One of the pushing factors that kept me going on publishing useful articles in MiddleMe is that I get to be in the midst of the many talented writers in the blogosphere. Many of these talented writers have a story to tell. My friend aka fellow writer, Annette Rochelle Aben shared a heartfelt experience with us after reading my post on Domestic Helpers and Nannies are Human Too! The post touched a core in her heart and unselfishly, she shared her side of experience so that for those who want to venture into this area can walk in with open eyes, knowing what they are getting themselves into!
Without further ado, below is her story…
Yes, when I was first out of high school, I took a job as a live-in babysitter for a single man who had three children. As I had done a lot of babysitting over the years, even spent an entire summer working full-time for a single woman watching her two little girls while she worked, I felt more than qualified for this position. I chose the live-in experience because I needed a place to live, as well as an income.
My mother went with me to meet this man, see his home and meet the children. Everything looked good. They had a modest three-bedroom brick ranch in a nice neighborhood, in the same city in which we lived. He owned his own business in the (at that time) new industry of computers. The children were polite, appeared to be well fed, dressed and happy. I was to receive room, board and $10 a week in exchange for caring for the children’s needs. This meant I was to get them up for school, dressed, fed and out the door. Then I had to straighten up the house, prepare supper and make sure their laundry was done. I was 18 years of age and as I said, needed a place to live, so I said yes.
The first week, went smooth as silk. Everyone was adjusting to each other and patience was our greatest friend. I had been promised private quarters to be built in the basement of the home but until then, I slept in the little boy’s room, while he slept on a cot in his sisters’ room. It was awkward but we managed. By the second week, things were changing and not for the better.
The employer began staying away from home for long periods of time, sometimes until the wee, small hours of the morning. This meant I was alone with the children from the time they got home from school until they woke up and went back to school the next morning. This wouldn’t have been so bad except that I had no driver’s license, which meant I had no transportation. Should something have happened to these children, I had no way of getting immediate help except for calling the police.
I was not allowed to have company while I was alone with the children, he didn’t want my attention to be divided, so my hands were tied there.
His long nights turned into days of abusive language which he hurled at the children, sarcastic comments tossed my way and promises broken. I was told I could have every other weekend off, which would allow me to go out with friends, or to visit with my family but this was revoked at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t sound like much but I felt like a prisoner without so much as a public defender to advocate on my behalf. He also made excuses as to why he didn’t have the $10 cash each week, so I would have to beg him for my pay.
Talking with him was impossible, he would dismiss me with a wave of his hand. The private quarters were eventually started and I would find myself sitting on a chair in what was to become my bedroom, and crying non-stop. He caught me crying one day and flew into a rage. We finally had our words. I told him that I was not going to be treated like property any longer and that he needed to respect my needs and rights. All he did was shake his head in agreement and walk away.
I was preparing to leave. Scanning the papers every day for another situation and would have stayed until I found one except for an incident that caused me to pack my bags immediately and call a taxi. He was in one of his drunken moods (did I mention that he was a heavy drinker, who was also an insulin dependent diabetic) anyway, on that occasion, I heard him chase his eldest daughter down the basement stairs, raging at her over her grades. Once they got down there, it got quiet, too quiet. I crept to the door at the top of the stairs and saw him kicking her, like a dog. She was doubled over, vomiting. This was a huge man, in his 30’s and she was barely ten years old.
He went into his room, fell asleep after telling her to clean up the basement. I found her sleeping on the freshly cleaned floor, covered her with a blanket and packed my bags. I then made two phone calls, one was for a taxi and the other was to the police.
Yes, this was an extreme case, and it took me a few weeks to get my courage up to do what needed to be done. It took the heinous abuse of the little girl for me to take a stand. Of course, he told the police that I had hurt her but she told them otherwise. Thank God, they believed her.
I did find another situation with a single woman and her two little boys and stayed with them for two years. They were kind, kept their promises and valued my time. My time was my own from the moment she got home, until she left for work the next day. This included weekends, and I made sure I had someone to visit. The only reason that situation ended was because they moved in the with the Grandmother, therefore making my position redundant.
What did I do differently with the second position than with the first?
I made sure they gave me references. I asked to see the sleeping arrangements, which were private and comfortable. I made sure the duties were clearly spelled out and reality checked them each week. As a result, I was never put in uncomfortable circumstances. We got along like a family. If there was anything I found objectionable or she found objectionable, we sat down to a discussion.
I also took responsibility to make sure I had a life. Yes, I did live there, took meals with everyone, like a family and was even invited to parties, etc. However, I made certain I created a life of my own. I had a phone installed, paid the bill and stayed in touch with family and friends. I developed new hobbies which kept my mind active. And I looked forward to the day when I might find work in another field. I considered getting a driver’s license and going to college at some point.
I would suggest to anyone who decides to seek employment with a family, as an au pair, they do their homework. Check out the family as best you can. Spend some time getting to know them before accepting the position. (if that is possible) And if they have someone in the position at the time, ask if you can speak with that person. Ask to shadow that person and observe how they and the family interact.
Also, make sure to have a life outside of that life. Stay connected to family and friends. Cultivate your interests and hobbies. Take classes, if possible. Give yourself time away from your work place. If you are feeling put upon you may eventually take it out on those around you which would be a most regrettable situation.
Remember that you are a human being, worthy of dignified treatment. Accept only respectful circumstances. Remember that the people for whom you work are also worthy of dignity and respect. Keep the line of communication open. Establish boundaries from the beginning and be all means, make your employment contractual. Write it down, sign it and have it notarized. This might not keep things from going sour but should there ever be a need, everyone has some sort of protection for their investment.
Working with families can be delightful. I wish you all the best, if this is your chosen career.
Annette Rochelle Aben is an award-winning writer and has self-published author of books in the genres of self-help and poetry. http://www.amazon.com/author/annetterochelleaben She is also the Editor for the on-line magazine, The Magic Happens http://www.themagichappensnow.com Combining her experience in self-publishing and editing, Annette is also a book coach for hire. Contact her at innerchildart (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Over the years, Annette has worked in offices, factories, coffee houses and as a caterer. Her creativity allowed her to find work singing, acting, making jewelry and producing television programs and commercials. The Public Access Television studio Annette designed and ran back in the 1990’s is still thriving, 23 years after her departure.
Follow her on her Word Press Blog, Annette Rochelle Aben Communicates http://www.annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com You are welcome to connect on Twitter https://www.twitter.com/YouAreTheExpert on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/annette-rochelle-aben-communicates/156789881019973 through LinkedIn Annette Rochelle Aben and on Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/annetterochelle