The nanny I trusted ruined my life: It started with nitpicking over the children’s lunchboxes and ended with false claims of neglect to social services. One mother’s shocking account of how the woman she hired turned on her
- Philippa Warren explains how she hired a dream nanny for her three children
- However, things turned and she is still shaken at the mention of her name
- The nanny was hired by her ex-husband to spy on her. However, it went much further than that and she tried to turn all three children against their mother
by Philippa Warner
There’s nothing more terrifying than starting to doubt your own sanity, feeling so undermined and belittled that you begin to wonder if you are losing your mind.
I still feel a sense of creeping dread and nausea when I recall just one incident of many that gave me this sensation: how my children’s nanny swore I’d agreed to launder their uniforms, the morning after I was sure she’d said she had it in hand.
Hands on hips, she barked: ‘Blame your mother that you don’t have any clean clothes. She told me that she was doing the washing last night!’
Had I? After years of her gaslighting tricks — behaviour I cottoned on to far too late — I almost believed I must be in the wrong.
Philippa Warren explains how she hired a dream nanny for her three children. However, things turned and she is still shaken at the mention of her name
And though it’s five years since she — let’s call her Diana — finally left our family, even now at 51 I’m shaken at the mention of her name, the smell of someone wearing her perfume or the sight of her car, which I still see as she lives just a few miles away.
They serve as unwelcome reminders of the way she tried to turn my children against me, slowly eroding my confidence.
Initially, Diana seemed like a brilliant hire: kind to my three children (Harry*, then ten, Oscar, eight, and Amelia, seven) and doted on by them.
Yet during her eight-year reign of terror, she tried to convince me that my children didn’t love me while simultaneously telling them that Mummy didn’t love them either. She questioned the clothes and toys I bought, the way I ran my home. She repeatedly hid school snack money that I knew I’d left out for my children.
The nanny questioned the clothes and toys she bought, the way she ran her home. The nanny repeatedly hid school snack money that she knew she’d left out for her children
She’d lose or break things she knew were important to me, such as a lovely set of teaspoons that had been my late mum’s. She put them in the kids’ lunch boxes with their yoghurts because she knew they’d lose them or leave them at school. You may wonder why on earth I endured Diana’s presence for eight long years. The truth is that Diana was more than a nanny who took a bizarre dislike to me.
She was a spy for my former husband, Roger, one whom I felt forced to tolerate for fear he might try to take my children away.
I never even sought help. How could I, when any hint that I was feeling vulnerable would have given him the chance to paint me as an unfit mother?
Diana had worked for us for two years when my husband and I separated, at his behest, after several years of ugly rowing and unhappiness.
Soon after, the two of them formed a secret allegiance, bent on grinding me down and persuading the children to live with their father (they never did). From being helpful and sunny, almost overnight Diana became critical, spiteful and always took my ex’s side.
I never understood why. My husband and I had agreed I would have full custody, but I encouraged his contact with the children.
And yet Diana was wily and conniving in her campaign to ruin my life — subtly demoralising me at first, but slowly building over six years of negativity, mind games and bullying. The culmination of her campaign was making an anonymous call to social services to accuse me of neglect.
Needless to say, when two social workers knocked on my door one July morning six years after our divorce to say they’d been given a referral for parental neglect, I was as stunned as I was devastated.
My disbelief and fury rose as they insisted on a tour of the house and interrogated me for an hour.
Five long weeks of anxiety later, I received a letter telling me I had no case to answer.
But the damage had been done by then, and the emotional impact was catastrophic, resulting in me being signed off work with stress. With no initial clue who had accused me, I had sunk into a depression, barely getting dressed each day and sleeping fitfully.
I was terrified people might think me a bad mother, even though I knew deep down I had done nothing wrong.
So, how did Diana come into our lives? By the time all the children were in primary school, I was working almost full-time as a university lecturer while my then husband worked long hours running his own company. Like millions of working parents, I needed help. Diana lived locally, was in her late 40s and was a single mother with teenage children.
Her remit was to do the school run, look after the children on inset days or if any of them was poorly, take them to their various clubs, and feed them dinner.
With the nanny gone, the kids admitted that she had secretly been taking them to visit their dad when their mother thought they were at after-school clubs
Until Roger and I separated, everything was fine. But when he moved out of the five-bedroom marital home and into a property nearby, insisting we keep Diana on and split the cost, almost immediately her behaviour became abrupt.
If I asked Roger to pick up the kids one day as I’d got stuck at work, she’d snipe that I wasn’t being fair to him, and should be more organised.
Anything the kids brought home from school, such as pictures they’d painted and even their class photos, she would give straight to my husband without ever showing me. I never felt confident enough to have this out with her. Could she be doing all this deliberately? Surely not.
In many ways she was great with the children, taking them to parks after school and on other outings, otherwise I’d never have let it carry on. But she continued to nitpick at everything I did, from the food I bought for the children to what they watched on TV.
If I bought new school jumpers, she’d huff and say: ‘Well, they need entire new uniforms!’ and if I gave them expensive cheese for their lunch boxes, she’d pipe up ‘I wouldn’t allow this!’, ignoring the fact that they were my children.
When we eventually moved out of the old family home to a new house on the outskirts of our large village, I gave an old mobile phone to my daughter, Amelia, then 11 and terribly sensible, when she wanted to walk to the park to play with her friends one day.
Diana told her in front of me: ‘Your mother is stupid, sending you with a phone to the park’, when I was simply being protective. I was hurt, but again I didn’t feel brave enough to rock the boat with Roger. By then, I felt completely worthless. Ironically, it was Diana’s behaviour that made me feel too terrible to contemplate managing without her.
Before she died, my elderly mother came to live with us. I later discovered that Diana had told people locally and at the school gates that I didn’t look after Mum properly.
She also lied to a lot of people that I was on antidepressants and incapable of being a mother.
Repeatedly I told my ex-husband that she was undermining me and that we needed to end her employment with us. His response was always: ‘No, she’s great.’
We’d had such a bitter divorce that I couldn’t face yet another argument, or more mean comments from him. So I let things lie, desperate to keep the peace.
Ultimately, there were two incidents that broke me. The first was the day Amelia, then 14, told me: ‘Diana says you’ve had your go at looking after us, and you didn’t do it properly so it’s Dad’s turn now.’
Tearfully, I swore that wasn’t true. By now, I felt a sense of utter dread each day I knew I would have to see her. I was under attack in my own home.
I didn’t think it could get any worse, until the aforementioned knock on my door from social services. Once I had been cleared, something about the phrases the social workers had used in their description of my ‘neglect’ seemed familiar. Although they didn’t name Diana, I knew that she was behind this.
All the lies, the belittling comments, the constant chipping away at my self-esteem, and now this despicable failed attempt to have my children taken from me — I’d well and truly had enough.
When she arrived one morning, I let rip: ‘What have you done, what do you think you were doing contacting social services?’
She admitted it, then told me: ‘I don’t like you. I don’t think you should have the children — they should be with their father.’
Suddenly, my creeping suspicion that she might have feelings for him seemed to crystallise. I told her to leave my house, that she was banned from ever looking after my children again when they were with me.
With her gone, the kids admitted that she had secretly been taking them to visit their dad when I thought they were at after-school clubs. No wonder she was so cross when I occasionally turned up at the school gates to surprise them with an afternoon of Mum Time.
My ex-husband flatly refused to fire Diana from his house. People have assumed they were having a relationship, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t, despite my sense that she might have that ambition.
Once she was out of my house, my younger son confided he didn’t like going to his dad’s because Diana was there and he didn’t want to see her because ‘she made him feel sad’. I probed but he refused to explain what he meant.
Now, he and his siblings are happy to pretend those years didn’t happen. None of them has a strong relationship with their dad — I believe they realise how manipulative he’s been — and nor do they have fond memories of Diana.
Though they were safe with her physically, emotionally she abused them. She told my most precious beings that I didn’t love them. That still breaks my heart.
With the benefit of bitter experience, my advice to other women looking to hire a nanny is this: go through a reputable agency so that you have recourse in the event of any problems.
And if alarm bells start ringing, take action immediately so you don’t suffer the way that I did.
- Names have been changed
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