on a (real or not) mental illness that’s totally disconnected from the actual events. In doing so, it’s mischaracterizing mental illness and detracting from the seriousness of the actual problem by suggesting that it’s *hand wave* those people and can’t be helped. Of course, the LW’s reaction is completely appropriate here, and I don’t mean to equate that with the scenario you’re citing. But let’s not use “mental illness” as some blunt instrument against people, period.

    2. “Don’t take my child out without telling me” is a simple, obvious rule that doesn’t need to be buttressed with scaremongering.

    3. To paraphrase Whoopi Goldberg’s infamous “rape” comment for a moment, I don’t think the Mum’s likely reaction here is “depression-depression”.
      As far as I am aware, real depression is something that comes on without the sufferer being able to stop it. It is something that often makes the person feel ashamed and frightened, and often inhibits them from normal activities.
      It is certainly not something that a person can turn on and off at will, or deploy as a weapon against anyone who says “no” to them.
      So, the whole “don’t upset your Mom or she’ll have depression [at you]”? Nope. Not buying it.

  63. “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.”

    This is where I saw red. How horrible for this child. How abusive, to him, directly, to make him afraid of saying no to something he didn’t feel was safe and wasn’t comfortable with.

    I recognize this… from my own childhood. And I wish anyone had been willing to push back and defend me. I don’t think you’re at all overreacting. I don’t even think you’d be remiss to sever all contact with your mom. I hope she’s never so much as left alone in a room with him while someone safe is around the corner, because your kid needs to know that no one is ever going to let her do something like that to him again.

    I’m so sorry, LW. No part of this was okay.

    1. I found out a couple weeks ago that my mother-in-law (whom I love but about whom I have Complicated Feelings) did something similar to my 12-year-old nephew and I’ve just been seething and reeling about it since. It was 100% a power play meant to undermine the kid’s parents and I’m just furious and distressed—and there isn’t even anything I can do about it. I feel a tiny bit better knowing there are parents like the LW and other commenters here who are out there defending their kids’ right to say no, EVEN TO NANA. (Nephew’s mom and dad are also A+ amazing parents and I’m confident all their kids will be kept safe, it’s just…ugh, this shuddery helpless RAGE knowing it happened…!)

      For what it’s worth, LW, I wouldn’t think less of you if you and your husband eventually, cautiously, allowed you mom back into your son’s life in some capacity. I would also 100% understand if you ended contact with your mom (and maybe dad too) over this incident.

    2. And the long term outcome of being parented like this is that you become conditioned to cave in to pressure from your parent to suspend your good judgement, even as an adult.

      When I was 19 and had had a driving licence less than a year, very little experience of highway driving and none of that at night, and had not driven in over 4 months due to not having my own car, my mother pressured me into sharing a 1000km overnight drive with her despite my saying that I didn’t think I was safe to do that (I was already exhausted from moving house all weekend at the end of a university term), by claiming that if I didn’t help she would be at risk of losing her job for not being back from her holiday on time and she would hold that over my head for the rest of my life. Outcome: at 6am the next morning, after alternating driving and napping for the previous 9 hours, I fell asleep at the wheel, drove off the road into a ditch and flipped the car. We were exceptionally lucky to both walk from that. And surprise, surprise, my mother didn’t lose her job for being late.

      LW, give your kid a giant high five for knowing what the right thing to do is, and continue to reinforce that it is not okay for other people to override that or pressure him to keep secrets. It’s not just for now that it’s important, but for being able to keep safe for the rest of his life as well.

  64. As a mom, I don’t think you’re over-reacting at all. If anything, you’re still somewhat under-reacting because it is so freaking unbelievable. This is so far from acceptable behavior, I can’t even see it from here.

    She planned it. She deliberately planned not to tell you, because she knew ahead of time it was not OK.


    And what was the “fun adventure” supposed to be? Just driving in the car with grandma? No the adventure was YOU NOT KNOWING. That was the part that was fun for her. That was the central feature of the whole scheme.

    She didn’t even care that he was nervous and felt uncertain. She didn’t care that he was cold and uncomfortable. She didn’t care that he was physically unsafe. She was so focused on getting her jollies at your expense, she didn’t even care if he was actually having fun. She got angry to shut him up because his extremely reasonable concerns were spoiling her fun. And she told him to keep secrets from you, BECAUSE THE SECRET WAS THE FUN FOR HER.

    Then she deliberately avoided your call. Because that extended her fun – you got to be even more uncertain and worried and frightened.

    Then she gaslighted you by pretending this was totally not frightening, and accused you of being limited by anxieties.

    And you know what? If she’s upset that you got angry and set limits? Good. If she feels horrible about it, I’m okay with that. I give you Internet Stranger Permission to be okay with it, too. Feeling horrible about doing something horrible is not mental illness or depression. SHE SHOULD FEEL HORRIBLE ABOUT IT. If she truly felt horrible about what she did, that would be a *healthy* response. Because healthy people feel horrible when they screw up and hurt someone.

    Please, please, please keep your child far away from this woman. She is so completely and permanently fired. She’s using him as a pawn to torment you for her own amusement.

    I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. Good for you for standing up for your child and for yourself.

  65. LW, I know you love your dad and think he’s pretty cool. But you might find that setting boundaries with your mom over time changes the way you see him. This happened to me. My dad looked like a good parent compared to my mom, but the finer my filter got with my mom’s BS, the more it started catching a bunch of my dad’s behaviors, too. Just so you know.

  66. I just wanted to add that I had a grandmother who pushed boundaries with my parents by doing much lower key things like giving me candy and telling me not to tell my parents. She also continually got me gifts I didn’t want of things she thought I *should* want. I really wish my parents had fired her. I doubt that it would have gotten through to her, but at least it would have saved me a lot of stress. (Or maybe it would have. Who knows. As it was, I never had a good relationship with my grandmother.)

    So if you have any concern about depriving you’re kid of having a grandmother… Worry no more! You’re doing the right thing for both yourself *and* your kid. (And possibly your mom, but my sympathy is not with her. At all.)

  67. Haven’t read ALL the comments – stopped when my head started to throb – so apologies if someone has mentioned this already. Perhaps explain to the fam that, leaving aside the whole putting her grandchild’s life in danger thing, if the cops pull Grandma over with him NOT in a car seat, and no car seat in the car to put him in, and he’s in his jammies they will NOT let her continue. They will remove her and the child to the police station and child protective services may well be called whether they’re able to contact the LW or not. And I speak from experience here. Erm … cop experience, not child abductor experience.

  68. LW, I add my voice to everyone (and I think it is unanimous!) saying no you are not wrong to fire her.

    I think the big thing to realize is that both your dad (and the rest of the family?) are catering to your mom’s out of bounds behavior, and that they have conditioned you to behave the same way. This is the fuel that feeds the doubt that makes you second guess yourself—you have been raised this way! Pay attention to your instincts and don’t let yourself (or your kid!) get sucked into a terrible situation because your are pressured to keep the peace.

  69. There’s a lot to read here but I just wanted to add this perspective. When I was little my Dad cut off all contact between my Nan and our family. He gave her the choice. she could end the way she behaved towards us (I’m pretty sure he experienced this behaviour in his own childhood) or having no contact at all. She chose no contact. No grandparents is way better than bad grandparents. I still remember the way she made me feel about myself when she was around.

  70. What your mom did was deliberate.

    It was so deliberate that even a five year old was able to discern this.

    I’m sorry, but your mother is…not sorry.

  71. Don’t merely ‘alert’ the school. Tell them explicitly and in writing. Tell the Headteacher, the front office, the class teacher, the support workers. Many of us would release a child if the child said “that’s Grandma” unless we knew otherwise. She could easily turn up ‘for a surprise”. Renew the information every year and anytime the school staff change. Yes, I speak from experience. The child was safe, eventually, but the Mum was distraught for a long time.

  72. Hello LW, and hello LW’s spouse, for this appears to be a parent on par with my husband’s so I offer you ‘what the hell even are my in-laws’ high fives. I am about 2 years further down the line than you are and am here to send hugs and offer validation, and also warnings, because holy fuck, how are there SO MANY of these people of that age with now-adult children who think behaving this way is ok and their right?

    So this sounds like the sort of thing my husband’s mom would have done before we cut her off (which was never meant to be a cut off, she just escalated it that way). The constant boundary pushing, wherein his Dad would side with us and make “Gosh, why can’t you be more reasonable” noises at his mother and “She doesn’t mean any harm but I know she’s a lot to deal with” noises at us, and seemed to be a stand up guy trying to mediate between child and parent to the best of his ability when he knew his wife was out of line, and she would cry and pout and talk about how Sad us having boundaries made her, and we would gently explain over and over again how her behaviour wasn’t ok.

    And then she finally did something big enough we needed time away from her (not even on your scale, not nearly) and he changed. Or rather, revealed that was an act, and became 1000% her enabler and we needed to get back in line and why wouldn’t we do what he wanted, JUST SPEAK TO YOUR MOTHER, etc etc.

    Long story short: beware these people’s ‘nice’ and ‘reasonable’ partners, because they are neither. They are willing to perform that role as long as you are present and don’t do anything to mean their MO has to change. The second you realise that all the small Come-To-Deity talks aren’t working and do something with actual Consequences, especially if you have something They Want (for us, it was a house, for yours, it may be your kid) then they transform, because THEN they are fully aware that without you on the table, that behaviour will be directed at them.

    For this reason, I appreciate you say your Dad is normally a stand up guy who acknowledges that your mother’s behaviour is Not Ok and this was a one off blip, but I am here to say Be Very Very Wary, because it could be that this was not and he (and other family members who might join in for much the same reason) is actually playing this game, and you are about to see the less nice side of things.

    Additionally, you say you have taken time away from your mother before, and she has responded to that by being more respectful, so I am very hopeful that doing so will have the same results again (I agree with a commenter further up, that this is one time that I don’t think the Cap’s advice goes far enough, and would suggest that at least 6 months away, for your own stress levels, for the Consequences for your mother and also to reassure your poor child about keeping secrets and torn feelings over ‘but it’s Nanna!’). My husband’s unfortunately, did not respond well and instead doubled down and escalated, which is something to keep in mind from a safety point of view, but I very much hope it will not be something you need to use.

  73. As others have pointed out, your five-year-old kid understood why it was important to tell you where you they were going. Your mom didn’t … or she did and neglected to tell you anyway.

    You. Are. Not. Overreacting.

  74. I’ve been exactly where you are. My mother refused to use car seats (“we didn’t have them when you were a kid and you were fine!”) and she also refused to childproof her house (she had a bottle of LYE under the kitchen sink). I worked in a hospital and have seen those kids who were seriously injured in a (minor) car wreck because they weren’t in a car seat – or the toddler who drank lye. It’s also wrong to undermine parents.

    I’m really sorry that you have to deal with this. CA is totally right. And trust your own instincts, because they ROCK.

    1. “…you were fine.” Fills me with rage and sadness. My mother uses this line, shares those memes etc, but *not* all of my childhood friends survived. One friend’s death even changed the law!
      (But I guess they weren’t the kids of parents my mum knew so they don’t register with her.)

      1. This is (part of) my thing about vaccines. Yes, a majority of people who got measles when they were children were fine. You don’t meet the people who got it and weren’t fine, because they DIED. If you visit old cemeteries in small towns, you can tell what years diptheria came through by the dates on the tombstones. Less than a hundred years ago it was a fact of life that your kids would get sick at some point and all you could do was pray that they’d survive it. Now we have ways of preventing that shit and people don’t want to do it?!
        I’m definitely not in favour of helicopter parenting, but I just don’t see what kids are missing out on by not getting whooping cough or polio.

        1. My parents were born in the 20s, my aunt in the 30s, my sister in the 40s. They all either suffered through these awful diseases or watched others do so, and not all of them lived. I remember my mom talking about people she knew who died of “lockjaw” (tetanus) and “blood poisoning” (sepsis, pre-antibiotics. My sister is developmentally disabled because my mom contracted rubella while she was pregnant.
          My parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles/etc considered vaccines to be one of humanity’s greatest inventions, and made sure my brother and I had ALL of ours, on schedule. I wish the people who don’t believe in them could talk to people from the pre-vaccine era, to find out just how truly devastating those diseases actually can be.

          1. A thousand times yes! My grandfather and his sisters were USAA medical personnel during World War I. Two nurses and an ambulance driver told some chilling stories….and that’s in addition to the stories from my grandmother on the home front. Complain to gramma about a TB booster? Hell no, because if her family had had the technology, her little brother would have lived.

          2. I agree. I was one of the children in the first trial of the polio vaccine. Thankfully it worked! But I knew children who died or were disabled from polio. Likewise I knew children who died from mumps and measles. I am so very thankful for vaccines.

          3. Or look at reports about these diseases in developing countries. Or Google images of these diseases. That should scare sense into them, hopefully.

        2. My bff and I both had whooping cough about six years ago right after we got home from vacation. We were sick for weeks. I had to take codeine for longer than I prefer (I’m allergic to the not-codeine cough medicines, but when you have whooping cough, you NEED SOMETHING, trust me), and my bff broke three ribs from coughing.

  75. I once seriously looked into getting custody of my younger half-brothers because of the shit my mum was pulling with them. Unfortunately for me I had no chance and so they stayed in an unsafe home and I had to bite my lip for a decade and just try to mitigate as much of the damage as I could.

    LW, you don’t have to do that, you can do whatever you need to do to keep your kids safe. At the absolute minimum neither of your parents (and the sibling who tried to bully you into not reacting) should get any unsupervised time with your kids. And you would be completely justified in cutting all contact until you feel like those family members can be trusted again.

    I’m really sorry your dad let you down this badly, especially after you’d previously talked about your mum’s behaviour with him. But right not he is not a rad dad, he is enabling your mum and that makes him as untrustworthy as her. I hope your family learn from this experience, and that in future they not only respect your boundaries but also follow child safety rules without being prompted. Good luck.

  76. LW, in your situation I’d fire your mother and father, and never ever let either of them supervise your child until the child is over 18 and can consent to that.

    Perhaps one day you might consider contacting your parents and establishing a distant and civil relationship. That is if they both apologize and acknowledge what your mother did and how screwed up your father’s reaction was to it.

    I’m so sorry your mother chose to act this way and very glad your child is now safe.

      1. I’d go no contact, not allow them any access to your child at all (in person or via Skype or facetime) and give yourself the gift of not worrying what outrageous and appalling thing your mother might do next.

  77. “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.”

    This line to me is extremely telling.
    I think almost any caring adult would have responded to your statement with words like:
    “Of course.” “And I would never be able to forgive myself.” “I know.”
    A second tier would be comments like “But I would never put him in danger.” “You don’t have to worry.” “But nothing happened!” This tier, by the way, is the Land of Yellow Flags.
    Your mom isn’t even in the Land of Yellow Flags. Her response shows that she sees this as a game, and your child, your actual precious child, as a more valuable pawn than she had realized. More red flags than an airport. Childfree by choice and not even really liking children much, I feel chilled at the idea of what she might do. Dear LW, find your inner mama bear and let her be your guide as to what a reasonable reaction might be. In my considered opinion, moving and not giving her your new address would not be overdoing it.
    It’s also absolutely not to soon to teach your son that it’s ok to say no to grownups, even if they get mad. That his boundaries deserve to be respected. And that anyone who doesn’t want him to tell you things is not a safe person or someone he needs to obey.

  78. I’m a primary (elementary) school teacher and this feels the the kind of thing that I might even get a note about. Not because it was especially traumatising for your child (I hope so much he is unaware of how scary a thing your mother did) but in case a kiddo said odd things as they processed what happened. It is THAT level of not ok. I don’t mean to imply that you have to tell any school, just to reaffirm that it was very not ok. And also that you can 1,00,000% tell the school that nobody but you picks him up and they will absolutely have your back on that

  79. Here to say, hopefully encouragingly to you, LW, that I did not allow my children to be alone with the grandparents because of something my dad did that was milder than this and I have no regrets. Several years later (when kids were 4 and 7), he ended up out of our lives entirely . My kids have still had outstanding life, love, adventure, and grandparent experiences, just not with him. It is many years later now. I have been and remain relieved for my kids’ sakes, not regretful.

  80. Your mother literally kidnapped your child – she took him against your will and his! She also bullied him, undermined your authority as a parent, risked his life by not using a car seat, made you experience the sheer terror of having a missing child, and refused to answer the phone when she knew you were worried sick. And she’s so good at mind games that she actually has you wondering if you’re overreacting.

    This wasn’t an isolated incident. It was a sadistic, hostile power grab, and it won’t be the last. Even if she agrees not to take him out again, she’ll find other ways to undermine and torment you. If you leave him with her for even a minute, she’ll manage to work her way into his brain.

    She may even undermine you when you’re in the room, and she’ll accuse you of overreacting. Or she’ll influence family members to do her bidding. All those little digs can add up to a big affect on your child and his relationship with you. I wouldn’t leave him alone with her for even a moment until he’s an adult. I also wouldn’t leave him with Grandpa, because Grandpa hasn’t even done a good job of protecting you, his own child, from that woman.

    If you decide to allow her near your son after this, consider cutting her off completely at the first whiff of trouble. Don’t listen to people who say “but faaaaaamily.” You can’t second-guess protecting your child and yourself from known threats.

  81. My best friend’s mom has been a missing stair her entire life. At some point her mom was diagnosed with a mental illness, but this being in the Days of Yore, it wasn’t something that was widely known or recognized, and it was never mentioned / acknowledged while we were growing up.

    My best friend has a daughter now. When her daughter was one, her parents lived right up the street from her. Due to scheduling snafus, Grandma had to solo babysit her granddaughter for a couple of hours before my friend could get home from work.

    During that time period, Grandma: 1) drove a one year old AND a random neighbor child (because the more the merrier! Wheeee!) to the town pool / glorified water park, 2) without a) CAR SEATS, b) bathing suits / swim diapers, c) sunscreen and 3) without notifying, asking permission of, or even texting her own daughter ‘at the pool park lol brb.’ It was 95 degrees that day. She got there at high noon.

    My friend’s one year old got her first sunburn, heat rash and had to be treated for possible heat stroke. Grandma issued a non-apology when confronted with ‘WTAF MOM????’

    My friend’s daughter is 10 now. She has never been nor will she be left unsupervised with Grandma ever again. Grandpa, who has a marriage long ongoing job of managing a mentally ill wife and does an awesome job, will always be / has always been there henceforth. So it is written, so will it be.

    Having this lifetime vacancy in her Mom Slot has shaped my friend in ways I can’t possibly know the depths of, but it has transformed her into an A++++ Mom who supports, defends and is THERE for her children in the exact way her own mom never ever was, or could be.

    TL;DR. In other words, LW, no, you are not overreacting, and I commend you for following a similar path that smashes patterns of familial dysfunction despite resistance from those who don’t want to rock the dysfunctional boat even though it’s sinking. It is so difficult to be the thing that we most needed in our own lives from the jump. ❤

  82. I don’t have children myself but I have worked as a childminder. One day I couldn’t find one of the kids and I remember that feeling of UTTER AND COMPLETE DREAD like it was yesterday. I’ve never experienced anything like it since. Anyway the kid was fine, she was just hiding.

    The point is that LW’s mother knows that feeling, as any parent does. And yet she decided to not only inflict it on her own daughter but dodged the calls that could have reassured her. She knew you were frantically looking for your little boy when she ignored your calls. That is profoundly evil and I would personally not put any trust in this person ever.

    1. I’m not sure she knows that feeling. It sounds like something that comes from either a sense of responsibility or caring that your child could get hurt.
      She has demonstrated a lack of both.

    2. My kid walked home from the playground one day without telling me (he is 9, we live two blocks from the playground in a town of 3000, he was fine) but there were seven minutes where I couldn’t find him and I thought my heart was going to explode.

  83. First off, that woman is totally enjoying the drama. That’s what makes these people so hard to deal with. If you respond to them angrily, they love all that angry energy drama. Then they can come back with hurt victim drama. If you explain rationally, they keep poking until they get the angry drama they crave. Or they can spiral into depression like Grandfather is afraid of. Lots of opportunity for worried energy drama with that. (Which is not to say that all depressed people are manipulative, only that the evidence points to this woman’s being manipulative.)

    To her, going out in pajamas in the cold on icy streets without a carseat or seatbelt with no particular destination IS an adventure. All that exciting not-knowing-what-happens-next danger drama! In her boundaryless world she’s sharing what she loves best with someone she loves best. To her, it’s like sharing a favorite adventure novel with an imaginative 10 year old.

    LW: Did your mother take these sorts of chances with your safety when you were little? I’m guessing she did. Maybe not as bad. When she was younger she may have gotten her kicks in less egregious ways, but I’d bet there was plenty of forgetting normal precautions back then too. So much wonderful drama when a simple mistake had grave consequences either in a child getting hurt or a child getting mad at her or maybe in feeling so wonderfully needed when the tearful child is forgotten in a playground as the sun goes down.

    I’d say that even supervised visits are a risk. In a house full of relatives, she can still lie to a 7 year old (I’m assuming a 2 year break before trying again) to get him alone again.

    I’m going disagree a little against the Captain’s advice regarding getting an apology. Or maybe we agree and I’m just misunderstanding what she means by an apology. In my experience, people like this see apologies are roadblocks to getting what they want so they seek ways to get around them. This feeds the drama. You want an apology? Okay, I’ll give you the best: I am SO sorry. I am totally apologetic. I, sniff, understand what I did wrong. Here’s a dramatic apology done IN PUBLIC. I do so sincerely apologize and promise to do better. I don’t know what got into me.

    And then they go back to doing whatever they want whenever they want. The apology requirement is just a shoulder shrugging something they have to do, a thing this mother has that’s as weird as not liking adventurous trips on icy streets in the first place.

    LW asks if she can still accept gifts. This is a tough one. I chose not to accept them from my mother. My reasoning was that they always came with control. You’d think accepting a cash gift would have no strings attached, but I realized there was always some guilt. Even if it wasn’t implicit, there would always be something in the back of both our minds that I was being especially mean if I accepted the money and then didn’t call or visit or relent in some boundary in some way. Accepting a gift lent credence to her after-all-I’ve-done-for-you narrative.

    On the other hand, I admit that if someone was really strong in their boundaries, not me, but if someone else felt like they could withstand the assaults, then I see nothing wrong with accepting a gift. If it makes you feel better about everything else you put up with, then go for it.

    And now a question for Jennifer. This is procedural. When I see a new thread with lots of comments, I like to read them all before responding to make sure I’m not repeating and to make sure I’m not bringing up something that’s already been resolved. I like to read Jennifer’s responses first to see if there’s some new information after the original letter, and that’s easy because Jennifer’s comments on my system are in blue. But I also like to see if the original LW has gotten back to clarify anything and read those first, and that’s harder. Could those comments be put in blue or some other color too? Or is there an easy way to glance down the comments column and see immediately what came from the LW?

    1. Well, usually when LWs respond they choose a handle that includes ‘LW’, like “LW #608” or “Handle (the LW)” or just “LW”, as in this case. So you can use the Ctrl + F or Ctrl + G commands on your web browser to look for those comments.

  84. LW, I apologize if this has been well-answered and I just haven’t read carefully enough to see that, but in answer to “Can I still accept gifts from her that don’t smash boundaries,” I would say no. Not unless and until she has had a serious breakthrough; the kind where she comes to you in humbleness and in full recognition of how wrong she has been in a way that convinces you that she has fully seen the light. The reason not to accept gifts from her to me is that she has been running a fairly successful tyranny in your family for some time now—given that so many are willing to pretty much let her get away with anything in order to never upset her, never rock the boat—and her bestowal of largess now and then is part of that tyranny, a part that allows her to say to herself and to others that she is really not that bad. To accept is, in a sense, agreeing to let her even up the score—2 good things (gifts for example) for 1 bad thing, when what you want her to understand is that your terms regarding your children are absolute. NO bad things. Ever. Giving gifts will comfort her, will assure her that you aren’t that mad— and you might want to be real deliberate about when you want to do that.

  85. If you haven’t already, do have a chat with your 5-year-old along the lines of “you were very brave and absolutely right to want to tell me; if a grown-up ever tries to make you keep something secret from me or [other parent] that you think you should tell us, tell us right away and don’t worry about listening to them because they’re a grownup (yes, even if it’s Grandma); we are not going to see Grandma for a while because she (not you) was wrong to not tell us she wanted to take you somewhere and to not let you tell us either. It is not your fault.”

    Probably better ways to phrase that for a small child exist, but you get the gist.

  86. I genuinely feel like it might save you time and pain in the long run to go straight to this script with your family:

    “I am graciously permitting her to live, [relative]. That IS me being reasonable.”

    It’s awful but true that one approach that works in a family with this dynamic (which my crowd refers to somewhat problematically as “Biggest Psycho Gets To Drive” is to establish yourself as The OTHER One Who Is Just Like That. It’s important to be measured and cautious about it lest YOU become a Missing Stair, but becoming The Baby Gate With The Tricky Latch At The Top Of The Staircase has a lot of benefits.

    Mainly that it’s a hard reset for how they treat you, which can blow through a lot of little bad habits or boundary -crossing behaviour and ALSO a hard reset on what you accept.

  87. SCORCHED EARTH LW. This is not an overreaction at all. Some things that stood out to me after reading your comments in this thread:

    — she absolutely knew what she was doing was wrong and against your wishes as the parent and she chose to do it anyway. You can’t teach her to respect you. She will do something like this again if you give her the opportunity.
    — you knew she had no respect for your boundaries already and this incident is not so surprising to you given her past behavior.
    — you had previously gone no contact for 6 months when you were younger. I’m sure your childhood was a literal beehive. Read a book like “Toxic Parents” and I bet your parents will check off a lot of boxes. Yes your dad included. He may privately agree with you but his knee jerk reaction and the way he speaks to and about your mom betray his true enabling nature.
    — you have other children. She decided to kidnap just your five year old. How else does she show favoritism? Children feel the lasting effects of favoritism and other toxic behavior through adulthood.

    LW, I know how painful it is to realize that your parents are toxic. I am currently dealing with that realization for myself. However, you need to protect your children from their toxic behaviors— behaviors that actually endangered your son’s life. Not an exaggeration. You say later that you don’t know if you should accept gifts that “don’t smash boundaries” but here’s the thing— without a profound and truthful apology about how what she did was wrong and dangerous and how she respects that you may never want a relationship with her ever again (spoiler alert: the mom you describe will never give you a real apology), any “gift” you accept is just a bribe to sweep this all under the rug. She will be buying access to your children again.

    Like I said above, LW, you aren’t overreacting. If I were in your shoes, I’d go no contact again for a minimum of a year and then only see her once a year in a public place for an hour if you even want a relationship with her. You may find that a year off from her is the best gift ever in which case keep it up!

    Jedi Hugs, LW. Many of us didn’t get the parents we deserve. Be the parent you wish you had for your children. She got caught this time. Next time, it might be too late. Make sure there will never be a next time.

  88. Hello LW, I’m also the mother of a 5 year old and I read your entire letter on one long, horrified, in-drawn breath. You are NOT over-reacting and your mom should be fired like Scaramucci.

    Not only did the Captain make some very excellent points, I’d also like to point out that your mother has made it very clear that she doesn’t trust or respect your judgement or authority *as a parent.* Part of being a parent is that you are the final arbiter of rules regarding the health and safety for your child because you’re ultimately responsible for your child and in the best position to know what’s right for your kiddo. The only people who you can safely leave your kids with are people who have fully internalized that and who you can trust to follow those rules when you’re not around, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.

    She didn’t ask your permission to take your child somewhere. Then she took him out in bad weather WITHOUT A CAR SEAT, putting him at physical risk, and breaking your parenting rules. What is she going to decide to ignore your judgment on next time? This is the kind of boundary-stomping that causes people feed kids with peanut allergies nutter-butters, or take sensitive 7 year olds to see “It”, or visit creepy “uncles,” because “it wasn’t a big deal back in my day,” or “I thought you were exaggerating.” Maybe my mom thought my nap-time schedule was too ridged when small person was a toddler or maybe she doesn’t think it’s necessary for her to ride in a booster seat now. But she gets pretty much unfettered access to my child because she 1) keeps those thoughts to herself unless asked directly, 2) follows my rules because she respects me as a parent, 3) would ASK if she wasn’t sure about something and, 4) if she did do something with my child I didn’t agree with, she would hear me out, apologize and NOT DO THAT THING AGAIN. From what you’ve written, it doesn’t feel like you could trust your mom to do any of those things.

    If I were you, I would start with the premise that your mom cannot be trusted to keep your child physically safe in unsupervised and a will actively try and get him out of your custody and proceed accordingly. Maybe that means no contact, maybe that means supervised visitation and no staying at her house. You’re best positioned to figure that out – and you can always rejigger based on her behavior.

    Also, you may want to ramp up the tricky people discussions with your kiddo and maybe even role-play the scenario with your mom and what you would have liked him to have done a bit. We try and stay away from “stranger danger” (practically speaking, we talk to strangers all the time and also, statistically, strangers aren’t where the danger lies) but do talk about “tricky people” who are adults who ask kids a secrets or for help with adult tasks. We’re also trying to work on trusting our instincts and getting out and finding a trusted adult when your body feels weird about something.

    It really, really sucks that someone you love and who *should* be a fun, loving figure in your child’s life has proven they can’t be trusted and I’m so sorry your mom is doing this and torpedoing her opportunity to be a grandma. All the Jedi hugs to you.

  89. I feel like I know this mother. I grew up with this mother. She does whatever she wants, all the fucking time, and if she can’t, she plays the fucking victim card. Any attempt to point out why her way is not the only way, or why sometimes her way is a really fucking bad way, no matter how logical you are, always comes down to “Why are you so mean to meeeeee? Can’t you see how much I looooooove you?”

    This person pushes boundaries. The only way to get her to respect a boundary is to make it physically or socially impossible for her to cross that boundary. (By socially impossible, I mean, the negative consequence is big enough that she’s not willing to risk it even if she has the.) You cannot set a boundary and expect her to follow it. You CANNOT trust her. Letter Writer, maybe I’m projecting a little, and I’m trying not to, but from the short information you’ve provided, I may not know the details about your family dynamics, but the one thing that I feel very confident about is that you cannot trust your mother. You can’t trust her because her whole world view is so completely different from yours or most people’s. You can explain the reason behind safety measures. That doesn’t matter, because that’s not what informs her decision making. You can explain why your expectations are reasonable, but that doesn’t matter either, because her decision making is not influenced by whether your boundaries are reasonable. Like, at all. It plays no part in her actions.

    You’ve done a good job, LW, in setting boundaries with her. You sound like a fantastic parent. The only thing that is freaking me out a little about the Captain’s Advice is the script suggesting that if your mother can show remorse and win back your trust, that she might be allowed to be alone with him again. I respect that this is *your* choice as your son’s parent, LW, but I want to urge you to consider that it’s okay to absolutely NEVER allow her unsupervised access to him, ever, for the rest of her life. You are in the situation best, and you know her better than me. But if you think about her sense of judgement and her motivations, and if you find that you don’t believe that you can depend on her to do the right thing, then you don’t have to show her that trust. Even when your son is older and able to speak up for himself, it can be just as difficult for older kids to stand up to somebody who’s been an authority figure their whole life. Even teenagers can struggle with it. Especially if it’s a “fun” authority figure who they’ve never had a direct conflict with.

  90. I’m furious for you LW. A disappeared kid and nobody answering the phone is a huge fear of mine.

    I’ve got nothing to add really but I want to underline the idea of taking a good long break. It’s not a punishment for your mother, (although hopefully she might review her behaviour given the consequences,) it’s time for you to have some space and to think about what you want to do next without any pressure or immediacy. Take time out.

    I think you will need to talk to your son sooner rather than later about tricky people because of the way he was manipulated by your mum. He trusts her and he was bullied by her. This is grooming behaviour, he needs to know that he can stand up against this in future and you will absolutely have his back.

  91. Some people who do toxic things are perennial holiday-ruiners. LW, thinking back, has there been a string of birthdays, winter holidays, etc., that have all been ruined by “accident” or other Grandma activities? Maybe not and this is strictly about the grandkid. But if this behavior rings true about Grandma, it’s worth considering that she could have the purest, most complete “come to Jesus moment” and understanding of rules ABOUT THE GRANDKID, but still proceed to ruin holidays through completely unrelated and unpredictable means. What do your spider-senses say?

    Otherwise, besides agreeing with other commenters that trust in her is toast and trust in Dad is broken, you have my sympathies that you have to deal with this. It’s sad and disorienting to have to distrust your parents. Hugs.

  92. Fired all the way to firedom and back again.

    I haven’t read all of the responses so I’m not sure if anyone else has said this, but… this sounds 100% deliberate.

    No one takes a kid out in their pyjamas, without a carseat, without telling their parents, for an “adventure”.

    LW, this was done on purpose to hurt and frighten you. Premeditated, from start to finish, torture.


  93. The fact she didn’t answer when you called- dealbreaker. She can’t be trusted to update you on your child’s whereabouts? That sucks that you kid won’t know some of the awesome parts of your mom, mourn that- but she isn’t a safe person.

  94. Something I noticed that I don’t think anyone else has commented on: your father is invoking your mother’s hypothetical/possible “depressive episode” as a reason not to criticize her strongly, at the same time that they’re using your hypothetical/nonexistent “anxiety disorder” as a reason why you shouldn’t object to what she did.

    So: according to your parents, your mother’s (possible) mental illness means she expects extra deference to avoid her reacting badly, and your (alleged) mental illness means they feel entitled to give your desires less deference, and it’s not their problem if you react badly. Heads she wins, tails you lose.

    If this is the pattern of how things go in your family, I’d hesitate to disclose any medical issues (physical and/or mental) to any of your relatives.

    1. The hypothetical mental illness is an excuse to ask something completely unreasonable in both situations. Except the thing the grandpa wants was actually unreasonable and not wanting your child kidnapped is actually perfectly reasionable despite what grandma thinks.

    2. @Vicki: Nicely spotted.

      Also, I strongly, if somewhat uncharitably, suspect that G’ma’s “depression” actually works out to “sulking.”

      1. “I strongly, if somewhat uncharitably, suspect that G’ma’s “depression” actually works out to “sulking.”

        I love this comment and am totally going to steal it. That’s not to say that all depression is the same as sulking. Certainly not! But the original letter doesn’t say a word about this woman’s (I find it hard even to call her “grandma,” a name that normally is associated with some sort of warm fuzzy feelings) history with mental illness. In fact, that could be used by way of explanation: My father was worried that your talking about your car trip with my 5 year old would lead to a spiral into depression. I wouldn’t want to do that to you so I’m doing the safe thing for both of you, just making sure you’re never alone with him ever. This isn’t punishment; it’s kindness!

  95. When I was a young mom another young mom told me that her mother was upset that she was still breastfeeding her toddler, so she kidnapped the child and kept him away from his mother for DAYS in order to wean him. I believe she did let the mom know she had her son but not where they were. No words.

      1. Oh man, if someone did that to me and my child, I would pursue every criminal and civil remedy possible.

    1. Holy cow NO.
      I don’t even have kids, but wow that is some boundary-trampling. Not just over the health of the toddler, but over the mother’s right to do what she wants with *her own body* and *her own child*.
      I really don’t get why some women seem to imagine that becoming a grandmother makes them God Almighty.

  96. In this country (Australia) not using a car seat for a small child falls into the same category as having people in your car who aren’t wearing their seatbelts. If you get caught by the police, it’s a fine ($337 in my area) plus demerit points (enough of those and you lose your license – in my area, it’s three demerit points, and they are doubled in double demerit times like long weekends).

    There’s a reason for this, and it’s because survival rates of people wearing seatbelts in accidents are much higher. (Injury rates are also higher, but that’s because people are alive to have their injuries counted).

    So! All this is to say that this particular action taken by the relative in question was not only putting a child at risk, but is also illegal in some countries.

  97. I’m going to comment from the point of view of someone who has a mental illness. Most of us are stable, most of us have good judgment, but some of us have bad judgment when we’re unstable.

    Mental illness is a cause of bad judgment, not a reason to excuse it when we to act on our bad judgment or expecting other people to automatically excuse our bad judgment. While it varies from individual to individual, and situation to situation, we may need to be protected from some of the consequences of our bad judgment, but we should never be told in any way that it was okay. If we try to make someone else’s anger over our actions their fault, it’s important not to reinforce us. Your family is not doing your mother any favors.

    It’s never, never, NEVER okay to allow us to put someone at risk, and it’s never okay to indicate to us in any way that our actions were okay or “not that big a deal.” If we cross someone’s boundaries and they respond by backing off and putting up higher boundaries, it’s never okay to push them to lower those boundaries, and definitely not okay to try to guilt them into it. If people can forgive us and stay in our lives, that’s a real blessing to us, but if we cross someone’s boundaries, we have to accept that they may choose to back away.

    Your family is wrong. Your mother put your son at the risk of injury or death, and the fact that nothing happened doesn’t mean it was “not that big a deal.” It means you were lucky. What IS okay is for you to take steps to keep your son safe. I’m sorry if that is hurting your mother, but your son’s safety is a priority.

    Something your family may not realize is that by trying to “protect” your mom, they’re actually putting her at risk. If something serious had happened to your son, that would almost certainly cause serious depression that she might not pull out of. When we are exhibiting bad judgment and risky behavior, it is not a kindness to let it go for fear of upsetting us. We have to live with the consequences of our actions, and I can tell you from personal experience that, while I have been forgiven by the people I hurt the worst, and I have finally managed to forgive myself, I will live forever with the pain of knowing I did it. Protect your son, and know that by doing it, you are also protecting your mom.

    I’m sorry your mother is struggling. I know exactly how hard it is, and exactly how reasonable the unreasonable can seem. She’s not in an easy place. I’m sorry it has cause a split between you, and that the family is so upset about it. But you are right to put up boundaries, right to protect your son, and right to make those a higher priority than keeping peace in the family.

    I hope your mother is able to recover enough for you to reconcile, but if not, stick to your guns. You’re a good mom and a good daughter and never doubt that for a second.

  98. I probably won’t comment again here, so thanks to the CA commentariat for telling me what I already know, in an empathetic way that makes it easier to feel confident in my decisions.

    My mom makes me sad and disappointed. Where my mom is concerned my dad is limited in the specific way I need him to not be. It has been this way forever and I have no expectation for it to change. I can be sad, and mourn, and whatever without changing what I already suspected, and now know, is the wisest course of action. The grief is the grief, the boundaries are the boundaries.

    For the foreseeable future she won’t be alone with my kids, we won’t stay at their house (supportive sibling lives close enough to them that we can stay there instead, more fun for several reasons). I can’t imagine a world where she changes her behavior/attitudes so dramatically that I will be comfortable changing my mind on this. So this is our reality going forward and that’s okay. Thanks to whoever suggested I let the school know she can’t pick up the kids. I will do that as well.

    I like the captain’s idea of sending on the extra kid drawings and photos etc as I do want to keep them in our lives on some level. We will also probably keep on having all family get togethers a few times a year. However, I’m holding both those things with an open hand, and the awareness that even that level of access may need to change.

    This morning our family attended a kidpower (kidpower.org) workshop geared toward 5-8 year olds. It was about setting boundaries and staying safe with your words, awareness, and body. It included practice scenarios for friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers. It was fantastic and seeing a bunch of little kids confidently practice putting up their hands as a barrier and saying “I want you to stop” in firm voices made me tear up.

    Thanks again to everyone here who understands the dysfunction, and all its gaslighty ugliness. I *knew* it anyway, but it’s so hard to wrap my head around when it’s just in my head. Y’all are the best.

  99. 1. It’s illegal to have a kid in a car without a car seat, for good reason. He could have been killed by another bad driver hitting the car. Doesn’t matter how perfect a driver grandma is.
    2. Your dad is rad? Um. He communicated to you that he worried your ‘overreacting’ might ‘cause her to fall into depression.’ Not, her really inappropriate and illegal behavior might have a consequence of your not trusting her or allowing her to be with kid, therefore HER behavior might have uncomfortable consequences for her.
    3. She knew it was wrong while she was doing it. That’s why she didn’t answer your texts but she did answer sibs. Because she a. Didn’t want to face consequences and b. Likely wanted to triangulate you and your relatives.
    4. She keeps saying things like ‘I didn’t realize you’d be so upset’ and things of that nature. It doesn’t matter how upset you got. She ran off with your kid without proper clothing or a jacket, without a car seat. She placed him in danger. And for what???? Were they being chased by dragons? Zombies? Nope. Her excuse? She jsut didn’t feel like dealing with ‘logistics.’ What, like putting a jacket on kid? Putting him in a car seat? Asking permission?
    Something tells me she’s got a history of boundary violations.
    What’s next? She wants to teach your kid to smoke pot behind the azaleas because, well, it’s legal now?
    Please don’t let your mom be alone with your kids ever. My mom wasn’t allowed alone with my kids ever. Similar boundary issues. Was it awkward? Yep. Did she keep pushing til the day she died? Yep. Did i flinch? Nope. If she keeps asking tell her it’s a boundary violation to keep asking, it’s bullying.
    Maybe consider moving far away? If that’s an option. I did, and I’ve never regretted it!

  100. I just told my family about this at dinner. My step-dad who is a lawyer (but not at all a criminal lawyer) thinks the daughter should absolutely report this as a crime and press charges. I’m not really convinced that is the best idea, but it might be worth thinking through legal options. Maybe a restraining order preventing grandma from seeing the kid could be helpful? Maybe filing a police report without pressing charges so there’s a trail if this escalates? I don’t know if these are good ideas, but it seems like something to ponder. If nothing else, it might get the attention of both grandparents that this may have gone way past boundary-pushing to flat out illegal.

    1. Filing a police report was mentioned upthread, with the objective of getting the incident on record. At the very least, I think the Serving Notice aspect has much to recommend it.

  101. Also tell your child: If someone tells you a secret and tells you not to tell your parent, only do it if you know we will be happy when we hear it (like if it is a present)

  102. Coming in late here, LW, but the reason you didn’t know where your son was is that your mother was HIDING HIM FROM YOU.

    She ignored your call. She answered your sister’s call. This wasn’t a matter of Grandma being oblivious to newfangled things like car seats. This was absolutely deliberate, and intentional.

    I hope she enjoyed the car ride, because it really is the last time she or your dad should see their grandchild.

  103. LW, you are totally not overreacting to this! Your mom was waaaaaaayy out of line in so many ways. The family members who are trying to minimize and explain away your mom’s terrible behavior are not being super rad either. Gaslighting you is not a great reaction from them. Taking a break from family in this case is completely justified. The crack your mom made about your supposed anxiety is bullshit. You are awesome, and your parenting instincts are awesome too.

    I never let my mom babysit my daughter. My dad has seen my daughter (for a few minutes exactly once) and never will again. When folks try to shame me about this because it is faaaaaamily (and they do) I just keep in mind the many, many excellent reasons I decided to deal with my family this way. They were the ones who chose to be untrustworthy and dangerous. All I did was set healthy boundaries in an effort to be a good mom. And that is what you have done. You rock!

  104. I have no children. I have niblings and God kids. And I used to do child care at a medium size festival. I didn’t walk a child a hundred feet to the bathroom without telling another adult. I have never so much as taken someone else’s child outside to the yard without cluing them in. One of my godkids was getting picked up today by grandpa with mom’s permission and because of the weather I drove the kid down to the road to meet grandpa. Mom AND grandpa knew I was driving him fifty yards down a driveway. This is absolutely inexcusable. Hold on to your boundaries.

  105. Just refusing to use a car seat is enough reason for you to say no more unsupervised visits.
    “You grew up without car seats and you are fine” ? Plenty of children didn’t survive. And some of us who did have nights where they wake up in pain in their 50s with back problems they’ve had since they were 6. Like me right now. When I was 6, we were in a traffic jam so I was standing looking out the back window. I SAW the speeder hit us. I told mom immediately that my neck hurt. It hurts again now at the drop of a hat –or more specifically at the “drop and try to catch” of anything. So many nights the pain wakes me up..and I consider myself lucky.
    A few years ago my friend’s child was killed when her ex-husband didn’t fasten the car seat and got into an accident.
    And oh yeah Gramma it was illegal. What else will she do with him?

  106. Late commenter here. Your description of your mom as “quirky, genius, self-centered, deeply insecure, pathological boundary pushing” rang so many bells for me. In the case of my mom, add an undiagnosed/untreated mental disorder, a huge sense of entitlement to my children, and a thinly disguised streak of malice. LW, navigating a relationship with a mom like this is frustrating, confusing, painful, and extremely difficult, especially when you have children. Like your family, my dad and sister normalized her behaviors and pushed hard against any limits I set. There were times I stood firm, but there were times I caved in to their demands. You could consider my story a cautionary tale.
    I was a young mom who had twins at 18, and I depended on my mom pretty heavily in those first years. That set up a dynamic where she saw my girls as part hers, which led to them being damaged by that closeness.
    I have numerous stories of her inappropriate and unsafe behaviors, large and small, including allowing my 10 year old girls to be molested by another relative while under her care. She covered that up, and instructed the girls not to tell, having the audacity to complain that they had been sulky and moody during the weekend visit. The girls finally told me when they were young adults. This was the catalyst for a period of no contact for me, as well as going back into therapy.
    She boycotted my daughter’s wedding because she hadn’t been told first about the engagement. This was after she attempted to estrange my daughter and I, actually admitting to my sister that that was her goal.
    My mom died 4 years ago, my children are grown and I’m a grandmother. It has taken a great deal of therapy to recover from having such an unstable, unsafe mother, as well as my own grief and guilt over not protecting my children better.
    Stick to those boundaries, LW. Continue to protect your son. You are not overreacting or being unreasonable.

  107. Seriously, I’d advise going full no contact for at least several years (at least until the youngest child you have is 14 or above). It’s way more hurtful to your boy to have a constant nagging presence of toxic grandma somewhere in his life than to just don’t see slightly scary grandma again. Also, she belittles you (“anxiety”), she pressures him, she will continue to belittle, pressure and manipulate him. There’s just no good reason to expose a child to that. You need to give your child’s needs at least as much consideration as grandma’s desires because he is small and he can’t defend himself. So there *no* reason to keep her/them in his life.

    You don’t need to talk to him about the estrangement (unless he asks, of course, but likely he won’t), just let grandma fade out of his life.

  108. “We didn’t have carseats when you were little!”
    “True. And now we not only have some, they are proven to work and we use them without exception.”
    “I didn’t know your anxiety was this bad!”
    “Yes, I was anxious because I couldn’t find my son and didn’t know what you did with him. Now that this has happened, we won’t be seeing each other for a while.”
    “You’re just selfish/rude/helicopter parenting!”
    “I guess I am. Anyway, we’ll send you pictures from our next holiday.”
    “Your mother is depressed because you won’t come to visit.”
    “Depression sucks and I’m glad you’re there for her. We won’t come to visit because she put my kid’s life in danger and tried to make him lie about it.”
    “Can’t you just make peace? You’re so unreasonable.”
    “Yes, I’m unreasonable. I guess she’ll have to be gracious and rebuild trust.”

    1. Oh, and also:
      “Gifts are not apologies. Hope you kept the receipt.”
      “BUT SHE JUST WANTS TO SHOW HER LOVE! Don’t send her gift back!”
      “She can show her love by accepting the consequences of her behaviour and respect our no contact. In the meantime, the expensive Lego/running shoes/bedazzled name sweater goes back.”

  109. Oh, I’m so sorry, LW! Nothing is scarier than not knowing where your kid is. I still haven’t forgiven (and tbh will never forgive) my brother’s ex’s mom for taking my step-nephew from the play area of a restaurant while my teenage sister was watching him. It was only ten minutes of uncertainty, but it feels like forever when you can’t find a child in your care. Obviously it’s more complicated when it’s your own mother, but I encourage you to give yourself as much time and space as you need.

  110. LW, I just wanted to say that I can relate to the sadness and anger and confusion around how to deal with such a behaviour from a parent.

    I often find that I get caught up in a knot trying to be as fair as I can, as I am with reasonable people in my life outside my family. For a long time, the reality my family held onto and the reality the rest of the world worked to were different. I felt ashamed that what looked like crazymaking outrageousness in the wider world had become normalised in my family. Any boundary I created came out of a lot of wholehearted wrangling in an attempt to be reasonable with abusive people, wrangling that took its toll on me. It’s lonely work.

    Things seems really jumbled and difficult now, but you make smart choices, you are a good parent. You will find when the crud settles and you see clear, your instincts are right for *you* and your kiddo. I hope you can take some time to care for your needs. Take some time to affirm that you are a wise and kind parent and it’s totally natural to feel sad and angry. Be gentle with this pain. I’m so sorry you were disappointed by someone you ought to be able to count on.

  111. I don’t have children, but I work with them and I don’t take a child out of the classroom/nursery without getting the teachers/nursery workers attention/permission and saying out loud, “I’ve got…….” and pointing to said child. I don’t take the child out of the school, it usually just along the corridor, so, in theory any “missing” child would be found by a quick look in the building. However, that is not the point, the adults in the school are in loco parentis and so need to know where the children are and I wouldn’t dream of not letting them know.
    YOU are the parent, what YOU say goes……………full stop. I once swore, (accidentally) in front of my niece/nephew, my sister let me know that this was not acceptable and I don’t swear in front of them. A few Christmas ago my niece was having a wobble about Father Christmas and whether he was real, I took my sister’s lead and lied through my teeth………….it was not my job to do anything else

  112. And like, the kid is FIVE. It would be different, maybe, if the kid was like 13 and had a cell phone of their own. But for anyone to just… take a five-year-old out without saying anything? That’s just… incredibly awful.

  113. LW, there is one aspect to this that I haven’t seem mentioned yet, and it is that if there is never pushback on unhealthy, unloving, destructive patterns, then nothing ever changes.

    Even though I don’t have kids, I’m of an age where I could easily have a five-year-old grandchild. My parents were emotionally and sexually abusive and I have suffered all my life with long-term consequences of that. What I have come to see is that my parents were products of the social conditions present in the world they came into, just as I am a product of the world as it existed when I was born. The world today, while not by any means perfect, is much more open about recognizing and preventing child abuse than it was when I was a child. From the time I was two until I hit puberty I had chronic bladder infections caused by my father’s incest with me. Despite ten years of medical treatment, including two surgeries, the cause of them remained a “mystery” because no one, at that time, could bring themselves to suggest to my mother that I might be sexually abused.

    I’ve had many medical professionals assure me that it wouldn’t happen today.

    While what you have experienced is personal, and seems to be about just your own family’s dynamics, it is also indicative of what is still considered by many to be acceptable. “She’s his grandma, she wouldn’t let him come to harm! How can you be so mean to your mom? Etc.”

    Society is changed by individuals changing first. Someone has to be brave enough to go first, and each subsequent person who stands up to harmful ideas about what is acceptable adds a tiny increment to creating a world where life is substantially different than it used to be.

    I completely empathize with the pain of having a missing child, even for a short time. I completely empathize with how hard it is to break long-standing family dynamics. I applaud you for not only recognizing how damaging your mother’s actions were to both you and your son, but also for being willing to do the hard work of standing against everything, within your family and within society, that says you have to just go along with it. You are modelling for your child a healthier attitude than the one demonstrated by your mother. By speaking about it here, you offer insight and hope to others.

    Believe me, this is a different world than the one I grew up in. Hallelujah.

  114. A friend is dealing with a similar situation with a similarly age child. Their particular situation will involve thousands of $’s and specialty international lawyers because of the intricacies involved. Child is as upset and conflicted as one would expect. For both my friend and the LW, relationships cannot function on good intentions. Relationships require strong effective communication and commitment to taking responsibility for our own actions. To be clear, for LW, I mean, her mother taking responsibility for her actions rather than trying to pin it all on LW supposed anxiety.

  115. Keeping Secrets From Mommy:
    If it doesn’t come with a definite deadline, like “until Xmas” or “until her birthday” or even “until dinner, when we can tell her together”… that is a sure signal that someone is Doing Bad Things and knows it, and is willing to harm the child and/or allow the child to get in trouble when Mom finds out.

    Such adults should be kept away from children, and THE CHILDREN SHOULD BE TOLD WHY.

    Please, LW, have this discussion with your kid, with a heavy dose of ‘adult’s fault, not yours’.
    ‘Not your fault’ is not enough without clearly pointing out where the fault properly belongs.

  116. I am always the person who doesn’t panic in our group, and is sure it will all be fine. And if my child went missing even for a few minutes I would be unspeakably terrified and I would consider ‘so I do not have to feel that feeling again’ complete justification for never letting them near that child again. They “didn’t realise” your ‘anxiety’ was so “limiting” they cannot secretly remove your child?

    I’ve had the ‘where is my child? Ah, reading in a cardboard box and ignoring the world’ panic and I’m not going to forget that feeling.

  117. I had a situation with extreme boundary crossing this summer by a member of my husband’s family involving my son. When it happened I literally saw red…my vision got blurry and everything took on a red tinge and for the first time ever I understood the meaning behind that saying. Before talking to the offending party about the issue, I meditated and tried to come to a place of peace within myself so that the conversation would be constructive and that I wouldn’t loose my temper. Well, the first words out of her mouth were “I had to do it b/c you left me no choice”. To say I lost my **** would be an understatement. I went off on her and then took myself and my family home, but not after a bunch of people wanted to know if I “was OK” and also let me know that she “felt really bad”. My response was “good, she should feel bad. Maybe now she will understand that her boundary crossing comes with consequences”.

    For so many, many years I have tried to be accommodating to this family when they are never accommodating to me and the needs of my family. On this day, all that went away and I realized that all of the accommodating I’d done in the past meant nothing and was never appreciated. In fact, they never acknowledged that I was extending myself for them, they just expected it. And so, I truly lost all interest in ever being accommodating again.

    I started treating them the way they treated me and that’s when things shifted. They certainly don’t have any appreciation for my position or boundaries, but they now know that I will loose my **** on them so they better not cross me if they don’t want that to happen. There have been a few more occasions where they started up with some nonsense and I shut it down with very direct, even aggressive talk along the lines of “we’re not going to have another problem like before, are we????”

    My point is this – if you have been feeling like you might be able to “work something out” with your mother and family, now may be the time to accept that they just don’t and won’t appreciate all the sacrifices you make for them. If you are at this point, it might be better to take a hard line and get as aggressive as you feel comfortable with them. Don’t give an inch, don’t agree to “talk”. Let them know that you are not playing games and you are going to treat them with the same consideration for their feelings as they have for you. As with all bullies (b/c that’s what this is), they will likely back down. But, make sure you really mean it.

    Good luck. There’s no such thing as selling out when it comes to your kids.

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