Is this your babá?


I’m starting this series because I’m tired of witnessing what I feel is nanny negligence and not knowing what to do. Is it appropriate if I tell your babá to get off the damn phone when she is crossing this street with your child? You tell me. I once called the police on a nanny in NYC.

Maybe you are OK with your helper releasing the hand of your young one so she can walk ahead in the park – while still on the phone.


But it makes me uncomfortable.

This nanny has three star tatoos on her neck and was with a little blond boy 3-4 years old.   Location – Higienópolis, Parque Buenos Aires. If she works for you – maybe you tell her to pay more attention to your child – and that others are watching her.

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22 Responses to Is this your babá?

  1. Kristin says:

    AAAAAAAGHHHHH!! One of the reasons I fired my baba! The maid is terrible on the cell at phone but not when she is with my kids. And I have stalked her. Yes, I have. But you may stalk her too and I hope if you catch her, you will tell her off. I like you and your attitude!!

  2. This is a complicated issue. I definitely think the baba should be paying attention to the child. I also think that many domestic workers do not have a great situation in Brazil and they are paid horribly. Because of the new opportunities in Brazil, those who are poor and have ambition will not want to be babas (or at least not for long). That leaves those who are not necessarily the most motivated left to take care of the children. Couple that with the passive-aggressive attitude of many Brazilians and the poor treatment of domestic workers in general and this is the result. This theory doesn’t hold for the bad nannies in NYC 🙂

    • I agree. It is getting complicated – and it has definitely changed over the past five years. Only to get worse as unemployment gets lower.
      But of course, it doesn’t mean we should compromise our children. Maybe if they know other people are watching… or maybe the culture changes or maybe the next flood of Latin American immigrants come in and provide cheap but decent domestic help. Regardless, things are gonna change.

      • For me, if we ever moved to Brazil again, we would not do the baba thing. Another part that bothers me about the average baba is the very, very low education level. Aside from occasional babysitting, I would not want to leave my kid with someone like that for too long. I agree that things will change. Perhaps more pre-schools that take kids all day? I really loved ours, but it was only 1/2 day.

  3. Many of the babas on the playground of my condominium are always on the phone, or talking with each other. Their toddler charges will be climbing all over playground equipment which is way too big for them, but none of the babas are paying attention. There have been several times that I have wanted to step in and pull the child off of the equipment while their baba is on the phone. The other day, one of the babas showed up with a bag and handed it to another baba who then proceeded to pull several pairs of thong underwear out and held them up for the other babas to examine. I’m sure the parents would have been thrilled!

    My daughter takes ballet class at a daycare in Brazil (they let her come even though she doesn’t attend the daycare since the ballet teacher speaks English), and I honestly can’t figure out why more Brazilians don’t use daycares vs. babas. The kids at this daycare do lots of activities and the halls are filled with art projects. I never see the daycare teachers talking on the phones. I’d put my kids in there in a hear beat after witnessing the behavior of the babas on my playground. There are some REALLY good ones, but I see a lot more neglectful ones than good ones.

    • When we were living in NYC, I had planned on getting a nanny. But after I had the incident at 7 months pregnant during which I called the police on the nanny, and also heard other horror stories, I chose to have my daughter at the daycare in my office building. I got lucky because the school was only for employees of my company and was extremely convenient and professional (I also got lucky because my mother came the first three months post-maternity leave and my mother-in-law the next). I agree – that’s not to say that all NYC nannies are bad, as in every city, there are really good ones too. But unfortunately I saw equal amount of both there. I agree – maybe the baba culture will shift to a daycare culture… of course that option has its own horror stories as well.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Just today I was on the bus and just ahead of my stop I got up to go to the front to exit. There was a baba sitting towards the front with a 2-3 year old. She got up probably 10 seconds before the bus came to a stop, turning her back to the boy and entered the aisle going forward. The boy stood up too, though she wasn’t looking and then the bus driver suddenly jerked on the brakes, the kid was tossed all over the place, I grabbed him before he hit the floor, and he DID bump his head on the forward seat. She didn’t even look back. Only when the bus came to a stop did she turn around (and obviously both me and the kid were making noise because I had to drop my bag to grab him and he was crying). Nice. Several years back we belonged to a clube here in Rio, I used to take my son to the pool. Not once but three times I witnessed babas falling ASLEEP (sitting up on a chair, resting over a table, head down and buried on crossed arms) while the kids they were “supposed” to be watching were in the pool. And it goes without saying most of them are on the phone a lot of the time. My next door neighbor is a busy lawyer, she works all of the time and travels a lot (divorced). The baba lives here 6 days a week, and the boy is not the happiest guy, pretty rough and angry most of the time (9 years old). Both he and my son get picked up at the same time by school van each day so I see her a lot and she often tells me (in earshot of the boy) how much she can’t stand the boy, that he is rude and misbehaves and that she basically can’t stand him at all. Nice situation for your child right? To be cared by someone who really doesn’t like them. Just spend some time with babas and you will see their education level is quite low. How many times have I had to explain that London is very far from Los Angeles and not in the same country? And current events in Brasil, it’s really sad and eye opening. Over the years I have seen a baby who was burned by a cigarette of a baba while they were in the play area (sem querer but even so), I know of several cases where babas were caught stealing toys, makeup, kitchen stuff and busted when the family finally started noticing things going missing (Brasilian families, not foreigners). I HAVE MET several kind babas who seem good and seem to really care, but they seem to be the exception from what I’ve seen in the past 7 years of actually paying attention to this stuff. It is true in general they are treated as a lesser social class, and I’ve seen that whole side of it too, it’s sad. If the baba is feeding the kid at the kitchen table, why shouldn’t she be able to eat there too? But I’ve seen people that don’t allow them to eat anywhere except the maid’s room, and also some who were not allowed to sit on the sofa or chair, only on the floor. It’s crazy! And mean. I mostly don’t get the whole baba thing here, unless you have to work or can’t put your kids in school full time. And I think you get what you pay for in the end.

    • I agree 100%. Great points. If you want someone to treat your children well – why wouldn’t you treat them well? It is such a strange logic. But on the other side, the culture dictates that the more you give the more they take – a lot of international families here find that out the hard way. And there are definitely parents here who leave their children with the baba(s) 90% of the time – as well as in NYC – and don’t seem to understand that their children are being influenced in so many ways but the culture of these poor, uneducated people. Although, maybe in some cases, the babás have more morals and values than some of the parents. Ideally, you take care of your own kids. Many parents can’t, but those that can and choose not to shouldn’t wonder later why things didn’t work out as they imagined.

  5. Good job on bringing this up, and displaying an example of this atrocious behavior. I did ALOT of babysitting in America during high school, and it is a serious job. Even if it may often be frowned upon in Brazil that is no excuse for the nanny to slack off since she/he is basically the custodian of a human life during work hours. If you don’t like your employer then look elsewhere for work, but in the meantime do your job properly.
    I knew this one family that were in Brazil working for a foreign bank and they just ended up hiring a certified teacher from the United States to provide their child with additional after daycare lessons (art and music). This is how they filled the vacant time slots a nanny would be in charge of. The teacher lived with the family, and sure it was more expensive but think of the advantages that child will have in the future. The teacher was a college graduate in music and education, with a bit of public school experience, and in her early to mid twenties. She wanted to travel and live overseas so she answered their ad on Craigslist. Perhaps this is also an option worth looking into.
    On a side note: Brazil has got to get k12 education right if she really wants to be a developed nation.

    • It’s funny. I have seriously considered this option and I will probably do it at some point. We often hired teachers that worked at my daughter’s daycare/school to babysit her in NYC on the weekends. I know a number of young American teachers who would love to travel to a foreign country for a month or two and just have their living expenses taken care of plus a small stipend. They would do it mostly for the cultural experience and the language skills. But expectations of child care here for Brazilians are much different. I too babysat. It involved playing and caring for the kids when they were awake, but mostly watching TV and eating Doritos because they were asleep. It didn’t involve cleaning bathrooms, hand-washing clothes, cooking and spoon-feeding the children. I agree, if you don’t like your job and aren’t willing to do it well, find something else. Especially in this economy.

  6. Sarah says:

    Just to play the devil’s advocate – because I do agree that nothing justifies many of the dangerous/uncaring/unprofessional behaviours described above – but I have the impression that the vast majority of nannies here are treated very badly and underpaid. I’m sure that good, experienced nannies are hard to come by (especially in the current labour market, as you mentioned), but considering how much paulistanos pay for private schools and fancy cars, I bet that if they put the same amount of investment into finding and keeping a really good nanny, the quality of care would rise accordingly! (I would be so interested if you could do a follow-up post on the topic, maybe talking to babás and employers, both Brazilians and foreigners…such an interesting phenomenon, and it keeps coming up on the blogs I read….I mean, I know there are nannies all over the world, but it is just so prevalent here, with all these unwritten rules…Just throwing it out there – Brazilian Challenge Part 2! Ha!)

    • HA! You are not alone in these comments. Agree, if you are having a nanny take your child out of the house, you should be finding and securing someone who is good. I know some Brazilians do pay their nannies well because I’ve heard some of the salaries that are being asked. But other Brazilians will balk at these numbers even if they pay twice as much for school, etc, like you said, and expect twice as much. From what I’ve seen and heard, foreigners are more likely to pay a nanny well in hopes of having someone who is good. But it is much more difficult for foreigners to find someone good because they are less able to read the cultural cues that a Brazilian might pick up on. So many pay and get taken advantage of – until the second or third try. It is like this even in the U.S., although the pay scale is higher. When I was pregnant, we met a couple on vacation who clued us in to the nanny experience. They said that in the beginning they wanted someone who would be good to their children, not steal, pick up things around the house, help the kids with their homework, etc, etc. By the third nanny search – they just wanted someone who would be nice to their kids. Great idea on a follow up – I just need to increase my vocabulary in this category and I’d love to do it.

      • Sarah says:

        Fabulous, can’t wait to read it! True, hiring a nanny as a foreigner would be especially tough – your guide will totally be appreciated and sought out by newly-arrived expats. 🙂 All I know about nannies in North America is from reading when I have time to waste (yes, I know the entire site is completely and totally irrelevant to my life in Brazil, but it is still rather entertaining) – the subject of nannies comes up in every second post.

        All this discussion reminds me that I should really, really appreciate our extremely caring and trustworthy nanny, who has taken care of my daughter since she was a baby. My daughter sleeps over at her house sometimes, and they are always going on outings by public transportation. In addition to doing all the housework, she pays bills, goes grocery shopping, and accompanies the odd doctor’s appointment (I am a slacker mom, I know! But if it is minor or routine, I can justify it to myself…) I should probably give her a raise, eh?

        • You should. You are very lucky! But every once in awhile I’ve come across a story like yours. Just like in NYC – there were some really good ones that loved the kids and wrote down in a notebook everything they would do so they could tell the mother. And then there were ones that would leave the kid hanging in a swing to go socialize with another nanny. UGH.

          • Sarah says:

            So true. Your follow-up post could give me a better picture of how much of a raise she should get! (I have an idea about average pay and such, but no clue about what work conditions are….All this talk about the new law that will, once passed, require employers to keep to a 44 hour work week, and pay overtime etc, makes it sound like that a 44-hour work week is really radical…are these poor nannies working 12 hour days or what?)

  7. skarrlette says:

    I am moving to Brazil and have a daughter see is one, and I never have any intention of letting any Brazilian nanny boy or girl take my daughter anywhere (not with the way they drive). Maybe I will let get one someday to assist while I’m there and need to do something, but that’s it. Their are just way too many cultural differences down there for me to ever trust anyone with my daughter. It is really true about being with your own kind. The kind that THINK like you do and know what you expect. The US and Brazil are just too different.

    • We have a baba/empregada. I don’t let her take my daughter farther than the downstairs playroom. Even past ones I would only let them take her a couple blocks to her cousin’s building, but make her call me as soon as they arrive and when they left. Honestly, I was never comfortable with even that, but got a lot of pressure from my Brazilian relatives to let go. It was good for my daughter because she got to play and I got to work. But I’m still uncomfortable with the thought of it. When are you moving??!!

      • skarrlette says:

        ETA 3 mos! its taking forever to move, the date keeps getting pushed back causing me more anxiety thinking about all of it. not to mention the cost of tickets and the cargo shipment. did you ship a container to brazil? how was it? can’t you just let the empregada watch her in your house like an assistant while you work or does that not work? i know its not easy. i have my mother in law down there and she raised 5 kids so that will be a big help but for what exaclty? I don’t trust letting anyone take my daughter anywhere. its hard to let go for me I need wine and xanxax to be able to do that LOL! (i plan on bringing that with me)! no one is as vigilant as i am i see and notice everything before it happens. I plan on bringing that with me.

        • I don’t let the one we have go out of the house with my daughter other than downstairs in the play room to play. I used to let others take her down the street to her cousins building but I never felt that comfortable and always made them call when they arrived and when they were returning.
          Can you send me an email to Would like to propose something directly to you.

  8. BAB, nannies are a real issue in Brazil (to me at least, and I’m born and raised here). I trust the care of my kid to a daycare, and only after some “work” (involving surprise inspections on my part, talking to caretakers, their bosses, other parents).
    He’s there since he was 9 months, and I feel safe with that. And with smaller families of today, it helps give your kid a healthy dose of “siblings” with whom they will have to share stuff, disagree and work their differences out. You know, learning not to be a brat.

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