I Saw Your Nanny (but I Didn’t Tell You)

Have you ever seen a nanny on the corner of Palmer and Chatsworth screaming at a four year old ?


Now picture her shaking the child as she continues to scold him. His little face is confused and registers such dread that your heart clenches and your stomach jumps into your throat. You wonder for a moment – what could this child have possibly done to deserve such treatment? You are unsure how to respond.

So what do you do? Do you address the nanny? Do you take more extreme measures like try to contact the parents? Or do you walk away, somehow rationalizing in your head that maybe this is a problem child…or it’s not really any of your business…or that somehow in some alternate reality, it’s ok.

The answer is it’s not ok…because, simply, there is nothing that a child can do that could warrant such a response. There is no justification, especially from a nanny whom someone trusts and compensates to take care of their children.

My first nanny, hired with glowing local references and following a criminal background check, left my son in the care of her twenty-five year old boyfriend to run personal errands, locked him in his stroller and slapped him for complaining to get out. He was fifteen months old.

It wasn’t until a friend had the courage to tell us of the abuse, that we had any inkling that this was happening. We’d been fed a diet of lies. Horrifyingly, we discovered following a local police check that she’d been arrested two months after we’d hired her (and received the clean background check) for third-degree assault. We fired her immediately.

Suddenly other people started saying that they had seen her hitting or shouting at our son. Why didn’t they saw anything before?

Our second nanny, again hired with solid references, worked for us for over two years. I came home early from a doctor’s appointment to hear two sharp slaps and find my three year old with a red handprint on his bottom. What was his crime for such punishment? He refused to get dressed. Despite written guidelines on using timeouts for discipline as the exception, not the rule, she still felt it necessary to strike our son for what is typical toddler behavior. Later, after we’d fired her, we then heard accounts of her shaking the children, shouting at them, or being constantly on the phone when we weren’t around.

Again, only after the fact.

I’ve agonized on whether I was a bad parent. Why didn’t I see? Why didn’t I know? I did all the right things, performed all the research and did all the checks. My children seemed well-adjusted and happy. Still, I recall asking my five year old whether he’d ever been hit, and his response after a sidelong glance at the nanny was “no.” After she’d left, I asked him again, and his response was “what will happen if I tell you?” I don’t even want to imagine what the nanny had told him would happen if he’d said anything.

Parents, mothers, fathers, friends, we need to be on the lookout for these kinds of abusers because frankly, it is abuse. Trust me, I know it’s hard. I was recently at a  class where I saw a nanny speaking quite harshly to a two-year old. I know that child’s mother and yet I said nothing. I didn’t because I didn’t know if it was my place. Do I risk a relationship with another parent because I’m too reticent to mention what I saw? Or am I not being a friend at all by not mentioning it? 

Having now been through two nannies who have acted inappropriately toward my children outside of my home, I know better: It is our responsibility as neighbors and as parents to look out for each other. If you see something, SAY something. Or better yet, DO something. Someday, even though you may do all the right things and think you’ve found the perfect nanny, this could be you. Wouldn’t you want someone looking out for your children’s welfare? I know I did.

—Amalie Howard

Report Bad Nannies here


  1. The writer seems to be missing the point. The best person, the most trustworthy, to take care of her children is their mother. Why aren’t you putting your children first instead of hiring someone else to do it?

  2. Clearly “just a reader” is just a bit sheltered. Some of us actually have to WORK. And there is plenty of research to indicate that a good caregiver and other responsible adults all enhance parents’ contributions. It takes a Village. Not a snob.

  3. 1. For some, if not most, working versus staying home is not an option.
    2. You must be guided by your heart- if something looks wrong, say something. If the parent or nanny gets upset with you for butting in, then fine. But the alternative is so much worse. What would you prefer- upsetting a parent/nanny or permitting a child to be harmed, emotionally or physically?

  4. As a working mom myself, I completely sympathize with your story. Whether you have to work or simply want to work isn’t the point. I have a nanny as well and I’ve had people tell me mostly good (she doesn’t leave my son’s side, is loving toward my kids) and not so good (she misjudged a traffic light). And I have to say, I’m really, really happy to have these so-called flies on the wall.

  5. Thank you for writing this article. I am always terribly disturbed when I hear people talk about babysitters misbehaving in the park, etc. but do not wish to “get involved” and tell the parents. Sometimes it is just too much talking on the cell phone. Sometimes it is much worse. I once had an acquaintance call me and tell me my nanny (who is otherwise a godsend) was falling asleep one day at the park with my 4 year-old. I was able to confront her and she apologized giving a plausible explanation for why she was so tired that day. I was grateful that I was told about this because it gave me the opportunity to discuss this with my nanny and also to let her know that she is being watched. Although I do trust her as much as possible under the circumstances, you really never can be truly sure when you leave your children in someone else’s hands. Thanks for bringing this issue up. For any of you who know me, I would absolutely welcome any intelligence you have on how my kids are being taken care of when I am not around!

    editrix: how any mother can feel otherwise is beyond us but this article apparently caused some mothers to panic–not that their nanny was not caring for their child—but that they were being “embarrassed” by the author. Huh?

  6. I feel compelled to post my own comment here in response to some of the thoughts, thanks and other remarks I’ve received. For the most part it has been positive. To “Just A Reader”, you are absolutely right – the best person to care for children is their parent, and while I would love not to work, that would probably entail moving to Colorado and living in my mother’s basement. I’m not quite ready for that yet! That said, I want to share the comment that struck the most resonant chord with me. I was approached by two mothers at different times, both of whom concerned that my reference to the nanny I saw (and didn’t tell) was about them despite the omission of dates, times and names. The first, as you would hope, wanted to know if there was anything she needed to address with her nanny. The other, however, chose to chastise me for airing my dirty laundry and citing her nanny in an article about “abuse.” Disturbing but true. A friend of mine said, “typical Larchmont,” and I cringed. Is that really who we are? I disagree. I think we are a community that values integrity and cares for its residents. So I’d like to make one thing clear here and put an end to this. I have NO issues airing my dirty laundry for any greater good it can achieve, and if this community judges me for that, well then there are bigger issues than my laundry at stake.

  7. Great Article.

    Note: Negligence IS abuse!

    Jane Kreisman
    (Yes, related to Editrix, and also a Nanny & Teacher)

  8. You know what really bothers me is that half these nannys are working not because mommy is working but they just don’t want to be a full time moms! They would rather play tennis and sit at stanz all day while some stranger is whatching their kids. Working moms understand your need to have a nanny, moms who don’t work stop being spoiled and take care of your own kids!

  9. I have read all previous blogs. We are all different and cannot have the same opinion.
    First of all the mother knew whom she hired. Neither party handled this matter in a mature manner. There seems to have been deep rooted animosity between the two. Respect goes two ways. In order to be respected people must give respect:even to children. I am grateful to every nanny: this is a very daunting task. Nannies in the city are treated differently.
    It is true in small towns everyone notices everything. That can be advantageous as well as have many disadvantages. What I perceive is not always right, what you perceive is not always right. People’s needs and lifestyles are different . An au pair might work for you and not for others. The role of an au pair and a nanny is like comparing apples and onions.
    It is very ignorant to stereotype. People will be the same the world over. The bottom line is class cannot be bought in Saks Fifth Avenue
    This incident could have been handled in a different manner. The mother in the center of this saga is the employer and should be the sole person who decides the fate of her nanny.
    I do understand the uncertainty and paranoia because of the present conomy. Dont sweat the small stuff. Things will get better not worst

  10. I would want to know. I think it’s very important for people to get involved. Children don’t have voices, they need to be protected. It’s our duty as human beings to make sure that everyone is being treated well. I would hope that if someone saw a child being treated wrong by their own parents, someone would step in as well. All children need to be protected. Don’t be embarrassed by your nannies, just make sure they love your children.

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