Nanny shaming is when a picture or video is posted online accompanied by a detailed description of how the caregiver was in some way ‘neglecting’ the child/children in her care.
When I realized I was going to have a baby thousands of miles away from friends and family back home in the UK, I decided I needed help.
I enthusiastically joined various ‘mommy’ Facebook support groups for expectant mothers and moms in my area.
I spent hours scrolling through threads on which stroller to buy, newborn essentials, and discussions on how to get your baby sleeping through the night.
And although these groups are a fantastic source of support and advice, they are quite often used for a very different and quite disturbing new trend.
A picture will appear of a (more often than not) black nanny caring for a white child or children.
The caption accompanying the picture reads something along the lines of:
“Do you know these children? Their nanny was completely ignoring them/on her phone the whole time/yelling at them aggressively.”
These posts receive hundreds of comments from outraged moms congratulating the Good Samaritan for bringing the heinous crime to our attention by posting the photo.
But is this trend of publicly shaming nannies a crime in itself?
Is posting a photograph of someone online without their permission, criticizing them for not doing their job properly, defamation? And why is race so often brought into the equation?
What Is Nanny Shaming?
Picture the scene: The sun is beating down on a crowded playground. Children are fractious, moms and nannies are exhausted.
A child starts screaming. A blood-curdling, glass-shattering scream that turns heads and raises eyebrows.
The toddler arches his back, lashes out at his nanny and quite literally throws his toys out of the stroller.
In frustration and humiliation, the nanny physically holds the boy down in his stroller so she can get him the hell out of there as the eyes of the entire playground bore into her.
Instead of casting the nanny a supportive “we’ve all been there” smile or even offering to collect the toys from the floor for her, a woman next to me holds up her phone to capture the scene on camera.
Once satisfied with the image, she starts tapping away, posting the photo on a local mom’s Facebook support group or a website like isawyournanny.
Accompanying the picture is a detailed caption describing the woman, the child and a plea to find his mother to warn her that she has hired a monster.
…And upload. Her work here is done; another nanny successfully shamed.
In fact, while scrolling through Facebook, I have seen various different scenarios like this crop up.
Photos of a nanny shopping with a bored child in a stroller, chatting with friends in the park or glued to her phone while the children in her charge play nearby.
The captions accompanying these pictures all have the same sentiment; how dare they?
“This nanny is totally crazy. Beyond screaming at the boy she was with, telling him that he was a mean boy.”
“This nanny just sits and eats while the little girl runs around hitting other kids.”
“Nanny was very aggressive for no reason. Loud, yelling and physically abusive.”
And the pictures quite often identify both the nanny and the children, like this one:
Or this one:
Nanny shaming is a fairly recent phenomenon.
In the past, if we saw something we deemed to be inappropriate, we would most likely just eavesdrop and have a good stare.
But thanks to social media and smartphones, we now have the capacity to broadcast what we see.
Can These Posts Be Classified As Defamation?
Attorney Mark Pearson at ARC Law Group explains that publishing a false statement of fact that can cause material harm (in other words, damage a nanny’s reputation and subsequently her career) must be proven to win a defamation case.
He believes that although many of the original posters argue that they are exercising their right to free speech, claiming someone is ‘abusing’ a child with no proof (as the pictures often don’t show any form of abuse whatsoever) is, in fact, defamatory.
Although sadly, the risks involved (namely being permanently blacklisted) for a nanny to successfully bring a case against the person who defamed her, hugely outweigh the rewards.
Defamation cases are notoriously hard to win, with only about 13% being successful.
Mark Pearson explains why:
“Defamation cases are civil, not criminal and are expensive to litigate. If a nanny was suing for monetary damages, she would need to prove that she lost a job because her picture was published online.”
‘Publishing’ Has Never Been Easier – And Neither Has Tracking
Christina, a Grenadian nanny for a family on the Upper West Side of New York, blames social media for the rise in nanny shaming.
She says: “Before social media, it was all good but now we have to be on edge about everything.”
It’s ironic that these devices that we carry around with us, that were designed to make communicating easier, have turned us into suspicious, Gestapo-esque, self-absorbed skeptics scared of face-to-face confrontation.
I asked Lindsey Plotnick Berger, the admin of a Facebook group entitled ‘NYC Moms – Upper East Side’ if there is a protocol for policing these posts.
She said the rule of thumb is that a picture should only be posted if the situation is serious enough for an observer to be concerned even if it was the mother who was the culprit. And the children’s faces should be blurred.
Not many of the posts I have seen adhere to these rules…
But the mistrust of nannies runs deeper than the playground police.
In-home surveillance, nanny-cams, and tracking devices have also made it easier than ever to keep tabs on what your nanny is up to, reinforcing the idea that we shouldn’t trust the people we employ to look after our children.
Some parents even take it a step further and hire someone to do their dirty work for them.
Limor Weinstein, otherwise known as ‘The Nanny-Spy‘, charges $350 an hour to follow your nanny (in some cases for up to six weeks) and reports back on what she sees.
Weinstein told me:
“I have spied on nannies that behaved in ways that were inappropriate. I do think that when someone sees a nanny behaving in an inappropriate way they should figure out a way to help an innocent child and try to identify the family.”
All this shaming and subterfuge is starting to impact the way nannies do their job.
Khalia, a nanny in New York, said the trend is making her “jittery” when she is out and about. “No one likes to feel like they are being watched,” she said.
And a friend told me her normally reliable and punctual nanny was 45 minutes late dropping off her daughter.
The nanny explained that the toddler was having a monumental meltdown in the park and she didn’t want to force her into the stroller for fear of her picture appearing online.
The same friend mentioned that her husband recently had to throw their daughter, mid-tantrum, over his shoulder and carry her home.
Instead of his picture being taken, moms threw him appreciative looks, impressed that he was doing his share of the parenting.
Although ‘mannies’ are taking off in Europe, the role of the nanny is predominantly female in The States.
So while female nannies are exposed to scrupulous observation, men are given free rein to parent however they like without fear of public shaming because, well, at least they’re having a go. Bless them.
Although my husband did tell me that someone told him off in the park for leaving our little boy in the sun.
The Relationship Between Nanny and Parent
More and more parents are hiring nannies.
According to the US Census Bureau, an estimated 750,000 preschool children across America are looked after in their homes by a non-relative.
However, the role of the nanny and exactly what is expected of her varies from family to family, making the hiring process awkward for both parties.
Some nannies complain that they receive no overtime, health insurance or vacation days and can work up to 16 hours a day.
While many moms describe the rise of the ‘diva nanny’ who demands the use of a credit card, access to the family’s holiday home and an Uber home after work.
Tammy Gold runs a childcare service called The Nanny Agency and is the author of The Nanny Whisperer.
She explains how sensitive the relationship can be:
“It’s one of the most complex personal/professional relationships there is. There are so many emotions at play when someone’s ‘job’ is caring for another person’s child and when safety, money and personal home lives are involved.”
But this pervading threat of being secretly recorded in the home or called out for not doing your job properly when out in public is putting extra strain on an already fragile relationship.
Nanny Christina says: “It’s sad to see how moms turn it into a war between the mom and the nanny. The trust is broken.”
Mathilde, a nanny of seven years writes: “It is sad that nannies are not trusted by parents. Please give us a little respect.”
Lucie in Denver employs a nanny to look after her one-year-old daughter.
She explains: “I find the parent-nanny relationship to be delicate and much more complicated to manage than a corporate staff member.”
She elaborates: “Because she is caring for my child unsupervised, I never want to risk a disgruntled caregiver.”
Which is a good point.
Who holds the cards in this relationship?
Although many nannies would argue that they are at the mercy of their wealthy employer in their home, many moms are hesitant to offend or upset the woman who looks after her child all day.
Perhaps all this shaming is in some way an attempt by mothers to tip the scales back in their direction, reminding nannies of their place in the pecking order?
So Why Do Moms Nanny Shame?
I have asked myself many times when I see these posts, what I would have done in the same situation and I can honestly say that the very last thing I would do is take a photo and post it online.
Almost all of the posts claim to have the same goal: identify and alert the family for the sake of the poor, innocent child.
Here are some disturbing examples:
But is helping the child really what these posts are about?
If you genuinely thought a child was in danger at the hands of her caregiver, would you believe that taking a photo was sufficient?
Her view is this:
“Perhaps the question someone should ask themselves is, ‘Would I call the police about this? Is the child being hurt or endangered?’ If this woman is the child’s mother and not the nanny, would I feel the need to say something?”
So if this doesn’t apply and the mom’s actions are potentially not out of genuine concern for the well-being of the child, what is the psychology behind this need to shame?
Grace is a nanny in Brooklyn New York.
She believes it is due to a “cocktail of power, boredom, and lack of empathy. These privileged moms just like to stir the pot.”
She says: “Generally, the people who do this are wealthy white women who have never even done basic menial work like waiting tables, so (they) don’t understand what it is to feel uncomfortable in the workplace.”
Perhaps it has something to do with the ‘internet warrior‘ mentality, when people behave in an inflammatory manner online, typing things from the safety of their phone or computer that they would never dare say to someone’s face.
Another theory is that the need to ‘expose’ these women is linked to our human desire to feel significant, as explained by Tony Robbins’ Six Human Needs.
Robbins says; “There’s not a person on the planet who doesn’t want to feel important or needed.”
Maybe that’s exactly what these moms get out of it, a feeling that they are providing an ‘eyes and ears’ service to their community.
And this online community can be crucial to many moms struggling with isolation, who perhaps feel an urge to close ranks and turn on ‘outsiders.’
Plenty of comments share this sentiment:
“As moms, we need to look out for each other.”
“Thank you for looking out for our children.”
“Thank God for people like you. You did the right thing putting it on Facebook. This is a wake-up call to all parents who leave their children in the care of a nanny.”
Psychologist Dr. Christie Hartman, who sits on our medical review team, can see the value in speaking up in cases where a child may be experiencing potential abuse, but she admits, “this also feels like an excellent vehicle for people to judge and create drama.”
And who doesn’t love an online spat?
I must admit, some of the arguments that unfold in the comments underneath these posts make for a good read.
For example, one member of a mom group wrote; “I doubt most people in white-collar jobs are being videotaped by random strangers and judged online. White privilege.”
To which another member replied; “Oh please. Yeah, that’s what all these posts are, white privilege. Yawn. You detract from potential nanny abuse with this garbage.”
Pass the popcorn.
But, for goodness sake, can someone please think of the children?!
Mom Lucie sums it up nicely:
“I’d love to know how often nanny shaming results in actual upside for the children. I’d like to believe that some shaming is well-intentioned, to do the right thing by the child, but shamers can never have the full story and if they did, they should just engage in a human-to-human conversation and seek to help.”
And if these bastions of the community did engage in human-to-human conversation, perhaps they would realize that they didn’t grasp the whole story in their hastily snapped photo.
A Picture Is Not The Whole Picture
‘Two-year-olds are awful. Sometimes you need to yell at them.’ – Kate
Let’s be clear. This is a difficult and divisive topic that splits opinion amongst nannies and moms alike.
It is an issue that has become even more sensitive since the shocking 2012 case in which a nanny murdered two children in her care on the Upper West Side of New York.
Moms have a right to be anxious when they leave their child with someone who is, essentially, a stranger.
However, do they have the right to defame these strangers in this manner?
Many believe that they do.
Rachel in New York writes: “If it saves one child, it is worth it. When you see something, say something. These are our children. Nothing more precious. It is hard for me to understand a parent who doesn’t think a child’s safety is number one.”
Alisa, in Los Angeles agrees: “This is someone’s most precious thing in the whole entire world. I had a tracker in my stroller and tracked my nanny without her knowing. I don’t give a damn about her feelings. This is my child and I want to know where he is at all times.”
And Limor Weinstein, the nanny spy, believes posting a photo can be very useful. She says: “The benefits of sharing a photo of a nanny without her permission is to convey the message of community and caring and more specifically to the nannies that they should be aware of their behavior because someone might be watching.”
There have been instances when the mom was tracked down thanks to nanny shaming.
Lindsey explained that when a photo appeared on ‘NYC Moms – Upper East Side’ of a nanny getting her nails done while the baby in her charge screamed in her stroller, the horrified mom saw the picture and immediately fired the nanny.
So not necessarily one for 911…but clearly something the mom was not OK with.
But many moms do not agree with shaming.
Carly, a new mom says: “I would absolutely want to know if my child was being mistreated by a nanny. But I trust my circle of caregivers more than I do a photo on Facebook.”
I asked her what she would do if she saw a nanny behaving inappropriately:
“I would approach the nanny and do anything from asking if they’re OK to letting them know that I saw what they did.
I don’t think posting a picture would ever be an effective choice. I particularly don’t trust someone who claims they thought the child was in danger and walked away.”
Amy agrees: “Standing up when you think a child is in danger is brave. Posting a photo to a Facebook group is not.”
And many of the nannies that I have spoken to agree that a paparazzi-style photo does not tell the whole story.
Grace is repulsed by nanny shaming:
“Sometimes you HAVE to shout at children and physically restrain them. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve had to throw a screaming child over my shoulder. I probably look like a kidnapper.
But if your nanny does not discipline, her charges will walk all over her and she will have no influence and that would be a great injustice for the kids.”
She adds: “Oftentimes, the person who posted the picture only witnessed a 30-45 second interaction. There is little context.”
And furthermore, the person who took the photo has no way of knowing if the parent has given the nanny permission to shout at the child in her care, go shopping while the child sits in the stroller, or use her phone to make personal calls.
Kate, a mother-of-two told me she couldn’t care less if her nanny yells at her two-year-old. ‘Two-year-olds are awful. Sometimes you need to yell at them.’
Carolyn from Hand in Hand said:
“No bystander or casual observer can know what parenting or childcare philosophies a parent has or what agreement they’ve reached with the childcare provider they employ.”
And Limor Weinstein adds:
“I’ve seen several photos of nannies shopping with the child they are watching posted on a mom’s Facebook group with the goal of shaming the nanny and finding the family. Some moms don’t care when their nannies take the babies shopping.”
And more often than not, many nannies are left reeling at the hypocrisy of it all.
In a particularly heated exchange on Facebook, Michelle wrote: “I see a lot of moms on their phones and not paying attention to their own kids…will you be taking pictures of them as well?”
And nanny Christina believes there are double standards when it comes to shaming: “I see kids fall in the park and bust their lips open and the mum is just talking with her friends. If that was a nanny, her picture would be everywhere.’‘
In a thread about how outrageous it was that a nanny had been spotted yelling at her charges, a mom confessed that she sometimes has to yell at her children.
To which a nanny replied: “So it’s ok for you to yell at your children but not the nanny?”
Grace agrees that the double-standards at play are frustrating:
“Parents are just as bad if not worse. I spend a lot of time in playgrounds and before parents start pointing fingers, they should first hold themselves to the same standards as the nannies they hire.”
What if we turned the tables and started shaming anyone and everyone who appeared not to be doing their job properly?
Shall we start taking pictures of construction workers playing Candy Crush on their phones? Or waitresses chatting behind the bar?
There would be several photos of me watching movie trailers on YouTube if someone spied on me at my place of work.
Carolyn from Hand in Hand agrees:
“When we employers are talking together within Hand in Hand, we often ask ourselves how we’d like to be treated in our own workplaces. Being surveilled and publicly shamed has got to be one of the worst things we could imagine experiencing on the job!”
But it all boils down to the way nannying as a profession is viewed; menial, domestic work to be carried out by uneducated and unqualified individuals.
Grace says about childcare:
“It is not valued or respected. Domestic workers are treated as second class citizens.
It is easy to see childcare professionals this way when the majority of employers are the nanny shaming type (wealthy, limited labor experience, sheltered) and the majority of the employees are women, many of whom are not literate, not fluent in English and not documented.”
The awkward truth that we have been dancing around up until this point, is the fact that many of the nannies being shamed are women of color while the women doing the shaming are white, taking the offensiveness of these posts to a whole new level.
Why Race Is A Contributing Factor
Aside from publishing someone’s photo without their knowledge or consent (oftentimes revealing the identity of the child in the process), claiming that the nanny is ‘abusing’ a child and therefore potentially damaging her career, there is often an even more troubling undercurrent running through many of these posts.
Throughout the United States, the majority of white children are cared for by non-white nannies, an arrangement that can be traced back for centuries.
Carolyn from Hand in Hand explains:
“Nannying is domestic work, and the history of domestic work in the U.S. is connected to the legacy of slavery. When labor rights were being established, lawmakers agreed to exclude domestic workers and farmworkers, two mostly black workforces.”
She believes that the modern concept of nanny shaming, micro-managing, and spying is an extension of this outdated attitude:
“It’s hard not to see an echo of this in the impulse to correct and control the behavior of nannies, who are largely women of color to this day.
White women on the playground may not be aware of this, but that’s what living in a white-supremacist society does, it influences your unconscious behaviors.”
The awkward reality is that when the majority of nannies are non-white, caring for little white children, it is easy to assume that the woman is not the child’s mother.
And this crops up time and time again on Facebook.
Underneath a recent post, one mom expressed her gratitude to the informant.
“I would want to know! Thanks for posting. And thanks for being brave in doing so as you open yourself up to being bashed for it (‘what makes you even think she’s not the mom because her skin color is different to the baby, you must be a racist!’)”
Christina, the Grenadian nanny, believes there is undoubtedly a race issue:
“Some moms tell you they don’t want black women looking after their kids, especially Jamaicans because they’re too rough with the kids.”
And of course, there was the infamous incident when a mother accidentally sent a mortifying message, intended for her husband, to a woman she hired to be her child’s nanny.
The text read; ‘NOOOOOOOOOOO ANOTHER BLACK PERSON.’
Upon discovering her mistake, she then fired the nanny (who had been recommended by an agency) claiming it would be ‘uncomfortable’ to work together. Indeed.
One Facebook user sums up the situation perfectly.
“What I hate about these posts is that 90% of the time they only call out the nanny if she is a different race than the kids.
Nobody seems to see all the shitty nannies that are the same race as the kids because everybody assumes they are the parents. This subtle racism has got to stop.”
And this subtle racism is a contributing factor in the divide between moms and nannies; the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality reminiscent of the power-dynamic at play in the bestselling novel and movie ‘The Help‘, set in the 1960s.
Has nothing changed in almost sixty years?
In one of the Facebook groups of which I am a member, a user wrote that nannies “do not belong in this group, it is for moms.” To which a nanny replied: “I am a mom too.”
In a nutshell, we turn a blind eye to a mom ‘abusing’, ‘neglecting’ or ‘ignoring’ her child but when we see women of color behaving in the same way with a white baby, we shame her for it.
Why? Well, because parents have the right to raise their children how they see fit.
But if we apply the reasoning behind why many of these posts appear, namely out of concern for the child, surely it shouldn’t make a difference? A child in danger is a child in danger.
So What Can We Do About Nanny Shaming?
“Shaming women based on what they do or who they are doesn’t get us very far in women’s equality. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect”. – Carolyn Silveira, Hand in Hand
Let’s picture that scene again of the busy playground and the screaming toddler.
If the woman next to me approached the nanny and asked her if she needed any help instead of taking her picture, she might have discovered that the woman’s employer had just texted to say there had been a family emergency and she needed to come home at once.
And the supposed ‘abuse’ of the child would all make sense.
Happily, I have seen posts when the shaming has been rectified, like this one:
“To the mom who posted about my wonderful nanny, you made a terrible mistake.
While I think it’s wonderful that we look out for one another please make sure before posting a picture of someone else’s nanny doing something wrong and calling them a criminal that it is accurate.
My poor nanny was hysterical last night and I felt totally betrayed to find out it was all a terrible mistake.”
Another one that (hopefully) made the original poster think twice before shaming again:
“A few weeks ago a stranger intruded on the peace of our family with distressing results.
My nanny returned home in the afternoon and reported that a woman took her picture from across the street while she was tending to my twin 3-yr old daughters, and then quickly boarded a bus and disappeared.
What the stranger observed was obviously a charged moment, not unlike many that occur during the course of a week with toddlers. The photo was posted to this Facebook group along with text that accused my nanny of abusive behavior.
I was made aware of this post and the ensuing comments by a concerned mother at the girls’ school.
As a single parent, I rely completely upon the help I receive from family, friends, and caregivers, with whom I have open and honest lines of communication.
I trust my nanny explicitly. I have no doubt that whatever was being said was appropriate and necessary.
For a stranger, it is offensive enough to interfere on this most intimate relationship, but to whip up public scorn casually is unkind. For anyone joining that chorus of disapproval, I say, look to yourself.”
If communication was encouraged, rather than covert photo-taking, the divide between moms and nannies could be reduced.
Carolyn from Hand in Hand writes:
“As employers of nannies, we should be thinking about how we can create a good work environment, we wouldn’t expect anything less from our workplaces.
Instead of reinforcing racist biases, we have a chance as mothers and as women to lift up each other.
Shaming women based on what they do or who they are doesn’t get us very far in women’s equality. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Perhaps we also need to change our attitude towards believing that the only person who knows how to raise a child is the parent.
Nannies not only give the parent the freedom to have a career and provide opportunities for the family but also gives the child another invaluable pillar of support in his or her life.
The relationship between the child and his or her nanny can be deeply meaningful (you really should watch ‘The Help’ if you haven’t seen it).
Carmen, a nanny in New York, explains that when a nanny is treated with respect, the role that she plays within the family can be unparalleled:
“I’ve been there for learning to ride a bike, first crushes, bra shopping and through her mother’s divorce, chemo treatment and surgery.
I can be reached before any other family member. I have gone above and beyond because I have been treated as an equal and not the help.”
And finally, let’s change our attitude towards how nannies do their jobs.
Looking after children (especially when they’re not your own) is hard work; physically and mentally exhausting and often, mind-numbingly boring.
If nannies want to meet up with friends for some support during the day, or perhaps speak to their family on the phone, or heaven forbid pop into a shop while caring for a child, so be it.
Let’s try and see the bigger picture. A happy nanny will obviously do a better job of caring for your child.
As nanny Mathilde says: “We are humans, not robots! And we love our charges as the parents do.”
Jackie, a nanny for nearly 20 years agrees: “I don’t think people understand. We love these children that we care for. They are like our children.”
Let’s trust these women, who are doing (in the words of the shamers themselves) ‘the most important job in the world’ and cut them some slack.
Because domestic workers make all other work possible.