05 February, 2012
The Sibling/Surrogate/Sitter... and her Undisciplined, Devilishly-Cute Niece
For starters, this is my first post to ISYN - and I'm not what you could really qualify as a professional caregiver. In fact, I'm not really a nanny at all - except when I'm called on in the case of my sister's only child, a daughter, S. But even this sort of on-call whenever-you-need-me type of babysitting has given rise to some trouble and some questions, and I really don't know if I'm being unreasonable or not. So, I thought it might not be such a bad idea to ask the professionals and see.
A little detail: I'm a twenty-two year old full-time college student, currently in the process of finishing my BA (after sort of back-tracking to get my AA first) and unemployed. At the time this all started, I wasn't doing much during the day, because I was between semesters, and didn't have much activity - other than to stay home, sleep, write a little and generally laze about. I have an uncomfortable relationship with my stepmother and my family is what you might call extended, with my oldest sibling being closer to forty and my youngest only eleven; Daddy has been married twice and had a few extra-matrimonial kids too so while most of us siblings haven't lived together very long or at all, we're still family. That being said, if I've ever been close to any of my elder siblings, it's always been my sister, who's ten years older than myself, making her thirty-two. That might seem like a lot of unnecessary background information, but I want to make sure I explain this right.
My sister, who I'll call N, was a bit of a party girl; drinking with friends all night, going out every night of the week and weekend, working with a hangover and generally living for herself. She got pregnant a few years ago and though the relationship with her baby-daddy didn't work out, she did decide to have the child and I now have a beautiful, albeit moderately troublesome and undisciplined niece. My sister lives in an upper-average sized 1-1 apartment in a semi-nice neighborhood, just her and her daughter. She works one job full time and another part time, for a few hours, on Sunday afternoons. My niece is three now and a real handful; she's also unbearably cute, sweet-looking and manipulative. She's quick to throw a tantrum, but even quicker with the tears; my sister is only vaguely stern with her and only very rarely - for the most part, she just let's her daughter run wild and threatens her with 'pow-pow' when she's getting unruly. My niece is usually good after that, for all of a minute or so, and then it's chaos again.
So, my problems start here. Originally, my sister would call me every now and then (when my niece was still only two years old) and ask me if I wanted to get away from my stepmother for a day or two, maybe come over and have some wine with her and watch a chick flick. I jumped at those opportunities - who wouldn't? And we would do just that - spend that whole night hanging out; that was great. But, as things would go, it always seemed like the next day, my sister would tell me she'd love to have me stay another night - and then would casually tell me that she's thinking of going out with so-and-so for a few hours and would it be okay if I could do her the super-easy favor of watching my niece for a few hours while she went out for drinks. She would offer to get S to bed herself before she left and told me basically all I had to do was make sure she was safe while she slept. It seemed like an easy enough task to do for my sister helping me out of my house for a few days, so I agreed. Again. And again. And again.
It started to be a sort of routine thing. Pretty soon, N stopped calling me to ask if I 'wanted to get away'; now it became 'hey, will you come watch S for me?' And even still, I'd try and do my part and agree - but more and more, she pushed it. She'd call me with barely any notice at all - "Hey, I'm around the corner. Do you mind watching S for me tonight? And tomorrow afternoon?" I said yes, most times, because I felt pressured and trapped - and this is my big sister, who tries to help me out whenever possible. I thought I was being pretty accommodating, though I never complained. Even when I had plans already, my sister would wheedle and beg and I would agree, because I was trying to be helpful and all that. She even had me cooking meals for my niece, cleaning up after S, washing dishes and giving her a bath, putting her down for naps, straightening up, etc. The most I ever did was ask her for dinner-money (which sort of dissolved since we usually ordered pizza anyway) and maybe like, twenty-bucks, flat - as a total for both days. I didn't think it was too much of a big deal, asking for a few bucks, when she knows I'm unemployed and could use a little money. The girl who used to babysit my niece for her, another friend of hers, lived in her apartment with her and slept on her couch - and still charged her two-hundred a week, while my sister was also paying baby-daddy's mother to watch her during the day, instead of enrolling her in daycare. Compared to all that, my twenty-dollars seemed paltry, I thought.
But my sister thought otherwise. The whole comment started an argument about how ungrateful I was to her and how she'd done so much for me throughout my life and how low and shitty it was of me to request any kind of payment for babysitting my own niece. I tried to tell her it wasn't about babysitting my niece or not - my own mother used to give me twenty dollars to watch my little sister on date-night. I tried explaining that to her but she blew me off and told me something like, "Pssht, fine, I'll give you twenty bucks. But you're staying both nights then." And even though I felt she was being really unfair and kinda snotty, I agreed and stayed the two nights. And both nights my sister went out at ten (after barely putting S to bed) and came home at dawn; my niece got up (and gets up, regularly) at eight in the morning and proceeded to bug me into waking up, when I'd only gotten to sleep when my sister came home. She got to sleep in and I got to pull the equivalent of a double.
S is an absolute nightmare most days, which is sad because she's such a sweet-looking little cutie. She's a mommy-clinger so if my sister goes anywhere, S has to go too. She's also very independent and anal retentive, even for a three year old. No one can turn on the faucet for her, she has to do it herself. No one can open the door for her, or hand the key-card to the gate guard, or turn the door knob or hand over the pen, etc. She has to be involved in every movement that's done within her sight. She's also a finicky eater, and even though my sister still has her sitting in a high-chair, she flings her food to the floor and laughs about it, and giggles and shoves her plate off again if I try to pick it up. She has a bad habit of writing on my sister's bedroom walls with my sister's wealth of make-up - in eyeliner and lipstick - and will often do something bad and then come out with a sweet smile to tell you she did so... and then run for cover and giggle the whole time you try to discipline her. She has a whole wall of the living room lined with toys and when she feels like it, she'll throw them at the walls, the windows, me and anywhere else she wants to; I tell her to pick them up, she says no and runs off so I can't catch her, then cries and screams if I do. If I pick up the toys myself, she kicks them over again and runs away. I think she's secretly a little ADHD, but my sister won't get her tested or anything like that and says I just need to "play" with her more. And trust me, I try. But S's favorite activity is watching and re-watching the same three or four Disney dvds and never leaving; I'm not allowed to take her anywhere either. So all I can do is try to read to her (which she refuses to sit still for) or watch her movies with her (over and over again, and even still she gets listless and causes chaos).
She really has no concept of being truly apologetic, because my sister is so lax with her - she tells S, "No, don't do that" but she smiles a moment later and my niece writes it off entirely. The only time I've ever seen her actually take heed is when my sister gives her a light smack on the tush, or a three-count spanking. Then she pays attention and goes to sulk in a corner and cry - which only lasts so long because my sister inevitably goes over to cuddle her and hug her. Which I understand. As a soft-hearted person, I hate seeing her cry too - but my sister's attitude toward discipline makes it really hard to deal, because she won't let me give S a little swat on the tush or discipline her in any forceful way at all. Which I know sounds terrible, but she's a really difficult child and not even being allowed to verbally discipline her actions makes dealing with her impossible. I never really believed in corporal punishment with children, but when I was a kid, Daddy only ever spanked me twice - and I'll be damned if I didn't remember to behave. He only ever did it twice, but I learned my lessons. Partly, I think S's problems are because she doesn't have a steady influx of fatherly stern-ness. Her father only gets to see her every now and then and so when he does, he dotes on her endlessly and spoils her. And my sister is no better; S is her buddy, not her child.
All of this, mind you, is her normal "good day" behavior. Bad days - don't even get me started (this email is long enough already). Now that I started school again, I have far less time and availability then before - which is just fine with me because it gives me a much needed excuse to keep from having to babysit. It's gotten to the point that, whenever my sister calls to ask if I'll babysit while she goes out to party, I tell her I'm busy or just ignore her call flat out. (And a lot of the time, I am legitimately busy, with school or friends or my own life.) I've started to feel abused by her, and her expectations. She never wants to hear "no" from me, and makes a great big deal out of it every time. Her comments range from "come on, please, just this once" to, "what, do you want me to pay you something more for it" to "that's your niece and you're so ungrateful, what kind of sister are you". I've gotten tired of it. So most days, I just avoid answering her calls and focus on school and my own life.
What really motivated me to post to ISYN is this: I was at a friends house, watching a movie, planning on spending the night - taking a night off from school for the first time in weeks. My friend tagged me on Facebook and almost immediately I got a shitty message from my sister - "It's amazing how you never have time for me when I need you, but you have time to go hang out with your friends. SMH. You're fucking amazing. Some sister." And I'm not going to lie, I was absolutely hurt and shocked, pissed and confused. I didn't understand why me going over to visit a friend should provoke such a nasty reaction from my sister, especially when she hadn't called to ask me anything in over a month. I told her politely that I don't recall her asking me to come over to babysit and she told me to go to hell, that I was ungrateful and a shitty sister and a bunch of other things. I won't transcribe the whole nonsense for you guys, but it was ugly and she's still not speaking to me.
So I guess, to wrap up this TL;DR post (for which I sincerely apologize) I guess I'm just wondering... am I unreasonable in my feelings that I'm being unfairly treated and maybe just a little abused? Is it too much to ask, to be paid such a paltry, courtesy amount like twenty dollars for my total time babysitting, even if the kid in question is my sibling's child? Isn't it a bit crippling, not to be able to verbally discipline a child, but be expected to look after her and keep her in line? Is my sister a bit assuming and harsh or is it just me being ungrateful and lazy, like she says? Where do you draw the line between helpful sibling, surrogate mother, or disciplinarily-crippled nanny? I'd really appreciate anyone's insight or input, even if this is kind of off-topic. Is she being unfair or am I expecting too much?
at 9:55 AM