babysitting a cracking up father with abusive thoughts
February 26, 2013 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Helping my boss' husband out with their 2 little kids while she's away. He snapped and pushed them away roughly (imagining hitting them, he told me later) and left me alone with the 2 inconsolable children. What can/should I tell my boss? HOW? Any good resources I can recommend to a couple with 2 terrible twos and many more meltdowns to come?

Strange situation. I'm babysitting for my boss, whom I adore, who is currently out of town at a conference. So I'm helping her husband out with the kids. She is totally in control of everything in the household (a scientist at work and at home) and likes everything done correctly and efficiently, which means that she doesn't let her husband do anything. This makes it difficult when she leaves. They also never have babysitters so the kids aren't used to other authority figures in their house.

I'm babysitting 2 boys under 4 yo for several days (helping the father out while mother is out of town). Bedtime was difficult tonight, and while I'm good with kids, I'm not their mother. Father couldn't get 3 yo to stay in bed, and this tantrum woke up 1.5 yo, who wasn't comforted by me and ran to father. He lost his shit and roughly tossed the comfort-seeking children away from him and ran out of the room (leaving me unsure if he would come back). What can/should I tell the mother (my boss, who's a terrific person and mother)? And HOW do I say it?

I talked to the father after the incident and he asked me how I could change his child's behavior (the older one, who doesn't want to go to bed). I told him to start with himself--that he needs to not be stressed around the kids--he has been terribly stressed out and negatively thinking as long as I've known him and hasn't interacted with kids before his own. Not being stressed out in the first place means the threshold for his breakdown will be a little higher. He didn't really buy that and was looking for concrete ways to change his child but would rule out all of my suggestions (making dinner earlier instead of right before bed, changing the menu--the child always stalls with soup or forces the parents to feed him, letting the older kid stay up and do a quiet activity after bedtime).

The father admitted to me that during the incident (of him throwing off the children), all he could do was imagine hitting them. He felt like he was being suffocated by them and couldn't handle it. Even while he was telling me this, it sounded like he was considering hitting them. He DIDN'T. And he was scared of the thought of doing it, but I'm scared of not doing anything about this situation. I think he's just too close to snapping.

Last time I babysat (same situation, but they were 6 months younger), I told my boss that she really needed to let her husband help out so he could not stress out so much, but she complained that he wasn't as fast or as good as she was.

What can I tell my boss? I won't see her for a couple days, but I want to email her about the situation. I really think he needs counseling or some dramatic change in his life. Is there a tactful way of suggesting this?
posted by chrysanthemum to Human Relations (46 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd keep out of it. I suspect she knows quite well how he is.

Plus, small children really are tough for some personalities to handle. As long as he wasn't abusive to them, I would leave it alone.


(After all, there is a reason they got you to help out-many fathers could do just fine on their own with their children. )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:31 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


I wouldn't email. I'd call. I think you have to. At the point where someone says they were thinking of hitting their kid, oh yes I think the mother needs to know.
posted by musofire at 8:32 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am not married and do not have kids, so I feel unqualified to offer emotional advice for Dad or tell you how to approach your boss, but I told my boss that she really needed to let her husband help out so he could not stress out so much, but she complained that he wasn't as fast or as good as she was really grabbed me. It sounds like your boss might be doing a little maternal gatekeeping, out of a wish for efficiency and control, and that doesn't provide Dad with time to get to know and understand the kids and the basic household chores that accompany them. Now, that's sort of a, "Duh," conclusion, but I thought since your boss is a scientist and probably likes data, she might like to know this has been a studied phenomenon.

It also sounds like Dad has his own issues, which I'm not really qualified to speak on. I'll leave that part to the other quality answers you are sure to receive. I will say that I feel like family therapy for Mom and Dad, where they have a good neutral space and guiding hand on how to discuss co-parenting and deal with kid-related frustration, might be a good idea. How you tell them that, as well as if it's really your place to, I have no idea and will leave to other posters.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:33 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think it's fair to tell her that he's having a very difficult time. And you can tell him you're telling her. They should be talking about this.

Maybe the reason she does everything is because he can't handle them. Some people - even those who can be great parents to older kids - just can't handle toddlers. Maybe she needs to not leave them with him for a couple years. It's not ideal but it might be necessary; she won't know unless someone tells her, though, and he might not want to admit it.

I think it's appropriate to pick up the phone and say "Mindy, I'm concerned about Carl, he seems really, really stressed out. To the point where he pushed the kid and ran out of the room when the kid was having a tantrum." There's nothing you can do beyond that though. Just tell her that you love her family and are concerned about how stressed he was.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:37 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow. I know it's can seem like a crutch here on the green, but this couple needs counseling STAT. There's plenty of work on both sides here. Obviously anyone stressing out enough to think of hitting their kids needs some help, and the mom's goal of efficiency (he's not as fast or good as she was) in parenting seems to be eating away at the dad's self-respect. They need to get their relationship on solid ground for the kids' sake if not their own.
posted by sapere aude at 8:38 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please do not keep out of it. This discussion with you was clearly a cry for help.
posted by bq at 8:39 PM on February 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


I wouldn't email. I'd call. I think you have to. At the point where someone says they were thinking of hitting their kid, oh yes I think the mother needs to know.

While i agree that the chrysanthemum's dilemma is real, and there's definitely problems there, can we please just accept that parents get frustrated and want to hit their kids some times, and that not only does that not make them abusive, the fact that they walk away from that feeling, and discuss with the babysitter that they are scared/ashamed of that feeling, makes them definitely not abusive (even if it doesn't earn them Parent of The Year). ... so like... let's not, as a community, be ... finger wavy... about.. things that might be interpreted... as implying there's abuse?

But to answer the question:
I think you need to talk to your boss, when she gets home. Let the husband know you'll be giving her a report of how things went. Calling her while she's away won't help anything. Remember that you can't fix your boss or her husband's parenting style.
posted by Kololo at 8:43 PM on February 26, 2013 [18 favorites]


I would make sure that Dad has the phone number for the Parental Stress Hotline– Help for Parents 800-632-8188 He can call them himself either if he is home alone with kids and having trouble coping or if he want some advice in advance on how he can handle situations that come up.

As far as making a difference in the underlying problem, I doubt that either one of them are going to listen to you. You need to say something to Mom but my guess is that anything short of couples counseling wouldn't make much of a dent.
posted by metahawk at 8:47 PM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think this is the kind of thing that you discuss over a phone call, not an email. If you're in touch with her over email while she's away, send her a message saying that you have something urgent that you need to discuss on the phone as soon as she gets a chance and ask her to call you. Then I would just lay out what you said here, without any judgment or recommendations for either her or her husband. It sounds like your advice is falling on deaf ears anyway, and it's not your responsibility to be their marital therapist.

I'd say something along the lines of, "The kids were having a hard time getting to bed, and the older one threw a tantrum. The younger one was upset and went to your husband for comfort, and your husband shoved him away very roughly. I spoke to your husband later and he said that all he could think about while dealing with the children was hitting them, and that he feels scared that he'll snap and do it. I found this incident and his feelings pretty disturbing and I felt that you should know about it immediately. I'm worried about the safety of these kids now and in the future if this continues."
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 8:47 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


well, yes, clearly abusive thoughts are a long way from abuse and I don't mean to blame the father. parents are people, and they're allowed their moments. but this father I've known for a while and he doesn't seem to be learning about kids as much as I would expect, and his stress level is through the roof.
posted by chrysanthemum at 8:52 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you might be over-reacting, unless your reporting of the incident is not accurate.

The father should not be asking you for parenting advice! Geez!

Talk to your boss about this when she gets home. It's ALREADY obvious you are there to shield dad from the stress of parenting. Next time it seems you might need one sitter per child. You should suggest this.

Otherwise, stay well out of this. It's their relationship, their family. The mom already knows. She knows. She hired you to fill in for her because she knows. Suggesting therapy will NOT be helpful.

Do you like your job with this woman?

Dispassionately tell her about the incident when she gets home. Suggest a second nanny for when she is out of town. She'll get the message. Leave the rest alone.
posted by jbenben at 8:57 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


Absolutely not to minimise the potential for abuse, but I think there's a decent chance that husband was upset, anxious, afraid, unsure of his role as parent and your role as baby sitter, and used that particular phrasing as a) an indicator of how lost at sea he felt, b) a effort to convince you to effectively take up parenting in lieu of him and his wife.

OP, I think you should remember you are stepping into a situation here (god knows why you agreed to something so fraught but there you go...) where there are already some solidly established dynamics and roles around two adults looking after children, one male and one female.

Reading your description, I feel like the the husband was responding to the situation the way he obviously does with his wife - and his fervent hope was that you would respond the way his wife does, i.e. "never mind! I'll do everything myself!". He knocked back your suggestions because they all involve modifying his behaviour and patterns; he doesn't want "help" with the kids, he wants you to assume responsibility for parenting. He asked how you could change the kids behaviour, not how he could change it.

Frankly, I doubt he will hit the kids, he just sounds needy, self-sabotaging, and frankly a bit lazy and selfish.

For you, I think you need to basically absent yourself from the house come bed time. Make it his problem. Tell him to hire a professional at night times if he's struggling, like a professional nanny. Tell him you've given him suggestions and actions and he's the parent here, not you, he needs to do them. His kids are depending on him to be the adult, and he can't let a toddler run rings around him. Tell him, you will be talking to his wife about the incident and his feelings, and it's on him not to act on them and to resolve them in a healthy manner.

And FFS do not mix work and pleasure like this; there are a zillion ways it could go wrong, and you will end up losing a friend and a job in one fell swoop.
posted by smoke at 8:58 PM on February 26, 2013 [25 favorites]


What the dad did was not ideal, but it's not abuse unless he regularly treats them this way.

You can suggest that he talks to his wife about it IF he asks you for more parenting advice.

I'm sorry you are in such a rotten position, but the children are clearly safe.

It's a good thing you are there. Can you do the bulk of the child care while your boss is out of town?

If you can take on the bulk of the child care, then that is your short-term solution until your boss returns.
posted by jbenben at 9:07 PM on February 26, 2013


I've just got to get through tomorrow morning. She'll be back tomorrow night. We'll be fine tomorrow.
posted by chrysanthemum at 9:10 PM on February 26, 2013


"...he doesn't seem to be learning about kids as much as I would expect, and his stress level is through the roof."

Unless your boss's husband is like your brother or something* neither of these are really any of your business.

* and maybe not even then.
posted by lilnublet at 9:13 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here to agree with smoke. You cannot rescue these people, or their kids. When a dynamic is as screwed up as this one sounds (you may find her a wonderful boss, but just the thought of living with someone with those parameters make my skin itch) -- well, one of the ways they deal is to find a common enemy. And even if they don't turn on you, babysitting for your boss is not a very good thing to do. It smudges all sorts of boundaries.
posted by kestralwing at 9:14 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd rather have a dad that fled the room when having violent thoughts, than one that stuck around. At least he knows his limit.

Which is not to forgive the behavior, but as jbenben says above, you're obviously there because his wife knows he struggles with the stresses of raising children, and her story about organization is (partially, at least) a face-saving measure versus saying "I can't ask for his help because he can't deal with his kids."

If this comes up again -- that is, the part about him asking -- tell him that you know of* another father who struggled with his frustration and inappropriate anger while raising toddlers, and that he should start by forgiving himself, then focus not on the children's behavior but on his own, employing every tactic he has at his disposal, and leveraging every crutch he's got to lean on, including -- especially -- his wife to cope with his very real emotional struggles.

*by reading this comment, you do know of another father who struggled with this.
posted by davejay at 9:18 PM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Smoke is correct. A father who cannot put his own children to bed unassisted is no father at all. Who has ever heard of hiring a babysitter to be present when one parent is at home and available? You should not have agreed to this very strange request and should extricate yourself from this highly dysfunctional marital situation as quickly and cleanly as you can. Babysitting for your boss is a bad idea, but if you insist on doing this, you should be the only adult present so that you can lay down the rules for the kids. It sounds like your boss expected you to babysit her husband, too, and that is not going to end well.
posted by ptolemy chennus at 9:47 PM on February 26, 2013 [23 favorites]


I wouldn't say a damn word unless she specifically asks you how husband behaved. And I'd try really hard to keep that sort of discussion from happening in the first place. Just get through tomorrow and never sit for them again.
posted by Kloryne at 10:01 PM on February 26, 2013


I told my boss that she really needed to let her husband help out so he could not stress out so much, but she complained that he wasn't as fast or as good as she was.

Maybe this is actually code for 'he loses his shit every time they come near so I deal with everything out of necessity.'

For you, I think you need to basically absent yourself from the house come bed time. Make it his problem.


This man has no solutions other than shoving kids violently, so please don't make this his problem. Like another commenter pointed out:

It's ALREADY obvious you are there to shield dad from the stress of parenting

So for the sake of the kids, please stay.

I have to say, I'm really surprised that so many folks want this guy to start becoming involved and being a 'real' father. The last thing these poor kids need is some emotionally unstable narcissist getting up in their business! Some folks really just have no business raising kids, and I think there's wisdom in recognizing that rather than trying to make this guy into someone he's never going to be. I'm also surprised that so many folks are confident that he hasn't hit the kids before. I think it's very possible that he has hit the kids before, and that's why the mother feels the need to take total control of everything and hire babysitters instead of just leaving him in charge like a normal person would.

That being said, I think you should tell her, just because she has the right to know. Some would say it's none of your business, but they kind of made it your business when they hired you. When she gets back she'll probably ask how things went at some point, so you can just tell her then.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 10:11 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


My co-parent is this way. My advice is based on my experience with his interaction with our (single, sole, only) child.

Ignore the the people telling you stay out of it and say nothing. This family needed this kind of outside eyeball on their dynamic. Bless you for being willing to step in, help, and analyse.

That said, wow, this is awkward! Your boss! Goodness. I hope you have latitude for making personal recommendations. Because they need them. It's clear you've got the immediate situation handled as well as it can be, so I'm going to focus on next steps. The stuff that comes after the great advice to have the father call the Parent Helpline - instant help and advice for him. Just tell him he needs to get the kids into a room where they are safe and can't get into trouble while he's on the phone/catching his wind before calling.

The family needs counseling for a number of reasons. Is there a gentle way you can suggest that?

Mom needs to understand that the father has the right and need to work out his own style with the kids, regardless of speed or efficiency. The children need a balanced approach, and he isn't being given the opportunity to learn how to deal with them in their varied states. That is chaos and dysfunction breeding, right there. And, if it turns out that he can't or won't learn this, they all need to know this sooner rather than later, because she can't rely on him as caretaker when she's gone like this, as you've just seen.

That's something I think you're going to need to highlight, but I'm not entirely sure how to best put it. There are people who abuse not because they are hateful, spiteful, sadistic fuckheads but because they are confused, stressed people completely out of their depth and the stress hormones take over for any logic or compassion they may otherwise have. And he certainly sounds as if he sees himself being the latter. I do see his candidness as a plea for help. Telling her that he needs a lot more practice, supported interaction, and even guided learning about child development (and perhaps counseling for distress tolerance) before he's the primary caretaker over a long period is humane and compassionate.

Will they thank you for it? Maybe not in the heat of the moment. But I truly believe you'd be doing the right thing by telling her and encouraging them. Somewhere down the line, one or both will realise the gift you gave with this truth.

Parents come in all kinds of physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Some can't do certain things with or for their children or families. As long as they try to do the right thing and seek out support for the parts they can't do effectively (short-term or long-term), they're still parents. He's learning on the job, as it were, with very little experience even with his own children (regardless of how that happened), and that's a pretty steep learning curve even for those with plenty of experience with other people's children or tons of decision-making latitude in their own households. He's still a father.

I brought up my own experience - I've learned that my co-parent can't handle one solitary child past a certain number of hours no matter how much preparation, explanation, previous experience, or relaxation he has beforehand. Picturing him trying this with multiple children sent a shudder down my spine. He loves her and takes an active hand in her care, but that one on one thing shatters his boundaries and confidence like nothing else. He is living within that limitation for now, and, since I can't force another person to change, I make different arrangements for her care. I highly suggest a similar approach for your boss.

In the meantime, give those kids a lot of hugs and make sure you've got some you time planned for after this all over.
posted by batmonkey at 10:30 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


What a CF of a situation.

To reiterate, don't ever do these kinds of things for people you work for, no matter how much you adore them. From now on, you are far too busy.

When she gets back home, you tell her that her that her husband seems stressed out and had difficulty managing the children. I wouldn't suggest anything (like therapy), I would just state what happened. The more advice you give, the less they'll listen (neither have been very receptive so far).

Clearly, she involved you in this situation because she knows her husband can't manage. She should not be making you responsible for her family problems. She needs to be made aware of what happened, but she needs to be dealing with it (and so does he, but that's their problem).
posted by heyjude at 10:35 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Definitely you should tell her. Mention that you'd brought this up with her before, and that again you saw her husband so stressed that he had to walk away from the children out of fear that he would hurt them, and you thought she ought to know this.

Look, there are times, as a parent, when you feel like you will snap and you do have to walk away from the kids. But when you are on sole kid-duty for a few days when your spouse is out of town, this is NOT a time when you have that luxury. If a parent can't take care of his own two children for a couple days on his own, he shouldn't be parenting.

I agree with ptolemy chennus that it sounds like your boss expected you to babysit her husband, too. But, seriously. If a parent can't be trusted not to flip out at his own kids, he should be divorced, not babysat by a friend. Your boss is putting YOU in an incredibly awkward position rather than leaning on her husband to do whatever hard work needs to be done to make sure there are two functioning parents in that house. (And you are probably right that his stress level is the problem; maybe it could be solved as easily as his going on anti-anxiety meds, but that is something they need to figure out.)

And yeah, don't do them this "favor" again. It's not in your job description, and it's just not a good idea.
posted by torticat at 10:35 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I want to amend what I said above. If a person is suffering from depression or anxiety or something like that and it is causing him a great deal of stress, of course their spouse shouldn't just divorce them over that. But if that person has kids, the problems NEED to be dealt with, and not by getting another adult to babysit him.
posted by torticat at 10:49 PM on February 26, 2013


Dude needs a copy of 1-2-3 Magic and more Louis in his life.
posted by flabdablet at 11:02 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Specifically
posted by flabdablet at 11:09 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a father and his behavior and comments are worrisome to me. I'd definitely tell your boss and then she can decide how to handle it. Not only do I think that a father should not be having thoughts about hitting his children, but furthermore it sounds like he was scared he would lose control of those thoughts, and in my opinion that means if you weren't there he really might have done it. And that's just not good. I'm sure his wife would not be keen on him hitting the kids.
posted by Dansaman at 11:44 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I disagree with Dansaman, and also thought like smoke, that the father was simply being manipulative and *poor me* about the whole thing, trying to get the OP to go above and beyond her pay grade, so to speak.

I grew up in an abusive household, for sure. I'm pretty sensitive to this stuff.

The mom/boss sounds pretty on to her husband's lack of parenting ability, which is why th OP was there in the first place.

123 MAGIC is a great recommendation - I just don't know if it should come from the OP!

This sounds like a marital conflict, not so much a parenting issue. I don't think the OP should be used further by her boss or her boss' husband.

I could be wrong (the OP can judge) but these parents sound educated enough, and finacially secure enough, to seek out their own therapy, parenting classes, or self-help books. The mother made sure there was a buffer available between the father and the children during her trip - she in no way dropped the ball.

OP, it's totally OK for you to non-dramatically relate what happened. I think you should leave out the part where dad asked you for parenting advice.

I also think you should never ever take on this role again. I stand by my advice to say that it seems there should be one sitter per child while she is away th next time - that subtly sends the message without indicting anyone involved.

Absolutely do not agree to babysit again. Next time, you're too busy. The end.

Your boss will get the message. You won't become the "common enemy" for her and her spouse.

Avoid that scenario, even though it is tempting. Just. Don't.

OK?
posted by jbenben at 12:03 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you were the mother, would you want feedback from the babysitter about your husband talking about hitting the kids? It's entirely possible that he opened up to you in a way that he might not with what he might consider, based on what you've described, to be a domineering wife.

If you were those kids and down the road they are getting hit by their father, wouldn't you hope that the babysitter would have mentioned something to the mother when she had a chance?

Always think first of what's in the best interests of kids because they are the ones who are the most innocent, the most vulnerable, and the most unable to help themselves.
posted by Dansaman at 12:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


It seems really likely that she knows what he's like, because otherwise it's vanishingly unlikely that she would have employed a live-in babysitter when she knew he would be around to care for the kids. What I think you could do is let go of your impulses to hold her responsible for his inadequacies as a parent. You've told her a lot about how you think she needs to step back, how getting him to be an adequate parent is her responsibility. Maybe what she needs to hear from you is, 'So, husband isn't too great with the kids, is he? That must be hard for you.' It must be really wearing for her to have to keep on going with this guy who isn't able to contribute to parenting their two children, while getting told by everyone around her that she's overbearing and overzealous. I mean, I suppose it's possible that the causation goes

She does everything kid-related ----> he isn't able to parent adequately

But it seems much more likely, based on what you've described, that the causation is more like

He isn't able to parent adequately ----> She does everything kid-related.

The latter predicts her hiring you while she is away, the former doesn't really. Now, of course, it's possible that his parenting skills would improve if he were given more responsibility, but it may be more important to her that the kids are adequately cared for and protected than that he gets to have a learning experience. And if that's the case, you owe her less judgement and a little more empathy. That doesn't mean doing this for her again - you are within your rights to demand not to - but it does mean no longer blaming her for his problems.
posted by Acheman at 1:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


If you do say anything, just remember: brevity is the soul of discretion. I'd go with something like, "he seemed pretty stressed." And not too much more.
posted by salvia at 2:52 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


BOTH these people sound like they need far more help than you can provide, and your best move would be to not get stuck inbetween them: I'm sorry, but unless you're a professional nanny, you need to separate your work from your boss's private life and family.

The husband admittedly doesn't have parenting skills, but that's because the wife is a bit of a control freak ("she is totally in control of everything" and "she doesn't let her husband do anything") and she won't LET him be a parent; and honestly, you're not helping, because you're just taking over her controlling role when she's out of the home. I suggest you do NOT say anything, and next time Bosslady asks you to do this? 'I'm sorry, but that won't be possible' is the correct response.
posted by easily confused at 2:58 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The mother made sure there was a buffer available between the father and the children during her trip - she in no way dropped the ball.

What? What kind of a father requires a buffer between him and his own children? OP has done this for her boss & husband before; this isn't a one-time "he's overwhelmed this week and needs help" kind of situation.

IF the boss is hiring chrysanthemum to be a buffer, she ought to have been upfront about the situation from the start. Also, if this is the case, the boss absolutely ought to know that there was indeed (again) a problem with the dad's interaction with the kids. Especially as chrysanthemum won't be taking this job the next time. :)

chrysanthemum, I think you should pay attention to your own instincts here: And he was scared of the thought of doing it, but I'm scared of not doing anything about this situation. I am NOT in favor of calling CPS every time a parent loses their temper. But this is an ongoing situation, and both parents should have all the facts so they will (hopefully) move on with getting the help they need. I do think you should be as brief and matter-of-fact as you can with your boss while still getting her the message.
posted by torticat at 5:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rather than become the messanger, encourage the Dad to have an honest talk with his wife.

"Bob, I see that you're over-whelmed with dealing with these kids. They are a handful at this age. I also know that you have frustrations in your marriage. I'm going to suggest that you bring this up with Elaine, and that you get into some counseling. Things don't get better by pretending that it's okay, when it very clearly isn't. Promise me you'll talk to her about this."

There's A LOT more going on here than just a guy who lost his shit.

The kids will be fine. He's not hurting them. EVERYONE has seen their parent melt-down and lose his/her shit. Often, that's a way of understanding a boundary. It's not optimal, but it's normal.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:17 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cause:
and likes everything done correctly and efficiently, which means that she doesn't let her husband do anything.

Effect:
he doesn't seem to be learning about kids as much as I would expect

Vicious cycle:
I told my boss that she really needed to let her husband help out so he could not stress out so much, but she complained that he wasn't as fast or as good as she was.

Maybe he's narcissistic and avoidant and she does all the parenting out of necessity (his rejecting of all your suggestions does tend to support this); maybe she's domineering and overcontrolling and he's stressed out in reaction to that. (if if I was married to someone who was as openly dismissive of me as she seems to be of him -- "he's not as fast or as good as I am"! -- I'd be pretty stressed out too. Nor would I describe her as a "terrific person and mother".)

I don't think it's possible for us to diagnose from this side of the internet whose fault this cycle is, and it's probably not possible for you to do that either. I also don't think it's possible for us or for you to diagnose whether he's potentially violent or just a normal parent (we all lose our shit sometimes, and leaving the room is the correct thing to do in that circumstance.)

You do need to talk to your boss -- but not about him specifically, about the whole parenting dynamic. He shouldn't need a babysitter to help take care of the kids, and she shouldn't need to do all the parenting, and they both need to work that out together, probably with the help of a counselor. Definitely without you in the middle.
posted by ook at 6:51 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stay out of it and don't sit for your employer anymore. In my experience with such couples and A personalities in general you are walking a fine line from becoming "the problem" in this couples eyes by being the one who points out that there is a problem.
posted by Shusha at 7:09 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm really surprised that some people here are explicitly saying you shouldn't mention anything about his urge to hit the children. That is a risky approach because they can't know if there's the possibility of a problem the wife is not aware of that is putting the kids at risk of abuse. People do at least sometimes conceal things from their partners. I certainly think you shouldn't have any further involvement after this in their personal family life, including babysitting, but I feel you almost have an ethical obligation to the kids to say something specific to the mother just in case she doesn't know about his urges. You could say something like "I don't like getting involved in other people's personal business but I thought it might be important to mention to you that your husband told me he had the urge to hit the children. That made me uncomfortable and I don't think I should babysit anymore."
posted by Dansaman at 8:37 AM on February 27, 2013


I keep reading all the judgment against the father and his parenting skills, and I keep thinking that 100 years ago, nobody would bat an eyelid if someone said they hired a nanny so their husband wouldn't have to deal with putting 2 toddlers to bed while the mother was out of town - it was EXPECTED that some people (mostly fathers, but also mothers) needed help with the children.

I know that dynamic has changed, but I think it's possible that there are still some people left in our modern world that just can't handle kids, no matter how much they love them. Like batmonkey's comments above. But I think the important thing is to recognize the situation and deal with it in an honest, above-board way.

If you decide to babysit for your boss again, you should suggest that the husband take this time to go "out of town" as well, so that you are The Nanny (with clear responsibilities toward the children), not a nebulous household helper inserted into an already awkward situation and we're not sure who is actually in charge of each individual incident.

If you decide not to babysit again, you should suggest she hire a professional nanny and still have the husband out of the house.

Of course if the father wants to go to counseling and take parenting classes to get better at parenting his children, that's a fantastic course of action, but IMHO it's not by default the only solution to this issue and it's up to the family members to make that decision on their own.
posted by CathyG at 8:38 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The parents are not Americans, they're just off the boat from Europe and may have different ideas about child raising. We also work in a very demanding academic setting, which means that much of our social lives revolve around work. In most cases, this is great, but it's awkward in this one.

I'll try to talk to my boss in person when she gets back. Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by chrysanthemum at 8:47 AM on February 27, 2013


Is having an urge to smack your child out of line? I'm honestly asking, because most parents I know (myself included) feel this way from time to time, especially during a dually stressful time / acting out tantrum. Maybe it's just me, but I think that this is perfectly natural. Acting out on it, on the other hand, is not OK, but the urge itself, I see nothing wrong with.

I mean, I have urges to do horrible things to random people in traffic and holding up the line at the grocery store, but I am no more likely to act on those than to smack my kid because she's flipping out simply because she's overly tired.

If it were me, I'd probably stay out of it, especially because this is my boss, and as long as there's no signs of abuse on the children, like bruises/marks or flinching while around dad.
posted by Debaser626 at 9:51 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I'm really surprised that so many folks want this guy to start becoming involved and being a 'real' father. The last thing these poor kids need is some emotionally unstable narcissist getting up in their business! Some folks really just have no business raising kids, and I think there's wisdom in recognizing that rather than trying to make this guy into someone he's never going to be. I'm also surprised that so many folks are confident that he hasn't hit the kids before. I think it's very possible that he has hit the kids before, and that's why the mother feels the need to take total control of everything and hire babysitters instead of just leaving him in charge like a normal person would.

Just thought I'd mention that I've experienced emotions similar to this guy, as noted above, and I'm still a pretty decent dad (through a lot of hard work), and becoming a better one every day. I refuse to admit that a better solution would have been for me to shrug, throw my hands up, say "welp, I guess I'm not good at this!" and go on being the flawed person I was while not participating in my children's lives.

Point being: don't be so sure he's "never going to be" a good dad. He's just got to work on it, and get whatever support he needs to work on it. Parenthood is too important to just walk away if you suck, because it isn't just your own life you're messing with.
posted by davejay at 10:06 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Where are you? Because there are some GREAT phone lines for EXACTLY what he's going through. Good for him for realizing he needs a hand. I am not sure his wife is the person to get it from, though. Tell him about the Parental Stress lines. Here's one in San Francisco.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:41 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


chicago
posted by chrysanthemum at 11:43 AM on February 27, 2013


Just thought I'd mention that I've experienced emotions similar to this guy, as noted above, and I'm still a pretty decent dad (through a lot of hard work), and becoming a better one every day.

The assumptions I made about this guy last night were harsh, which was unfair. It's just that it reminded me a lot of my own childhood experiences, and that was just a little much to read in the middle of the night like that. I guess my feeling is that it's better to over-estimate the danger and protect the kids than under-estimate it and leave them vulnerable. You're right, there's every chance in the world that this guy wants and is capable of growth, but I feel strongly that he needs to do that on his own time in a way that doesn't put his kids in danger, which was why I thought it was important that OP doesn't just throw up her hands and say 'it's his problem now', or 'these folks are a mess, i'm getting out!' Which she didn't do, so that's great!

OP: I think it's really great that you're determined to do the right thing and talk to the mom. I wish there were more people like you in the world! My suggestion is to lay out all the facts of what happened in the most neutral way possible. She's a scientist after all, so I'm sure she'll appreciate some data. And I think it's really smart to give the dad some numbers to call on in case of crisis, just in case he really does want to work on this. I personally wouldn't get more involved beyond that, however, unless they show clear signs of actually wanting you to get more involved, and you also feel strong enough to help. At the end of the day, only they can solve their problems....
posted by MrOlenCanter at 12:54 PM on February 27, 2013


"The parents are not Americans, they're just off the boat from Europe and may have different ideas about child raising"



Someone above wrote that you should lay off judging your boss, and while it's clear you respect her on some levels, I'm gonna chime in and agree overall.

This is why everyone telling you to stay out of it is speaking up. You sound a tad condescending at points, even though I'm sure you don't mean to.

I still think you are in a horrible situation that was not of your making!

If you're gonna say anything to your boss, just don't f*ck it up.

You're on a thin line, and you need to show all of the diplomacy, restraint, and deference you can muster.
posted by jbenben at 2:05 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just had a phone conversation with boss lady. She didn't sound too concerned or surprised. She knows him and understands his stress levels and when she's there and can sense him getting stressed, she just sends him away. And she knows that there was no threat to the kids.

She acknowledged that it's an awkward situation. He really is a lot calmer when she's around--she puts him at ease. So she was just very appreciative that there was an adult present when he lost it and had to leave.

I'm leaving for grad school in the fall anyway, so babysitting in the future isn't going to happen. If a situation does arise though, I will suggest that dad take the night off too.
posted by chrysanthemum at 2:22 PM on February 27, 2013


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