Care and Feeding

Our Nanny Ditched Us to Help Immigrants at the Border

I support the cause, but should she give a little more notice?

Angry woman reacting to an email.
Photo illustration by Slate.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our nanny, “Lucy,” has been taking care of our daughter since she was 4 months old. (She is now nearing 2 years old.) She has worked for us part time, three days a week. I am a teacher and off for the summers, but out of courtesy to her, we kept her on over the summers. We just signed a new contract with her beginning Labor Day to begin full time, five days a week.

The issue: While she was away on a weeklong vacation, she texted to inform me that she would be out of town for an additional two weeks to help children at the border. (She is a Dreamer herself, and an activist.) I support the cause and her efforts, but she barely gave any notice and didn’t ask if it was OK—just gave us a “heads up.” I find this highly unprofessional and disrespectful. I texted her back saying that such a drastic change in her schedule should have been made well in advance and that we need to talk to her when she returns. She then apologized for causing any inconvenience.

This feels insane to me. In any other job, she would be fired immediately. My husband feels that we should have a serious talk with her when she returns and see what happens. When she returns, I only have one week before returning to work. We have had other small issues with her, mostly involving lateness. I’m at a loss. On one hand, it feels crazy to employ someone who would do this; on the other hand, she has worked for us a long time and I don’t want to be rash just because my emotions are on overdrive. What do we do?

—Being an Employer Is Hard

Dear BaEiH,

Hoo boy.

One thing I couldn’t help noticing was missing from your letter was how this last-minute change in schedule actually had any significant impact on your life. I did not hear, for example, that you had to miss work, lost an important client, or were fired from your job because of a loss of child care. In other words, your only complaints here are that you were inconvenienced and that it was not something she should have done. I agree on both counts.

But please. A little perspective. Being an employer is hard? Being in a country where you have to miss work in order to defend the rights of your people to be treated as human beings is hard. Living day to day not knowing whether you might be rounded up—that’s hard. And being in such a position and hearing your employer complain, “I’m inconvenienced”: That’s probably hard. There is very little hard about your position, my friend.

That doesn’t mean your nanny doesn’t have employment responsibilities. If she were regularly taking off huge swaths of time to deal with border-related issues, I would have said it’s a difficult situation, but you should wish her the best of luck, donate some money to her cause, and hire someone who can come to work. If you had said she was on vacation and decided at the very last minute to extend her vacation because she was having such a great time on the beach, I would also suggest that you move on. But what you’ve said is: We like this person enough that she’s been with us for two years. Now she’s spending a few weeks going to care for separated children at the border, and you’re upset it’s preventing her from caring for your well-fed, well-housed child? Surely you see the irony in that.

When you found yourself saying, “I support the cause, but,” you should have stopped there. Because what your letter suggests is that you support the cause right up until the point at which you feel personally inconvenienced by it. But one really great way to actually support the cause is to make it possible for someone to go and actively support said cause without losing their job. I am 1,000 percent sure you’ve said at least once that you “love” this nanny and that she’s “basically part of the family.” I suggest now would be a good time to start acting like it.