Motherhood Turns Us Into Tattletales on Other People's Nannies

TantrumDo you have a neighborhood email list? I am on several of these -- I get a daily digest that lets me know if someone is selling a push-tricycle, or announcing a family event. Sometimes, people will ask for advice or start a conversation about an issue, or just ask if a lot of other kids are suffering from a stomach flu. And sometimes? Sometimes there is drama.

I should admit right now that I’ve been caught up in the drama myself -- an offhand joke about sparkly maternity clothes causing gay babies got me chastised for my “hate speech” and kicked off one list. But a much more serious situation got me thinking about the way we watch each other -- and how best to intervene when we see something that bothers us.


The original message was posted on a mother’s group list and then forwarded to several smaller neighborhood lists. It described a bus ride where the message-writer “heard this little boy crying who apparently did not want to get in the bus ... then all of a sudden he was pushed in and right after him this Hispanic woman stepped up behind him ... she grabbed him by his sweatshirt and was trying to make him get on the seat between his sister and myself.”

The letter goes on to describe a pretty upsetting situation in which the nanny “did not pick him up at first, then she did ... in a rough manner. She kept yelling at the little boy ... then grabbed his little face with one hand and told him to stop. He didn’t. He couldn’t, it seemed. I then said to her, ‘don’t hurt him.’ She did not respond but just stared at me.” The little boy then slides off his seat and hides under it, and the letter-writer said, “I knew then that he is afraid of her and hides.” She names the child, describes the nanny, and begs the parents to take a closer look at their caretaker.

When I first read the email, I was horrified. From time to time I see nannies I don’t particularly approve of -- texting and ignoring their kids -- but then again, I see moms doing the same thing. And more often I see excellent care; most nannies seem to almost feel like they’re auditioning for their next job when they are out with their kids. I felt sick and upset for this little boy and angry at the parents.

People gossiped about it on the list, wondering who the parents were, who the child was. Finally, a follow-up message was posted, from the child’s mother. It told a very different story.

“I so appreciate your concern. I have spoken to the woman who wrote the original post, and did investigate the situation.” She goes on to describe the events of that day from her perspective: the little boy has been throwing (age-appropriate but challenging) tantrums, and the parents and nanny had come up with several ways to deal with it. Holding his face and speaking very directly into it was one of these; another was for him to find a safe, enclosed space to sit in when he was in tantrum mode (under the seat).

The nanny had called them right after the incident on the bus because she was so overwhelmed and upset, and the tactics they had brainstormed together hadn’t worked; she took the kids home immediately and rescheduled the outing for another day. Then the email was forwarded from someone who had read it on the list.

“This is a woman who reads every parenting book and has known my children for as long as I, their mother, has,” the mom wrote. “We appreciate the concern and efforts by all of the parents who have been so diligent, but it has caused days of tears and devastation.” The nanny was afraid to take the kids out, because if someone heard her calling the little boy by name, they would think she was that abusive nanny from the email. The mom begs everyone to stop forwarding the story.

The Internet is a great thing for moms -- we can get so much information so quickly. But we can get misinformation just as quickly. In a way, it’s like when my mom was a kid in Brooklyn, and when you played on the street, you knew everyone’s mom was looking out the windows at you -- the brownstones had eyes!

On the one hand, I am very glad to know that if someone were mistreating my daughter, even potentially, I’d hear about it. But I wish this poster had done what a few other people have done on my list: listed a few identifying details, and asked the parent to contact her. “If you have a child named Joe who was wearing a blue sweatshirt on Thursday, and has a nanny who looks like XYZ, and a big sister whose name is either Molly or Mabel, please call me, I have something of importance to discuss.”

Will looky-loos (like me) froth at the mouth with curiosity? Yes. But will the gossip mills run overtime? No. 

Let’s say up in each other’s business, but let’s be smart and responsible about it.

Have you had gossip go wild in your neighborhood? How did you handle it?

Image via JoelK75/Flickr

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