Danger, Will Robinson!

Would you accept babysitter advice from this woman?


Why would you hire a male babysitter for your children?


That’s really the question posed by (and, in readers’ minds, to) Washington Post writer Petula Dvorak, who, with sons whose ages she does not reveal, recently hired a male babysitter.


Despite the fact that, as she notes, “in one government study of sexual assaults on children, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 96 percent of the offenders they studied were male”.


So, if 96% of people attacking children were named Smith, you would hire a sitter named Smith?


Her new sitter came prepared. According to Dvorak, he showed up on his first day “with a photocopy of his driver’s license, one for me and one for the school where he would be picking up my younger son. ‘Just because. People want to be sure,’ he explained.”


Dvorak doesn’t mention whether she asked for photocopies. And while I understand that the school may require one, what does a driver’s license prove in terms of fitness to responsibly care for children, anyway? All it means is he passed his driver’s test. So did most – perhaps all – of men who attack children. You remember, the 96%. The fact that the guy was so eager to proffer photocopies of it, presumably before Dvorak asked, sends up red flags.


Dvirak notes that she’s known this man’s mother for years, and he is, in her opinion, “a man whose caring and kindness aren’t in question”.


Yes, well, someone must have known other abusers’ moms for years, too. The fact that mothers are found in shock, in tears, after revelations of their sons’ crimes is evidence that some boys and men don’t tell their mothers what they are like inside. William Landay’s bestseller Defending Jacob makes that clear.


Plus, the sitter’s “caring and kindness” should be in question. That’s the point, isn’t it? To keep tabs on the person caring for your children. To take nothing for granted.


I’ve refused to re-hire a babysitter for cheating at board games. If you cheat at playing Monopoly with a kid, what other rules might you break? The young woman was otherwise “caring and kind”, but her lack of ethics upset and worried my eldest child, and I listened to that. It’s important to listen to your children and especially to your gut, as Gavin de Becker points out.


If you ignore your gut in favor of cognition (“hiring only female sitters is sexist”), you and your children risk paying a high price.


Dvorak: “I can say this: My boys have thrived with him in charge. The homework wars have disappeared, because my older son is so anxious to impress the sitter with his work. . . . I can’t say that I would’ve chosen ‘Nacho Libre’ as a movie to watch with them. But what the heck, the luchador [wrestling] masks they got from Dad’s Mexican business trip needed a raison d’etre. And I do love Jack Black.” 


I don’t know how old these kids are, but Jack Black? Please. How do Jack Black’s roles present good exemplars? They don’t. Do you want your kids to run around at home imitating Jack Black? How about in public?


(I once banned “Calvin & Hobbes” for a week because my own son was imitating Calvin’s nose-thumbing heedlessness. If he had modified his behavior after seven days, I explained, the books would return, with the caveat that future Calvinism would result in longer bans. It worked.)


I hope Dvorak doesn’t have reason to regret her choice. The older son “is so anxious” to impress the sitter? I wonder about that dynamic. How often is Dad away on business trips or other matters? Are the boys desperate for a father figure? Ask Jerry Sandusky’s victims about that, and the survivors of Roman Catholic priest abuse.


This male babysitter works at his church’s Sunday school? Red flag, again. Why is he so eager to get in close proximity to kids in multiple venues? And, I would note, venues where he is probably not being watched by female adults.


If I were Dvorak . . . well, I would not have hired this guy in the first place. Having done so, I’d examine my over-defensive posture.


I certainly would, at the minimum, talk to my children, even – especially! – the youngest, about abuse and signs and what to watch out for (including porn, which is used by abusers for grooming) . . . and that they must tell Mom and Dad about any and all abuse, even if the babysitter (as is common) threatens the boys with further harm, and particularly if he threatens to harm Mom and Dad. Second, I would hide a few cameras around the house and check their images on a frequent basis.


Frankly, I would let the guy go. However you feel about sexism – and I am no fan – these are your young children, who rely on you to make wise choices and protect them from adults who intend to inflict pain and harm. The pain footprint that abusers leave is immense and intense, and it lasts a lifetime.


Danger, Will Robinson!




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Filed under Assault, Babysitter, Children, Jimmy Savile, Morality, Pain, Pain footprint, Risk analysis, Sexual assault

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