Child Caring

Maine aunt steps over the line

Dear Barbara,

My 5 and 2-year old sons with their father went to visit their uncle yesterday. My 5 year old was playing with his 20-month old cousin nicely, and suddenly the mother of said child starts yelling at both of my children. They were playing wonderfully, not yelling or hurting one another. She calls my children bullies and says to my husband that we're raising a bunch of bullies and that all our kids do is bully other children. When my son tells her to stop being mean to his siblings and that he knows how she is, she responds to a 5-year old with, "you don't know a f---ing thing, you're only 5" & "i hate all of you".

While she may be 9 months pregnant, I don't believe that gives her an excuse to talk to anybody in this manner, let alone a 5 and a 2 year old. While I do want to point out our 5 year old can be a bit trying sometimes (as all kids sometimes can be), he has never bullied anybody in his life. In our home, there are consequences for bullying or being mean. My husband immediately took my two children out of the situation and left the home. However, now said mother is claiming victim, and blaming my 5 year old and our parenting for her outburst going as far as to say, "You're raising your children to treat people like s--- and I'm not going to let that around my boys, you're self centered and etc..."

My question is what do I do in this kind of a situation where my children were bullied by a family member, besides the obvious of not bringing my children around her. The other unfortunate part is that this woman is married to my brother-in law-who sincerely loves his nephews and niece.

From: Brittany, Deer Isle, ME

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Dear Brittany,

It always boggles my mind when adults are so inappropriate with children. Pregnant or not, there is no excuse for this and if you are ambivalent in your response, you will end up reinforcing or at least condoning it. My suggestion in the future is to make arrangements for your kids to see their uncle and/or cousins on neutral turf, minus the aunt. Have an adult-only conversation with the uncle about why this is happening and see how that plays out over time. (I would certainly still offer appropriate goodl wishes when this baby is born.)

What's just as important is whether you validated for your children that this was not an appropriate way for an adult to speak to them. After the fact, it's not helpful to rehash with your son what might or might not have happened that day to elicit that response from his aunt. (And fyi, how can you be so sure your son's behavior was so angelic? I'm not saying it wasn't, just that you can't always assume.....)

But you do want to be clear with him about two things: a) this woman was inappropriate and that's not OK; and b) you will protect him from adults who are inappropriate: "We won't be going back to that house for a while." Give him a simple explanation: "It's not OK for any adult to talk that way to children."

I also would empower him to know how to respond should something like this ever happen again. That depends on your values, of course, so I'm not going to presume to know how you'd want him to answer. But play some "what-if" scenarios and see what your son comes up with. ("What would you do if an adult said X?") That will give you a window into his thinking and help you to brainstorm with him what you might want him to say.