The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Does grandparent get second chance after nut-allergy mistake?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I used to babysit for my two granddaughters on a regular basis, then covid interrupted that for a while. One of my granddaughters has a severe nut allergy. Unfortunately, after so much time apart, I fell out of the habit of carefully checking food, and the last time I babysat, I accidentally gave her a snack with nuts in it. It was completely accidental, but she had a minor reaction, and her parents were very upset.

Though they have not said as much, I believe they have written me off as a babysitter. I have not been asked to keep the kids again since. I apologized, paid the co-pay for the doctor visit, purged my house of everything with nut traces, and still no change. They thank me for the gestures, then continue to not ask me to babysit. What else can I do to redeem myself from this minor mistake?

— Emotional-Blackmailed

Emotional-Blackmailed: You’ve done it all already. Now it’s up to them to decide whether to trust you again, and if they decide not to, that’s their prerogative — regardless of whether they’re reacting proportionately or overreacting. Personal relationships operate outside of any laws of fairness, appropriately.

In my experience, too, parents of kids with severe allergies decide very quickly that second chances are a luxury they cannot afford. Kids can die. These parents know this and are not interested in being talked out of their vigilance, not for anyone.

I will also say that if I were the parents and I got a whiff of whatever moved you to claim “emotional blackmail” — !! — then I’d rethink the babysitting arrangements myself.

You’re emotional about this, of course; no doubt you are devastated and filled with regret and miss caring for your granddaughters. But if you have any temptation to channel these hard feelings into lashing out or finger-pointing, then shut that down now. Being in their lives is a privilege to accept with gratitude, period.

Readers’ thoughts (and stop here if you’re allergic to haymakers):

· As long as you keep characterizing it as a “minor mistake,” you are showing them you do not really take it seriously. It was fortunate your granddaughter did not have a severe reaction, but that doesn’t minimize the possible consequences.

· You’re minimizing all over the place: a “minor reaction” and a “minor mistake.” My child had a food allergy (thankfully outgrown). I wouldn’t consider her allergen slipping past the goalie as “minor,” because there are physical effects, and you also might have to manage your kid becoming afraid of food. If you’ve minimized this to the parents in any way, reassess and own it.

· You could have killed your grandchild. Accidentally, and I’m sure you would feel horrendously guilty, but she would still be dead. Please sit with that reality for a while before going back to her parents, who are probably struggling (yet again) with a threat they have probably feared and desperately tried to prevent their child’s whole life.

· With a severe food allergy, there’s no such thing as a “minor mistake.” It is all potentially fatal. And who would forget after a period of months that a child in their care could die because of a known allergen? That type of lapse shows, to me, that you don’t take this responsibility seriously enough.

Watch more:

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax and cartoonist Nick Galifianakis have collaborated on their Washington Post column for 25 years. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post, Photo: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)