my boss brags about being verbally abusive to her step-child

A reader writes:

I am not sure I should complaint to my HR department on this, but the situation is making me very uncomfortable at work.

My manager got married about a year ago to a man with a child the same age as her own. The child was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD as a result of being abandoned by his mother several years ago. They have gone to therapy but do not seem to be making enough progress for her. She constantly berates this child for every small infraction and the father does not step in to intervene. She forced him to sit on the floor with the dogs for over a week because she wasn’t sure he was clean enough to sit on her furniture. She tells everyone in the department these stories like she is proud of herself. She came into work this past week saying how “horrified and ashamed” she was by what she said to the child the previous night (because he bought candy and tried to hide it), and told the department that she screamed at him for 20 minutes and threatened to send him away to boarding school. She did not sound ashamed at all. Truly if she had been ashamed she wouldn’t have repeated this story more than once that day. She also loves to tell us how “nasty” she is to her step-dogs, screaming at them for barking and kicking them if they get in her way. She unfairly compares the two kids and yells at the stepchild for putting her child in the “awful situation” of having to tattle on him.

I have just about made up my mind that I need to make some sort of complaint about this to HR. This talk has gotten meaner and nastier over the last couple of months, I am genuinely worried about that child’s well-being. She has even bragged about this behavior to our department VP, who did nothing to shut it down or otherwise say it is inappropriate for the workplace. Her work has also suffered tremendously as a result of this horrible home life and everyone in my department is on the verge of quitting.

I work closely with HR, and I know they would take me seriously. But do I have a good cause for complaint? I have no idea what the fallout might be and I doubt that I could do this anonymously.

Well, the issue isn’t so much that she’s talking about it at work (although that’s certainly disturbing); the issue is that she’s verbally and emotionally abusing her stepchild, and that’s not something your HR department can do anything about.

This is an issue for Child Protective Services, although unfortunately in many jurisdictions, they have their hands so full with physical abuse and neglect cases that they might not take any action on this. I think it would be right to report it anyway though and let them decide.

In addition, I would recommend speaking up when she tells you these stories, because there is value in people saying “this isn’t right.” So when she next tells you one of these horror stories, I hope you will say, “That’s awful — no child deserves that.” (Same thing about the poor dogs, too.)

HR could potentially be helpful in telling her to stop these comments at work (although again, the comments are a smaller problem than her actual actions) and/or in protecting you from retaliation if she finds out you called CPS. You certainly have reasonable grounds to bring this to their attention. That said, how well they handle it will depend on your particular HR department, and if they’re not very good, it’s possible that there could be fall-out for you and you’d need to be prepared for that.

But there are kids and animals being abused — the two categories of beings who are the most voiceless in our world — so I’m going to argue that it’s the right thing to do regardless.

{ 433 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    Holy crap. I agree–definitely go to CPS and Animal Protective Services. I imagine HR would just tell you do that anyway.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        You could be right. Abuse of animals has a strong correlation with physical abuse of other people. The boss kicking the dogs here could be a sign that her abuse of the child will escalate.

    1. M-C*

      This is one of the very rare occasions where I disagree slightly with AAM though. I completely agree that this is a situation that needs reporting to professional law enforcement. But if the OP starts speaking up at work about mistreating the child, and then turns in the offender to CPS, she risks her job. A friend of mine (who didn’t call CPS herself although she was tempted) got into years of work abuse when her coworker’s wife thought she had done the calling. An abusive person like the one here clearly will not graciously turn around and thank the OP for getting help for her family.

      So my own advice would be for the OP to watch her mouth carefully at work, but also write up incidents, with quotes as accurate as possible, dates, witnesses etc. Try to stick to incidents where there were several witnesses so as to blur detection. And then take that to CPS, who may not investigate very energetically if the child is being ‘merely’ psychologically abused, but who normally should be legally obligated to both investigate, and keep the reporter’s identity strictly confidential. Checking your state’s laws in advance is essential – there should be a website that lays out all this in detail.

    2. Emma*

      Yeah, and even if CPS doesn’t or can’t do anything over this report, it’ll most likely be on file when another report comes in, and that might tip things over into action.

  2. Amy the Rev*

    Depending on what kind of work you do, you might be a mandated reporter…either way, please do make a report to CPS and APS, you may be the intervention that ends up saving that child’s life (physically OR emotionally)

    1. Lance*

      Very much agreed. If the child already has PTSD from abandonment, I can only imagine the issues this sort of abusiveness would pile atop that. Please, at least tell people who might be able to do something, because this should not be allowed to continue.

      1. Marlie*

        The dad is an asshole, too… not stepping in to protect his poor kid who is already suffering. And the poor dogs. Ugh. Both of the adults are awful.

        1. TheCupcakeCounter*

          that is what I came here to say as well – shame on that sperm donor (he doesn’t seem to deserve the term dad IMHO)

      2. Candi*

        Take it from someone who’s been in an abusive relationship: they never start out that way.

        It’s like a rotten Easter egg: pretty and attractive on the outside, foul within. It’s usually well into the relationship before they begin to let you see beyond the shell.

        As someone who had a psychologically (and occasionally physically) mother who watched her father be manipulated and guilt tripped for years, escalating over time, I can see the father thinking he has to stay. Kids need two parents, right? (Insert snarky remark.) (M quote when she finally walked out: “I don’t want you. You’re too much like your father.”)

        My first stepmother was also a toxic person, but dad felt he had to stay to help and protect her three kids. (1stSM quote: “I didn’t have a happy childhood, so you don’t get to have one!”) Until she packed up, moved to the East Coast, and divorced him.

        (So glad my current stepmother is such a sweet and kind person.)

        There’s a lot of mental/emotional factors here, and the guy needs to realize he can leave -and figure out under what terms he’s willing to, particularly with the other child involved.

        OP, call CPS. Please.

    2. nutella fitzgerald*

      This will also depend on where you live – in some jurisdictions, such as New Jersey, any adult who is made aware of child abuse is required to report.

    3. Bad Candidate*

      It may not even be work related to be a mandated reporter. In the state of Nebraska EVERYONE is a mandated reporter. I don’t know if other states have the same law or not.

      1. PatPat*

        Everyone is Florida is a mandated reporter, too.

        I work in child protection and this is abuse that would be seen as very serious in my state. She’s scapegoating that stepchild in addition to being verbally abusive to a child with mental health issues and abandonment issues. I hope the OP calls child protection services today.

        What makes me angriest about this story is the dad’s failure to protect his child from his wife.

        I’ve seen kids in similar situations so relieved to get into a foster or group home so I hope the OP isn’t letting all the bad press about foster care stop her from calling. There are good foster homes and good group homes out there and caring professionals in the dependency system available to help this child.

          1. my two cents*

            Someone who’s willing to further abuse an already hurting child and kick dogs AND BRAG ABOUT IT (guh! GUH!) is likely kicking and screaming at anyone within arm’s reach – it’s extremely likely the dad’s also being abused and controlled. It may not be “physical” towards the husband, but it’s not a stretch for a horrid woman like that to threaten financial security (if she leaves him, her salary goes too) and/or self harm. Report her to CPS.

            Speaking up in the moment (“whoa, that doesn’t seem ok”) may help, but it’s also possible it’ll make her remarkably defensive and/or really angry. It sounds like she shares these stories with groups of her subordinates, or is willing to repeat it (GUH!) to several people, so if you’re willing to call her out there will likely be witnesses for any flare-up/melt-down.

            Where I do think it may also be worth noting to HR, in addition to the retaliation/CPS stuff of course, would be the fact that EVERYONE seems to be uncomfortable with her ‘stories’. Can you get a couple of the other Uncomfortable (capital U) folks to go with you to HR?

          1. Missouri*

            Missouri’s is occupation-based, but the list is long: if you do basically anything with children or caretaking in your day-to-day life, you’re on the list. Even your volunteer activities can make you a mandated reporter – like if you’re a Scout leader, for instance. Even if you’re not mandated, you can remain anonymous when reporting and if you do choose to identify yourself when reporting, we are not permitted to disclose to anyone. RSMo 210 is pretty much everything about Children’s Division.

        1. Cass*

          In PA as well, I’m not sure that’s true? I had to take some child abuse training at my workplace and it made very clear which positions were mandated reporters and which were not.

          1. Amy*

            I had to do mandatory child abuse training earlier this year in PA – there is a laundry list of professions (mostly involving Healthcare and childcare), but not everyone.

            1. Sharon*

              Same thing in IL, where I live–I just checked.

              I didn’t know until now that some states regard all adults to be mandated reporters, but I really like that idea.

        2. YoungHR*

          In Pennsylvania only those that received training are mandated reporters (those that work with or volunteer with children or are in a position likely to put them in contact with children). However, ANYONE can submit a report of suspected child abuse to Childline- 800-932-0313.

    4. NJ Anon*

      In our state, everyone is a mandated reporter. I would not hesitate to call. This is cruel and I could not sleep at night knowing this was possibly going on.

    5. Indiana*

      Adding to this list on the off chance you’re in Indiana – everyone in Indiana is a mandated reporter with a legal obligation to report suspected child abuse or neglect. You don’t have to know all the facts, and you can make a report anonymously – but the IN Department of Child Services is required to protect your identity as a report source. The Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline is available 24/7. The number in Indiana is 1-800-800-5556.

    1. WillWhatWhy*

      Agreed about calling CPS and animal welfare!

      Just note that APS usually means “Adult Protective Services” in the US, not “Animal Protective Services.” So make sure if/when you’re going to make a call about the animal abuse, you’re searching for SPCA or animal welfare in the county where your manager resides, not APS. (Although I’m sure APS would be sympathetic and redirect you to a better resource!)

  3. LadyMountaineer*

    This is an issue that CPS can actually help with! When I worked in CPS we received all sorts of calls that were related to poverty (the child has old shoes, the yard is a mess) and not actually involving the safety and well-being of the child. This child really needs help. Please start documenting things that she says and reporting them back. Make a call a day if you have to they are anonymous. She is likely to find out from HR if you complain to them–however she will not find out from CPS.

    Good luck! My heart goes out to you and to this kiddo. How is her own child not getting some PTSD from witnessing this whole thing? Yikes all around!

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      “Make a call a day if you have to they are anonymous”

      THIS! Document, call, and report. Each call will only help the CPS case!

      1. motherofdragons*

        Yes. And you don’t know if reports have already been made about this person, and your call will just add to a growing pile.

        1. WorkingMom*

          This is so awful, I agree, report and continue to do so until you know something has been looked into, at the very least. My heart breaks for this child, and the poor dogs. I can’t even imagine treating an innocent child like this. Yes, they test our patience, but good lord there is no excuse for this kind of behavior. OP, thank goodness for people like you who are willing to speak up!

    2. Michelle*

      Call everyday and ask to remain anonymous. I worked at DFACS/CPS for several years after high school and you just cannot imagine how awful people are to children. I had to leave because it was too much- I couldn’t sleep at night and I worried about the children constantly.

      Call the local chapter of ASPCA or county animal shelter. Surely they can help or give you contacts to call for animal cruelty.

      This woman is a monster and if she hasn’t already messed up her step-child for life, she is well on her way and the poor dogs. Please, please, please start making those calls. You might save a child’s life. He’s already suffering from PTSD and this woman sounds like she could drive him to suicide or to runaway.

  4. Kyrielle*

    I…I was trying to imagine what all that, especially the boarding school threat, would do to a child with PTSD _from being abandoned_. By his mother, when this woman is now in a mother-figure role to him, no less.

    And now I am trying not to. No wonder they have not made much progress on his PTSD…how could it heal with this going on?

    I don’t understand how someone could do this. I even more don’t understand how they could feel it is something to talk about (boast about?) at work.

    I will just be over here pledging to hug my kids extra-tight tonight….

    But yes, OP, please report this. Please. It may not make a difference. But on the chance that it might – please report this.

    1. J.B.*

      Wow. Poor kid. Sadly I can see how it would happen though. PTSD and other anxiety in a kid can look like defiance, and if you come at it from a command and control perspective it spirals.

      I would call CPS. And the child’s therapist is a mandated reporter, hopefully that person will get enough info from sessions to also pass on. But at least this can be on the radar.

      1. Turquoise Teapot*

        Unfortunately, because therapists are being paid by the parents, they don’t always report things like they’re supposed to.

        1. beenthere*

          yes, this 10000000%. Nothing like being told therapy is a safe space as a child and then finding out they’re actually just telling everything to the parent you’re talking about as the “lies your child is spinning”. Or even better, when they invite the parent in on the sessions. Any people wonder why i’m not big into therapy……

        2. Stephanie*

          While I can’t speak for my entire profession, I can say that, as a psychologist for the past 17 years, I am not aware of any case in which a psychologist/therapist deliberately chose not to report abuse for fear of offending the parents. I, like countless others, have had families stop coming to me because I reported them to CPS, and that is unfortunate, but I have never heard of a professional deliberately failing to report for fear of this situation. As mandated reporters, the penalties for failing to report (i.e., losing your psychologist license, incarceration) are so severe that, even if one’s conscience would allow it, the risks of failing to report are just not worth it.

    2. snurck*

      As far as bragging – My dad is like this. He loves to tell the story about how when I was 18 months old, I was crying in my crib one night. He went to check on me, and I wasn’t wet, wasn’t hungry. I apparently just wanted attention. So he spanked me. And I stopped crying. He thinks this is the greatest story ever because it proves I didn’t need anything, I was just being “a brat”.

      1. Ayla K*

        This makes me sick. Usually if someone – a baby, child, teen, or adult – is crying out for attention, it means that they need attention, and that someone should give it to them, not berate them and spank them (!!) for having normal human needs.

        1. snurck*

          Yep. He had to go to work the next morning and I was keeping him up by crying, which you know, babies do. But since I didn’t “need” anything and just “wanted” the attention, he wasn’t going to give in. “And it worked! You stopped crying and went to sleep!”

          1. snurck*

            He did the same thing when I was about four years old and was having trouble writing the number “3”. I kept drawing it backwards. My dad was patient at first and kept showing me how to do it right, but I still kept drawing it backwards (I still have problems with numbers and think I may have a little dyscalculia because I transpose them and get them mixed up a lot to this day). So he spanked me. And immediately I started drawing them correctly. He claims that I was just being stubborn and upon being shown a consequence for my stubbornness, backed down.

            1. Littlemousling*

              About 50 years’ worth of studies on physical discipline have found that although it has no (or negative) effect on the child, it makes the parent feel good and like they’ve accomplished something. I suspect that’s why people tell the stories–they got an emotional thumbs-up from their brain and they’re likely to interpret it as having worked, regardless of reality.

              1. Temperance*

                Uh actually, no, this is not correct. Physical “discipline” has a net negative impact on children. Kids whose parents impose corporal punishment do more poorly in school, have lower vocabularies, and exhibit violent tendencies.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  I think Littlemousling was saying that it’s not always negative, but it’s not positive — that a 0 effect can happen. I’m going to agree. Otherwise, I’m trying to imagine very calm and peaceful me getting even better grades. However, I was never punished in anger, never excessively, and always with love. Sure, it could have been done without spanking too, and I’m pretty sure if my mum grew up in a different era she would have avoided corporal punishment. But I remember my punishments as “spank and cuddle” and for me, it did not make me more violent and less able to express myself.

                2. Lance*

                  That’s what Littlemousling was saying; that it’s not good. It’s just that lots of parents seem to think it is good.

                3. Kathlynn*

                  Expect to protect them from immediate danger. (slapping a hand away from a stove). That is the only type of situation where I am okay with some type of hitting (whether or not one calls it hitting may depend on the person and situational definition used)

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Sounds like my parents. They really believed that children should be seen and not heard. I can’t remember how many times they bragged – at family reunions or church, when guests were over for dinner, whatever – that they never let us kids get away with causing trouble by crying. My father especially loved to tell how many times he had to spank us, or hold his hand over our mouths, to teach his babies who was boss – “I’m not having any of that in MY house!” What’s worse, a lot of our family nodded in satisfaction.

          On the other hand, he never let anyone get away with even a dirty look at our dog. Go figure.

      2. Julia*

        Because babies/children wanting their parents’ attention are so wrong. /s

        I was an au-pair for a family like that. Never again.
        Contrast that with the Japanese lady who paid me to live in her very nice flat with her very independent children when she was on business trips just so they wouldn’t be alone.

      3. mac and cheese*

        My mom is like this too. She has a similar story about locking me in my room during the day as a toddler because I kept following her around the house as she did housework (I was TWO). She also brags about punishing me my entire childhood (and well into adulthood, too) for getting into a squabble with my sibling once when I was six years old. I don’t understand what goes on in the heads of people who are proud of abusing others, especially when those others are vulnerable children who depend on them. It’s really weird, sick behavior.

    3. RKB*

      My parents used to make comments like that all the time. Like, comments about giving me away, putting me up for adoption, making me live in a foster home, etc.

      I’m now an adult who can’t watch TV episodes where loved ones die without saying goodbye. I have regular nightmares about my boyfriend of three years dying and/or just leaving me with no warning. I cry when I have to leave my dog for more than a day. I get really anxious when I do anything vaguely more dangerous than walking because I don’t want to get hurt and leave the people I love. And I’m on *medication* and in therapy.

      Things like this – they do mess a child up for LIFE. Call CPS. Raise a stink. It appears that NO ONE is in that child’a corner. If you step in, even anonymously, they will always remember that someone out there took the time to make them feel safe. And that’s important.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Amen to this. I was berated and subjected to demeaning, painful “lectures” constantly as a child by my father. I managed to get away from him physically when I was 12, but the emotional abuse didn’t stop for many years. The effects are very, very long-lasting, but the worst part is that I never felt like anyone was in my corner, including my own family. No one stood up to him on my behalf, and no one said to me, “This isn’t right, what he’s doing is wrong, you are not worthless, etc.” That would have meant the world to me. This poor kid.

        1. DoDah*

          Amen one more time. I was subjected to nightly lectures and shaming ( at dinner) about what was “wrong” with me. I think that’s why I developed an eating disorder.

          At my father’s funeral one of his friends told me a story about how he and my father and other friends were talking about the worst thing their kids ever did. He told me my father said, “DoDah got a B in calculus” with the same anger, shame, and embarrassment as thought I commited a terrible crime. Father’s friend said he always worried about me after that. Note****he didn’t do anything about his “worries”. OP please don’t be that person–please call CPS.

          1. Unegen*

            Oh, I got chills reading about the dinner lectures. Sent me right back to the first 17 years of my life where I got subjected to 5 hour long “discussions” (I still can’t hear that word without cringing) about how I was wrong about everything and a bad person, and I wasn’t able to leave the table until I’d broken down crying. Then it was OK because they’d “won.”

            1. AvonLady Barksdale*

              Oh, yes. To this day, when someone asks to speak to me for a moment alone, my heart drops into my stomach. It’s worse when it’s a man in a position of authority, like a boss. It’s been 25 years, and it never goes away.

              1. Here, kitty, kitty...*

                Me, too. It makes navigating the world a stressful, anxiety-ridden exercise, even as an adult. There’s a tiny part of me that remains that terror-filled child in a world full of adults who wanted to hurt me, and I instantly think that people with power over me want to do just that whenever they ask to speak with me, or single me out – even if it’s for praise!

            2. Marillenbaum*

              This sounds like my stepmother and her “family meetings”, which were an excuse to ambush you with everything you had done wrong lately and why you were terrible. It lasted until you cried for long enough, and my dad did absolutely nothing. I haven’t spoken to her in five years, and I only talk to him a few times a year.

            3. Jadelyn*

              My dad was one of those too…I developed an uncanny ability to control my emotions and my facial expressions because of it. Any tiny thing I did wrong would spark off a lecture that would last anywhere from half an hour to several hours…defending myself or arguing back even to explain *why* I had done whatever I’d done that time, would hit some kind of “reset” and he’d start the lecture over, only louder. Any sign of tears or anger was met with mockery and shaming. I learned to sit in complete silence and with an absolute lack of facial expression and just wait until he was done and let me leave. Even then, that wasn’t good enough – he would yell at me for being “stone-faced”. I made the mistake once of snapping and asking him directly “Then what response do you want? Just tell me and I’ll give it to you!” out of frustration from trying to figure out what I could do that would get him to stop berating me since nothing seemed to help. The lecture that followed my question was delivered at full screaming volume and took the rest of the evening between dinner and bedtime.

              The result is that I can still, 20 years later, put myself into a complete emotional shutdown state if I’m feeling cornered, and I am utterly terrified of confrontation or standing up for myself. This literally has caused repercussions for me in my professional life and made progressing in my career a struggle still. You never really get away from that kind of emotional abuse when it happened to you as a kid.

              1. beenthere*

                it is so good to hear that i’m not the only one that has had professional struggles as a result of this.

            4. labradoodle*

              my ex-husband loved to do this. keep at me until i cried. No matter whether i admitted i was wrong or apologized, he just kept going until he was satisfied he had won.

            5. Amazon*

              Yes. My mother would scream and berate me to the point where I’d thrown up from the stress. As an adult I’ve been in some bad relationships including an abusive one that didn’t end with a restraining order. Spoiler alert. It didn’t keep him away.

              My mother would berate me for all my faults (I was never in trouble, no detention, or drug use) and as an adult was drawn into dysfunctional relationships.

              Seriously a call to CPS or other agency can do so much for this poor kid. Please I’m pleading with you to call them.

              1. Candi*

                I regard restraining orders as something for the prosecution to use. He said she said is useless in court, trespassing is considered minor, and harassment often ignored. But violating a DV restraining order is pretty clear cut in evidence: They were told not to do X, but they did it anyway.

                As a shield, it’s useless. Prepare the hideouts and defenses. (I wish that was just hyperbole.)

            6. Anon Accountant*

              Yes. My mother would scream and berate me to the point where I’d thrown up from the stress. As an adult I’ve been in some bad relationships including an abusive one that didn’t end with a restraining order. Spoiler alert. It didn’t keep him away.

              My mother would berate me for all my faults (I was never in trouble, no detention, or drug use) and as an adult was drawn into dysfunctional relationships.

              Seriously a call to CPS or other agency can do so much for this poor kid. Please I’m pleading with you to call them.

            7. beenthere*

              Oh my god yes. I remember when i got calls from military recruiters in high school laughing because i already had to stand for 5-7 hours at a time getting yelled at about my flaws, why would I want to go to boot camp!?

        2. Temperance*

          Oh yes, this. My mother used to harangue me about being evil, having a black heart, not being a real Christian, not being Christ-like, being a “nasty, evil little girl”, etc. No one stopped her. No one. I grew up with the very real fear that I was hell-bound as soon as the Rapture happened, and that there was something fundamentally wrong with me as a person, because no one said “hey, you know that your mom is insane and an asshole, right?” Because they were happy that I was her target instead of them.

          1. Kiryn*

            I’ve still got serious emotional issues because of something like this, and it wasn’t even from my own parents! One of my mom’s church friends would constantly tell me what a perfect angel my older sister was and how worthless and terrible I was, and my mom never said a word to her about it. From how much my mom respected her, she might as well have been my grandmother, and we spent hours at her house every week.

            I have zero guilt about the happiness I felt when I heard that old crone was finally dead, but my self esteem will never truly recover from what she did to me.

        3. New Bee*

          Yep. I developed scoliosis as a physical response–trying to hide– from verbal abuse. To this day I’m glad I live far away because it means I can distance myself from the revisionist history, which came out in full-force once the perpetrator passed away unexpectedly.

          I’m sorry that happened to you.

          1. beenthere*

            so, how do you deal with that revisionist history? because the rest of my family has just decided these things didn’t happen and/or refuse to talk about them and it genuinely makes me feel crazy.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Absolutely agreed.

        My stepmother routinely used throwing me out as her go-to threat to get me to comply. Anything from cleaning, to getting my grades up (I was already an A student…), telling me to eat less, how dare I come out of the closet. It is crushing.

        1. snurck*

          I remember once a family friend was over at the house when I was about 13, and my dad was talking to him about teenage pregnancy and said, “If Snurck ever comes home pregnant, we’re going to kick her out and we’ll raise the baby.” Like, he had a *plan* in place. I told my best friend’s mom that story and she said, “If you ever need a place to stay, you come right here.”

        2. KarenD*

          Thank heavens you survived that – and more than. You’ve long been one of my favorite posters here. Apart from the staggeringly awesome username, your posts always have such insight and humor without being judgy.

          And hugs to everyone who deals with the aftermath of abuse. You are making me grateful for my own fantastic parents.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Mine too. It’s also a good reality check for when I think I’m a bad mother for having a messy house or something.

      3. Just Another Techie*

        My parents spent my entire childhood saying they couldn’t wait to “wash [their] hands of [me]” when I turned 18. Talked about how they’d throw me out the second I turned 18, were counting down the minutes, etc. Also made jokes about taking me to their home country and marrying me to a “real man” who’d teach me to behave, and then I’d never get to come back to America and be a spoiled brat ever again.

        So on my 18th birthday I packed my bags and moved out. I had a scholarship for college, and friends who’d let me couch surf for the six months between my birthday and fall semester. My parents were totally shocked, and hurt, and spent a decade calling me to demand I come home, calling my housemates, filing false missing persons reports and sending police to do welfare checks on me, etc etc.

        I’m still in therapy. I have to take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs every day just to function. I still have panic attacks when my husband gets even the tiniest bit irritated with me.

      4. Here, kitty, kitty...*

        “It appears that NO ONE is in that child’s corner.” Yeah, that is what leapt out at me from this letter, too. I had no one in my corner, not even a friendly teacher at school or a family friend. I wish someone had called CPS on my parents – you could hear my father screaming and punching holes in the wall from several houses away. It was bad. And yet no one called.

        Call CPS, OP. Forget about HR, this isn’t their jurisdiction. Verbal abuse is just as damaging, often more so, than physical abuse. She is deliberately and severely abusing this child, and she is bragging about it. What she tells you is her shiny packaging of her home life. What is going on that she DOESN’T tell you about?!

        1. Workaholic*

          This is so hard. My teachers reported to CPS and counselors came a few times but nothing ever came of it. I had a wicked evil step mom but she was only cruel when my dad was gone or out of sight. The one time i accused her when he was in another room she called me a liar and dad believed her so i never tried again. It became a case of survive and try to find my own way out.
          I don’t understand how a person could treat a child or animal like this.

          Op: you have so much advice to report to CPS. I hope you do! I believe my teachers reported due to dirty and wrongly sized clothes and my overall behaviors. But counselors only saw the good sides when they checked on conditions. Had anybody known about and reported the mental, emotional and physical abuse then it might have spared years of hell. I lucked out and my mom won custody of me after 7 years. But if she hadn’t – i was on the verge of running away at 10 years old and truly believe i would have died taking that path.

      5. Julia*

        So it’s not just me! My father always threatened to leave when he was angry at my mother or me (my mother can be pretty horrible as well), and to this day, I am scared of being abandoned. I have lived abroad alone successfully – and unsuccessfully because apparently unresolved issues + new crap + hormonal issues = sobbing mess – and still have to be in therapy because of this, even though I have a pretty good relationship with my parents now that we live far apart. (Which is sad in itself.)

    4. Temperance*

      My mom used to scream at us that we were so dirty and badly-behaved that CPS would bring us to a foster home and the dads would touch us and make us cut our hair. I now think she was doing it to get us “in line”, but it honestly took me years to realize most parents weren’t awful beasts.

      I have these memories from age 4 or 5 on, FWIW. My mother couldn’t handle being a parent, and I’ll never, ever understand why she kept on getting pregnant when she only liked babies.

      1. Kathlynn*

        *hugs* my mom would threaten us that social services would take us away and we would never see our family again.

        1. Temperance*

          Yep. She said “touch”, but she meant molest.

          She would say this about any adult who wasn’t her, btw. My poor sister had panic attacks for years because of one of my mom’s psycho meltdowns. A woman in the store complimented my dress, and then my mom proceeded to scream and tell me that she wanted to rape me. Using that word. My sister then inherited the dress, and was convinced she would get raped. She was 6ish.

    5. AGirlCalledFriday*

      I just want to say how incredibly grateful I am for this thread. I was raised just like this – the hours of screaming and lecturing, being told I was evil and stupid, and physical abuse until I broke down and cried. The worst of it is, my father didn’t treat his children this way and they were younger, so the rest of my family doesn’t really understand how much this has messed with me even up through adulthood. In fact if anything, they’ve internalized that I’m not as good as them…not consciously but there is a different in how I am treated. I didn’t realize that the anxiety I feel with authority figures might stem from this. As unfortunate as it is, I am appreciative of knowing that I’m not the only one going through this.

      1. AGirlCalledFriday*

        Wanted to add – I’m an elementary school teacher, and knowing that children spend so much of their time with me I am focused on making sure every child I teach feels valued and loved. You just never know a child’s home environment.

        1. Julia*

          Thank you for being a good teacher! I had so many teachers who were cruel or indifferent (which can be worse, especially when they ignore bullying) and know so many people who went on to become teachers to “get back at kids” or “because now it’s my turn”, it’s awful. I wanted to be a teacher as well, but gave up because I cannot deal with people like that. It’s sad that sensitivity, which should be an asset when dealing with children, sometimes prevents us from jobs we’d be great at because of other people.

  5. Sibley*

    If good people don’t stand up to people who are abusing the innocent and vulnerable, then things won’t change. Make your reports. Document everything she says and give them to the proper officials. Take comfort in the fact that you are a decent person.

  6. Liza_Bits*

    I would contact CPS and Animal Protective Services as well, please, please please please. This woman is making that kids life hell. Do you know if the step-child is still in therapy? Therapists are obligated to contact authorities if they think a child/person is in danger of being harmed/would be or could be harmful to themselves.

    You also mentioned though that her work has suffered tremendously because of her home life – that is something you can talk to a manager/HR about. How is her work suffering and how is it affecting your team?

    1. Jeanne*

      Yes. If it is affecting her work, those specifics are what need to be discussed with her boss or HR. I would make anonymous calls. I am wondering if she ever mentions the therapist’s name. An anonymous letter to him might help also. His report to CPS could carry even more weight.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I thought about this as well–in fact, I might even directly ask her what therapist they’re using.

        And then I’d write to him. In addition to going to CPS (I’d also provide CPS with the therapist information as well.)

  7. Patt S*

    As a mandated reporter, part of our training encourages to call and that this isn’t overstepping or meddling. One call could literally be the lifesaving action for a child. In my state, ALL inquires are taken seriously and looked into for further info. You don’t know; neighbors or other family members may have already started an inquiry. Your call may be the tipping point that is needed to get this child some protection and away from her abuse.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


      Plus, I think the simple fact that she talks about this so freely is incredibly telling, and hopefully it would weigh heavily in the investigation. It’s a sign that she really has no concept of just how abusive her behavior toward this poor child really is.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        It’s a sign that she really has no concept of just how abusive her behavior toward this poor child really is.

        Oh, she knows. It’s not her kid, so she doesn’t care.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I would think she cares more about the department VP, was my point. Would you tell your boss about your bad behavior at home?

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Some people have no filter and lack judgment, but it doesn’t mean they don’t know something is wrong. I had a manager like this who’d tell everybody, including her boss (division VP), terrible things she did to people outside of work. People, including her boss, would uncomfortably laugh and carry on. It was amazing to watch really.

          2. Unegen*

            Sadly I have known upper-level management who would hear a lower manager say things like that and decide that that person was assertive and really knew how to keep people in line, and look for a way to promote them.

        2. EddieSherbert*

          Yeah, I agree. It sounds like she has a child she brought into the marriage who isn’t being treated like the step-child. She knows.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Yeah, she knows. And what’s worse is the father is letting her get away with it, and he knows he is because “happy wife, happy life” and he doesn’t really care who picks up the bill for it, so long as it’s not him. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I wish I knew who this guy was so that I could sit down with him and give him a serious talk about how this affects a child. That just because she’s his new wife, she doesn’t get a free pass to treat *his* child that way. I would bet my last dollar that if he so much as said a bad word to this harridan’s kid, police would be called by her, because how *dare* anyone be mean to *her* kid. All this child has left in the world (or so it sounds) is their father. A person who is supposed to have their back and protect them. But nope. Poor child. Perhaps there’s some grandparents who could take her? I don’t know what would be worse, having your weak-ass father choose his new wife over you, thereby abandoning you as well, or staying in that House of Evil Bees.

            Anyone capable of being so jealous of their partner’s past that they take it out on a child who cannot fight back — stay single. Or marry someone who has never had kids. If you’re considering marrying someone, watch how they treat your kids. Some are very good at pasting on the fake “I love everyone!” face until they hook you, others… not so much. If you’re an adult, guess what? Kids don’t like it (generally speaking) when their parents date, especially when past people have been Not Good. Odds are, unless they’re three, kids aren’t going to like you right away, if ever. If that hurts your feelings, date people who don’t have kids.

            So yes, OP, document what she says and report it. If I were you, I would no longer have a job because I would have lost it on her in front of everyone by now.

              1. Jadelyn*

                That’s what I immediately wondered too – if he’s not stepping in to stop her, it may well be because he’s also a victim of hers.

              2. Dynamic Beige*

                Maybe, maybe not. It’s probably the same kind of thing she’s doling out to his kid. The husband tries to do what she wants because then she’s nice to him. Not doing what she wants, he doesn’t get what he wants.

                Having listened to my sort-of stepmother drunkenly scream in the middle of the night how much she hated us… it never occurred to me until recently that I hadn’t heard my father say a thing. He didn’t tell her to shut up or how dare she speak about his children that way. It was like he was just trying to calm her down and get her to be quiet. I would have appreciated some righteous anger on his part. Years later saw him getting bitched out by his mother and then I understood, some people are just not good at confrontation. The amount of rage and resentment that was coming off of him was palpable, though. This father, being a cop, should understand how to do it. Should know that what his wife is doing is abuse. Shouldn’t want to see his kids like this. But, I guess it’s easier to blame the child’s problems on the mother’s abandonment rather than his own part in it.

            1. Julia*

              And then there are people like me who actually dreamed (I have a fiance now so that dream is over) about marrying a nice widower and becoming a stepmother because that means not having to give birth herself (and because she watched The Nanny too many times.)

            1. TootsNYC*

              This is a huge point–I wanted to make it as well.

              It’s so very harmful to her own child to watch that.

            2. M-C*

              Absolutely true. Being a witness to abuse has been shown to be almost as psychologically damaging as experiencing it yourself. Even if she isn’t directly abusing her own child (which she may well be, just know enough not to talk about it), both children are suffering.

        3. Mephyle*

          It’s a sign that she really has no concept of just how abusive her behavior toward this poor child really is.
          Oh, she knows. It’s not her kid, so she doesn’t care.
          It’s nevertheless a very telling sign that she doesn’t care about being abusive is to a child that is in her care, nor about everybody knowing it.

      2. Here, kitty, kitty...*

        Not to mention that this is the stuff she is WILLING to share for public consumption. Who knows what’s really going on in that house – probably a lot worse than what she shares with her coworkers.

  8. animaniactoo*

    Thank you thank you thank you for going directly to “This should be reported to CPS”. Because this is outright abuse – not the worst crisis case, but definitely abuse that should be intervened in by somebody who has the authority to help.

    And I’m wondering if the dad doesn’t have his own form of PTSD here that he’s not shutting this down. I would definitely make clear that it’s something to look at when reporting this situation.

    1. Sherm*

      Sadly, when someone is abused, there is often (not always) someone else who is quite aware of it and does nothing. Reasons I’ve seen, as far as I can tell: being unassertive to a fault or simply not really caring.

      1. LQ*

        Thinking that the victim must have done something to “deserve” it because the abuser is “just such a nice person”.

      2. animaniactoo*

        The unassertive to a fault is what I am suggesting may be his own form of PTSD. People don’t just magically become unassertive, or are born completely unassertive. They are that way because they’ve internalized something that prevents them from thinking they should attack that hurdle and go for it – or that they’re capable of succeeding if they do it.

        Rarely are people just monsters either as abusers or as bystanders – they’re reacting to their own training, their own experiences. I would lay high odds that there is something in this man’s background that is shaping his inability to defend his child.

        1. MsChanandlerBong*

          “The unassertive to a fault…may be his own form of PTSD.” I agree with you on this. My FIL is the same way. His wife is literally the worst person I’ve ever met (and I volunteer at a prison with people who have been convicted of murder). When she starts in on my husband, my FIL just stands there in complete silence. My husband used to be very hurt by that, but he realized that she probably emotionally/verbally abuses his father 24/7. The man has no privacy or peace in his own home (he’s not even “allowed” to talk to someone on the phone without her listening in, nor does she let him go anywhere with out her). It’s frustrating, but I really think his father has PTSD and doesn’t know how to cope.

          However, we’re adults, and we can handle the situation. This is a child; someone needs to step in before this woman does even more emotional damage.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Absolutely agreed. I wasn’t excusing, simply saying that CPS should be alerted to this possibility so that they’re not a) Coming in guns blazing about why he isn’t doing anything, and b) Counting on him to be *able* to do anything no matter what he says or what agreements are made while they’re there. Solving the child’s issue may mean moving to solve the father’s issue if possible. Extremely likely that wouldn’t be anywhere near fast enough to rescue the child from this situation, so it couldn’t be a short-term goal, but as a long term goal it would be a potential target.

  9. Rae*

    The most important part is to document!!! Should CPS step in and ask for evidence, your documentation could mean the difference between it being fixed and not. I do know of a case where a women won sole custody of her children because the husband’s co-worker would write down when he’d tell profanity-laced stories about his kid’s “bad” behavior. Your writing down this evidence can be the single most powerful thing you can do.

  10. Chickaletta*

    Please go to CPS and report this. There have been some recent horrible events in my community on child abuse and this is not something to take lightly. In my state, a person who reports suspected child abuse cannot be held liable for resulting damages if the claim proves to be untrue, and in addition it is actually a misdemeanor to not report child abuse if you suspect it might be happening.

    You may be the only voice for this child.

  11. Christopher Tracy*

    Report her ass to CPS immediately. And fuck her husband for marrying this monster and allowing her to treat his child like this.

    Apologies for my language, but as someone who’s seen firsthand the affects child abuse had on a person, it’s absolutely disgusting to me what this man is letting this happen to somebody he’s supposed to protect. And your boss is an even more vile piece of shit for this, OP.

  12. SouthernLadybug*

    Yes, please do all you can.

    I’m not sure if this is an option, because I agree that depending on where you are CPS may/may not have the resources to assess this properly. But, if you know the school the child attends, perhaps you could call the counselor, social worker or nurse? They will definitely be mandated reporters and may have access to more resources for the child as well.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      This seems like a reasonable option to me as well (though I don’t know much about CPS, reporting this information, or how seriously one of the school figures would take the call).

    2. Observer*

      You are better off calling CPS directly. In most locales, they HAVE to investigate your call, although there is no guarantee that it won’t be lackadaisical. On the other hand, the school staff may be mandated reporters, but a report by a stranger, especially an anonymous one, may not rise to the level that they need to report. Depending on how the mother behaves, they might honestly believe that this is just some unhinged person going after the mother.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I would say any contact with the school should be *in addition* to a CPS report, and it should be aimed at giving them information that will help them assist this child. Not aimed at trying to get them to contact CPS.

        That would be part of any reason I’d try to contact the child’s therapist as well: to say, “In order to help your young patient, you will need to know what her stepmother is saying about how she treats her.”

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          Yes please! As a teacher I would take very seriously any call like this, and I would be extremely vigilant around the child.

  13. Mike C.*

    If you’re going to call, and I hope that you do, make sure you’re taking good notes on these stories. I think they’ll help drive home how bad this really is.

  14. Val*

    I am a mandated reporter, and if I heard this at work, I would be forced to call. Which led me to think you might be able to find a volunteer (such as CASA) or a former teacher who would have to act in a similar capacity. But please call both agencies if you can’t; this is just dreadful. And report all of this to HR.

  15. nuqotw*

    Please call. Also, if you have coworkers who are similarly appalled, see if you can get them to call too. If a bunch of folks call CPS about the same situation, they might be more inclined to marshal the resources.

  16. Maya Elena*

    I’d tread carefully with CPS. Hopefully you don’t have the full story and thr father does a bit more than this woman paints in her stories.

    But I worry that CPS is not known for nuanced thinking. They are likely to just yank the child away from the father and dogs and home he knows, with no second thought and little warning, and put him in foster care among strangers. Might not be great for abandonment issues either.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      What happens with CPS is not the OP’s responsibility, and quite honestly, whatever the father is doing, it isn’t working. One good parent and one shitty parent do not cancel out into an overall okay childhood experience.

      1. Caroline*

        I can confirm this. I had one abusive parent and one “normal” one. Having an OK parent didn’t cancel out the trauma of the abuse. And looking back, I actually hold the good parent just as culpable, because as an adult I can see much they could have done to help, but didn’t.

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          I actually tend to be more angry at the “good” parent. The abusive one was an alcoholic and I can forgive and understand the illness. I will never understand why my mother wouldn’t leave (and yes, she had the resources to do so).

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Both my shitty parents were shitty, but a good friend of mine had the “one terrible parent, one who was okay other than allowing the abuse to happen” and boy, is his relationship with his father strained and unhappy. It’s that whole ‘when good men do nothing’ thing, on an incredibly personal level.

        3. pope suburban*

          I did too. Ultimately, my dad’s passivity did more harm than my mom’s abuse, because I was a child and I assumed he wasn’t helping me because what she did was okay. They told us in school not to hit or call names, and to follow the Golden Rule, which I did with other kids. But I thought that didn’t apply to me because I was bad. If my dad had left when he heard what she said to me, or even after she gave me a black eye (I was eight, and a towel had slipped off the bar in my bathroom), who knows what pain I would have been spared. Instead, I lived my entire childhood and adolescence believing that I was a terrible person who didn’t deserve any kindness or affection.

      2. Temperance*

        I think it actually makes it worse, because his “good” father is letting this monster abuse and degrade his kid.

        I grew up with a mentally ill, abusive parent, and one parent who did jack shit to keep my mother in check. So it actually made me feel worse, because he didn’t care about what she was doing to us. If anything, I hold him and the rest of our relatives even more accountable for caring more about our mom than us.

        1. DoDah*

          THIS! Both my parents were shit–but I found out as an adult that aunts and uncles knew what was going on and did nothing. My mother’s sister said they would talk about “what was going on in that house” but decided it was none of their business. This was the late 60’s and early 70’s

          What was none of their business? Verbal abuse, molestation, beatings.

          Luckily, I suspect some of my friend’s parents figured it out. I was welcomed into/at their houses more than was the norm.

          I haven’t spoken to any of my biological family in 20 years.

          1. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

            + 1000

            Both my parents were shitty and abusive, and they did also enjoy bragging about the abuse and/or humiliate me.
            My mother did never anything wrong in her family’s eyes, but my aunt (biological uncle’s wife) told me a few times she called my mother out, but do nothing. It is not enough with “oh Sally, you know that’s wrong”. That’s taking the easy path to sooth your own conscience and think to yourself that “you tried”.
            And don’t trust that mandated reporters will act, CALL YOURSELF. My parents’ best friend was a mandated reporter (family doctor) yet did nothing more than raising a brow when my parents showed him how funny was making me fight the dog for scraps.
            I’m scarred forever.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Yep. That one brought up the tears for me. Readit (and everyone else, too) wishing you peaceful, loving homes for the rest of your lives. I am profoundly sorry these things happened to you guys.

          2. Chinook*

            DoDah, I am going through this right now with my brother and his wife. I actually stormed away from a family camping trip because I couldn’t stand how she treated my brother and my father and I was sick and tired of my mom and sister just standing around quietly. I flagrantly saw her treat her two sons different than her sister (all under 6) and everyone said it was an age thing, not a gender thing. Well, when the oldest’s response to “you don’t want to make your mom mad, do you?’ is “yes,” you start to realize that the only interactions he has with her boys are negative. I also saw her continue passive-aggressive, manipulative ways with my brother (who wouldn’t hurt a flea) and blew up at the entire group because of it and left. I have even cut down on communicating with my parents since then because I can’t believe they are not speaking up (my dad isn’t a surprise – he doesn’t like confrontation – but my mom isn’t exactly known for keeping her mouth shut).

            It breaks my heart that, as an aunt, I have to turn my back on my nephews because I can see the path they are going down but, since technically she is just being mean and not crossing the line to abusive, there isn’t a darn thing I can do while still keeping my sanity. It is my business and I will find a way to let them know I am here when they are old enough to communicate on their own, but right now all I can do is keep away so I don’t make the situation worse.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      And this is exactly why people don’t call CPS when they really should. People need to report and CPS will investigate and take any action (or not).

    3. Kelly White*

      That’s not true.

      CPS will evaluate and if they feel the child would be safer in another home they will pull the child. The decision to pull a child is not taken lightly, and it’s not an easy process.

      CPS can’t just decide to pull a kid unless they are in imminent danger. If they are going to place a kid in foster care, they have to go before a judge, with proof of why the child should be pulled.

      CPS has a bad rep, but most of the people working there are trying to do the right thing.

      1. Boo*

        Yeah, this. I used to work in Children’s Services and it’s highly unlikely they’ll yank the child away, certainly not without good reason. Whether being with the parents is the best thing for this child is not OP’s call to make, it’s CPS’s. Let them do their job. If this woman is making stuff up, then no harm done to the child. If she isn’t, then CPS can sort it out.

      2. L Dub*

        Thank you for saying this in a reasonable way that I couldn’t, Kelly White. (This is generally a topic I can’t be reasonable about.)

    4. Leatherwings*

      This is honestly not even true. The main goal of all CPS departments is to keep kids with their families – if anything this results in kids staying in bad situations more often than being separated from families.

      CPS isn’t perfect, like any overworked and under-funded government agency, but these people are trained social workers who will do their best to do what’s best for the kid. Telling people that calling CPS makes things worse is how kids end up in abusive situations their entire childhood. This is dangerous thinking and I hope you don’t go spreading it around to other people.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        A candidate for Congress once told me not to call CPS about something* because they would take the kids away and the kids would have it worse in foster care. So this idea is a pervasive one, at all levels of society.

    5. LizM*

      Or CPS will do an investigation and recommend/require parenting classes. CPS’s goal is to keep families together. Removing a child is a last resort for the child’s safety.

      Yeah, it’s possible it’s not as bad as she’s making it sound. Or it’s a lot worse. If she’s willing to admit she kicks dogs, she clearly has no empathy, and it’s a classic progression from physical abuse of animals to physical abuse of humans.

      The point is, you don’t know, so it’s important to have the experts investigate and decide the best way to protect this child. Having worked on a murder trial for a custodial parent, who wasn’t reported to CPS because people felt like something was “off” but didn’t feel like they could prove abuse, my recommendation is to always report if you suspect abuse.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        The animal abuse is important to mention, OP. There is a known strong correlation between animal abuse and child abuse. If you mention it, it might help to get some attention quicker.

    6. Temperance*

      100% disagree with this advice. This is just simply not correct, at all.

      This child is being abused and degraded, constantly, in his own home. His animals are being abused by his stepmonster. His father is too stupid or uncaring to help his child and get this woman away from him. THAT is what is going to cause further abandonment issues. This kid’s mother abandoned him and his father took up with an abusive nutjob, and his father just lets the abuse happen. Right now, this kid gets to feel like no one has his back, no one cares about him, and his life is miserable.

      I’m so over people attacking CPS when, really, the system is the only thing helping many children whose families care more about shielding Grandpa Rapist or Mom the Abuser than they do protecting children. I’ve seen so many cases where mom’s boyfriend abuses a child, and mom tries to shield boyfriend from any consequences.

    7. TL -*

      CPS actually prioritizes keeping kids with family if possible. When they pull a kid, it means the danger to the kid from the family is greater than the harm of being put in foster care.
      And, my dad had an abusive stepmother. His childhood would have been better in foster care and his dad did nothing about it. Call CPS.

    8. HannahS*

      Who told you that they’re likely to yank the child away without thinking critically? The adults whose children are removed aren’t exactly impartial observers.

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Maya Elena has personal reasons for posting this. People opposed to stopping abusive parents are usually either abusers themselves or belong to some religious sect that believes strongly in “spare the rod and spoil the child” (and thus likely future abusers).

        1. Beezus*

          It’s a pretty common misconception. I don’t think it’s helpful or appropriate to accuse someone of being abusive or a potential abuser because they hold it.

    9. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      As someone who volunteers as a Guardian Ad Litem, comments like this make my blood boil.

      The last thing CPS wants to do is “yank” a kid from their home. In fact, if a kid can stay in the home while parents get the support, education, or therapy they need…it’s the best case scenario.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But if we pretend CPS is always awful, then we can justify doing nothing when we know that children are being tortured in their homes!

    10. J.B.*

      There are bad social workers. There are also resources that really truly can help. If the adults want to seek them out or are guided to them. And quite honestly, if you heard of a man physically abusing his stepchildren, would you hesitate to act? Or are you cautioning because this is “only” emotional abuse or because the genders are switched. Sometimes a spouse can choose the abuser over his or her own children.

    11. Underemployed Erin*

      It really depends on the state that OP is in. Most states do not have the resources to pull a child out over something like this. In some places, they may be able to provide things such as family counseling resources or parenting classes or something like that.

    12. The Other Katie*

      My husband and I are former foster parents. And I can tell you that any child in our home was loved, treasured, protected, and advocated for. If the child is enduring this type of abuse daily, they need to be removed from that home and put somewhere safe – whether it’s with a relative or in a foster home. If the father is intervening, then he’s obviously not being very successful. Someone needs to protect this child. And trust me, I am not the biggest fan of CPS/DHS, but in this case, they absolutely need to be called. I would call daily.

    13. Lissa*

      This seems like something that’s only true on TV, where every CPS (etc) worker is only there to separate families, or sometimes on crime shows to ignore actual abuse in favour of “ripping apart” families for no reason. Most of the people in this profession do want to do a good job, of course mistakes are made but I am tired of seeing CPS workers painted as monsters who jump on every accusation as an excuse to take kids away from their families.

      A lot of things could be going on here; we only have part of the picture, I agree, but the point is that the OP isn’t equipped to decide what to do here, and certainly isn’t better equipped than the organization specifically for that thing.

      I’m pretty shocked by the idea that someone would brag about this, but then am more familiar with the opposite type who is horrible in private but presents such a loving face to the world nobody could ever believe they would do something like this.

    14. Argh!*

      CPS is not trigger happy in most locations. There have been a lot of cases where children died or were starved and it turned out CPS had investigated the home and left the kids there.

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        THIS. In most places, CPS is far too reluctant to remove kids from abusers, and yes, children are murdered by their own parents *all the time* becuase of this. Partly it’s underfunding and understaffing, partly it’s an excessive rose-colored view of “helping” and “educating” parents who are actually monsters, and partly it’s the government being cowardly in the face of the “Parents have a right to do anything they want with their own kids and faaaamily is the most important thing!!!1” religious-right crowd.

    15. Unegen*

      That is a common misunderstanding. CPS tries to keep families together as much as humanly possible…in some cases, even when being “yanked” away would have been much, much better for the child.

    16. Observer*

      I’m trying to respond to this without being rude, but I am utterly confounded by this. Lets assume, worst case, that CPS does, in fact, yank the kid an put him into foster care. Are you really claiming that this would be worse than what this woman is subjecting him to? No matter what it is that the father is doing, it’s still ending up that the kid is being seriously abused.

      Keep in mind that CPS can’t just yank a kid without at least verifying what is going on. And, it this is not just a figment of her imagination, then something needs to be done.

      1. fposte*

        I am totally behind calling CPS, but I think it’s reasonable to be aware that CPS isn’t perfect, nor is foster care. A kid who’s been traumatized by abandonment may well be more traumatized by removal to a foster home.

        We take the action of calling CPS not because we know it’s better in every single case but because it’s better in the large portion of cases and we as bystanders don’t have the information to know. While I think it’s fair to acknowledge that bad things can happen to kids as a result of CPS involvement, a lot more bad things have happened to kids when CPS should have been involved and wasn’t.

        1. Observer*

          That’s true. But the reality is that if what we’re hearing is true, there are very few scenarios where things could be worse for the child. Certainly, being pulled out of the home, as traumatic as it might be, would be highly unlikely to be worse than what’s going on here.

          The most worrisome thing is the very real possibility of incompetence / or bad policies on the part of CPS, but the risk posed by that is far lower than the risk posed by what we know.

          1. fposte*

            Unfortunately, there are plenty of foster care scenarios where things could be worse for the child than this. They’re not the most likely outcome, but they’re disturbingly common–the rate of sexual abuse, for instance, is four times higher in foster care than in the general population. (Group homes are tons higher than that.)

            1. Observer*

              Yeah, but this kid is not in “the general population”. You do realize that one risk factor for sexual abuse is being abused in other ways? When a kid is abused, the chanced of it being taken care of are far lower than in the general population (and that’s depressingly low.) And the damage tends to be higher because the child is already more vulnerable. So the comparison is not apt.

              So here is what we are looking at. On the one hand we KNOW that the child is living with someone who thinks that boasting about abusing them in major ways is cool. On the other hand there is a POSSIBILITY that the child might be put into foster care, which might POSSIBLY be abusive as well. Given that balance, it just makes no sense to worry about it.

    17. Cordelia Naismith*

      No. CPS doesn’t “yank children away” with no reason. They investigate and make decisions about the welfare of the child based on what they find out. They aren’t perfect — they’re chronically underfunded and understaffed — but they don’t put kids in foster care unless there is very good reason to.

    18. neverjaunty*

      Attitudes like this enable and shield child abusers.

      LW, you have a good heart and your instincts are right on. Please call immediately. Never underestimate how something that is very small to you – a couple of phone calls – can be life-saving for someone helpless.

    19. AnonEMoose*

      I’ve heard of overzealous CPS workers causing problems for families, and some cases in which CPS tried to remove children because they didn’t like the parents’ religion. But, it’s also true that there are limits to what CPS is able to do – they can’t just remove children from a home without solid reasons. And what this child is experiencing, if true, sounds like some investigation and intervention would be a good thing.

      I’m worried about the dogs, too. Kicking a dog can result in the dog considering a foot moving near it as a threat, resulting in an attack. Which can lead to the dog being put down.

      I wonder if the husband is also being abused by this woman. It does seems like something is deeply wrong. OP, please do make a report, or arrange for one to be made!

      1. Observer*

        Exactly. There are scenarios where I would advise against calling CPS. But, given what we know is going on, this is NOT one of them.

    20. MashaKasha*

      I heard a lot of scary stories about CPS when I first came here 20 years ago. (“grandma is watching grandkid on the playground in front of their apartment building, grandma remembers she left the stove on, goes inside, comes back five minutes later, the kid is gone, reported by neighbors and taken by CPS and the family never saw the kid again” and so on.) I was warned, right as I stepped off the plane with my toddler and preschooler, to be very careful of CPS. However, first of all, that was in the 90s and my understanding is that a lot has changed since then in the way CPS works with their cases. But that’s not even the most important thing.

      What’s more important in this case is that pretty much every.single.detail this woman happily shares with her colleagues and subordinates is absolutely terrifying. And she appears to share a lot. And all of it is straight-up horror-movie material. If she’s making all of it up (which I frankly doubt), there’s something deeply wrong with that whole situation. If even one of those things is true, there is also something deeply wrong with that whole situation. Either way, this is the case when calling CPS is one hundred percent justified.

      1. LizM*

        I suspect a lot of those stories minimize the parents’ actions. CPS generally can’t speak publicly about a situation, to protect the privacy of the child involved, so you only have the parents’ story to go on. In my experience, it’s more likely for a child to fall through the cracks than to be unjustly removed from the home.

        Abusers are often master manipulators, and will make themselves out to be the victim in any conflict. And like I said, CPS legally can’t share their side of the story, and minors are often too young or gas lighted to understand how wrong what is happening is. So I take stories about how horrible CPS is ripping happy children from their homes with a huge grain of salt.

        Not saying this to attack you, MashaKasha, but rather because I’ve been seeing more and more stories online with these kinds of “horror stories” and I think it’s important to provide another perspective.

        1. MashaKasha*

          The ones I heard (before the internet was widespread) stressed that CPS was going after immigrant parents because 1) there were cultural differences between what’s considered acceptable parenting here and in the people’s countries of origin (I was a latchkey kid since age seven, as was everybody else I grew up with… my parents would’ve spent their lives in jail if they tried that here) that neither side was aware of and 2) the parents didn’t speak English well, didn’t have connections, and didn’t have money for a lawyer, and so were not able to defend their actions. Low-hanging fruit and all that. Add to that the bonus (heavy sarcasm here…) of removing the child from that weird foreign family they’d been born into, and placing them in a normal American family, where they’d grow up normal like everybody else. I have no problem believing that some of those stories were true. One of my sources was a woman who worked as a translator in court, and she said she was still having nightmares about that job years later. Again, that was in the 90s, and I have heard that things have improved tremendously since then. And it in no way applies to the OP’s boss, who sounds like she’s just a terrible stepparent (and parent) in every way.

          1. Natalie*

            There is a bad history with CPS and communities of color. American Indian children, in particular, were removed so often and under such egregious circumstances that it lead to a federal law (the Indian Child Welfare Act). My sense is that this has improved substantially over the last few decades but I’m not a person of color so I might be totally off base.

          2. LizM*

            That’s fair. I can see how cultural differences could be easily misunderstood, and I have no problem believing that CPS’s relationship with people of color is problematic.

            1. neverjaunty*

              That is absolutely true. However, it is also true that sometimes those “cultural differences” are used as a dodgy by abusers who claim in their culture it’s perfectly acceptable to beat and humiliate children.

        2. Observer*

          The thing that really frustrates people about CPS is that they really can be over-zealous and do a lot of harm. Yet when it comes to really serious cases of abuse, too often those fall through the cracks. At least in NYC. This is unfortunately fairly well documented.

          I heard from one pediatrician (mandated reporter, of course) that he hates CPS. He said that he’s seen a lot of cases where CPS gave good parents grief over stupidity (sometimes effectively penalizing parents for doing the right thing), yet not moving fast enough, or at all, in cases where he saw signs of severe abuse (“I begged them to get involved.”) And, yes, racial and religious bigotry play a huge role here. It’s not just about cultural misunderstanding.

          But ultimately, when you see such horrifying signs of abuse, you really have no choice but to call them in. They are the only ones who really can do anything and the odds of them just pulling the kids away from the parents without any basis are just too low to really worry about.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yes. This isn’t some kind of iffy edge case where one might plausibly go “I think I saw X bad thing but it’s very possible I misinterpreted.” (Like, my dad used to threaten to tie me to the roof rack if I didn’t stop yelling in the car, which might look alarming to an outsider, but was in the context of our relationship a longstanding joke between us; I had zero fear of my father, and hyperbole was a big part of our communication style. He still sometimes threatens to tie me to the roof rack, and I’m thirty-three.)

        This is not even conceivably that. This is abuse by her own self-report, flagrantly, repeatedly, and consistently. The chances she’s lying to make herself look *worse* are low; even if she is lying, something disturbing is going on and should be investigated, because someone who would make up and spread around stories like that is either unbalanced or… I don’t know what. Even if she’s lying, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and there is well, well, well more than enough reason to get the experts to look in on it.

    21. aebhel*

      No, they aren’t.

      I hate comments like this. ‘Don’t call CPS because they might remove the child from their abusive home after an investigation; instead, assume that the abuse probably isn’t that bad and you shouldn’t get involved’ is not. at all. helpful.

      CPS is not known for nuanced thinking, but they do not generally just walk into a house and yank the kid out based on one report and no investigation. If anything, they have a tendency to overcompensate in the other direction.

    22. PatPat*

      The child being removed would be a good thing in this situation not a bad thing. As I said upthread I work in child protection in the dependency system. If child protection investigates (they should) and decides the child needs to be removed the parents would be given a case plan to get their child back and would have to do things like take parenting and anger management classes, and attend counseling. A safe home would be found for the child while the parents work on their issues and the child would receive counseling and whatever else he or she needed. There would be eyes on the child, the parents, and that other child in the home while the parents work on becoming capable parents. If they never do become able to parent the child a new family would be found for the child.

      Suggesting that the OP not make the call because you think foster care would be bad for the child is not good advice at all.

    23. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      Firefighters all steal jewelry when they go in your house. Therefore, you should not call 911 when you see someone’s house on fire.

    24. Candi*

      Snort. I’ve had to deal directly with CPS myself, from the ‘bad parent’ end.

      When my son was in fifth grade, the elementary school got a new principal. She changed or removed most of the policies put in place by previous principals to prevent and deal with bullying.

      The worst bullying case from the year before was a quick shoving match broken up by teachers, resulting in parents called and a discussion with the then-principal.

      By the end of the year, four kids that I know of had landed in the ER. One of the kids wound up in hospital for 11 months as he underwent surgery and treatment for knife wounds. Most of the cases were tied back to one gang of five.

      Another of the kids was my son. He landed in the ER twice. Of course we filed a police report; that’s fragging assault. After the first attack, I also called the principal and pointed out how her policy changes (long list) had led to this constant harassment of kids going about their business. (Bathroom, called, to the office, carrying a message between teachers, etc.) Which had escalated to the point kids were being attacked and injured.

      Maybe not the wisest mood, but I was in full-bore ticked-off protection mode.

      Two days later, I have a call from CPS. Based on what I learned later, from various sources, my son getting injured on school grounds and during school hours was my fault/must be a lie; he was well enough to get on the bus home, right? (The nurse’s office was the next door down from the principal’s office, and his complaints had him labeled a troublemaker.)

      Neither of my kids were “yanked”.

      It also quickly became clear the rep understood this was a revenge report.

      CPS talked to the kids at school, visited the house, met the cats (animal behavior is important, apparently), and closed the case.

      No harm, no foul. I was told that therapy for him should be a thing. (It was, it did, and has been veerrry useful.)

      Principal? Our (horrible) teachers’ union protected her. Two long-time volunteers lost their positions, as did her supervisor. She kept her job.

      But: the school board that summer handed down a looong list of new anti-bullying policies, which read like a counterpoint to every way she’d screwed up. And they had her under a microscope. And she’s lost every civil suit brought against her.

      But CPS is not that freaking bad, even when you’re on the receiving end.

    25. Blah*

      I’ve had exactly the opposite problem with CPS. I mentioned getting smacked around to a teacher, she reported it, CPS got involved, and nothing could be proven. So I was left with my mother and stepfather, and you best believe I paid most dearly for bringing CPS into their house. Which is why I really don’t like mandated reporter laws. CPS leans on the side of not taking children without evidence, and children often feel like they can’t come forward at all or get retaliation when they do.

  17. Concerned*

    I agree with everyone on calling the authorities to investigate this – they’ll take it seriously and look into her stories.

    But there is always the chance that she is boldface lying about what is going on, some people come up with outrageous stories like this to get attention or a reaction out of people. This could be the case especially if the first thing she is doing in the day is going around to find someone to tell. Even if there is lying, there could also be exaggerations about what is going on at home. Regardless, CPS is the only one who can make this kind of determination.

    I think HR certainly has a role to play in this – she is coming into work sharing disturbing stories for all to hear. The least you can do is go to them and say that she is being very distracting in her retelling of these events in addition to disturbing you by the abusive content. They could at least speak to her about her needing to keep these personal stories to herself. In professional terms she is being inappropriate and needs to be told to stop.

    This can also help other employees who are triggered by her stories but to anxious to say anything. They may have been abused as children or are impacted by animal abuse and her stories terrorize them and bring back bad memories. It is not fair to anyone to have to listen to such disturbing stories in a safe work environment.

    1. Temperance*

      I do agree that HR needs to be looped in here, but I’ll be honest, it sounds like this whackjob thinks that what she’s doing is the right thing. I really doubt very much that someone who is normal and healthy would lie about kicking animals and treating a child like an abused dog.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      She might be boldface lying — but if so, maybe having CPS drop by for a visit would teach her the consequences of telling that sort of lie.

      Frankly, that kind of thing can be really hard even on the workers having to hear about it. I came from an abusive home life, and even as a well-adjusted adult who has gone through a good bit of counseling, just overhearing discussions like what the OP’s describing could still set me off. If a coworker of mine was telling tall tales about abusing her children and pets, I would not feel a lot of pity for her if someone took the stories seriously.

      1. the_scientist*

        Yeah, I’m genuinely not big on the whole “people need to be taught a lesson” way of thinking…..but honestly, who cares if it turns out that she was lying and she has to have her home life examined by CPS? It serves her right for making such heinous claims, and best case scenario, you’ve called her bluff and made her stop acting like this type of behaviour is worth bragging about.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          If you tell everyone you shoplift, you really don’t get to be surprised or hurt when you get security called on you the next time you’re in a store.

          There’s “being taught a lesson,” but then there’s also “words and actions have consequences.”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        +100. Also, I’d rather OP report the matter to CPS and have the investigation pan out (if the manager is lying) than risk not reporting and having a child continue to suffer—or worse, experience escalating abuse.

        One of the most troublesome parts of the letter is that OP’s boss is essentially bragging about abusing her stepchild. Frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone would lie about abusing a child. What bonus points would you get for doing that? I also think it’s telling that OP’s boss is bragging about her behavior, which underscores that she (1) doesn’t feel guilty about what she’s doing, and (2) thinks it’s ok to treat children and animals this way.

        OP, please call CPS.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I hope she’s lying or wildly exaggerating. I really, really do.

      I would not go to HR, however. Hearing the stories, noting the info and times, and passing that on to CPS is valuable enough that I would live with the misery of hearing it, at least for a while, in order to report it. Also, I would worry that if I went to HR, she would figure out I also called CPS.

      I agree the stories don’t belong in the work environment, but for the sake of the child, if I were the OP I would not go to HR or try to shut them down. (And for myself, because I would report to CPS, so going to HR could mendanger my job more.)

  18. Ineloquent*

    My mother was very young when her father divorced and was remarried. Her step mother did everything in her power to ensure that her step children knew that they were not held in the same regard as her natural born children. She neglected them, refused them food, and was in general a horrible human being. The natural born children wanted for nothing. It has caused a deep and lasting divide in our family for generations, resulting in anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, depression, and attempted suicide in her sisters. My mothers’ half siblings refuse to acknowledge that there was ever an issue. Even those of us who were not there to see it feel deep, unmitigated rage at this horrible woman, who I refuse to call grandmother, and also at my grandfather, who was loved by the community and generally held to be a great guy, but couldn’t or wouldn’t protect his kids from not one, but two abusive mothers.

    Do what you can to save this poor kid (and the dogs). The consequences of allowing emotional abuse to continue are very far reaching and life altering, and can affect many, many people

  19. Temperance*

    Jumping in as an abused child of a mentally ill parent – call CPS and the SPCA, stat. This woman is terrorizing the child and bragging about it. She sounds deranged and very unwell, frankly. I might even try to find the name of the child’s therapist to report her abuse to the therapist, anonymously, if you think you can.

    My mother did similar things, and had a similar … attitude/outlook on life. I’m still pissed that no one ever tried to help us. Be a hero to that child. This woman needs to be called on the carpet for her actions. Frankly, I think she should be fired … out of a cannon …. into the sun, but child abuse is an extreme trigger for me.

    1. Collarbone High*

      + 1,00,000

      I spent 18 years wishing some adult would intervene and do something about my abusive father (and mother who enabled and ignored it). “Be a hero to that child.” Yes yes yes.

  20. Thornus*

    I reported my boss (who is also the small business owner, so there is no HR) a few months ago for child abuse. It was a decently hot day, about 90 degrees, and her kids were left in the car (for about 1.5 hours with only a five minute break at about the halfway mark) while she was in the office working. She said they weren’t doing their chores or something like that, so she was punishing them by making them sit in the car with no AC on while they wrote lists of what all their chores were.

    Unfortunately, neither the cops nor CPS responded. But I’d still do it again every time.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Wow, good for you! What an absolutely horrible “punishment”. Even though we know what the right thing is, it’s sometimes hard to go ahead and do it, and I’m so glad you did.

      1. Thornus*

        She also once emotionally abused her daughter (all four of her kids are adopted) when the daughter accidentally left pork chops on the counter while they left the house. She reduced the kid to tears when she told the kid that she just killed her dog since it had been sick and the raw pork would be bad for it. She then laughed about the story, and tears (!!!!), when she told it to us in the office.

    2. Mona Lisa*

      My parents reported our next door neighbor to CPS a few times because the 6-year-old son was frequently locked out of the house when he got home from kindergarten. He’d wander around the neighborhood crying for his mother until someone took him in. After my mom suggested some low-cost childcare options through the school to her, the mother told her son he wasn’t allowed at my parents’ house anymore , and the kid would run away if my mom tried to talk to him. My mom is a housewife, and she was usually the only person on the block home during the day.

      I think eventually her retired mother moved in with them, which solved the childcare issue. They’ve lived next door to my parents for 10+ years now, and the animosity is thick. I still don’t think my parents regret any of those CPS calls.

    3. Michelle*

      The cops in your town are shitty. They should respond immediately to any call about kids being in a car on a hot day.

    4. Observer*

      Forgetting a kid in the car is one thing. It happens, and doesn’t make someone a bad parent.

      But she DELIBERATELY stuck them in a hot car to punish them for not doing their chores!?

      It’s a good thing you called, even though CPS didn’t show up. They generally DO keep this information. So, if someone calls again, it becomes part of a different pattern.

  21. Anon for now*

    Definitely report her. But if you’re concerned about anonymity, here’s an option:

    Give all the information you know to a trusted third party, like a friend that doesn’t work there, or a relative of yours. Ask them to report it for you.

    That’s what I did when I was concerned about abuse of a young relative, who had abused my wife and BIL in their childhood and early teen years. The child is about the age he started with them, and my wife expressed that he was trying to groom the relative.

    However, my wife would not make a report to CPS and forbid me to, though she told the relative’s mom to “keep [name] away from abuser,” and I, at four foot eleven and 90 pounds (I’m also female), went up to the six-foot-four abusive guy and threatened him if he went after our relative.

    Still, I didn’t feel that was enough, and working in my particular field, I felt an obligation, though I am not a mandated reporter. But, I am not brave. I’m not a leader. And I have never been able to lie to my spouse. My spouse thinks that telling her family what the abuser did will kill her parents to know, and rip up her family. She said she would leave if I told.

    But, I have to live with myself. So I called a colleague who works in child welfare and gave her all the information I had. She then made the report for me. I was able to not have to lie to my spouse or others about having made it when the investigation started, and be sincere in saying I hadn’t.

    If you think anonymity will be a problem, or your coworker will be vindictive, OP, this is an option. Probably not the best, but it can work.

    1. Temperance*

      With all due respect, I’m going to disagree here and say that you ARE brave and you ARE a leader. You’re the first person to stand up to this monster.

      Honestly, I think you’re wife’s garbage family should be destroyed and ripped up, because they’ve allowed a toxic person and child abuser to harm children with abandon, but I admire how you handled this. I really hope that CPS did something.

      1. Anon for now*

        Thanks for this. I had a childhood that methodically…destroyed my ability to defy others, or stand up for myself. Think of my parents as Caucasian “tiger parents” (Google Amy Chua if you don’t know what that is).

        So this is the only time I ever went against my spouse’s express wishes for anything big. I’m glad it was for something like this.

        1. Michelle*

          I respect you immensely for standing up to the abuser. And I agree with Temperance- your wife’s family is garbage if letting them know what a monster did to your wife and BIL would destroy them. How many children in that family have to abused before someone spoke up? Very, very sorry for what your wife and BIL went through.

          1. Anon for now*

            I just still feel I should have done more. Like, made the report myself or directly gone against what my wife wanted. But at the time, I was in grad school and in the “overqualified when out, but not qualified until licensed in my field,” trap. I could not find any work for a year after graduation, either, so if I had made a stand like I should have, I would have lost my home and family and had no money of my own if she did leave like she threatened.

            1. neverjaunty*

              You did take a stand, and you did it despite your wife fighting you not to do it. You did exactly the right thing and have every right to feel good about yourself.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Rest your weary mind. You did the best thing possible given your givens. You decided that this needed to be reported and you found a way to do that.

              I had to find a way to report something through a third party, too, because of my own reasons/concerns. I was absolutely bent on getting that report in, so I kept hunting until I found a way to do it. I got it in, remained anonymous, and it went to court.

              Ultimately, I decided that the worst thing that could happen is if I failed to make any report.

              This is life.

              Sometimes the ideal response is just not possible, please accept this fact.

              At some point in life, it might be your turn to convince someone that they did well given their constraints. Start practicing now, how you will explain that to them. It’s more important that authorities know important information, how the information gets to the authorities is really not that important. Remaining totally silent is wrong.

    2. Here, kitty, kitty...*

      Your wife didn’t want you to call CPS, even though she knew that a young child was endangered? That’s… well, that’s part of the family “protect the abuser” dynamic, I’m sorry to say. Telling the child’s parent to “Keep [child] away from abuser” just isn’t enough. I was sexually abused by a relative, and I’d do everything in my power to stop that monster from chewing up and spitting out another child. I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if it hurt other members of the family, or “ripped up the family,” because that’s the kind of thinking that protects the abuser at the expense of the child. Why should such a messed-up family stay together if part of its very fabric is horrifying abuse? I don’t understand that way of thinking, and I don’t agree with it, and I don’t respect it.

      1. Anon for This*

        I don’t agree either, but given the circumstances, I understand it more. My parents in law lost their house and had to move in with that guy and another relative, plus all my inlaws are really conservative, and armed. You know, second amendment people.

        So there was a real possibility of making my parents in law homeless, or serious violence. Poverty can stand in the way of the best solutions.

  22. Spooky*

    I really hope we get an update on this one.

    Also, seriously side-eying the dad here. Why isn’t he standing up for his child (and pets)?

    1. Boo*

      It’s possible he has his own mental health issues as well, and may be in an abusive relationship with this woman. Not that any of that excuses him, but it would explain a lot.

      1. Temperance*

        Nope. Mental health problems are not an excuse for neglecting your child, or allowing him or her to be abused. Ever.

        1. Boo*

          Guys I’ve already stated above TWICE that it isn’t an excuse. Spooky asked why it might be happening and I speculated but I feel I was very clear that whatever the reasons are, they aren’t acceptable.

      2. Nervous Accountant*

        I don’t think mental health “issues” should be an excuse for abuse or letting abuse happen, especially to a child or animal.

        1. Boo*

          Guys I’ve already stated above TWICE that it isn’t an excuse. Spooky asked why it might be happening and I speculated but I feel I was very clear that whatever the reasons are, they aren’t acceptable.

    2. DrivingMsCrazy*

      I was wondering that myself. He shouldn’t be the child’s caretaker if he can’t stand up and protect his own child. This woman is a monster and should not have custody of any children at all.

    3. JennyJellyfish*

      Sounds like his first marriage wasn’t that great, either. Perhaps he really doesn’t know what to expect and thinks this woman’s “parenting style” at least shows that she’s willing to be present and involved.

      My mother was abusive throughout my childhood. When she married my stepfather, I had hopes that he may intervene. Instead, while the relationship strictly between the two of us was good, he chose to support my mother and everything she did. His father has been extremely physically abusive, and his first wife had abandoned the family. My mothers’ abuse was emotional/verbal, very controlling and manipulative, and she was always (ALWAYS) present. In retrospect, she exhibited all the classic signs of narcissistic personality disorder. I really think he couldn’t see it. I think he thought that her behavior meant that she cared – because she wasn’t beating us, she was there, and she “cared” about what we did and would try to get us to do everything to her standards, the “right” way, talked a lot about “closeness” (enmeshment), and so forth.

      All that to say – it seemed my stepfather’s past experiences had put him in a pretty good position to be brainwashed. I do hold him at fault for things he could’ve done, but I also feel sorry for him. This kid’s father is absolutely doing wrong by not defending his child and his pets, but I can see how it could happen.

    4. Venus Supreme*

      Seconding the request on the update.

      I hope the dad isn’t one of those “let’s just sweep these issues under the rug!” kind of people. I grew up that way – which left my self-harming, suicide attempts, and my family’s addiction under that damn rug and untreated.

      [Also, who the hell treats animals like that?! Dogs are literally the only pure thing on this earth (I’m biased, I know)]

      1. Anna*

        Or abused. It’s entirely possible the way she treats this child is indicative of how she treats him, too.

      1. Observer*

        It’s kind of hard to forbid a child to sit on the furniture because he’s “not clean enough”(!) without dad knowing about it.

        1. MinB*

          Depending on his job, it is possible. I grew up like this. My dad’s career involved long overnight shifts and extended trips away. I think he took it to get away from my mother but it also left me alone with her constantly and that’s when the worst of the berating, screaming lectures would happen. Please call CPS, OP. I wish someone had called for me. Even if she’s making these stories up and no actual abuse is happening, her stories are making work difficult for you coworkers who have been abused and she’s normalizing abuse for any other parents she knows who may have abusive tendencies.

    5. Unegen*

      I’ll chime in with another “he’s a coward,” but I wonder if there isn’t also a side of misogyny at play here. This situation involves his wife and their children, the pets…I wonder if he’s avoiding the situation because it’s “women’s stuff” and he feels above getting involved.

      I hope that isn’t it.
      (My father is like that, BTW.)

    6. LizM*

      She may be abusing him as well. It’s worth hypothetically switching the genders here, and asking if we’d be saying the same thing about a woman. I normally hate when we talk about abused women and MRAs just in to say “but men get abused too!” But the truth is, they can, and it’s worth considering as a possibility.

      Bottom line is, this family needs help, it’s not acceptable to allow someone to treat your child this way, but he may need help getting out of the situation as well.

      1. Observer*

        I think most of us would be reacting the same way if the genders were reversed.

        If he’s not being abused, well, I’d say “Lock him up and throw away the key” is kind to him.

        If he is being abused, it’s no different than for a woman. I’d never say “just walk out”. But when your child is on the line, you really need to think differently about the situation. It’s one thing to think that you are not worthy of decent treatment, (I have great compassion for that mind set); think you might just be able to make things better if you JUST got it right THIS ONE TIME; or even figure (possibly with justification) that leaving poses significant enough risks that it’s not worth it. With a child in the picture, none of this flies! I may not be able to convince you that you are worthy of decent treatment, but did the kid do?! You may (Think you) have time for second, third, fourth and infinite chances. Your child most definitely DOES NOT! And the risk calculus for a child is also far different than when it’s just yourself.

        The truth is, though, that ultimately, in a very real respect it DOES NOT MATTER. If you cannot protect your child then someone else has to do it, until you are willing and able to. It doesn’t matter if “you” is a man or a woman.

        1. Julia*

          I agree. Plus, it’s often true that standing up for others is easier than Sstanding up for yourself. Even if you can’t leave, drop the child off with friends, ask the teacher for help, do something.

        2. Chinook*

          “If he is being abused, it’s no different than for a woman. I’d never say “just walk out”. But when your child is on the line, you really need to think differently about the situation. ”

          The problem is that, as a man (especially with a child) he has nowhere to walk out to. He could go to men’s shelters, but they are not suitable for children as they are usually set up for single men. He can’t go to women’s shelters that can handle children because he is a man. If he leaves and leaves the child, he won’t be there to mitigate what could happen or it could trigger worse behavior against the child. Where can he go?

          1. Observer*

            He doesn’t need a shelter. He needs to move out with the kid. Not every woman who is abused needs a shelter, although given the way many relationships are structured, many do. For men, it’s even less likely that he would need a shelter.

            If he decides “we’re done”, worst case, he gets to move out (rather than chucking her out). And, in this case, he doesn’t even have to worry about custody – she’s not the mother. So, it’s find an apartment (doesn’t make a difference where) pack your stuff and go.

  23. RVA Cat*

    Report her. Also look for a new job to get away from this horrible person. Clearly she is a bully who will abuse anyone in her power. The only possible reason I can think of for her to brag(!) about child abuse(!) is to intimidate everybody.

    I feel for this poor child, actually both of them in this situation. All of the adults have failed them – let’s hope the therapist at least has the stepson’s back.

  24. Sunshine Brite*

    Please take this seriously and contact child protective services in your area. Direct quotes are often important and can tip a case into investigation so make sure to note times, dates, quotes, etc. Relaying that to your knowledge the child already has PTSD to indicate that this is likely exacerbating an illness is important.

    They won’t automatically take the child out of the home; that only happens in extreme abuse cases with concrete evidence of imminent danger of death. It’s a misconception. Most start with family intervention following investigation.

    I’m not sure I would take this to HR, except to discuss potential retaliation. I would be concerned that she would start hiding the behavior and no one would know what this child is going through. But that’s my bias.

  25. DrivingMsCrazy*

    Please do something to help this poor child, and the animals as well. This is so sad. This poor child deserves better.

  26. DevAssist*

    Do not hesitate to call CPS (or the ASPCA)! That child and those dogs are in an incredibly toxic situation. Her behavior could escalate. Please, please do not stay silent.

  27. Wrench Turner*

    Child abuse survivor here. Report it.
    It took almost 30 years of suffering from the effects to finally seek therapy – first appointment was last week. Report it.
    Rarely is abuse only verbal, and not all physical abuse will leave big obvious marks. Mine didn’t. Report it.
    It doesn’t matter if she retaliates. You can get another job. This is the 1 life these kids have. Report it.
    Please, for the rest of us where nobody did.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Hey: congratulations on going to your first therapy appointment. That’s seriously brave, and I have mad respect for your decision to seek healing for yourself. I hope it helps, because you deserve all the happiness in the world. Well done.

  28. OP*

    To make things even more horrible, we have a person in the department who endured a very abusive childhood and I have no idea how this talk hasn’t triggered some sort of reaction of out them.

    The dad seems to be completely on board with letting her run the show. The kids does still go to therapy, but we are told that he doesn’t speak in the sessions – obviously because at least one parents is always there with him. The scariest thing about all this is the dad is a cop, so there are weapons in the house. If the kid is pushed too far who knows what could happen.

      1. Sunshine Brite*

        The therapist may just be keeping the kid in sight or pick up on a vibe to keep sessions going. Depending on state regulations, the parents can often have a lot of pull in therapy sessions and say about what a therapist can and can’t do including if the child can be seen alone.

        1. Julia*

          Or maybe they’re not an Independent therapist, but it’s like church counselling or some kooky therapy.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      It may have, and you just haven’t seen it. Some of us are very good at keeping panic attacks unobtrusive in the workplace.

      As for the kid… wait, wtf? The kid isn’t even getting time alone with the therapist? That’s insane.

      1. Michelle*

        That’s to keep the kid from telling what is really happening. Any decent therapist would insist on private sessions.

      2. Candi*

        If someone tried to sit in on the entire kid’s visit at the local clinic (big, excellent reputation), they would set off half-a-dozen red flags. The default is the parent does not go back with all but the youngest kids. And they have a right to privacy in our state.

        I’m side-eyeing that therapist. That’s a story I really want to hear.

        1. beenthere*

          Yeah, i was sent to therapy twice because i was so “bad” and with one, my mother sat with me and then bitched when i didn’t “open up”. the other they let me attend alone but then i found out later the therapist just told her everything afterwards and didn’t believe me. I still get mad when i think about those two therapists.

    2. Temperance*

      Honestly, most of us (child abuse victims) don’t really talk openly about the subject due to the stigma. People treat you very differently when it comes out that one, or both, of your parents was deficient in some way. So there may very well be other coworkers who are involved.

      That therapist sounds like an inept fool, too. What good is therapy when your parent is sitting there, judging you the whole time?

      I honestly don’t care what happens to abusers, especially child abusers, but this poor kid is living in a nightmare. I kind of want to come to your office and have a “nice chat” with this piece of human trash that you have to work with.

      1. anooooon*

        Yes. Can’t tell you how much I cringe when telling fake stories of my family, parents, etc. Answering questions about how my parents must be proud, what we do for the holidays, how often I speak to parents with lies. Because nobody wants the truth, and everyone judges you pretty poorly if you didn’t come from a somewhat ‘normal’ family. Imagine answers such as “I’m not sure what holiday dinners were like at our house growing up. Parents prepared a whole feast for themselves and I wasn’t allowed to eat. I once got in trouble for begging for food from neighbors. But it sure looked/smelled good!” or “No, I don’t get headache-y when I skip meals. I can go days without eating because I’m used to it. No, we weren’t poor growing up.” Even my close friends don’t know.

        Anyway, co-sign calling CPS. I really, really wished someone had in my case.

        1. Temperance*

          I always, always self-edit. “My mom is cuckoo for cocoa puffs” is as far as I will go with telling the truth to people about her.

          I’m so sorry that you went through all of that. Truly. I finally have a few friends with messed-up family situations, and we can talk about it.

            1. Wrench Turner*

              I told my wife soon after we started dating. I’m not proud of it, but she needed to know what she was getting in to.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Please write in sometime and tell us that you have decided to quit telling fake stories.

          You don’t have to cover for your parents and most certainly, you do not have protect a NOSY person from their own embarrassment.

          “I’d rather not talk about that, thanks.”

          The parents must be proud thing is pure condescension. I don’t think much is needed there, “yeah, [insert topic change]” They won’t even notice, I promise.

          What you do for holidays can be answered, something that you had planned to do on your own. “I am planning on getting one of those yummy pies from that little bakery a couple blocks over.”

          I can’t even imagine anyone asking how often someone speaks with their parents. I think I would go with, “What an odd question, I don’t actually count the times. I would say that I speak with them enough.”

          Plan your answers for recurring questions, keep it short so you actually remember what you planned. But don’t make up lies to keep others happy, it is up to them to manage their own emotions, not anyone else.

          I am saying this thinking back to the one liners I got:
          “Some day when you have kids….”
          [My unspoken response: Why would I do that????]
          “Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”
          [My unspoken: NO, she did not believe in teaching.]
          “You need to ask your mother to help you with _____”
          [My unspoken: Oh look, another clueless adult.]

          When I finally started answering these questions truthfully, the stupid questions stopped. I am kind of “mad at me” because I did not start sooner.
          Remember you are not responsible for other people’s emotions. Keep telling yourself that.

          1. bearing*

            Yes. Try it sometimes and see how it feels. I have found it to be oddly empowering.

            Small-Talk Stranger: “Your parents must be so proud to have such lovely grandchildren!”

            Me [smile]: “Thanks. My parents don’t agree, though; they’re really not interested in my kids.”

            Small-Talk Acquaintance: “How’s your dad?”

            Me: “I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him in almost two years.”

            I honestly don’t care how this makes people judge me.

    3. LQ*

      For the talk not triggering any reaction here’s my take. I have an incredibly hard time judging what is crummy and what is abuse. I think I do ok at seeing remarkably good. But once you sort of get to eh, not great, pretty bad, horrible, abusive? My scale is so far off no one should trust my judgement. I’ve told childhood stories that I thought were fine and had everyone be horrified. I just don’t have a good scale. Reading things like this and seeing everyone react with horror and shock at the behavior makes me re-calibrate. I hope that helps make some sense out of it.

      It is also entirely possible that it is triggering a reaction they just aren’t showing it in the moment.

      1. Nic*

        I thought I was the only one with a broken “this is bad” meter. I get the same reaction to stories sometimes.

        1. Julia*

          My meter was never perfect, but since I started my current Job, it takes other people’s reactions for me to realise just how messed up my Office is.

          1. pope suburban*

            Oh my god, me too. I knew my workplace was really dysfunctional, but I didn’t understand the breadth or depth of the dysfunction until I started telling people stories and getting shocked looks. Even now, I need to check in and recalibrate my moral compass every couple of months or so, just because 40 hours a week in this situation makes the minor crappiness seem normal or okay.

    4. HannahS*

      I agree with others that it’s CPS you need to report to, not HR (although you certainly can tell them, too).

    5. Venus Supreme*

      That is simply terrifying. Also, who knows what the stepmom is like when she’s yelling at the kids- Would she be angry enough to threaten them with the weapon..?

    6. Jillociraptor*

      This situation is so awful, OP. Thank you for being one of the “helpers” and being in this kid’s corner.

    7. Dynamic Beige*

      we are told that he doesn’t speak in the sessions – obviously because at least one parents is always there with him

      Wow. I just… How do they expect this child to open up when either the abuser is in the room, who will heap on more abuse, or the co-dependent “father” who will then tell this Harridan everything that happened during session? Because there is no way in Hell that she would let it go until all her questions were answered.

      The kid is doing the only they can to save themselves. And I want to scoop them up and take them away from all that, if only for an hour.

    8. CA Admin*

      The dad is a cop? Wow, that makes this both more f*cked up and more difficult to pursue. Still report anonymously, but do so in a way that really protects your identity. Be safe. That family sounds seriously deranged. That poor child.

      Also? Makes the mom’s abandonment seem a lot more sinister. If the dad is a cop and abusive? Sometimes all you can do is walk away and try to cover your tracks.

      1. DoDah*

        I almost didn’t write this, because in every profession there are good and bad people, but here goes.

        I used to live in a very blue-collar neighborhood with at least 3 police officers as neighbors. They all hit their kids. Two of them hit their wives. I called the cops on one–during a particularly bad bout. We could actually hear him hitting the wife’s flesh with his belt. The cops showed up and they were buddies of his. They took him away but he was back the next morning.

        When the cop took my statement he tried to bully me into letting him into my condo and demanded I show him my DL. I refused to do either. Let’s just say the remainder of the time I lived there–I got pulled over alot. Alot, alot.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        OP, be sure to mention that there are guns in the house due to his profession. Any person in the family could grab that weapon.

    9. Panda Bandit*

      It is horrifying to read that the kid can’t even have a therapy session without one of the parents present. This is one of the things that abusers do, I think it’s called a double bind. The abuser wants you to do something (go to therapy and fix your problems) but they set it up so you will always fail (you can’t speak freely at the session so nothing changes and then the abuser punishes you for not making any progress).

      1. E*

        Depending on the reasons therapy is ongoing, the therapist may be required by law to have a parent present. I know this was the case for my stepson’s therapy for behavior issues at school/home. However, if the therapy was for abuse issues I highly doubt that the parent would be in the room.

        1. Panda Bandit*

          That law is a really terrible idea. The secure frame is one of the most important parts of therapy.

    10. MMSW*

      I’m sure the therapist meets with the kid alone for a short time, but its unlikely child speaks up out of fear. I implore you to call CPS to report this as it may not be getting through other channels. In many places they will work with family while the child remains in the home (as foster care is its own traumatic experience, even with good foster parents) if there is substantiated abuse.

    11. Little Missy*

      Oh my word. I was a mental health therapist for five years and this is just all kinds of fxxxked up. Oh please please please get in touch with CPS. that poor child has no one advocating for him or her unless you do.

  29. Caroline*

    Sounds like boarding school would be a blessing for this poor kid.

    Yes, for sure report to CPS. It can be done anonymously. They will be obligated to at least pay the family a visit to see what’s going on. I wouldn’t bring it to HR at all, because then you lose your anonymity.

    1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      Yeah, I was thinking he might have thought boarding school was the answer to his prayers. And hopefully sleep-away camp all summer too.

      Of course, she could have meant not, say, prep school, but one of those “reform” schools for “troubled teens,” which are often even more horrifically abusive than she is. :-(

      1. Student*

        They’re not actually going to send him to boarding school. It’s a technique to threaten and isolate the kid. My parents did it to me. It wasn’t an offer to send me away from them to someplace independent; I would’ve jumped on that. It was a threat to lock me up somewhere away from my real friends, where my parents would dictate the terms of my imprisonment as the “paying customer”, out of sight of prying eyes of others.

  30. Tammy*

    Adding to the chorus of “please, please call CPS”. My daughter is adopted (from the foster care system) and I used to work as a paralegal in the juvenile courts. And while I know firsthand that the child welfare system is far from perfect, that child absolutely deserves to be safe, physically and emotionally – and the clock is ticking on his childhood and his emotional well-being. Every day this is allowed to continue, the PTSD gets worse and the likelihood of a long-term successful outcome for the child decreases. The California Supreme Court wrote in one famous (within the child welfare world) opinion that “childhood does not wait for the parents to become adequate”.

    It may also help you to know that “remove the child from his home” isn’t the only recourse the child welfare system has. CPS can also opt to leave the child in the home but with regular supervision and with services provided to the parents (and with the threat of removal if the services aren’t successful), and can sometimes do other less formal interventions. And even though removal from the home they know is traumatic for children, well…sometimes the alternatives are worse. So, please, please, make the call.

    [Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. My knowledge of the nuances of Juvenile Dependency law are based on California’s laws and procedures, but since AFAIK all states’ laws track the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), this stuff tends to be fairly similar from state to state.]

  31. LuvzALaugh*

    Da Call a divorce lawyer ASAP. Letting this person in your son’s life will cost you your son. One day a grown man or teen will ask why you didn’t love him enough to stand up for him. Your son already has PTSD, you are ruining his chances of recovery and adding to his suffering. Get a divorce or give up your son, you WILL lose him anyway. OMG I never wanted to smack someone as much as I want to smack you and your wife.

    1. LuvzALaugh*

      obviously not angry at LW. That couple needs therapy. abandoned by his mother and essentially abandoned by Dad too…….Just send him to me………I can’t stand it.

  32. VivaL*

    These are all great suggestions – I think reporting it closer to home would help too.

    I wonder if someone closer to the child could intervene – OP do you know where the child goes to school? Perhaps a report to them would be helpful in addition to a CPS report (or in lieu of one if you’re not comfortable reporting to CPS). The teacher sees the child daily and can be on the look out for any additional signs of abuse, and is likely a mandated reporter.

    Another option might be to get in touch with the therapist (or the practice generally). They cant give you any information, but you can give them information any time you want – they are also likely to be mandated reporters, and his/her contact with the child will help the case.

    1. DoDah*

      I hope things have changed but “reporting to the school” can not work out so well. I suspect a neighbor or a friend’s parent called my school about my abuse. The result was a teacher called my mother and told her she was ‘concerned’ about me. This lead to my parents beating me until I learned not to cry or what they would call ‘tattle’. This was in the 1970’s and things may different now.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        When I taught, we were very explicitly taught not to contact the parents if we suspected a kid was being abused. for exactly this reason. Instead, we were supposed to report it to the school counselor, who would then report it to DFACS.

        That was around 2009-2010.

  33. Argh!*

    Some states have mandatory reporting laws for child abuse. You should definitely contact CPS and Animal Control. Unless the abusive behavior bleeds over to work, it’s not really an HR issue. If she is convicted of a felony and HR has rules about employing felons, then they would get involved but it’s not necessarily your place to contact them at that point.

  34. Observer*

    I haven’t read the comments yet. But, PLEASE call CPS ASAP. The odds of APS doing anything is low, I suspect.

  35. Bend & Snap*

    Is there a way to report anonymously to HR? Violent and abusive stories have no place in an office either–so kids/animals first, but I really do think that the impact on the workplace/employees with this kind of talk is significant enough to raise it.

    1. NCKat*

      My company has a global hotline we can call for violations of company policy but if I were to call them, I would call CPS first.

  36. LadyPhoenix*

    Definitely talk to CPS and an animal protection group, but also talk to HR. Explain to HR that your boss is creating a hostile work environment and she might retaliate if she finds out you are reporting her. Be sure to document everything she says.

    And when she does start talking, don’t be afraid to call out her witchiness.
    “Why would you do that? That is terrible.”
    “Quite frankly, what you are doing is wrong.”
    “Sounds to me like you’re being cruel to your kid/pets.”
    “Wow, that is so wrong.”
    “Mam, that is not funny. That is abuse.”

  37. Rebecca*

    This makes me sad and angry on so many levels, I cannot express it. I really hope we can get an update on this. What an awful person this manager is! I vote for reporting her to CPS, the ASPCA, and HR. I would not want to work for such a morally bankrupt person.

  38. JMJ*

    Please call CPS, the ASPCA and then if necessary the police. And KEEP CALLING. The women is mentally ill and reading this just sickens me. Good luck to you, and to that dear child, plus the dogs.

  39. lurker*

    Is it too soon to ask that we get a year end update on this one? This is heartbreaking. Would love to know how this turns out. Hugs to the little cutie and his/her dog.

  40. Bagen*

    Wow! Her supervisor has heard this and she still has a job. That’s not the kind of person I would want working for me. Bad judgement all around. I’d call CPS, Animal Control, and fire her.

  41. Intern Wrangler*

    I am very impressed with the comments here today. It makes me feel good to be a part of discussion that is so nuanced and so supportive of children and animals. I agree with everyone about calling CPS and the ASPCA.
    I am sorry you have to hear this all the time. It make me feel queasy to read it; I can only imagine how it must feel to hear that at work.
    Is there any chance that this is a cry for help that is coming off really poorly? Or even if it isn’t a cry for help, is there a way that you could treat it at surface value by saying something like, “It sounds like you are really feeling frustrated and helpless when dealing with this child. Are you getting support? Have you tried resources for parents of children with mental health issues–places like NAMI? Or a support group through Circle of Parents? Is there any way to get some respite care–sometimes you can get more help than just therapy, but you can get an in home skills worker who can provide additional support for the child?”
    This approach may help even by getting other people into the house to see the abuse.
    Please do update us and thank you for caring enough about this child to reach out.

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        Sadly, there are a lot of people who do consider treating kids like this admirable. Usually with crap about “spare the rod, spoil the child” or “keeping them in line” or the belief that they can and should beat/scream at/deprive their kids all the way to straight As and the Ivy League. Or just a bunch of chest-beating garbage about how they’re TOUGH and don’t take any crap.

  42. WhichSister*

    CAll DFACS CALL DFACS CALL DFACS. I grew up in a verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusive home. My sister and I went to our church, went to our guidance counselors, no one did anything. We were a nice middle upper class family. Why would they?

    2 years ago, my exhusband’s girlfriend called on me. (for kicks and giggles. The charges were completely unsubstantiated. ) She called anonymously on a Friday night and a DFACS person was in my drive way the next morning. We suspected it was her as she bragged to my youngest son that she was going to call on me. She then later admitted to the kids she did it. But there was no way for me to find out. Even when I got copies of the records any identifying information regarding the caller had to be removed.

  43. sortanon*

    I’m mostly surprised that she talks about it, to be honest. I grew up in a house like this, and my stepmother was always very careful to seem like a loving parent around other people.

    I was always terrified that someone would find out and call CPS, because however bad things were at home, it seemed better than being in “the system”. And if they intervened but didn’t take me away, things would have been much worse afterward.

    But despite all that, I’d still call CPS in this case. The kid needs help, and it’s the right thing to do.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      My stepmother was seriously emotionally abusive, and she was so proud of it, because in her small Southern town, it showed she was a take-no-crap sort of parent. Really, she was a nightmare and I haven’t spoken to her in five years, but it all fed that monstrous ego of hers.

    2. very anon*

      My EX-husband was proud of how poorly he treated our child. He felt that it established his authority. He was also proud that he was taking a stand and going back to the “old-fashioned” way of raising a child instead of the modern methods that produced spoiled brats.

      He’s been ordered by the court to pay for child’s therapy.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Isn’t it amazing how all those people who bark about good old fashioned child rearing are, themselves, nightmare human beings? Like, why would I want to raise my kid that way if they turn out like that?

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I was wondering what her point was in telling the subordinates. Maybe a power kick, “I can do this to YOU, also!” Maybe she is trying to terrorize them.

      Or maybe she wants to be stopped. I heard that sometimes people rat on themselves because they want to be stopped. There is a part of them that realizes something is terribly wrong and they need intervention from other people.

      I think a couple decades in jail is a solid intervention here.

  44. Geneva*

    What a sick human being. This is beyond HR. Report her to the authorities ASAP! And please, the next time she says something that disturbing in your presence call it out.

  45. Colorado*

    This post makes me really sad. Including the comments of people that suffered similar abuse. Please call CPS and next time that evil creature starts her blabbing, say something.. even if just “wow”. Your co-workers feel exactly the same way as you do, I’m sure of that. Is there any other way to reach out to this kid’s support system (if he even has one)? Say a teacher, therapist, or the dad himself?

    1. TheLazyB*

      I know, reading the comments here is breaking my heart. All the people betrayed in the place they live by the people who were supposed to protect them D:

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yes, it’s incredibly sad (and angering) how much abuse goes on, has gone on, and how so many people here have been deeply hurt.

        1. animaniactoo*

          I’ve gotten to the point where I wonder if there is so much more abuse happening than anyone realizes/is willing to speak up about/report, or if people who have been abused are just naturally drawn to advice columns. Every advice community I’ve been a part of seems to have a greater than 50% population of people who were abused as kids (me included).

  46. pope suburban*

    OP, this is based on my experience calling CPS about a coworker: You’re probably not high on the list of people they’ll suspect, if you’re even on it at all. I was worried about retaliation too, because this coworker and his girlfriend were (well, still are, probably, wherever they are) violent, unstable people. But what they were doing to the seven kids they had between them was, I decided, worth the risk to me. I called one day after work, and the police were there that night. At no point did either of them suspect me, because there was a laundry list of other people they assumed knew too much/had a grudge. I was just another anonymous person to them. I think that, as one person in an office of many, you’re likely to be invisible too.

    I wish I could say the story has a happy ending, but CPS did a year of weekly visits and then dropped it. No one even had to go to counseling, even though this was not the first rodeo for either of the adults. I still worry about those kids, and if I had any idea *who* to call, I would again in a second. Unfortunately, they fell off the grid after we let that coworker go, so I don’t even have a vague idea which town, county, or state to call.

      1. pope suburban*

        Thank you. It’s hard to feel good about it considering the outcome. I had to spend a lot of time cleaning up his company phone after we let him go, because he thought he’d save money by stealing from us, and had consequently used that number on every official record he had. I got a lot of calls from a lot of schools asking where the kids were, or from CPS about *another* issue he had had concurrent with the investigation. I couldn’t even give them a number; I had to tell them that this was a business phone and he’s fired and that’s that. I hope someone else reports them, and I hope the powers that be finally decide that these kids should be taken out of a home where 100% of their interactions with adults is screaming, threats, and hitting.

    1. Julia*

      I don’t think the Dursleys ever bragged about their abuse of Harry. They didn’t want anyone to know that he was “weird”.

      1. LesleyC*

        Ah, but they did try to paint Harry as just generally, conventionally bad to cover up his real story. Claiming they sent him to St. Brutus School for Incurably Criminal Boys, etc.

        (I should add that I’m not at all trying to make light of a serious and heartbreaking situation. Just observing how cartoonishly awful this person is.)

  47. Nervous Accountant*

    Dear God what a horrible horrible excuse for a human being. I’m constantly amazed that pieces of shit like this can conceive and have children and those who are desperate cannot. I wonder how anyone could justify this.

  48. Biff*

    I think I’d be looking for a new job. People who are abusers usually abuse everyone, just in different ways.

    And yes, call CPS.

  49. Nervous Accountant*

    And she has a child of her own!!!!!

    Really trying not to let my personal feelings and situation in to this, but…… I can’t. I just can’t.

    1. Biff*

      I worked for a jerk who spoke disrespectfully of his wife, his second child, and his dog. His dog once made an appearance on a video call and was clearly broken-spirited, approaching him with extreme submission, fearful eyes and all. I wanted to reach straight through the screen, pull her through and take her home. I really tried not to let this destroy what little good I saw in him, but ultimately, it was more than a few bricks in the wall.

      Honestly, you can’t not feel about this, and more importantly, you shouldn’t want to. This is the sort of thing that speaks volumes about what kind of person your boss really is. And who they are is really key to your happiness.

  50. Cat steals keyboard*

    Thank you for asking about this OP, thank you for not just looking the other way. Please call. Another survivor here. There were people who definitely knew and definitely didn’t call and I don’t think I’ll ever get over discovering that.

    1. Cat steals keyboard*

      PS I probably wouldn’t react at work if someone talked like this – I would most likely go into a freeze response, as opposed to fight or flight.

      It’s not impossible that this woman believes she’s not abusive. I went to joint therapy with my mother recently, just once. I wasn’t expecting anything from her, I think I just went to get validation that I wasn’t the crazy one. Which could have backfired if I hadn’t got a very good therapist recommended to me.

      My mother was off the wall crazy, eg she claimed she took good care of me, the therapist asked for examples and she told such inappropriate, abusive stories I just can’t even. I contacted the therapist after to say I wasn’t continuing. He congratulated me on how well I’d managed to heal myself with such a delusional mother (though he put it in more professional terms).

      So I’m wondering if this woman also believes her own BS…

      1. Kathlynn*

        This is exactly why I refused to have my mom join any session when the therapist suggested it. Because my mom believes she was an awesome parent. Yet, she’s horribly abusive and negligent. Almost all my chronic health conditions were ignored “because I was just trying to be like__”. She literally refused to take care of my health on multiple occasions and blames/d me for it (because I should have made the appointment, even though I didn’t have the ability to ensure I could make the appointment. You know, because I couldn’t drive and we lived outside of town).

        1. Julia*

          My mother makes fun of therapy. Granted, she was a good mother generally and just has a few flaws, but those did hurt me quite a bit and I needed therapy for them, which she ridiculed.

  51. Elizabeth West*

    Can I say that I just want to hug everybody who told their own stories here. *HUG*

    And OP please call. This entire family needs serious help and they need it now. And please come back and update us.

  52. Janice in Accounting*

    Adding my voice to the “please call CPS today” chorus. This child (and the animals!) need an advocate, and it sounds like you might be the only one.

  53. Cat steals keyboard*

    Actually the other thing I would do apart from freeze is call social services myself – I would and have. But I wouldn’t be able to say anything at work I don’t think.

  54. Anon and alone*

    OP, definitely call CPS and animal protection. This child (and the dogs) need help NOW! This brings up a lot of memories for me. My father was extremely verbally and emotionally abusive to my mother and I, but not my brother, though my mother tried to protect me. The effects linger and pop up when least expected. To this day I hate hearing someone call someone else “stupid” because that’s one of the words he liked using with me. The fact I was adopted (he threatened to return me once) didn’t help.

  55. specialist*

    As a physician, I’ve had to report multiple times. Actually, I usually call the hospital social worker and make them do the actual reporting. I have had times when they said that they didn’t really think it was a problem and that they didn’t want to do the report to CPS. Yeah, doesn’t fly with me. We are mandated reporters. We report inappropriate situations and suspected abuse. Grandma didn’t take the toddler to the ER for a bad dog bite? Yes, reported. (You should have seen the pediatrician’s office flip out on that one. I got paged to 3 different phones in their office, all at the same time.) I also require reporting for domestic violence. It is my office policy….that I made up when listening to a woman tell me why she was afraid to report. This isn’t hard to do. Find the phone number for your area. Make the call. I suggest that you also keep some sort of exceedingly private notes about what you are hearing. You would not be the first to make the difference in an abuse court case. (It is also possible to report to the police department internal affairs, as you said the husband is a cop. Go CPS first.)

    We have an organization in this area dedicated not only to stopping abuse, but also to preventing it by providing intervention, counseling, and teaching. They have a special recording studio so that the victim can get a forensic interview at the time of the incident. They can also do the physical and sexual exams. This means that the kids don’t have to testify at trial. Before we had this facility the abuse/domestic violence cases were the most common ones on the court docket. Now they are the least. I strongly recommend that everyone advocate for this type of facility in your community. I support this with donations and my attorney friends also support the facility. My attorney friends are awesome and they represent these kids through the entire legal process.

    I’d also like all of you to know that my attorney friends, doctor friends, and I–we exist. We intervene. We get people help. We protect the kids. Sure, we don’t see everything, but we are formidable. Join us.

    1. Candi*


      An Internet high five to you and the others that do this.

      The social worker? Might be something along the lines of “but all that paperwork!” Or “it can’t be THAT bad”. Sigh.

  56. Tiny_Tiger*

    I’ll echo what everyone else has said too and call CPS and SPCA ASAP! Few things make my blood boil over that quick like abuse to children and animals. If that “woman” worked in the same office as me, I would make it my mission to call her out for being the absolute scum she is after every story she told, job be damned.

  57. anon town*

    I have been 2 steps short of this kid. Report it. Report it now.

    My AWFUL stepmother was/is pissed that my life is not shitty like hers, so she made sure that I went through shitty things to equalize our positions in life. It is only recently that I have seen that her treatment of me is affecting me to this day in situations of authority (i.e. work), where someone abuses that authority. Said situation is how I found AAM.

    It’s been decades, and it still affects me. Please save this kid from this hell.

  58. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Yes … please, please, please report this to the proper authorities. Too often people don’t report it because they’re not sure if it’s the right thing to do. You already know it’s the right thing to do – but you should report to people with legal authority to intervene, not to your HR rep.

  59. A friend of Bill's*

    Joining the chorus of report. I grew up physically and emotionally abused. The cops came to our house. There was a social worker meeting. I lied. (I only learned years later that was “normal”) I lived with that shame until I did my 9th step amends to my brothers.

    Of course my mother and father lied too.

    Years later when I was an adult in my early twenties, my mother was living with a guy (who later became her husband) who had custody of his two small children (an 8 and 10 year-old). My mother would call me and brag about how she was “disciplining” just as this woman is doing.

    I would go to therapy and the therapist would say that there was nothing I could do. The abusive behavior was not physical.

    I regret to this day that I didn’t call CPS for those two little girls.

    Their mother got custody after my mother locked them out of the house in a snow storm after school. My mother and her husband moved out of state and the father never spoke to the girls again.

    With the help of Al-Anon, AA and therapy, I have been able to make better choices.

    1. Cat steals keyboard*

      It was not your fault that you lied. You were a child, needing to rely on people who betrayed your trust. It was not your fault. It was theirs.

  60. Stranger than fiction*

    Does this woman think she’s being funny? In some sort of shock-jock kind of way? Regardless, it’s not and she’s disturbed. I’d tip off the husband too if possible. Geez, how’d these two even get married and why if she wasn’t onboard with being a decent step parent.

  61. Xarcady*

    I reported someone to CPS once, after 2 or 3 months of agonizing, worrying, not being sure I really knew what was going on. The parent was a neighbor in my apartment complex.

    The two children were removed from the home within 36 hours of my call. A few weeks later, I found out some of the details of what had been going on, things I couldn’t have known or guessed.

    My only regret is that I didn’t call sooner.

    1. Candi*

      You called instead of remaining silent. No regrets.

      And what was the apartment/their condition like that they were removed that fast!?!

  62. labradoodle*

    Question for the OP.
    Was the manager always a nut job or did this behavior only become evident after she got married? I am just wondering as it you are saying that her job is also deteriorating. Could she be suffering from some sort of mental illness that is manifesting this way?

    1. Student*

      So you’re suggesting, what? That mental illness is a great excuse to leave a child to suffer? That the OP should try to “diagnose” and “help” the manager instead of helping the suffering kid? Maybe you’re implying that, if the kid has a mentally ill parent, it’s already doomed to craziness too, so why bother?


      The kid needs help now.

      The OP has no standing to get the manager metal health intervention if that’s what needed. If anything, having her kids taken away might be the wake-up all the manager needs to make a big change in her life.

      1. labradoodle*

        No please don’t put words in my mouth. I didn’t suggest anything you have intimated. Rather, I was wondering if this behavior was evident before she was married and had a stepchild or whether she was an abhorrent human being before hand as well. It doesn’t “matter” as far as the solution which is to call protective services for the child and the pets as well as speak out the next time she discusses her abusive behavior. My comment was merely noticing that the letter writer did not describe untoward behavior before the marriage so was wondering if there was a trigger for the monstrous behavior afterwards.

  63. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    All of the advice to call CPS is good, but in the moment, when she’s bragging, what about stopping what you’re doing, looking her straight in the eye and calmly asking, “Why are you telling me this?”

    See what she says. You don’t have to respond further, beyond, “oh.” or whatever.

  64. Student*

    This is the stuff she admits to openly. There’s other stuff she’s doing that she’s ashamed to admit to publicly – this is a truth of human nature and applies to nearly everyone. The thing is, most people are ashamed of little mostly-harmless things, like losing their temper with their kids once in a while or giving into the occasional tantrum with ice cream. Think of what this lady must decide is worth hiding.

    Then call CPS. If you hear the same stories again in a month, call CPS again. Keep it up. Keep running notes.

    Nobody called for me when it was my parents. It hurt, badly, that nobody called. I have serious anger toward the parents, sure, but they are basically deficient human beings and eventually I figured that out and moved on. What I never figured out, what haunts me to this day, was why nobody else ever spoke up about it around us. It gives me serious distrust towards other people. I look at strangers and I wonder, are you like the guy who watched my mother burn my hand with a cigarette at a theme park, the guy who stared and then pointedly looked away? Are you like the people in the crowd that walked around us when she held my head under in a public fountain, never breaking stride? I can leave my parents behind, but I can never ever walk out of that crowd.

  65. Anne (with an "e")*

    This is so sad. I am actually crying about this. Report this. Oh please, please, please, please, please report this to Child Protective Services and The Humane Society. Please, also give us an update about this situation.

  66. Marcia*

    Echoing all the other comments about reporting to CPS and the animal cruelty people. Please also mention the animal cruelty to CPS as cruelty to animals and cruelty to children are strongly linked.

    My ex-husband and his siblings were abused, verbally, physically and emotionally by their mother. He, and one of his sisters, who remains one of my closest friends, have both spoken to me about how neighbours, extended family and people at church must have known what was happening, but no one helped them. My ex husband spoke about his childhood rarely, but he despised his father’s weakness for letting it happen. They lived in abject poverty and every so often were evicted because the parents didn’t pay their rent. For my ex and his sister, being placed in children’s homes, though far from ideal, were a blessed relief compared to their home situation.

    Please, please, do what is right and report this horrific abuse.

  67. Drew*

    I am utterly sick at all of the stories here, from the OP on down. I am so, so sorry that so many of you had adults in our lives who failed you, and am incredibly grateful for the loving, kind parents I had when I was a kid.

    OP, please call CPS immediately and please start documenting the stories your boss tells at work. Either she has an incredibly sick sense of humor or she is an abuser, and it’s CPS’ job to figure out the difference.

    I think the balloting for worst boss of 2016 has closed.

  68. Long time first time*

    OP, please report this to CPS. Skip HR and call CPS yesterday. When I was very young, 4-8 years old, my mother had a partner just like the woman you are describing. My mom worked long hours and this “step mom” was my main care giver when I was not with my father. I didn’t tell my mom how bad it was until I was an adult.
    This woman talked awfully to me, including two very long lectures with a leather belt clutched in her hands, and bragged to her friends about the abuse in front of me. My mom says she had no idea I was so scared of her partner. I want to believe her.
    Now I am a mother, and step mother, and I can’t imagine devoting my life to terrifying small children. The signs are usually pretty obvious and I can’t understand my mom not suspecting something. She did end up physically removing this partner from our home on a weekend I was visiting my dad.
    This woman was supposedly a black belt in some form of martial arts, but my mom beat her a** when she tried to restrain my mom with some type of bear hug.
    TLDR: My mom came through in the end!

  69. Trix*

    I’m only halfway through, and this thread is making me even more grateful than normal that I literally, physically, cannot comprehend humans treating another living being like this. I am so heartbroken for all the people who’ve shared their stories, and so goddamn proud of all of you for becoming the truly decent people tend to hang out here.

    If I’d witnessed something like this yesterday, I sure want to believe I would have called CPS immediately. After today? Bet your ass I would.

  70. Leslie*

    Please, please call CPS.

    If she is this public at work about how abusive she is to this child, it can’t be any secret in her own circle of friends and family. It is pretty unlikely that you will be suspected as the person who called it in.

  71. Lowercase holly*

    It might ruin your anonymity, but is it a bad idea to record her confessions? Work is a public place?

    1. Candi*

      State laws, company policy, who is security/HR/owner, all affect whether she can do that or not.

      I think one of the five answers to five questions had the question from the recorder, but I don’t remember the date.

  72. Anon for the Nonce*

    This boss crossed the line from Worst Boss of the Year and is now in the running for Worst Human of the Year. OP, please please call. My husband suffered similar treatment from his mother. He’s nearly forty and still thinks he’s fat and dumb because his mother called him that so many times. Do what you can to save this poor kid.

  73. MMSW*

    Call CPS- reports are anonymous and you don’t have to give your name. They will ask for information- about the family, abuse, etc. Document the instances of abuse she has related to you so you can provide specific information; you should also try to have the name of the school the child attends and therapist name handy if you know it. Emotional abuse is not investigated as often as physical abuse, but that is because it is more difficult to substantiate. However, CPS will determine if there is enough information to warrant an investigation.
    I’m not sure what state you are in, or what the family’s circumstances are but in some cases CPS will not remove a child, but work on a plan for changing behavior while child remains in the home. Or if a child does need to be removed, it is often possible for a “kinship” placement where they stay with other family members. Good luck

  74. boop*

    The crappiest part of having a terrible parent is to watch the outside world seemingly accept them with open arms even when they’re blatantly being a dick. Even when they’re bragging to family members that they yelled at a stepchild for drinking a glass of milk without permission, and the response is always “huh” or *polite nod*.

    For so long I thought that I was the insane one, because how was I the one despairing alone and slowly starving to death while my douchy stepparent seemed to have So Many Friends?

    Don’t make the boy wait for justice on his own, it won’t come.

  75. S'more*

    Here’s to giving you courage to document this women’s bragging (past and present) and make sure to include the role of her husband. When I was 7 or 8 y.o., one of my doctors took me aside and asked if there was anything I wanted to tell him. Inside all I could think was that if I reported the physical violence I received that my father would go to jail and then the abuse from my mother would escalate because of the “dire straights” in which it would leave us. I had no idea about therapy or other resources that could come before a jail sentence, I just knew things would change and it would only be worse for me.

    I had also been conditioned to never speak of our home life. When reality is actively denied by those in authority, who should be your safety net, you as the child have to wonder if you aren’t as terrible as you’ve been told and are Making Up the abuse stories “just for attention”.

    I say all of this to give you the child’s perspective. With no one to safely go to, and even with the therapist visits, I’m not sure these children have any idea there is anything else out there for them than the horror they live each day. This is a way to say that your documentation will go a long way to being an advocate for the child/children. They can’t speak – in more ways than one, they need all the stories you can think of documented and related. The more information you present to CPS, the more aware the workers can be in investigating.

    Parents like this are masters at presenting the “aren’t we wonderful and everything is perfect” picture to others, especially if they know that picture might be threatened. And believe me, she does get something out of her actions. No matter the reason, there is something she gets from the chaos she creates. But she’s the only one who can identify that and she’s in a position of the most control to maintain such an environment and continue it so she has a world that satisfies her needs. Your info to CPS could contain the one piece they need to provide the most help for the children.

    And to those who don’t think ASPCA or related groups will intervene, they do and will. They too begin with education and working with the adults to create better solutions. If they do not see progress or if it is “resolved” but they receive another report, they will then take more aggressive actions.

    Hugs to all who have shared their stories; thank you for giving me the courage to share deeply buried memories.

  76. Effective Immediately*

    Call CPS immediately, and report the week (WEEK, oh my god) she made the child essentially live on the floor. Report that she has disclosed the child has a disability (PTSD); that will definitely get their attention. I hope everyone in your workplace comes here and reads this advice, honestly. I would also explain your position relative to this person and your concerns about anonymity.

    If you have a good HR department, I think I would err on the side of telling them. I mean, if the situation is severe enough, it does have the potential to impact the workplace. Your mileage may vary based on your company culture–here, a colleague or direct report in abusive situation is regarded as everyone’s business to help with, and as managers we are encouraged to communicate with HR/Senior Leadership if we believe someone is in danger (I feel extremely fortunate in that regard). If you have a good relationship with HR and a culture that wouldn’t make it fraught to do so, I give them a heads up.

    Good luck. I don’t often feel this way about letters but I desperately, desperately hope we get a good update from OP on this.

  77. Benedryl Kat*

    – I second the advice to make notes. Keep them at home, not work, to prevent someone finding/destroying them.
    – Call Child Protection Services. 1-800-4ACHILD, if you don’t know the number. Tell them about the animal abuse as well. This will tell CPS that the abuse is more serious than “just” verbal. You can be anonymous. Leave HR out of it. You don’t want them causing you problems, and they can’t do anything about the real problem, which is the abuse.

  78. beenthere*

    Please call CPS. As someone whose parent did all that and worse, please, please call. I agree this isn’t right for HR, and do not say anything to this woman. If she is bragging (!!) about this behavior, she clearly doesn’t see anything wrong with it and will react defensively to anyone questioning her actions. Speaking from experience, the once time a lady from our church called my mother with “concerns” you can bet we paid for that, and nothing changed. When it comes to child abuse, you need to go straight to people who can stop it. Not talk to her, not reprimand her, but someone who can stop it. This is a matter for law enforcement, not HR. You all may be the only people who know what that child is going through, and frankly, you have an ethical imperative to try to help a child who has no one else to turn to.

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