Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Abusive Boss Tests Nanny's Resolve

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a nanny for a family, and my employer treats me rather cruelly. When I ask to borrow the car, he constantly doubts that I am going where I say I'm going. He gossips about me to the children, and he makes pointed comments about how much I eat and my weight. He's made me cry on several occasions.

I have no idea what to do or how to handle this situation. I love the children and they love me, so I was willing to put up with it for them, but I can't take it much longer. What should I do? -- Mistreated, Washington, D.C.

DEAR MISTREATED: You owe it to the children to stand up to their father. As their caregiver, you want them to learn how to treat people with respect.

Request a private meeting with your employer. Tell him how much you love the children and how grateful you are to care for them. Tell him that you are concerned, however, about the way the two of you interact sometimes.

Describe a few scenarios. Concerning the car, ask if he has any reason not to trust you. Tell him that you take your job seriously and would never lie to him about your whereabouts or actions. And tell him it hurts your feelings when he speaks negatively about your weight.

Reinforce your commitment to the family and the children, but make it clear that it is hard to do your job when you feel you are being belittled and distrusted. If he does not change, you may need to look for another job.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a boyfriend, but I still like to go to parties with my friends. Guys ask me to dance and I turn them down, obviously. Some of them get offended and ask me why, and when I say I have a boyfriend, they seem to think that's not enough of an excuse.

Is there a more polite way to say that I'm "taken" and just out with friends, or are they in the wrong for pursuing the matter more? -- Taken, Syracuse, N.Y.

DEAR TAKEN: You think it is obvious that you would not dance with another man because you have a boyfriend. I do not necessarily agree with you. I grew up observing my parents going to parties and hosting them. They danced together and with each other's friends. It was never considered untoward or irresponsible for them to dance with other people. Of course, I do not think you should dance in an intimate way with someone else.

If a man asks you to dance and you choose not to, say "no thank you." You also may want to avoid going without your boyfriend to places where people are dancing.