Subtle Forms of Bullying

I have three daughters. A great blessing and I love them all of course: that’s normal.  The middle one, more than the others, is an animal lover although it is a common characteristic of them all. She is the kind of girl who would spend hours fussing over a cat with a limp and loves riding and looking after horses. Altogether a lovely girl who would be a credit to any family. I would say that, of course, but it is my honest opinion. In the main she is a well-mannered girl used to civilised behaviour

She has a gap year before going to university and, enterprisingly, organised to spend it in Holland as an au pair to two children aged ten and eight. Through the power of Skype, of which I’m a huge fan, she could talk to the parents and get a feel of the household before she went over there. She would have her own floor on the top of the house, which was sited next to a river affording her the pleasant view which her nature most enjoys. Sounds better than great and I was very pleased for her.

All seemed well as she settled into her new home and occupation but then things started to go wrong. It appears that, although the wife always wants an au pair, the husband would rather do without one. He does not want to do the extra work this involves himself but, no doubt, expects his wife to do so. His displeasure slowly manifested itself in his manner towards and treatment of my daughter. Gradually more explicit displays of aggression became the order of the day.

“Light house work” became all the house work. She became responsible for much of the cooking and laundry including the ironing. In short she became a full-time maid with managing the children squeezed in between her other tasks. When I last talked to her she was busy cleaning the windows inside and out, which is apparently one of her monthly tasks. She started work at seven-thirty in the morning, and it carried on into the later evening as “one more thing” was always found for her to do. At the same time the husband started finding fault with her performance including statements like ” my socks are incorrectly laid out on the bed” and other absurdities. The wife is very nice and my daughter has become attached to the children but, unless his behaviour alters, which is unlikely, she will have to go. Luckily there are  other opportunities out there for her.

My main concern is with this subtly overbearing  behaviour. When you are the boss of someone, or placed in a position of responsibility for them there is an unwritten rule about treating them fairly, and not using the power you have to gradually extend their duties and get them to fulfill a growing list of increasingly demanding chores.

Her situation could be much worse, and luckily she has alternatives and a loving family to support her but I am reminded that all over the world people are in similar or significantly worse situations were those in control, away from the confines of accountability, eat away at their liberty and turn them into semi slaves or objects of derision in order to feed their misguided vanity. An awareness of human dignity, and the generosity of spirit which should protect it are sadly absent from their behavior. My heart goes out to such people trapped in  tyrannies and without the ability to free themselves.

About Peter Wells aka Countingducks

Trying to remember what my future is
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16 Responses to Subtle Forms of Bullying

  1. Caroline says:

    Wow does this bring back memories. I au paired for 2 years in Paris! I ended up just as your daughter has with an ever increasing list of chores which kept me occupied day in day out during my first year!

    I worked for an English family for the first year (who I knew in the UK! And travelled out with when the husband was transferred to Paris). Oh joy! My particular ‘favourite’ was the ironing. All his shirts had to be folded in a certain way. She would then ram them into the drawer only to give them back to me a few days later all creased up to be re-ironed!! I have plenty more stories of that nature I could give your daughter!!

    I then worked for a french family for a year. And Madame lived up to her title!! A different man visited her every afternoon (whilst I took the children to the park!). But in true french style she invited them all to dinner one evening with their wives and got me to serve the meal!! A difficult moment when I knew all the men in the room – and each one was carefully and clearly introduced to me!!

    But your daughter needs to either move or stand her ground – there are rules governing how much an au pair does each day and it isn’t full time housework!


  2. Lady E says:

    Wow, I obviously live in the wrong part of France… No afternoon men down here ;)!
    Anyway, it does sound like your daughter will be better off with another family…And yes, she is lucky to have enough self-confidence to recognise that his behaviour is wrong, not her performance, and to have enough support to get out of this situation relatively unscathed. Good luck to her !


  3. Julie says:

    the abuse doesn’t sound very subtle to me


  4. If she had the choice she should go to another family or come home, its the same with any job, the more you do the more they want you to do.


  5. I hate stories like these. It’s too bad someone irrational is making a bad experience out of something your daughter was looking forward to.


  6. Barbara says:

    I never understood the au pair relationship. As a parent I would have preferred having full time cleaning help and perhaps a part time chef which would have left me with all the time I needed to spend with my children.

    This situation your daughter is in seems a no-win to me. The arrangement wasn’t clearly stated because the husband is passive aggressive but doesn’t realize he’s punishing the wrong person. I’m very familiar with passive aggressive behavior and I would tell your daughter to find another position as soon as possible.

    I wish her much luck and soon!


  7. nelle says:

    Well said, and best wishes to your daughter – and the children she cares for. I do not care for such heavy-handedness, and I’d be pretty upset if my child was in that situation. Yet, something positive can emerge, she sees how not to treat others, and as you mention, sees how too many are treated in this world.

    I suspect the accuser of Strauss-Kahn is closer to the truth than he; their positions in life are why the prosecutor feels the case cannot be won. Now he is free to apply his subtle terror to other women in other countries, likely emboldened by the ‘you can’t touch me’ feel this generates.

    Your daughter is taking the high road here, and that is a path she should always walk.


  8. backonmyown says:

    My heart goes out to your daughter. And to you because I can hear your concern in your writing. My oldest granddaughter went to New Zealand as a “nanny” and was very unhappy in the job. She quit after a while and traveled around the country, staying in hostels, met lots of interesting people and then returned home. She met two lovely girls from the UK who have since visited us here in the States.
    It seems that the job never turns out to be quite what was offered to the young people seeking positions. I agree with Julie. I thing your daughter’s situation sounds not-so-subtly abusive. She sounds like a well-grounded young woman. She will figure out what’s best and then do it.


  9. I think some people get so drunk with power that they don’t even notice what they’re doing. Why? Because they are only concerned for themselves. It’s hard for them to see what someone else feels. Subtle Bullying is never okay.. but then again you have to be able to stand up and not take it either. great post


  10. –I understand only too well, Ducky.
    Control is a HUGE part of abuse.
    My sister was murdered because of it.


  11. redheadmouth says:

    My heart goes out to those who are stuck in situations like these as well. Someone always has it worse than you.


  12. Judith says:

    Bullying in any form is certainly not acceptable. The wife in this situation appears to be unable to do anything against her husband – another form of bullying.
    As your daughter has the opportunity to get out and get another position I think you should encourage her to do so and to tell both the man and woman exactly why she is leaving. Perhaps their next au pair will fare better.


  13. ElizOF says:

    What a tyrant. I bet he is doing this to sabotage the arrangement and have your daughter leave… which frankly, I think she should seek work elsewhere…
    I’m saddened by his lack of compassion, and yes, others have it worse in some households, however, she must move on. Pity the wife seems unable to act too.
    Blessings to your daughter. 😦


  14. This brought back memories for me! It seemed like the perfect way to spend my summer and travel on my days off in Switzerland. Needless, to say it wasn’t perfect,the Mother did not want an aupair, and there was a whole array of other issues. It can be extremely stressful to be that young in another country. It’s with fortune that I had my own family to rely on just as your daughter had her family.


  15. Ah bless her, sounds tough. I think she should leave because it may only get worse. Sounds like the husband and wife have a bad relationship and he’s taking it out on your daughter, which she doesn’t deserve or have to put up with. I hope things get better for her soon!


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