Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Work-From-Home Mom's Behavior Annoys Baby Sitter

DEAR HARRIETTE: Whenever I baby-sit for this family, the mom works from home. I understand that she can’t cater to her children and work at the same time, but it makes me uncomfortable. It's strange: I will be in the kitchen making the kids lunch, she will be in there making herself lunch, and then we will all sit together. Or the kids and I will be playing, and she will come and watch for 20 minutes. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. When the kids have a problem, they will ask her instead of me, even though she is doing work and doesn’t want to be distracted. It’s just hard that she’s home when I’m there. Is it weird that I get irritated by this? -- Annoyed Baby Sitter, Reston, Virginia

DEAR ANNOYED BABY SITTER: It is understandable that you feel some awkwardness in trying to establish a rhythm and a sense of authority when the mom of the children you are baby-sitting is right there. Naturally, they go to their mother when decisions have to be made or when problems arise. You will never be able to compete with that, nor should you want to. Instead, you need to develop ground rules with the mother about your role and her expectations. Whatever she wants the children to do, she has to agree on with you and reinforce with them. If there are times when she is going to be unavailable, that needs to be made clear to everyone. Perhaps she can put a sign on her door saying, “PRIVACY PLEASE.” During that period, the children must learn that they have to follow your direction entirely. Partner with the mom on a plan that works for everyone.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I went to an event recently and ran into a woman who I have seen over the years but don’t know well. We made small talk. Later, I realized who she was. She has a huge job in my industry, and I feel like a dunce for not acknowledging her specifically.

After I realized who she was, I asked her a couple of things about her current job and company. She is the “new” boss at a company where I used to freelance for years. When she got the position, I stopped getting any work. When she first started, I wrote her a nice note and followed up once, but she never gave me a chance to do any work with her. Still, I feel bad that I did not recognize her. Should I follow up and say that I’m sorry I didn’t know her at first? Or do I just let it be? -- Don't Know You, Brooklyn, New York

DEAR DON’T KNOW YOU: Do not write to this woman apologizing for not recognizing her. That will get you nowhere. If you want to stay at the top of mind with her, send her a nice note saying that it was a pleasure seeing her again at the event you mentioned. Point out something that you liked about the function that she will remember. If you want to be considered for freelance work, add a line telling her that you remain interested in contributing to her company.

(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.)