There's no good way to deal with this situation, but surely there are better ones.
June 4, 2012 2:03 PM   Subscribe

I had to back out of my childcare job in a not-entirely-graceful manner for an emergency last week. Could I have handled this better? How do I proceed now? How should I proceed if something similar were to happen in the future? Snowflake details inside.

Background: I am massively underemployed currently, patching together rent through combinations of office temping and babysitting. Until last week, I was doing a couple-weeks-long sitting gig, supposed to last until this family--call them family one-- moves out of town in the middle of this month.

Then, early last week, a good friend committed suicide.

He did it sometime in the morning on Monday, memorial day. I was off from sitting anyway for the memorial day holiday, and ended up spending a lot of that morning and afternoon dealing with the police (none of his housemates were home and his family is all out of state, so the police had to go in and find him), and trying to visit at the hospital. His condition still seemed okay at this point. I called family one that night, explained the situation, and said that I would like to take the following day off to recuperate and tie up any logistical loose ends. They weren't thrilled, but they said they understood, and they'd check in with me the next day.

The next day, his condition was considerably worse. I was completely wrecked when I got the call from family one that night to check in about sitting. I offered to come, but they suggested that I possibly take a few more days and they'd check back again for Friday or so.

Meanwhile, I was supposed to start work with a different family--call them family two-- that Thursday night. I e-mailed them to explain the situation, told them I'd been off from family one for days, that I'd check back in early the following week about beginning work. They said thanks for letting us know, we'll stay in touch.

My friend passed away on Thursday night, and I went back for one last day with family one on Friday. I was initially supposed to stay another week, but the mother had told me before that she'd hired someone else for the last week, unsure how stable I was going to be. She said she was sorry, that she understood, that she still liked me personally and thought I'd been good with her kids, but that honestly I'd left that hanging in a critical week. She also asked a lot of questions about my relationship to my friend and how old he was that, to my mind, felt kind of intrusive, like she was trying to figure out whether our relationship merited this amount of grief. (The relationship was non-romantic but complicated, not something I usually talk about except to other trusted friends.) I think I still have a good reference from this family, but after those remarks I'm honestly not sure.

I was initially supposed to work with family number two today. I e-mailed them last night saying that I'd had some time to process, did they still need anyone for today. They said they were sorry about my friend, but they'd made other arrangements for today. They did not indicate if/when I should get back to them for other work.

I desperately need to do something for money in the coming weeks, and if that something is sitting I will probably need the reference of family one. Is that worth trying for at this point? What about continuing to pursue family two? Other people with children here--how would you react if this happened to your babysitter/nanny? I sincerely hope to never encounter this particular situation again, but in the event of another sudden emergency, how do you handle leaving work gracefully? (Especially if it's work that can't be put off for another day like child care.)

Before the flood of therapy suggestions comes in--I already have an intake appointment set up.
posted by ActionPopulated to Human Relations (15 answers total)
I'm so sorry this happened to you.

I'm sure that the families tried to work with you as best they could, but in the end, they needed to get someone in who could actually take care of the kids.

Can you call Family One and thank them for their support and understanding, ask them straight out if they would be a good reference for you. They should be willing to be honest and if they're okay as a reference, then you know, you're golden.

Start lining up other work now. Don't count on Family Two having additional work for you. Call this evening and see if they still want to employ you, if not, then look for a new gig. Luckily it's summer, so you should be able to line things up quickly.

Good Luck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:09 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite] the end, they needed to get someone in who could actually take care of the kids.

This is the main thing. A genuine emergency on your part does generate infinite flexibility on the part of your employer. If you must take time off, do your best to tell them exactly when you can come back; don't make them guess. Know that no matter how gracefully you handle it, there may be consequences you don't like. It's not about being good or being punished; it's about meeting a need, or failing to do so.
posted by jon1270 at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think you did the best you could possibly do in this situation. However, the families needed someone to take care of their kids, so I think that making alternate arrangements was totally reasonable.

You interpret the mother of Family 1's questions as trying to see whether you were grieving an appropriate amount or "too much." Is it possible she was just trying to engage with you and give you a chance to talk about your friend? Or maybe she was just nosy? Regardless, I think there are a number of good reasons where her opinion of you could be unchanged (or even improved) by your reaction to this tragedy.

Putting myself in her shoes, if I had a babysitter who was good and reliable who had this horrible thing happen to her, my opinion wouldn't be lessened of that person if she had to take some time off because of something like this. Just ask her and, presuming you have a good relationship with her, she'll give you an honest answer.

And my sincere condolences on the loss of your friend.
posted by Betelgeuse at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think "mom 1" was necessarily being intrusive or judgmental in asking about your friend. I think it's just as likely she was trying to be supportive and/or trying to suss out when you'd really be available.

I also don't think you handled the situation horribly. Even in the world of casual labor, sometimes things come up that can't be avoided and a friend trying to kill himself isn't exactly the sort of thing you can reschedule.

I definitely think you should ask Family 1 if they're willing to be a reference for you and start looking for additional families.

Good luck, and take care of yourself.

posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2012

She also asked a lot of questions about my relationship to my friend and how old he was that, to my mind, felt kind of intrusive

I say cut her a break here. Even good friends can find it awkward to talk about this stuff. I'm sure she was just trying to sound interested and sympathetic, but ran aground since she doesn't really know you that well or care very much.
posted by hermitosis at 2:56 PM on June 4, 2012

So, from a business standpoint only, here's what I would do. Send Family 1 a Thank You card. In the card, apologize for any inconvenience you caused and tell them you so appreciated your flexibility during this hard and strange time. Tell them that you loved sitting for them and that their kids were awesome and that you hope they can be a good reference for you. Let them know that if they need a sitter in the future, they shouldn't hesitate to contact you.

Then I'd call up Family 2 and again, thank them for their understanding and apologize for the uncertainty but that you are ready and available for caretaking.

Then start looking for more work.


I'm so sorry about your friend. I'm sure you are heartbroken and this is a seriously stressful time. You were right to take the time away. Be gentle with yourself and try really hard to let people off the hook. When my Dad died a few years back my emotions were dialed all the way up. A weird word or look from certain people could send me reeling. Death is complicated to process and people don't often know the right things to say or do. I don't think Family 1 were being nosy or judgmental. For your health and sanity, try to let that go.
posted by amanda at 2:57 PM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

If you had been my long-time sitter who had always been punctual, reliable, and responsible in the past I would be totally happy to still give you a reference and wouldn't feel the need to mention the situation to your next employer.

If you had only been working for me for, say, three weeks and none of my friends knew you and I had no way to independently verify that this was atypical for you, then I would be willing to say that you were great but you did miss a few days and I'd had to find someone else, but that it seemed to be a one-time problem.

If you were otherwise irresponsible, late a lot, whatever then I would decline to give you a reference at all.

The reality is that for a lot of people--especially women, but men too--having to miss work because they don't have childcare looks bad enough that it might jeopardize a promotion or even put their job at risk. Scrambling to find a replacement is an absolute must for them and doesn't mean they hate you or anything. However, if it seems like it might be a regular thing or an indicator of something else (drug/alcohol problem, unstable home life, mental illness) then they might not be willing to hire you again.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:01 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, also, frankly, don't say that you need a day off to "recuperate" from something you did the day before (which would have been a work day anyway.) It doesn't sound good. We all have stressful days and then go to work the day afterwards when people are depending on us. Maybe you could have let her know that you had a close friend in the hospital and that you'd need to use your phone to check on them, and that of course you would limit the phone as much as possible, and to when the child/children don't need anything or are napping. When one of my in-laws was in the hospital and we were up all night waiting for news of his condition, this is what I told my boss, and she not only was fine with it, she came home early so that I could go home. It's generally better than taking an entire day off.

(I'm sorry if I'm coming across as harsh, I genuinely feel for you but I want to let you know so you really can deal with it next time without losing your employment).
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:08 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Let family ! know that they'll be used as a reference and ask them for a good one.
posted by snsranch at 7:55 PM on June 4, 2012

Oops, that's family 1.
posted by snsranch at 8:09 PM on June 4, 2012

I'm not sure that they would be able to give you a good reference, so it might not be worth it. Do you really need them as a reference? If a prospective employer were to call this family, what would they be able to say? Sometimes it's better to have no reference than a lukewarm reference. Do you have other babysitting jobs in the past to use as a reference? Or any other employment references or a resume with some childcare work?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:26 PM on June 4, 2012

> She also asked a lot of questions about my relationship to my friend and how old he was that, to my mind, felt kind of intrusive, like she was trying to figure out whether our relationship merited this amount of grief.

She may have just been grappling for something to say. I can totally imagine her questions being off-putting and foot-in-mouth, but suicide is, well, an awkward topic.

Both families are probably going to be totally fine with you, you haven't burned any bridges as far as I can see. Take the time that you can afford to take, let your employers know that you are being careful to not promise anything you can't deliver.

I'm so, so sorry for your loss.
posted by desuetude at 12:00 AM on June 5, 2012

I'm so sorry you've been through this.

Before I had my own child, I was a professional nanny. And it sounds to me like the families you've been working with handled this pretty well. The very, very difficult part about nannying is that you can't ever have a day off for any reason without a huge, HUGE domino effect where then someone else is missing a day of off their work to take care of a child. It's just a fact of the job. The family needs to know that someone will be providing childcare so they don't have to miss days off of their own work. So, the nanny needs to be as stable and reliable as possible. It's not anything personal - I was very good at my job and had great relationships with the kids and had a similar thing come up in the first few weeks of employment, I know I would have been replaced.

What you can do going forward is just start over. Professionally, act like this didn't happen. Don't give either family's name as a reference. Just use the same references you were using before. Don't put any of the family details on your resume. Just start applying for jobs and finding new families the same way you did before any of this happened. Start over. Absolutely do not try to use Family #1 as a reference - they will need to disclose why you're not working for them and any new family hearing that you left on short notice will simply hire someone else.

I'm sure that both families have found new care providers by now, it's just how the business works. Sending a card thanking them for their understanding/support would be fine, but I wouldn't expect to hear from either family about re-hiring you: not because they don't like you, but because by necessity they've hired someone else at this point and it's a mess to change those dynamics around again.

I'm so very sorry for your loss and best of luck finding new families to work with.
posted by sonika at 6:08 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, as a mom, I would have handled the situation in exactly the same way that your employers did. I would feel about things not working out, but I wouldn't be able to keep a nanny who left work two days in a row at the beginning of a job. If s/he'd been working for me for a long time, that would be a different story - but only a few weeks in, I'd absolutely politely let them go and hire a replacement. I would have a hard time if asked for a reference and would probably say something vague along the lines of "She was great with the kids, but she needed to attend to a family emergency so we hired someone else."
posted by sonika at 6:12 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your perspective, everyone.

Family 1 is moving out of my city, so my work with them was already nearing the end. I'll send them a card anyway, and wish them luck.

I sent a quick follow-up e-mail to family 2 saying I'm ready to go, but I'm ready to go on and find other work if they don't want to have me.

I say I need family 1's reference because I'm pretty new at sitting/nannying. Not new at working with children--I have plenty of camp counseling and other volunteer experience--but not much sitting per se. I've had parents who specifically want to hear from families I've sat/nannied for, not just camp supervisors, and I just don't have many of those. The parent networks in my neighborhood seem pretty tight-knit, for better or worse. I know lots of folks in passing from taking family 1's youngest child to the park/library/play group, so they've seen me interact with kids before. So long as family 1 didn't mention anything to anyone, I'll hopefully be able to tap some of those connections for more work.

Somehow, I'll pull through this mess. Thanks again.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2012

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