This blog post has been rambling around in my head for almost a week now. Not in a “Yeah, I’m so excited about writing this!” kind of way but in a “This is really important and I hope I get it right.” kind of way. This might be a bit jumbled but please stick with me.
I got a call from a Seattle nanny friend at the beginning of the week who reluctantly shared with me that a Seattle nanny business owner has posted on different occasions in the local nanny group she runs that I no longer work as a nanny because I was accused of abuse. The not-subtle implication being that I was guilty and therefore could no longer work with children. That is absolutely not true. I’ve spent the week trying to figure out what my response should be or if I should respond at all. I do feel this needs a response so here it goes.
I was accused of abuse (and I’ll give some background in a bit) by a former employer when I requested then insisted that I be paid the severance that I was owed. The “logic” was that I wasn’t owed severance if I was fired for cause so they created cause. I was actually fired because Grandma closed her restaurant and was taking over full-time childcare at the end of the week. Of course there are deeper, more complicated reasons why they took that action that springs from the emotional dysfunction of the employer but I don’t want to delve into that here. That would require a book length entry. I think all of us know at least one person who lives in that type of dysfunction.
I cannot begin to explain my feelings around this accusation and the resulting court battle that lasted 2 plus years. Words have never been able to capture the depth of the ordeal. It was a devastating event and the most difficult experience of my adult life. I can thankfully say that time and a whole lot of emotional work have given me a different perspective and (mostly) peace around what happened.
Let me talk a bit about why I’m writing about this. I’ve spent days debating if I should address this or just let it go. If I respond to it, am I playing into her bid for attention? If I don’t respond will people take that as an admission of guilt? What about just taking the high road? The hardest part of this past week has been trying to answer those questions which was actually wonderfully surprising to me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m annoyed and frustrated at this woman’s actions but they didn’t throw me back into the emotional drama of the court case. It makes me realize how far I’ve come and how much I’ve healed.
I started out wanting to out her, to name her and shame her, but then after an honest self-talk I quickly realized that she simply isn’t worth the effort. I don’t value her on a personal level or care about her opinion of me. The sad truth is her behavior isn’t unique. If we look around at parts of our society, our politics, our social media we can see this type of pettiness, unkindness, and lack of integrity in many others.
However I do care about the people she’s talking to. I want them to have the full story so they can make up their own minds. This isn’t just about my personal or professional reputation, it’s about my livelihood.
So back to the story.
At first I was going to go through all the details of the case just to show you how crazy the whole thing was. But again, after an honest self-talk I realized that was just an emotional reaction to the situation and wasn’t needed to accomplish what I’m hoping to accomplish: to dispel the gossip and to share some of the important lessons I’ve learned. And honestly delving back into all of the details would require more emotional energy than I have or want to invest. So let me say that after their accusation I filed a wage claim and a slander claim. The wage claim was pretty straightforward and was settled quickly. They owed me the severance and paid it plus all the fines and fees. The slander case was much more complicated and dragged on for over 2 years.
Defamation of character lawsuits are infamously hard to win. First you have to prove that what they said isn’t true. They don’t have to prove their statements are true, you have to prove they aren’t. Then you have to prove that they had the intention to harm you. Proving intention, what’s going on in someone’s head, is like trying to capture the wind. You know with all your heart and soul it’s there but how do you prove it? And finally you have to prove it’s caused you harm. That’s the easy part. But unless you’re able to jump those first two mammoth hurdles, the harm doesn’t matter.
So with the deck so stacked against me, why did I sue? Personally, I didn’t have a choice. I would have not been able to live with myself if I had not taken action. I felt victimized to an infinite degree and it’s just not in me to let that go unchallenged. I knew I had done nothing wrong. I had never done anything that was even questionable or fell into the gray area of appropriateness. I have plenty of flaws but my work with children is one area where I can unequivocally say I do great work. I’m not a perfect nanny – or even close – but I’m loving, knowledgeable, skilled, and fully dedicated to the well-being and happiness of the kids I have to privilege to care for. This accusation went much deeper than a professional attack for me. I grew up with a toxic parent and because of that, have dedicated my adult life to being the type of caregiver and support person that I wished I’d had as a child. Not only though my paid work as a nanny but also through my volunteer work with abused and neglected children. So this wasn’t just an attack on me professionally, this was an attack on everything I stand for and believe in. I was willing to take this all the way to a jury in order to get the justice I deserved. (Can you tell I’m still really passionate about this??)
During those two plus years I lost a summary judgment because of a technicality, appealed, won that appeal, filed what seemed like endless documents, sat through depositions, and then right before we were scheduled to start jury selection they asked for mediation. I agreed. (Now that I’m a facultative mediator I realize what we did was shuttle arbitration, not mediation.)
I had three requirements. A letter clearing my name. The ability to talk about this case in the future or in other words, the absence of the standard gag order. And finally a financial settlement. The financial amount was the only thing I was negotiable on. Arbitration failed miserably and I walked away much to everyone’s surprise including my lawyer. (Why don’t people believe me when I tell them my intentions?) With no options except a jury trial left, they settled. I got the letter, there’s no gag order in place otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write this post, and I received a financial settlement. I did agree to keep the amount confidential.
So to circle back around to the beginning, yes I was accused of abuse. And I was cleared. I worked as a nanny for several years after the accusation and stopped because my kids were entering school full-time and I decided to work in the mediation field and build my business. And that’s where I am career-wise right now.
The last thing I want to share are some of the lessons I learned.
#1. Some things will never make sense. You have to let go of trying to understand before you can move forward. I still don’t understand how the issues that came up at the end of that employment relationship turned into an accusation of abuse. To me there was a minor conflict. I am still bewildered at the depth and viciousness of their reaction. Today as I look at the big picture I believe it was a knee jerk reaction that snowballed out of control. That’s as much understanding as I can muster. I will never really know why. And at some point my desire to move forward became greater than my need to understand and I was able to let it go.
#2. That second agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz of The Four Agreements – don’t take anything personally – really is true. While I was in the midst of this battle it felt so incredibly personal that I truly couldn’t imagine how it could be about anything but me. Now I can see that it really wasn’t about me at all. It was about her and how she reacted to triggers in her own life. I still don’t understand how anyone could do what she did but I do understand that’s on her, not me.
#3. Never underestimate the transformative power of standing in your own truth. Because of the nature of our jobs, nannies can easily fall victim to the destructive whims of their employers. This can have difficult to devastating consequences. But we’re not powerless. We can choose to fight back and we can win. For me, this was a critical piece in moving through this experience. I regained my power by saying no, I will not let you malign the work I do, I will not let you threaten and bully me into just going away, I will stand up to your money and position and I will speak my truth. I have always tried to live that way but this experience really held my feet to the fire and made me work to uphold that belief. And I came out the other side more centered and solid than I’d ever been before.
#4. Your work will speak for itself. I’ve had a wonderful career as a nanny. I’m proud of the work I’ve done and the impact I’ve made. And I’m crazy lucky to have a circle of friends, both nannies and regular folk, that know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never hurt a child. That was truly a lifesaver during this experience. But I also learned that the work I had done as a nanny and as a volunteer spoke to strangers too. So many people, many who I didn’t even know personally, supported me during this time and beyond. If you live with integrity it will shine through. Not to everyone but to the people that matter.
So with a deep sigh, I end the post. Thanks for reading and allowing me to share my story with you.