Pin It
Thursday, January 24th, 2013

I’m Your Nanny, Do You Really Trust Me?

Do You Trust Your Nannny? via Shutterstock

The first week of my new job coincided with the heavily media-covered murder of two children by their nanny in the Upper East Side of New York City. This horrific tragedy, in which the young siblings were brutally stabbed to death before the killer tried to take her own life, was a frequent subject of conversation between me and my boss in our first days together.


My new employer also came pre-traumatized. She had worked in the family court system doing psych profiling. While on one hand she could feel safer as she was trained to identify instability, on the other hand she had witnessed humanity’s worst impulses first hand. I was glad she felt comfortable with me; it made me feel saner just to have her approval.


As I shadowed her and learned the particular routine of their household, I noticed her studying me, holding eye contact a little longer than normal, a searching of sorts. I smiled back knowing that only the passage of time would ultimately soothe her. I tried to show her in my manner what she needed to know about my character. I hoped by acknowledging the tragedy together, I could help assure her that I was different.


Within a week another crime involving a nanny and a knife appeared in the news. In Missouri, a caretaker had fatally stabbed her own child and one left in her care, her motive supposedly retaliation towards her child’s father. My new boss, now working in broadcasting, explained that the news cycle thrives on finding related stories to the big news items since, “They want to get as much juice out of it as they can.” Nevertheless I could tell she was tempted to say before leaving (though she did not), “Please don’t stab my baby.” Even now, over a month in, she says, “thank you” a lot more than she needs to. This could be because, similar to dating, we’re still in the honeymoon period. It could also be because she thinks it will increase her baby’s chance of survival.


When details emerged as to “Nanny Killer’s” motives, it was all the more unsettling. She had been angry over added housework she had been assigned in exchange for extra cash. My new employer made a big deal of my having no other duties outside of watching the baby. “If you can clean the bottles, great! But if not, don’t worry about it!” She tried to bridge whatever gulf there might be between us. Because if servitude is what breeds resentment and that is what leads to violence, well…..


On my own and during off hours, the story rolled around in my head. The crime was so unthinkable to me. So impossible to comprehend. Isn’t that always the hardest part of interacting with other humans though?  The inability to ever fully understand anyone outside of yourself?  It is the divide between us that leads to the necessity of trust. Because we can’t be sure of what is going on with each other we must have faith in one another’s intentions. And it is easier to trust those we think are similar to ourselves.


Does my new employer feel safer because I’m white? She might.


On websites like Urban Baby, signs of latent and overt racism quickly appeared after the crime. It highlighted that even as people trust their caregivers, ignorance remains. One commenter suggested that the crime might have been avoided by not “hiring Mexicans,” even though the accused nanny is Dominican. The same women who bragged that their nannies taught their children Spanish, quickly found themselves distrustful. Maybe we don’t know them as well as we thought we did. Maybe they are hiding something from us.


The New York Times published a profile piece about Yoselyn Ortega in the days after the crime. As I read the headline, “Life was Chaos for Nanny Accused of Killing Two Children,” I couldn’t help but think that only under these circumstances would people care who she was, the state of her mental health or what her life was like. Generally speaking, no one concerns themselves much over their nannies’ personal lives. It is only in these moments of shock that we take time for reflection.


Most of the time we take for granted the success of the systems on which we rely and most of the time they don’t fail us.  This is true of the relationship between Americans and those who take care of their kids. Many more parents hurt their own children than do caregivers, and of course the grand majority of nannies would never hurt their charges. But collective fear is based on the exception, the rare possibility. We don’t fear the mundane but the unusual. That’s why airplane crashes are scarier than those in cars even while far less common.  That’s why we fear strangers when we are more likely to be hurt by family. We fear the things we have no control over and often ignore the perils we can prevent, then we go about living our lives in spite of it.  Only now across America working mothers will look a second longer at their nannies faces as they shut the front door.


© 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Are Germans Really Rude?

This German dad shares his thoughts

The West's Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

How the West sleeps is different from the rest

Is all the Hard Work of Bilingualism Really Paying Off?

I just found out the surprising answer.

10 Best World Maps for Your Children’s Room

Because every little global citizen needs a map


Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsInCultureParent | Why Being a Working Mother is Better   |  Monday, 18 March 2013 at 1:07 pm

    […] studies I have read tend to focus on childcare, who is the next-best person to look after the child(ren) in question, how long the mother should be at home with the child before starting work and so on. […]

  2.   |  Friday, 04 December 2015 at 7:08 pm

    This is a sad incident to read about and very unfortunate considering that you were at a new job, but unfortunately these things happen and the only thing a nanny can do is to prove herself through dedication and hard work.

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More Other People's Parenting