Cooper and her daughter, Anna, in June, 2014. Photo by Mike Cooper
When Jenna Cooper got home from work last August and heard that another mother in her Brooklyn neighborhood called the cops on her nanny, her immediate reaction was fear. “I heard the word ‘police,’ and got really nervous,” Cooper, a lawyer in Brooklyn, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But after my nanny Nicki explained the situation to me, my worry turned to anger and disbelief.” Turned out Nicki had been at the park with Cooper’s daughter, Anna, who often took her afternoon nap in her stroller. On this day, Anna was crying before she fell asleep, which wasn’t unusual. “My daughter has a strong set of lungs, and she sometimes cries when she’s put down to nap, as I imagine many kids do,” she says. “Since we did sleep training with her when she was very young, we’re fine with that — as Nicki knows.”
Not so fine was a local mother, who approached Nicki and asked why the baby was crying, and why Nicki wasn’t doing anything about it. After hearing Nicki’s explanation, the mother accused her of neglect — and then called the cops. “Anna did in fact fall asleep,” Cooper says. “And when the cops showed up, they laughed that they were called in.”
While most parents would probably agree that it takes a village, intervening in someone else’s childcare is a big step, and not one to be taken lightly, says Dr. Erica Reischer, a psychologist and parenting coach in Oakland, California. “Let health and safety be your guide,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “If a nanny or babysitter is on the phone and not paying attention and the kid is playing by the pool, you might politely say something. But sometimes we take for granted that the way we parent is how everyone parents, and it’s important to remember and respect that we all do it differently.”
Cooper says she felt horrible for Nicki, who has been watching one-year-old Anna since she was four months. “I couldn’t believe someone would call the cops because a baby was crying for a few minutes,” she says. “That’s what babies do!” Feeling helpless, but wanting to protect and defend her nanny and also her parenting style, Cooper wrote a letter to her neighborhood listserv.
“As I told our nanny, if she had let my daughter crawl/play around unsupervised, I would obviously have a serious problem and would appreciate someone looking out for my daughter’s safety,” she wrote. “But the fact that she let her cry before a nap is totally par for the course and in my mind does not constitute anything close to neglect. (If you think it does, you should call the cops on me, too.) We happen to love and trust our nanny, as does my daughter, who cheers and squeals with joy when she walks in our house in the morning. While I appreciate that parents in the neighborhood are keeping a watchful eye while some of us are working, let’s remember that getting the police involved is a serious decision and one that should be reserved for obvious cases of neglect/abuse, not merely situations that exemplify child-rearing styles different than one’s own.”
Her neighborhood rallied around her. “In a world of internet intemperance and incendiary outbursts, you have written a response to provocation that is a model of sanity and reason,” wrote one local dad.
But a mom in California, who encountered a similar situation when a fellow shopper asked her to quiet her screaming child, didn’t have such a level-headed reaction, according to local news. Natalie Bree Hajek-Richardson told KPIX 5 that she asked a mom at the local Nordstrom to calm her son, who was having a tantrum, and that the mother started screaming at her. “She came to the side of me and told me not to tell her child what to do. And I told her that I didn’t ask your child what to do, I asked you very nicely to calm down your child just a little bit,” Hajek-Richardson said. After Hajek-Richardson left the store, she says the mother followed her to the parking lot and punched her twice in the face.
Reischer calls Cooper’s email a “smart, rational” response and, of course, a better choice than violence. But what if your neighborhood doesn’t have an email listserve? How do you react when other people step in, unwanted, and you’re not around to stand up for your choices? “You can’t keep people from crossing boundaries, especially with parenting,” Reischer says. “If it happens to you, remind yourself that the other person’s actions are less about you and your parenting and more about them and their worldview.”