My daughter loves her grandma and the feeling is mutual. But on occasion when my mom comes to visit, she loses her temper and she starts yelling at me. Sometimes my daughter overhears this despite my wife trying to take into another room and distracting her. I have told my mom to control her temper especially when my daughter is around and she says she will try but she sometimes she just loses it. My mom is a great woman and I know she means well, she just has an anger problem which I think even she cannot always control.

Given this, should I limit her number of visits? I don't know what is the psychological affect on my daughter of hearing grandma yell at her dad or call him a bad son. I don't want to keep them apart too much since they are so close but at the same time I don't want to damage my relationship with my daughter or cause her any trauma or damage in the future as a result of hearing the abuse.

The nature of the abuse is basically her yelling and saying "You are not a good son, you are ungrateful to me after all I have done for you, you don't respect me enough, etc".

  • 2
    Would you consider seeing a therapist with your mother? I wonder how upsetting it is -- enough to give up on your mother or threaten her with it?
    – WRX
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 1:17

3 Answers 3


TL:DR: Set boundaries.

This is not at all uncommon, and because of that, it takes a fair amount of insight to label yelling as abuse, but abuse it is. You're asking if witnessing abuse is bad for your daughter, and you already suspect that it is (which is true), so what is the best way to handle it?

You have listed two options: put up with it and hope for the best, or limit your daughter's exposure to your mother. Regardless of the love involved all around, abuse is not something that a child should learn to tolerate. Witnessing abuse teaches a child that the world is not quite a safe place, even with those whom you love and who are supposed to love you. So limit her exposure to your mother's abuse by setting up protective fences around both of you in the form of boundaries.

Read about boundaries online and in good books until you feel you have a good handle on them. Then start applying them to your relationship with your mother.

A boundary that most people can recognize as reasonable and healthy is

You may not physically strike me. If you do, I will be forced to protect myself by separating myself from you, and if you do not seek treatment, I will protect myself by ending the relationshiip.

That's an easy one to understand because most people understand that striking others is abusive. It's harder to convince someone that yelling is abuse as well. Everyone yells from time to time, but frequent or derogatory yelling is not ok.

An unhealthy boundary is

If you don't do as I say when I say so, I can't continue to be in relationship with you.

The latter is an attempt to control a person.

Boundaries are not a means to control others; you cannot control anyone but yourself. Boundaries are a means to protect yourself and those under your protection from harmful behaviors. They are vital to healthy relationships. You need some common sense and skill to set good ones; that's why you should really familiarize yourself with them before trying to set them.

Personal boundaries are also not punishments, although your abuser will probably tell you she is being punished and that you are evil for drawing your lines in the sand.

When you know about boundaries and are convinced you have a right to be treated with respect even by the woman who gave birth to you, sit down with your mother and have a heart to heart talk, or at least a heart to ear talk. Tell her (if it's true) how much you love her, how grateful you are for all the love and blessings she has given you and those you love, and anything else you really feel is important for her to hear. Then tell her that you are concerned that her yelling is a form of disrespect to you and a bad example to set for your daughter. Tell her that as much as you love her, and as much as your daughter loves her, you can't let your daughter be exposed to her yelling. Tell her you want to see her, and you want your daughter to see her, but not when she's yelling. So from now on, when she's yelling, you will remove yourself and your daughter from her presence.

She may scoff or argue or get angry and yell. That's her choice. Yours is how you'll react. Then start doing it.

You say this happens when your mom visits. That's a harder situation to control, so change this to visiting her more or meeting her somewhere if possible. If she doesn't yell, wonderful. If she does, remind her of your talk, say you enjoyed your visit until the yelling began, tell her you love her (if you do that kind of thing) and that you look forward to your next visit (all this speaks of your love), then excuse yourself/yourselves and leave. No arguing, no pleading, no second chances; just leave. (If this happens at your home, you'll need to ask your mother to leave, which is a lot harder, but possible, and the additional benefit is that it will teach your daughter that it's okay to stand up for yourself.) Repeat as necessary.

Boundaries can be painful for the people on either side. If you love someone and value your relationship with them, you will set your boundaries carefully and respectfully, and you will honor your boundaries so that trust can be built between you and your mother about them, trust being a vital part of a good relationship.

Finally, if you're having difficulty with setting good boundaries, a counselor might be able to help you sort through these difficult issues and help you see where you should draw your boundaries. You may find something that you're much happier with than what you can come up with.

10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries
How to set clear-cut boundaries in dysfunctional family relationships

  • 2
    Excellent answer (as usual). "Setting boundaries" is a topic that crops up again and again - I'm starting to think we should have a canonical question for that. And the answer would probably be based on what you wrote :-).
    – sleske
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 10:24

How you react to this stuff is more important than how Grandma acts. Think of it this way, she's not learning from your mum how to act like this to you, she's learning from you how to react when someone behaves like this.

You stay calm. You say stuff like "I need you to calm down, because you're upsetting me, and probably upsetting the children". If it doesn't stop, you end the conversation and ask her to leave, even if it's just going for a walk. Or if she won't, you take your daughter for a walk. You end the situation as calmly and effectively as possible.

Make sure you talk to your daughter about why you're willing to tolerate this to an extent (e.g. because it's your mum), so she knows she doesn't have to tolerate it by default. And you make sure that she knows that you don't consider this behaviour acceptable, and would never treat or allow her to be treated like this while it's in your power to stop it.

Like anongoodnurse said, you can't control your mum. But you can control and demonstrate control in how you react.


Your mother feels insignificant for some reason, real or imagined, doesn't matter.

Try to explore her rules (rules: if A happens, then it means B) and global beliefs (I am..., life is..., people are..., ). What would make her feel validated? What would make her melt? What is a good way (good way means believable to her according to her rules and beliefs) to show her that she is important? What makes her feel respected?

Hint: women take little stuff and make it as big as possible. Men take big stuff and pretend it's really small. That means it might not be big stuff that makes her feel insignificant and it might not take a cruise around the world to make her feel loved and respected. It may just need consistency and insight. What are her sources for feeling loved and respected? Does she have a deficit?

If you're brave, you can use pattern interrupts. By now, she'll probably expect an established reaction to her yelling and she probably expects you to be a bad son in her eyes. If you do not meet these expectations in a clever way, she might be perplexed and stop yelling, which is a good time to hug her and tell her that you love her. (Risky)

Practice these outbursts in your mind and see yourself reacting in a good way. Preparation is helpful. Try to not take it personally, interpret it as a cry for help. Why does she? People call it hate, but it's hurt. So, the accusations might actually be a request. Just a clumsy one.

You can set clear boundaries, control and make the request more urgent or you can eliminate the need for outbursts. Caution: what a woman wants and what she truly needs may not always be the same. But usually it's love and attention according to the woman's rules.

  • I realize this is an old post but I’m downvoting nonetheless bc I find the generalizations about men and women to be, at least, unhelpful. It also doesn’t address the question, which is whether or not a child should have limited contact with someone who is abusive/mean to the child’s parent. I came to this question bc I find myself in a similar position as the poster and this answer is just missing the mark.
    – Jax
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 2:44

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