Care and Feeding

How Do We Keep Our Babysitter’s Abusive Ex Away From Our Kids?

She’s got a blind spot when it comes to him, but our vision is clear.

A young woman bites her nails and looks to the side.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AaronAmat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our babysitter “Mandy” has taken care of our two small children since they were born. She also housesits for us when we are on vacation. We care about her and she has been incredibly helpful to our family. When she first started working for us, Mandy was living with her boyfriend “Tom.” We’ve met Tom once or twice and he’s stayed with Mandy in our home when she was housesitting. Mandy and Tom broke up earlier this year and Mandy moved out.

Recently, Mandy shared with us that Tom physically abused her when they were dating. There were two injuries that we’d seen but at the time she told us they were sports-related. She also shared that on one occasion, Tom spent time in jail for assaulting her. It sickens me to know she was going through this and that we had no idea. We thanked Mandy for sharing the information with us, told her how proud we were of her, and offered our support for anything she might need. And we meant it.

But here’s the thing—Mandy also shared that she is still in regular contact with Tom, that she still loves him and misses the way he made her feel “when things were good.” She is also still paying one of his bills. We understand that victims of domestic violence sometimes need several “tries” before permanently severing ties with their abusers. But now we’re also concerned for our children’s safety. Tom lives in our town and is very familiar with our home. Prior to them breaking up, Mandy had once suggested having Tom help her watch our children—while she was recovering from an injury that we now know Tom inflicted—but we declined since he didn’t have child care experience. I mention this because while I would love to think that Mandy would never do anything to put our children in danger, she clearly has a blind spot when it comes to Tom. How do we support Mandy while also making sure her continued involvement with Tom doesn’t endanger our children?

—Torn Up

Dear TU,

It’s time for a sit-down with Miss Mandy. But first, you should seek out the assistance of a professional, ideally someone who works with a local organization that supports victims of domestic violence. Work with them to develop a script for explaining to her that you are deeply empathetic about her situation and are willing to help her end this relationship for good. However, if she is unwilling to do so, you are no longer able to allow her to work in your home and be in the presence of your children. Furthermore, she should not be able to babysit for you again until she has proved that she’s ended all contact with him.

Like you said, Mandy has a blind spot when it comes to this man. She has put your children in danger by allowing him into your home and even thought it fit to suggest him as a replacement sitter while she was sidelined by an injury that he caused. To be clear, that is reason enough to terminate your professional relationship with this woman, and I would not disparage that decision one bit. However, since you are commendably interested in helping her, the best way to do that is with clear boundaries and the support of an expert. Best of luck to you all and I hope Mandy is able to find safety and peace far away from this guy.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I recently stayed home for the weekend while my husband, Marcus, took our 18-month-old daughter, Nadia, to his parents’ house in his hometown. This was most convenient for us; Marcus and Nadia were able to attend his nephew’s birthday party, I was able to work, and Marcus got some time with his friends while his parents babysat.

In the family group chat, I saw that relatives were praising my husband for being such a dedicated father and for allowing me the “space” to devote to my career. This infuriated me because it’s such a double standard. This is the first time I spent away from Nadia; Marcus has been going away on trips for both business and pleasure ever since our daughter was 3 months old. Nobody has ever called me a dedicated mother.

The mothers in Marcus’ extended family work part time or stay at home. The fathers are the breadwinners. My job is very challenging and I love it, but I don’t do it for personal satisfaction. I do it because we need to pay the bills and Marcus makes a lot less money than I do. So it stings when they talk about my job as a hobby.

How do I address this? How do I respond when somebody compliments me for taking some time for myself (when I was working)? My in-laws are very nice and would never utter explicitly sexist thoughts—it’s always very in-between-the-lines. I would like to get a handle on this before Nadia starts to notice the gender roles and related expectations. Please help!

—Work Isn’t a Treat

Dear WIaT,

Your letter is a reminder that the “progressive,” feminist approach that so many of us have taken to our personal and professional lives is very far from the norm in this country. There are a lot of women who still think that outearning a man while raising his child as a hands-on mom doing the lion’s share of the parenting work is some sort of privilege. I say that not to insult those women, or their husband-daddies, but to remind you that these ladies have no concept of the entirely fucking normal things that you are doing.

As such, you have to be sensitive to that when you address these issues, which you absolutely should. First, speak to Marcus, who hopefully understands your annoyance, even if he wouldn’t have thought of any of these things had you not brought them up. Let him know that it would be nice for him to point out to his family how hard you work, that even while working you manage to hold the house down by yourself when he travels, and that he isn’t doing you some favor by agreeing to give you a productive weekend.

Make a point of talking about your work and responsibilities more often in the presence of your in-laws so that they can better understand what your daily life looks like. Do not put any of them down or imply that they’ve got it easier than you—I’m sure they are as lovely as you say. But hooo, wanna hear some stories that will make you feel quite fine about your workload? Go talk to an older woman who has spent her life asking a man for money when she needs it. Just remind them that you all do not have the same experiences and ask for them to be a bit more sensitive to yours. Good luck, sis.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am not a gun owner, but I have at least one family member who has a concealed carry permit. I’m from a conservative area and expect there may be other relatives who also have either hunting rifles or small firearms at home. In the past I never had a reason to ask any of them directly, but now that I’m a mother, things have changed.

My husband and I now have a baby daughter who’s already starting to get into everything (as babies do). We agreed before she was born that we are not comfortable having her in the home of someone we know has guns unless the guns are locked in a safe that is completely inaccessible to children. But what should we do at events or at someone else’s home when others are invited? I’ve been trying to figure out how to ask the aforementioned family member if he’s carrying his gun. Also, is it unfair to single him out and not ask other people?

—Straight Shooter for Safety

Dear Straight Shooter,

Use an upcoming family event as an opportunity to start a dialogue about the place that guns do, or do not, have at such gatherings. Send out an email or use a group chat to say that you know that there are folks (plural, so as not to single out the one guy with the CC permit) who own firearms and that you have some concerns about the safety of your daughter and other children. Explain that you haven’t seen anything within the family that would make you uncomfortable, but that thousands of kids die each year due to gun accidents that could have been prevented, and as the mom of a particularly adventurous little one, you want to prevent a tragedy. Since you know everyone in your family is a responsible gun owner, you’d be grateful to know about any guns on the premises at family gatherings and just how they are secured—and perhaps the family should take this moment to establish an agreement about where and how firearms are stored on these occasions.

A responsible gun owner (which, I acknowledge, does not exist in the eyes of many people) will have no problem sharing that information and taking additional steps to make you feel comfortable. However, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be met with some resistance, especially if you have someone whose attachment to firearms is more political than practical. Make your decisions on how and when you bring your baby around based on what comes of this talk. And be prepared to sit some events out if relatives aren’t forthcoming.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Six months ago, our beloved dog “Annie” went missing without a trace. Mourning our pet has been terrible; the grief of not knowing what happened has been unbearable. Yesterday, my 6-year-old hopped into the car after school and announced, “I know what happened to Annie. [A classmate’s] dad hit her with a car.” I followed up with a few questions, namely what made her think that, and she shared that the two were discussing the missing dog posters we’d hung around the school and neighborhood when her classmate told her “what had happened.”

I’m no stranger to first-grade tall tales, but I’m finding myself really bothered by this revelation. We could use some closure, but I don’t know if playground gossip is grounds for approaching her classmate’s parents for some clarity. Thoughts?

—What’s the Truth

Dear WtT,

You definitely have a good reason to ask. The question is, are you prepared for the answer?

There are a number of things that could have happened. Dad may have commented that he’d seen a dog that looked like yours that had been struck, or even that he thought it likely that she’d met such a fate. He also could have hit a dog, years ago even, which is enough for a 6-year-old to connect the dots and decide the two incidents were related. Or perhaps this child’s father hit Annie in what would become a deeply traumatic incident for his entire family, spurned or merely heightened by the revelation that this dog belongs to you guys.

Let’s say this bit of sandbox gossip is true. How would you react if the father gives a heartfelt apology and says that he’d felt awful about what he did, so much so that he didn’t have the guts to tell you? Or, if he admits guilt but is relatively blasé about it? Or, what if he feigns ignorance about the whole thing?

Can you prepare for all of those scenarios, or some other jarring reveal? Will you be able to function in the same school community with these people afterward? Or is the possibility that they are responsible for Annie’s continued absence in your lives something that would prevent you from doing so until you have some sort of clarity? And, again, will you be able to cope if this conversation proves to be wholly fruitless? Or hurtful?

Honestly, my gut is telling me that you shouldn’t ask, that you should instead focus on addressing the grief that Annie’s disappearance has caused. (Perhaps some of our commenters can suggest some books and tips for coping with the loss of a beloved pet as a family.) However, if you are absolutely unable to put this new information out of your head and focus on moving on, then I strongly urge you to brace yourself—and your kid(s) for the possibility that it may be tougher to swallow the truth than to make peace with not knowing it. I am so sorry that you all are going through this and hope that comfort finds you soon either way.

—Jamilah

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