negligent nanny

So you think you trust your nanny? Well, after watching her with your precious little one at the park, the library, and the museum, I can tell you I might think twice before leaving my kid with her.

Most parents I know seem to adore their nannies. They rave about how much their children love their sitter. When the time comes to send the child to preschool, moms go all out to find new employment for the beloved nanny. But it seems like some parents just aren’t aware of what goes on after they leave the house.

There’s a reason nanny cams and websites like I Saw Your Nanny exist. When you hire a near stranger to watch your children — even if you believe you’ve vetted her thoroughly — you simply can’t know what goes on in your absence.

As a mostly stay-at-home mom who bounces around from library story times to aquarium outings to leisurely afternoons at the local playgrounds, I’m surrounded by nannies. Sometimes I witness them doting on your children, just as a mother would. Sometimes I see them lovingly and appropriately disciplining your kids, just as you would hope they would. But I also see where they misstep.

Oftentimes these less-than-stellar behaviors are somewhat innocuous. The nanny-on-the-phone situation is incredibly common — and maybe not all that different from what a parent would do. She mostly pays attention when your child really needs it, but that eternally long phone conversation sure seems to take precedence. The nanny clan is also prevalent, where groups of nannies are much more interested in socializing with each other than in tending to their kids. One nanny I’ve seen happily passes off babysitting duties to the children’s librarians while she catches up on the latest People Magazine.

But then there are the situations that — to me — simply aren’t acceptable. Like the nanny who parks herself on the playground bench every afternoon, absorbed in her daily crossword puzzle, while your little one wanders solo and bored, calling out for help and attention without acknowledgement. (This nanny also wears heels every day, making it impossible for her to ever actually play with your child, who happens to occasionally need a hand at the top of the climbing structure.)

And then there’s the nanny who has no problem leaving your child crying in the stroller at the splash pad while she turns to her phone, exasperated and annoyed. And this goes on for about 20 minutes.

And it’s not a one-time occurrence. I nannied part-time during grad school, and the children confided in me that their regular nanny took naps on their couch while they watched cartoons — and this was a supposed screen-free family.

I’m not a perfect parent — I’ll be the first to admit that. I’ve been known to stand on the sidelines, immersed in a phone call and not realizing that my child wanted to be lifted onto the swings. But when I’m paying someone to watch my child, she’s an employee. This means when she’s on the clock, the child is her number one priority. And I expect her to follow my general parenting and discipline philosophies. When my child cries, for example, I see this as an opportunity to get to the root of a problem; it’s not the time to ignore him and hope the issue disappears.

I’m betting you have these expectations, too. But whether you think your nanny is the absolute best or you’re curious about the kind of care she gives your child, it may be worth taking a closer look.

For some, a nanny cam might be the answer — there are definitely pros and cons to taking this route.

Others may take it to the extremes by having their nanny followed.

I’m fortunate to be able to do all my work from home, so I’m often able to overhear some of our babysitter’s interactions with my son. (It’s SO reassuring to hear him giggling and laughing with her, and it’s also nice to be able to listen in as she masterfully handles the occasional obstinance or tantrum.)

It can be helpful to ask around. I loved hearing a glowing report of our babysitter — unsolicited — from an acquaintance at a local playgroup. You likely know where your nanny takes your child (and if you don’t, you should!), so there’s no harm in asking the local children’s librarian or playgroup facilitator or other moms who cross paths with your kids during the day.

And don’t underestimate the power of references. Ask specific questions to your nanny’s previous employers to determine whether she’s a good fit for your family. If there are gaps in her resume or if she’s not forthcoming about references, it may be that there are families she doesn’t want you to know about!

Ashley Dickson
Ashley is a Virginia native who moved to Boston — sight unseen — for a library science graduate degree she’s never exactly used. Within a year, she met her husband, a nerdy but handsome health economist. They planted roots in Arlington, MA, had three baby boys (2012, 2015, 2021), and entered the world of foster parenting in between. Ashley spends her days picking up Legos, freelance writing and editing, swimming at Walden Pond, and binge eating dark chocolate when her kids have their backs turned.


  1. As a former nanny, I find this article pretty insulting. Maybe I was just lucky enough to work for an amazing family with an understanding of just how hard it is to be with children for 50 hours a week for 6 years straight. The mom I worked for trusted me, and the key to a good nanny/family relationship is trust. If you don’t feel you can trust your nanny, don’t get a nanny cam, get a new nanny.

    The family set-up I had was just that, a family, and I was part of it and will always feel those children are mine in a way. I did nearly all household duties, read books to the kids, planned fantastic playdates and outings, and then yes, from time to time, I would read a magazine while they played. Both myself and the mom I worked for understood that after quality time, the kids needed time to be themselves, to learn on their own and that the grown-up couldn’t go 10 straight hours a day without a little break here and there. Sometimes those breaks happened when other adults could see me and I can only hope that when other moms see nannies taking their breaks, they keep in mind how hard it is to care for children and don’t assume all of them are slacking at their duties. Every job needs breaks throughout the day, and for a nanny, those happen with the kids underfoot, because you can’t just leave them.

    • Beth, you sound like a dream nanny! I know there are MANY other nannies out there who are devoted to their jobs/families as you were. And I love how you describe the way the family trusted you. I don’t think that’s uncommon, and it deserves to be highlighted. I’m a former nanny myself (though it was for an agency where I hopped around from family to family doing temp jobs), so I’ve seen many varieties of the nanny/family dynamic.

      My perspective is coming more from those situations I’ve seen where nannies are blatantly ignoring their children or disrespecting their needs. I’ve encountered many nannies who are doing far more than “taking a break” (and I agree with you that breaks like you described are not only well deserved but absolutely necessary!).

      I know nanny cams are pretty controversial. I’m not sure if I would ever use one myself. But when I nannied, I was entering homes as a complete stranger, often working for the family for just a day or two when their regular nanny was unable to make it in. In those cases, I wouldn’t have minded at all if they’d had a nanny cam on me!

      Thanks for your perspective — it’s a valuable one!

  2. I have to agree with Beth on this one, I am currently a nanny and have been with the same family for 8 years, and I have the same set up, household duties, 10+ hour days. I’m sure plenty of moms have seen me on my phone (one time in particular I could not calm the 2 year old from a tantrum and we had taken a taxi to the aquarium, no where to go but outside and she laid on the ground kicking and screaming while I called the MOM to ask her advice, I’m sure I would have been reported on that Nanny report site). But turning the tables, I see far more mothers not paying attention to their children by reading or on their phones than I ever do my nanny group. I know there are nannies out there like this, just as there are mothers who don’t watch their kids but this article makes it seem like all nannies are like this, and we are NOT. I check my phone frequently, to see if the mom has texted or called, I watch the children, I interact with the children but I also interact with the other moms and nannies, which does not make me neglectful, although you may see it that way.

    • Stephanie, I totally agree about mothers not paying attention to their children — I’m certainly at fault of this from time to time myself!

      And I appreciate the perspective you share of those moments that can easily be taken out of context and may be misinterpreted as “bad” parenting or nannying. Your example at the aquarium is a great one. It sounds like you have a great setup with your family of eight years, and I’m glad they’re able to place so much trust in you. If someone had reported you for the situation at the aquarium, I bet you have full confidence that the parents you work for would have your back and know you were doing everything they’d want you to do for their child!

      In writing the post, I was mostly thinking of the handful of repeated negative instances I’ve seen (and by repeated, I mean the same few nannies who appear to be consistently ignoring their children), where, as a parent, I would want to know what was up. I know of many wonderful nannies and babysitters. Unfortunately, there are some bad apples out there!

  3. I can easily see both sides. Having been in the nanny industry for nearly two decades, starting as a professional career nanny and progressing to an agency owner, I’ve truly lived both sides. I’ve been the nanny who has worked the 80 hour work week in an effort to assist a pregnant mom and dad in school while wrangling 20 month old twins.

    One benefit a mom has that a nanny doesn’t? They have the capability of having to please no one but themselves. They can decide to take a break when the children nap. Truly professional nannies don’t often have that luxury- we are scheduling play dates and Doctor appts, doing meal prep, coordinating repairs, switching over and folding laundry, sanitizing toys and preparing educational activities before our sweet ones wake up. We also are monitored by mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, friends of mom and dad… and now random strangers behind a computer screen.

    Please don’t judge us if the children’s pediatrician calls back while we are at the park and we take the call. That texting you see happening? We may be answering a text from mom asking if we can stay an hour later and pick up the dry cleaning, and following up with her RE a convo with a teacher.

    We do everything a mom does in the course of a day but we are expected to do it exceptionally well, on a schedule and have it all done prior to end of shift.

    It’s so easy to make assumptions. Please don’t he spitfire our entire career on a snapshot you see unless you are seeing something dangerous or highly repetitive.,

    Now, that being said, as a nanny I have always been an advocate of nanny cameras being used on me with or without my permission. We should use that tool to protect kids. I have tried to educate parents though to use them as a preventative tool with nannies- don’t wait until you suspect something is wrong. Tell your nanny upfront that you will use them. That protects your kids*. You don’t want to record abuse, you want to prevent it!

    Eight and a half years ago I founded Hilton Head Nannies in South Carolina. Every nanny I interview is told that we use nanny cameras with audio, we can do random drug testing on site and I may follow them. Nannies who join my registry must sign a contract stating they agree to cameras, with or without their knowledge, to be used by the agency or the client. I watch my team.

    I immediately remove from my registry nannies who are on the phone if it’s not the parent, my office or a true emergency, who are distracted from the children or who violate safety standards.

    There are standards nannies should have and I certainly see your side. I just hope that you’ll see the nannies side too before jumping and thinking negatively.

    There are a lot of amazing nannies who have dedicated their lives to this industry and to children. I’m proud of the career I’ve chosen and I’m incredibly proud to be a part of an international family of nannies who strive to be a step above the rest.

    Bless you.

    • Jennie, that 80-hour work week sounds intense! Very much like motherhood, only without the option of a break here and there, like you said.

      It sounds like your agency only accepts top quality nannies — bravo to you for providing parents with such a trusted resource!

      I’ll keep your note in mind about not making assumptions unless the behavior is dangerous or frequently repeated — thank you for commenting!

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