Thursday, July 21, 2011

Policing Nannies

If you are a member of any parenting message board I am sure that you have come across a post (or two) titled: "Questionable caregiver at Dolores Park," or "Nanny ignoring children at Bernal Library."  The email will go on to describe the children (age, hair color, gender, and name if known) as well as the nanny (age, hair color, gender, name if known, and ethnicity- always ethnicity).  The intent of the author is usually genuine, most often concern for the safety and well being of the children.  However, as a casual observer, she usually does not have the background to adequately judge the situation.

This recently happened here in San Francisco.  Someone witnessed a troubling situation on the MUNI and wrote an email to a major mother's group searching for the parents.  Based on the observer's account, a toddler was being neglected by a frustrated nanny and was "obviously" in fear of her.  The email was passed around to nearly all San Francisco based parenting message boards and lo and behold, the parents were found.

As it turns out, the parents and the nanny were working together to curb the escalating tantrums of the toddler.  The young boy was, like most two and three-year-olds, going through an obnoxious personal exorcism stage, and having difficulty pulling himself out of these tantrums.  All caregivers were in agreement about how best to handle the episodes- mainly by ignoring the behavior and not reinforcing it.  Unfortunately, this particular incident happened on a public bus, the watchful eyes were everywhere.

In the end, the parents were troubled, the nanny was terribly embarrassed and hurt, and the young boy was still an annoying toddler.

I think that this case is poignant for all of us to examine.  We should be careful how we judge others, especially other caretakers.  If I was scrutinized on a daily basis for my parenting skills (although I'm sure that I am every time I go to the park), bystanders would have seen a multitude of fire-able offenses.  In the past four years I have:
  • Ignored my children while they played at the park.
  • Had extensive phone conversations while the kids played on the monkey bars.
  • Forgot to strap Maisy into the stroller and she fell out when I hit a curb.
  • Pretended that I didn't hear her cries when Elana tripped and skinned a knee.
  • Allowed my toddler to run in front of me and she veered into the street.
  • Physically restrained a uncontrollable toddler.
  • Yelled at my children in public.
At any one of these incidences, an onlooker may question my parenting.  To them, I say nothing.  As much as I want to, I resist the urge to explain the situation.  They will learn, once their lovely babies reach toddlerhood, that we all have bad days (many, many bad days).

In this current climate of extreme parenting, I think that we would all benefit from giving each other a break, and trying to find a place of understanding.    Maybe we should all remember Why We Judge.


  1. While I agree 100% with what you say, there is that fear we all have about putting our precious children in the hands of others. I would want to know if my nanny wasn't doing her job or what I expect of her.

    But thanks for posting!

  2. I agree that I would want to know if my child was in harm, but we must recognize the difference between true harm, and everyday mishaps. We cannot expect anyone caring for young children 8+ hours a day to be perfect.