Confessions Of A Governess: How To Deal With An Inappropriate Father

Confessions of a Governess is a Mommyish series from the perspective of someone who gets paid to watch other people’s children. Moms, take a deep breath.

Being a nanny and babysitter for many years has always prompted questions about fathers. It seems to be universally acknowledged among mothers and the childless alike that after a certain amount of years pushing a stroller, the inevitable will happen: a father will be inappropriate with you. The scenario has received cultural nods from classics like Jane Eyre and The Turn Of the Screw as well as celebrity exploits like when Jude Law had a famous dalliance with his nanny. Regardless of what time period we’re talking, the father and nanny dynamic is fraught with sexual tension and fascination — and not without good reason. It’s true that I’ve got some questionable glances from father’s over the years, but the incident that remains the most blatant in my nanny memory happened over the phone.

I was working for a single mother at the time who had weathered a horrendous divorce. I did not know the circumstances of their split, nor was it my business to know. I recall the other mothers in the neighborhood sometimes dropping comments here and there about how they never expected her to marry again given what had happened to her, but I can honestly say that I never knew.

As is the custom when working with divorced parents, I was often used as the handover. Mommy and Daddy lived quite a bit a part but within the same city.  They never saw one another and didn’t need to once the mother hired me. I would chaperone the child over trains, holding her on my lap as we watched the passengers and made up games to pass the time.

One time I was dropping the little girl off and the father asked me for my phone number. I didn’t really think anything of it given that he was the father of the child. We would have to meet up in instances like this often and if he was going to be late, perhaps it was best that he be able to get a hold of me.

I would get texts from him sometimes on the weekend, confirming certain pick-up times and locations. Sometimes he would ask me if I was available to do any additional babysitting when he had work or special occasions. I was never able to accept any of this extra work and he always told me that he understood.

One Saturday night, I was on the subway platform when I saw that I had a new text from him. He asked me if I would be around the following day to meet up for roller skating with his daughter. The child and I were quite close so, at first, it didn’t seemed like an inappropriate invitation. I gave some sort of noncommital response and he texted me back the details. Then he sent me another message asking me to keep this meetup secret from the mother, as she would probably get the wrong impression.

I didn’t respond and he called soon after, explaining that his ex-wife would probably “overact” to the idea of us spending time together and that it would be in the best interest of both of us if I didn’t share our plans with her.

I remember hesitating soon after and saying that I had to go, feeling both caught off guard and suddenly very vulnerable. To be clear, I am the mother’s employee first and foremost. Keeping such information from my employer could cost me my job as it would be totally within her right to fire me for such secrecy. Creepiness aside, my first reaction was anger for putting me in a position in which I had to consider the safety of my job — and for nothing that I had instigated.

I never responded to his invitation and he never followed up. I considered telling the mother, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to say. I didn’t want to drag out the details of their relationship, which I was already content not knowing. I was also afraid of some circumstance arising in which the mother would let me go because of awkwardness or perhaps because she would be too embarrassed to keep me around.

The route I chose was just to excuse myself from the situation and keep my attention on the child. The father never crossed that line with me again but I still began to resent him for trying to insinuate a different nature to our relationship. Suddenly I had to contend with new conditions that, as the nanny, did interfere with my ability to do my job well.

Being the nanny sometimes means dealing with familial situations that you would otherwise not have to encounter in a different kind of job. But being subject to the advances of the father should not be one of them. I’m employed to work and take care of the children. No where in the job description does it say “fend off suggestions from my spouse or ex-spouse.” Yet given the commonality of such plot, perhaps it should.


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