Care and Feeding

I Can’t Stop Thinking About What I Did to Our Nanny Almost a Decade Ago

I’m pretty sure I was in the wrong, but should I apologize now?

A mother holds her baby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Tom Merton/OJO Images via 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,

I had to return to work when our first child was 4 months old, and my husband and I decided to get a nanny. We found Maria through an agency, and she ticked all our boxes. She was wonderful with our daughter and always followed our directions. I will always be extremely grateful for how Maria helped out our family, but I never considered her part of the family, and this is/was the problem. I would like to think I was always kind to Maria and treated her well, but perhaps only seeing her as an employee was unkind?

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When my daughter was 2½, we had a second child. My mother was in town for the delivery. When it came time to bring the baby home from the hospital, I told my husband I wanted the homecoming to just be the family, and he expressed reluctance to actively omit Maria. I felt strongly that I only wanted the family present and he acquiesced. If only I had listened to him. We asked my mother to go home ahead of us and relieve Maria for the day and tell her she could meet the baby the next day when she came to take care of our daughter. We ended up pulling up to the house just as Maria was leaving and she became distraught. She said we didn’t want her to meet the baby and that she was going to quit and left the house in tears. I ran after her shouting reassurances and sat on the curb holding her hand while she sat in her car. I begged her not to quit and explained that it had all been a big misunderstanding. She calmed down and then I brought her to meet the baby and then she left; she came to work the next day and it was fine. Except I have never forgiven her for tainting the homecoming of my kid. She worked for us for another six months, and then we put both kids in day care, citing the expense and the need for our daughter to get more socialized (both of which were true), but I also wanted Maria out of our lives. Despite needing a babysitter from time to time, at my behest, we never hired Maria again. My husband could not understand my stance, but I was firm. In my (perhaps hormonally altered?) mind, Maria had betrayed me.

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Maria listed me as a reference, and over the years I have always given her glowing recommendations. It seems that our family was the longest she was employed in one stretch so even now, six years after she worked for us, we still get reference calls about her, and I continue to praise her. Maria continues to babysit for friends nearby, and so we see her around from time to time. The other day she must have seen us pass by in our car on the way home because she pulled into our driveway to say hello. I am always friendly and share updates when we bump into each other. She still texts me sometimes and asks for pictures of the kids, and I always respond. My daughter is almost 10 now, and I still think about what happened. It bothers me that when I had the option of being right (it was OK to only want my family home when I brought home my new baby) and kind (it would have meant so much to Maria to have been included in that moment), I chose wrong. But I still am upset at what I see as a breach of trust; I still remember how humiliated I felt sitting on that curb, less than 24 hours after giving birth, begging this woman to stay in our lives when I felt she was in the wrong. I don’t think I want Maria back in our lives again, but do I owe her an apology? More importantly, I would want to mean it, and I don’t think I would! So how do I forgive her? Or let this go? Even though he disagreed, my husband supported my decisions. We haven’t talked about it recently, but I think this is the one thing I’ve done that he is disappointed in me about.

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—Can’t Let It Go

Dear Can’t Let It Go,

You both hold yourself and Maria accountable for the situation, but you still blame her for forcing you, just postpartum, into having to put your feelings aside to tend to hers. Ten years later, you claim to understand why Maria’s feelings were hurt when you excluded her from your baby’s homecoming, and you see that she obviously cares deeply for the children that she takes care of (hence her still wanting pictures and occasionally visiting your home). Yet you still resent her. I won’t try to figure out why that is—I have thoughts for sure!—but I think this is something you need to come to understand and make peace with, and that if you were capable of doing so on your own, or even with a word of advice, it would have happened by now.

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I think you should consider speaking to a therapist about these feelings. Perhaps there is something else here—how you feel about requiring the services of a nanny, for example—that you need to unpack. For a nanny who is used to functioning as a member of her “family,” I can imagine why the intentional lack of inclusion could make Maria feel as though she was not valued or trusted, that the people she cares so much for do not feel the same way about her. I can also understand how someone who perhaps wasn’t used to this way of bonding might not see a nanny as having such a role. But considering that you’ve had many years to consider your husband’s stance and Maria’s behavior, and that you’re not only conflicted, but still upset with this woman? This is deeper than what happened on the day you came home from the hospital, my love. Reach out to a therapist; I think you’ll be able to figure out just what’s really bothering you. Wishing you the best.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I get my 3-year-old to stop running off when I bring her out of the house for a stroll? We live close to the road, so coming out is always scary. I want her to learn to walk without speeding off, so I try to leave her hands occasionally but end up running after her in fear with my 1-year-old baby in hand. I am really worried about her running into the road. She is very brilliant at her age, was supposed to start day care at 2 years when the pandemic happened, but she hasn’t been able to get those social skills; now she sees everything as a joke. When I scold her about running, she just does it a few minutes later.

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—So Worried

Dear Worried,

Don’t let that baby’s hands go, she isn’t ready for that! Talk to her about the consequences of running off: “Stranger Danger,” falling down, getting hit by a car, bus, or bike, etc. She’s old enough to know that harm can find her. In the meantime, despite the controversy around them, I recommend getting a harness like this one. You don’t want something to happen while you are trying to get her to understand the rules, and you’ll feel much better with the security of being able to literally rein her back in. Good luck to you!

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 22 (she/her) and my younger sister “Greta” is 11. We have the same mom but different fathers. She’s a really great kid, and we’re as close as can be considering the age gap and living in different cities! Anyway, I’m worried about her mental health. I have anxiety issues and am in the process of getting an ADHD diagnosis, and I see a lot of my own traits in her. For example, I peel off the skin on my fingers and toes (as does our mother) while Greta pulls out her hair. She’s an incredibly picky eater (she tells me that she wants to like more foods but she just can’t), she doesn’t like loud noises, she’s very particular about clothes she wears (she wouldn’t wear any pants besides leggings until she was 9 because she thought jeans were uncomfortable). I could keep going, but basically, I have a hunch that she probably isn’t neurotypical.

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Problem is, my mom (who is usually great!) is the type of person who thinks everyone is “a little bit ADHD” and even thinks she may have OCD herself but doesn’t feel a need to see anyone about it. That’s fine for her, but she’s reluctant to take Greta to see someone either, which matches my experience; I only got help with my brain after I got my own insurance. But I don’t want Greta to have to struggle for another decade like I did. Right now, my mom’s plan is to have Greta cut her long hair short to get her to stop pulling it, which Greta doesn’t want to do, and she told Greta to talk to her doctor about the issue at her next yearly checkup. As an older sister, what are my obligations here? Do I stay out of it? Do I keep pushing my mom to take Greta to therapy? Complicating this is that my parents recently moved to a SUPER rural part of the country; the nearest town to them is 20 minutes away and has 800 people. It takes 45 minutes to get to a Walmart or Target, so I’m not sure how many therapists are up there. Any advice would be very welcome, thank you!

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—Sympathetic Sister

Dear Sympathetic,

I think your “obligation” is to advocate for your sister. Talk to your mother openly about what you experienced, how you see your own challenges reflected in Greta, and why you believe strongly that she should have the opportunity to speak to a professional. Your perspective here is invaluable and hopefully will allow your mom to see that Greta very well could use some additional support. Be sure not to shame your mother or make it seem as though you are critiquing her parenting choices or complaining that you were not raised properly. Rather, explain that you feel confident that your own adolescence would have been smoother had you been able to recognize what you were dealing with then, and that Greta has the opportunity to feel a lot more comfortable in her skin and the world around her. Also convey that you know your mom only wants what’s best for her girls, and that a potential diagnosis or therapy regiment can make life easier for Greta, not harder. Search out local and online resources so that your mom can’t use her location as an excuse.

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If your mother refuses to budge, which I hope is not the case, then I urge you to continue to make yourself available to your little sister and to be a safe place where she can both be heard and get insight from someone who has walked a similar path of her own. Let her know that she’s “normal,” that there’s nothing wrong with who she is, and that her unique quirks or difficulties are not a reflection on her character or her value as a person. Wishing you all the best.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have two daughters, one in eighth grade and one in 11th grade. While they were planning their schedules for next year, we realized that they will be in the same math class (my younger daughter is several grades ahead in math). My older daughter is against this and wants my younger daughter to take another math class. I think she’s embarrassed. My younger daughter needs this class because it’s a building block for the next class that she plans to take in 10th grade. I was leaning toward telling my older daughter to get over it, but a few of the friends I’ve talked to have taken my older daughter’s side and said they wouldn’t want to be in class with a younger sibling. I’m an only child so I have no idea—is this a big of a deal as everyone is making it out to be?

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—Math Class Counts

Dear Math Class,

I can see how a high school senior would balk at having her eighth grade sibling pop up in her math class, but don’t think this is potentially uncomfortable in the way it would be if, say, your older daughter was the 11th grader in a class full of middle schoolers. That’s not to say she doesn’t have valid concerns. How is your eldest doing in school? In math specifically? If she struggles with the subject, having her high-performing little sister there could make a difficult situation much harder—in which case, you may want to talk with the school about other options to keep both girls on track.

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However, if that isn’t the case, I think you should keep the class schedule as is. Your youngest obviously cares a lot about math and has worked hard to advance as she has. Talk to your girls about behavioral expectations for the shared class. Both must be kind and respectful to each other, but as the younger girl is essentially disrupting a space that her older sister would have naturally expected to claim as her own, she should be encouraged to be empathetic to that: no raising her hand to say, “I’ll help her!” if her big sister makes a mistake, for example. There should be conversation about how they will interact; pretending not to be related is absurd, but if the eldest wants to walk to and from class with her peers, the younger sibling should understand why. This may be a tricky situation at first, but not impossible by far. Good luck to you all!

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My 27-year-old daughter and her best friend, Katie, have been best friends since they were 4. Katie practically grew up in our house and is like a daughter to me. My daughter recently got engaged to her fiancé and announced that Katie would be the maid of honor (Katie’s boyfriend is also a good friend of my future son-in-law). The problem is that Katie walks with a pretty severe limp due to a birth defect (not an underlying medical issue). She has no problem wearing high heels and has already been fitted for the dress, but I still think it will look unsightly if she’s in the wedding procession limping ahead of my daughter. I mentioned this to my daughter and suggested that maybe Katie could take video or hand out programs (while sitting) so she doesn’t ruin the aesthetic aspect of the wedding. My daughter is no longer speaking to me (we were never that close), but this is her big wedding and I want it to be perfect. All of the other bridesmaids will look gorgeous walking down the aisle with my daughter. Is it wrong to have her friend sit out?

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