Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Finding a Nanny Comes With Legal Questions

DEAR HARRIETTE: I need to get a baby sitter for my son. I am going back to work, and he is too young for school.

The other moms I know have hired women who are good at child care but are paid off the books. All these women I’ve met are undocumented, which seems to be the trend here. From wealthy moms to those who are struggling, they all seem to hire in this way.

I’m afraid if I hire someone who is undocumented, I could get in trouble down the line. When I researched the on-the-books nannies, the prices were sky high. I’m not sure what to do. None of my friends have been caught. Do you think that is just the way it is now? -- Find a Nanny, Brooklyn, New York

DEAR FIND A NANNY: It is true that many mothers/families in New York City -- as well as other parts of the country -- employ undocumented workers to care for their children. This is not a new phenomenon; it is part of the ecosystem of the United States’ economy, believe it or not. But that doesn’t make it legal. There are many manual labor jobs, as well as home-care jobs, that are filled each year by people who are trying to get a leg up and pursue the American dream. And many of those people are living in the shadows.

In New York City some public officials have lost their jobs due to hiring undocumented nannies or hiring people for whom they did not pay taxes. It is illegal to hire someone and not contribute payroll taxes to the government.

You should hire a person who is filing with the IRS and paying taxes. There are undocumented workers who are on the road to legal status who do have legal identification and are law-abiding taxpayers. They would be the safest hires within that category, whereas documented immigrants (those with employment visas or green cards) or American citizens are best.

Read more in: Family & Parenting | Miscellaneous

Parent Must Teach Children Holiday Values

DEAR HARRIETTE: It’s not even Halloween yet, and my kids are already telling me what they want for Christmas. That’s because the kids’ channels they watch are cluttered with toy commercials. I hate it because I do not want them to think we are materialistic. I was taught to think of Christmas as a time to give to others and to spread joy, not to chalk up how much loot I collected. How can I teach this to my kids if they are inundated by commercial pleas to have their parents buy them things? -- In the Spirit, Cincinnati

DEAR IN THE SPIRIT: Your job is to teach your children your values. One way to do this is to limit their exposure to television. The fewer commercials they see, the less their longing will be for something they may not even want. Give them guidance on how you approach gifts during the holidays. Can they request one main gift? What are the boundaries of their wish lists? Tell them, and set their expectations for what they will receive and for what you expect them to give. By changing the conversation, you help to balance what they are seeing from outside sources and what you believe.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Holidays & Celebrations | Family & Parenting