Crossing Boundaries: How Close is Too Close?

Received Sunday, December 20, 2009
Perspective and Opinion on ISYN I really need some help and I will try not to make this too confusing to read. I wrote the "HOW CLOSE IS TOO CLOSE" post on June 16 2009. This post talked about the bond with the family I am a nanny for and I was concerned if I was too close. You all gave me great advice and I tried to use it.

Now, I have a problem. Boss mom did a 180 on me. The little boy started school in September full time and they kept me on and everything was fine. I guess maybe around the end of October I started to feel a distance with boss mom. I let it go. I figure she is just in a mood or maybe has something going on that she doesn't want to talk about and I should just give it time. After all this time, it didn't change so now I decided it was time to talk to her and see what was going on. Let me just mention, that I have been having mood swings (not bipolar) just mood swings and I know that sometimes I may not be the most delightful person to be around. I readily admit that.

I sat with boss mom and stated that I know that I have mood swings and sometimes I am not easy to be around but that I am getting a vibe that something is wrong and I need to know what it is. She told me that over the past couple months it seems that my mood swings have been getting more frequent and that they have become hard to deal with and she had to just shut herself down from me because she doesn't know what she can do to help me. I told her I understand. I cried. She told me she appreciates me coming to her and that we can have this talk again if we need to. She told me that a long time ago we crossed the boundary between me being the nanny and them being the employers and I will always have what I have there, but she is done with emotional things. I told her I understand (Just a side note, they had major problems last year with their marriage that I supported them thru to the point where it was affecting my personal life). Anyway, I took the brunt of all this -blaming myself, told her I am sorry and that I get where she is coming from. They just want to work on rebuilding what they almost lost last year and enjoy their holiday season. I totally understand.

I decided to speak to a therapist, because I really needed help with all this. He told me that he is positive they still want me to be a "part of the family" and enjoy all the family activities that I was always a part of in the past, but just not with the emotional attachment. He told me to be the nanny and let them be the employer. I told him that's hard to do after all we have been thru together. The therapist said "well, that's all they want". I was invited to Xmas eve at their house as I am every year and I don't want to go, but therapist told me I should to just keep it normal. He said all I need to do is take a step back. I understand, but I don't know how.

Like today...child is even though I am not around today, I called to ask how he was and even though the conversation was okay with boss mom about it, cause that's all we talked about, it was not enough for me. A little while ago, I text to let them know that due to snow church is canceled tomorrow. I probably should not have done that, because that's info they could have found out themselves. I semi understand what I have to do, but just I'm having trouble figuring out EXACTLY what taking a step back is. The therapist tries to explain, but its all so hard to figure out and then when I do something like send that text to let them know that church was canceled, I sit here with a knot in my stomach thinking I did something horrible and they are going to wonder why I just can't leave them alone.

Any advice for me would be appreciated. I guess I am just having trouble figuring out a way to adjust to them not wanting an emotional attachment anymore. Its hard, because this is what they want, but yet they want me to come to Christmas eve like I have done every year. I just don't get it.


ericsmom said...

Can you make other plans for Christmas Eve? Honestly, if they want to make it more of a business relationship. I wouldn't go.

And please don't text message them about church and other things being canceled. Its probably annoying to them. Let them figure it out on their own.

And sorry their child was sick. But I wouldn't call to see how they are feeling. You will see for yourself when you return to work.

Maybe, you can try and get into activities and such outside of the home. Make friends join clubs, etc.

But you sound like a sweet person. With a great heart.
Are you a live-in? How old are you? Do you have family close by? If you are a live-in can you get a job as a live-out nanny??

ericsmom said...

Also, it sounds like you may lose your job over this. Are you getting a little obsessive with this family? From what I get I don't think she likes the idea of you calling on your days off. Checking up on the family.

On the other hand when they were having marriage problems. They shouldn't have included you in the drama.

ChiNanny said...

The way it sounds to me is that they are probably inviting you to Christmas Eve because they always have and don't want you to be alone, as well as the child expects you there. It's your decision whether you go or not. If you have other plans, or just don't want to attend, you can say that.

It sounds like the parents have realized that you've become way too close and want a more reasonable, "normal" employer/employee relationship. They want boundaries. You aren't family, you're not a 3rd parent, and in the end, you won't be a part of their lives forever, so there have to be boundaries. I can't tell you what that looks like in every situation, but I can for me.

When I'm at work, the kids are my 100% focus. I love them dearly, much like if they were my little sisters or nieces. When I come home, I may talk about the children and what I did at work that day, but then I move on to my life. I try not to obsess over them or let them occupy my thoughts. I know they are with their parents, which is even better for them than being with me. They have family time and I have time with my family.

The only time I call or text (usually text since it's less intrusive and they can get back to me if/when they chose) is to text something like "Happy Birthday" to a parent, to check on an extremely sick child (not just the sniffles) or to clarify something work related (like start time the next day). Otherwise my time off is their time without me and vice versa.

When I talk to the parents it is mostly about the children. We do discuss our personal lives, but not in great detail. (Ex. "How was your weekend?" "Great, I went to my aunt's 40th birthday party and got to see a lot of family.") I always try not to talk about negative situations in my life, unless they will affect my work, like needing time off.

I don't know if that helps, but hopefully it gives an idea of the type of relationship that may be more suitable for your situation now.

ChiNanny said...

Oh, and I agree with eriscmom, it sounds like you might lose your job over this. I think you need to back off, as well as figure out how to control your mood swings, because in the end you are not family, they will not stick by you, they will find a different nanny.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

First, good for you for deciding to get help from a therapist - that's not an easy decision.

Second, I would suggest seeing a psychiatrist to investigate whether there are any medications that could help you deal with your mood swings. Therapy is often more effective when combined with appropriate medication.

Third, pulling back from a relationship that has lost its boundaries is hard, but it can be done. I like some of the suggestions that have already been made.

Good luck to you!

OP SAID>>> said...

Erics Mom...No, I am not a live in nanny, but my husband and I do rent a condo that they own around the corner from them. We talked about the need for me now that the child is full time, she said that she would never ever just let me go like that and they would come and talk to me and give me lots of time. Also,I text to ask how the child is because he is very sick. He has had 102 fever for 3 days and his lymph nodes are the size of large olives. And I did text this morning to ask about him (no call or nothing) but just a text to his dad, not even to her. When we had the talk about this, I told her if she does not want me to come to xmas eve, I understand..and she said "Of course your coming" Your right, I should not have text them about church, but I guess it was just almost automatic for me to do that because in the past I would have, and it would not create a major problem. They had me very involved in their marriage issues last year. They were both coming to me. Boss mom crying everyday barely able to get out of bed. Boss dad just shut himself down. The whole burden of their issues fell on me because I had to be there for the kids. This 180 she did just kills me. I may need to just go find a new nanny job but therapist tells me that I am over reacting, but my whole lively hood I am worried about. I live in their condo. I would have to go find a new place to live, which is not going to be easy. Its just a whole fiasco. I want to take the step back. I really do. I guess I am just having a hard time processing it. I know the whole family. Sometimes watch her sisters kids. Really friendly with her parents. I literally know and I'm involved with this whole family. And I guess after all the drama last year, I feel like I am getting slapped in the face right now.

blue skye said...

First thing, I have some issues with your therapist. It sounds like he/she is giving you way too much advice, and telling you you're overreacting is invalidating. But I'm not in the room, obviously, so I can't say for certain. Also, as tales from the (nanny)hood suggested, you may need to talk to your therapist/a psychiatrist more about your mood swings.
A couple of pieces of advice I will give you (since I'm NOT your therapist): whenever you get an urge to send a text, type the text then save it as a draft rather than sending it. Give it about an hour and then decide if it's really necessary to send it. Second, I would say don't go Christmas Eve with them. It would be a great test of your independence. I would say to the mom "Thanks for inviting me to Christmas Eve again. But I've made other plans. I think it will help both of us to gain a little distance." I would bring up the issue of creating distance in a positive way, don't ignore it because it will seem like you are passive aggressivley skipping the yearly celebration. And I would say you have other plans, even if you don't, because you don't want her to feel guilty about it.

anonymouse said...

I agree with everything that blue skye said.

ineedcoffee1 said...

OP, it seems like you justify a lot of your close behavior with this family by saying that the parents relied on you and involved you when it came to their marital troubles. My parents got a divorce a couple of years ago, and I know from experience that when people are going through something rough like marriage problems, they need to talk, and they will talk about anything with whoever is around the most, regardless of whether or not the conversation is appropriate. Both of my parents told me things i NEVER wanted to hear, just because i was the closest person who would listen.

I highly doubt that these parents singled you out as a confidant, the way you seem to have interpreted it. They each just needed to talk, and you were the closest person there besides each other and their kid. That being said-that kind of behavior doesn't create some sort of lifelong close bond. And honestly, you shouldn't have gotten involved in their marriage at all. You need to step away from this family, because it sounds like if you remain so close, or try to get closer, you will lose the job altogether. Try and think of it as just a job. You have no obligations too these people beyond what they pay you to do, which is to be a great nanny during certain set hours.

Maybe you should also make a policy for yourself that you will not be attending this family's personal events and parties unless you will be working there and getting paid to do so. So that means, christmas eve dinner is out, but if the parents want you to help at their child's birthday party for your normal wages, that is fine.

ericsmom said...

Yes, is your husband home on Christmas Eve? If so why not spend the time either just the two of you. Or invite another couple over. Or go away for the weekend. Make you own life.

Do you feel like your obliged to them because you rent from them? Are they giving you a "break" on rent. Or are you paying what other renters would have to pay??
I think maybe you feel you owe them because you are renting from them. But you don't if your paying like everyone else they are still just your landlords.

Please, don't go over for Christmas Eve dinner. If you are really stressing about it. And if you are in the area, maybe you and your husband can stop by for coffee. Bring a gift for the child. And go don't over stay. A half-hour to an hour the most

OP.... said...

I had just got done talking with my husband about it and he said if I don't want us to go Christmas eve there this year then I should just put it back on him and tell them he wants to do something different this year and go to his sisters house (even if we are not going to do that) Like, blueskye said. Most poeople I am talking to about this besides the therapist is telling me not to go to Christmas eve. Erics Mom, yes I do feel like I owe them because they are helping me out with my living situation. I probably should have never moved in here, but what's done is done. We attend the same church and I will be at the Christmas Mass on Wednesday night and I am thinking Christmas eve would just be overload. Either the mass, or christmas eve. I don't want to miss the mass.I guess I will tell boss mom that I will still be more than happy to treat Christmas eve day as a regular thursday and take care of the kid while she is preparing for evening. I love all the advice you all have given me and I will take it with me when I go back to work tomorrow. I just don't want to be sleepless tonight overthinking things that should not be overthought. I think I should just be done with this..and like you are all saying...go my job..and then it will all be okay.

OP AGAIN>>> said...

One last thing... Boss mom called me to ask how I feel as I have a stomach virus and I told her on the phone that I will not be joining them for Christmas Eve due to other plans with my husbands family and she was like..that is totally okay..go and be with your family. So I feel somewhat better now even that part is done.

NYC mom said...

I think you are getting great advice here and I would only add to not assume that you "caused" this....this is not necessarily about you, what you did, your mood swings etc but about a (natural) shift in a relationship.

All parties (boss mom, boss dad, you and husband) became extraordinarily close through some rough times... and it sounds like it worked well at that time.

Obviously, now it feels too close for boss mom, but by seeing it as a total rejection of you, you may be liable to overreact.

Take a step back to friendly, not best friends... and in addition to medical help for mood swings, consider taking a class, new hobby etc. It will demonstrate to boss mom that you also have a life of your own and she may feel less concerned...

All relationships change and shift through time and no one has to be at fault...

Manhattan Nanny said...

You helped them through a rough spell, but now they don't need that kind of support from you. Be happy for them, and relieved that you don't have to deal with their emotional stress anymore. Focus on the children, have a cordial relationship with the parents, and remind yourself that this relationship is temporary. We nannies frequently get too emotionally involved with our work families, but you can change this. Make your life about your husband, family and friends, You have made a good start by recognizing your problems and seeing a therapist.

NannyinMA said...

I'm not trying to be rude or mean in anyway but no employer, especially in this kind of work, will put up with mood swings. A bad mood swing (whether from the parents or the nanny) can throw off everyone's mood. I know a nanny who has mood swings and you see the kids go from up to down. They can feel she isn't happy and it reflects on them.
I also agree with ericsmom.
It seems like you have gotten a little obsessed. A nanny should never be involved with the familys personal issues, and definitely not in marital issues.
The hardest part of being a nanny is remembering this is just a job. When the family doesn't need you or feel's your not a good fit anymore then you'll no longer be a "part of the family".
I hate to say that because everyone gets attached but you need to treat it like any other job, because at the end of the day that's all it is.

OP said...

I have been coming in the past 2 days and just staying focused on the kids..the little bit of conversation that I had with boss mom was about the kid..etc...nothing personal..nothing about the holidays..nothing. As I said, I made a different plan for Christmas eve..and I just been trying my hardest to make sure my focus stays on what I have been "hired" to do. Most of you are right. I probably wont have a life long bond with these people. If I do great, if I don't then it is okay. Like some of you have said..its very hard to stay on your side of the line when being a nanny. I crossed, the parents crossed it. Now they are taking their steps that they need to back off, and its just up to me to do the same from my end. About the marriage issues, I should not have gotten so involved and thats when I should have taken my step back. I learned from therapy that the way I handeled their marriage issues was a choice on my part and I could have done it on a totally different level of support and it would not have changed this outcome. My loyality will remain to the the child. I only bought him a present for christmas, not my "employers". I think I am slowly getting what I have to do here.

blue skye said...

Great job, OP. It's really hard to make a change like that, but I commend you for trying.

ericsmom said...

Happy Holidays! OP

Phoenix said...

I think that you have borderline OCD and should maybe get some valium to take on your days off work.

OP said...

Thanks Erics Mom!!! You too!!!

Bipolar Nanny said...

I don't want to presume to diagnose you with any sort of mental disorder but you seemed pretty adamant about not being bipolar. Why is this? Has a psychiatrist specifically said you aren't or do you think your mood swings are no big deal? Maybe they aren't, but maybe it is a chemical imbalance, in which case you need medical intervention. I think you should ask your therapist for a psych eval, just to make sure there isn't something worse going on under the surface. Mood swings are horrible, especially if they seem to worsen over time.

Also, I don't have a lot of information but your therapist kind of seems like a crock. He isn't supposed to offer you advice whenever you want it and he certainly isn't supposed to make you feel bad about "overreacting," whether he actually feels that way or not. He is supposed to guide you to what will make you most comfortable.

m said...

I have to admit that I chuckled when I first read your post, because it sounds so strange to me- what with the therapists and all.
My problem is trying to get employers to not only mind their own business but keep me out of theirs, and sometimes they get offended.
Anyway, your updates certainly suggest you are getting a handle on the problem.
It sounds sticky enough because you are living in their home.

For your next position always remember to create that boundary- despite the problems your employers have, after all, don't you have problems of your own- you are married are you not?

Try to be firm with future employers and tell them that you really can't get involved, but be sure to suggest thta they see a therapist- you do know one.

Thanks for the chuckle- I haven't been on here in ages and was hoping for one; and I hope things work out for you.

OP said...

Thanks everyone..

Its been quiet. I just go and do what I am suppose to do and then leave. I have taken my step back that I needed to take. I think I just needed it explained to me in simple terms on just how to do it and all of you helped me with it.

Thanks so much.