Not making any New Year’s Resolutions, they usually only last a couple of months and then slowly become harder and harder to stick with.
Rather than making a New Year’s resolution, I’m going to take a painful lesson and try to apply it to all aspects of my life.
My family has experienced a lot of stress in 2017. We’ve had a lot of unexpected financial hits that have caused a lot of stress and anxiety. We struggled with trying to secure a reliable aide for our son’s program. There were a number of health concerns for all of us, including a couple of our pets.
I did something this year that I’ve done before, but this time it stung so badly, I don’t think I’ll make the same mistake again. I hired a friend to work as my son’s support service worker (aide). I thought I’d emphasized strongly enough that we had to have a separate managing employer relationship and separate friendship. I thought we agreed.
There were a lot of ‘red flags’ that I ignored. I’d encouraged this individual, from our initial talks about her taking the positions, to get the ball rolling with the local health service that my son volunteers with (as they have a lengthy application/interview/screening process that’s taken as long as 3 months to get through in the past), but she waited almost two months to do so. She made some demands about what she had to have in order to take the position, demands such as having to work the full five hours each scheduled day and having to work the three days a week, otherwise she couldn’t pay her bills and it wouldn’t be worth it for her taking the job. I explained to her that the fifteen hours a week was a maximum, while my son is almost never sick, almost never misses any time, he had decided in the past to come home early when tired or stressed out. She’d reiterated over and over that in the past year she’d missed one day of work, that we could depend on her.
Immediately there were problems… she couldn’t complete the ‘new hire’ paperwork in one sitting, had to divide it into two different meetings. During the second meeting she informed me that she had a previously scheduled doctor appointment in March where the condition of her right shoulder would be evaluated and the possibility of a surgery was very real. I’d explained to her what my son had gone through with medical leave for his primary and back up aides in the past and that we didn’t want to go through that again. I told her hearing those words were going to cause an aneurysm. She told me she wasn’t causing something like that and tried to reassure me that they hadn’t decided on surgery yet, tests had to be done, but her doctor would only decide on surgery if it was the only option and since this shoulder was not as bad as the other, which she’d had surgery on the year before, she thought they might not have to go that route. I told her I’d hang on to that because my son couldn’t go through another leave of absence.
Because she’d put off starting the process with the health service, as I’d suggested, she hadn’t gotten her ID badge as the dates we’d provided for our back-up aide to train her quickly approached. She’d started complaining to me that they’d better get things moving, if she couldn’t start on our predetermined date, she’d be in a financial pinch because she’d already changed her schedule with the job she had, retaining a client for afternoons, but giving up the day time schedule she’d had.
When she’d received her ID badge, she had scheduled other hours at the other job she had and wasn’t able to accommodate the days and hours we had available to provide her with training. She put it off as our back-up aide’s last scheduled day of work approached before Christmas break. That was to be our back-up’s last day, because our new aide would begin work the second week of January. As the last day came, she still hadn’t made herself available for training. She asked me if our back-up aide would be willing to come back on her first day of work to train her (as we’d talked months before that this might be a possibility in a different circumstance). She asked if that wasn’t possible, could the back-up take a day out of her Christmas break with her kids and go to the volunteer location to train her. Of course, our back-up aide was mortified that she’d ask her to do either, since she’d been more than willing to train her for several weeks before her last day, but our new aide couldn’t make time to do so.
Right from the beginning there were some more red flags. She encountered issues at the volunteer site with another volunteer, there were some issues with getting/having enough work without having to wait for someone to get it for them.
When she’d started I’d explained to her that one aide didn’t seem to have been working on goals for my son, as I’d thought she was and I provided an example of a way they could work on a goal while riding the bus to their location. It wasn’t long before she started suggesting that “Mom could encourage him to work on goals, Mom could remind him we have to work on goals while we’re out.” The next issue we’d encountered was that he had started wanting to take breaks, sit and chat. Again she was reminding him they had to work on goals and couldn’t just sit and take a break. She then communicated with me that he didn’t seem to want to stay out for the full five hours each of the three days.
I went to my son’s Support Coordinator and explained that he was asking for breaks, which told me he was feeling stressed and needed to ‘tune out’ for a bit. She told me that wasn’t a problem, because recognizing he needed that, being self-aware and verbalizing that was part of independence.
The new aide was encountering ongoing issues at the volunteer location, asking me to call the volunteer coordinator at the hospital, to intervene on her behalf, to come in and meet with the folks in the department where my son volunteered. I suggested that she was working with these folks, that she is tasked with advocating for my son when she’s with him. I made some calls and got him moved into a different area, to eliminate some of the stress.
Numerous days they’d had difficulty catching the appropriate bus so my son could get home within the allotted time and she could get her daily paperwork completed. On one occasion, the day after a terrible storm hit the city and downed a lot of trees on many city streets, they had a horrible experience at the bus terminal. They’d taken the second of two possible buses from the volunteer location and because of detours, they missed the bus they needed. She wanted my son to take a different route, one that was not as familiar to him. He refused. I’d previously told him if he ever missed a bus to stay in place, wait for the next bus because it would be back in thirty minutes. She said he asked her repeatedly if she was upset, asked her to admit it. When they got home, he went right to his room, she was livid and late to her second job. Later, she messaged me and accused my son of doing that on purpose, just to hurt her.
That seriously damaged their relationship. On one occasion she’s revealed that he’d gone into a public restroom while they were out and he’d never done that before. When I questioned him as to whether he wasn’t feeling well, he said no, he was fine, but he just needed to get away from her, she was repeating herself and he couldn’t handle it.
When she’d seen her doctor I’d asked her if she was going to need surgery, she said yes, they always knew she would. I reminded her of what she’d said about possibly not needing it, and she denied ever having told me that. She said he was hopeful it wouldn’t be a long recovery, as it wasn’t as bad as the previous shoulder. She explained that once the tests were done she had a limited amount of time to have the surgery, or she’d have to have the tests done again. We’d talked about waiting until Sept. to do the surgery, because we thought my son’s back-up aide would be available again, but while talking about the time table I learned that our back-up aide was no longer available, so she suggested she could do it over the Summer. She needed eight weeks to give notice to her other employer before taking a leave of absence, so we decided that sometime in the month of June she would likely have the surgery. I reached out on Facebook to locate someone we could hire as a back-up. I didn’t have much time, but I found someone. She then told the agency we work with that I’d only been able to find someone for back-up that could work over the Summer so she’d changed all her plans to accommodate that. This was completely untrue.
She’d told me her shoulder wasn’t as bad as the first, she might only be out for three weeks or so, maybe a month, then maybe three months or four. She needed another surgery before the shoulder surgery, so that pushed everything back by a month. When I suggested she wouldn’t be able to come back until the new year, she jumped on that telling me it had better not be that long, she couldn’t make it financially if that were the case.
She wanted to know the procedure to take medical leave. I got the information and a packet was sent to her. I explained to her that we didn’t just tell them she was taking a medical leave, they had to approve it. She told me, very coldly, in front of my son, that if they didn’t approve the leave she’d just go back to her other job and request more clients, ones that didn’t require lifting. Effectively, she’d just abandon us without concern for whether or not my son had an aide.
She’d started complaining that the work at the volunteer location was exceptionally heavy, that she’d need my son to lift the boxes of supplies, so she didn’t damage her shoulder more. She complained when he didn’t do it, disregarding the fact that he has a connective tissue issue and delays in muscle development.
When completing paperwork for her doctor and the medical leave, she asked me to write a letter outlining her responsibilities as an SSW. I did so, outlining the goals my son works on and how the SSW position assists him. She didn’t like that letter, saying she needed the lifting requirements outlined. I told her I couldn’t do that, I have no knowledge of that information. She said she wanted me to state that she had to lift boxes that weighed approximately 50 lbs. and that when the rolling cart was full it weighed 350 lbs. I had no way to legitimately attest to that. I gave her both versions of the letter, without weight and with. I cautioned her that if her doctor decided after her surgery that she would have a weight restriction, by specifying weights, she might very well be documenting herself right out of a job. She was incensed. “He would never do that.”
The back-up aide I hired was only available for the Summer months, while school was out, so I had to find another person to fill in for the remainder of her leave. She suggested a friend of her daughter’s. I interviewed her, she had experience, my son talked with her and said he was sold on her. When we told her we’d hire her, she jumped right to work on getting accepted into the volunteer program, she got her appointment scheduled and completed for being hired by the agency we work with, she had online training to do and completed that immediately. She really showed us that she wanted the job, no excuses, no postponements. She went with my son and his aide for a full week, on her own time, to observe what was required for the job. I found out much later that the aide had warned this back-up not to get comfortable with the job.
Things went incredibly smoothly with the back-up aides. All the issues with lack of work at the volunteer location, heavy work at the volunteer location, problems missing buses, my son wanting breaks or not wanting to utilize the hours available to him, not being able to get back home in the allotted time, all went away. The back-ups both scoffed at the alleged weight of the work he was doing while volunteering, saying nothing weighed more than 20 – 25 lbs. Both reported that he wasn’t asking for breaks, that he didn’t give them any trouble regarding utilizing his hours. Neither one ever returned him home late. Both back-ups expressed a desire to continue working with him, that they enjoyed him, the work itself and their time with him.
The aide on medical leave informed me, via chat, that the shoulder was much worse than first thought. I heard from the second back-up, before the aide, that she wouldn’t be returning until mid January.
About a week ago, my son started asking me if things were going to be the same, or would they change, when his aide came back, because he didn’t want all that stress again. He asked me if it was possible for his current back-up aide to stay as his primary aide. He said he couldn’t deal with all that stress again. I tried to explain to him that we really should let the aide come back, give her a chance to make some changes and adjust. He reminded me that I had suggested to her more than once before her leave that she needed to ease up, lighten up, that she was going to damage her relationship with him, if she made it seem too much like ‘work’ he wouldn’t want to do it. She’d continued on as she’d been doing.
I asked his back-up if we brought the primary aide back, and it didn’t work out, would she still be available for this job. She said she didn’t care what else she was doing, she’d make herself available, she didn’t want to leave.
A couple of days later, he came to me and said he didn’t want to change again. He’d worked with 5 different people in something like 13 months. He said they were ‘clicking’ and he didn’t want to change, could we do that. I contacted the agency and asked them what my responsibility was to the aide on medical leave. They told me it was not at all uncommon for a part-time, or back-up SSW to be hired and the individual hit it off with them and decided they wanted to keep them on as their primary aide, it happened all the time. They instructed me that, “As Managing Employer it is okay to decide to switch schedules and staff as to what you feel is in the best interest of your son and providing his services that are the most beneficial for him while meeting his needs.” She went on to say, ” I am thrilled that his services are being provided by some one that he feels so comfortable with. This means that we indeed are truly meeting his needs, which makes everything we are trying to do a success!”
I spoke to his back-up and let her know how he felt. She was overjoyed. I then met with his aide and explained that I had some unpleasant things to discuss, that I’d been agonizing over the situation. I explained that he was resistant to changing aides again and wanted to stay with the current SSW. He had suggested I should keep her on as a back-up and provide her with companion hours, so she’d continue working with him, but we could schedule at times when she didn’t need to be at her other job, eliminating the stress they’d struggled with. I explained we’d keep her on as a back-up and she refused the position, saying ‘so I don’t have a job.’
I continued to try to explain to her why he wanted the change, that I was sorry, but I honestly thought she could go back to the other job, as she’d planned to do, and get more clients. She said she wished I’d told her two months ago. I explained again that he’d only just come to me with the question and expressed his desire to not change again. I’d shared the information with her, within a week of learning this was how he felt.
I was stunned by her response. Yes, I knew she was going to be hurt, but having worked in this field for so long, having been on my side of the equation as an employer for her mother’s services, I really thought she’d be able to understand. She told me she was devastated, that I gutted her. Her husband had recently had heart surgery and was also on a medical leave of absence. She began listing how I’d devastated her, she only had $60 a week to spend on groceries, only had about $400 in the bank, couldn’t pay her mortgage for Jan.,Feb., or March, didn’t have a Christmas tree, didn’t have Christmas gifts, etc. She said she was going to be homeless.
I reached out to her via messenger later that evening and woke the next morning to the following sentence: “I’ve never before today weighed the value of my life vs the value of my life insurance policy.” I was physically sick to my stomach. She’d just suggested that I’d caused her to consider suicide as an option.
She also said that she’d appreciate the professional courtesy of a good reference. How on earth could I have done that for her, after all of that?
She and her adult daughter, (whom had been present during our discussion because she brought her along when visiting me, so she could run interference, cut visits short, interjecting to remind her mother they always had to be someplace else, so they couldn’t stay) began immediately telling people that I’d fired her. I had, in fact, offered her another position, not fired her, she had effectively quit, having turned down the position.
The lesson learned here is two-fold… NEVER hire friends to work for us again and STOP chasing after people who treat me like an option, but expect me to treat them as a priority. I’m done.
I think we finally have a great fit for primary SSW and for back-up, as well. No stress, no issues, no complaints, no demands and my son is happy about being with them, with no hesitation, no reservations.
Specifying that there had to be a differentiation between our ‘friendship’ and my role as my son’s managing employer was initially agreed upon, but apparently not taken seriously. She specifically said that she respected my son’s decision, as it is consumer directed services, his back-up reported that she’d been told she wasn’t mad at her, not blaming her, so it was completely my fault, my responsibility, I’m the target for all the anger and blame, it was reiterated that I WAS her closest, oldest friend…. apparently she’d expected me to prioritize her friendship over my son’s needs. No more of that nonsense!
This new year is going to be as stress free as humanly possible, no more chasing after friends, no more accepting of excuses, no more toxic relationships that cause anxiety for my family. Standing up for myself and my family, unapologetic, let the chips fall where they may. I think I have finally learned my lesson, now to apply it to my every day life, going forward.