Darling, don't you go and cut his hair...
April 26, 2010 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty sure my mother gave our one year old his first haircut while my wife and I were at work, without our permission. She denies doing so. I'm not sure how we should handle this.

(Wow this got really long.)

My parents came to stay for a week from out of town for our only child's first birthday. They offered to provide child care while they were here, and so to save some money and give them time with their only grandson, we gave our nanny the week off.

Our boy has luscious thick dark hair. It's naturally grown into a beautiful wavy mop that sometimes hangs down in front of his face. He looks like he's got a total emo-do and he gets compliments on it all the time. (The last time I got my haircut, I asked the lady to make it look like my son's hair.)

Here's where it gets complicated and interesting: He's half Indian and we've been planning on taking him to the Venkateshwara temple in Tirupati where the first haircut is traditionally given as an offering to god. Everyone in my wife's family has done this as a child, and while it's not really important religiously to us, it is important culturally. As it turns out, for astrological reasons, it is much better to offer the hair in an odd numbered year (years 1 or 3) and since he's now in his second year it's not likely we'll make it another year without a haircut. To get around this, last week we cut a few locks and are mailing them to India just in case we decide to give him a cut in the next year. But still we were going to hold out as long as we could (and as I said, we happen to like the way it looks now). It's important to us to have our boy participate in as much of his cultural heritage as possible; we had him baptized into the Catholic Church using the exact same line of reasoning despite my family being well aware that I'm not a practicing Catholic.

Enter Grandma. For months, she's commented on his hair being too long, it comes up in every long distance iChat, and at every visit. Jokingly, she would threaten "Someday I'm going to cut that little boy's hair. I'm his grandma and it's my right." She knows about our plans for him and in the past I've just told her that really there's no compelling reason to cut it now and we're really too busy to do so. She was here in Seattle last week when we did the lock cutting ceremony (actually for religious reasons that I don't understand, my father was the one who had to do the cutting) and when we got the provisional okay from my wife's family to do a future non-temple haircut.

We think my mother did a more extensive trim of his bangs last Thursday. It's very subtle and it's clear she didn't cut hair anywhere but the front. My mother didn't say anything, and my wife didn't notice anything when she got home from work, but when I saw my son next on Friday morning it was pretty obvious to me. My wife agrees now that it's clearly shorter in front, you used to be able to stretch his wavy hair past his nose and now it comes to his brow.

We were obviously really taken aback and, in the interest of harmony, decided not to say anything until after his birthday party. My mother did comment a couple times over the weekend that his hair is "still too long" but when I asked her point blank, in the presence of my wife and father, whether she cut his hair further than we did in the lock cutting ceremony, she said no and I merely said "Oh, his hair looks shorter to me" and said nothing further. They flew home a couple hours ago.

My mother is just like me: strongly opinionated, occasionally obstinate. Unlike me, she's not terribly respectful generally of others' points of view and is socially very conservative. My past relationship with my parents has been cordial, if not occasionally warm, but there are some lingering issues between us from my rebellious teenage and college years; we keep the peace by ignoring certain topics and living geographically far away them. Wisely, my wife knows that if I really push this haircut issue, it's going to emotionally escalate quickly. Until now, my parents been fairly careful with our son, asking permission if they can give certain foods or gifts or Tylenol before doing so. But now we're not sure we should trust them alone with our son, especially if they're willing to lie about things. My assessment, based on past experience, is that I suspect his hair was just really bothering her (she's a little OCD) and she decided that it just wasn't a big deal to do this. But lying about it seems really out of character, so much so that I have lingering doubts myself despite looking at before and after photos. But I wouldn't put it past her.

So I'm not exactly sure what to do now. The easy thing would be to just let it go. There's really no harm here and I do not want to deprive my son of the love of his grandparents over this. But a huge part of me is really offended that they overstepped their bounds and I feel like something should be said. I do not want to establish the habit of letting their wishes trump mine when it comes to the care of my son. If she continues to deny the whole thing do I call her out as a liar? Over a haircut? And can I really trust her over other issues if I leave him in her care?

My wife and I are totally on the same page with this, she's letting me take the lead, since they're my parents. I've discussed it with my only sibling , who doesn't have children, but she lives 1000 miles from us and is really too far removed to be involved, although sympathetic and helpful.
posted by Slarty Bartfast to Human Relations (47 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What do you want to get out of this?

If you want an apology, it sounds like you aren't going to get it. Your mother had an opportunity when you brought it up with her, but she didn't take it. Since you've already admitted she's obstinate, it likely isn't going to happen in the future.

If you want your son's hair back, you aren't going to get it.

If you want your mother to raise your child exactly the same as you, you're definitely not going to get that from her (or anyone else).

I don't know what you can get out of this other than upsetting your mother. Now, I'm not going to justify what she (might have) done, but it's already done and you can't change that.

Do nothing. Forget this happened. Preserve your relationship with your mother, but don't let her take care of your son for an extended amount of time again if you're concerned she'll do something that might physically harm your son.
posted by saeculorum at 12:35 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know, personally, I wouldn't view the haircut as a big deal, but I would view the "did something irrevocable to my kid against my wishes" as an enormous huge blinking red flag.

I'd say "look, mom, I love you, but this was a big violation. For the time being, we can't leave our child alone with you, and that makes me feel awful. Please don't do anything like this again."
posted by zippy at 12:35 PM on April 26, 2010 [27 favorites]

Say you'll have to measure the kid's hair next time she babysits, and if you notice a difference, she won't be babysitting again.
posted by sid at 12:37 PM on April 26, 2010

The easy thing would be to just let it go. There's really no harm here and I do not want to deprive my son of the love of his grandparents over this.

Yes, this, exactly.

in the past I've just told her that really there's no compelling reason to cut it now and we're really too busy to do so. She was here in Seattle last week when we did the lock cutting ceremony (actually for religious reasons that I don't understand, my father was the one who had to do the cutting) and when we got the provisional okay from my wife's family to do a future non-temple haircut.

Given all this, how was she to know that trimming his bangs would be such a big deal? Why is it such a big deal, given what you said here?

there are some lingering issues between us from my rebellious teenage and college years

Ah, ok.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's not about the hair cut so much as you are pretty sure she overstepped what are, to you, pretty solid boundaries. "This is my kid, his hair situation is up to me and my wife."

Your mom, on the other hand, may have a case of "Well, I'm his Grandmother and I know best."

Unfortunately this seems like a situation where you have to choose whether to assert your independence as a decision maker. Whether you take your stand now, when your kid is not really old enough to remember it, or later, when you're not upset about a haircut, but the metric ton of sugar they let him eat or the behavioral crap they let him get away with, is up to you. Then again, I know people who who have never, ever, in spite of repeated talks and action up to and including not letting the grandparents see the kid for an extended period, stopped dealing with this.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:44 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would let this one go, as it's pretty trivial. However, if in future your mother expresses her desire to do something significant to or for or with your son that is against you and your wife's wishes for him, tell her firmly and clearly and politely that you don't want her doing whatever it is and that you want her to promise you on her honour that she won't do it.
posted by orange swan at 12:44 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does your mom know about the Tirupati tradition or your intentions about his hair specifically? Why not explain to her, and/or clarify that that was a reason you have been keeping his hair the way you have, so that she can understand that there may be a context for the reasons why you set what may seem to her to be sort of silly or arbitrary rules about stuff (so, to her, it wouldn't seem to be that big a deal to break the rules, since they are silly)? It might help set a precedent for any future weirdness along these lines, for her to realize that she might be interfering with something important to you and your wife.
posted by so_gracefully at 12:47 PM on April 26, 2010

"I'm his grandma and it's my right."

My concern is not about the hair cut but about what else she thinks she has a "right" to do behind your back, without your permission, when you've explicitly told her in advance you don't want it, and then lie to you about later.

I think you need to establish some firm boundaries with her before things get out of hand.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:50 PM on April 26, 2010 [37 favorites]

I'd forget it. Saeculorum said it well.

It really sounds like no harm done except that you guys are annoyed, and I understand why, but your time would likely be better spent learning how to shrug off irritating behavior like that because it's going to continue.

I say this as a woman whose own mother is likely capable of baptizing my daughter behind my back. *

*she's never said anything about baby llama not being baptized. I can't tell you how weird that is. /suspicion
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:52 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: Regardless of whether or not she actually cut his hair, it's not great to get into a pattern of brushing off repeated comments like "I'm his grandma and it's my right" or "his hair is still too long" with statements about how there's no compelling reason to cut his hair. You're his parents and you get to decide whether and when to cut his hair (or make any other parental decision), you don't need to explain these decisions to a pushy grandma.

You might do well to start saying, "We've decided not to cut his hair yet" after the first comment, and "Mom, you've already said you don't like his hair and I've already told you what we've decided to do, let's drop this, ok?" after the next, and "Mom, I don't want to talk about that" after the next.

I'm sure your mother means well, and obviously hair isn't really a high-stakes thing, but the "I'm his grandma so it's ok for me to cross your boundaries" thing is still uncool and will be even more problematic when she moves on to "I'm his grandma so it's ok for me to [make bigger decisions for him that conflict with his parents' wishes]."
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:57 PM on April 26, 2010 [8 favorites]

I know it seems like a small thing to your mom and previous respondents to your question. However, I do think something bigger is behind this if she really did do it. Culturally, not cutting your son's hair is a big issue for your wife's family. You showed them great respect by consulting with them before trimming a few locks. Your mother, if she did cut his hair, did not show any respect to you, your wife, or her family and culture. The statement of "I'm the Grandma and it is my right" is total bullshit. She's the Grandparent, true. She is not the decision maker. If she believes she can do what she wants to your child under the Grandma banner and get away with it, it will become harder and harder to draw the line and have her respect your boundaries.

I wonder if she denied trimming his hair because there were more people present than just the two of you. Do you need to have a "just between you and me" conversation with her? Talk with her privately and make it absolutely clear to her that you and your wife are the decision makers and she needs to accept your choices for your child. Your child's cultural heritage is more important than her perceptions of acceptable appearances.
posted by onhazier at 12:58 PM on April 26, 2010 [8 favorites]

Please ignore all those that suggest you let it go and do confront her over this. Yes this time it's a minor thing but she went against your wishes, with your child. Draw your line now so it's clear.
posted by anti social order at 1:02 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Before this happened, you couldn't predict your mother's behavior.

Now, by your own admission, you're not sure whether she cut the hair or not. So, you essentially have no new data unless you're willing to make a big deal out of this and torture a confession out of your mother. So, no new data.

So, you still can't predict your mother's behavior.

What's changed is that you're more aware that you can't predict her behavior.

The incident itself is beside the point. You want to know whether, and to what extent, you can trust your mother with your child. If you would like to obtain this information, I see two approaches here:

1) Construct some kind of sitcom-worthy "test" to determine whether you can trust her;

2) Have some nice long talks with your Mom, in which you listen to her a lot, to get to know her better and to encourage trust between the two of you (I realize that this is not a simple solution and may not, in fact, work, but it's all I've got).
posted by amtho at 1:02 PM on April 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Until now, my parents been fairly careful with our son, asking permission if they can give certain foods or gifts or Tylenol before doing so. But now we're not sure we should trust them alone with our son, especially if they're willing to lie about things. My assessment, based on past experience, is that I suspect his hair was just really bothering her (she's a little OCD) and she decided that it just wasn't a big deal to do this.

On the bright side, important-to-your-kid's-physical-life stuff like food and Tylenol is something she does deal with responsibly. It sounds like with this hair issue that she 1) genuinely didn't see anything wrong with cutting his hair but 2) when it became apparent that she'd mucked up, she chose to deny it rather than have a conversation about overstepping bounds. For all you know, she may be well aware that she did something inappropriate, but she doesn't want to get into an argument about it.

Besides, look at it from her perspective. You had done a lock-cutting ceremony already. She just trimmed it afterwards. She may very well be wrong and ignorant in her line of reasoning, but it's difficult not to see her side of the story.

People do this kind of stuff, unfortunately. You can't uncut the hair, so why not just let it go and enjoy a grandma who, flaws and all, cares about her grandkid?
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:06 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thinking more about it, don't just let it go. Confront her generally on the idea of lying to cover up goofs. Don't be threatening or overbearing with regard to the actual offense itself. Be understanding but firm in that you know she lied about cutting his hair, and that she should never fib again about things regarding your child.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:11 PM on April 26, 2010

I'm sure your mother means well, and obviously hair isn't really a high-stakes thing, but the "I'm his grandma so it's ok for me to cross your boundaries" thing is still uncool and will be even more problematic when she moves on to "I'm his grandma so it's ok for me to [make bigger decisions for him that conflict with his parents' wishes]."

I don't think that this kind of slippery slope argument is necessarily justified, though. If they are asking about food, gifts, medicine, etc. in a advance and generally not being at all controlling or playing weird power games, it could just be that she did this because she knew it was such a minor thing and she didn't think anyone would care. I could be wrong and this could be part of a larger issue that needs to be addressed right now, but nothing from the incident itself really sounds like it will necessarily lead to horrible things happening when Grandma babysits. I generally think that it makes sense to pick your battles when it comes to family members doing things that you don't like, and if I was in this position this would not be an issue that would require a confrontation.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:11 PM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

There's really no harm here and I do not want to deprive my son of the love of his grandparents over this.

No, of course you don't.

As my late, much wiser, still greatly missed sister once said when I was threatening to really erupt after our mother had interfered rudely with my own child rearing preferences (yet again): "You can never have too many relatives who love your kids...".

It's likely the furtive trim was a way for your obstinate mother to clip your grown up wings! Anyone who has "lingering issues" with parents from the teenage and college years knows these probably linger on both sides.

For the record, I sympathize with your frustration. OTOH, obstinate mothers with issues about their adult children won't suddenly change overnight. It's likely she'll lightly clip you again in a similar fashion - but hopefully over something not so easy to deny to your face?

That's when you can straighten out some ground rules.

(Calling a loving, if interfering, mother & grandparent "a liar" IS a biggie. You need to be very, very sure the problem is important enough before you unleash the l-word!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:12 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let it go. It's not that important, and she's not ever going to understand your point of view. She's just going to see it as you being selfish and mean. It's just hair.
posted by anniecat at 1:12 PM on April 26, 2010

"I'm his grandma and it's my right"

Ugh, I think I just got a little bit sick to my stomach. This is something I can imagine my mother-in-law saying, and I foresee a LOT of fights if we finally do get around to having kids, based on my past experience with her thinking she knows everything about everything. You really do have to make it super-extra-clear that what you think she did was NOT cool and that you are not afraid to cut off contact with her if she does something like that again, otherwise it's just going to get worse when your child is old enough to realize what's going on (and so she can play him against you, too).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:15 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd be totally mad and I would say something to my mom if she did that. I think you need say something to her so that she doesn't continue to disrespect your role as the parent. I deal with a lot of this crap with my mom, too. She is unable to let go of her perceived role as the matriarch and quite often seem to forget that I'm my daughter's mother.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:21 PM on April 26, 2010

My parents did not agree with the binky-policy of a sibiling's children. However, when they took care of those children over a weekend, they abided by the binky policy AS ESTABLISHED BY THE PARENTS OF THE CHILDREN.

Does my mom bitch about it? Yes. Did she talk to me about it on the phone? Yes.

Did she just say "well I'm the grandma and I raised five kids so I know best?" and then do whatever she wanted to do?


It doesn't matter that it's about your child's hair, which a lot of the respondents can't see. It's that you made a decision about your child and your mother quite possibly didn't honor it. It's that she quite possibly didn't honor it and then lied to you about it.

Grandparents aren't automatically magical beings that only do perfect things for their grandchildren. They drag out old toys that are dangerous, they think food allergies are parents coddling children, they freak a kid out by refusing to give them a nightlight because the child is "too old" to have one - and these are just some of the stories I have heard from friends.

I think asking your mom, and couching it in the language Zippy noted above, is the best way to handle it. You're not making it up and you're not crazy but this is your kid and you get to set boundaries. A friend of mine is dealing with a father that can't see well enough to drive. He wouldn't agree to not drive the kids - "well what if your mother isn't here and I need to go to the store" so she finally said, until you can promise me this I will never leave the children alone with you. It's hard. It's a big deal. It's your kid.
posted by micawber at 1:30 PM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nthing those who have said you need to establish some boundaries. Talk to her about it again. Be honest, direct, and respectful.

Also, are there any specific things that you are worried about in the context of your mother providing care to your son? Do you generally trust her to care for your son or are there other causes for concern? If there are, you might want to have a larger conversation with her down the line.
posted by rbellon at 1:35 PM on April 26, 2010

40 years ago my grandparents gave a crew cut to my boy cousin, whose parents loved his long blond curls, the first time he was left alone with them. In the end, my aunt and uncle decided it was a funny story. I don't think you need to worry about this being a slippery slope to say, junk food and tv.
posted by SandiBeech at 1:37 PM on April 26, 2010

a grandma who, flaws and all, cares about her grandkid?

I'd like to expand upon Sticherbeast's insight a bit.

I think this is actually a very positive development in a certain way.

Your mother is claiming your son with this defiant act; essentially 'he is mine as well as yours regardless of what you or anybody else may say about it!'. You and your wife are one target of this assertion, your father and their circle of friends may be others. Lots of parents of biethnic or biracial children are hoping and praying in vain for such a commitment.

My own mother for example, on her death bed from cancer, with my sister unable to attend her because of a delicate pregnancy in its later stages, and knowing only the father's name-- Michael Jackson-- called me over to her side one day and said: "you've met him... is he black?"

Don't screw up what your mother is trying to do here.
posted by jamjam at 1:42 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, I misunderstood and thought the Grandma who cut the hair was Indian. I don't know about American Grandmas, I assume they know not to take liberties like that while Indian Grandmas don't have the same cultural boundaries.
posted by anniecat at 1:45 PM on April 26, 2010

I have a few thoughts.

1.) I have very good friends who are married and both from different cultures. In the husband's family the oldest son does not get haircuts. At all. The wife's culture is more about fitting in. While on a trip to visit her family the wife's sister took the boy for a haircut. He went from having almost shoulder length hair to a full buzz cut. Needless to say my friend was livid. She choose not to make a big deal of it because her family lives in another country and will never understand the importance. My friend now knows that she can't leave her son in the care of his aunt, but in all likelihood there will never be another opportunity. I'm only telling you this so that you can see how somebody else handled the same issue.

2.) Your mom sounds a lot like my mom. I have to constantly tell her "I'm the mom, you're the grandma. It's your job to love and spoil, it's my job to be the parent." This usually comes about when I'm punishing my kids which is something she really doesn't like to see.

3.) Is it possible that your mom is lying to you because she thinks that she's keeping you out of trouble? I mean in that she knows it's a significant thing and by lying she's giving you 'plausible deniability'? Kind of like if she knew you were vegetarian and just ate some soup with beef broth in it. She thinks you'll be happier not knowing the truth. I know this might be totally off, but maybe from her point of view it makes sense. In her eyes she was just making his hair even after you cut the locks and doesn't want you to 'get in trouble' or mess with the cultural significance so she lied thinking that it's better if everyone else thinks he didn't get a haircut. Then when he gets the ceremonial cut it still will be his first cut as far as you know.

I don't know your mom, so I can't tell you how to react to this. I agree that if your mom did cut your son's hair it was incredibly callous and ignorant of her, but it isn't like she took him down and had him circumcised. I'd be pissed if it happened to me, but you will have to decide if the breach of trust was enough to spoil the whole relationship. I hope that if this happened to me that I'd rant to hubby for awhile and then simmer down. I'd forgive, but never let my mom be in the position to do something else like that again. I totally agree that you have got to set boundaries, but I don't have any advice on how to go about doing that.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:56 PM on April 26, 2010

Assuming you are sure his hair was cut, I wouldn't just let it go. I would be mildly annoyed if my mother/mother-in-law cut my child's hair without my permission, but I would let it go. In this case however, she very explicitly and secretly went against your known wishes and then lied about it. It sounds like a bad foundation on which to move forward. I wouldn't forbid her from babysitting. I wouldn't even bring it up: that's the nuclear option with grandparents, and even mentioning it will likely push things to an edge it is difficult to walk back from. But I would let her know that you are upset about it, that is is disrespectful not only to you but also to your wife and her family. You may always have friction, but if you don't establish some sort of minimally respectful relationship around your role as a parent, you are going to have decades of conflict.
posted by nequalsone at 1:59 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: If there's one thing I've learned from living with obstinate, disrespectful-of-others types, it's that with some people it's just not worth it. Your mom did something deeply wrong, but sometimes it's easier to remove yourself from the situation as much as possible than to change who she is (a meddlesome jerk).

Dealing with people of a certain age is a lot easier when you realize that *you* are the adult here and all their BS can't really hurt you. Remember, treat your parents the way you want your kids to treat you when you're old and crazy. "Grandma is old and stubborn. She doesn't run this family, but convincing her of that would kill her. It's not worth it. Suffice it to say that eating Cheetos is a one time thing for you."
posted by paanta at 2:02 PM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would let it go.

To me, this would have been a huge deal if she'd cut his hair before you did the ceremonial haircut -- that would mean trampling on your cultural or religious desires. Huge deal, worth making an issue over.

But you'd already done the ritual, so this is just a haircut. A haircut you didn't want, okay, but there's a lot less at stake. Probably not worth the emotional escalation that would result from making an issue of it.

At most, I'd in future make it really clear to her which issues are important to you, and not let her (for example) get away with passive-aggressive 'ha ha only serious' jokes like the "someday I'm going to cut that little boy's hair" thing.
posted by ook at 2:13 PM on April 26, 2010

FWIW, in many cultures she would be well within her rights, Indian being one of them. The child is not just a child of two parents, but of the whole family.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2010

I would let this go. It almost sounds a little like you're still rebelling against your mom through your son.

Let it go and have faith that next time grandma sees munchkin, munchkin will be able to talk and tell her he doesn't want a haircut.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2010

Remember, treat your parents the way you want your kids to treat you when you're old and crazy.

This is great advice. Let it go but set firm boundaries in the future.
posted by benzenedream at 2:48 PM on April 26, 2010

I'd like to clarify my earlier comment--I don't think you're necessarily in danger of having Grandma do something horrible, but I do think that good fences make good neighbors, especially when it comes to family.

Making clear that you won't humor Grandma's harping on something you've already made a parental decision about can spare you future emotional drama. Looking long-term, it's a lot easier to say, firmly but calmly, "We hear your concerns, but we've made a decision about that for cultural/practical/personal reasons and it's not up for discussion" than to let her harp and harp and harp until it gets to something worthy of an angry confrontation because she felt entitled to a say in the matter and overstepped appropriate bounds ("Did you seriously cut his hair???").
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:36 PM on April 26, 2010

This rings a lot of bells for me.

Not only did my mother-in-law give my son his first haircut ever without my permission and outside my presence (one afternoon I got back a child and an envelope full of blond curls marked "E's first haircut"), but she also fed him his important-to-me ceremonial first birthday cupcake (at his party) when I was outside the house assisting an elderly relative into the house - I never saw it, and there is no photograph.

I think if I'd made a fuss about the haircut, the cupcake thing never would have happened.

You need to tell her that you know she did it and that you're upset about it. Use a lot of "I" statements, but do tell her. She needs to understand that she doesn't just get to do whatever she wants.
posted by anastasiav at 4:39 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sure your mother means well, and obviously hair isn't really a high-stakes thing, but the "I'm his grandma so it's ok for me to cross your boundaries" thing is still uncool and will be even more problematic when she moves on to "I'm his grandma so it's ok for me to [make bigger decisions for him that conflict with his parents' wishes]."

I just want to underscore how important this is. This particular incident isn't necessarily high stakes, and it's fine if you want to let it go, but in the grander scheme of things I promise you it's vital that you set some boundaries very clearly so that she doesn't continue to believe that "I'm the grandma" trumps all else. My mom and my grandma (i.e., my mom's mom) never got this issue straight between them, and my sister and I absolutely wound up being pawns in a kind of power struggle between them that lasted for years. (Example: the time my grandparents took us to Disneyland for a week -- we lived in Colorado at the time -- without my parents' permission because, you know, "that's what grandparents do.")

Seriously, my grandparents have each been dead for going on a decade, and my mother is still pissed about a lifetime of this sort of thing, and it still affects our family dynamics to this day.
posted by scody at 5:29 PM on April 26, 2010

Response by poster: One thing about having kids, it sure makes you re-evaluate your relationship with your parents, both sympathetically and critically. So much good advice here, as usual.

I guess the problem I'm having here is exactly how to confront her if I decide to do so. Her denial is probably a bluff that she's counting on us not to call her on. This is some pretty juvenile shit going on right here and I'm inclined to think disengaging a little and being a little more guarded with how I trust her with my son in the future is not only the more mature course, but probably the one I should have taken before all this happened. If I confront her further, she's not going to really see our perspective and I don't really believe it's going to change her behavior. Fortunately, they live far enough way that we have enough control of my son's future time with her. My wife still thinks we should say something further and if I do, I will post a follow up. I'll keep checking this thread, but thank you all.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:30 PM on April 26, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify further: the fact that she lied about this when I asked her directly implies she knows that we know, she knows it wasn't ok with us, and she's ok with this. I'm not sure what continuing to push it accomplishes.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:39 PM on April 26, 2010

I wouldn't carry on to the point where you actually re-create whatever friction you and she have had in the past but trying to get a parent to understand that yes, this is your grand baby but they are not YOUR child, is not an easy task. It helps that you live relatively far away from them however, establishing some ground rules now for what does/does not go on when she comes over for a visit will be much more helpful in the future.

I've seen families break apart over this stuff when it gets out of hand. It starts with giving haircuts without permission and sneaking the kids bottles and pacifiers when mom/dad say it's time to move on from that and goes to "suprise!! We bought our grandchild his first car (even though he just turned 16 and didn't work a lick to appreciate the thing). Just be careful how you approach it. I wouldn't just start calling her a liar but I'd definitely ask her again if she cut his hair further than what was agreed upon. Tell her it looks extra short to you and that if she did cut it further, you'd appreciate if she didn't do it in the future. Remind her that you love your son's hair the way it is and that's how you want it to stay. This could be an ongoing battle, particularly since this is your only child. First one's always the hardest especially with issues like these.
posted by ChucksNPaintbrushes at 5:42 PM on April 26, 2010

By the way, I've had a few haircuts in my life and goodness knows you see enough bad ones going on town. Don't forget to consider the fact that she (or whoever cut it) screwed up the trim and tried to even it out. A few mistakes in evening it out can take off inches in fixing it. Just a thought.

Still doesn't excuse her lying about it though.
posted by ChucksNPaintbrushes at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: I always find it interesting when people use the word 'confront'. It brings up images of raised voices and accusations, where you're trying to get across your point and possibly setting off the other person and escalating into long term bad will.

So I'd ask you to consider that this isn't about 'confronting' (admit it! Admit it! Arrgh!) - you're not asking her to admit it. You're just asking her to listen to you. You're just sharing what is true for you, regardless of what she has or hasn't done. You're just letting her know that issue that somehow has has set something off in you.

I'd consider language similar to what was suggested above. Just keep repeating the same points: The 'Mom I love you, and I love my kid, and I have to know that I can trust the people in his life, and that they are respecting my wishes........ I believe someone cut his hair. And that's setting something off for me......... So I've just need to say that I need you to know that when I set boundaries and you say things like 'I'm his Grandma and I have my own rules", etc., I get concerned - that's what sets something off for me......... So I need to know that I've shared my perspective and concerns on this".

Any language around 'So you're calling me a liar - or accusing me, etc..." can be addressed - "No, I'm not, I'm just telling you what's going on for me. And I want to thank you for listening to me". And mean that.

At it's core, I think this is a lot about being heard.
posted by anitanita at 6:55 PM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

(actually for religious reasons that I don't understand, my father was the one who had to do the cutting)

Wait, why did your father "have" to do the cutting? Is this your mother's husband? Was she present for that, and perhaps took that as a cue that it was okay for her to cut your child's hair?

FWIW, I agree with those who say your mother violated a very serious boundary here and am not viewing this as a possible excuse - just an explanation.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:10 PM on April 26, 2010

As my late, much wiser, still greatly missed sister once said when I was threatening to really erupt after our mother had interfered rudely with my own child rearing preferences (yet again): "You can never have too many relatives who love your kids...".

You know, I agree with this, but think that it's being misapplied here. Part of loving someone is being respectful of them, and that's something your mother clearly hasn't learned. Regardless of if you'd had a conversation about it ahead of time, it's inappropriate for her to make decisions about his hair or lack thereof.

I can't shake the feeling that if you were posting something more like "My mother really didn't want me to do this seemingly trivial but important to her thing to her property/dog/whatever. I did it anyhow, because I felt it was important/would help her fit in/I knew better. Now she's angry at me! I did the right thing, right?" People would be quite rightly calling you an asshole, especially if you later tried to assure your mother "Oh, no, mom, I totally didn't do that, it's always been that way."

She's pulling the same thing here, but because she's your mother, she's being afforded a lot of leeway. Don't fall into this. My experience with older relatives of any sort is that this isn't the sort of thing they'll pull once and then stop--it's the sort of thing that will escalate. And maybe it's mostly over stuff that's not really a huge deal, but it's still undermining you as a parent and setting you up for a potential future in which the not-really-a-huge-deal things become big-huge-deal-I-can't-believe-you-did-that-to/with-my-kid things.

I don't think that you have to necessarily confront her about it, but next time she's around, make it clear that until she's demonstrated that she's going to respect you as a parent, you're not going to leave her alone with your child.
posted by MeghanC at 7:13 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you let this go, she'll do it again. And lie about it again. After all, she got away with it. Why wouldn't she? This is a line that needs to be drawn. With care and understanding and sensitivity and courtesy and all that, but I firmly, firmly believe you should not let this go.
posted by lemniskate at 7:39 PM on April 26, 2010

It's one thing for Grammy to sneak a child ice cream once in a while. If you want to raise your child as an observant Jew, and 1 grandparent serves the child meat, milk, pork and lobster all on your Passover dishes, it's hugely disrespectful. It's not okay for someone to be so disrespectful of your clearly explained, culturally-driven reasons, esp. since those reasons affect the wishes and values of the other grandparents. So I'd tell her that the haircut has really distressed you, and created a lack of trust. If they want to visit again, don't leave your child with them, and if she asks, explain why.
posted by theora55 at 7:56 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Purely on the religious angle: the first haircut was the trimming of locks you already did. Sending those to Tirupati is a perfectly acceptable alternative to shearing the whole head at Tirupati. So you have a problem with Mom going against your wishes, not a religious problem.

Also, the hair can be sacrificed at Tirupati throughout one's life; the Hindu I consulted did it yearly as a youth, every summer. (As to the disposition of the hair: the temple sells it; it ends up in wigs, and as L-cysteine, in cosmetics, food, and cigarettes.)
posted by orthogonality at 8:06 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised by how many people are suggesting this wasn't a big deal. I think you've done a pretty good job of indicating why it was a reasonably big deal, and also a good job of modulating your response appropriately.

I also disagree with the first comment, which casts the costs and benefits of this issue as short-term oneupmanship. I think this is wrong. The issue here is precisely what kind of relationship you want your boy to have with his grandmother.

As I see it, there are three possible outcomes, in the longterm. Your relationship with your parents can stay the same, it can get better, or it can get worse. Being wary and suspicious of your mother counts as your relationship getting worse. Based on what you've written here, your relationship has already gotten worse since this incident (even though she does not know it), and it's likely to stay worse. You are likely to restrict your child's access to his grandparents, and vice versa, as a result of the haircut.

In order to get back to baseline, or for the relationship to get better, you're going to have to have a discussion with your parents. And, I would make it a discussion with your parents, not just your mother. Your mother's behavior is also affecting your father and the amount of access he'll have to his grandson, and, I would be pretty surprised if he isn't complicit in not telling you the truth about the haircut.

I do think that the discussion has to be cast as a discussion of what makes you feel safe and good about your son. I would stress your excitement about your mother and father being active grandparents to your boy. I would talk about how this is a new moment for everyone, that you've never had a son before, that you just want to talk about general boundaries and acceptable behavior. I would praise the things they have done right, and I would predicate the discussion, to the extent possible, as little as possible on the haircut. I would raise it briefly, if at all, and then move on to the future. All of this assumes that you can have the conversation without blowing up, and that you can redirect your mother if she wants to accuse you of accusing her.

But I think the advice to "let it go," or to take it as a lesson learned, ignores the cost that this has already had. If the relationship was at baseline now, then bringing it up might damage something, but as things stand, if you can keep your cool, a reasonable conversation has more potential benefits than costs.
posted by OmieWise at 5:30 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your son is two. Can't he tell you whether or not his grandma cut his hair?

Personally, I'd have a very blunt conversation with grandma or as others have said she'll likely keep doing things she thinks are fine behind your back. There's nothing mean or disrespectful about telling your mom to respect your wishes. Any mom who might get offended only does so because they know you are right. You clearly want to tell her a thing or two so just do it so you can move on and so she might respect you and your wishes in the future. Keeping anger bottled up inside is not healthy.
posted by wherever, whatever at 5:11 PM on April 27, 2010

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