I work part-time as a nanny for a 9-year-old boy. Recently, at school, he had an accident (I think he might have had mild food-poisoning). The office called his mom at work, and when I showed up to get him, she was already home with the kid–let’s call him Eric–getting ready to head out to buy new clothes and shoes (it was that kind of accident).

I went along with them and the entire time she was making fun of Eric. It wasn’t super-harsh–things like “sure, I’ll get you the more expensive shoes if you promise not to poop in them”–but I could tell Eric was embarrassed and near tears. When we got back to the house she headed back to work and the rest of the evening (with just Eric and me) went normally. When I’m there next should I say something? She’s a sarcastic mom but it obviously hurt his feelings and I think it was insensitive.

-Mom needs a nanny, too

Man, why is it that we always say people we don’t like were raised by wolves? Clearly they were raised by people–insensitive, flawed, un-self-aware people.

The problem with your situation as I see it is two-fold:

1) You’re not likely to change someone’s parenting style nine years in, to say nothing of her fundamental personality.


2) There are VERY few things people are willing to hear less than “you’re parenting wrong”

The fact that you’re technically “the help” in this family only makes #2 that much more true.

So don’t say anything to Mom directly (though if a similar situation ever arises, and you have the opportunity, feel free to say something lighthearted but honest in the moment, viz: “oh, I think Eric’s had a tough enough day already”), not because she’s in the right, but because you won’t help.

Do say something to Eric. Lots of somethings. Not about this incident–he probably never wants to imagine it again–but about how great he is. You can’t undo his mom inadvertently cutting him down (because unless she’s much worse than you say, it’s likely she really believed this was harmless teasing, not cruelty), but you can build him up every chance you get. 

You have an opportunity to help Eric in so many ways: by being a positive example of a kind adult figure; by letting him be fully himself around you with no fear of teasing or shame; and by helping him build positive, lasting self-esteem.

Saying something to Mom might feel good, but in the long run, it may hurt Eric; after all, you can’t be a counterweight to a too-sarcastic Mom if she decides she’d prefer a less-judgy nanny.