Passionate About the San Francisco-area
and the Moms Who Live Here

Keeping an Eye Out for Other People’s Kids: Is Nanny-Shaming Ever Okay? 

taking care of childrenOne time, someone from a car yelled out to me, “You’re going to rip off her arm!” as I crossed the street with my kids. From their two-second scan of the situation, it looked like I was dragging my daughter across the street against her will. And I was. 

My three year old insisted on walking instead of riding in the stroller with her brother, so I gripped her hand to prevent her from dashing away. I negotiated our heavy double stroller across a bumpy street, and, then, she went limp, choosing not to walk at all. I pulled her along as best I could to get out of the street, but the optics obviously looked bad. This doesn’t mean I was actually abusing my kid. It was the opposite, really; her safety was my primary concern.

That photo could have been completely misconstrued, though, if it had been posted to an online neighborhood group, like I’ve seen done before. Have you seen this, too? A well-intentioned person posts a picture of a nanny to a Facebook moms’ group or to Nextdoor.com in an attempt to find the parents employing that caregiver. They’ve witnessed the nanny speaking to a child in a derogatory way, handling them roughly, or not paying much attention to them at all, and out of concern for the child’s well being, they take to the internet.

These posts are met with mixed reviews. Some people appreciate the diligence of the good samaritans, affirming, “I’d want to know if my nanny was treating my child this way.” Other people think it’s an invasion of privacy, since the nanny’s face, often the child’s, too, is shared to thousands of people without consent. 

What’s Our Responsibility to Other People’s Children? 

An old boss of mine used to say, “The truth lies somewhere in the middle,” and that’s how we should approach these situations, as well. Without truly knowing the full story behind the scene we’re witnessing, what steps are appropriate to take and when? Besides the stroller incident, I’m quite certain that strangers snapping random photos of me interacting with my kids in public would easily catch unflattering moments.

I’m with them twenty-four hours a day, and it’s impossible to follow every positive parenting approach all day long. I absolutely do look at my phone while we’re at the park. I reach out and grab them, if they’re trying to run away from me when I need them to stay close. My tone is sharp and my words are stern on the days they’ve shredded my patience to pieces, but that doesn’t mean they’re in any danger. I’m actually a really good mom. 

Since I am their mother, I tend to get more leeway in how I handle my kids because I’m given the benefit of the doubt that I’ll treat them well. Nannies are held to a higher standard. We’re paying them to be there, and we’re entrusting them with the most precious, most innocent, most helpless people in our lives. I, too, would be annoyed if my nanny ignored my kids in favor of her phone, but, as a fellow caregiver, I totally get it. Taking care of kids all day is kind of boring, and when it’s not boring, it’s kind of frustrating.

On the other hand, we know that adults can harm children, and the risk of not intervening when the situation is real is high. When is it our business to act as The Village and step in to a situation we deem inappropriate? Using writer Lisa LeShaw’s compelling account of how she handled a similar situation, here are the guidelines I’m going to follow from now on.  

  1. Observe the situation for a reasonable period of time. This will vary depending on what you’re seeing. Witnessing an adult slap a kid across the face calls for swift, in-the-moment, action. A caretaker engrossed in her phone at the playground requires more time to suss out the situation.
  2. Engage directly with the caretaker or offer to help. This gives you more information about what’s going on, and subtly let’s her know she’s on notice. 
  3. Think about the consequences of intervening. In Lisa’s article, she lays out some important questions to consider:  “What if this woman was a relative or friend of a friend?” “What if there were no other options for this family?” What if my meddling made it worse?”
  4. Think about the best way to intervene. Lisa’s story takes place in a library, so she was able to solicit the help of the librarian to get in touch with the parents, but we don’t have that luxury on the playground or in other public spaces. That’s, of course, why photos on Facebook groups became an easy way to canvas the neighborhood, but the questions posed above apply here, too. 

Think Before You Post

  • Try for privacy first. Can you find out details about the family from the caretaker herself that enable you to find them directly? Can you casually ask around on the playground to see if anyone knows the family? If you’re in a structured setting, like a music class or library, can you work with someone there to reach the family, like Lisa did? 
  • Use discretion. If your gut is telling you that you need to do more to find the parents, then head to your online groups, but avoid posting a picture of the caregiver or child. Describe them as best you can, instead. 
    • Did you catch the child’s or caretaker’s name? 
    • Are they regulars at this park? 
    • What time are they usually there? 
    • What does their stroller or car look like? 
    • Can you describe what the nanny and child look like? 

It’s certainly much easier to upload a photo and wipe your hands of the situation, but when a picture speaks a thousand words, we have to make sure it’s telling the right story.

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