Real Simple’s Modern Manners columnist answers a reader question.

By Julie Rottenberg
Andrew McCaul

Q. My babysitter, terrific in every other way, smokes. She doesn’t do it around my kids, but I don’t want that cigarette smell in my house. How can I let her know that it bothers me?
Eva Allan
New Haven, Connecticut

A. Like you, I have zero tolerance for that most unpleasant odor, but I also understand that a great sitter is like a great bra (a nightmare to find and then impossible to live without). I suggest you sit down with her and delicately share your concerns. Start by saying what you love about her, and be specific: That she’s always prompt, that she showed admirable restraint the time the kids stowed a Popsicle in her purse, and so on. Then acknowledge that her private life is generally none of your business but that you are distressed about the smell of smoke she carries into your house.

Her reaction will determine what comes next: If she seems resistant, make a request that you think she can live with. For example, ask her to abstain from smoking for a few hours before she watches the kids. A perfect solution? Well, no. But if you love her in every other way and she’s not prepared to give up her habit, this may be the best scenario you’re going to get.

However, if she indicates that she’s trying to quit, tell her that she means so much to you and the kids that you would love to give her an extra incentive to do so. Then offer her a small bonus for every week she goes without smoking. This would have to be done on the honor system, and the dollar amount would depend on what you can afford, but it’s worth a shot. By becoming (literally) invested in her tossing the cigarettes, you send the message that you’re serious about wanting to keep her around—as your sitter and otherwise—for years to come. If nothing else, this chat should cause her to think twice the next time she wants to squeeze in a quick smoke before heading to your house.


—Julie Rottenberg

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