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Help a Mom: Grandma wonders if son-in-law's name calling is abuse

Posted June 12, 2012

I received this troubling email from a reader, a grandmother. Here's what she wrote:

Recently, I had the unpleasant experience of witnessing my 20-month-old granddaughter being called an a****** by her father (my son-in-law) because she was not behaving. I spoke up in her defense and had him remove himself from my vehicle. For hours after this incident, he screamed and hollered about all kinds of things. In his tirade, he accused me of "butting" in his business and parenting and said I had no right to do it. I felt and still feel that it was necessary to stand up for the child. This has not been an isolated incident. I see this as verbal/emotional abuse. I am wondering how your readers feel about this incident and my response. Do I have any recourse other than what I already did at the time the incident occurred?

I recommended that our reader have a serious talk with her daughter about the situation. I also pointed her in the direction of Prevent Child Abuse - North Carolina, which provides a lot of information about the signs of child abuse and what can be done to stop it.

I also checked in with Sarah Currier, chief program officer for Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. Here's what she tells me:

"We all have an obligation to ensure children have the safe, stable, nurturing relationships they need to thrive. That includes intervening when we see a child being maltreated.

This grandmother absolutely did the right thing by stepping in. When children are yelled at in a shaming way over a long period of time, it can cause “toxic stress.” This results in permanent damage to their developing brains, and leads to long-term physical and mental health problems.

When things have calmed down and her son-in-law can talk about the incident calmly, she can thank him for his efforts to be an involved father and talk about ways he can learn more about child development and age-appropriate discipline.

Suggestions can include talking to their pediatrician about child development, joining a parent support group, or attending parenting classes. While parenting can be challenging at times, no child deserves to be in a situation where their well-being is at risk.

County Departments of Social Service are the appropriate local point of contact to refer families when there is a suspicion of abuse and neglect. At any point, the grandmother can call the local department to determine whether or not the situation meets the legal definition of abuse and if a referral is necessary.

An additional resource is the free online “Recognizing and Responding to Suspicions of Child Maltreatment training available on the Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina website."

Do you have advice for this grandmother? Please share your tips in the comments box below. (If you don't see the comments box below, you'll need to log in or sign up for a WRAL account. You can do that by going to the top of the page and clicking on either "log in" or "register").

Help a Mom features questions from readers every Wednesday. If you have a question that you'd like to ask Go Ask Mom readers, click here to email it to me.



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  • kpeele Jun 13, 2012

    I think Sarah has featured this resource in the past, but Project Enlightenment also has lots of parenting resources (articles, videos) that could possibly help this family discover some other ways to deal with the frustrations of parenting this age. Also, someone mentioned family counseling. If the father and mother are willing to go to counseling there may be some counseling benefits through their employer. Check to see if the son or daughter's employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

  • azinfandgal Jun 13, 2012

    "OMG! Some people just talk ugly and vulgar and mean nothing by it."
    ...and you seriously see nothing wrong with that!!!! Wow. . . just wow. I have a 20-month old daughter and no one had better speak that way to her whether they mean it or not or they will get an earful that I DO MEAN - get my drift? We all have choices and sounds like son-in-law has some issues he best deal with now for everyone's sake. Right on grandma - you did the right thing and I wish there were more like you! I agree with those that say to record to protect yourself and the child.

  • Bing Used Jun 13, 2012

    OMG! Some people just talk ugly and vulgar and mean nothing by it.

  • lec02572 Jun 13, 2012

    Grandma did the right thing. As others said, NC has no grandparents rights, but if this adult is talking to a 20-month old this way now, its not going to get better without some help. Maybe, when he calms down the grandmother can talk to him in a calm way and hopefully the name calling will end. Name calling at any age is not a good sign and could result in major problems down the road. I raised three children and two of them have children. As a grandfather I would have no problem bringing adult misbehavior to their attention if and when it occured. Good call grandma, but try to have a conversation with him and your daughter when things are calm.

  • Twittyfan Jun 13, 2012

    He has major issues.. If he talks this way to his child imagine how he talks to his wife. I don't blame her for speaking up but I would talk to the daughter to see if I could be her support and try to get them help. computer trainer you are right and in some ways that is a good thing but in this case it would be sad..If he will not seek help if this is an ongoing situation then all you can do is pray for him.

  • computer trainer Jun 13, 2012

    Grandma, be careful. NC has NO Grandparents rights, so it is your word against theirs AND they can keep you from seeing your grandchild and there is nothing that you can do. I would suggest that you carry a small recorder with you at all times when you are with the son in law and if this happens again, you have the proof. If not, you have no foot to stand on. You can call Protective Services, but they will just interview the family, and unless there are marks, etc, they are probably going to deem them good parents and decide that you are the problem.

  • jebar Jun 13, 2012

    I agree that the Grandma did the right thing. Also, something must be going on with this man to act the way he did afterwards. Not saying it's right but sometimes people say things that they don't mean and regret it later and this may have been the case, but with him yell and screaming afterwards something is really wrong and he needs help and support. Keep an eye on both you babies GrandMa. I hope things get better for you

  • carelesswhisper Jun 13, 2012

    I don't blame the grandma. I would absolutely say something! I would suggest counseling also, please don't let this go on. I have a 19 month old daughter and this breaks my heart.

  • mcordell Jun 13, 2012

    Family counseling is another option. Parenting tips and anger/stress management could help this father, and his wife and child find new ways to relate. There may be other issues this father has from childhood that could also be addressed if he was open to that.

  • snowl Jun 13, 2012

    The daughter may already know all about his anger issues and how he deals with them. It is good that this grandmother found out early and can now be supportive and protective at the same time while helping her young family members get the help they need. Don't wait.