"The Stillest Waters Can Run Deep Over the Saddest Secrets"

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Perspective and Opinion on ISYN I don't know what to do- I haven't seen this sort of situation on ISYN as of yet, which is a good thing- But I need help.

I was the full-time nanny for a family for two years, and grew very close with the children, especially the little girl. I no longer nanny full time for the family, but I do come in on some weekends for babysitting, to stay in touch.

Well, this last Friday I was sitting at the coffee table doing a puzzle with the four year old little girl. CNN was on in the background with the volume turned down low, and I had my back to the TV. I noticed the little girl watching the screen with a really sad look on her face, so I turned to see what it was. CNN was covering the new PSA Kiera Knightley has done which addresses domestic violence. It is really graphic and heartbreaking, and it shows her being beaten by a man. The girl turned to me and said, "That's like my mom and dad." I asked her what she meant by that, and she said, "That's how my mom and dad are, but my mom isn't on the floor."

I didn't ask anything more, because the housecleaners were less than 10 feet away and I didn't want to start gossip. (We were speaking softly)

Now, what I SHOULD have done was take her outside to the swing and ask open-ended questions. It breaks my heart to think of what might be happening in this family- I could be the only person that knows anything, and I have done nothing!

I know children can misunderstand things, but if you watch the PSA, its pretty black and white.

The only thing I can think of is that she meant that they were an adult man and woman, like her parents. But that would be strange of her to say. I know this child well, and I believe I know the whole family well. But I also know that even the stillest waters can run deep over the saddest secrets.

What would you do?


Nanny Sarah said...

I would keep an eye on parents: look for the signs. I would also ask the little girl more questions. If anything is going on: it will show its ugly face again. That is the worse- because it may be kids next time.

Good luck

Nanny in San Diego said...

How sad! I do believe the child and I think her parents are most certainly involved in something similar to what was shown on television. It is sad that this child has actually witnessed these violent acts. Poor thing.
Anyway, this is a tough call. Meaning, if the mother is being abused, then it is up to her to ultimately seek help. If she chooses not to, you have no control over her actions unfortunately. However, I would ask the child more questions...not all at once, maybe a little at a time and go w/your gut. If it makes you feel better, you can talk to the mom about what the child told you, but be prepared to be cut-off from the whole family if the mother isn't very receptive. That is a decision you will have to make.
You can just do your job and be a good babysitter to the child and not say anything. Then if later on, maybe if the wife decided to press charges, say if something happened to her physically, you could possibly be a witness.

I am hoping that the father does not hit the children. This is a big HOPE. Next time you speak w/the child, you might want to ask the little girl if he does and maybe be on the lookout for bruises or such. If you suspect abuse, then I would approach the mother, if she does nothing, you would have no choice but to report them. But I may be jumping the gun here and I hope I am.....I hope and pray these children are not being hit.
Good Luck.

Wicker Park Nanny said...

I'm not sure what you can do OP. This isn't a child abuse case, there isn't anyone you can report it to.

My suggestion is to look for the signs of the mother being beaten. If you see any you could approach her and tell her you know and offer your help. Also keep an eye out on the little girl to make sure she doesn't end up being involved in this potential situation.

Other than that, I think your hands are tied.

Friend of an Abused Husband said...

All the advice above me is great but from this:

"That's how my mom and dad are, but my mom isn't on the floor."

I would also keep and eye on the father as he may be the one being abused. I know its not reported as much but it does happen.

NannyJ said...

I don't want to make excuses for potential abusers... but I feel like the "except mom isn't on the floor" is significant. First: We all know kids exaggerate. Second: You worked there for two years and the child never made a slip before and talked about it? I don't know, I feel like the "isn't on the floor might mean that she witnessed her parents in a fight... but not actual abuse, maybe just a dispute that the child blew out of proportion...or didn't even know she was blowing out of proportion.

Obviously I don't know... but I guess just keep a look out, not a whole lot you can do about it if it is abuse...sad situation.

Anonymous said...
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Phoenix said...

As long as the mom isn't realizing that she is in a bad situation there is nothing you can do. If you brought it up to the mom she will ultimalty go into defense mode. Just tell the child that when these things are happening to leave the room and talk to the mom about it later. That's what i did, i never sat there and watched I just left the room and that was that. If it was abuse towards the child then you have the responsibility to say something, but the fact is that these are adults and if they want to live their lives like that so be it.

My friend was getting abused by her boyfriend when she went to tell her family they said well just put your hands up so he can't hurt your face. They all knew she had the resources to get help and leave but she never did. you can't really do anything.

SD said...

I would make sure the child isn't getting harmed, and then stay out of it. Your getting involved probably won't change anything about the parents relationship.

Village said...

I'd consider calling child welfare. A man beating his wife usually moves on to the children at some point.

But the child could have seen the sex act, which can appear abusive, even if the adults are standing.

I'd call the authorities, and let them sort it out.

Anonymous said...
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I need a moniker said...

I wouldn't do anything. Look, my boyfriend's father used to beat up his mom and they are still married. His father was an alcooholic and his mother was an idiot who could perfeclty left him since her parents were living next door!She didn't and he doesn't hit her anymore; now they are 30 years together, living a miserable life.
If the child show signs of being hurt then, yes, do something. If not, then it's none of your business. The mom can perfectly leave her husband. She is just another Rihanna.

nannyjn said...

I would advise not to call authorities yet as you don't know for sure what's going on and the last thing you want to do is involve a possibly innocent couple in something as serious and damaging as that. Unless you see signs of the children being hurt then there is nothing you can do but be watchful.

Kids misinturpret things all the time, especially stuff that's not explained to them (Good example is the novel/movie Atonement). It is very possible what she meant had nothing to do with domestic abuse at all. If you want to bring it up to the mother then it's your call but as someone above me mentioned that could go the wrong way and she could very well be offended at the suggestion.

The only thing I would do at this point is try to question the little girl some more but not to push it or lead her answers.

Village said...

I changed my mind.

I'd quietly tell the mother. If she is being abused, I'm sure she's assuming the child(ren) don't know.

It might be the wake up call she needs to get out of an abusive relationship. Some mothers who take abuse will protect their children.

Keep in mind, if she is being abused, you may be the first to know, so that alone could send her into a tail spin. Typically abused women are ashamed this is happening to them, and don't want others to know. It could be the end of your employ with them.

This is a TOUGH one. I hope OP let's us know what her decision is.

Mary said...

I wouldn't call the authorities, because after all, there is no evidence and that's ultimately up to the mother to do if she is being abused.

However, I would take the mother aside and tell her what the child said. Let her know that you were concerned for her safety (the mother's) as well as the child. There may be nothing you can do at this point even if there is abuse, but at least letting the mom know that the child knows and now you know is a start. If she is not being abused, I don't see the harm in you telling the mother what the child said and just letting her know you were concerned. There's no harm in that, and you're not accusing the mother or father of anything, you're simply showing concern over something troubling the child said.

DenverNanny said...

Please don't call the authorities unless you have a little more info... I have a close friend who was investigated by CPS because another friend was angry and reported her for drug use around her child. The drug use never happened but my friend still had to take drug tests and had CPS dropping by for weeks...
I think your best option would to try to approach the mom--it could be something harmless that was misunderstood-- and just keep your eyes wide open, for now.
Good luck, OP

Hungry college student said...

I've done lots of work at abuse shelters, and it's so much harder than the cut and dried "just leave him," especially since the woman has a child she has to consider.

If you have seen the PSA, there is no way it can be misconstrued as anything other than domestic abuse. It's really graphic and very apparent (even to a child) what is going on. I'd definitely get the child alone and ask her a few more questions, and DEFINITELY report it. Just in the last few weeks alone, there have been countless stories about women and their children being killed by their abusers. Please take the chance and make that call, if only for the little girl's sake.

Philly Nanny said...

There are some pretty common signs of abuse aside from the physical evidence. If you have the chance to see the mother and father together, take note of the way they interact physically. Does she ever flinch? Even stuff like putting an arm around her waist or shoulder--if done more possessively than lovingly--could be a sign. Does she speak less when he's around? Do her mannerisms change? If you ask them questions, does he do all the answering? Does she ever go out with friends by herself or only with him? Does she ask permission to use the car? Does she ask him for money?

Obviously, none of these things are signs of abuse on their own, but if you pay close attention you may pick up on some subtle signals. Then you can decide whether or not to talk to her.

Speaking to the police could be a terrible idea if she is fact being abused. If she denies it and then is home w/ her husband again, it's likely that she could be hurt even worse. If it's not true, you'll create a huge mess for the family.

I would talk to her. Let her know what her daughter said. Maybe say something like "I know kids exaggerate, but if there is any truth to that, I want to help you." You might even want to check out resources in your area so you can offer a hotline number or something.

A lot of women in abusive relationships will say no at first. They will deny and deny because they've been convinced by the abuser that they deserve what's happening. Don't try to pressure her into anything, just let her know that you're on her side.

Domestic Violence Ad said...

For those that can stomach it... Here's the commercial.
Be warned, it is violent.


Kim said...

After watching that ad, I would say the next time you're with the child talk to her more. Ask open ended questions and see if she can clarify.

Then, if you think it's abuse, let the mother know what you heard and offer help. She probably won't take it and may be defensive, but at least she knows she has someone to turn to if she needs it.

OP said...

OP here,

Thank you all SO MUCH for all this wonderful advice so far. I really appreciate it, hearing all the different perspectives and ideas.

Some more info, and answers to some questions:

MPP- thank you for posting the link to the PSA. I forgot to do that in the original message!

I hadn't seen the PSA in its entirety when I was with the little girl, because my back was to the screen. Before watching it, I thought there must have been a scene where the man and Kiera were "wrestling" or something that could be confused with what a child would see her parents as doing if they were in actuality having sex. However, when I went home and watched it online, I knew that this wasn't the case because of the way the abuse happens.

I had thought about the possibility that it was she who did it to him, because he just seems so quiet and timid and she seems to be the more dominant one in the relationship. I could believe that maybe they were arguing and she struck out at him, for example.

They are both busy professionals in the same field with their own cars and money and schedules, and when they are both home together they don't seem particularly lovey dovey, but they don't seem cold, either. I have always noticed that they have loads of alcohol in the house, but other than that, no major warning signs really.

To add to this, the family speaks a different language amongst each other and English with me, so most of the time I don't understand what they say when they are having a disagreement with each other or disciplining the children.

I think that no matter what, I want to continue to babysit for the family when they need me and keep the lines of communication open with the four year old and the three older boys.

What sorts of open-ended questions do you think I should ask the little girl in the future, so as not to put words in her mouth but also to get an understanding of what the severity of the situation is (or hopefully isn't) ??

Tough Situation said...

If you try to elicit more info from the child, you have to be very careful not to be leading. For example, don't ask, "Does your dad ever hit your mom?"
You could try acting it out with dolls. Have a mom doll and a dad doll, and pretend there is some kind of conflict. "Uh-oh, I'm the mom and I just spilled some juice."
Or maybe talk about anger. Ask her what she does/what happens when she gets angry. Then ask what mommy and daddy do when they get angry.
I'm not sure if these are the absolute "right" answers, but that's what I would do.

Marypoppin'pills said...

You are more than Welcome. And I personally thought you asked the Readers some very good questions in your follow-up... I am sure they will come through for you.

boobsu said...

I would give the Dad a serious ass-whooping. I suggest an iron skillet to his head.

world's best nanny said...

I went to school with a girl who claimed her father hit her. She would come to school with these bruises all over her arms, legs etc.

This girl is now a teacher's aide in my son's class. We were talking one day and it turns out she used a combination of blue ink and mascara to "make" the bruises. Her father never laid a hand on her, quite the opposite! She laid the man's head open with the heavy handle of a butter knife! She hated her father so much she wanted out, and out she went..straight into foster care! I think it's crazy! It's even worse that this unstable woman is around kids daily! But who am I to squeal on her and mess with her livelihood?
Kids lie. They do it all the time. This little girl probably wanted some attention from the nanny she hasn't seen in a while. You were employed by them for 2 years and never saw or heard anything? Come on now!

Kristen said...

I would ask the little girl more questions. I haven't seen the PSA but I don't think a child would mean it was a man and woman like her mom and dad.

You are definitely in a horrible situation and the dad may not hurt the mom like in the video but I think by the not on the floor thing she means that her dad does hit her mom. But I wasn't there and no one knows what a child means sometimes without further clarification.

I would just take her outside next time you are babysitting her and ask her questions. What if the dad really, really hurts the mom or turns on the kids? You definitely need to do something and it is better off if you are wrong than do nothing.

NannyJ said...

Yeah I just watched the PSA... it would be hard to mistake for anything else...

Lisah said...

That's it, WBN. Now I know for sure that you're fake. There is no way in hell that you have a counter-story for every single situation that gets posted on this board. This one was one of the most creative, but least believable. I'm sure it's been fun being the worlds' most annoying troll though.

world's best nanny said...

The woman who I refer to in the story was me. Okay? I said it was someone else because I didn't want to risk embarrassment, but you know what? Fuck it! I don't know any of you and you sure as hell don't know me, so screw it. Yeah, I was a messed up pre-teen. I saw my father as the all evil, and I believe he drove my mother to an early grave with all his bullshit! So yup, I spent 6 months in foster care. Yup, I faked injury. Yup, I laid his head open with a butter knife. Am I unstable now? That was back in '79 so it has been years, but I still have a hard time remembering some of my childhood. So Fuck You, Bitch!

Lisah said...

To your last question, I'd have to answer yes.

Questioning.... said...

WBN, I do find your story a bit distrubing, especially since you said, "It's even worse that this unstable woman is around kids daily!" Do you think you shouldn't be around children?

Jacqui said...

That was definitely too much information, WBN. Control yourself.

seattle said...

WBN = Worlds Best Fake.

i truly think you need help. or a hobby. something.

So Sad said...

Oh my gosh that video is so sick. I can't beleive anyone can say "you can't do anything if it doesn't involve a child." that's wrong to happen to any woman, man or child. i think it's a problem that we only feel obligated to report if it's a child involved.
this is not someone's choice she made just because she's an adult. if you even suspect abuse, please call anonymously.