Care and Feeding

Our Daughter’s Beloved Sitter Drank on the Job, and We’re Firing Her

How do we explain this to our daughter?

Photo illustration of a woman pointing at a bottle of gin.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Milkos/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Evgeny Karandaev/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 9-year-old daughter’s favorite babysitter works at the building where my daughter’s after-school program takes place but does not work for the program itself. (Think general community center that has a child care component.) The last time the sitter came over, we noticed the next morning that an unopened bottle of gin that I’d purchased a few hours before the sitter arrived had been opened, and there was definitely less than a full bottle. There is zero percent chance that the sitter didn’t open it. They are of legal age, so that’s not the issue, and they weren’t drunk when I got home, but in my opinion that’s totally irrelevant. They broke our trust and exhibited extremely poor judgment, so there is no question that they won’t be invited back. My husband and I are in total agreement about that.

I’m inclined to just not invite them back and leave it at that, while my husband wants to have a conversation with the sitter—fine with me, but that’s not what I’m concerned about. I need to figure out how to explain to my daughter in an age-appropriate way that her beloved sitter will not be coming back. I am not going to say anything to the after-school program, as the sitter doesn’t work with kids. This is also complicated by the fact that my daughter will continue to see the sitter at the community center from time to time, so I can’t just tell her that they moved away or something along those lines. I’m mainly concerned that my daughter will somehow think it’s her fault that the sitter can’t babysit anymore, and secondarily I’d prefer that she not blame me! Although I can live with her blaming me if necessary.

—Sober Sitters Only

Dear SSO,

Hmm. I’m not entirely sure I agree that this is grounds for immediate termination. I know that’s not the question you’re asking, but I’m going to bring it up anyway. This sitter is of age, as you mention, and you say they were not drunk. It is certainly poor judgment to open up a bottle of your employer’s gin, and it’s definitely not a great move to have a drink while babysitting. On the other hand, I assume—maybe I’m wrong—that you or your husband has had a drink while parenting and feel like it’s possible to do so without putting your child in danger.

The only reason I’m questioning this is because it sounds like you have no other problem with this sitter, and more importantly, your daughter loves them and is attached to them. It seems to me that there may be a middle path here, in which you talk to this babysitter and let them know that there is to be not even one drink of alcohol taken while they are working, and you’re sorry if that wasn’t clear before, but it should be clear now. And then you can give them a second chance. It is even possible that they thought it was fine, as evidenced by the fact that they did literally nothing to cover their tracks. I know that it’s upsetting, but if I were in your shoes, I might take a breather to further consider whether this is cause enough for your daughter to have her relationship with a caring person permanently severed. Because that loss may be more damaging and harmful to her than a sitter who mixed themselves a Tom Collins after bedtime.

That said, if you decide to go ahead with the termination, then I think the path is relatively straightforward. You have to tell your daughter what happened because what other option do you have? I suppose you could try to enlist the babysitter in some charade to hide from your kid why you’re firing them, but that seems ill-advised. More lies are not needed here. You have to tell your daughter that the sitter drank alcohol while babysitting and that is something you feel strongly about. You didn’t want to have to make this decision, but you had to, and it’s certainly not your daughter’s fault.

If you do that, however, you have to accept that your daughter may well have a hard time with it. She is losing a friend and experiencing a big transition over which she has no control. Kids hate stuff like that. She may blame you for being unforgiving; she may even bring it up every time she sees you with a drink at dinner. But that’s how it goes. If you really believe that drinking alcohol is grounds for immediate dismissal, then I don’t think there is a way for you to make that call without experiencing some disappointment and anger from other parties involved. You can’t lie to your daughter, and you can’t control how she reacts to this bad news. You’re just in a tough spot all around. Be extra loving to your kid; recognize and be sensitive to the real nature of her disappointment, should it present itself. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a working mom and my husband is a stay-at-home dad with our 4- and 7-year-old boys. I work long hours so I usually get home in time for dinner and bedtime and can supervise homework occasionally. My husband was in the midst of a career change when we had kids so he’s never figured out what he wants to do, and for a variety of reasons it wouldn’t work for him to look for a job right now.

We are really lucky to be able to make it on one salary. He works hard to take care of the boys and he does the majority of the cleaning and most of the cooking, plus most of the yardwork. He is very into space exploration and some of the newer technologies, so his hobby is to watch videos on YouTube about these topics. He’ll often have a video going as he cooks dinner, for instance. I already know that we probably need to work on our screen time as a family.

But I had a strange encounter the other day that I’m not sure how to handle. I was volunteering in my older son’s classroom and another parent who was there said my son had told her that his daddy watches TV all day. I brushed it off and I really don’t care what this person thinks, but I’m concerned about the effects on our kids and how to talk to my husband.

After confirming with my son that he did say that, I had a brief conversation with him about all of the things his dad does to take care of all of us. I know my husband gets burned out from tantrums, housework, and cooking and totally deserves breaks. But I don’t know if I should try to raise the issue about what kids will say or if he should take a break from the iPad.

—Perplexed—and On My Phone (During My Commute)

Dear Perplexed,

I think what’s difficult about this situation is that other people’s perception of your family is at odds with what you know about your family. You know your husband is a good dad. You know he takes care of your kids with love and attention. You know he’s doing a good job around the house. And yet you’ve been sort of put on blast by the idea that from the outside it may look like your husband is a good-for-nothing who sits around staring at screens all day, which of course reflects badly on you. That’s one layer of this problem.

The other is that your son saying, “My dad watches TV all day” may mean that he may not have a proper understanding of how the labor is divided in your home. He may think that his dad is doing nothing while you go off and do all the work. This also is a question of perception versus reality.

So, while it’s true that your family (and most families) could probably stand to cut down on screen time, it’s also true that you have a situation that is working wonderfully, and you don’t need to worry too much about what misconceptions others may temporarily have about it. You’ve done the right thing by setting the record straight with your son, but of course he’ll see the truth in the long run. And, of course, you can absolutely ignore whatever anyone else has to say about it. You are very lucky to have the family you do. It sounds like you are all doing a great job. Let your husband enjoy his videos.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My younger sister has made a lot of choices in the last few years that my family has struggled with. After shocking us with a divorce, she’s now engaged to a man twice her age who’s in prison for an inappropriate relationship with a previous student (also half his age).

My sister met him at church before he went to prison, and says that he’s turned his life around and is heartbroken for his past transgressions. They plan to marry this fall.

The entire situation has been tough for our family, but I’ve worked hard to support her and love her through everything, even though she knows I don’t necessarily agree with her decisions.

The issue is how to handle this when her fiancé gets out of prison, and they get married. My husband and I live across the country and only come home a few times a year, but we have a young daughter, and I’m not comfortable with her being around a registered sex offender.

I know that my sister believes him to be a good guy, and I don’t want to be unreasonable, but I feel like I want him to be around my daughter as little as possible, and absolutely never without me present.

My sister casually mentioned that next year they could join us for our yearly family vacation, and my heart stopped. The thought of being under the same roof with that man scares me.

Am I being irrational, or is this a valid concern? I’m a Christian, and I do believe that God can change people and that everyone deserves forgiveness. But his past behavior landed him in jail, and that seems severe enough for me to create boundaries.

If my feelings are valid, how do I address this without hurting my incredibly sensitive sister?

—Conundrum

Dear Conundrum,

In an uncertain world, it’s so great to find something to be so completely certain about. And while it’s true that my colleague Nicole Cliffe already answered this, I thought it wise to circle back because I was a little worried about the fact that you were even posing this question in the first place. I wanted to give some extra backup to make absolutely sure you’re 100 percent clear on this.

The answer here is not just “no,” but super no. Super-duper no. Big time no. I’m truly all for redemption and second chances. But if a guy goes to prison for dating someone half his age and then, while there, starts dating someone else half his age, then I gotta say I’m not seeing a whole lot of progress there.

You have to tell your sister that while you wish her the best in her new relationship, you’re simply not comfortable having this guy around your kids. She may not like it, but if she’s going to be in an age-gap relationship with a man convicted of statutory rape, she’s probably going to have to get real used to people not being comfortable about it. You are under no obligation to go on a family vacation with him, and it goes without saying that there should be no cause to leave your daughter alone with him, no matter what anyone says.

I hope he has changed; I hope your sister is in a good relationship with a good and loving person. And it’s possible that he has, and she is! But it is in no way incumbent upon you to assume that he has. For your daughter’s sake, you should probably, in fact, assume he has not. You have boundaries, those boundaries are reasonable, and you should most definitely stick to them.

—Carvell