Male Babysitters: How To Think Through Fear And Gut Reactions

I am scared of male babysitters.  There.  I said it.  Actually, I feel terror at the thought of them.  It’s not fair, and it’s gender discrimination and if I was a corporation you could sue me and if I was a state agency I would be in H-O-T water.  But, I am just a mom of two kids who I am trying to keep safe, and I am too damn scared to deal with a male babysitter.

Resource for preventing Sexual Abuse (image from Amazon.com)

Resource for preventing Sexual Abuse (image from Amazon.com)

It’s not about all men (though I have mentioned this before here). I trust my husband more than myself with my children.  The same is true of many of my friends’ husbands and partners.  But I read too many articles about Penn State and the Catholic Church, so when I encounter a male babysitter, my deep-seated inner panic siren flares.

Every Thursday I attend a meeting that provides childcare, so I bring my kids.  We’ve been going to this meeting for years, so we know the kids and their mothers.  It’s been a nurturing and safe environment for us.  Recently, there was some turnover with the babysitter and the meeting is trying out some new candidates.  Yesterday’s candidate, “Robert.”

I saw the email introducing Robert and my stomach lurched.  Robert? What? A male babysitter?  So many questions swirled in my head– none of which ever occurred to me when we were trying out Jessica or Katie or Olivia.  I was uncomfortable with my fear, but I couldn’t see around it.  It was bigger than me.  I heard other mothers voice concerns.  Per routine, a background check was performed, and it came back stellar.  The only problem with Robert? He was a man.

To deal with my terror without punishing an innocent man, I suggested that my nanny, S., serve as the second babysitter.  I trust her implicitly and believe that having a second adult in the room would give us a chance to get comfortable.  I told my S. about my fears about Robert, totally owning that they were terrors born of my own experience and not a reflection on Robert.

I dropped S. and my two kids off in the childcare room, after introducing myself to Robert, who struck me as gentle and professional.

But, he’s still a man.  I have no idea how to evaluate where risks are for my children.  I don’t want to teach them that all men are molesters, but I don’t want to send them out in the world without tools or information.  But what information should I give them?

Honestly, I don’t think I would leave my kids with a male childcare provider who I didn’t know well.  It’s not fair but I don’t have to be fair when it comes to my kids.

When I got the letter informing me about Sadie’s new preschool teacher, I was grateful she was a woman, because….well, because of all this.  If Sadie had gotten a male teacher, what would I have done? I have no idea.  But you would have heard all about it.

Have you encountered the prospect of a male babysitter/childcare provider?  Did you feel fear? How have you dealt with it? How can we teach our children without scaring them or unfairly setting them up to mistrust all men/women?

Click here for the Amazon link to Off Limits, by Sandy Wurtele.

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24 thoughts on “Male Babysitters: How To Think Through Fear And Gut Reactions

  1. I think most women feel the way you do but wouldn’t admit it, so props on that.

    That said, as someone with criminal experience I cannot let this kind of stuff go by without reminding everyone that statistically, your kid is SAFER with the provider you don’t know than with your trusted friends and family. The vast majority of sexual abuse comes from just the people you know and trust. These stories don’t make it into the media so we develop this exposure bias from the stories we do hear.

    My son had 2 male therapists and while I initially regarded them with suspicion (why did men want to do early childhood work?) I found them to be just as caring and competent as women. If anything, my son seemed to have a stronger connection with them than he did with his female providers.

    I know we all have the things we are crazy about that we just let ourselves be crazy about. And if this is it for you, you should give yourself a pat on the back cuz there are worse things.

  2. I don’t have the particular issue with men v. women but all strangers that I haven’t vetted for myself. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me quitting my job and wanting to be home with my kids is that I can’t stomach the thought of them being violated and it would be my fault for not being there. I don’t think I will EVER let them go to sleepovers. EVER.

    I think it is right to vet the people that spend time with your children, especially while they are young and vulnerable. Trust your gut.

    Also, consider the circumstances. The people that prey on children are around them repeatedly and have the opportunity to get them alone. That is never going to be the young kid who makes a buck watching rugrats for a couple of hours at meetings or gym time.

    This was my long-winded way of saying, I get this.

    • Oh there will be no sleepovers. Isn’t it sad how scary it all is. And I agree about leaving work to keep them safe. I know I can totally protect, of course, but I sure wish I could.

  3. I have three boys and one girl. We have a neighbor that eyes our whole family with suspicion because of all the filthy males running around this household ;) Believe me, you cannot trust women anymore than you can trust men. Women get a free pass and they shouldn’t. They aren’t any less dangerous and your comfort level “just because they don’t have a hoo-hoo” can be easily exploited.

    Regrettably, I have experience (not in hiring but as a child) and I know very well that women can be abusive, violent, twisted and cruel.

    Don’t trust anyone unless they’ve given you a reason to trust them. Personally, I think having more than one caregiver in any situation involving children is a good idea. Especially if the “more than one” has no reason to cover for the other person.

    Despite the media coverage, the Catholic Church isn’t the only organization employing Chester the Molester. The media makes it seem as though the only pedophiles in the world are priests, but that’s far from the case. Some of our extended family worked for the local public schools and, believe me, I could curl your hair with a few stories–and cover ups.

    • Thank you for being willing to have this conversation. It’s too easy to let sensational stories cloud the truth: women can and do perpetrate as well. It’s no less painful. I am sorry for what you have suffered but grateful you can remind us of the sobering truth.

  4. I love that you are brave enough to confront this subject! I’ve never had a male sitter for my two girls, but I have allowed select sitters to bring boyfriends along on evening jobs. Lizzie had a male aid in 1st grade and a male teacher in 3rd which didn’t bother me at all. Katherine has had mostly male coaches. It’s important that the setting doesn’t allow for 1:1 time…always a group…always in “public”–gym not locker room. Safety in numbers. One guy in my house with my girls? Probably not.

    The Chicago Catholic church actually requires a sex abuse awareness course for all employees and volunteers who work with kids (I’m not letting them off the hook for any wrong doing, but it’s a good step). It is a horrifying 3 hours but good info for parents. Men are more likely to sexually abuse.. an abuser is not often a stranger. My kids are away at summer camp…did the unthinkable cross my mind? You bet. Do I want to limit their life experiences? No. Did I have a refresher talk with them? Yes. I also remind them regularly about safe adults in their life who would always listen and always believe their story…in case they are not comfortable coming to me. I think there were a lot of topics I didn’t want to discuss with my mom. I would have liked to have had another adult to go to free of judgment.
    As parents, we have to listen to the “uh oh” feeling and do what feels right for the situation.

    • I have told Jeff that I really want my kids to do sports because I never did and I am a horrible team player. But then I feel afraid about locker rooms and coaches –male and female– and it scares me. Or older kids. Jees, danger could be anywhere/everywhere. There was a very suspicious cook at my grammar school who used to take boys camping. My parents went to the principle and complained and forbid my brother from going. I only now love them so much more for doing that for us, and for other kids, even though I didn’t get it until I had children. He was super creepy and there were some issues with his boundaries.

      Ugh. Thanks for weighing in. It’s going to be a line to walk for the rest of my life. And giving them other adults to talk to is brilliant. Great suggestion.

  5. My teenager suffered permanent brain damage while in the care of a male babysitter, but as Carinn mentioned in her comment, he wasn’t a stranger. He was married to one of my friends who’d agreed to watch Jordan in the mornings for a few hours. So these days, no one takes care of my kids but immediate family and very expensive private preschools. Over-correction of a rare circumstance, but you have to trust your instincts the second and third time around. I failed to trust them on the first.

    • That’s a very harrowing phrase: “permanent brain damage.”. It makes my heart ache for you and Jordan. I am now scanning my instincts hoping they work super well. My therapist says at some point you have to turn kids over to their higher powers (god or whatnot), but it makes me sick. I remember the first time I let our nanny drive Sadie to Gymboree, 1.5 miles away. I had major GI issues that whole week. She texted me before they left, when they got there, and when they were leaving, and when they got back home.

      Parenting. Not for the faint of heart.

  6. Geez. I hadn’t even thought of that because I’m barely able to leave Beckett with his 25 year old sister, much less anyone else. I have two completely competent young high school-aged women begging to babysit and I can’t even let go of him for that yet. I think I may need the number of your therapist.

    Kudos to you for being brave enough to start this conversation. It’s not an easy one to have.

  7. It’s all scary. I have to say though, I have two boys and their favorite babysitters have been guys. One was the son of a work colleague who was also a counselor at the camp my older son went to. Others have been kids of friends. I had to fire a female nanny for leaving my 3yo unattended in the bath. Luckily it was only moments before I caught her so nothing bad happened. It is scary what can happen and in the end everyone has to do what makes them feel safest.

    • That’s so scary– leaving a child alone in the bath. Ugh. Your comment reminded me that when I was a camp counselor I was surrounded by some amazing, nurturing, selfless people– half of whom were men. Perhaps because the topic is so scary, I long for a rule that gives me the illusion of control. It’s just an illusion.

  8. You know what? It may not be fair or politically correct, but who cares? Once your child has been abused, you can’t push an ‘undo’ button. It will always be with them, and for me, that means whatever you feel you need to do to protect them is what you should do. The fact is, statistically, men are far, far more likely to abuse than women, so in my opinion, if you weren’t afraid, you would be foolish.

  9. I’m gonna have to go ahead and leave a comment that might piss some people off. Apologies in advance. I have some of the same feelings as you, and I know it’s not necessarily “right” or founded in anything. One time last year we had one of O’s teachers babysit her. I was sure he was gay and that made me feel more comfortable about it for some reason. Then later we found out that he has a girlfriend and I wasn’t as comfortable anymore. There. I said it too.

    • I know what you mean. When we were little, we had a boy babysitter, mark. I cried and cried and wouldn’t come out of my room when he was there. What was that about? I get nervous thinking about what I was afraid of. But I have literally always this fear.

  10. I am so thrilled you included a picture of Off Limits, and hope you found our suggestions for screening babysitters/teachers (male and female) useful…as all comments have touched on, you can’t identify a potential abuser by gender, sexual orientation, or position…but you can make everyone aware that your kid is off-limits to being used sexually. Kudos!! Sandy Wurtele

    • Sandy! What a happy surprise to see your comment. I appreciate the work you do on behalf of kids and families. It’s a tough topic, but I don’t want to ignore it just because it scares me.

  11. Oh god, I wish I hadn’t read this – especially just a few days before our new nanny starts. In any case, all we can do is teach them and release them into the world.

    • Ooooh, right. It’s tough. But you got your nanny from great sources and it turns out that we should be more “afraid” of our family members. And as soon as possible, let’s get the kids in tae kwon do (sp)!

  12. As in Erica’s example above, where it was the husband of a friend, it can be anyone in a household. I quit using one sitter because I didn’t like what I was hearing from my young children about her older children’s actions (her kids were maybe in grade five or six). It’s a very scary world out there.

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