Care and Feeding

Our Nanny Keeps Judging Our Choices and It’s Driving Me Crazy

I want to be a considerate employer, but this is crossing a line.

Woman in a mask holds a baby with illustrated coronavirus molecules in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by nicoletaionescu/Getty Images Plus and LinLina/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I deal with a nanny who is not supportive of the COVID risks we are taking? We had a new baby during COVID, and it was an absolute tour-de-force introduction to parenting. We had a complicated delivery with lots of feeding issues, and I had complications during my recovery that made our first few months very difficult. We didn’t really have relatives or friends at a comparable risk level to us (all traveling, eating in restaurants, attending parties all winter), so our bubble was very small. We had no support for months on end, and the baby just did not sleep. We live in a very low-vaccination area and were able to afford a nanny, so we decided the best thing for us was to hire one to cut down on daycare risk.

We were clear early on that consent is a two-way street, and that we would always tell her what we are doing if she did the same. We also told her that if she’s ever not comfortable being exposed to us, to let us know, and we would arrange alternate care. She has always declined. We are slowly beginning to take more COVID risks to balance our daughter’s development, our mental health as responsible vaccinated people, and the maintenance of our relationships. Now that we are back to work, either fully or hybrid, we are also exposed to unavoidable risks there. I had several conversations with our nanny (she is fully vaccinated and has already had COVID) about how our approach to risk is changing and how—though we are still careful—we cannot go back to full lockdown.

She’s told us she understands and wants to keep working for us. That said, she is clearly not comfortable and is constantly questioning whether we should be doing what we are doing when I disclose things to her. Whenever I leave the house, she questions if I really need to—if I could have the items delivered, if I really need a haircut right now, if I asked whether the meeting could be virtual, etc. She mentions all the time that she doesn’t think we should be going into stores. Anytime the baby sneezes, she recommends a COVID test. She tells me she isn’t worried for herself, she’s just worried for her elderly parents and worried for our baby (implying that I just don’t care what happens to our daughter, I guess).

I see a therapist weekly to deal with my feelings around this, and I’ve shared with our nanny that I can’t continue to debate every time I leave the house without spiraling. We think she is probably very uncomfortable with our level of risk and staying because she needs the job, but I don’t know what to do. I know some level of grappling with increased risk at work is normal and expected, I know I can’t manage her feelings, and I know that the right thing is to continue being honest with her and letting her decide whether to continue to work for us or not. I don’t want her to be without a job over something like this, as her fears are valid—I even share them. I would hate to part ways with a good nanny just because she’s afraid. That said, this is not sustainable to have this conversation every day, and it’s undermining my work on my post-partum anxiety. Should I have one more conversation with her? Should I set more specific boundaries or explain myself differently? Find a new nanny? Find more reasons to leave the house during the day and work elsewhere?

— Nanny Issues

Dear Nanny Issues,

I totally understand COVID-related anxiety, but some perspective is needed here. Based on the fact that you live in a low-vaccination rate area, it’s clear that your nanny is more at risk to contract COVID (and pass it along to others) when she’s away from your home than when she’s in it. You’re vaccinated, you wear masks, and you take the proper precautions to care for your baby and the rest of your family. What else can she ask for? It’s similar to wearing a seatbelt and obeying the speed limit, only to have someone constantly telling you how dangerous driving can be.

We’ve been at this for a while now, and there comes a point when we have to start living our lives again—especially if we’ve done everything that our medical professionals and leaders advise us to do. I would remind her as tactfully as possible that she works for you, not the other way around. In doing so, you should tell her that you’re a grown-up who believes in science, and safety is always your top priority, but she cannot continue to second-guess and question every decision you make. Life is already too stressful to deal with that nonsense on a daily basis. She needs to trust you.

Like you said earlier, you have a vulnerable baby at home—of course you’re going to be as careful as possible. If she’s capable of thinking clearly, then hopefully she’ll come to her senses and realize how lucky she is to have found the proverbial vaccinated needle in a haystack filled with unvaccinated people in your community.

You did mention that you’re seeking therapy, but maybe you should suggest to her that she does the same. It certainly seems as if it would do a lot of good for someone like her, and maybe you could work with your own therapist to find someone adequate for her. However, if she’s unwilling to take you up on therapy or continues to nag you over your decision-making, then you may have to let her go. At the end of the day, you’re paying her to make your life easier, not harder.

— Doyin

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