my coworker screams awful things at her kids during video calls

A reader writes:

I have been with my organization for a few years, but I recently switched to a new department about four months ago.

Every morning we have a Zoom call to discuss upcoming tasks and current status on projects and sometimes our supervisor will assign tasks. The meeting can only be 30 minutes long because there’s another meeting right after with a different department that uses our Zoom room.

One of my coworkers, I will call her Jill, interrupts the meeting a lot to yell at her kids. I don’t just mean yell — she screams at her kids to a point where I find it to be abusive. She will say things like “GO BACK TO THE BATHROOM YOU STINK,” “GO AWAY YOU ARE PISSING ME OFF,” “YOU ARE SO ANNOYING, GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC,” “SHUT UP.” Her kids are three, five, and seven.

She also refuses to mute her mic. She has taken personal calls during our meetings and has munched on food. I am at the point where I am ready to just scream. It is driving me nuts. Everyone else seems to ignore her. We also use a group IM to stay in touch and she often complains about how annoying her kids are. It’s incredibly distracting and unproductive. Do I say anything? To her? My boss? If so how should I word it?

Her poor kids. That is heartbreaking. No child deserves to have those things screamed at them, but kids who are so little? I worry about what’s happening when people can’t hear.

I’m horrified that none of your other coworkers are reacting to this. It’s weird enough that whoever is running this meeting doesn’t tell Jill she needs to mute herself — and then enforce that — but it’s even weirder that the group is listening to abusive behavior to children on the reg and … just ignoring it? Often people don’t know how to react in the face of a shocking situation and so they end up saying nothing, but this is happening day after day. There’s been time for people to get over the shock of the moment and realize they need to say something.

I would do three things:

1. Talk to your manager. Tell her that’s it’s upsetting to hear Jill screaming insults at her kids during your meetings and makes it hard to focus. Ask if she will speak to Jill about what’s going on and require her to, at a minimum, mute herself. (To be clear, what she’s saying to her kids is a far bigger problem than needing to mute herself — but if your manager isn’t going to address that, she at least needs to get the abuse out of your meetings.)

2. Speak up in the moment, every time. Some options: “Whoa, did you really just say that to a toddler?” … “It’s upsetting to hear this stuff, can you please stop?” … “You are yelling in everyone’s ear, please stop.” …  I care less about your specific wording than that Jill consistently hear that the witnesses to what she’s doing aren’t okay with it.

If Jill were just scolding her kids but not being abusive, I’d tell you to just focus on getting her to mute and not to allude to the content of what she was saying … because most parents don’t need coworkers commenting on their parenting. But this is far beyond normal frustrations with kids.

3. Consider calling your local child protective services to ask for advice and whether this is something they’d want reported. That’s a serious step to take, but what Jill is showing you is serious.

{ 694 comments… read them below }

    1. MissGirl*

      Thanks for posting this. Please call for advice. This isn’t calling CPS; this is calling in for expert advice because you need it. I’d also like to point out in many states EVERYONE is a mandatory reporter when you suspect child abuse.

      1. Evan Þ.*

        Eighteen states and Puerto Rico make everyone a mandatory reporter, to be specific.

        Thanks for prompting me to look it up – I hadn’t realized it was so many states, let alone somewhere I used to live! I wonder how that actually affects reporting rates and outcomes?

        1. Mama Bear*

          Also, many school districts have “you must take this training before you can volunteer” videos. Often just a link on the district’s website. Ours is only about 30 mins long. It may help you decide next steps and what else to look for.

        2. Sylvan*

          Yep. I’m in one of those states. I had to call once (not about a work-related situation), by the way, and it just took a simple, relatively brief phone call. It was as easy as talking about that subject could possibly have been. If OP considers calling or reporting by some other means, the decision to report is difficult, but the process itself might not be.

    2. Reba*

      Yes! If calling CPS seems like a big step, or if you just don’t know what would happen if you did, the Childhelp hotline can help you figure out what steps to take. I’m sure than pandemic stresses are increasing risk of abuse in families across the board. But beyond that, I’m amazed that the coworker is so cold and just, open about what she is doing. This situation must be so disturbing to witness.

      I’m glad that you want to stand up to the abuse, even if, as a coworker, your scope to act is limited. I think Alison’s step 2 is great, although I worry that Jill is being treated as a missing stair and other people in your work group might want to just continue trying to sweep it under the rug, especially if manager is conflict-avoidant. Then again, others may be relieved you spoke up and finally acknowledged it!

      I hope that whatever kind of pushing back you are able to do, it helps Jill to realize that this is Not Normal in a real bad way.

      1. another Hero*

        I’m sure OP isn’t the only person on the team who’s uncomfortable but not sure how to respond. Others will be relieved if she does.

    3. Lady Meyneth*

      Depending on your state’s laws about consent, I’d also consider recording these meetings, in case this eventually escalates and requires more evidence. This is horrifying.

      1. JSPA*

        That’s likely to violate work rules, whether or not you’re in a dual consent state. If CPS wants to escalate, let them get the warrant (or whatever) before you record yourself out of not only a job, but a clean reference.

        I’m not debating whether something needs to be done, to be clear; I’m debating how much initiative to show, when there are trained people who can take over.

    4. JSPA*

      Might have to go with “complain/report” as an either/or. If you’re going to call Childhelp or CPS, probably don’t be the person who also spoke up on the work calls or spoke to a supervisor about it.

      Unless she’s on multiple calls a day, you may be the only people who hear her, and the only potential reporters. Safer, in this case, to leave her wondering who called her in.

      If work doesn’t have your back, things could get uglier for you than for her.

    5. Kelsey*

      I’m a public school teacher, and here’s my opinion: if you live in a small enough place where you can easily figure out where the oldest child goes to elementary school, call the school and tell the counselor what you’ve shared here. Why go this route? Well, one, the counselor is a mandatory reporter with professional training. They will know what to do and have the time and resources to investigate. Two, many times a situation is ‘bad’ but not ‘bad enough’ that CPS will take custody from the parent. In those cases, it’s still REALLY bad for the child, and the counselor can help get supports lined up for the child, and importantly, the siblings down the line before they are in school where this can be spotted and helped.

      1. CountryLass*

        I also think this is a good idea, as the school may have a niggling concern, but not enough to escalate it, and this report may be the thing that tips the scale. There will be untold amounts of children and partners suffering abuse during these lockdown situations, as no-one will see the victim to notice and report it.

        I have been investigated by social services relating my children, as there was an injury that is common in abuse situations, and they needed to do more checking to confirm that it was a genuine accident. It was a terrifying experience, but I kept reminding myself it is better for an innocent party such as myself to be investigated than for a victim to be missed.

        Maybe this is what will give mum the help that she needs.

      2. Anax*

        Agreed with this. I’ve seen a few unfortunate situations where a direct CPS report didn’t result in removal, but DID prompt parents to escalate their behavior, because they were angry at their child for “getting them in trouble.” I think a counselor familiar with both the local institutions and the family would be best positioned to prevent any such escalation. They would also be well-positioned to make it clear that this is a big deal and provide further evidence, to forestall any claims that it was “just a misunderstanding” by you, a lay-person with only incidental contact with the kids.

        Obviously, that doesn’t mean not to report; this is important stuff. But getting the experts involved definitely sounds like a good idea here.

    6. AMum*

      The mum is abusive but she needs help
      She is crying out for it (Refused to mute; complaining on IM, inappropriate but seems she does not have other channels?)

      She should take time off work or work part time if permitted

      She should get parent training

      Does your company has employees assistant program or mental health program to help?

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes thank you for this. She is probably way past the end of her tether. Of course I have every sympathy for the children but the mother is obviously having a very tough time with three kids and no obvious help at home (if there’s another parent, they aren’t around during the day while she’s working).

      2. c-*

        Please don’t whitewash abuse nor link it to mental illness. Abuse is a choice, not a disorder. In this case, the mother is choosing to verbally abuse her children: that is a deliberate power move by a grown-ass woman, not a cry for help.
        Also, people with mental illnesses are much more likely to be abused than abusers. Saying an abuser must be mentally ill or crying for help is ableist, gross, and harmful for victims. It needs to stop.

        1. LTL*

          I don’t know how I feel about the “cry for help” comment. However: abuse isn’t a mental illness but it is absolutely something that people should get help for (unfortunately, most abusers aren’t willing- but in 2020 there are so many resources out there).

    1. pug life*

      Those poor kids. I have no doubt that having a 3, a 5, and a 7 year old is frustrating, especially when you’re trying to also work at the same time. But this is full on abuse, and kids just….are annoying. They can’t help it. They’re kids! It’s not their fault. And I cannot even imagine what it’s like to be in the headspace where you abuse your children in front of your coworkers and then complain about them being annoying like it’s routine.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        and kids just….are annoying. They can’t help it. They’re kids! It’s not their fault.

        This, so much. Which is why I don’t understand people who are highly irritable having children in the first place. Unless you’re rich and can afford full-time, live-in help and/or your kids are away at boarding school so you rarely have to deal with them, you probably should pass on the experience.

        1. SAHP*

          I don’t think her behavior is excusable, but maybe we can extend just a little bit of grace to someone who may not have ever expected to not be able to send their children to school and/or daycare due to a pandemic.

          1. Abuse, what?*

            Absolutely not. She is straight up abusing her kids. Having been subjected to this kind of abuse as a child I can tell you the sting of your own mother finding you worthless doesn’t leave for years and affects all of your young adulthood.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              Seconding! I’m in my 50’s and still have PTS from the verbal and emotional abuse I grew up with.

              1. Lwaxana Troi*

                Thirding. I’m 70 and still recovering from the emotional and verbal abuse my parents dished out. It’s really only fairly recently that I’ve come to realize how harmful some of their behavior was.

          2. SaffyTaffy*

            SAHP, my mom was under tremendous stress when she was raising me. She had very little support, tremendous challenges, and she loved and wanted me. She still said and did things that literally changed my brain’s ability to process stress, that changed my ability to see myself as valuable, and that changed what I expect from people who love me.
            It doesn’t matter that this mother didn’t expect to be homeschooling her kids.

          3. Jenkins*

            Extend her some grace? Sorry, no. She’s yelling at kids 7 and under to go play in traffic. She doesn’t even care enough to hide this nastiness from her coworkers. I don’t care how much stress she’s under, her behavior is disgusting.

            1. Mama Bear*

              I can’t help but think if that’s what she says with an audience, what happens when there isn’t one? My child can be frustrating. I have quipped to friends “teenagers are why some animals eat their young”, but I will never tell my child the hateful things the coworker is saying or tell a very small child to go play in traffic because young kids might take her literally. She’s probably very stressed, but she needs to admit she needs help and accept that help before something horrible happens.

          4. Dahlia*

            No. We’re not going to excuse abuse. Everyone is stressed. Everyone is not abusing their small children.

            1. Anon Lawyer*

              Extending grace is different than excusing abuse. You can say that this is unacceptable and needs to be stopped full stop without going to “why do irritable people have children?”

                1. Anon Lawyer*

                  That’s a nice thing to debate in the abstract, I guess, but she has the kids, so it’s kind of irrelevant. The question is what everyone involves needs so that this stops happening and the kids are in the best position possible. It’s easy to stand there at a distance and say “take them away forever” but there’s a reason child welfare officers don’t prefer that solution whenever possible. Extending grace can mean thinking “can this mother get the support and education and help she needs to stop abusing her children?” And sometimes, the answer is yes.

                2. Nita*

                  I’m hearing that a lot, and it’s a truly bizarre mindset. There was an article in the NY Times recently about how homeless families are struggling with the kids’ remote learning and wish the kids could be back in class. More than one person said things like “they shouldn’t have had children they can’t support, this is what abortion and adoption are for” as if the mothers knew 5-6 years ago that they’re going to become homeless, and on top of that, schools will close down. And there are lots of people saying similar things in other plances – apparently, if you don’t have the ability to quit your job on a dime/be in two places at once/ unexpectedly shell out for a live-in nanny, you must be an irresponsible parent who shouldn’t have had children.

                  I’m not excusing Jill at all. She needs help and the kids need help. But saying that she shouldn’t have had the kids because she’s going off the rails during an unprecedented and stressful time is odd. Unless Jill is psychic, and saw the pandemic coming when no one else did, and blithely said nothing (in which case, Jill is an even bigger jerk than OP’s letter suggests).

                3. CountryLass*

                  I don’t handle stress well, especially when my kids start piling on more and constantly demanding attention. I reach the point where I raise my voice, tell them to leave me alone and just give me 5 minutes to myself. Trying to homeschool, and work from home during lockdown was the lowest point in our relationship. I was so relieved when I was furloughed, and it got better when I gave up on home-schooling and just tried to teach them ‘something’ useful.

                  Then when I have got myself together, I go and talk to them, give cuddles and explain that Mummy should not have raised her voice like that, however when they can see Mummy is whirling about trying to do lots of different things, whining about not being able to put on a dolls dress, or wanting a different snack as the one they are part-way through eating is suddenly not good enough is really NOT helpful.

                  I always make sure I give my kids cuddles and let them know they are loved though. I just sometimes wish I could love them whilst they were somewhere else… I don’t say that bit, obviously.

              1. EchoGirl*

                I agree. I don’t think anyone is excusing Jill or abusive behavior in general; what people are objecting to is the extrapolation of that to “someone who finds their child irritating should never have had children in the first place!” What matters is how they handle that irritation, and that’s where Jill’s problem lies.

          5. JSPA*

            my dad loved to say, “go on the freeway and play.” It was part of a routine. With the right comic timing, it both told us we were pushing boundaries, and it was side-splittingly funny. (The freeway was over 6 miles away; this was not an invitation to play in actual traffic.)

            This is not to say that coworker isn’t being abusive. Just that the same words–even the same very blunt words–can be said with dripping distain, or with a sigh and a wink, and the effect is very different.

            1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              I’m thinking of my late, beloved grandma taking a drag on her cigarette and waving her hand at us, saying “ah go jump in a lake” in her old-time BK accent. She was such a good grandma and loved us to bits.

              I get that some families use earthier language than other families (mine was definitely on an end of the spectrum). But the OP heard the tone and the volume – and the OP is genuinely worried. Also, those are really young kids.

              1. jenkins the first*

                Yeah, I do comedic threats with my kids – ‘Do X or I’ll put you in a pie/hang you up by your ankles/feed you to the lions.’ They think it’s hysterical. I have never yelled at them to shut up or that they’re pissing me off, though.

                1. Kaiko*

                  Yeah, I’ll sometimes turn to my four year old and say in a conversational tone, “So, should I throw you in the lake this morning or what?” And then he collapses in a fit of giggles going “yes mama! Throw me in the lake!” Pushing boundaries can be fun, but everyone still needs to feel safe.

                2. CountryLass*

                  My eldest came out of school the other day, and whacked me in the back with her bag, as I was facing the other way talking to another parent and hadn’t seen her come out. Not hard, but enough to throw me off balance.

                  I asked her why she did it, and she said it was because I was facing the other way? I asked if that meant that I could belt her with a frying pan next time she was looking the other way, and she laughed and said no. I pointed out it is SOOO unfair that Rapunzel can hit people with a frying pan and I can’t… *cue pretend strop from mummy*

          6. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            Ah, no, we can’t extend any grace at all to people who are verbally their kids. LW, please call Childhelp or CPS and find out how to proceed from there. A visit from CPS can be profoundly troubling, but it may be just what these kids need to protect them…and just what Jill needs to shake her up and make her change her ways.

            1. Whereof Ispeak*

              Just a gentle reminder that CPS can determine whether the children are being neglected or physically abused. They can connect the mother with resources that can help her be a better parent or deal with other things that might be going on with her that we can’t see. However, CPS does not take people’s children away for emotional abuse, and they are not there to frighten parents into parenting the way you want them to. The weaponization of CPS is a real thing and *incredibly* unhelpful. People will call them in as a way to get back at a neighbor over a spat, for example. So please do just be wary about language like “no grace for people who verbally abuse their kids.” CPS is there to protect children. They are not the Stasi. It is important not to delegitimize them because the work they do is already traumatizing, hard beyond what you can imagine – the burnout rate is atrocious – and unbelievably critical.

              1. Whereof Ispeak*

                And just to be properly clear – the behavior the OP describes is super worrying, and I think the call is merited. Losing control and screaming at children that small and using violent language – in front of witnesses, no less – is a red flag. But CPS is going to be there to see if there is abuse beyond just yelling. They will also, if they are any good, (and this varies widely), see what they can do to de-stress things and prevent any escalation in the future – so help with housing, food security, anger management classes, parenting classes, etc.

              2. Observer*

                No one is suggesting that CPS be used like Stasi or to get even with people!

                What they are suggesting is that this behavior is extremely troubling, and it is reasonable to fear that what people are seeing is a window into a problem that includes measurable abuse – and in many states, the abuse can most definitely be mental / emotional.

                They also suggesting that sometime people get into a spiral and a shocking event can cause them to stop in their tracks and re-assess. That would be an EXCELLENT outcome here.

              3. Mia*

                I don’t think it’s weaponizing CPS to say that a visit may be a wake up call for Jill. I’ve known parents who have said basically the same thing about their family’s experience with CPS — that they didn’t realize what they were doing was beyond normal yelling/punishment, or didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until a professional stepped in and connected them with parenting classes or other resources.

                1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

                  Yes, I’ve seen that happen too; a single mother who was verbally abusive to her kids was reported to CPS and was shaken to her core. She really hadn’t grasped how far out of control her anger had gotten, but the threat of possibly losing her kids acted like a bucket of ice water – a very cold wake-up call. (She did get help for her behavior and learned better ways to manage her kids. But she needed that shock-dose of reality before she recognized that she needed to change what she was doing.)

                  And I repeat; in the case of the LW, as several people have pointed out, if Jill is doing this in public, who knows what’s going on in private?! This needs to be confronted and stopped ASAP!

          7. Observer*

            Extending grace? For telling a 7 year old to go kill himself?

            Actually smacking the kid would be better. This is a level of cruelty that is just breathtaking to consider.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I found reference to a study that said adult survivors had the worst wounds from words. Words hurt more by far.

              While we don’t teach people not to be abusive by hammering on them, we can show them how to help themselves handle situations differently. For those who won’t change what they are doing we have a court system.

        2. Observer*

          This has nothing to do with “highly irritable people” having kids.

          What’s happening is abuse. We don’t know why it’s happening – it could be a whole host of things and the most likely ones are not that she was “highly irritable” before she had kids. And, to be honest, for the OP it really doesn’t matter because it really wouldn’t change their options.

      2. Stephanie*

        Yes, all of this. I have a short fuse, and get annoyed pretty quickly. But I can. not. imagine saying this kind of thing to my kids regularly, let alone in front of my coworkers (and boss!). (“YOU ARE SO ANNOYING. GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC”—OMG. What a horrible thing to say.
        Kids are annoying, but, well, you’re the adult who brought them into this world. Deal with it.
        (I am very, very thankful that my kids are in college and I do not have to try to keep them on task for their schooling all day every day. I still would not talk to my kids like this, though.)

        1. Not Australian*

          “YOU ARE SO ANNOYING. GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC”—OMG. What a horrible thing to say.

          I said it to one of my cats once.

          He did.

          1. Pennyworth*

            I had a dog that had really annoying behavior and I once shouted at him ‘If you don’t quit that you will end up in a can’. He looked at me and howled. I felt bad about it for weeks.

            1. RoseDark*

              I foster kittens and when I’m annoyed at them I grumble “I will make you into SOOOOUP” in a good natured kind of way (no yelling) because I was vegetarian when I started saying it and the sheer ridiculousness of the sentence lightened my mood a bit.

              1. Lauren*

                I threaten to turn my cats into sausage all the time. I’m a vegetarian, but I also feel certain that the ex-boyfriend I picked up the habit from has never eaten cats.

                Would I ever say it to a human child, though? Noooooo.

        2. Ugh Kids*

          Yeah, I detest kids. Like can’t stand them, find them annoying in every way, shape, and form. From babies to teens. (Don’t worry judgey commenters, I don’t have any!) But I would NEVER say something like that. It’s really, really cruel. I also happen to think it’s bad karma/mojo/whatever to wish or say things about people getting hurt – even in jest.

        3. ThePear8*

          The traffic comment really appalled me. Even if “she didn’t mean it”, even saying something like that is just such an utter disregard for these kids’ health and safety.

          And as many other commenters pointed out, being told those things, especially at such a young age, can really screw you up for a long time later in life…I’m lucky to have never been in an abusive situation, and I know my parents both love and care about me, but when I was little we had a bit of a tumultuous household and some things happened around me and were said to me that, even knowing they deeply regret saying and doing them, over a decade and a half later still fill me with so much hurt and doubt. Even after making amends, it’s a kind of hurt you never really recover from, and I really, truly hope those kids situation gets better because they should not have to carry all that pain with them into their adult lives.

        4. JSPA*

          Uh, this phrasing is an old joke comment–Marx brothers, I think?–not an actual suggestion to play in traffic.

          I’m not saying it can’t be used abusively, but there’s a certain manhattan motormouth delivery of this that’s pure schtick, not cruel.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            So you’re going to just gloss over the fact that the OP has said several times in the letter and here in the comments that Jill is screaming these things to her kids, which more than likely means she’s not joking? There’s a distinct tone difference when telling a joke and being flippant (like a smile or laugh following the phrase) versus being deadly effing serious (yelling).

            Stop making excuses for this woman’s bad behavior.

          2. Observer*

            No. This is not shtick.

            She’s telling the kids – LITTLE KIDS who are too young to get that kind of shtick! to “shut up”, that they “piss her off” and that they stink. She actually screaming this at them. You really think that there is any way that she’s also screaming at them to go play in traffic as a “joke”?

            Please don’t try to defend the indefensible.

          3. Littorally*

            Kids don’t understand that. It takes a certain level of brain development, one they don’t reach until they’re much older than these little ones, to understand sarcasm.

            Kids with ages in the single digits are not going to know or care who Groucho Marx was. They’re going to know and care that their mother hates them.

          4. MassMatt*

            The children are 3, 5, and 7 years old. Not even the oldest one is the right audience for this “Schtick”, especially when it’s angrily screamed.

            I’m not 100% on board with calling CPS on this but this behavior shouldn’t be dismissed.

            1. Amaranth*

              I think that calling a hotline for guidance is the best choice here, rather than pushing it off on the manager, because the manager might caution the employee to mute but not take additional action, feeling its not their place, etc. My understanding is that calling authorities would at most result in a wellness check saying that people heard a lot of screaming at the children. If she has neighbors, they probably hear the yelling as well, so it wouldn’t immediately point to the zoom meetings. But it would be awful for this to continue or escalate because nobody took action.

          5. sb51*

            Never knew it was Marx brothers — my family quoted it when I was a kiddo as a schtick, and it was veeeeeery clear that that’s what it was. Even though I had no idea it was from something rather than a family invention.

            But it’d also be very clear to anyone listening that kid-me got that it was a joke and was just rolling my eyes at my dad’s corny repeated jokes (especially the ones that, missing their original context, were just bafflingly silly).

        5. mgguy*

          I don’t have kids(yet…my new wife and I are pretty much planning on it before too terribly long) but I can’t help but think of other relationships where people irritate me.

          Yes, I can have a short fuse at times. Yes, I can be irritable when stressed.

          Telling someone to go harm themselves should be completely off the table, though, to any rational person no matter how angry you are. Actually doing the harm(who knows if it’s happening off camera or not) to anyone, much less a defenseless child, is incomprehensible to me.

          Yes, kids can try your patience. Babies can cry constantly for no apparent reason, or for a reason you can’t necessarily help. Older kids can know how to push your buttons to irritate you, no matter how good of a kid they are or how they are raised. Still, though, discipline can take a lot of forms, and no reasonable form of discipline involves abuse(whether physical or emotional). My dad, at 70 years old, still struggles often with the emotional abuse inflicted on him by his grandmother(who would never have laid a hand on him) 60 years ago when he lived with her just for about two years. BTW, too, hers wasn’t yelling and screaming at him, but rather just constant streams of telling him that he was a failure, wasn’t good enough, embarrassed her, etc. Fortunately, he had the good sense to realize how she was, and say “I’m never treating my children that way” and not treat us that way because it was what he knew.

          I feel terrible for the kids involved in this situation, and hope that some good resolution can come of it.

        6. Elliott*

          Same. I can be impatient, I get irritable when I’m stressed, and sometimes I might think some uncharitable things, but I can’t imagine saying things like this to anyone, let alone a small child.

          I don’t talk to my cats this way, even when I playfully call them monsters.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        pug life, “I cannot even imagine what it’s like to be in the headspace where you abuse your children in front of your coworkers and then complain about them being annoying like it’s routine.” I can assure you the mother is in an effing awful headspace and needs support.

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Everything AAM said and…

    Why is no one else muting Jill? I’m pretty sure there’s an option where you can mute other people.

    This is irrelevant, but I really want to know why she doesn’t mute herself. That’s so weird. Reminds me of an unstable coworker who refused to take her calls off speaker and we all worked in cubes. She enjoyed telling us no.

    1. OP*

      I am pretty new to the department, I have no idea why the host doesn’t mute her. I honestly sit there horrified by her behavior but too nervous to speak up.

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        Something is very wrong with the interpersonal dynamics in your department. Jill screams at her kids and takes personal calls, and they don’t even mute her?

        1. snoopythedog*

          If Jill abuses her kids verbally, she may also verbally abuse her coworkers and have created an environment where people are afraid to confront her and just sort of let her do her thing.

          1. Ominous Adversary*

            Exactly. OP has also commented that Jill doesn’t do this when their boss is on the chat, which is VERY telling.

            1. MassMatt*

              This is very telling indeed. Jill is clearly an awful person that knows what she is doing is awful. She either doesn’t care about anyone else’s opinions (except her boss) or else she likes having an audience.

          2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            And if she thinks it’s fine to verbally abuse her kids with her whole office listening, can you imagine what she could be doing to them when nobody else is listening or watching?!

          3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            OP, you said in another comment that you are new… is there a trusted team member in that group or one you have a better rapport with, who you could potentially find out the history of the Jill situation from?

          4. CastIrony*

            This. I’ve had managers that I was afraid to confront when they were treating me unfairly, and I’ve just steered clear of them, trying to come up with the courage of asking work questions and things like that.

            Though I agree OP should try to speak up, if they’re safe to do so without facing retaliation.

          5. LGC*

            Or it might not even be verbal abuse from Jill (although I wouldn’t put it past her) – I actually did a milder version of this myself last week, where I didn’t fully confront an employee about his repeatedly taking his mask off until after another employee text messaged me to tell me about it. Mask guy is pretty nice to me, actually, and he’s nice to others.

            (To be fair, I had talked to the guy repeatedly and was planning on talking to him the next day anyway since he’d already left. But I’d been overly subtle in my previous reprimands – saying, “I’d like you to wear your mask” and “Um…I see you licking your fingers to turn pages, do you want these rubber fingertips?”)

            There’s a lot of reasons why a manager or coworker might not speak up – in my case, I felt a bit like I was kind of ramming my head into a wall, and if I’d escalated my concerns would be dismissed. (This is not unjustified in my case.) Plus, I’ll admit that I’m not the best supervisor in the world.

            In this case, the manager could be assuming that Jill is under a lot of stress because she doesn’t have any childcare so of course it’s okay for her to yell horrible things at her toddlers – she’s stressed! And she might have been pleasant in the Before Times. (And like ten billion other things I can think of right now.)

            I wouldn’t doubt that Jill’s browbeat the team into submission for her antics, but there’s many reasons why this could happen.

      2. irene adler*

        If on-line meetings are a new thing to your group, it may be that the notion that an active facilitator is needed to ‘keep the peace’ (in addition to a host to run the meeting).

        I know from hosting on-line events myself, that it’s hard to be both a host and a facilitator- too much to keep track of . That’s the case for me, anyways.
        I do feel a little bit bad when I have to mute someone to keep their disruption (or excessive background noise) from continuing. But folks need to remember to act professionally when on-line. Maybe being at home has something to do with making this harder for folks to adhere to. But every time I do mute someone, there’s a string of “Thanks!” in the chat from the other attendees.

        1. Dave*

          The screaming kid abuse aside this might be something to recommend to whoever is running the meeting to have someone share hosting duties so they can mute, help with screen share, etc

          1. irene adler*

            Thinking there needs to be intervention (per what many others have posted) re: the abuse situation

      3. JustHereToRead*

        I’m sorry you are dealing with this OP. That’s deeply troubling behavior. I know at the very least the meeting host can mute participants in Zoom. It’s horrible that the children are dealing with that.

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I think a lot of people consider interactions between parent and child a ‘family matter’ and they won’t ‘interfer.’ My parents were abusive in every way you can imagine, and I found out much later that a lot of people at our church either knew or suspected, but they just wouldn’t get involved in ‘private matters.’

        OP, I hope you and/or your team can find a way put Jill on notice – even if she isn’t physically abusive, she’s doing long-term emotional harm to her children. In some ways, the words my parents hurled at us kids hurt more than what they did.

        Thank you for caring about these defenseless little ones, OP!

        1. Deliliah*

          Yep. I grew up with cousins who I knew for sure were being abused and my parents never said anything to anyone because they believed it wasn’t anyone else’s business what went on in that family. I suspect a lot of it was “If we tell on them, they’re gonna find something to tell on us about.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Ugh. I hate this bs with the fire of ten suns.
            So they got themselves off the hook and that is the most important thing right?/wrong.
            This was the predominate thinking when I was growing up. I can remember classmates talking about being hit with a belt or hairbrush. No adult around them would do anything to help the kids.

      5. Elle*

        Honestly, the fact that you haven’t spoken up means you’re in an even better position to call CPS because now you can do it anonymously without fear of repercussions. I would urge you to call CPS – TODAY – and do not feel bad about it no matter the outcome. If this is how your coworker treats her kids in front of colleagues, you have to wonder what she does behind closed doors and the only way to clear your conscience is to tip off CPS so they can make sure the home environment is safe.

        Also, if you’re worried that this will result in your coworker losing all access to her children, please don’t let that fear stop you. Social services has a lot of tools besides just taking children away from parents. At least in the US, the bar is incredibly high for a child to be removed from a parent’s custody. Calling CPS can trigger an investigation that will lead to the family receiving the appropriate resources to manage their situation – it can lead to access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t have and be really helpful, CPS is not just about court hearings.

        1. Nita*

          I agree. I know that sometimes, when extended family members call CPS, they go out of their way to stay anonymous. Not because they’re backstabbing types, but because they’re worried that if CPS comes but does nothing, the parents may still cut off their access to the children, and they will have no way of knowing if things get worse. And from this point of view, maybe it’s not a good idea to call out Jill’s behavior on the calls. I don’t think she’s likely to act all ashamed and become nicer to the children. If anything, she’s more likely to take out her humiliation on them, and to take the abuse offline (I’m not sure I’m reading this right, but she may or may not have been trying to lock them in the bathroom during calls?)

    2. irene adler*

      I agree.
      Why isn’t the moderator doing all that can be done to silence this person? When I moderate meetings, the first thing I do is locate the mute buttons for everybody. And be ready to mute when there’s any kind of disrupting noise. Many times folks don’t realize how loud their paper shuffling can be.

      Up front I ask everyone to mute themselves-except when it’s their turn to speak. Some don’t do this. One person could not figure out how to do this. Don’t know about the others. Worst case, I mute them at my end.

      1. Coalea*

        There is nothing worse than being on a meeting where people have been told to mute, some do not and make disruptive noise or create audio feedback, and the meeting organizer doesn’t step in and mute them! Everyone who leads meetings should be familiar with the functionality of the platform they are using.

        1. ThePear8*

          Agreed. I had a zoom class and on the first day we heard someone’s toilet flush, and subsequently could hear them talking with someone else in the background and then turning on the shower. While it was kind of hilarious, it was also really distracting and the chat exploded with people complaining about it and telling this person to mute themselves, which seemed to go blatantly ignored, much to everyone’s frustration. Someone finally stepped in and informed the (older, not very tech-savvy) professor that he could mute people. Professor immediately muted him, and it was much easier to concentrate on the lecture.

      2. Heidi*

        I’m finding that a lot of people I work with are having their admins schedule the zoom, but the admins don’t attend the meeting itself. If the meeting isn’t set up right you can end up in a meeting with very limited functionality and no one in the meeting can change it. Some people have still not familiarized themselves with zoom functions. This is how I ended up in a meeting with the speaker bellowing, “Why can’t I advance the slide?” while he was actually sharing his email inbox with the whole company.

        1. Libervermis*

          I’m sorry, I’m sure that must have been frustrating for everyone in the moment, but it’s also making me laugh because I’m imagining a tech-challenged jerk of a former colleague doing just that.

        2. another_scientist*

          This is what I was assuming, because the OP mentioned that they have to leave the zoom room before the next group. That setup sounds similar to my statewide non-profit which holds only one zoom license, so we have to time the meetings with the other chapters. We’ve had a situation multiple times where the IT guy had set up the meeting but nobody on the call had the host privileges. This is problematic when people need to be muted or sometimes you can’t even share your screen.

      3. mgguy*

        I’m a professor who is spending my first semester learning the ins and outs of zoom as best as I can.

        I have my meeting preferences set to “mute all participants on entry.” My students know full well they can unmute and ask a question or make a comment at any time(I stress this to them) but not muting when not actively participating is bad.

        Before I did the auto-mute setting, I had several instances where people were doing things distracting in the background unmuted. One of the worst, and this was in like the second class when I was still learning, was a student who I had suspect signed on, walked away from their computer, and turned music on. Both other students and me were begging them to mute, but they ignored. Fortunately, I found both that in the participant list for Zoom, it’s easy to both see who is muted and not, who is actively making noise when unmuted(the mic icon will “fill”), and it’s one click to mute that person. It’s a useful trick for any meeting host to know.

    3. Aquawoman*

      I think in Teams there is an option for me to mute any other participant (not mute them so no one can hear them, mute them so I can’t hear them).

      But definitely call a helpline or CPS. These poor kids. Telling your kids to go play in traffic is saying “I wish you were dead.” It hurts to even type that.

  2. Diahann Carroll*

    “Go play in traffic” said to three, five, and seven year olds who may actually take her up on it since they’re still too young to understand sarcasm? Jesus.

    Some people just shouldn’t have kids. I’d take option 3 in Alison’s advice.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I actually had to read that twice to get the meaning – I thought she told them to go play with their toy cars in a very weird manner – because something that horrific didn’t even occur to me at first. My god.

    2. Anonys*

      Yeah, this is by far the worst example of the abuse described. I mean the literal meaning/implication behind this is “go die/ kill yourself” and honestly saying that to anyone but above all your own minor children is beyond shocking.

      I think option 2 is still important to do as well/in the meaning. Even if it teaches Jill nothing, it’s simply not ok to continue to normalize this among the other coworkers.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        The level of vitriol it takes to say this mess to babies is…wow. They don’t need to be living with this woman.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Whoa there you’re saying they need to be taken into care? I have said things I’m utterly ashamed of to my children, at times when I’ve been beyond exhausted, when you default to the parenting you were subjected to as a child – meaning that I acted like my own abusive mother despite having sworn I wouldn’t. My partner worked ridiculously long hours, we didn’t have any grandparents around, and I was very isolated. Yet I found a support group/network, did parenting workshops, muddled through somehow and I’m now very proud of how my children have turned out, because they are kind and gentle and patient and helpful (not to mention their stellar studies and work ethic).

      2. ThePear8*

        Agreed. I said something similar in a comment above, but this just really appalled me that anyone would say that to their kids. Even if she claims she didn’t mean it, just saying that exhibits just such complete disregard for their health and safety. I have to wonder in what other ways she mistreats her kids when no one else is around. Even if she somehow makes things right in the future, as a kid knowing my parent said that to me when I was 5 or 7…would irreparably hurt for the rest of my life.

        1. Pennyworth*

          My mother sometimes said mean things to me when I annoyed her – like ”You are a really nasty child”. I can remember every single one, and they still hurt. As an adult I realised she was probably clinically depressed most of her life, and that she couldn’t help preferring my sister to me, but it can’t change the damage she did to my self esteem.

    3. Aquawoman*

      And alternatively, they understand what she really means, which is “go kill yourself.” Not sure which is worse.

        1. 10Isee*

          I was 6 when a family member told me to “go stand in the street.” We lived on a highway. I definitely knew what she meant.

    4. anon mom*

      Oh wow somehow I missed this one in my first read. I have a 2 and 4 year old, and I know the stress of having little kids around when you’re trying to work. Every parent loses their cool sometimes, but “go play in traffic”?? That is crossing a line for sure.

    5. Lwaxana Troi*

      Yeah, wow. My mom could talk some smack back in the day (and she did cross some lines), but even she stopped short of telling us the equivalent of “Go kill yourselves.”

      I agree with reporting this shite.

  3. Ms Frizzle*

    I’ve been a mandated reporter for years, and if I heard an adult tell a child to go play in traffic (and it clearly wasn’t mutually understood by the parent and child as a joke), I would call. Not to mention frequent screaming, but that one particularly stands out to me as Not Ok.

    1. NervousHoolelya*

      I was just going to say the same thing. I’m a mandated reporter, and based on what OP is describing, I would have to call it in.

    2. AnonInTheCity*

      Yes. When I was in therapy for PPA, my counselor was upfront with me about the threshold for mandated reporting, and “screaming insults at your kids” definitely was part of what she described. This is heartbreaking. A 3 year old is a baby.

    3. anon for this*

      Yup. Because some kids will take it seriously. I did, no joke.

      Back in the mists of time (we’re talking almost 50 years ago) when I was about um, four? my late godfather and late mother were sitting around drinking and chatting on the back patio and I was apparently being a bother. My godfather was a very sarcastic priest. He looked at me and said deadpan, “Kid, go play in traffic.” No clues to show he was joking.

      Apparently I decided to be obedient to authority at the exact wrong moment. My mother intercepted me before I reached the front door to go play in traffic like I was told. While we lived in a fairly quiet neighborhood, it was still semi-urban and there was, indeed, traffic.

      My wail of “Father X SAID go play in traffic I’m doing what I’m TOLD!” got me put in my room for a time-out and my godfather treated to a blistering lecture about what we say and do not say to small children.

      He was horrified and remorseful because “I say that to the kids in the parish all the time and they laugh at me! It was a JOKE! I had no IDEA the kid would take me seriously!”

      “How old are they?”

      “Ten, eleven…oh.”

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup. I can easily see this happening with the kids in this letter. Little kids do what they’re told (for the most part) – Jill’s endangering these babies and everyone’s just sitting around like this is a normal thing. It’s a shame.

      2. Alli525*

        I’ve known and loved some really sarcastic priests over the years, but … YIKES. I did laugh at “I decided to be obedient to authority at the wrong moment” though.

        1. anon for this*

          I was not always the most obedient four-year-old, let’s put it that way. So I suspect as an adult that my godfather had expected me to refuse to go play in traffic on principle of “Father X is being silly and I don’t have to do what he says because I know I’m not supposed to go in the street.” *wry grin*

          These poor kids, though. As others have said, if this is what’s being yelled at them on-camera…what’s being yelled at them off-camera?

      3. Incognito for this one*

        Yep, all of this. Kids are extremely literal. My earliest memory (3ish years old?) is of me dropping a creamsicle I was eating and my mother yelling at me that I had to eat it anyway or I wouldn’t get any more. So, I ate it off the floor. When she saw that I’d done what I was told, she laughed at me.

        Also, just want to cast another vote in the “Please, speak up” column. I can’t imagine someone saying something to my mother about her verbal and emotional abuse would have resulted in her changing. However, hearing someone speak out in my defense would have been a balm to my psyche and given me something good to hold on to in my mind.

        1. Anonymouse*

          In a completely harmless example of children taking things very literally, not understanding nuanced or unspoken assumptions–my mother will tell the story of when my oldest sister was around 4–my mother was doing laundry and asked my sister to bring her the laundry basket from her room, my sister brought the laundry basket–which actually had no laundry in it needing washing.

      4. Mimi Me*

        And some kids (and adults) don’t understand sarcasm at all. My kids, husband, and I are sarcastic with each other all of the time, but some of my kids friends have questioned the kids on things that were said. (Ex: when my daughter was in 5th grade she had a slumber party. I checked on them every once in a while throughout the evening. One of the girls asked me why I kept coming in. Truthfully it was because my daughter was nervous about the girls from different friend groups fighting, but I said – with a bit of smile – “I need to make sure you don’t let in any boys while I’m not looking”. One of the girls called her mom to come get her because she was afraid boys were coming over too. Her mom was EXACTLY as confused as the daughter when she came to get her. Even after I explained that it was a sarcastic joke, the mom kept asking me to explain it. Every interaction with them was like that.) Some people don’t get sarcasm and it’s dangerous to assume that they do, especially when using phrases like ‘go play in traffic” I worry for those poor kids.

    4. Rainy*

      Yeah, I read this wondering why someone hadn’t called already, honestly.

      If things are remediable in the household, CPS will work with the parent to improve the environment for the kids, and if the children are in danger, they will be removed, but nobody wants more kids in the system and CPS isn’t waiting to pounce and take away people’s children for no reason.

      Everyone I’ve ever heard say that they knew about a situation where CPS had taken kids out of the home “for no reason”, when you do even a little digging…there’s always a reason.

      1. Alex*

        All this!! CPS isn’t perfect, but they do have (and use) a variety of tools besides “take the kids away forever”

      2. China Girl On the Shelf*

        As a foster parent of many years, I agree there is “always a reason”.

        Naturally, the effectiveness of CPS intervention varies by county and/or state, but their mandate in recent years is family unification so they will work with the parent(s) to improve the situation. Some people should not be parents, but many people need help breaking the destructive patterns they were raised with and getting a chance to become better parents.

      3. moql*

        Very much this. Parents are given many chances and resources. It is extremely hard to actually terminate parental rights, even when it is clear that things are not changing. I know one foster family who has had their foster child almost two years now because the parents keep promising to make changes and not following through. I know another family where the 14 year old spends all of her time taking care of her baby step-siblings while the mother is drunk all day but DCFS hasn’t done more than a house visit. Never hesitate to call based on a worry that DCFS will take the children away for something that ends up not being a big issue.

        If you are at all interested in caring for children within the system consider becoming a CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocate. You visit with the child you are assigned ~2 times a month and make sure they have a voice through the process. This can include things like making sure their school records follow them and teachers are aware of any needs or letting the lawyer know the child told you mom is still drinking. It can make a big difference and they always have more children than volunteers.

        1. CASA Volunteer*

          Seconding this recommendation. I’ve been a CASA volunteer for seven years and it’s a great way to get an extra set of eyes to support kids through the process, especially when most CPS departments are overloaded.

          Also agreeing that you must call this in – verbal abuse sometimes feel like a gray area, but it is VERY MUCH abuse. And as several other people have stated, CPS doesn’t just go from intake to removing kids from a home. There’s a whole (oftentimes too long) investigation process and show cause hearings. Many cases never make it this far. But this needs to be on the record that a report was made. When you call in, they’ll give you a reference number which you should write down and hold onto in case you need to call in again, and if after calling in, the abuse escalates or shifts to look different, you need to call in again.

      4. Pennyworth*

        Perhaps other people on the OP’s zoom meetings have called, which would be a good thing because CPS would have multiple notifications. I’m sure OP can’t be the only person who is horrified by the abusive behavior.

    5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I agree, this is 100% reportable abuse.

      I do need to point out, because this came up at my work (where we were mandatory reporters, but couldn’t file reports without an authorized supervisor releasing the child’s address): you need to be careful using the workplace computer system to access Jill’s information for the purposes of filing the report. If the report asks for her address/phone number, etc., and you have to look it up in a database, you can get in trouble with your employer for accessing information that does not have anything to do with you. So just FYI and try to stick to publicly available information if you think your employer is likely to take that tack.

      1. Rainy*

        Yup. I had to report someone years ago and I had to wait until I could find her address and contact info in a way that wasn’t related to how I was made aware of the abuse.

    6. DW*

      I wouldn’t joke about that stuff, period. In my experience you really cannot tell whether a kid knows it’s a joke even if you outright say it’s a joke. I had a co-counselor at a summer camp who would always joke around and the kids never understood what he was saying was just to be funny. He ended up telling one kid to hit another kid (over a toy dispute), which the kid promptly did. We gave those kids so many talks about playing nice and not hitting each other and it all went out the window in seconds.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Flashback to the time a camp counselor got irritated with me being a know-it-all over my snakebite and told me to bite him.

        I’m genuinely unsure as to what he expected.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Maybe? I was seven-ish and had pathological bloodlust. The important part to me was that he wanted me to commit violence.

  4. Willow*

    Call child protective services. Now. I know this is a difficult time for parents and we need to give people stuck at home with their kids some slack. But not when they’re putting their kids in danger. And telling those young kids to go play in traffic is putting them in danger. The kids need help.

    1. Littorally*

      This. She’s telling her children directly to harm themselves. Small children don’t understand sarcasm or figurative speech. Those kids are in danger.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Developmentally speaking, the seven-year-old is probably old enough to understand sarcasm well enough to have a sense that their mom is a trash fire of parenting skills. Which is bad on a different level because a seven-year-old isn’t all that capable of protecting their younger siblings even if they know something wrong is happening.

    2. Girl Alex PR*

      I also want to note that while reports to CPS are down due to COVID, ER visits related to abuse are up. Many, many children in already abusive situations are suffering even more so now due to the stress of work, money issues, etc. on their parents because of the pandemic. My father is a child psychiatrist and said what they’re seeing in ERs and his office now is on par with the recession. Call now. Don’t wait.

      1. Rainy*

        My sister is a teacher and when they went all online some of the students in her school suddenly had no safe place to go during the day. Her husband works in the district too and found two little siblings who’d broken into a school outbuilding and made a little nest so they could have someplace away from home to be during the day and try to do their homework using the school wifi. They weren’t being fed at home either.

          1. Rainy*

            I’m so torn about all of this, because it’s not safe for kids to be in schools because of the virus, but it’s also not safe for a lot of kids to be at home because of the people who are supposed to be caring for them. A lot of lower-income high school kids in her district have been put out to work because their parents lost their jobs, and yet she’s supposed to make sure they’re sitting on Zoom seven hours a day and doing their BS busywork, and she can’t ask the kids anything about their non-academic life or the parents threaten to kill her. It’s…a mess.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              I am also torn on this dynamic. A lot of kids who needs a safe space and food to eat aren’t getting that if the schools are closed. But if they are in the schools they are at risk of contracting the virus.

              A friend of mine is a teacher and a kid came to school last week who had 2 positive parents at home. When the school called his parents to tell them that he couldn’t stay and would have to transition to virtual classes (our school districts have both options) the parent said “It’s not my responsibility to quarantine him, it’s yours, what do you expect me to do with him?”

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                There is a further complication that CV-19 can make you ill more quickly than you expect, before your contingency plans can even be conceived, let alone carried out.

                It was lucky for my children that my spouse was still well when I was suddenly so delirious I couldn’t recognise them, let alone meet their needs.

                But yeah, those parents suck.

            2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              My country (England*) had phased school opening, where children of “keyworkers” (e.g. people working in emergency services, healthcare, essential retail) were the first in, followed by the children identified as most vulnerable – which included those without access to remote learning as well as those known to be “at risk”. I must say I don’t know how satisfactory the take-up was among vulnerable groups.

              * in the UK we have a mixture of pan-UK, national (England/Scotland/Wales/NI) and regional rules in place, some of which are laws and some merely advice or guidelines. It’s not at all confusing, nope.

        1. Mimi Me*

          A former neighbor of mine was an alcoholic with two daughters. He wasn’t a mean drunk, just a consistent one. CPS was involved in their lives in some capacity, but there was no removal from the home the three years we lived as their neighbors. However, the moment liquor stores in my state were considered non-essential and the Governor announced they’d remain closed, I immediately thought of those poor girls. I witnessed that man walk through three feet of snow to the liquor store after a blizzard (with a broken foot, no less!) to get his daily case of beer. I cannot imagine what it was like in that house when he wasn’t able to get his liquor for a few weeks.

          1. xyz*

            This is why many locales kept liquor stores open. No use in burdening healthcare facilities and other social services with drunks who can’t get their liquor anymore and go into withdrawal.

            1. tangerineRose*

              Yep. I know a lot of people have asked why were liquor stores still open when so much was closed. This is why.

        2. Nita*

          OMG. This is heartbreaking. This is why we need to make reopening schools a priority, everywhere where it’s more or less safe. At some point the risks of the virus pale in comparison to the risks of the isolation (I’m looking at you, NYC’s school system…)

          1. Nephron*

            Or we could fund and support the programs that help children either with more money for Food stamps, or better funding for CPS and the foster care system. Covid19 is not creating the problems with abuse, neglect, or poor families that are doing their best but do not have resources, Covid19 is just showing we have never properly funded these things and have left children in precarious situations for decades.

      2. Mama Bear*

        Exactly. It is now up to the community to speak up when we suspect something is wrong – for children, for the elderly, and for other vulnerable adults. Domestic abuse hasn’t stopped behind closed doors. :(

    3. Alli525*

      Yes, absolutely. I was once on a city bus with a woman who was screaming obscenities and insults at her school-age children over the phone, but because I knew nothing about her I couldn’t call CPS. I quietly told her (on my way off the bus) that she shouldn’t speak to her children like that, which naturally resulted in nothing but an angry “f*ck you,” but we should NEVER be too timid to stand up for a child that’s being abused, no matter the personal consequences.

      OP, you know enough about this person to call CPS. Please do it.

  5. Stephanie*

    As someone who works with kids and is mandated to report suspected child abuse, I agree with calling Child Protective Services. I am also concerned that if this is the way she treats her kids when people are listening, what does she say/do when others aren’t around?

      1. Rainy*

        She may not be, but emotional abuse is just as bad in the long term as any other kind of abuse, and it needs to stop.

          1. Mid*

            This. My parents are good people who did their best to overcome their upbringings, but they still said and did some things that haunt me 20+ years later.

            1. Mimi Me*

              Yep! My mother laughs about them now, as if they were a joke and not the things that have replayed over and over in my head at some of the lowest points of my life, and a few of the highest. Words are powerful and hurt.

              1. Ealasaid*

                There are several stories from my childhood that were regularly trotted out as “isn’t this hilarious” anecdotes, but when I told them to my therapist or my partner, they were horrified. So many parents don’t understand how much damage they can do with things that seem like nothing to them at the time. Dr. Gabor Mate has some great writing and YouTube videos about this stuff.

                1. Frustration Nation*

                  Same. That was how I learned I probably needed therapy – my “funny” stories from childhood horrified friends. Everyone thought my parents were the best parents in the world because my brother and I were so well-behaved, so no one ever intervened. We were never struck, but two adult narcissists can do a hell of a number on two empathetic kids. I wish someone had spoken up for us, even if nothing happened, because I might have realized earlier on that what was happening wasn’t normal. If CPS decides there’s nothing they can do, then at least you tried, and Mom gets a heads up that others have noticed her words. And if it turns out this Mom has been driven to the brink, and maybe they can provide some support, then that’s great. Someone has to intervene for the kids’ sake.

  6. Eberronguy*

    That sounds horrifying…

    Please use either the link mentioned above or child protective services to see what could be done. In the meanwhile you need to get your manager on about this. That stuff should have been shut down as soon as it started.

  7. Environmental Compliance*

    That’s so awful. The stink one I can kind of get – I remember my nephews still learning potty training, and them having *so much gas*, and being told if they’re so stinky they need to go see if they need to use the potty, but telling them they’re annoying and to play in traffic? What the actual f*ck.

    I am continuously flabbergasted by people who have kids and seem to want nothing to do with them.

    1. Justme, the OG*

      I tell my pre-teen that she smells and needs to put on more deodorant. We also tell each other “die mad about it” because for some reason that stupid meme from a few years ago stuck with both of us. And we have yelled because virtual schooling sucks (not while on a Zoom, though). But telling a kid to actively harm themselves? No way.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Right? My oldest younger sister went through the weird teen phase where cleanliness just isn’t…a thing, somehow, so there were definitely days I had to be blunt and tell her HEY, you smell, you have to actually use soap when you shower. And I definitely had a thing with my mom and I telling each other to go eat worms as a convoluted inside joke.

        But good lord, “go play in traffic” with kids too young to understand that kind of joke, an age inappropriate to even make that joke to, and 2 of them just probably at the age to start understanding that their mom treats them differently than other kids are treated by their moms. My heart hurts.

        1. Justme, the OG*

          I have to remind her to shower. And it’s sometimes a fight about it. The telling them to harm themselves part is what I just cannot get past.

          1. OP*

            I understand the cleanliness thing, but to scream during a zoom call seems a little extreme. This isn’t just a gentle reminder to wash up, she is screaming.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              Screaming is not okay, and neither are harsh tones.

              And to be honest, none of it even with appropriate tones/wording should make it consistently onto Zoom calls, but that’s a whole different issue.

              1. AKchic*

                At worst, I shame my dog because she’s let an SBD off right next to me while cuddling when I’m on a call. Luckily, everyone else I’m on the call with understands because everyone else has dogs and all of their dogs are older.
                Once, my older cat let a horrible old lady fart out (and it had sound) while I was talking.

                The *worst* was when I had forgotten to mute myself after I’d finished talking and my dog wanted butt skritches. She has a very distinctive growl when she wants them. She sounds like a bear in heat. My entire meeting was favored with her growls of pleasure and my exasperated “you can’t have butt rubs if you’re sitting on your butt!”. Yeah… I am much more careful about muting now.

                1. CommanderBanana*

                  Aaah, I left my camera on during a long meeting and forgot it was on, so everyone got to see me playing a round of “smooooosh em up, smooooth em out” with my dog, which involves me smooshing her jowls together, smooching them vigorously, then smoothing them out and repeating.

              1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

                Right! If you have to remind your kid to shower or put on deodorant or use the potty correctly–you do it quietly and not in front of people!

                1. Firecat*

                  I’m much less judgey on that part. Boundaries are blurred with Covid.

                  I remember, before I had my niece and nephew live with me for an extended period how I use to judge the parents who got annoyed at their kids in the store and would snap things like:

                  “For the last time no!” Etc.

                  Let’s just say I am far less judgemental now.

                  That said the ops coworker is going above, exasperated, to straight up verbally abusive.

                  Yelling is so damaging. My sister and I were screamed at constantly and it took several years of therapy to unlearn that *I don’t get to ask for things I need*

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  I can remember actually being told the deal was if I made a scene in public, I should not be surprised at what happened next. There were a few times where one parent carried me out to the car because of my behavior. For whatever reason, that was absolutely awful in my mind’s eye. I learned to do better. But the public stuff was just being carried to the car or told “no. stop.”
                  Conversations were done in private. And that is when the wheels fell off sometimes.
                  Like others have said if Jill is willing to do this where people see it, what on earth is she doing in private????

            2. Helen J*

              At this age it’s her responsibility to make sure her kids are clean (bath or assist in bathing) and screaming at them is not okay at all. If they’ve had a potty accident, it’s her responsibility to clean/assist in cleaning themselves. I can’t even imagine what she says to them in private. This is absolutely verbal and emotional abuse and I don’t understand why no one had said anything. Please call or make a report.

              1. jenkins the first*

                Yeah – I now have a preteen who gets a bit too relaxed about remembering deodorant, which she does need (and yet I still do not scream at her about!). But at 7 and under that wasn’t a thing, and I was supervising all her baths/showers and helping with all accidents because that’s what you DO for tiny children.

        2. AKchic*

          pre-teens and teens go through the whole “I don’t need to shower, I like my own scent” phase… while the rest of us die on eu de body odor. Especially when some teens hit the overly sweaty, overly odorous phase. Two of my teens have had that so far, and still felt that daily showers weren’t necessary (when 2-3 showers were actually needed).
          And then the Axe Body Spray phase just before they realize that showers might be a good thing (I’m allergic to most artificial fragrances). Axe was banned in my house over a decade ago.

          1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

            I am overly thankful that there is one lone girl on my son’s sportsball team. She has informed them all that Axe smells janky. None of them are inclined to use it as a result.

            1. (insert name here)*

              She sounds awesome. Not only comfortable being the lone girl but happy to tell those boys when they smell janky. She’s great.

          2. Media Monkey*

            OMG we are on the “just cover it up with Victoria Secret body spray” phase. if they made a spray that didn’t leave the house stinking of watermelon/ vanilla/ cupcake sprinkles it would help. still i guess we’ll be thinking back to these halcyon days when we can’t get in the bathroom,

        1. Mama Bear*

          Right, and depending on the age of the child SHE is responsible for bathing that child, cleaning up accidents, helping them in restroom, etc. so if the kid stinks, it may be on her.

      2. feministbookworm*

        Right, well, part of the “die mad about it” thing is that you’re saying “go ahead and stay mad forever, it won’t change my position.” Which is actually the opposite of telling someone you want them to die soon.

    2. Rainy*

      I’ve friend-breakup/African Violetted a couple of people over the years for being shitty parents. One couple in particular were super gung-ho to have a child, waited until they felt like they were in a good spot financially etc, and then just…weren’t prepared, somehow, for the unpleasant, tedious, loud, smelly, self-sacrificing parts of parenting. They tried to push their parenting off on their friends (“it takes a village! you promised you’d be here for us!”) and when that didn’t work, they just…stopped? Two kids and five cats and they parented the kids about the same as they parented the cats.

      My sister (HS teacher) said that the pandemic has made it clear to her how many parents in her district had kids assuming that everyone else would take care of them and are angry–and a little scared–now that they’re having to do it themselves.

      1. Batgirl*

        Lots of people think that having kids is just some rite of getting a driving licence or your own place. Hard-ish but not really difficult. I’ve heard the exact phrase “It’s what people do” used, making me feel sorry for the poor little sods at home.
        Of course, if you believe that then the fact that it’s really tough and only suitable for the super committed comes as quite a shock. I’m pretty sure there have been people on this site saying it can’t be hard “or how would people manage” and comparing it to getting a puppy.

        1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

          Good parenting means being emotionally centered for yourself, constantly aware of your own emotional state, stress level, personal pitfalls, etc. and adjusting your behavior accordingly. It also means making mistakes and making amends (“rupture and repair” of The Circle of Security). It is effort, constant effort, especially when you feel your worst. But it is so important to be committed to that effort because the children are completely dependent on you for their physical and mental well-being.

          I get that it’s stressful right now. I’m pregnant and have two under four. It’s been a long, hard six months. But this is when deliberate parenting is most important.

          I have all the compassion in the world for stressed out parents, but ultimately we are the adults and the children are not.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            +100000 “I have all the compassion in the world for stressed out parents, but ultimately we are the adults and the children are not.”

          2. Anonymous Retiree*

            My daughter has three kids: 5, 3, and 9 months. She works f-t in a grocery store (the one that makes the top of the lists for both favorite store and a food place to work. Her partner does computer work at home and so watches the kids. They have no money and no local support. Virtual kindergaten is driving them crazy. But I can honestly say that, despite no extra money and the chaos of three young kid, all of them are basically happy.
            My daughter grew up in a happy peaceful home but her partner did not. His parents were young with substance abuse issues, and he was removed from his mother’s care after an incident of neglect which injured him. He was then raised by strict relatives which has left some scars. He come out of that upbrigin determined to keep his kids safe and give the love and guidance they need.

          3. Filosofickle*

            “Good parenting means being emotionally centered for yourself, constantly aware of your own emotional state, stress level, personal pitfalls, etc. and adjusting your behavior accordingly.”

            So insightful! My partner is in school to be a counselor and this is exactly how they talk about being good at that, too — you have to be very self aware and keep your stuff under control so you aren’t reactive when they push your buttons. Unfortunately, a lot of people DON’T do this. I don’t think most people even have this skill set. In my case my mom did this very well as a parent, but my dad did not.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Yeah, I’ve always wondered that. My childhood was one of mostly-benign neglect and complete emotional detachment, and my mom has always been vocal about how disinterested she was in us, so I finally asked her why she had children and she shrugged and said that’s what happens when you’re married.

          I suppose she kind of got her wish, though, my only sibling died a few months ago.

          1. Batgirl*

            Not being able to love sounds like a curse to me, even though it always risks loss. I am very sorry for yours and hope you’re not alone in this.

        3. Anonymous at a University*

          I have not had kids and will never have them because I am bad with noise, mess, and having my private time intruded on. I know people who are like me and had kids anyway, and both they and the kids were miserable. I asked them why and got answers like, “My parents harassed me until I had kids” or “I need someone to take care of me in my old age.” Never anything that related to actually loving or wanting the kids.

          (This is also why I never understand the people who constantly go after childless adults like me insisting that “You’ll change your mind” and “You SHOULD have children.” Isn’t everyone happier in this situation? Me, the non-existent kids, the other people who won’t be affected by what a terrible parent I would be? But apparently, these people think the narrative is more important than the facts).

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            I’m the same way – each time I have to entertain my 6 year old niece for more than 20 minutes, I become more resolved to never having kids of my own. I just don’t have the patience required to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted children.

            1. Rainy*

              I grew up in an abusive family of origin, and while there was a time in my life when I thought it might be good to have kids, I also knew I was still way too impacted by my own childhood to do it right, and better to stop the cycle with me, imo, than to embark on raising children without certainty I could do the thing. By the time I’d worked my own stuff out and got to the point where I thought I could manage it emotionally, I realized that I couldn’t manage it physically, because I just can’t do sleep deprivation anymore.

            2. Anonymous at a University*

              Yeah, I have a family member who has kids that are…not well-adjusted, let’s say, and that relates a lot to their mother’s mental illnesses (which she refuses to get treatment for because she doesn’t want “to change the way God made her”), inconsistent discipline, and their mother intervening every time a teacher or someone else tries to get them to change the way they behave because “Telling a kid no is abuse!” I know that if I had children, they would be so much worse off.

          2. Mimi Me*

            My sister always wanted kids and honestly there’s a woman who never should have had them. She’s an armchair parent: she sits across the room and shouts for or at her daughter. My mother , who lives with them, is a know-it-all grandparent (and who was a pretty crappy mother tbh) and tries to parent my niece while my sister isn’t looking, but my mom uses the things she thinks were successful parenting techniques from when we were kids (and are also a big part of my many years of therapy!). It’s a crap show there. My niece, as a result, is all over the place. She’s rude and mouthy, acts like a baby, and has a ton of behaviour issues that change depending on which adult she happens to be with. For me and teachers, aka any adult who puts firm boundaries in place, she behaves very well.
            Interestingly I am the daughter who never had the drive to be a parent. I wasn’t against it, but if it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have been devastated. My kids are not perfect by any means, but once my husband threw away all of the stuff our parents taught us about raising kids and started finding out what worked for the kids we have we’ve been pretty okay. (FYI all styles have the end goal: raise humans who are kind, respectful, and decent – but it’s not a one fits all kind of deal but 100% of them involve not screaming at your kid or insulting them.)

          3. Nita*

            I’m like that. I love the kids but ugh, that phase where you have no personal space and no personal time and all your stuff gets broken. I don’t like the person it brings out in me. But it passes. If I knew that every weekend, I’m going to be snapping at people for having a good time (loudly clapping and singing in my ear) before I’m properly awake… or that I’ll make my toddler cry because he found my last set of “good” markers and I took them back… would I still have kids? I guess so. Because there are still more good times, and the older the kids get, the more the good times outweigh the bad. Although, we haven’t dealt with teenageness yet. I’m sincerely hoping that when the kids hit their teens, I’ll at least not be chronically sleep deprived. It’s got to be easier to deal with stressful things when you’re not constantly feeling hung over from exhaustion.

        1. Alex*

          A polite but firm friendship breakup. Not “we drifted apart” but not “we had a screaming argument and never spoke again” more like “didn’t like them any more, ended it on good terms”

        2. Ev*

          It’s a reference to a post on Captain Awkward about needing rituals to break up with friends, since that’s not a thing we have a script for in our society. She suggests (IIRC) giving them an African Violet to symbolize the end of the friendship. It’s become a shorthand on that blog (and other places) for friend breakups.

        3. Ermintrude*

          It’s explained in the ‘Captain Awkward’ blog – basically, there aren’t rituals for friendships like there are other types of relationships, so perhaps a way to signify the end of one is to give an African violet to the un-friended party. African violets because they’re hard to keep alive at times.

      2. Artemesia*

        It wasn’t unreasonable to expect that your kids would be in school while you worked — that is not ‘expecting everyone else to take care of your kids’ — this epidemic has really clobbered professional and other working women in particular.

        1. Rainy*

          I’m not talking about the reasonable expectation that public education exists, I’m saying that these particular people really expected that schools would raise their children for them, as they have stated, multiple times, at high volume, to my sister.

          1. Julia*

            I work with kids and I know what you mean. Parents who let their kids do whatever because it’s too much work to actually parent them, but then complain when the babysitter can’t get them to eat their vegetables (“Daddy always gives me chicken nuggets, I hate you!!”) and whine when the teachers ask for homework to be completed and that the child knows how to sit during a class.

          2. Batgirl*

            Yeah I work in a school and the phenomenon is of the parent who throws up their hands and asks what we are going to do with their misbehaving child when all that’s required is pretty simple stuff like bedtimes, the word ‘no’ and being interested enough to spend time with the child. Getting support is great! Acting like it’s not your problem not so much.
            The computation seems to be ‘Society told us to have babies. Babies turned out to be non-cute, non-fun and non-easy. Society must now fix faulty baby.’

      3. Anon Lawyer*

        I’m kind of side eyeing your sister. I didn’t have a kid assuming other people would take care of them. I had a kid thinking that childcare and school would be available, so I could work and thus make money to pay for food and housing. Kind of a different thing.

        1. Rainy*

          I’m not talking about the reasonable expectation that public education exists, I’m saying that these particular people really expected that schools would raise their children for them, as they have stated, multiple times, at high volume, to my sister.

  8. Sciencer*

    Yikes. This is definitely upsetting and I agree with the advice. My only addition is that there should be someone as a designated “host” in this meeting (designated by Zoom I mean, not just in words), and whoever sets the meeting can give the host power to mute people without their cooperation. The host of this meeting should be muting Jill throughout and only allowing her to stay unmuted when she’s actively contributing. But that shouldn’t translate to everyone ignoring the fact that Jill is verbally abusing her children.

    1. OP*

      I believe the host is our supervisor (I am still new to the department and figuring things out). Our actual boss is not on these calls. Most of us our 20-something year olds with no kids so when it happens we all just kind of freeze. I find myself staring at my co-workers to see how they are reacting and wonder if I am the crazy one for being so appalled by it.

      1. Rainy*

        You’ve got to push back on this.

        And I’m sorry to say this, but you really need to call CPS. If they don’t find it actionable, they won’t act. Nobody’s eager to remove children from a safe and loving home, or even a home that can be made safe, but it sounds like these children are being abused, and it needs to stop.

        1. M*

          Agreed with Rainy. There are too many people in that fall to the bystander effect, assuming someone else will call it in if they think it’s bad enough. Don’t be a bystander to this.

      2. Ominous Adversary*

        You are not the crazy one. Everybody is thinking “why doesn’t someone do something about this?” and probably whoever is nominally in charge is a little afraid of Jill.

      3. ...*

        No one has private chatted or texted each other or anything about this? I guess maybe if you’re new you weren’t their go-to but I feel like there’s no away people aren’t talking about this!

        1. LunaLena*

          Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one knows what to think or say about it (especially if they’re all childless 20-somethings) and no one wants to be the first to say anything, so no one talks about it. It reminds me of a passage of Terry Pratchett’s book Guards! Guards!:
          “They avoided one another’s faces, for fear of what they might see mirrored there. Each man thought: one of the others is bound to say something soon, some protest, and then I’ll murmur agreement, not actually say anything, I’m not stupid as that, but definitely murmur very firmly, so that the others will be in no doubt that I thoroughly disapprove, because at a time like this it behooves all decent men to nearly stand up and be almost heard…
          No one said anything. The cowards, thought each man.”

          1. UKDancer*

            Terry Pratchett was brilliant in understanding people. I don’t always enjoy his books but I love some of the insights he has into how people are and why.

            It’s really difficult knowing what to do or say in this sort of situation. Being the first one to speak up can be a major problem. We had some training at work about recognising domestic abuse during lockdown and one of the points they made was that it’s a really difficult and uncomfortable thing to ask about.

      4. Researchalator Lady*

        You’re probably too young to know what happened to Kitty Genovese, so looking her up might shock you… truly horrifying things can happen with witnesses, because everyone freezes and assumes if it were as bad as it seems to them, someone else would say something or take action. I say this not to condemn you, OP — your reaction was normal in the moment – but to encourage you not to hesitate any longer before acting now. Call CPS and report the abuse you have witnessed to get those kids help. All the other questions you have about telling your boss, responding during calls, etc., can be worked out through the other resources given. Thank you and good luck!

        1. Batgirl*

          I was thinking Lauren Wright. It was the neighbours who saw the interactions between her and the parent who reported it, not the teachers and doctors who saw the injuries.

        2. Ermintrude*

          According to Wikipedia, the initial news report about the number of people who heard or saw the attack on Genovese was inaccurate and calls to the police had been made. (I looked it up out of curiosity.)
          Your point for the OP is still important though.

          1. Triplestep*

            This is true. There was a documentary years later that discusses this, in fact the woman in whose arms Genovese died recently passed away and her obituary mentioned this. The case is constantly help up as an example of the indifference of people who know a crime is being committed, and even though that’s largely in accurate, I think this characterization will prevail.

        3. Zillah*

          I agree with your overarching point, but IIRC, the bystander effect in the Kitty Genovese case was greatly exaggerated by the media.

        4. Artemesia*

          to be fair — several people called and reported the Genovese incident to the police. It was too late but then it is a lot to expect people to rush out in the street when a murder is taking place.

        5. LunaLena*

          Actually, the Kitty Genovese case is a textbook study in most Psych 101 classes, and in Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen, it was the catalyst that motivates Walter Kovacs to become the vigilante Rorschach, so quite a lot of young people know about it. :)

          Apart from the Bystander Effect, the important thing that came out of the case was the creation of 911. There was no centralized number to call in case of emergency, so many of the witnesses didn’t know who to call, especially since many couldn’t see or hear enough to know if it was really an attack or simply a lovers’ quarrel. Fortunately for the OP here, many people have been able to give her info on who she can contact, so hopefully she will be able to take some action.

          1. Researchalator Lady*

            Thanks for this info; I stand corrected! My university days were behind me by the time these (American Psychologist 2007 and NYT 2016) Wikipedia citations were published, and I was not aware of them.

        6. Observer*

          That narrative of the Kitty Genovese story is pure fiction – largely fabricated to push a narrative that had nothing to do with what actually happened.

      5. Mama Bear*

        I’d take the host aside and ask him to mute her or better yet, mute her and then talk to her about it. Maybe suggest the EAP service for mental health support or childcare. I’d also bring it up to HR if you have one. You are not crazy.

  9. Slinky*

    Definitely consider reporting. I just ran this by my spouse, who is a mandatory reporter, and said he would 100% report this.

  10. E*

    Reminds me of a relative who is always telling his 6 and 2 year old “I’m going to punch you in the throat”. If that’s what they’re saying in public, imagine what they say when no one is around.

  11. Squigs*

    Considering she screams those things at her young children, I don’t know if I would recommend saying anything to her in the moment since it might just trigger her to yell at you. I would just ask her to mute as you’re having trouble hearing. I would also definitely speak to your manager and see what her take is and ask her to intervene more. As for calling CPS, yes what she is doing is terrible and abusive but I doubt they will do much. They are overwhelmed right now with worse cases and I doubt she would even get a home inspection for this. I know it sounds disheartening but realistically their resources were already stretched thin before the pandemic and I just don’t see much coming from reporting her.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      I mean, I guess I’d rather her yell at me than at her young kids, though? A coworker can’t hurt you through a Zoom call. I also think you don’t actually know that this isn’t one of those “worse cases.” What is she doing to the kids in private if this is how she treats them in front of people?

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        You also don’t want her to retaliate at the children later/off camera, because now they “got her in trouble”.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Can anyone with expertise in child abuse speak to this? I have a good friend who was badly abused as a child and she once told me that if an adult had spoken up while she was being screamed at in public, she might have been punished for it later but it would have been a net good because it would have signaled to her that what was happening wasn’t okay and that someone cared (and that therefore someone else might care if she ever reported it). I know anecdotes aren’t data though, so I wonder if someone with expertise here can weigh in on that?

          (I”m not asking for speculation, which I know we all have, but for people with real training/expertise in this area.)

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            I don’t have *that much* experience, but I would also venture to say it depends a lot on circumstance and the child. My birth mother was awful, looking back, but I already knew I got treated different there. I knew people cared that it happened. But that doesn’t mean what was happening stopped. At some point it’s Hey, Someone Cares………. and nothing has changed, so what’s the point.

            This was for more significant neglect than abuse, in my case.

          2. Ominous Adversary*

            This is not a call the OP should make from internet comments. Childhelp or children’s protective services in her area can advise her on what to do.

              1. Squeakrad*

                I am a former family and child therapist, was a mandated reporter for many years as a teacher as well, and what Alison said is right on the mark. Saying something in the moment may put the children at more risk, especially as 2. Of them may be too young to process “oh at least someone knows this isn’t right.” The idea to say “is it possible for Jill to go on you I’m having trouble hearing“ calls attention to the situation, let others know that it’s OK to comment, but doesn’t put the children at greater risk..

                I umpteen number the suggestion to call CPS. If you don’t feel comfortable calling about the situation directly at least call and give an anonymous question about what the procedures might be in this situation. I am guessing that by now many CPS workers have had experience with exactly this kind of situation where someone on a zoom call is hearing or seeing behavior that if seen live would be reportable.

                And it’s sad to have to say this but it depends on where you are, the race of the family involved, and whether it’s a one parent or two parent home. My experience with CPS here in the bay area at least is that they are much more willing to give support and not punitive measures to an intact white family as opposed to a single parent homes were the primary parent is receiving public benefits. That shouldn’t be the case but unfortunately sometimes it is. I would think with the pandemic there would be more of an effort to provide support at least that’s my hope.

          3. CPS Worker*

            This is always a possibility, of course. For this reason, in my state, we are not allowed to leave documentation of an attempted contact on the first visit until we are able to assess the situation for ourselves. So this is considered when they go out.
            This may or may not be a finding (even in this day and age and all we know about mental health, this type of abuse is still harder to get a finding on than physical abuse. But in addition to the concerns listed about if kids will take the comments literally, I also worry about this parent’s protective capacities. Would she intervene in a dangerous situation? And actually, we are not swamped- quite the opposite. Our calls have decreased by 50% because the people who would normally call in aren’t seeing the kids regularly. So we’re more careful right now because we can’t count on that visibility in the community to assure safety.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Thank you. I want to highlight this portion of your comment for others who may miss it:

              “And actually, we are not swamped- quite the opposite. Our calls have decreased by 50% because the people who would normally call in aren’t seeing the kids regularly. So we’re more careful right now because we can’t count on that visibility in the community to assure safety.”

              1. Clisby*

                Likely because so many kids haven’t been to school in-person for awhile. Schools are a big safety net for children – not just for safe shelter and school lunches, but for mandatory reporters on the lookout for signs of abuse & neglect.

            2. OP*

              Can I anonymously report it? If I do report it, should I say anything to my boss? Also, do I need to know where she lives? I live in a different state, not sure if that makes a difference but I am not sure exactly where she is.

              Also, wanted to clarify something. My boss isn’t in these meetings, he is part of our instant chat group but I doubt he pays much attention to it. She does not behave this way when we have meetings with him (usually bi-weekly).

              1. Ominous Adversary*

                Yes, isn’t it interesting that she is able to control herself when the boss is around?

                Please call or online-chat Childhelp – they can advise you about how to report. In most places child protective services does indeed take anonymous reports.

              2. Rainy*

                You can anonymously report. If my experience is anything to go by, the CPS employee staffing the reporting line will ask you if you want to leave a name and contact info to be notified, but you can say no. It’s best to know where she lives but not necessarily required as long as you know the kids’ names and where they go to school, I think. The reporting line person will help you with that.

                And if she doesn’t behave this way in front of the boss, it’s because she’s worried about consequences, which means she could control herself, she just chooses not to. Please, please call.

                1. NVHEng*

                  Speaking up to say that it is much better to use the correct CPS reporting area when making the report. We had an instance in our family where two CPS jurisdictions were involved (abuse reported in one county, abuse happened in a different county) and it was not handled well – took a lot longer than it should have and the investigating CPS person did not follow up with the reporting parent – because his complaint was filed in the other county.) Don’t allow it to stop you making the report, but it really helps to be in the right area.

                2. Rainy*

                  Good point. I was calling across state lines (large multistate metro area) but I was careful to call the reporting line in her state, not in mine.

              3. PhoebeBuffay*

                In my experience you have to give your information, but the family is not told who made the call. So you will give information for CPS record, but it isn’t released to family who would have the potential investigation. That may vary by state though.

                1. pope suburban*

                  That’s how it’s worked for me in two states. The second time I called, it was actually about a coworker- he lived with his brother, who was a friend of mine, and I would hear stuff like Jill said all the time, plus the kids were constantly being punished, didn’t have beds, the parents were using substances in the house with them…it was a mess. The parents had no idea who had made the call, and, unsurprisingly, had a laundry list of people they thought it was, and I didn’t make the cut. At the end of the yearlong case, nothing had really improved, and by then my coworker had been let go (A whole wtf Wednesday kind of story in itself) and I had no idea where they were. We’d still get calls from the kids’ schools about their absences on his work phone, which was troubling but ultimately not something we could help authorities with. That was a fairly scary call to make, but at the end of the day, I figured that I am an adult and I have a lot more tools to handle anything these people might want to throw at me- the kids didn’t have those advantages.

              4. Ali G*

                OK the fact that she doesn’t do this when someone in a position of authority over her means she knows it’s wrong. Any benefit of the doubt stemming from the current situation is out the door IMO.
                I don’t think you need to tell your boss you want to report her (unless you need him to help get you her address), but I would definitely bring it up in a “this is highly disturbing and I thought you should know” way. any way he can pop in to a meeting without announcing himself so he can see Jill in action?

              5. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

                I am a private investigator and am happy to help if you need assistance finding her address. I can’t find it for you, but I can point you in the right direction.

              6. Batgirl*

                Your boss can’t do anything to help the kids because he isn’t a mandated reporter and if he chastises her, is that going to help the kids or push it further underground? He can only report her to child services which you can do yourself. He may have more of an idea about her whereabouts but I’d take the guidance of experts in your area first.

              7. Social Worker*

                I second everything already said above by my colleague. Please definitely report if for no other reason than there is a check-in on this mother. At the very least, she clearly needs more support with her parenting responsibilities because emotional abuse is not the way to manage mental health. Google child abuse reporting hotline for her state, and give as much specific information and quotes as possible. You do want to report it to her state, and an address would be very helpful. If you can’t get that, give them the name and number of your employer/HR so they can call to get it. Since they are mostly under school age, you really may be the only one seeing this, and I cannot stress enough that it is important you say something.

                I know you want to remain anonymous, but I would encourage you to give your child protective services your contact information so they can follow up with you if necessary, or if you make other reports because of new behavior you have witnessed. You can request they keep that private – that isn’t to say that given the context the mother may have a guess as that it was one of your team that reported it, you don’t need to out yourself and you shouldn’t be outed by the social workers. But in general, please give as much information as possible.

              8. Mama Bear*

                Now isn’t that special? I’d clue him in. Maybe copy something from the chat and tell him what she also says in other meetings when he’s not there.

              9. LCH*

                does your company have a staff directory? if you are in a company with staff in multiple states, do they at least list who lives in which state? could help you narrow down for a FB/LinkedIn/general Google search.

              10. tamarack and fireweed*

                I would treat these two things separately.

                You do not have to discuss with your boss any reports you may make to a help line or CPS, but you *should* talk to your boss about the negative impact this is having on your work environment — which is his job to take care of. To your boss I would stay supremely professional and stick to facts: she yells, she humiliates her kids, she says things that are upsetting, and it’s not just an occasional instance of attending to discipline and then apologizing to the team for the interruption; also, she behaves differently when the boss is around. And it is a behavior that impacts the atmosphere at work. These are the things your boss needs to know.

              11. Observer*

                You don’t have to talk to your boss. If you think it might be useful, you could talk to him about it separately from reporting.

                And, generally you can report anonymously.

                Childhelp is a tremendous resource. Use it.

              12. CPS Worker*

                US child welfare is run at the state level, so it will help immensely if you at least call the correct state. They can often take it from there. Of course, the more info, the better. As others have said, it varies by state but most will let you report anonymously as long as you aren’t mandated to do so by your occupation.

            3. Elbe*

              If the LW could get a recording of the call (either if a recording is sent out by the host, or perhaps on her phone) would that be helpful for whoever is responding to the case? Or would her word alone be enough?

          4. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            My sister’s a teacher and said this is something teachers take into account when they file reports, ex: the chance of the report/investigation resulting in the child being more harmed as retaliation for the investigation than if the report wasn’t filed.

            Obviously they are mandatory reporters and have to file, but often the teachers, specialists, guidance counselors, etc., involved will strategize the best way to report so the child’s situation improves, not degrades.

          5. The answer is (probably) 42*

            Not an expert on child abuse, but a verbal/emotional child abuse survivor.

            1- It’s possible that Jill has headphones on so speaking up will not actually reach these children.

            2- Even if they hear it, they wouldn’t really see the specific coworker and may assume that the coworker is complaining about the noise, not the abuse. In person is different because you can see a concerned stranger’s expression/body language.

            3- I can guarantee you that the mindset she’s training her kids into will make them assume that any comments directed at Jill about her yelling are in fact their fault, not their mother’s. Especially at that young age, I doubt any of them will hear a disembodied voice of a coworker asking their mother to chill out and realize that it’s a sign that their mother’s behavior is not normal.

            That last one is the most based on my own experience- it’s true that some level of concern from strangers might have helped me understand and accept that what I was going through wasn’t normal. But at that young of an age I would not have picked up on it, because I was used to hearing that everything my mother said and did to me was my own fault. So hearing a well intentioned person say “boy, your mom yells a lot!” or “that’s not the kind of thing most parents should say to their children” would just make me spiral deeper into my ingrained “I’m an exceptionally bad child and that’s why my mother yells so much more than other moms” mindset.

            None of this is to say that OP shouldn’t speak up. She should! All of your advice was spot on, and she should definitely call CPS here. But I am doubtful that speaking up in the moment would help her kids understand that the way they are being treated is wrong. And yes, speaking up in the moment does run the risk of just postponing the abuse till later.

          6. Clorinda*

            As a mandated reporter, I do not have the option of ‘not reporting because I don’t know hat the consequences might be.’ She should report.

          7. Temperance*

            So, I’m not an expert but I was an abused child. And I can 100% tell you that I agree with your friend. One of my aunts stood up for us once when my mother was being especially terrible in front of her entire family, and both my sister and I STILL remember it and think fondly of Aunt Kim for sticking up for us.

            Honestly, we were going to be abused in private, anyway, so at least getting the message from an adult that the constant mistreatment was wrong was a good thing. Otherwise, you’re just a kid who has no power and no worth to other people.

            1. Rainy*

              When the cult I was raised in had to open a special room for cult members to discipline their kids because the people who lived around the building we had services in had started watching the parking lot with binoculars and calling the cops when they saw someone take their kid out of the building to beat them, it definitely helped me realize that shit was not normal…eventually. It takes a while, but having these memories to look back on and put the pieces together with helps.

          8. animaniactoo*

            I can speak to it a little bit. Speaking up in public, there are few different strategies. The main thing is to speak up without making it clear that you think the parent is an irredeemable jerk.

            1) Direct: Call out the behavior: “Wow. That sounded really harsh. Are you okay?” – the end portion there is important because you’re not just saying “You are clearly a jerk like this all the time.”, you are acknowledging that something rough might be – and usually is – going on for the parent who is acting this way. It is, in fact, why they are displacing their anger. Be sympathetic in responses to whatever they say while stressing that it sounds like they need a break/whatever because the screaming is more likely to be a negative in the long run than a positive.

            2) Indirect: Pull attention to how the kid might be receiving it. “I would have been in tears and hiding under my bed if my mom had said stuff like that to me.” – Use this sparingly unless you really know the parent and their dynamic with the kid well, it has the highest shot of the parent not hearing it and only hearing blame to take out on the kid later.

            3) Direct: IF you are in the same space as the parent and the child, speak directly to the child and ask if they’re okay. Let them talk. Most of the time, the parent will not interfere, and will allow the conversation. Be sympathetic and avoid any implication that the parent is wrong/horrible.

            Measure how and when you weigh in, be direct about things that sound off “hmmm. I think a lot of give year olds go through that stage.” and make sure that you’re calling out stuff that sounds wrong/harsh without implicating a “wrong party”.

            In this case, I would report this behavior because it is clearly ongoing and you can mix one and two here, but not saying anything in the hopes of them not taking it out on the child later is a fool’s game. They’re gonna take something out on the child later regardless.

          9. AKchic*

            That is generally what happens. I would go so far as to *NOT* discuss that you are considering a call to CPS to the boss, because the boss may not have a vested interest in protecting the OP since the OP is the newer person.
            I would, however, document as much as possible. Language used, people in the meetings who witnessed the events, who ran the meetings, etc.
            No, you cannot video record the meetings, but depending on your local laws, you might be able to voice record them (if anyone asks, you wanted to be able to go over things you missed due to multiple interruptions), but the company may fire you for it if the recordings are ever used in court against another employee (yeah, even if it is considered retaliation, they’d potentially have legal ground to do so).

            But to answer your question; yes, many children DO get punished for adult intervention in the moment. Abusers see it as interference to their parenting (or discipline), and that the child(ren) are at fault for being “bad” and “showing themselves” and had they just behaved, none of this attention on the parent would have happened in the first place. Nothing that happens is ever the abuser’s fault. What they are doing is a parenting style/technique (usually one they were raised in and will use the “it worked for me” or “I turned out just fine” lines) and try to make it a question of philosophy. Since many of the other people in the meeting don’t have children, that will be brought up as a reason not to question this person’s parenting “style” (i.e., “don’t question me and my parenting until you *have* a kid” type comments).

            In the moment, it would be best to actively avoid commenting on the abuse at all. Asking/telling her to mute her mic because of feedback/loud distractions coming from her end is fine. Telling her that her abusive behavior during meetings is both distracting and detrimental to her children – while cathartic, is counterproductive. She won’t see the light like it’s a Hallmark movie.

          10. Athena_Warrior*

            As someone who went through much verbal and emotional abuse, I agree with your friend. Yes, if the abuser is called out for this in public, the child will most likely pay for it later. From my own experience, I would get in big trouble for causing my mother “embarrassment” and “shame”. While I did manage to escape, I wish someone had reported it. Instead I had a father who thought if it wasn’t spoken about, it never happened.

          11. Batgirl*

            As teachers, if we were to see something worrying and report-worthy, the protocol is to say nothing, get the details and report it. Reporting it is your best bet at stopping it. I would be worried that by tipping my hand to the abuser that I’m watching with disapproval that they would ready their excuses and go underground. Ideally you want them to be operating in plain sight and reported by multiple people so the pieces can be put together. Otherwise they can be very persuasive that nothing is happening. However you can as a teacher interrupt in a way that’s authorative and you can also later ask the child if they are OK/imply you were shocked/say they did nothing wrong.
            So, I don’t think the OP is in much of a position to intervene in a meaningful way. Would the kids even hear her objections? Of course context is everything. There are definitely situations where I wouldn’t be able to, or it just isn’t safe to simply say nothing. To agree with your friend though, it’s something I would definitely do with unidentifiable strangers on the street in the hope of giving kids confidence to tell. However I think the OP needs someone in the room with more clout.

          12. SecretGay*

            Basically, there’s been a change in attitudes and approaches on how to handle this among experts in the past couple of decades. For decades, the advice absolutely was to not intervene because the abused may experience more/severe abuse back at home after you’ve intervened. However… that basically doesn’t work long-term. Abuse rates weren’t really going down (aside from a general decrease in violence across the board), and combined with somewhat newer research pointing out just how devastating it is for victims to not ever see anyone siding with them, speaking out against it, and thus be able to shift their perspective that this isn’t ok and the outside world will back them up on that, plus the sheer volume of abuse victims saying that they wish someone – anyone – had ever indicated that they weren’t ok with this abuse, and the advice has changed. Now it’s more about bystander intervention and what you CAN do to help and intervene, instead of what you shouldn’t do.

            So yes, OP, you absolutely should call CPS, and you absolutely should say something to Jill in the moment. Intervening earlier is always better than waiting until things have escalated further to intervene. Shut this down.

            1. Perbie*

              I think in “why does he do that” there is some supporting evidence that social pressure to not be abusive does help decrease abusive behaviors. Almost all abuse happens because whoever is doing it thinks it’s acceptable/justified at the time; the book does a nice job detailing that someone who has anger management problems breaks their own stuff; someone who is abusive snd pretending it’s an anger problem somehow mostly manages to break their target’s stuff.
              And ngl we don’t say stuff like op is hearing and don’t scream (loud and stern at times yes, screaming, never) but coparent and I will tell eachother to back down if we think we’re being overly harsh with the kids. (With… mixed success but if i strongly feel a lecture or reprimand is going over the top i won’t back down, much as i want to be unified on discipline in general that becomes a “hey, let’s agree on this first before you start saying this is the consequence”) sort of thing.
              So… op you see the situation best and know how volatile your coworker seems but i think there is wisdom to directly addressing it when it happens, ideally with guidance from some of the hotlines/authorities outlined here

          13. Silverose*

            Former CPS investigator here, in a state where all residents are technically mandated reporters, and still working in the field (just private nonprofit provider now). I would honestly recommend keeping the meeting comments to a simple request for muting the mic, or speaking to the meeting host about having them mute the mic of “anyone with excessive noise in the background”. It is not uncommon for parents to take it out on kids if they perceive the kids to be the reason for why they got in trouble, at work or with the court system. That’s why CPS investigators try so hard to meet face to face with the family and speak with the kids on that very first visit before the parents know a report has been made – reduces the chance of coaching or threats to say the right things “or else”, and hopefully if the kids DO disclose something troubling, CPS can move to protect the kids before the parents can retaliate for the kids speaking up about it. On the topic of current level of reporting – as another CPS person already said, incoming reports in my state are way down because 80% or more of incoming calls to our hotline come from schools and our schools have been shut down since March; more than half of them are still on e-learning even now. If you have reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect may be occurring, even if it’s only emotional abuse, make the call and let the professionals determine if there is more to the situation. In my state, you can remain anonymous and still make the report. Some states investigate all reports involving children under a certain age, just to be safe – my state sent out investigators for all reports on children under the age of 3 for a while, even if there wasn’t a real allegation; they backed off on that after 6-8 months when they realized there wasn’t enough staff for it, but I have heard some states still do it for under age 1 or 2.

      2. Squigs*

        I hear you but she’s not going to stop yelling at her kids forever because she’s yelling at you. She’s just going to get even angrier that they “embarrassed” her or whatever and probably take it out on them afterwards. And at the end of the day all you can report her for is yelling and abusive language because you have no evidence of anything else. I definitely think OP should report, maybe they will investigate her. But I just don’t think she should be surprised if nothing comes of it.

        1. Ominous Adversary*

          It’s sadly true that nothing may come of it, but if the OP does nothing at all, here’s what WILL come of it: Jill will continue to feel that she’s behaving appropriately (nobody says anything) and the kids will learn that this is how they are supposed to be treated (since none of the other grown-ups bat an eye).

      3. Proxima Centauri*

        But there is also a reasonably good chance she’ll turn that ire toward her kids, not the OP. Abusers generally don’t react well when called out on it.

      4. boop the first*

        Yeah, same… I don’t know why “she might yell at me” is so much of a discouragement. We’re adults, she can yell all she wants, our self worth is already wherever it happens to be. Unlike children.

        And what if she doesn’t? What if she’s the particular breed of abusive that is so desperate for peers to like her that she starts doing cute (but exasperating) favors for everyone to keep status? There’s all kinds.

    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Yes, CPS is overwhelmed – but abuse should still be reported. OP only knows about the screaming. Who knows, there might be much worse happening. And there are some people who will take that kind of call from CPS and realize they need help. (I’m being optimistic here, don’t rain on my parade.)

    3. Alex*

      The idea that “other cases are worse so don’t bother reporting” is not a helpful one. Child abuse is much like stalking: building up a record of many “medium level” bad things can tip the judgement of a CPS worker or judge down the line, because they’ll have context. Reporting is anonymous, and it’s not hard. Better to try and not get help for them than to shrug and find out later that the trauma was preventable.

      1. Squigs*

        Please don’t twist my words. As I said above, I think she should report but also to realize that doing so isn’t going to call in the cavalry and fix this. A lot of people believe that CPS acts on every call or tip they get and they don’t. They can’t. So yes report it, but don’t believe it’s some kind of fix all for it. Signed, a child who was either in CPS custody or an abusive home during her whole childhood.

      2. Very much anon for this*

        Squigs did not say “don’t bother reporting.” She said not to expect that Child Protective Services would do anything.

        A few years ago I had to report a case of suspected elder abuse in my family. I spent over an hour on the phone. I had documented written evidence and recorded voice evidence. There were also police reports filed independently of my reporting.

        Elder Protective Services did absolutely nothing. They did not even follow up with me, much less take any action to remedy the situation. To my knowledge, they did not even contact the household in question.

      3. lemon*

        They didn’t say not to report– just to keep expectations in check.

        An acquaintance recently called child-protective services in my city because she could hear her neighbor beating her children. CPS told them there wasn’t enough evidence to investigate. Seriously makes you wonder what it takes to open up an investigation here.

    4. Colette*

      I think the OP’s responsibility is to report it. CPS can handle it as appropriate – but only if someone reports it in the first place. If CPS drops the ball, that’s on them; if the OP doesn’t report it, that’s on her.

    5. Lark*

      I think its worth it to report it to CPS anyway. You don’t know for sure that CPS is overwhelmed in whatever state this is in. It may not be worst case right now, but a lot of worst cases start out like this case and it doesn’t do any harm to flag this to the appropriate authorities. When children are involved, its always better to be safe than sorry.

    6. Liane*

      I say make the effort anyway and I don’t recommend CPS reports lightly.
      Because while the agency might not act on a report, there’s a 100% chance they won’t look into Jill’s mistreatment of her kids if no one reports it.
      Here’s another reason. Recently I read, on Washington Post I think, that many doctors and other professionals are saying they aren’t just seeing fewer child abuse cases, those they do see are more serious. Why? Because since schools, daycares, etc. were closed, children weren’t around mandatory reporters, who pre-COVID, were seeing and reporting lesser abuses, so it could be stopped before some poor child was badly injured.
      So report now to give the pros a chance to deal with Jill. (Check the resources linked in earlier posts for how and where.)
      Sorry I can’t link the article, time to work. Will try to find when I can be online again, if someone else didn’t find it.

      1. Caragrande*

        I say make the effort anyway and I don’t recommend CPS reports lightly.

        I also think you have to be careful about calling CPS when the family involved are people of color. Corporal punishment is common in Black and Latinx families, so we remember that the standards for what constitutes “abuse” is lower for White families than families of color. Also parents of color are more likely to have their children removed than are White parents.

        1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

          I’m a public defender, so I’ve seen some of the “corporal punishment” cases, and yes, POC families get their kids taken disproportionately compared to whites. (Some of the most heinous abuse cases, especially sexual abuse, that I know of happened in gated communities).

          That being said, culture is not an excuse. Hitting a child with a belt is a crime in my state. I don’t care how you were raised. I’ve had this conversation with many families (I’m also in the South, so the difference in corporal punishment rates between races is a bit less stark.)

          Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous children are taken away more readily than White children due to poverty-based issues. But that’s for neglect. If anything, there’s an underreporting of physical and verbal abuse because “it’s just the culture.”

        2. TechWorker*

          I completely agree with the second half, but the concept that the threshold for whats considered abuse varies based on race is bizarre.

          1. Ominous Adversary*

            It’s also kind of racist – we can’t expect any better from those people, because you know how their culture is.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Exactly. And there are lots of black people – myself included – who absolutely do not think corporal punishment is okay, especially since the roots for us harken back to slavery. That shit’s not okay at all.

              1. Caragrande*

                I am glad that you personally disagree with it, but research shows that corporal punishment is used more widely within the Black community than in White communities.

                For example Elisabeth Gershoff, who is a professor at UT-Austin, did a study of the parents of 20,000 kindergartners and found that 89% of Black parents (compared to 79% of White parents) had spanked their children. And I don’t think this is particularly news to people who are familiar with Black culture.

                So by reporting everything you are putting Black parents at greater risk for arrest, and you perpetuate the incarceration culture. Charles Barkley said “every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

                1. Temperance*

                  Studies have consistently shown that physical punishment is harmful to kids. It doesn’t matter the skin color of the person hitting their children, it’s wrong.

                2. Diahann Carroll*

                  I’m a black woman – I don’t care what studies show. I lived it, and I know the whole “spare the rod, spoil the child” is a thing in my community. I also don’t give a shit. It’s wrong, it’s abusive, and the parents who use this method need to be coached on how to better manage their anger and frustration PERIOD. If that means alerting CPS, then so be it.

              2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

                I’m with you on this, but I don’t know how representative we are. Things are changing, yes, and there’ve always been some of us who’ve been anti-corporal punishment this whole time, but…ugh. I’m not okay with pretending that cultures don’t differ when it comes to their normative parenting styles and values, or that some cultures lean towards authoritarian parenting; that doesn’t do anyone any favours. But people can uphold their culture’s values without hitting their kids, and like you I won’t give those people a free pass for being uncritical.

                1. Paperwhite*

                  This is really well said. I was struggling with what to say in this subthread, because I neither wanted to agree with the implication that Black people are Just More Violent, let alone the idea Black kids are less appropriate to help, nor seem to dismiss cultural differences . I really agree with how you’ve put this.

          2. UKDancer*

            Definitely. There was a major scandal in the UK when a child (Victoria Climbie) wasn’t removed from her aunt and died as a result of the abuse. One of the reasons that she wasn’t removed was because the social worker (African Caribbean) interpreted her deference and fear towards her aunt as being in keeping with her understanding of African-Caribbean culture. The child and her family were actually from Cote d’Ivoire so not only was this wrong in principle it was also an erroneous assumption.

            The subsequent judge led inquiry was pretty clear that you can’t actually use your understanding of cultural practices in a particular culture as a ground for not taking action. Abuse is abuse regardless.

        3. Sylvan*

          I agree with your last sentence – it’s just true – but nothing else. It’s not somehow more acceptable to abuse children of color than white children.

        4. Observer*

          This is not relevant here. What is happening is straight up abuse. This is not a matter of Black, white, Latinsx or any other culture here.

          It’s straight up abuse, and it’s a flag that more serious abuse – again not stuff that can be argued maybe yes or not, but incontrovertible abuse is going on. Like beating kids so hard that it leaves bruises or refusing to all a kid to eat, etc.

          It’s not OK to use “POC” as an excuse to allow a parent to do this to a child.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      I would worry that she’d escalate it on the kids for “getting her in trouble”. Yes, I know that this is entirely her doing, but if she were rational about it it wouldn’t be happening in the first place.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        *sorry–I would worry that she’d escalate it if she were called out on it in the moment. I wouldn’t call her out on it when there was nobody else there to intervene on the kids’ behalf. I assume the other parent is either not there or is accepting of this behavior and can’t be relied upon to rescue them if she attacks.

    8. ...*

      Its up to CPS to decide if they want to investigate after OP reports. They might not get one, and thats up to the professional authority on child abuse to decide.

    9. JerryTerryLarryGary*

      Who cares if she yells? I mean, it’s not pleasant to be yelled at, but a wrong person yelling about their own idiocy isn’t all that unbearable of a consequence.
      Those kids hearing you respond to her that what she just said was TERRIBLE, and maybe she should mute and take a minute to regroup wouldn’t be the worst thing.
      And a call with details, even if not followed up on, will still help establish a pattern and is worth doing.

  12. WTF*

    Skip straight to reporting this. This is horrific *public* behavior. This is how she treats her kids in public at work. What on earth is she doing with the camera off? Telling them to play in traffic? At that age? Report that.

    Then consider what type of workplace you have, that everyone is willing to witness abusive behavior and say nothing.

    1. not giving my name so you don't report me to CPS*

      I want to push back against this. This yelling may be performative. If her upbringing had a lot of yelling and harsh discipline, she may be thinking that if she allows the kids to disrupt Zoom calls, her coworkers will think she’s a weak parent who doesn’t discipline, so she over-compensates. Also, have you ever read what kid-free people write? A child makes a noise in public and they say you’re a bad parent who can’t control your kids. When I was living in San Francisco, and all my friends were child-free, and like half the public is too, I was much more harsh with my kid in public than I was in private. I’d rather people think that I was overly harsh and feel sorry for my kid than start complaining about out-of-control crotch-goblins.

      1. Mama Bear*

        She can hold her tongue when the boss is around. She can manage not to scream a them in front of her other coworkers.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          I was thinking a similar thing to “not giving my name” although not sure whether to post it (this isn’t a criticism of the other commenter, I just mean that I wasn’t sure I could find the appropriate wording to post and if I should!) … that it’s a possibility that she is “performing” go play with traffic etc due to e.g. feeling that she is disrupting zoom calls with this but can’t do anything about it and is self conscious about that, etc.

          I wonder what the children’s reaction (if they are visible on-camera) is, in the moment?

          But then I started doubting this ‘hypothesis’ for 2 reasons – holding the tongue when the boss is in the call, as you said, (so what would be the motivation for ‘performing’?) and that she munches on food and takes personal calls etc while on these zoom meetings (Does she also hold back from doing this when the boss is on the call? I expect so !)

          I can relate to the “munching on food” as I do sometimes grab something to eat during video calls with my team, although I try to do it discreetly in a way that wouldn’t be aptly described as “munching” – not so much with the personal calls though! I have taken exactly one personal call while on a video call, for something that genuinely couldn’t wait and was pre-arranged so I warned the other people in the meeting that I am expecting a call from the emergency plumber (e.g.) any minute.

      2. scribblingTiresias*

        … uhhhhhhh. That’s f*#ked up.

        You think it’s more important to not have people judge your parenting than … actually being a good parent? Classy.

      3. President Porpoise*

        Yep, and if you were saying things like OP’s coworker was saying and in her tone of voice – if I had your name or address or any other necessary details, you’d better believe I’d report you to CPS. Not ok, performative or not.

      4. Paperwhite*

        These may be reasons, but they’re not mitigations. All the small children know is that their mother is screaming at them.

      5. nonethefewer*

        I’d rather people think that I was overly harsh and feel sorry for my kid than start complaining about out-of-control crotch-goblins.

        Nowhere in that entire sentence is any indication of you, their actual parent, giving a tinker’s damn about how your kid feels.

      6. tamarack and fireweed*

        I’d rather people think that I was overly harsh and feel sorry for my kid than start complaining about out-of-control crotch-goblins.

        If I was a manager this is absolutely the opposite of the attitude I’d want to promote.

      7. Mia*

        I understand how this kind of thing could be performative in some settings, but in a zoom meeting with the option to mute yourself? That doesn’t really add up imo. She could easily reduce her kids’ disruptiveness by simply turning off her mic until they’re out of the room, no abuse or harshness necessary.

      8. Observer*

        So, you think that decent people are actively cruel to their little children (and that’s what we are talking about here) in order to keep other adults from saying nasty things to them?

        I get that you’d rather do things that are not perfect to keep people from getting nasty. And that’s not terrible. But when that “performance” includes active cruelty actually endangers your child, you’ve lost any standing.

        Which is not to accuse you of anything, but to say that trying to excuse this a “performance” designed to keep snooty people from making nasty comments is deeply troubling.

      9. Ermintrude*

        Was my father performing when he told teenaged me to eat shit and die? I don’t care. He was a glass bowl arsehole who should’ve got his shit together.

      10. Keymaster of Gozer*

        As one of those kid-free people…nope.

        If you’re abusing your children verbally or physically you’re in the wrong. Regardless of reasons like ‘it’s to show strong parenting’.

        Also, don’t use my entire subsection of humanity as a reason for abuse. That is highly offensive.

  13. JLS521*

    1-800-4-A-CHILD. Carolyn Hax often recommends this resource in her chats. I have the utmost respect for her advice as well as Alison’s. If you’re worried about calling CPS, this organization can guide you through it. No one is trying to punish your coworker, but her kids need help. Call today if you can.

  14. M*

    Just adding to the chorus: PLEASE call CPS. If she is doing this in front of other people, i cannot imagine how bad it is when there’s no one else to see her abuse them. Those poor kids. This broke my heart.

  15. Rachel*

    I would contact child services before raising this Jill, given that when abusers are called out they sometimes take it out on their victims.

    This is horrifying and it is not okay. It goes beyond a work problem

  16. musical chairs*

    Do not call CPS if you have alternatives. These children deserve protection and care, and CPS is not set up to be a consistent provider of that, especially for children of color, especially during a pandemic.

    I’m not sure where you are both if you’re even in the US, or if this is link is helpful but has lists of crisis intervention organizations that can better suited to help these kids in a way that may not bring the uglier, colder side of the law into their lives but can get them the support they need and deserve.

    1. Alex*

      CPS is not the police. Are they a universally beneficial force? Absolutely not. But they don’t jump to immediate arrests and removing kids from the home, either. They often include parenting classes and other resources if they believe that parents can change. If Jill had said “I’m worried about parenting right and feel like I need help” those resources would be appropriate. But someone who doesn’t see her behavior as wrong is a totally different ballgame.

    2. ...*

      They’re not the police. Sometimes you need to call authorities. I just went to that website for my city to look for resources around child abuse and it gave me the YMCA, a shelter several towns over, and a place to call about getting housing for children. It also has a warning on it that people who answer calls at these places are often mandated reporters and will call CPS. Please read through the resources you’re sending out before assuming there is an alternative to calling CPS in there when there isn’t and chances are CPS would get called anyway if you used the resources.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Also, CPS mostly operates on standard business hours for tips it receives. If a child is in imminent danger and needs to be removed right this second, and you need CPS to come out right this second, you HAVE to call the police because they are the only ones who can activate CPS 24/7.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          That is also not true. My mother did CPS for 17 years and I not-so-fondly recall her night and weekend on-call pager. It was especially fun when it went off at 2am and woke me up.

          If it’s not immediate danger they’ll take the report and then follow up the next day, but my mom FREQUENTLY had to go out on nights and weekends. She expected to need to most nights when on call.

          The hotlines are also 24/7.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            (I want to reiterate that, of course, the inconvenience of me being woken up at 2am pales in comparison to whatever happening that was so horrific that it required alerting an on-call worker of the situation at 2am.)

        2. Ex CPS in NM*

          That varies by state – in my state you can call Statewide Central Intake (#SAFE is the number in New Mexico) and they will take your report 24/7, assign it a priority, and an Emergency level priority will be dispatched immediately.

      2. Temperance*

        I went to that website, and found nothing in my entire county. There are no resources for people calling for help with child abuse.

        These “don’t call the authorities” people just don’t think about abused children, or they trot out that “children do better with their families of origin”, because they don’t care.

        1. ...*

          I think some of the ‘don’t call police or authorities ever’ people just haven’t seen some of the terrible things other people have. I have worked in community mental health and a past serious partner of mine worked for CPS. Think of the most f-ed up law and order SVU episode you’ve ever seen and you have 1/10th of what some of these people have gone through. Its very easy to say don’t call the police if you live a low crime town on a cul-de-sac. Sorry, but if you’ve seen the real underside of it all, you know you need authorities sometimes.

          1. musical chairs*

            I don’t want to get to off topic so I won’t respond beyond this: don’t make assumptions about what I’ve seen or been through or understand about “the underside of it all”. My beliefs about who often gets to be safe and seek help and who does not do not come from some ivory tower, they come from a lifetime of looking for a better answer for myself and my family. I’m here offering another perspective where I can, if you don’t want to hear it, that’s completely fine, but there’s no reason to question my motivations or insinuate that I am naive. Thanks.

            1. Observer*

              I don’t know what your motivation is. But when you advise people to not call the the major resource that can protect kids who are being abused, expect to be challenged. When you instead point to a resource that is almost useless at it’s best, and claim that it’s a reasonable replacement for calling an actual organization that can help children, well, calling you naive is the nicest thing a lot of people are going to think. With good reason.

              You claim that you are offering a different perspective. What people are pointing out is that factually speaking the “perspective” you offer boils down to “all government agencies are police and better let a child be abused than call police.”

              You can’t really reasonably expect people to NOT question the motivations behind that perspective.

        2. Lizzo*

          If you check the About section of the website, it started in June of 2020. That’s…about four months ago. If there’s nothing for your specific county, it may be because it hasn’t been added yet.

          Under the Contact page, it says: “We are continuously updating this database, and always welcome submissions. If you know of an organization in your city that we should include, please let us know.”

          So…maybe do some Googling and make a helpful submission instead of complaining that the website is useless? Just a thought.

          1. Temperance*

            I did make a “helpful submission” by advising people not to take this commenter’s advice and to report child abuse to the proper authorities. People who can help children, provide services to the family, etc.

            I will never, ever be cool with just letting abuse happen if I have the power to do something about it.

            1. Lizzo*

              I mean a helpful submission to the website instead of just complaining that it’s useless as far as your local jurisdiction is concerned.

              1. Temperance*

                I don’t support what they are doing in all cases here, though, and that wasn’t my point. Offering resources for poor people, great, cool, not something you would call the cops for anyway and people should have that information.

                because I don’t believe that there are alternatives to involving CPS when kids are experiencing abuse, I’m going to continue to encourage folks to call CPS when kids are in danger, and discourage people trying to redirect.

            2. musical chairs*

              I, too, would never be cool with letting abuse happen if I have the power to do something. We have that in common.

      3. musical chairs*

        I definitely read through it and have used that page myself before when I’ve needed help navigating a crisis. Without knowing where the letter writer is, I can’t offer resources with any specificity to them or to you. I was sure to include the caveat (where I said that I’m not sure if this link would be helpful) for that reason. The main point of my response is that CPS is not an unmitigated good for situations like this and that if these children are at any increased risk of further harm because of who they are or who their parents are, that should be carefully considered when proceeding.

        I understand social workers want the best and often trained to minimize harm, but training isn’t the same thing as effectiveness especially when your hands are tied by constraints of the pandemic, state and local law and court proceedings, high turnover, overburdened schedules in normal times, etc. In the US, they function sometimes within and almost always adjacent to a criminal justice and family court system which can be often more difficult to navigate—if not additionally harmful—for people of color.

        There are so many people and organizations who want to reform child protective services and family court and change its priorities and structure in so many places around this country. For a lot of people, the groundswell about changing the way think about public safety is not just about police. There are some non-profits who often just have better options and resources than CPS/family court because their goals aren’t to work within a broken system but to navigate around it for the sake of the child. The Bronx Defenders in NY comes to mind as an example of that. But if the LW is not in the Bronx, that’s recommendation is just not particularly useful. As commenters, we’re all doing the best with the info we have and share the same goals: the safety and support of those kids.

        1. Lyn By the River*

          musical chairs, I agree with you 100%. I understand that there are atrocious things that happen where someone needs to step in and address it. It’s easy for me, as a white person, to look to the police or CPS as a helpful source for protection. But I understand that for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and the very poor, those entities often have done more harm than good. They have good reason to not trust those sources for support.

          Your recommendations was reasonable and well stated.

          CPS *is* law enforcement adjacent and, in my experience, those who are aware of the racial impacts of being law enforcement adjacent will acknowledge that. Just like pretty much every where in our society, racism is baked in to the system, no matter how well intentioned those working in it might be.

          When I read the letter and Alison’s response, my first though was, “yes, probably a good idea to call CPS — but maybe find another resource if the family is not white.”

    3. Temperance*

      Don’t shame people from calling CPS, or the police, when they witness child abuse.

      I just went to that link you shared, and didn’t find anything in my county. I decided to look up the nearest big city, and didn’t find any resources that a person could call if they suspect child abuse. NONE. There are links for children’s shelters, a link to an org that works with drug addicts, and DV shelters, but absolutely nothing to help an abused child.

      1. kittymommy*

        Seriously. There are only three sitiies listed in the state of Florida with none farther north than Orlando (which is closest to me). For Orlando, the topics of substance abuse, housing, crime, and elders only have “coming soon”.

      2. Ms Frizzle*

        When I went to the link, the first result that popped up for my city was the CPS hotline. It’s almost like social workers aren’t the police.

      3. Lizzo*

        Repeating my reply here in this thread: If you check the About section of the website, it started in June of 2020. If there’s nothing for your specific county, it’s probably because it hasn’t been added yet.

        Under the Contact page, it says: “We are continuously updating this database, and always welcome submissions. If you know of an organization in your city that we should include, please let us know.”

        So…maybe do some Googling and make a helpful submission instead of complaining that the website is useless? Just a thought.

        1. Observer*

          None of that is relevant, though. This site was being offered as a replacement for calling the only organization withing the US that has the actual power to protect children from their abusers.

          This is a problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, the site has woefully few resources and covers a really small proportion of children in the US. More problematic is that it’s just not possible to provide a list of appropriate alternatives to CPS, as CPS is the only organization that can effectively enforce any rules around child safety, and make them stick.

    4. Sleepy*

      Calling CPS does not mean you are making the decision to remove the children from their home. You are creating a record and if there are other such records other create a pattern (or one record that is especially serious) they will investigate and make their own conclusion. CPS is not the police. There have been several high profile cases in my hometown of kids who confided their abuse in teachers who did not report (and are mandatory reporters). The kids are now adults and their abuse went on for years longer than it should have.

    5. Mia*

      Calling CPS is a lot different than calling the police. CPS agencies have their own issues with racism for sure, but social workers are actually trained to navigate delicate situations like this in a way that minimizes harm.

      1. musical chairs*

        And maybe that’s where we disagree. I think, any amount of racism is unacceptable. For you it may be a “, sure”. For me and a lot of people who look like me, it’s harm and potential trauma with no real relief. Not always. Just something the letter writer should think all the way through when looking for ways to help these kids.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          I’m also a person of colour (assuming that you are as well) who’s familiar with the harm that CPS does to our communities. What other ways are there, though, that don’t risk bringing families like these into contact with CPS? Even where culturally competent, discrimination-free parenting support is available, wouldn’t some of the people involved be mandatory reporters, especially if they’re professionals?

        2. Observer*

          When you have an actual usable alternative, you can tell people not to call the police.

          Kids of color deserve to be protected from abuse, just like any other kids. Protecting abusers from racism at the expense of vulnerable children is not ok.

          No level of racism is acceptable. Kids who are being abused should not be the ones bearing the burden of protecting abusers from that, though.

          1. musical chairs*

            I’m not talking specifically about protecting the abusers from racism (and enduring racism as a punishment for abuse is a truly bizarre punishment and conversational thread I don’t want to go down). I’m talking about the kids.

            1. Observer*

              Because any level of abuse is better than any level of racism. OK.

              Actually not OK. The possibility of racism doesn’t outweigh all other factors.

              1. musical chairs*

                What on earth? You keep creating arguments no one is making so you can rail against them. I think you have can this fight all by yourself without my input.

                I hope you have a better night, I mean that as sincerely as possible.

    6. Another social worker*

      I don’t know any activists who would say “literally do not call the police in any situation.” The point of “don’t call the police” is to make people really consciously weigh the risks of someone being shot when you call the police, vs. whatever situation you are experiencing. So don’t call the police because your neighbor is playing loud music, but if you are in imminent physical danger, that’s a different story.

      When we’re talking about potential child abuse, we have a different set of risks here. CPS does not carry weapons, so you have to weigh a potential racist response against the harm being done to the child. It’s also important to remember that a call does NOT trigger removal of the child. It doesn’t even trigger an investigation in A LOT of cases. I’m a social worker who works with social workers, and we all have stories of CPS not being able to intervene in cases where we wish they had, but I actually don’t know anyone who remembers a case where the child was taken away for no reason. This is the most cynical way to look at it, but the state has a strong cost incentive to let parents raise their children, rather than taking them away and then needing to find care for them.

      Race can play into this in different ways. There’s racism that occurs in CPS, but there’s also the racism of dismissing abuse that a child of color is experiencing because we think that abuses is a norm in “that culture.” Children of color are often seen as being older than white children, and people of color are also often seen as experiencing less pain than white people. I worry just as much about abuse of children of color flying under the radar because they are not afforded the assumption of vulnerability and innocence that white people are.

      1. Paperwhite*

        I worry just as much about abuse of children of color flying under the radar because they are not afforded the assumption of vulnerability and innocence that white people are.

        Well and truly said.

      2. musical chairs*

        There is harm less severe than dying by police violence. Use of weapons or deadly force are not the only way a police officer can harm an individual. In comparison (not equating the two situations, but focusing on the parallel), removing a child from their home is not the only way a child can sustain harm at the hands of CPS or more specifically within the family court or other types of legal systems.

        Certainly not saying the answer here is doing nothing or that there is nothing to gain from seeking out help. I’m suggesting looking for ways to minimize harm at the outset by carefully considering who is involved and what the kids stand to lose if you go one route versus the other.

        Furthermore, I extremely did not say that children of color categorically (or even more often) sustain additional abuse because of what is considered normal in non-white communities and I fully resent the implication. I wasn’t talking about that kind of thing all. Maybe other commenters were? Not me.

        To me, the racism you say “occurs in CPS” should be nonnegotiable to everyone involved. Institutional racism should not be waved off as a matter of course or as the bad you have to take with the good. It’s horrible and further harms kids who are a subjected to it. As a social worker, that should horrify you. That should make you just as angry as the red herring you presented of people dismissing the issue (I am not, no one here is?) of parents from different, non white cultures disciplining their children in ways that are abusive (which is a sweeping and racist generalization that I, again, am not making).

        No one is saying do nothing. Your awareness of some elements of how children may be affected by interpersonal implicit bias is not a substitute for real relief from institutional or systemic harm. I believe you when you say abuse concerns you, but acting as if the existence of your concern means these kids aren’t gonna get further hurt just isn’t enough. That’s why it’s important for the letter writer to carefully consider what options are available to them, that’s all.

        I really hope I’m misunderstanding you.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Yeah, the whole race vs. culture thing keeps getting twisted by commenters here for some reason, as if people are afraid of acknowledging that the dominant culture is not the only culture.

        2. Observer*

          Well, actually, you ARE saying “don’t do anything” whether you intend to or not. Because for the type of situation that the OP presents, CPS is THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE.

          I have no love for CPS; I’ve seen their bigotry in action. But I’ve also seen that ongoing CPS involvement is generally related to genuine and significant risk to the kids presented by the family, not just differences in cultural expectations.

          If you are as horrified by institutional racism and the threat it poses to kids as you claim to be, the solution is to work on the problem of institutional racism. It is NOT to discourage people from reporting already ongoing abuse to the only entity that has the capacity to force some solutions.

          1. musical chairs*

            I think you’re deliberately misunderstanding me at this point. The phrase “if you have other alternatives”, specifically means that if you don’t, this offering does not apply. At my most generous, I don’t see how that’s unclear, however I have the privilege of knowing exactly what I meant. Hopefully that explanation clears up some of the source of your frustration.

    7. Observer*

      If you are going to tell someone not to call CPS, you have to provide an actually useful alternative. The site you link to has very little of any use to someone trying to help an abused child. ) And that’s a assuming that the OP actually lives in one of the cities on their list. There are a few decent suggestions there, but not a lot of real alternatives to CPS and the list actually is missing a lot of potential resources. On the other hand, the New York listing actually has the NYS version of CPS as its first number.

      Also, the youth orgs they link to are mandatory reporters, when they are not actually government agencies.

      The reality is that most of the resources that exist are mandated reporters – they HAVE to be. Also, the work very closely with government. Not the police but CPS, whatever they happen to be called in any given area. They HAVE to. Because parents are generally not coming to them voluntarily. They are sent to these organizations. Or they come to the organization as an alternative to having the government take over / take the kids.

  17. Sarana*

    If this is how she speaks to them when others (and even worse: her colleagues!!!) are listening, I wonder how she speaks to them when no one is around. Terrifying and disturbing.

  18. Reality Check*

    Not defending Jill here but I bet the stress of trying to work with 3 little kids is driving a lot of this. Especially if she has no help. A terrible situation all around.

    1. ...*

      Yeah that might make you snap and yell at your kids. Maybe to go away or to be quiet. but it wouldn’t make you tell them they stink and to go play in traffic. Sorry I have 0 sympathy for someone who treats their kids that way

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This. My mom was a stressed out single parent of two kids who would snap and say hurtful shit to me and my brother whenever she was pushed to the brink. But she never told us to basically go kill ourselves, which is what Jill essentially told those babies by telling them they’re annoying and should go play in traffic.

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      This is what I was thinking: That it was mostly a performance to her 20-something coworkers who “just don’t get how hard it is to be a working mom during a pandemic.” I mean, they probably don’t get it, but she might be playing for the camera to show just how much she has to deal with plus a side of “aren’t I funny in the way I exaggerate when I discipline my kids.”

      My aunt was similar. She seemed to be trying to show my mom how much harder she had it as a mom of four than my mom had with three mixed with a “you just don’t get our family’s sense of humor and my kids love me…” whenever she was called out on her abusive parenting. (Sadly my cousins have ended up largely friendless and alone when they started emulating this behavior or in abusive relationships as a result.)

      None of this is okay. This behavior should be called out on behalf of those in the meeting and those poor kids. Calling CPS might, at the very least, get her to stop her behavior on camera, which can at least be a bit of respite to her kids.

      1. irene adler*

        It crossed my mind that, maybe this was somehow a performance for the co-workers. Maybe she thinks she’s being funny. Maybe she needs to show how well she’s managing work and home given the circumstances.

        But dang, one can do these things and not abuse the kids.

      2. ...*

        If she thinks its funny she’s just sick. I guess I just turned 30 but I am a kidless only responsible for a dog millennial and I find it appalling.

      3. Jen*

        I wondered this too. I can admit I’ve had my days where I’ve wanted to yell at my kids like this. But, I have a warped sense of humor and it is how I deal with stress.

        I think I have enough of a filter to not do this though.

    3. Anonymous at a University*

      Honestly, who cares? If stress makes her abuse her kids, then the kids need to be taken away. Just because the pandemic stress might ease doesn’t mean that her life will be stress-free, and it doesn’t make her abuse the pandemic’s fault or her children’s fault. Making allowances for parental stress during COVID is things like, “Realize that the parent might not be able to meet deadlines,” or “The call might get interrupted by child noises, be patient,” not, “Oh, we should excuse the parent yelling abuse at her kids because the parent is a poor widdle thing.”

      1. Anon Lawyer*

        Well, no, it doesn’t necessarily mean her kids should be taken away. It means there needs to be some kind of intervention but the kids aren’t necessarily going to be better off just “taken away” as if that’s a simple thing.

        1. Anonymous at a University*

          I apologize. What I meant is that if she abuses her kids because of stress, I think it’s a long-standing pattern, not something new to the pandemic, and so that might end up with them being removed from the situation. “Stress” is never going to go away. It’s never okay to say, “This unacceptable behavior is acceptable because I’m stressed.” I was using a shorthand I shouldn’t have.

          But I stand by what I said about how this is not something you can excuse because of “parental stress during COVID.”

    4. anonNY*

      Sure, but the way she’s responding to that stress is not OK. The playing in traffic comments are horrifying–and frankly I’m disturbed that she says stuff like “you’re annoying.” Yes, sometimes if my kid is making farting noises or whatever, I might say, “Stop doing that, it’s very annoying.” But calling out a behavior is not the same thing as calling a person names. And there’s a difference between saying sharply, “Be quiet, I’m on a call!” (which many of us have done during this stressful time) and saying the kinds of things she’s saying. She and the kids need help.

  19. Abused child*

    As someone who was abused by my mother as a child (mostly verbally, but it escalated to physically and an attempted strangulation), I am begging you to signal her to CPS immediately.
    Don’t be like these people who “mind their own business” or are too scared to speak up. These children will probably be far better in care.

    1. Another abused child*

      Ditto! Call now. At the least, it may save the children years of therapy and thousands of dollars. It may even save a life.

    2. Anon for this*

      Seconded. My happiest childhood memories are of the times I got sent to my aunt’s house or a neighbor’s because 1) someone, usually the school nurse, called CPS after witnessing my mother throw one of her tantrums 2) when CPS visited they also noticed there was no food in the pantry and I didn’t have warm clothes in winter or shoes that fit.

      It made me happy as a clam to get my cousin’s latest hand me downs and eat myself sick on dinners with real meat and play Beauty Parlor braiding the other girls’ hair and putting on cherry chapstick. Then mom would promise not to do it again, buy some groceries and they’d return me. After a while she learned that if she bought stuff that doesn’t spoil (canned goods and granola bars mostly) then I wouldn’t get taken away even if I was forbidden to eat the canned goods because at least she had food in the house…

      Please do call.

  20. Dave*

    For all those suggesting that this should be reported, what are the legalities/recommendations of recording the zoom call and submitting that? (Although some of that may vary by state but you can tell the session is being recorded, but I don’t know if only moderators can do that or not.)

    1. foreign octopus*

      I would be hesitant to record because it’s not just Jill OP’d be recording but the others on the call as well. I would say document with pen and paper if anything including the times and the names of the people on the call for reference.

    2. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

      IANAL, but I think OP should get input from whoever she reports to. Some states need the consent of both parties to record voice, some states consider recording without the consent of both parties illegal. In some states, it might run afoul of the wiretapping laws. OP should consult with whatever agency she reports this to and if it’s cool, perhaps record for proof.

      Again, though, I am NOT a lawyer and this is just my kneejerk response.

    3. Sleepy*

      I’ve been through several mandatory reporter trainings and this is NOT recommended. It is not the job of the reporter to investigate and gather evidence. It is the job if the reporter to report their observations.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        Agreed! You don’t investigate, you raise the concern and share whatever information you have. They ask a lot of questions when you call, but it is completely ok not to have answers to all of them.

      1. logicbutton*

        No, although there is an option to do so when scheduling a meeting, and I believe you can set your account to have it selected by default.

  21. TwinCitiesHR*

    I totally agree 10000% that Jill is in the wrong and my heart breaks for her kids but mother’s especially working mother’s are struggling right now. I’m sure Jill’s own mental well-being balancing 3 kids at home while obviously working sounds really difficult and throwing in virtual learning at this point for older kids it’s probably feels impossible and she obviously isn’t handling it well and her children are suffering.

    Perhaps her managers need to have a private conversation with Jill and see if she needs some kind of support or time off using FFCRA options or let her know of possible EAP options for her. I know the coworker can’t do any of this but definitely speak up to her managers and see if they offer some options to help someone clearly struggling. Again no excuse to treat her kids this way, she clearly needs help.

    1. Colette*

      The kind of thing the OP describes doesn’t sound to me like someone who is just stressed by the situation – it sounds like someone with extremely poor parenting skills who needs help learning how to deal with kids appropriately.

      1. TwinCitiesHR*

        You are assuming a lot for a second hand letter writer who only observes this person’s household very briefly over a Zoom call. You have zero information on her personal life, if she is a single parent, in an abusive relationship, on the brink of divorce, struggling with finances, struggling with mental or physically health issues, dealing with elderly parents, her kids could have health or mental issues that aren’t getting support from going to shcool or literally a thousand possibility in her life that is effecting her own mental well being thus effecting her parenting skills. Oh not to mention we are in the midst of life changing and altering global pandemic.

        1. President Porpoise*

          So what? I am concerned and horrified that you are even suggesting excuses for this inexcusable behavior. It is NEVER acceptable for a parent to tell young children to go kill themselves – full stop. I don’t care if the parent is on the brink of homelessness, has cancer, is losing both kidneys, has a husband who is cheating on her with her sister, etc. When you have children, their wellbeing comes first. They are not an appropriate place to vent stress or anger, and well, if you think they are in any circumstance, I recommend reevaluating your life choices.

        2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Is it not possible for us to have empathy for whatever challenges they may be facing while, at the same time, holding them accountable to demonstrating good parenting skills?

          I’m not going to pile on you because there’s a nuance there that people seem to miss a lot: it’s not about telling people that they can’t have their personal life implode, it’s that they need to figure out how to soften the impact on other people. It’s not “suck it up” or “everyone has problems”.

          I can’t come to work and yell at my colleagues and have it be okay because of what I’m facing in my personal life. My manager might feel for my circumstances, sure, but it’s not going to stop them from reprimanding me. And that’s with everyone involved being an adult! It’s so much worse when kids are involved because they can’t tell their parents to pull themselves together.

        3. jenkins the first*

          Parents can go through all kinds of horrific stuff and we can sympathise deeply, but that doesn’t mean we leave children to endure the fallout.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup. To be as comfortable as she is saying this kind of stuff in front of her coworkers? Nah, she’s been talking to her kids like this for a long ass time. The pandemic is probably just heightening the verbal abuse that was already present.

    2. Green great dragon*

      Well, calling CPS might get her help in the form of better ways to handle the parenting challenges.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Calling in the child support services (or regional equivalent) can be what gets her the assistance she may need. They do not just show up, take kids away and leave it at that.

      When it comes to severe mental/anger/whatever issues she’s facing it’s time to call the professionals, which an employer is not.

    4. Mia*

      CPS can offer her help though. Snapping at her kids so frequently and in such a vicious way is extremely harmful and ultimately just a really lousy coping mechanism, regardless of her circumstances. A lot of what CPS agents do is actually referring parents out to things like anger management classes, therapy, etc., so reporting this situation would give them the ability to assess and see what resources the family needs.

  22. ???*

    If someone grew up in household or with a parent like this, it would be really re-traumatizing to have to be subjected to this at work. This would 100000% trigger my PTSD. Obviously the safety of the kids is the most important, but it’s another angle to use when approaching your supervisor about how this cannot be allowed in the workplace.

    Also please call CPS. Those poor kids

    1. sequitur*

      Same. Aside from the obvious pressing issue of the kids, hearing people yelling at their kids out in public is bad enough for me as triggers go, and I’d really struggle to have to deal with that at work regularly.

    2. Temperance*

      It would be near impossible for me to work with an abuser like her, to be totally honest. When I get triggered by abusive parenting, I go for the parents instead of shutting down. It would absolutely impact our working relationship.

    3. LeahS*

      This would be very very re-traumatizing for me. This is a good point to make. I feel so bad for these kids.

  23. Lizy*

    Yeaaaaaahhhhh … I thought this would be something similar to how I’m mean to my kids, and my response would be “it’s fine – they’re fine”. But it’s not. I constantly call my 2 1/2 year old a jerk – when she takes my cup of water and drinks it while looking slyly at me and laughing because she knows she’s not technically supposed to drink out of someone else’s cup. Or I’ll tell the 15YO to stop being an ass to his 7YO brother. Or I’ll tell the 7YO he smells like poop and go wash your hands after you take a dump. But… this is another level, and not ok. “Go run in traffic”?! Seriously??? No. Just, no.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I had the same reaction, where I assumed before I read the letter that OP was judging normal imperfect parenting too harshly and it was a matter of zoom etiquette to ask the parent to get it off screen. This is… not that.

      I yell at my kids sometimes. It’s not great, but it’s pretty typical from what I understand from talking to friends with kids this age. Usually when they’re acting up, and I yell at them to stop it. Or my tone goes from reasonable to kind of loud with each successive round of telling them to put their shoes on. Etc.

      I would never, ever, tell a preschooler to go play in traffic. Or to shut up, for that matter. (“BE QUIET!” is another matter.)

      I’m sorry, OP, that you have to deal with this. And I’m sorry for these kids.

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        Yes. Today I saw my almost 4 year old’s ears just brimming with ear wax, and I said “oh so that’s why you’re not listening to me. You’re all waxy!”

        That’s the kind of pointed but jokey comment that is safe to make with a small child. Play in traffic is….just not. They’re so literal. Plus, even if the 7 year old gets non literal humor, the undercurrent is just mean. There’s a big difference between expressing frustration in less than ideal ways and meanness.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I’ve been telling my 6-year-old to stop being rude and to stop being annoying lately. But… she’s being rude and annoying, at least kind of on purpose, and she knows better. Sometimes it’s easier to say “stop being annoying” than to say “stop sing-songing the same thing over and over and over while poking at me with a lego from where you’re hiding behind the chair” or whatever.

          That’s not the same as screaming “You’re being annoying, go play in traffic” at a 3-year-old.

    2. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Right? Like I was told to “go play in traffic” when I was being a brat, BUT I was a) old enough to understand sarcasm, (often the reason I was told to go play in traffic) b) told in an obvious joking tone, c) old enough to have gotten extensive safety lectures about cars and playing in the street. To me, honestly the other things she is screaming are more disturbing really. Who yells that a kid is pissing them off?
      Head straight towards any of the other resources that have been pointed out to you here, and then head towards your manager’s office.
      OP should definitely bring this up to her manager, skip the Supervisor who is on the calls with them and go to the manager. Say something like “I’m not sure if supervisor has brought this to your attention, but Jane’s behavior on our daily Zoom calls is very disturbing to me, she’s regularly verbally abusing her children during work calls.” Manager needs to make a ‘surprise’ appearance on one of these calls and see for herself this behavior is happening to at least address the poor conference call etiquette.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      I’ve definitely snapped at my 3 year old more in the last 6 months than I ever have in her entire life (thanks PPA and stress!) but I agree this level of yelling and complaining about her kids is alarming. There’s a HUGE difference between “OMG JUST GET YOUR SHOES ON ALREADY!” and “YOU’RE SO ANNOYING, GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC!” And she’s even doubling down on the Slack channel. That’s the real kicker for me.

    4. CommanderBanana*

      I say stuff like this to my dogs – calling them Stinker Butt or telling them they’re being jerks for doing stuff like climbing on the table and taking a bite of my toast WHILE I AM EATING IT.

      I would never, ever treat my dogs the way this woman treats her kids. This is beyond not ok, and I really hope OP does involve some authorities.

    5. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I used to jokingly tell my kids I was going to beat them with a stick when they were being especially irritating. But they were older than these kids, and they knew I wasn’t really going to do it. It was essentially our shorthand for “You need to dial it back a notch or two.” I NEVER screamed it at them. And I am someone who has not problem yelling, and have yelled at my kids plenty.

    6. Potatoes gonna potate*

      I tell my kid she’s stinky right after she burps from her feeding (formula smells ugh) or changing a diaper, but I say it in a loving/baby talk voice. I do get frustrated at her while working but I remind myself that I’m frustrated at myself and to NOT take it out on her. Sometimes I have to step back and calm down. Maybe b/c she’s only 10 weeks old I just can’t imagine saying stuff like that to my kid. My mom was verbally abusive towards me as well.

  24. foreign octopus*

    This has actually happened to me a couple of times as I’ve been teaching English online now for three years and I see into people’s lives in a way that most people don’t. What I’ve found useful in this situation (and it did take some trial and error) is to let them know that I can hear it in a clear, neutral tone; although, often my facial expression is enough to get the point of cross but I’m always one on one, never in a group. Sometimes the simple fact of me saying “I hear and see what you’re doing” is enough to get them to stop in the moment and to watch themselves again in the call, but that doesn’t deal with the rest of the time when those children are hearing it.

    Calling the CPS is the best idea as they’re trained to deal with this and I’d argue that your discomfort in the moment is worth it if it helps those children gain a less toxic environment.

  25. ...*

    Call CPS. In some states anyone who witnesses abuse is a mandated reporter. How has no one reported this to HR And CPS? Do peoples faces look alarmed when this is going on? Confused? When someones dog goes into a bunch of barking people make a face to acknowledge it or a joke to laugh it off. I would assume something this disruptive is at least getting looks??

  26. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    Three kids who need constant attention, full time job. Stupid Zoom meetings. So much pressure her head is about to explode. Yes, do your best to further ruin her life. How about helping her. Give her support. Tell her how this sounds.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      Sounds pretty clear that she’s consistently telling her kids that they’re annoying, pissing her off, and to go play in traffic, which don’t seem like normal things to yell at your children when stressed.

      There are lines between stressed and needing support and abusive behavior.

    2. Colette*

      I mean, if I have to choose between ruining the life of an abusive parent by speaking up or ruining the life of three children by keeping quiet, it’s not a hard call.

      This woman needs help, agreed. But she’s not currently looking for help, and reporting the situation to people who have the authority to take action can result in her getting help.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Give her support . . . how? During a pandemic when we’re all supposed to be avoiding contact?

      As I said above: I would not call her on this while there is apparently nobody else there to protect the children if she goes after them for “making her look bad” or “getting her in trouble at work”. Looping her into the system might be the support she needs, or at least the only workable support available right now.

      And, yes, if somebody is screaming at their kids like this, they deserve, not to have their lives ruined (do us a favor and dial down the hyperbole, okay) but to be brought up short.

      1. TwinCitiesHR*

        Mothers are still human beings with their own struggles. Having kids doesn’t magically make them go away and if they aren’t dealt with they often equal child abuse and the cycle continues with their own kid.

        1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

          This is true enough, but mothers are adults and children are kids. The adult must get their mental and emotional house in order because the kid cannot.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            +10,000. It’s really unpleasant to figure out down the road that your parents likely wouldn’t have agreed with those statements.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          It is possible for Jill to BOTH be stressed out and at the end of her rope AND abusive. It is possible to empathize with her situation as a single (?) working mother responsible for three young kids AND recognize that her behavior is abusive and needs to stop.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          That’s . . . not an excuse.

          The kids deserve at least equal consideration here, if not more. “She has her own issues” is not a pass to mistreat your kids.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            “Sorry we didn’t get you kids any help–we all knew for years but we didn’t want to stress your mom out even more. We figured you could handle it on your own.”

          2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Exactly. People like this either don’t understand that it’s not their kids’ job to manage their very adult issues for them, or they lack the self-awareness to recognize that their issues affect others. It’s very likely not your kids’ fault that you don’t have (or don’t want) a functioning adult support system.

    4. CaVanaMana*

      The advice provided is not ruining her life. Might it be added stress? Maybe and so what? Sometimes a stress point is a cause for change.

      These kids are being abused and the woman doing it, well, I feel for her too. She’s messed up in a way that makes her think it’s okay to behave this way towards her children and while at work (yes, when you’re on a zoom call, you are at work). This family needs help.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        while at work (yes, when you’re on a zoom call, you are at work).

        This part struck me along with the taking personal calls and ‘munching’ constantly – I feel almost like she sees the zoom calls as an annoying intrusion into her actual life which she is only just managing to cope with (or not) as it is.

        OP didn’t mention it but I bet there are performance/engagement issues with Jill as well, of course that’s the least of the problems compared to the abusive behaviour aspect.

        I could see someone, including myself, ‘losing it’ through stress to the point of behaving like this, actually. Not a popular thing to admit obviously, but I think it’s commoner than one might expect.

    5. Barbara Eyuiche*

      I reported a neighbor to CPS. I felt really guilty about doing so, but the abuse ended that night. When I called, the worker said they would take my report, but could not actually do anything unless there were other reports about the same family. Apparently there were, and it was my report that tipped the balance into them doing something. (The worker said that unless the abuse was happening as I phoned, they could not go out to the family based on only one report, but they would start a file.)

    6. Bex*

      If this is a matter of a parent being overwhelmed, CPS can connect her with resources and assistance to help. But if it’s not – if this is a mother who is just abusive and hateful – CPS can work to secure the children’s safety, both emotional and physical.

      1. pope suburban*

        This. The time I had to call about a neighbor who was hitting their child, the response was prompt and, from what I could tell, effective. The family was very young, and I don’t think the parents had many/any good role models or family/friends to support them. They got set up with a caseworker who visited consistently, and at least as far as I could tell, the hitting stopped because the parents had received education on how to discipline kids, and because they were receiving support instead of having to wing it on their own.

      2. Mia*

        Exactly this. CPS doesn’t just waltz in and remove children as soon as they get a report. I used to work pretty closely with my state’s CPS agency and ime, the bulk of their cases don’t even end up with removals. If OP’s coworker is truly just overwhelmed and snapping because of it, they’ll be able to recognize that.

        1. Anonymouse*

          I have a friend who CPS was called on because her 7 year old autistic son had decided to go on a walk out of the neighborhood (where he knew he was not allowed to go) naked (which he knew he wasn’t supposed to do). CPS checked on things and determined very little intervention was needed. They might have offered some resources to my friend (not sure) and my friend certainly kept a better eye on both her kids but it most definitely never got anywhere near the point of her children being removed.

          1. Anonymouse*

            And to be clear–whoever called CPS was doing exactly what they should have done. And my friend was never upset or offended that the call was made.

    7. Helen J*

      How about her asking for some help instead of screaming at her kids? What do you expect people to do to help her when the OP said they are all remote? She could ask about skipping the meeting or for some flexibility in her work schedule.

      She sounds like an awful person.

    8. Keymaster of Gozer*

      You can have empathy for someone without condoning their behaviour.

      Her behaviour is out of line. I will not give anyone benefit of doubt if I witness abuse as to me there’s no reason for it. Not being stressed, not loss of temper, not even mental illness, you don’t get to abuse others.

      Professional help is needed here. Which calling child protection can provide.

    9. Anonymous at a University*

      If it’s really a choice between the poor, poor, poor stressed-out mother and the kids who did nothing to deserve this abuse, then yeah, I think the OP should pick the kids. So would I. In reality, they can both get help and support, but you don’t pick “Support working parents at all costs!” when their kids would be harmed.

    10. President Porpoise*

      A parents first responsibility is for their child. I’ll say it again – if you think it’s ok for a parent to tell their tiny kids to go kill themselves, regardless of whatever mitigating factors might be in play, you need to reevaluate your life choices. This is abuse, inexcusable abuse, and maybe a couple people in this thread need that wake up call, especially if this is behavior they think is ok in their own homes. If I saw it or heard it, I would call it in – “ruining the mother’s life” be damned. She bears the responsibilities for her actions, no one else, and certainly not her coworker.

      OP, please please call this in. Do not be dissuaded by arguments saying that this is not a big deal, that CPS is overloaded or incompetent, that you will ruin the parent or children’s lives. These are untrue. CPS will do everything in their power to make sure that these kids are in a situation where they will be safe. They will assist the parent if the parent can be assisted. They don’t take kids away for no reason. Your call could be hugely beneficial to these children’s lives. Heck, it could save these children’s lives. Even if no physical harm is being done, the emotional scars this type of ‘parenting’ leaves can be a contributor to future suicide attempts or other life threatening behavior.

    11. Batgirl*

      You could be right, or the abuse in private when there’s no meeting could actually be worse.
      Let’s say you’re right. The kids are still being horifically emotionally abused and they could still be killed by playing in traffic like they were told to. The only difference is that their bereaved mother or the mum of the PTSD kids is devastated and regretful rather than hardened and indifferent.
      So the best help for her is to save the kids, right?

    12. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      We’re not trying to ruin her life.

      CPS connecting her with a caseworker now would be better for her and for the kids than if they’re called in by an emergency room doctor. Yes, foster care can be bad. But so can some of the things that put people there. If the coworker is physically abusing the kids, one possible outcome there is one kid in the hospital, parent in jail, and the other two kids in foster care.

    13. Laura H.*

      Jill is the adult. Good parents are supposed to protect their children from harm, not be the cause of it.

      Jill is causing at the very least distress to OP who is concerned for the kids- YOUNG kids. Words hurt and Jill’s apparent tone and noted language is super problematic. Yes, she may be stressed or frazzled or what have you, but this is a pattern, the words are vehemently delivered, and it bothers OP enough to write in.

      Reporting and it being nothing would be far easier on my conscience than the ultimate, permanent consequences of not reporting would be.

    14. Observer*

      Three kids who are constantly being screamed at. Being told they are horrible. Being told to GO KILL THEMSELVES!

      Yes, do your best to make yourself feel good about it while doing ZERO to help the actual victsm.

  27. Child of Mommie Dearest*

    I was raised in a household with a Jill for a mother, though mine was sly enough to keep it (mostly) behind household doors so it was much more difficult for me to get help growing up and to recognize that being routinely insulted, neglected, and told that if I wasn’t a good child, whatever I was afraid of (clowns, monsters, etc.) would be sent by my mother to kill me and/or she would “return me to my ‘real’ mother” (I wasn’t adopted). If anyone on the outside sensed something was wrong and tried to say something to my mother in front of me in the moment, I got it worse after they’d left. The best thing anyone did for me was give me a safe space outside of the home and treat me like a human being (mostly teachers filled this role). Obviously, this is probably not feasible given your relationship to Jill and this being observed at work via Zoom calls, but this is just my adult survivor of child abuse anecdata weighing in.

    Whatever you choose to do, please try to help those kids somehow. They are either going to grow up completely enmeshed with Jill and repeat the abuse on their siblings (my sibling’s route), or cut all ties with family the second they finally escape that wretched household (me).

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      Solidarity fist bump for a life of blissful no contact. It’s been the best eight years of my life!

    2. CommanderBanana*

      I’ve gone low/no contact and see a therapist regularly, and it’s made a huge difference in my life. Some people really just should not be trusted with children.

  28. Happy Pineapple*

    As someone who was frequently screamed at and belittled as a child, please speak up in some way. The fact that no one ever intervened was in some ways more painful than the verbal and emotional abuse, because I felt like it must be justified.

    1. anonforthis*

      Agree with this so much.

      I would call CPS. My abusive parent used to boast about how they had to beat me because I was so bad and would say things like this in front of other adults all the time. No one spoke up, except to ask me why I was so bad that my parent had to do that. I still struggle to talk about the things that happened to me as a child and it was a long long time before I realized that it wasn’t truly my fault – that even if I was misbehaving, it was on the adult to manage their reaction to it, not me, and on some level I still honestly feel like the abuse was my fault. Having someone do something to intervene would have changed my life in so many ways. As an adult I can’t trust anyone and its affected every relationship and friendship I’ve ever had.

      1. Elenia35*

        Yeah! They would tell other parents what a bad useless kid I was, and they would just laugh awkwardly, or worse, kindly tell me I needed to be a better child!

      2. Grapey*

        +1, I needed other adults in my life to tell me things like “your actions were very rude to other people, BUT your dad saying XYZ to you was over the top and says more about him than your behavior. Now, you DO need to clean that mess you made!”

    2. Tobias Funke*

      Yep, I didn’t realize it wasn’t okay until I was well into my 30s. My logic went as such: (sibling) doesn’t get treated this way. No one seems to think the way I get treated is wrong. Teachers, doctors, relatives all think it’s fine. Ergo, it’s fine. The problem is me, and that I am so bad this is necessary.

  29. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I wouldn’t speak up in the moment because that may lead to a more abusive situation for the kids. My parents have friends and the husband was verbally abusive to his wife. My mom and another friend tried to say something once, and it just made the abuse worse for their friend. Yes this is a different situation because we’re talking about kids who can’t protect themselves vs an adult who presumably can, but if you call her out in a meeting, that will most likely embarrass her and she’ll take it out on the kids outside of the call, making it worse because she’ll blame them for the embarrassment.

  30. SpaceCadet*

    This actually happened to a friend of mine — a colleague of his was verbally abusing her kids on the phone at work, and she would also tell “funny” stories about the horrific fights she had had with them previous nights, and relayed the “hilarious” things she said to them. Including kicking an 11-year-old out of the house at one point.

    He called our state’s child protection department to report her one day.

    I don’t know if the abuse stopped, but she never came in to work telling her “funny” home life stories after that. I hope to goodness it gave her a reality check.

  31. Kisses*

    Just want to add that someone might be considered a mandatory reporter. I don’t know what the job or business is, but some involved in healthcare or education (and some others!) require reporting to CPS or DCF.
    Don’t hesitate to get involved for the kids.

  32. Molly Coddler*

    I grew up with verbal abuse that was less volatile than what you are hearing. The fact that she does this, AND does not see a problem with it being in front of others – says that it’s worse behind closed doors. Please, I know it feels awkward, and “maybe this isn’t a big deal” or “i hate to accuse someone” but this is EGREGIOUS – trust me. Please report. You can stay anonymous. Good luck!

  33. PhoebeBuffay*

    In my experience you have to give your information, but the family is not told who made the call. So you will give information for CPS record, but it isn’t released to family who would have the potential investigation. That may vary by state though.

  34. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    My childhood neighbour was like this, loud, abusive and rude. Just reading OP’s letter brought all those memories back. I hope those kids get the help they need.

  35. Erin*

    The fact that she does not try to hide it at all is indeed very worrying. It makes it more likely that what is going on when they are alone is worse, or that she is in a very bad mental state right now. I’ve worked a lot with kids and tend to err on the side of calling CPS–but especially in this case if it continues because the pandemic means they may not have any mandated reporters in their lives right now–like teachers, daycare workers or even doctors.

  36. MD*

    for the love of god don’t call CPS! It is almost guaranteed to make the childrens’ lives LESS safe, not more. This yelling is awful but what’s worse is being put in foster care, likely SEPERATED FROM YOUR SIBLINGS. Please don’t don’t don’t call CPS! Address it with her first! Plus, I know it’s awful, but this is a time of awful stress. While you may suspect, you don’t actually know if this is ongoing or a reaction to Covid – which doesn’t make it any less harmful, but would make it easier to confront her about it and not go rushing to the absolute worst-case scenario of calling CPS!

    1. Lark*

      This is terrible advice. All child abuse experts will tell you NOT to try to address the situation yourself.

      Very few cases that are reported to CPS result in the children being removed form the home. There are a lot of other services that CPS can provide to prevent that from happened.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. It’s always better to report it. Social services may be imperfect and under resourced but they are a lot better placed to make a decision and help than an untrained colleague.

        I don’t know about the situation in the US but in the UK they very rarely remove children straight away unless they’re in real danger. They’re more likely to try and work with the parent and try and help.

    2. AnonInTheCity*

      No, the absolute-worst case scenario is that these kids are harmed or worse by their abusive mother. Do you really think that this person is just going to say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize it was wrong to scream at my kids and I won’t do it anymore”?

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Calling CPS is not a worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is children being abused or worse.

      When CPS removes kids from a home (which is not the case for the majority of cases they investigate), they do it when they judge children’s safety is at stake.

      Having recently gone through some foster parent training, it’s worth noting that the foster care mandate in the U.S. is family reunification — the priority is keeping kids in the home or returning them to the home if it’s safe to do so (to the point that they’re often returned when it’s not all that safe, which is a different problem).

      1. MayLou*

        Slightly off topic but are you becoming a foster carer? That is exciting! It is something I very much want to do once I have a big enough place. In the meantime I volunteer with looked-after teenagers, and while they have been separated from their siblings they are definitely better off no longer being abused or neglected, and often still have contact with their siblings where possible.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ve wanted to for years and have been working on getting my husband onboard. We had done the initial training, and then Covid happened so right now it’s on hold since our household is not low-risk. I’m really interested in doing it though.

          1. Anathema Device*

            That is wonderful; I work with many kiddos who are in the system, and they are ALWAYS desperate for more good foster homes. Hats off to foster parents!

    4. Littorally*

      You know CPS does a whole lot of stuff that’s way less drastic than putting kids in foster care, right? That’s like the absolute last ditch resort when everything else is off the table.

    5. Student*

      Is this based on experience, or on scary news stories you’ve read and second-hand or third-hand accounts from people who lost their kids?

      I was an abused kid. I wished for other adults to call child services on my parents, because I was too afraid to report it myself. I still vividly remember, and hate from the bottom of my heart, a few adults that watched my parents do terrible things to me and decided to say nothing.

      As I got older, my parents’ abuse got worse. It didn’t mellow out. I didn’t get safer over time. It wasn’t a momentary loss of control on their part. It was worse when no one was watching, and I’ll have the burn scars to prove it for the rest of my life.

      I wish I had been put into foster care, even if that meant getting separated from my brother. At least then he wouldn’t have had my parents tell him he’s worthless every day for years until he believed them. As an adult, I’m not close to my brother – my parents made sure we couldn’t have a healthy relationship when we were together, pitting us against each other. Playing favorites. I’m sure he would’ve been miserable in foster care, but I bet he would’ve been less miserable than he is now.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        My uncle would probably still be alive right now if CPS was really a thing when he was growing up and someone in our family had called them on my grandfather. Endless childhood abuse led him to develop severe mental health problems and a drug addiction – he possibly OD’d around my birthday this year. (My mom and I still aren’t clear on what happened because we cut off her father and her entire family really for good right before the toxicology report was complete, but drug paraphernalia was found in his room along with his dead body.)

    6. Rainy*

      This is not good advice, and “a time of awful stress” isn’t a good reason to abuse the people around you.

    7. Bex*

      The worst case scenario is no one says anything because “this is a time of great stress” and the children continue to be abused (yes, continue – because what’s laid out in OP’s letter is verbal abuse). That they grow up thinking this is normal, that they accept this kind of abuse in their lives, and that they perpetuate this kind of abuse.

      CPS does NOT automatically jump to removing the children unless there is imminent danger. So if CPS does remove the kids, guess what? It’s bad.

      Parents have a responsibility to raise their children in a healthy fashion, including not engaging in emotional abuse. Parents can and will lose their children if they fail to uphold their end of the bargain, and guess what? It’s better for everyone if they do.

      Someone who had to call CPS on her father and stepmother for the emotional abuse they engaged in, and eventually gained guardianship of her half-sibling because the parents saw nothing wrong and refused to change.

    8. Hanna*

      Please stop commenting. You clearly know nothing about this and your advice is actively harmful. You are not helping. You are perpetuating myths that cause harm to children. You are hurting kids. Just stop.

    9. Anathema Device*

      That is not true at all. CPS has its problems (many, many problems), but despite what media seems to show, their first move is generally NOT removing the children from their home. If it does escalate to that, reunification is almost always the goal. And if that is not an option, family care is the next goal. Please, please call. Just because you do doesn’t guarantee that they will a) take the case, or b) escalate beyond a home visit. But if they do, CPS provides a lot of services to help families so that children don’t end up being removed. And of course she doesn’t ‘know’ and only ‘suspects’; that’s why she should call CPS. It’s their jobs, not OP’s, to assess whether this is a stress reaction or an abuse situation.
      Also, to the OP, if at all possible, please call the CPS number from the county that the family lives in. It will make things much less confusing on their end. Also very helpful if you know the family’s address.

    10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The first option is NOT foster care, it takes a lot to get your parental rights revoked and for a child to be removed.

      I think you are failing to realize how abuse wrecks a child just as badly as being separated from their siblings. Abuse leads to severe injury, illness and permanant mental damages.

    11. President Porpoise*

      Agreeing with the others here. This is terrible advice.

      I say this as someone who has a brother who has had CPS called on him. It was stressful and frightening, and they had a short period where CPS was monitoring and supervising them. They were not abusing their kids – but some concerned people thought they might be. My nephew has some mental health concerns that were untreated at the time, and probably the reports were related to that. Guess what? CPS helped connect my bother and his wife to the resources they needed to get him diagnosed and treated, and no one was ever removed from the home.

      I am grateful to the people who loved my nephew and wanted to help him when they thought he was in trouble. I really am.

    12. Mia*

      This is really dangerous and honestly just flat out inaccurate advice. The vast majority of cases CPS investigates never involve removing the children or placing them in foster care. When that does happen, it usually means a) the parent(s) has had multiple interactions with CPS and nothing has gotten better or b) the abuse is *so* bad that leaving the children behind would be criminally neglectful. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but there’s been a big push towards family reunification over the past few years and removals don’t happen nearly as often as some folks seem to think they do.

    13. Temperance*

      This is horrific advice, and has the benefit of being extremely untrue, too.

      They often try to place sibling groups together. And seriously, your wording makes it sound like you have no empathy for abused, innocent little kids but their abuser.

    14. Seacalliope*

      As someone who used to work in a shelter for abused children, for all the problems the system has, there are kind, caring, well trained people who work to help children in the system and it is very important for children to meet them, rather than being left alone to fend for themselves with an abuser.

    15. Jaded*

      No. Just – no. I was a traumatized child and when (no doubt) well-meaning but utterly clueless people told my mother that they were worried about me, I got extra beatings for ‘showing her up’ and ‘having something wrong with me’.

    16. SaffyTaffy*

      Is this MommyMD again? If it is, I wish you would take a look at the long history you have on this website of giving advice that dozens of other sensible adults recognize as short-sighted and cruel.

  37. Mandated reporter*

    The protocols vary by state – you should be able to look up information for your own state online. Most of them have manuals or online trainings.

    The protocols for mandated reporters in social service professions also vary dramatically by state – for example, some states require mandated reporters to inform their supervisors first, while some prohibit them from informing supervisors first! So I’d echo everyone suggesting calling a helpline, and I’d also suggest looking up any available guidance particular to your location.

  38. Perpal*

    It’s hard to pick up tone in text and I could see a weird hypothetical where these phrases might be said with such sarcasm or inflection that it’s not as awful as it seems; I agree that at least pushing back in the moment is something you can do ie every time you hear her say something terrible to her kids, react to it, ask her why she said it, say you don’t like it and please stop.

    IDK about calling CPS my impression is unless children are in imminent physical danger they don’t do much (in the USA anyway) but who knows; the advice line posted in the sounds more helpful.

    If you do get a sense that the kids are in imminent peril though (ie, they look physically neglected, or there’s violence) then yes definitely call CPS/911 etc

    1. Dust Bunny*

      They’re under 8 years old. Sarcasm is neither effective nor appropriate.

      The Devil has enough advocates these days, thanks.

    2. Ominous Adversary*

      Maybe an abusive situation towards small children is not the time for weird hypotheticals or playing devil’s advocate?

      1. Perpal*

        I think I have some justifiable caution in involving authorities if a situation doesn’t truly warrant it given recent events.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah. Except that weird hypotheticals that ignore what the OP is actually describing is not actually “caution.”

    3. Dahlia*

      You know when else it’s hard to pick up sarcasm? When you’re 2, and your mommy tells you to go play in traffic.

    4. Mia*

      CPS very much handles emotional and verbal abuse as well as “imminent danger” cases. And even if they didn’t, there’s really no way to tell a toddler to go play in traffic that isn’t at least potentially putting them in harm’s way.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I understand what you’re saying but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of sarcasm or inflection being used whilst “screaming” (which, in UK English at least, is beyond ‘yelling’) … also it’s being reported to us 2nd/3rd hand, but OP can obviously hear the tone herself..

    6. Perpal*

      People are really taking umbrage and what I’m trying to get at is it’s a stressful time and a lot of people are doing things suboptimally and I just want to be careful calling out parents? I can’t imagine saying most of those things to my kids (maybe “go back to the bathroom” i mean, if they needed to; also various flavors of “you’re getting over the top” because sometimes they can come on a bit rapid fire) but I can imagine being stressed and blurting out something that isn’t perfect. I know my own parents would sometimes say things that were kind of mean when they were mad but I’d never call them abusive just human; humans who are supremely supportive 95% of the time and 5% of the time aren’t perfect.

      1. Observer*

        What this woman is saying cannot be described as “suboptimal” or “not perfect.”

        Telling a kid to go kill himself is unutterably cruel, and the 7 yo almost certainly understood what she was saying. Screaming at a 3 or 5yo to do something that could (almost certainly would) get them killed is, at the very kindest and best interpretation, criminally negligent and abusive.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’m thinking of designing a cross stitch pattern:

          Being stressed doesn’t mean you can abuse others
          Being a parent doesn’t mean you can abuse others
          Being mentally ill doesn’t mean you can abuse others


      2. Paperwhite*

        So maybe if Jill is so stressed the appropriate thing to do is to get her some help (CPS has a lot of parenting resources) rather than blithely ignore a situation where little kids are being put through emotional pain?

        I STG I don’t know why so many people volunteer to be Devils’ Advocates. The thin red dude doesn’t even pay well.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I tried to kill myself as a child, because people would shout at me and tell me to kill myself.

      Nearly 4 decades later I am still messed up from that.

      I was told to just ignore the verbal (and later physical) abuse from a (now ex) boyfriend because he was “stressed”, he “needed compassion” and “think about how you’d ruin his life”.

      Someone external saying to an abuser “now why did you do that?” just doesn’t help. It invites lies, drives the abuse elsewhere out of sight. And verbal abuse is every bit as serious as physical.

  39. 9to4ever*

    Go play in traffic???
    I just can’t. How heartbreaking.
    I remember my kids being difficult at that age, but that kind of thought is really disturbing, not funny at all, and way beyond self-deprecating “I guess i’m no mom of the year” type comments.

  40. TootsNYC*

    I’d be tempted to do this.

    Send her an email and said, “Jill, you seem so stressed with your kids. I worry about you, and about them. Our company has an EPA, and you can get them to help you find a family coach or therapist to give you ways to reduce the tension in your home. Or our state has X resources. I know this is a tough time for everyone, being at home, and your kids are little, which makes is a bit harder, but it’s been hard to see the tension in your home. I wish you all well, and I hope you can find a way to bring some friendliness back to your family.”

    1. Batgirl*

      This very selfsame approach has been taken with children who later died in the home, because no one checked on their welfare. A friendly chat with the abuser is not a substitute for action.In any situation where children may be at risk the benefit of the doubt is a very, very unsafe approach. If she’s a well meaning parent who just needs support, TPTB will get it for her AFTER ensuring the kid’s safety. Unsolicited advice telling her to help herself won’t do anything.

      1. Tiara Wearing Princess*

        For this exact reason, I don’t think management needs to be consulted. So they talk to Jill about this and the abuse goes underground.

        OP please report this abusive behavior. You are not equipped to handle this and neither is management. I mentioned this in another post- record the abuse (with your phone).

    2. Courageous cat*

      Yeah but if you do this and then end up calling CPS at any point, guess who’s going to be the first person Jill looks at to blame?

      I’d go straight to CPS rather than deal with that shitshow. No reason to start off small and have her potentially think it’s you later.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      Not unless the convener has that set up. The OP would know because when you go into a meeting that’s being recorded you have to agree to it.

  41. Nyet*

    Former abused kid here – please call child protective services on her.

    Even if “nothing” happens, it can send a message to the kids that what is happening to them is not normal, and you have no idea how important that is for them to know.

    One of the most important moments in my life was realizing that my parents were wrong to treat me the way they did. It came from a moment where another adult told my parents, in front of me, that they found my parent’s treatment of me shockingly mean and inappropriate, over something that was relatively minor and routine cruelty from my parents. That helped me realize that I was being abused instead of disciplined.

    I had thought I was a bad, defective kid and that I deserved to be punished for how terrible and flawed I was regularly. That moment gave me a critical light-bulb “a-hah!” moment towards realizing that maybe I was fine and normal, but my parents were impossible to please. It helped me eventually re-direct energy away from pleasing impossible parents to figuring out how to escape to a more normal life and live for my own sake.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      One of my exes found this out when the neighbors called the police because his parents had been screaming at each other for god knows how long. He became a police officer because he realized that they were the only ones who could get his parents to chill the hell out, even if it was temporary. He said he thought they were like Santa Claus.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      I didn’t realize how fundamentally screwed up my childhood was until I became a nanny and saw how the toddler parents of the toddler I took care of interacted with her. I genuinely thought it was weird for parents to hug their child, tell them they loved them, tell them they missed them, or be interested in interacting with them at all. I loved being a nanny and it taught me so much about caring family dynamics.

  42. Colorado*

    OMG, this is awful. I would have to speak up in the moment. I would not be able to keep my mouth shut and would not care what others thought. “Wow, are you talking to your little kids that way?”. “Wow, what an awful thing to say.” “Wow, do you need help or support right now?” I could not sit there and listen to that. I cannot in general sit back and watch children or animals being abused. Nope, never.

    Please speak up! Why don’t people speak up in situations like this?!?

    1. TootsNYC*

      they don’t know what to say; they’re afraid of being rude; they wonder if they’re overreaction; we’ve normalized this idea that everybody gets to parent in their own way

  43. mcfizzle*

    I am not sure if there are laws on recording the verbal abuse in your state, but perhaps consider some kind of video to help document everything – tone, volume, etc, etc.

  44. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I’m not going to go into detail but I tried the “are you ok” method to a mother and she turned her vitriol on me. I didn’t care but I wanted the child to know what was happening was not ok. This incident involved a stranger.

    Honestly, if I were in the OP’s shoes, I’d be concerned about blowback From my workplace. I would
    – Record the screaming on my phone
    – Find out this person’s location and as much info as I could.
    – report it to CPS.

    When contacting cps I’d ask if I could remain anonymous. If yes, I’d provide the recording.

    There is some personal risk, but i think it would be outweighed by the knowledge that you did the right thing. My heart is breaking for those kids and they are damaged little bullies and/or victims in the making.

    Alison’s advice to reach out for professional advice is good, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t tell you to contact cps.

    OP, please be brave and do something.

  45. It takes 1,000 steps*

    There are really two problems here:

    1) Child abuse. This is the main problem and plenty of good suggestions are already posted above for help. However, I once had a co-worker who could improve SOOOOOO many problems by being sympathetic, no matter how he actually felt. He was a marvel. The main goal is to help the kids. The tactic used can be to support the mom in these “difficult times”. It can still include the witnessing aspect, but acknowledges the abuser in a way that might make them receptive to some help. For example – research some possible options on her behalf (any city/town/county/school programming happening? Fun suitable weekend activities advertised? Self-guided Nature walks? Socially distant Pumpkin/apple picking? Storytime in the park? Then have a “whoa, that’s pretty harsh. How are *you* doing? I heard about free where the kids might be able to blow of some steam” comment during the meeting.

    2) Impossible work situation. Your manager should be dealing with the work environment issues here and she’s not. Your boss sounds like a better option. I would ask to record the meeting as a regular thing (rationale – you need to go back and check what’s been said related to your work) so that you could ultimately loop in the boss with evidence. Zoom does NOT record things automatically unless the meeting organizer sets it up that way, however, each session can be recorded by any participant with the permission of the meeting organizer. I would record several meetings before doing anything so as to establish the pattern. You could offer to provide the recording to everyone else given this rationale. This also provides evidence for CPS if it is needed, but it isn’t being collected for that purpose per se.

    These are big problems, and it sounds like you are ready to act given that you took the time to write in. Whatever you decide to do, do SOMETHING. The world gets better by the work of those who show up to do the difficult jobs. Good luck.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      I agree with bringing the boss in the loop to address the workplace side of this. The OP being new to the team makes them a target for potential bullying by Jill. The boss also has the standing to suggest EAP and other workplace resources.
      To bring the meeting series back to sanity the boss can suggest (insist) that the Zoom facilitator mutes the participants who neglect to do so.

  46. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Please call CPS.

    It will create a file on her, so if this is the worst thing she’s done, whatever she’s not going to get her children taken away from her.

    I’m sickened that nobody in those Zoom meetings has spoken up. I understand bystander effect and know it’s rarely malicious but holy crap, call CPS. She may just need counseling but she needs someone in authority tell her that this isn’t okay.

    1. Anonymous at a University*

      I think that part of it is probably related to the idea that, “You can’t say anything to a parent who’s stressed because of COVID.” I mean, in this post we have some people talking about how calling CPS is the wrong thing, it’ll “ruin” the mother’s life, the mother “deserves support,” etc. So I would suspect that some of those people on the Zoom call are thinking, “But how can I say anything when it’s probably just related to COVID stress and she can’t change anything? How can I criticize her parenting?”

      That said, they should have spoken up.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I just shivered, I’m reading some of the comments more right now.

        We’re all stressed. Domestic violence is higher than ever right now. It’s a thing that’s truly happening. We need to report it MORE THAN EVER because of these numbers mean that more abuse, means higher probability of serious injury or death.

        That’s often the factor though and why it takes so long for abuse, even in the “best of times” to be reported. You fool yourself into thinking that it’s “not that bad” it’s “an instance” and not a “pattern”, your fear of being judged on an individual level means you don’t want to dare to judge another person’s home.

        But these are kids. Very small kids.

        I just watched a special on the Turpin family and the neighbors who wished they had done something sooner. All the red flags they saw but didn’t want to meddle…my head hurts.

        1. Anonymous at a University*

          I grew up in a community where the majority Christian denomination was very, “Men work, women stay home, have as many kids as possible,” and the amount of abusive situations adults refused to intervene in because, “Oh, but we have to respect people’s religious beliefs!” was insane. No, sorry, you don’t get to lock your daughter in her room because she refuses to quit school to take care of her eighth younger sibling. (That one got intervention, but only because teachers reported her missing school). No, you don’t get to beat your wife because “God told you to.” No, you don’t get to verbally abuse your kid because they were “sinful” in wearing lipstick.

          I am over the notion that abuse should get excused because parents are stressed, or need support, or have certain beliefs.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Ah the “Spare the rod, spoil the child” crowd.

            I am luck to have not come from an abusive household. I however saw a massive amount of abuse on many levels with my friends, since I came from a community that has a long history of drug use and assorted poor-rural-town issues [lack of resources for example]. I knew kids who were beaten, starved and assaulted by “family” members. I was a child, I was too scared to report it to my parents because I thought, as children often do, that would have put my parents at risk because I knew they’d report it and wouldn’t hide the fact that they reported it. I vowed as an adult to never live in that kind of fear again and I will report anything I see or hear to the proper channels.

        2. Ominous Adversary*

          Abusive parents get away with it because of enablers – ranging from people who are too afraid of conflict to say anything to those who are abusers themselves.

        3. jenkins the first*

          Yeah. Everyone’s stressed, including abusers. Abusers abuse because it meets their psychological needs. What do we reckon they’ll do in a situation like this? Get nicer?

          *I* have been stressed by the Covid situation – which means that my kids have watched a bit too much TV and eaten a bit too much convenience food, because I have not always had the wherewithal to break out the wholesome educational activities or make dinner from scratch. I let the freaking violin practice slide. We spent several entire days wearing pyjamas. I sometimes raised my voice, when I absolutely had to focus on something and repeated polite requests to stop singing in my ear/climbing my leg/poking me didn’t yield results. But I never once screamed at them that they stank, were annoying, were pissing me off, or should go play in traffic. Not even as a desperate sleep-deprived new parent did I do that. I have put a baby safely down and gone to sob in a different room because I was so tired and could not take any more screaming, but I didn’t do that. Parents aren’t bottomless wells of patience. But they can’t. do. that.

  47. Jaybeetee*

    Oh dear. Yes, do call CPS, or one of the hotlines mentioned here. They’ll walk you through what to expect and what you need to do.

    Some folks here are suggesting that Jill has become overstressed in the current situation and this might be out of her usual character (or she’s just worse than usual now). It’s possible. It’s possible any number of sympathetic hard-luck circumstances have pushed her over the edge. But the possible reasons why don’t change the bottom line: something has to be done.

    I remember reading a comment elsewhere, years ago, that COS “aren’t the Gestapo. They don’t kick in the door and steal wailing kids from their mothers’ arms.” If Jill can be worked with, they’ll work with her. If she can do better with support, they’ll try to make that happen. It’s possible CPS won’t find anytjing, or won’t even do anything – but they definitely won’t if no one calls.

  48. Erika with a K*

    If she’s prepared to behave that way around her coworkers, just imagine how much worse the verbal abuse may be in private. Please, call child protective services, and at least start a conversation with them; children learn what they live, and they deserve better.

  49. L Dub*

    If this is what the co-workers is doing when other people are present, worse things are likely happening behind closed doors. I don’t mean to be alarmist or melodramatic, and it’s possible this is as worse as it gets for those kids (which is still not acceptable by any stretch,) but balance of probability says it gets worse when other people aren’t around.

  50. Green Door*

    The potential abuse aside, I would just like to say that even my six year old understands that he needs to be on “mute” so his class doesn’t hear the noises from our house. If even a six year old – who has never used virtual meeting rooms in his life – understands this basic tenet of digital courtesy, there is no reason why your meeting leader can’t ask for the same courtesy from an adult.

    Heck – you as a participant could even put those reminders our during meetings, “Hey, can we all stay muted unless it’s our turn to speak?” “Jill, we’re hearing a lot of background noise from you…it’s distracting! Can you please mute yourself” Just call her out firmly. Everyone does it – even my kids’ classmates will remind each other to go mute!

  51. Social Worker*

    As has been said, please call and report this. And continue to make follow up reports if and when this behavior continues. A demonstrated pattern of emotional abuse is significant, and it is worth flagging, *especially with young children.* The ages of the kids involved mean that other than annual check ups, they aren’t being actively seen in community settings, such as school, especially during the pandemic. They are EXTREMELY vulnerable. I would argue the more important role here is addressing potential abuse, over addressing the issues on the work call. If you are concerned about your anonymity, don’t speak up during the meetings but do report. The workplace issue is secondary to child safety. If you aren’t sure about information local to her area, google (her county/state) crisis hotline: crisis workers can give you the information to child protective workers.

  52. Yikes, this sounds familiar*

    Sorry you’re witnessing a situation like this, LW. I’m in a similar situation except it’s my upstairs neighbours treating their kids this way, and unfortunately I have reason to fear retaliation against myself and my roommates if we were to report it. So…kind of at an impasse for the time being. But hopefully you can talk to someone about this.

    1. MMB*

      PLEASE step up and help those children. They are 100% unable to protect themselves or stop the abuse without your help. CPS/DFS can keep your complaint anonymous. I’m almost 50 and I still wish someone had spoken up about my mother.

    2. Dahlia*

      Someone in the comments above mentioned contacting the school the children go to as anyone who works there would be a mandated reporter. You could even try talking to your doctor.

    3. Sylvan*

      Are you American? In eighteen states and Puerto Rico, anyone who suspects a child is being hurt or neglected has to report it. Search for mandated reporting laws in your area – the decision might already have been made for you. You might be able to report it anonymously or keep your identity from the person you’re reporting, because you’re far from the only person concerned about retaliation.

      I’m in a state with universal mandated reporting, and I reported something once. It was actually good to know what to do instead of deliberating over it.

    4. Ermintrude*

      As others have pointed out though, adults are better equipped and have more recourse with these abusers than their victims do. Perhaps you need to plan how to deal with her retaliation, then make the call. Best wishes for a good outcome.

  53. The Starsong Princess*

    Poor kids. I have a colleague who sometimes forgets to mute while talking to her grandson who spends part of the day with her while remote learning. I hear “love you, sweetie” and “that picture looks great” or she answers one of his cute questions- he’s about 7. I just love it, he’s a lovely little boy but she’s always apologizing when she forgets to mute. Jill, on the other hand, has serious issues.

  54. Anonforthis*

    This is grounds for termination in my opinion. You should speak to your manager, and human resources, and say that you are witnessing domestic abuse during daily work calls. This is very sad for the children, and the fact that it is occurring in a professional environment is unacceptable. Think, if this person were shouting these things at their partner at the office, they likely would not have a job. The same standard should apply to children, and pets. I am so sorry to say that I don’t think Child Protective Services will do much, but certainly do call and report it. If her children are doing e-learning, there is a chance that their teachers are hearing Jill too, so maybe they will call too.

    1. Helen J*

      I agree that this should be grounds for termination, but if she is willing to do this on work calls, can you imagine what she would do if she lost her job?

  55. Former Retail Manager*

    Oh dear….I have to disagree, in part, with this advice. While the co-worker is in the wrong, and should certainly be talked to about the impact to her work, co-workers and meetings, calling CPS is really overstepping in my opinion. As is really discussing specifics of how she talks to her kids. That’s really not your business and you have no idea what she may be dealing with at home. Is she a single mother or is her partner having to work outside the home every day leaving her with 3 young children that she is expected to supervise and teach while also doing her own work? I don’t doubt the woman is at the end of her rope. I don’t think that she should be telling them to “play in traffic” but that comment alone doesn’t warrant CPS, and quite frankly, if CPS did actually respond, she’d likely say she was joking and CPS can’t really prove she wasn’t. And at the end of the day, mean comments alone really don’t warrant CPS involvement. Certainly not ideal parenting, but unless these children’s lives are in danger, I really don’t believe use of CPS resources is warranted. The reality is that there are a multitude of children who are in physical danger due to physical abuse, deliberate starvation, sexual abuse, etc. and those are the cases that CPS is most likely to focus their efforts on.

    I think the best way forward would be for her manager to discuss what’s been witnessed, express concern and give explicit directions that she will need to mute her mic, and offer EAP resources or any other resources the manager may be aware of, and to let her know that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated going forward because, if nothing else, it is very unprofessional (among other reasons).

    1. MayLou*

      You can’t possibly know that the children are not being physically abused, and the abusive comments are a red flag that they might be. CPS are there to investigate and provide support if required. That’s literally their role. It’s not about whether their lives are in danger, that’s certainly not the threshold in the UK. I used to work as a family support worker, and we worked with families who were a step down from needing social services intervention (which was compulsory – engagement with family support was voluntary). My first family on the caseload were referred by social services.

    2. Paperwhite*

      “Mean coments” is an unfair and unhelpful minimization of emotional abuse. And that’s just one example of how fractally wrong your advice is.

    3. Mia*

      Most CPS agencies actually have specific guidelines just for situations like this because they are so depressingly common. Verbal abuse isn’t any less abusive than hitting your kids; it’s just a different method of scaring and intimidating them into obedience. And if LW’s coworker is screaming and insulting her children *this* frequently, you can’t really chalk it up to a parent snapping on occasion out of stress.

    4. Dahlia*

      This is verbal abuse. When children are being abused, it’s everyone’s business.

      That really is a sick point of view, I’m sorry.

    5. PSB*

      So this situation is serious enough to be concerned about its impact on her adult coworkers, and serious enough to warrant a stern warning about professionalism, but not serious enough to be concerned about its impact on the children? No way. There are a lot of work situations that require coaching on professional norms, but “be sure to mute your mic so we don’t hear you screaming abuse at your children because it’s disruptive to meetings” isn’t one of them.

      1. Batgirl*

        “Concerned about its impact on her adult coworkers”
        Bingo. People really dislike having to think about child abuse when its so easy not to.

    6. Batgirl*

      Most mandated reporters are trained to know this is actually a really good sign of life endangering abuse, especially with kids this small. Witnesses who saw Victoria Climbe with her guardian noticed similar aggressive verbal abusiveness just before her death (which honestly is not a sign you see typically with many parents at all, much less ‘single mothers’) and her fear of her guardian. What they didnt see was much worse. Of course in cases like those there are other signs that child services should find, but even if there isn’t and its *only* emotional abuse, there’s no harm in CS investigating and letting this woman know how alarming her treatment of her children is. Somebody’s going to because it isn’t normal.

    7. Observer*

      What is being described is not some “mean comments” but verbal abuse. That alone is a problem. The fact that she’s doing this in full view (while keeping it down in front of the big boss) is a big red flag that worse is happening off camera.

      It doesn’t matter WHY she is doing this stuff – she IS absolutely abusing these kids and it needs to be stopped. CPS is really the only viable path. And, in general, their first line is to get the parent(s) help and resources to parent better, not throwing a bunch of penalties.

      1. Ermintrude*

        Also, mean comments are abusive, no matter how they’re delivered, if the intent is to upset and/or intimidate. I’m not talking about jokes where the child understands the intent and is amused.

    8. jenkins the first*

      What on earth is this sticks-and-stones stuff? Children need appropriate loving care in order to develop healthily. It’s not a nice-to-have extra, it’s utterly fundamental. Their brains develop in accordance with their early experiences. There is no such thing as just ‘mean comments’ when you are a tiny child and you depend on your parent for literally everything, including your understanding of who you are and what you are worth. Emotional cruelty IS a danger.

    9. Rainy*

      The reporting hotline for my state has a motto: If not you, then who?

      If not you, if not OP, if not anyone who suspects child abuse…then who?

  56. ToriH*

    The sharp words towards her kids sounds like a cultural thing. “Shut up” is a VERY common and normal phrase in some cultures. Ribbing your children is considered “jokey” in some cultures, not abusive. I know this because I had coworkers of a certain culture who said the exact same things to or around their kids. “Shut up, you stupid!” “Your dad said that? I’m gonna punch him in the face!” “You’re annoying me, go away!”

    Do I hate this kind of language? YES! But I have learned, from being around certain groups of people, that these words are not as “bad” as I initially took them to be.

    1. not here for child abuse excusers*

      Wow, what a totally unhelpful comment that completely misses the point of the entire post.

    2. scribblingTiresias*

      ….uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. in Mormon culture, it’s okay to tell teenage girls that it’s better to be dead than survive a s/exual assault.

      Culture does not make this okay.

      1. Toothless*

        Mormon here who’s gone to church in seven different US states, went to BYU and whose entire extended family comes from Utah: this is not okay in any Mormon culture I’ve ever been exposed to.

      2. Michaele*

        No so. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is committed to help survivors of any form of abuse to realize their inherent dignity and status as a beloved daughter (or son) of God. I am the mother of a daughter who survived a sexual assault as a 14 year old girl. She is now a strong and compassionate woman, but it took a lot of years of reinforcement of her inherent worth (from Church and family and therapists) to instill that knowledge deep in her psyche. Abuse in any form hurts so badly for so long.

    3. Barbara Eyuiche*

      When I lived in other countries, I did have to force myself to ignore what I considered child and spouse abuse because it was normal there. This family is in the USA or Canada, it seems, so ignoring it because it might be a cultural difference is not the way to go. Report it and let CPS deal with it.

    4. Batgirl*

      Ooh let’s not. From the Victoria Climbe inquiry, launched because a white girl in her place would probably have been saved: “the implicit message is that it’s acceptable for ethnic minorities to receive poor services under the guise of superficial cultural sensitivity. This is absolutely shameful, as it allows people to argue that good practice is compromised by anti-racism”
      I cant tell if youre talking about actual jokes with older kids, but there’s no culture which has made serious abuse ‘not bad’. Every abuser who learned from their own parents attribute their methods to culture or upbringing. That is to be expected.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. Also I’ve a friend who works on tackling female genital mutilation. There are a number of cultures who consider it acceptable to mutilate their daughters in the name of culture or tradition. It’s just wrong and illegal in the UK. If you do that here or send your daughter abroad to be cut then you should be subject to prosecution and a custodial sentence.

        Culture and tradition aren’t things that are set immovably in stone. They can change and adapt as society grows wiser.

    5. Observer*

      In some cultures female genital mutilation is common. Is that OK? Foot binding was common in Chinese culture till a time still in living memory. Was that OK? I can go on with examples of “cultural” behavior that is NOT OK.

      Beyond that, we generally take letter writers at their word, and the OP is clear that these are not “joke” – in no culture are “jokey” comments SCREAMED at people. And in no culture is a 7 year old (much less a 5yo and a 3 yo) expected to understand subtle humor. So, none of that applies here.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      I am really sorry that you have normalized the abuse you suffered in your childhood to this extent. I can also assure you that it is absolutely possible to raise high-achieving children without abusing them. (Slapping, hitting, and “saying horrible things” are all child abuse.) I also don’t actually see anything in the letter about outcomes? I see concern that a three-year-old baby is being regularly screamed at by their mother.

  57. President Porpoise*

    Dear lord, I am horrified by some of the comments here saying that this sort of thing is ok because it’s a tough time, or there might be situations we don’t understand, or it’s (somehow?) good for these kids to get yelled at. No. This is unacceptable and inexcusable.

    Guys, these are tiny kids. Practically babies, in the three year old’s case. All we know for sure is that the mom thinks it’s ok to scream at them demeaningly, up to and including telling them to go play in traffic.

    These children internalize everything their mother says to them. Everything. What she’s saying, loudly, forcefully, and repeatedly, is that they are inferior, unwanted, and should go die. How is that ok? How can you justify that? No one screams jokes angrily – no one. These aren’t jokes. And, for all we know, this isn’t the full extent of her abuse towards these poor little guys. Hell, this isn’t even effective discipline. There is a very good chance that these kids will grow up with a poor sense of self worth and confidence, that they’ll model the behaviors they are learning here, and it will mess them up. It will be difficult and time consuming to fix, if it’s fixable. Best case, this woman gets the tools and support she needs to allow her to effectively raise her children without causing them serious and lasting harm. Less bad case, the children are removed from her care and are provided another home and carer, one that is safe and will help them (True, there are abuses in the foster system, and major systemic issues. I would certainly hope for either the first option or a loving family member). But the worst case is that the children face persistent or egregious physical or mental harm that could lead to serious, debilitating injury or even death of themselves – or even their own children eventually.

    Reporting and getting CPS involved might make all the difference in the world.

      1. Abuse Survivor*

        “Imagine what the 5 and 7 yr old think is ok to do/say to the 3 yr old.”

        I’m a regular reader with a different handle.
        So much this – both I and my older (bigger, stronger) brother were beaten with a belt as children. As teens, it was normal for him to turn on me and beat and strangle me, as he had learned from a parent… flaring up in rages exactly copying our parent. He even attempted to rape me.
        These children are learning all the wrong things, and will perpetuate the cycle of violence among themselves.

        Yes, I got out… but I didn’t have children, as I felt the same rage and violence boiling in me (in spite of therapy), and I did not want to cause harm. It took decades for me to calm down and stop re-enacting family dynamics.

        OP, call CPS. Do it for me.

    1. HashBrownEyedGirl*

      Thank you for saying the quiet parts out loud. I didn’t want to create a parent comment (no pun intended) wailing about my own issues, but I’m an adult and I’m currently in therapy for the traumatic effect of “only” being screamed at, insulted, manipulated, shamed, and verbally abused by the adults from my childhood.

      It might not get them to a safer place immediately, but it’s better than nothing. The mom needs help too, clearly. Good on you for acknowledging that.

    2. Queer Earthling*

      Dear lord, I am horrified by some of the comments here saying that this sort of thing is ok because it’s a tough time, or there might be situations we don’t understand, or it’s (somehow?) good for these kids to get yelled at.

      Especially since there are WHOLE THREADS of comments from people saying “I was an abused child, I wish someone had called CPS for me.” I am just baffled that people are defending this person. Compassion towards her? Sure, maybe she’d going through a rough time. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that she’s essentially telling her three-year-old to go die. In what universe is that acceptable?

  58. HashBrownEyedGirl*

    While it might not meet the threshold for abuse in your area, that’s (thankfully) children’s services responsibility to decide.

    These kinds of statements, unfortunately I believe your examples are likely verbatim, can and do cause permanent harm to children.

    Who knows if your call will result in anything? But if nothing else, it does create a “flag” in the system should she do something like this (or worse) again in front of others.

    I’m so sorry you have to hear this, LW. That’s incredibly stressful for you!! Not just as a colleague but as a human. Ugh. I hope you have good self-care practices.

  59. in a fog*

    In previous mandated reporter training, we had it drilled into us that we could personally be held liable (and even go to jail) if we suspected child abuse and waited even *one day* to call CPS. The children are the priority. Please call.

  60. OP*

    Does anyone have advice on how I should initiate this conversation with my boss? He is a great guy but really awkward to talk to. I suspect he will either be completely surprised because she isn’t like that around him or not at all surprised considering some of the things she says in the instant messaging (she has never said things like “go play in traffic” in the chat but basically complains about them all the time, I am not sure how much he pays attention to the chat).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I would say “Jim, can we talk about how Jill has been behaving in our Zoom meetings? It is concerning that she frequently screams at her children and the things she’s screaming are abusive in nature. I am considering calling CPS, I’m fearful for the children’s safety at this point.”

      Then he gets to be the boss and do his job. He needs to figure out a way to tell her to stop screaming, stop being disruptive and so forth. If he wants to be a decent person who also reports the abuse, he can do that as well. But he’s got a disciplinary issue regardless of if you want to bring the abusive factor into it.

      You can approach it as “This is a sensitive topic and uncomfortable but it needs to be addressed, it’s causing a disruption.”

      The fact she speaks harshly in general makes me think that she’s just one of “those” jackholes who think it’s great to be aggressive at all times. I just ran into this at a public entity this afternoon. Just straight up making a scene and tossing around threats, even though really, the threats are often just to puff out their chest. It harms children who don’t know that it’s all a show and who are so much smaller than you know, just about any adult.

      1. in a fog*

        Personally, I’d be wary of telling my boss that I’m considering calling CPS. I’d be concerned that if he approaches Jill to talk about the issue, he might drop that detail in the conversation with her — and include my name. Not out of malice, but because he’s more than likely not trained to deal with these situations.

        Or he’d think it was a wild overreaction, having not seen the behavior himself.

        OP, I would check in with Childhelp from the first comment before approaching your boss.

    2. ExcelJedi*

      This might be easier because you’re new, actually. Starting with, “I’m adjusting to the new role/workload/team really well, but I was really taken by surprise with how Jill acts on Zoom,” may make it a more natural transition if you feel the need to soften it. Then discuss what you’ve observed and ask how it can be addressed.

    3. Tiara Wearing Princess*

      I really feel like talking to boss is only going to result in Jill not doing it in front of coworkers.
      Sadly, I think there are a lot of bosses/companies who would not get involved with child protection services out of fear of being sued.

      OP, please try to reach out to some of the child advocacy groups mentioned in the responses but please please seriously consider contacting cps yourself. No one at work will know it was you. Jill is not going to react kindly to a coworker’s opinion of her parenting skills and her boss is likely to only tell her to tone it down on zoom calls.

      Those kids need someone to step up. 3, 5, and 7 – they are babies! Be brave and report her.

    4. Anonforthis*

      I would request a zoom meeting one-on-one, and then focus on the facts. “Boss, I need to raise a concern confidentially. During our team meeting on Tuesdays, Jill frequently raises her voice to her children – who are 7, 5, and 3 – and says things that are not ok. She has said “go back to the bathroom, you stink;” “go away, you are pissing me off;” “shut up;” and “you are so annoying, go play in traffic.” This has occurred on no less than xx occasions (you want him to know this is not a 1x thing). [Name other employees] also participate on these calls and have witnessed this. At a minimum, this is not appropriate conduct, and frankly, these comments make me concerned about the well being of her children.” You can add if you feel appropriate – “this rises far above what would be considered annoyance given the pressures families are facing during COVID-19.” Good luck.

    5. Perpal*

      Are any of these meetings recorded and if not, can you get them to start being recorded? I think that might be a critical step for any action later – documentation is your friend!

    6. Observer*

      I think you should go to CPS separately – and do so immediately.

      As for scripts, I think you should not mention going to CPS, as you don’t really know how he’s going to react. But, approach it as “This is awkward to bring up, and a sensitive subject. But it’s getting really difficult to hear how Jill keeps on screaming at her little kids. The things she screams at them are honestly pretty horrifying. Can we get it to stop? Is there any help we can get her?”

  61. Gnizmo*

    For context, I used to be an investigator for CPS.

    If I responded to this call, and this was all that was happening then very little would be done unfortunately. Not because I wouldn’t want to help, but because there isn’t enough time to treat these cases seriously. I hated these calls because I knew something was wrong and yet there wasn’t anything I could do to make it better. I worked between 100-120 hours a week for reference, and could not have found time to address this.

    You still should call them. Call them if you ever so much as suspect abuse. If it does not rise to the level of abuse then nothing should happen. If there investigation goes on they will make the determination on how to proceed accordingly. They might have the ability to handle this, or they might have a system they can hook her into. My favorite part of the job was connecting people with resources and watching the stress and problems melt away. It was rare, and I treasure those moments to this day.

    This is not a perfect solution, and I have been personally involved with an over eager CPS worker I had to check. Sometimes CPS investigators ignore the law for what they feel is right. This is terrible for a number of reasons. I stand by the fact that I would rather by put through that hassle as an adult than a child be left to fend for themselves.

    There is also a severe limit to what CPS can do. Taking the children out of the home is an extraordinary action and requires a judge to sign off on the order in real time. At least here and most places I am familiar with it is. Typically the response is to work with the parent to find better alternatives to their actions, and then on repeated visits there might be a need to escalate depending. If I removed a child from a home the first time I saw them then it was an absolutely brutal, and horrifying situation beyond what most people would be willing to imagine.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thank you for working for CPS and your insight. Thank you.

      Oop, posted this as it’s own comment below but it’s obviously for you.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I appreciate this but also want to highlight the comment above from a current CPS worker who says they do have time right now because their workload is down 50% due to the pandemic.

      1. Gnizmo*

        Fair enough! I am absolutely not there now so I dunno where it is. I missed the comment. My advice stays the same regardless. Call and make a report. If there is time to handle this then I am ecstatic because it means more kids getting the help they need.

    3. Gnizmo*

      I also want to add, because I seem to have forgotten to, that responding to the calls isn’t a chore. One of my small delights was going to homes and realizing that my involvement was already over the top. That is because I would get the joy of knowing a child was safe with my own eyes which is a rare treat in that line of work for obvious reasons. At the end it would annoy me, and that was also how I knew I needed to leave.

  62. Kim*

    I can’t believe that no one else is addressing this at your office. When I had team meetings in the spring over zoom, there was one main offender who would constantly eat on the calls, including eating salad loudly and we could hear the fork constantly tapping against the plate. It was truly gross.

    I finally said can we all mute ourselves when we are not talking? There’s a lot of background noise. Someone else chimed in and said yeah, and I keep hearing someone eating. So maybe something like the first one could help if there were norms that everyone is muted when they are not talking. I guess that would be hard if it is really more of an active conversation, but your team should establish something along these lines

  63. Third or Nothing!*

    This letter just absolutely broke my heart. I’ve definitely been guilty of snapping at my toddler more during the pandemic than I ever have for her entire life, and it eats me up inside. I’ve apologized so much to her, and bless her she always forgives and is ready to give a reconciliation hug and start over fresh.

    OP, there is a huge difference in stress related yelling, like mine, and abusive behavior. It can be hard sometimes to tell from the outside, but I can tell you both from the perspective of a mother who knows she’s been yelling lately more than she should and as a child who suffered emotional abuse that what your coworker does crosses the line. You don’t yell at your kids that you basically wish they were dead. And if somehow that level of darkness comes out because you’re going through something, you apologize profusely and get the help you need to never do it again. What your coworker is doing is not OK. Call that Childhelp hotline that’s the top comment. They’ll be able to give you some advice on what to do next.

    P.S. if anyone has any resources for managing anxiety and stress when you have no support network, I’d appreciate reading up on some different coping mechanisms. With us being high risk, and Texas being what it is, we’ve been holed up in our house since March with no breaks and it’s been rough. I’ve been managing it through running but I kind of feel like I’m reaching the limit of how much that can help as this thing drags on with no end in sight.

    1. Stephanie*

      I don’t have any resources, but I just want to give you an internet hug, if you’d like it.
      Toddlers are super hard in normal times, and I can imagine how difficult it is parenting one right now.
      The only advice I can offer is to be kind to yourself. Keep up with the running, maybe try a little yoga (even together). Hang in there. These are inordinately stressful times. Kids are amazingly resilient. Keep showing her that you love her, but don’t forget to love yourself, too.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        I would very much like a hug. Touch is my main love language. Probably why I’m having such a hard time with being cut off from everyone except my husband and daughter.

        My daughter is a great kid, but she’s a little spitfire. I’ve commented here on occasion about her feisty spirit and how we’re trying to balance meeting her needs with both our need to stay employed. It’s definitely not easy; since she’s so spirited she needs a lot of attention and stimulation that we just can’t give her on our own even at the best of times.

        Yesterday I tried taking several short breaks with her instead of a few long ones, and that seemed to help a lot.

    2. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      Not so much resource for stress as a really helpful framing system. “Raising a Secure Child” by Hoffman, Cooper, and Powell. They developed their method of attachment working with at-risk parents and children (mainly teen parents to start), and their approach is all about acknowledging how difficult it can be to parent effectively when you’re dealing with your own trauma or stress (and I call the pandemic trauma on a global scale.) another book of a similar mindset is “The Whole Brain Child” and its companion “Parenting from the Inside Out” both by Daniel Siegel.

      What made me recommend them is the rupture and repair dynamic you describe. Under these parenting philosophies, not only is it okay to be a less-than-perfect parent, it is a good teaching opportunity, a chance to demonstrate how loving, safe relationships restore balance when one person messes up. That’s something I’ve come back to a lot in the past six months, and just reminding myself that it isn’t about being perfect but about restoring connection and safety has been really helpful. Reduces my stress because it allows me to forgive myself for my own lapses.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Thanks. Those books sound like they follow the positive parenting philosophy, which we practice in our home. Not even close to how I was raised so there has been a pretty big learning curve. Overall my daughter seems to be doing OK, but man I am really struggling. I’ve never had to deal with this level of sustained stress before, and I’ve never been cut off from family and friends like this.

  64. Buni*

    A lot of people are saying OP should call CPS ‘if only to make sure a file is started’, or things along those lines.

    Here’s the main thing I was taught during teacher training: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.

    You want CPS to start a file? For all you know, they already have a file a mile thick on her, and this could be the final straw. She could already be under investigation, and they’re just looking for more evidence before they can proceed. They may have already contacted her, thought it was fixed and not know it’s resumed.

    We were told Always Report. You don’t know what’s gone on before, and you most likely won’t be told what transpires, but you add your grain of rice to the pile because that’s what makes a meal.

    1. Whereof Ispeak*

      Yes, this. I think it’s good for people to know that you won’t ever know what happens with your call. CPS isn’t going to come back to you and dish. Your job, though, isn’t to judge the situation. It’s just to report. If you decide there’s an innocent explanation or it maybe wasn’t that bad and you don’t call, then you are making the judgment. And that’s not your job. Because you don’t have the full picture.

    2. Batgirl*

      This. Plus make sure the pieces of rice are piled together in the right place where child protection professionals know what to do with them. It’s extremely frustrating to see people recommending off track alternatives, hidden employer support and other really quite dangerous delays to getting these kids safe, including having a chat with the abuser herself just in case she needs to get her story straight which can help you with being a denier. We’ve all seen case studies where a few serious reports are made, batted away by the abuser’s prepared excuses, and the final piece of evidence is sat on by someone so busy wringing their hands that the child dies, in some cases within days of something damning being withheld.

    3. Barbara Eyuiche*

      Exactly. Apparently when I reported a neighbor, they already had a file, and it was my report that finally caused CPS to act.

  65. John*

    I was a victim of child abuse. There are so many occasions in my childhood when an adult could have stepped in and done something… that never happened. Without any hesitation I can say, a person who lacks this degree of self-control with children in their care, is abusing their children. I know this person very well.

    Report it. Trust me.

  66. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Joining the chorus. Even though I have not reported anyone to anyone in my life, and a neighbor placing a frivolous call to CPS over a misunderstanding was one of my biggest fears as a parent of young children. (Those were the 90s, we were new immigrants, and were told horror stories as soon as we arrived in the country.) This is scary and abusive. If this is what she does on camera with her coworkers watching, *what the hell may she possibly be doing off camera?*

  67. radiant peach*

    Speaking as a mandated reporter, PLEASE call CPS. That would NOT be taking it too far. Many people hesitate to call because they think its some guarantee the kids will be taken away no matter what, but this is absolutely a case where you have reasonable cause to suspect her children are being abused (“go play in traffic”? Awful).

  68. onlyscreaming*

    OP: is it ONLY yelling?

    Sadly, mandated reporting requirements and the threshold for calling don’t mention emotional abuse or the mere threat of abuse. Yelling or abusive words aren’t enough in an overworked and over stressed system during a pandemic when abuse is increasing.

    Ask me how I know. I reported a relative of my spouse because he had abused her and other family in the past, and I was concerned about her parents having grandchildren visiting the house they shared with him. Nothing happened because I couldn’t say anything happened to them.

    And from about 9 or 10, my mom went from a positive, involved presence that liked teaching and doing things with me, to a tiger parent. I guess it coincided with starting to get letter grades/enter middle school/gain weight because I was teaching my adult height. It was hard.

    I experienced being held to standards I couldn’t meet without cheating, punishments like taking away electronics for months which meant in the IM age I was isolated from friends, constant criticism and being told I was expensive to keep, messy, lazy, stupid, neurotic, etc., and getting very limited food. (Yes, I could have had a better diet and lost a few pounds, but no need to do stuff like deliberately refuse money for school days when there were treats, fail to replenish my lunch account, and glare/criticize if I wanted seconds). We had a different home language than English, so she said whatever she wanted wherever without social pressure to stop.

    No one did anything because she was prominent in our small community. Nothing improved until a friend’s parents figured out that surprise, I had developed mental health problems as a result. Which were not being treated. I also hadn’t seen a doctor for nearly eight years. By that time, I was 16.

    Given the state of not investigating unless physical abuse generally, and me wanting my dad to keep his job in social work (not with abuse cases though), the adults in my life came to an agreement. I would live with my friend until college, and there wasn’t going to be a report for medical neglect.

    So, OP, I would advise- certainly think about whether reporting is actionable, and try anyway. But also see if the children are bruised or flinch if you should see them on camera, or if their mom is meeting their needs. The more info the better.

    1. Lyudie*

      A current CPS worker has posted above their workload is decreased due to the pandemic. Also I am sure that different agencies in different places (and in different time periods) are different. I’m sorry that you did not get much help in your situation (I went through a similar childhood/teenage years but without the friend’s parents who noticed and cared), but that doesn’t mean that the OP shouldn’t report this or contact the hotline mentioned above for advice.

      1. Lyudie*

        Also screaming at and berating small children is more than enough to consider reporting the situation. That’s abuse already.

    2. Gnizmo*

      Mandated reporting has gotten a lot more strict, and stringent lately. The threat of abuse absolutely rises to that. Statements that are far less intense than what is described here resulted in some action on my part when I did investigations for CPS. Definitely report and let the system handle it.

    3. Ailsa McNonagon*

      In the UK emotional abuse is absolutely something that can be reported to Children’s Services- emotional, physical, sexual and neglect are all reasons to let Children’s Services know that a child may be in danger, either in the short or long term.

      @onlyscreaming, I’m sorry you didn’t get help when you were a child. I also lived with abusive parents and no one seemed to care- that’s why as adults it is our duty to make sure other children don’t suffer as we did. If you ever have any concerns about a child you must report them- even if there turns out to be nothing sinister going on it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

  69. Ainslie Percival*

    My stepmother made Cinderella’s look like Glinda the Good Witch. She took great delight in humiliating me in front of my dad, saying that I couldn’t dress myself properly, was always lying, i was dumb etc. I’m 34 now and this has caused some serious issues with my self-esteem, confidence, and general unwillingness to leave the house – and that’s WITH a good therapist and anti-depressants. Seeing her say those things to her kids would be very triggering for me and leave me absolutely heartbroken. Please do something.

  70. musical chairs*

    Definitely read through it and have used that page myself before when I’ve needed help navigating a crisis. Without knowing where the letter writer is, I can’t offer resources with any specificity to them or to you. I was sure to include the caveat (where I said that I’m not sure if this link would be helpful) for that reason. The gist of my response is that CPS is not an unmitigated good for situations like this and that if these children are at any increased risk of further harm because of who they are or who their parents are, that should be carefully considered when proceeding.

    I understand social workers want the best and often trained to minimize harm, but training isn’t the same thing as effectiveness especially when your hands are tied by constraints of the pandemic, state and local law and court proceedings, high turnover, overburdened schedules in normal times, etc. In the US, they function sometimes within and almost always adjacent to a criminal justice and family court system which can be often more difficult to navigate—if not additionally harmful—for people of color.

    There are so many people and organizations who want to reform child protective services and family court and change its priorities and structure in so many places around this country. For a lot of people, the groundswell is not just about police. There are some non-profits who often just have better options and resources than CPS/family court because their goals aren’t to work within a broken system but to navigate around it for the sake of the child. The Bronx Defenders in NY comes to mind as an example of that. But if the LW is not in the Bronx, that’s recommendation is just not particularly useful. As commenters, we’re all doing the best with the info we have and share the same goals: the safety and support of those kids.

    1. Observer*

      Nope. I agree that there are good groups doing good work to make much needed change.

      But ultimately, when a parent is abusing the child the first responsibility is to the child not the parent. And unless the parent has made it clear that they WANT to change and are actually willing to try, none of the organizations you seem to be referring to can do anything.

      Have you ever heard of orthorexia? It’s a form of disordered eating where people will be so obsessed with avoiding “bad” foods that they literally starve themselves. That’s pretty much the nutritional equivalent of what you are suggesting here.

      1. musical chairs*

        Yo, please just leave me alone. This is going off the rails. If you can show me where I said the letter writer should do nothing, I’ll concede that you have half a point. But to be honest I’m not going to wait up for the answer.

        If you want to keep calling CPS because you aren’t convinced, that is your prerogative. I am not going to change my mind about what types of harm I’m willing to thoughtlessly introduce into already harmful situations for kids. I’m not gonna suddenly be comfortable with the ways the exposure to family court can turn harmful for the kids in small and large ways or ignore ways that coincident exposure to the criminal justice system early in life or as a parent can be extremely harmful and more often in the US, for people of color.

        Your comments are just not gonna convince me stop looking for alternatives to what we have if I can find them. If that’s your goal, you won’t succeed.

        1. Lyn By the River*

          musical chairs, your perspective is very well founded based on the data about how CPS and the court systems impact families of color. You are not wrong to be concerned and to look for alternatives BEFORE calling the police or CPS. This is not being irresponsible, it’s actually being thoughtful about the reality of racism in police/CPS intervention.

          1. Observer*

            You are factually incorect.

            Here is the issue – there are a lot of situations where CPS is not the best choice, but only CPS has the authority to FORCE a parent to change their behavior. ONLY CPS. When a parent is abusing and endangering their child, and they have no intention of changing, CPS is the only option that actually has a chance at helping the child(ren).

            As flawed as CPS is, when the alternative is a flawed CPS that has a good chance of helping vs the certainty of abuse and the real chance of death, the idea that one should not call CPS makes no sense.

            And this IS a case where danger of death is not hyperbole.

  71. Akcipitrokulo*

    Speaking from UK point of view, but imagine similar…

    Reporting does not mean removal of kids automatically. First response will be to try to fix issues – and if mother is suffering from stress or other external factors, then SHE can benefit from help. Counselling. Practical help if needed. I’ve seen social services, for example, deal with a child who was always dirty by talking to parents and buying them a washing machine.

    So it’s not a case of choosing between her interests and the children’s. It’s acting for the benefit of her too.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      From the US. Reporting is not supposed to automatically result in the removal of children unless the situation is severe to the point of a high likelihood of death resulting without intervention. Now, reality is a lot uglier and messier, but with the information OP’s provided I would assume that the kids wouldn’t be taken away unless the situation is far worse than what OP is seeing.

  72. Akcipitrokulo*

    The other point is safeguarding. Reporting helps build up a picture. If everyone knows a piece, but no-one knows the whole story, it can have tragic results.

    Not saying this situation is at that level.

    But you don’t know.

    If there’s a few people who have all seen incidents at the “I wonder if I should say something…?” level, then it is good to put them together.

    1. Sleepless*

      I called 911 when I heard a man yelling horrible, abusive things at a child of about 6 in a parking lot once. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t really think the police or DFACS (as it is called in my state) would necessarily do anything drastic right then, but it might help to have the incident on file if anything happened later. The cops in my county, in my experience, are pretty good at defusing tense situations.

  73. Ms Frizzle*

    OP, one more thing—dealing with this kind of situation, even as a witness, is difficult and stressful. Take care of yourself. Make sure you have someone in your life you can debrief this with as needed, and process with them. Make a plan for before and after you call that will help you feel centered and grounded. There’s no way to make this feel ok, but it’s really important to acknowledge that being even peripherally involved in a traumatic experience takes a toll, and self-care is important.

  74. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I really feel like talking to boss is only going to result in Jill not doing it in front of coworkers.
    Sadly, I think there are a lot of bosses/companies who would not get involved with child protection services out of fear of being sued.

    OP, please try to reach out to some of the child advocacy groups mentioned in the responses but please please seriously consider contacting cps yourself. No one at work will know it was you. Jill is not going to react kindly to a coworker’s opinion of her parenting skills and her boss is likely to only tell her to tone it down on zoom calls.

    Those kids need someone to step up. 3, 5, and 7 – they are babies! Be brave and report her.

  75. I Need That Pen*

    I couldn’t be on a call with this woman. I would be that coworker that hung up. I dont know why she thinks people watching her do this is no big deal but it is. My fear (if it already hasn’t been stated) is that if she is counseled about it, the repercussions will fall on the little kids. She’s probably the type that if anyone said anything she’ll pull out the, “There my kids and I’ll do what I want.” It’s 2020, nobody minds their own business anymore. Is she that oblivious. I remember being told to play in traffic, it was in jest whenever I was bugging my dad or mom or brothers. It was clearly a joke, and I knew it and they knew it. But nothing, NOTHING justifies telling a tiny little boy or girl, “You piss me off.” Nothing. There is nothing a child that age does that is SO bad that justifies that kind of reaction.

  76. Chickaletta*

    This is so sad. Speak up, do what you can. Those kids can’t advocate for themselves, they need an adult to help and you might just be that person.

  77. Squeakrad*

    I also miss the point that OP has been with the company for four years and is just new to this division. I would hope that would offer a bit more protection than a brand new employee would feel.

  78. Sarah*

    I will just include a resource about why people are saying to consider Jill’s race and the race of her children: it doesn’t necessarily have to do with cultural norms or thinking it’s “ok” for black children to be abused. That’s absurd. There is extremely well documented discrimination against black families by child protective services. Here is a great article on the topic, with lots of links to other documentation of this problem, which is increasingly being recognized as a core racial justice issue:

    It’s important to remember these facts when calling CPS, because contrary to what some commenters have been saying, it is NOT true that it is impossible for her children to be taken away for this, and it is NOT true that this will always be based on a reasoned assessment of the children’s needs. There are lots of kids who are removed from homes because of onlookers calls. Most of them are black and brown kids.

    If, based on what you’ve seen, you think that these kids are in genuine danger, go ahead. But just don’t go into it saying “well it’s ok, I definitely won’t ruin these kids lives or Jill’s life, because CPS are all experts who make reasoned decisions”. And don’t assume that the response from CPS will be to help Jill parent better. It’s much more complicated than that, and if you make the choice to report when you are not legally obligated to (and you would know if you were) you need to consider whether you feel comfortable being responsible for all the likely outcomes, and whether those outcomes are better than the outcomes of not calling.

    Personally, I would be inclined to send help her way- talk to coworkers about her support network, consider sending resources her way. But that’s just my nature. I’d feel much better about calling if I’d already tried myself to say “hey, Jill, do you realize how much you’re yelling at your kids? This must be an insanely stressful time, but I’m really worried about you and them because it keeps coming up on zoom calls. Is there some way I can help?” If she blows me off or cusses me out, that gives me more information about her relation to her own yelling. If she is embarrassed or chagrined, that gives me different information. I’d much rather be her “wakeup call” as someone mentioned above than send an agent of the state who is empowered to forcibly re-home her children just to teach her a lesson.

    1. Lisa Twaronite*

      Your comment is a rare note of sanity in this overheated thread. I have certainly been in that mother’s place with my three little ones, and CPS was NOT the kind of help our family needed.

    2. Observer*

      Firstly, it’s quite possible to be legally obligated to report without knowing it, because there are a number of states where every adult is a mandated reporter.

      Secondly, I think it’s pretty clear that CPS in its various forms is very, very flawed. And in a really high proportion of cases it is true that it is really important to keep in mind the history and current reality of of racism, ridiculous staffing levels and sometimes sheer incompetence.

      But in this case the reality is that the OP absolutely knows that significant abuse is taking place, and that the children are in harm’s way. There really is almost no way there is a good outcome without CPS. Keep in mind that while it’s nice to think that you would try to talk to her, others have pointed out that this can have some pretty significant negative repercussions for the kids if she doesn’t take it well. And given the fact that she keeps a lid on it when the grand-boss is on the calls, it’s pretty clear that she does know how her screaming comes across. Someone saying something to her is not going to be a wake up call.

      So basically, what we have here is the certainty of bad outcomes if the OP does nothing vs a a significant chance that something will be done for the kids. True not a certainty, but the alternative is a certainty of continued significant abuse.

      1. Lisa Twaronite*

        Wow — “There really is almost no way there is a good outcome without CPS.” Comments like this make me glad I’m no longer raising my minor kid in the US! There are certainly many ways for good outcomes that don’t involve CPS. We’re talking here about YELLING here, not burning kids with cigarettes, duct-taping them to the walls, etc. I agree that based on what is written here, the mother is clearly in need of help & support, but there are lots of ways to get it to her that don’t involve (as Sarah above pointed out) “an agent of the state who is empowered to forcibly re-home her children.” I’m honestly appalled at many of the comments here, and how people have jumped to the worst-possible conclusions and are urging the most dramatic — and possibly counter-productive — option first.

        1. Observer*

          In this case, you are simply wrong.

          She is YELLING things that actually already endanger the kids, which means that things are already bad, even if you are looking at ONLY the telling. As others have noted, if this is what she is doing in public, what she is probably doing in private is pretty bad.

          Normally I would also agree that, especially if you know the parent, trying to get her help would and should be step one. But you are ignoring that Jill is aware of how bad she sounds and does not care. She’s been asked to mute herself and refused, but at the same time she knows better than to do this in front of the kids.

          I’m pretty appalled at the mental gymnastics being engaged in, to justify leaving vulnerable children in an abusive and unsafe environment.

          1. Lisa Twaronite*

            I don’t have to do any “mental gymnastics” because I, too, once had three little kids around the same ages, and when I was at the end of my rope, I did not care WHO heard me scream at them — particularly when they interrupted my work calls! Based on the short description, I would agree Jill needs help, but I would NOT agree the kids are in an “abusive and unsafe environment.” They might be, and it’s worth following up, but it doesn’t sound as if Jill “knows better” — it sounds as if she’s completely frazzled. Yelling might just be the tip of the abuse iceberg, but it could also be someone’s low moment of parenting when the kids interrupt her work. You can declare that I’m “simply wrong,” but both of us know only what’s written here (unless you know Jill in real life or something?).

  79. Corinne*

    This is not something to call the overstressed CPS system over. Jill is just a bad person and you are well within your rights to say something to her or about her.

    1. Lisa Twaronite*

      Or maybe Jill is an ordinary human doing bad things because she’s truly desperate at the end of her rope, or she doesn’t know how potentially harmful she’s being, or…..lots of possibilities? It’s impossible to tell from a few paragraphs. Helping Jill as a first step would also help the kids.

  80. Just My 2 Cents*

    Sometimes I wonder if comments this far down get read, but thought I’d chime in in case they do. I’d suggest approaching HR or the boss and essentially saying, “It’s pretty clear Jill isn’t handling working from home and taking care of all 3 of the kids. Maybe we can refer her to the Employee Assistance Plan or other low cost counseling options.”

    This is terrible for the kids and that needs to be addressed. But things have also been incredibly hard on parents; especially for those who thrive on routine.

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