Trying To Make Sense of the NYC Nanny Murders

Published on October 28, 2012 in Role/Reboot and on October 30, 2012 in The Frisky

 

No matter how much you try to protect your children, there will always be things you can not control.

Last week, two young children, Leo and Lulu Krim, were allegedly stabbed to death by their nanny in their home in Manhattan. The children’s mother discovered the bodies as Yoselyn Ortega, the nanny, began to hack at her own throat. Although the nanny survived, she is hospitalized and unable to speak.

The reports to date are that the Krim family was kind to the nanny—there were no bad feelings on either side of the relationship. A friend of the Krim family recommended Ms. Ortega, and she’d been their employee for approximately two years.

Parents are searching for an explanation that makes the incident understandable believing that if they can understand why it occurred, they can take precautions to avoid a similar catastrophe. These deaths happened at the hands of a nanny, but children may be harmed in daycare, in school, at Boy Scouts or…the list is long. Too long.

By loving a child, we unwillingly, but inevitably, give a hostage to fortune. The fates may snatch the child from us at any time through disease or injury. But no parent anticipates that his or her children will be killed by one to whom their welfare has been entrusted.

The relationship between a nanny and a parent is ideally one of trust and affection. When my son was born, my search for a nanny led me to speak to several placement agencies. As I explained what I was looking for, I sometimes mentioned that my infant son was adopted. That proved to be the key to finding Brigitte, the trained English nanny who took care of him for his first six years.

The woman who ran one of the agencies had an adopted child, too. We bonded over this, and she gave me honest feedback about the candidates I was considering. Because her child had been in a playgroup with one of Brigitte’s charges, she’d seen Brigitte in action and couldn’t have recommended her more highly.

She was right. Brigitte was honest, bright, reliable, thoughtful, loving, and cheerful. I grew to trust Brigitte implicitly. Although she didn’t live in our home, she became part of the family. I credit many of my son’s good qualities as an adult to the years they spent together.

Brigitte left when my son was 6 to take care of her own baby and start a daycare in her home. Unfortunately, I can’t offer such extravagant praise for her replacement. Mariela loved my son and was a careful driver. I trusted her to keep him safe, and she did.

After learning about the Krim children’s death, many parents are feeling anxious about their choice of a childcare provider. Using an agency to find a caregiver as I did isn’t a total or even partial answer. While much remains to be learned about the motivation of Ms. Ortega, I suspect she suffered a dramatic psychological break with reality. What she did could not have been predicted by any agency screening.

The Internet has many sites with advice on selecting a childcare provider. Parents should certainly be thorough in this process, but no measure of diligence can guarantee our children will be safe. Airplane engines drop out of the sky, the cord of a hoodie becomes a garrote, a tree topples. When we choose to love, we risk the profound sorrow of loss.

Sir Francis Bacon recognized this when he wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.”

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Can We Give Up the Marriage Habit?

Published October 2, 2012 in Role/Reboot 

Humans are notoriously stubborn about giving up harmful habits. Smoking is one obvious example. Packing on the pounds is another. Marriage is a third.

A recent article in the New York Times exploring the virtues of renewable limited-term marriage contracts has raised eyebrows. As the survivor of three divorces, I heartily endorse the concept.

Marriage became a bad habit for me. My desire to be part of a couple arose from my upbringing as part of a dyad with my narcissistic mother. I was never allowed to individuate or stand on my own. The only way I found to break free of her was to take on another partner—a husband. When that choice failed, I searched for another and then another and yet another. As I’ve described previously on Role/Reboot, I continued to marry narcissists hoping to find the love I’d never received from my mother. But getting love from a narcissist is virtually impossible.

Few marriages are based on such a neurotic motive. However, other disagreeable reasons, such as greed and control, may come into play. The institution of marriage has created a stage for manipulation and deceit.

Humans bonded and reproduced for tens of thousands of years without marriage. Sociologists speculate that marriage evolved as a way to provide exclusive sexual access to the bride in an attempt to ensure that the children born of the union were sired by the groom. The desire to establish paternity related to children’s entitlement to an inheritance as well as the father’s obligation to support them.

As practiced for most of recorded history, marriage shifted the burdens of household chores and child-rearing onto women. These factors led to its criticism as a patriarchal custom. But marriages fail for a number of reasons. Dissatisfaction with traditional gender roles (or with a spouse’s failure to fulfill such role) is just one of many.

Today, approximately half of all marriages end in divorce, and many more couples remain unhappily married. The costs of divorce and miserable marriage are psychological and economic.

A renewable limited-term marriage contract would significantly lessen both. A contract with five- or 10-year terms would provide stability with a less fraught escape clause than a divorce petition. In many ways, such a contract can be seen as a fleshed out prenuptial agreement.

Prenuptial agreements are increasingly common and typically set forth the economic consequences of divorce if one occurs. Expanded into a marriage contract, these agreements could even deal with child custody if the couple anticipates having children. However, because courts rightfully treat the interests of children as being paramount, a contract’s custody provisions might not be upheld.

If the mention of children in the context of limited-term marriages makes you squeamish, remember that in all 50 states either spouse can seek a no-fault divorce. Virtually all states permit a divorce to become final within months after the initial petition is filed. A “til death do us part” marriage provides children little more protection than a renewable marriage contract.

Just as the impact of divorce on children’s psychology can be debated so, too, could be the impact of one parent’s decision not to renew the marriage.

I wish I could tell you my only child survived my divorces unscathed. I’m quite sure that’s true for the divorce that occurred when he was an infant. He was 10 when the next divorce occurred and, fortunately, it was amicable. That husband adopted him and continues to play a role in his life today.

The true test of the effect of my divorces on him may be his willingness to marry or enter a committed relationship. He’s 23 now and hasn’t reached that threshold. When I asked him for his views on renewable limited-term marriage contracts versus traditional marriages, he pondered the question for a few minutes then came down on the side of contracts. But don’t read too much into that, both his father and I are lawyers. How could he not favor a legal arrangement?

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What You Can Do About the Gender Wage Gap

Published September 13, 2012 in Role/Reboot

On Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released data for 2011 showing that the gender wage gap remains unchanged from 2010. For every dollar a man earns working full time, a woman working full time earns 77 cents.

The disparity exists across virtually all occupations—women earn less than men of comparable education, experience, and seniority. From the moment a woman throws her graduation cap into the air to the moment she retires, she earns less than a similarly-situated man.

In 2011, the median annual earnings for women working full-time, year-round were $37,118. The comparable amount for men was $48,202. That $11,084 differential significantly affects the quality of life for women and their families. That amount is the equivalent of 92 weeks of groceries or 13 months of rent.

As dramatic as the annual difference is, the gap becomes a gaping chasm over a 40-year career. The lifetime wage gap for a woman with a high school diploma is $392,000 on average. The gap increases to $452,000 for women with some college. Women with a bachelor’s degree typically lose a staggering $713,000 over their working lives.

Although this analysis measures the gap by looking at broad education levels, the trend is the same when specific occupations are considered. The more education that is required for a particular job, the greater the gap.

The disparities are unfair to the point of being immoral. Worse, the ratio of 77 to 100 was the same for every year since 2002 with the exception of 2003 when it dropped to 76 to 100 and 2007 when it surged to 78 to 100.

Federal law prohibits pay distinctions between men and women but has loopholes big enough to march a battalion of advantaged men through.

The government isn’t going to level the playing field for women. What can you do for yourself?

Learn how to negotiate for better pay.

Don’t let the word “negotiate” scare you. Think of it as a dialogue with your boss. It isn’t a confrontation—it’s a conversation. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by doing your homework. Find out what salaries employees with similar skills and responsibilities are receiving in your industry and geographic area.
  2. Ask for an appointment with your boss to discuss “expectations.” This isn’t a conversation to have on the fly.
  3. Practice what you’re going to say. Get your opening lines down pat. Memorize them. You’ll be most nervous at the beginning of the conversation and knowing your lines will reduce the stress.
  4. Start on a positive note. “I’ve enjoyed working with you.”
  5. Your pitch should center on what your employer’s priorities are and how you have helped achieve them. Have you brought in new clients? Enhanced the company’s reputation? Provided above and beyond customer service? If you’ve taken on additional responsibilities, mention them.
  6. Assume you will succeed to bolster your confidence. And remember the man in the next cubicle performing the same job with the same training and experience is probably earning 30% more than you are!

 

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Do You Know How to Help a Domestic Violence Victim?

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kate McGuinness offers advice on how to help a victim.

Susie comes to my home regularly to help with cleaning. About a year ago, her usual helper took a different job. When Susie asked if her adult daughter Gay could come instead, I agreed.

Gay appeared for the first time the following week with a black eye and missing teeth. Her mother made a vague reference to Gay’s “accident,” and I assumed she meant an automobile accident.

Months passed. One day Susie appeared alone and asked if I had heard from Gay. When I responded that I hadn’t, Susie explained her daughter’s situation.

Gay’s partner, who calls himself “Master Howard,” had telephoned Susie the prior weekend and informed her that Gay was “done with her.” Gay would no longer work with her or associate with her. Howard also decreed that Gay would no longer see her teenaged son who lived with Susie. Susie explained that Howard routinely takes Gay’s pay and screens her calls. And, yes, Gay’s injuries when I first met her had been caused by “Master Howard.”

Howard appears to be the stereotypical perpetrator of domestic violence: a man determined to control his victim. He uses the classic techniques of separating the victim from her family and controlling her financially.

Once Susie confided about Gay’s situation, she explained that all three of her husbands had been physically abusive. Gay had grown up seeing this. My heart ached for both women, but I was flummoxed about what to do.

I had Gay’s cell phone number and, with Susie’s consent, I called her. Of course, all I got was her voice mail. I stumbled through a bland message about being sorry she couldn’t work that day and said I hoped to see her the following week.

But I didn’t. Not that week or any of the subsequent weeks.

Neither Susie nor her grandson has heard from Gay either. I have struggled with what I can do to help Gay.

An Internet search yielded the following advice on how to help a victim of domestic violence. Men can be victims of domestic abuse, too, but because I am focused on Gay, I’ve used feminine pronouns.

1. Let the victim know you care and are willing to listen. Don’t force the issue of abuse.

2. If the victim talks about the abuse, assure her that you believe her, the abuse isn’t her fault, she doesn’t deserve abuse and help is available.

3. Tell the victim you think she might be in danger.

4. Give the victim the telephone numbers of local and national domestic violence resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Number is  1(800)799-7233.

5. Ask the victim what you can do to help, but don’t make promises you won’t keep.

6. Don’t tell the victim what to do. This could sound like control, something the victim has already had too much of.

7. Help the victim think through a plan of what she would do if she decided to leave.

8. If you witness abuse, immediately call: 9-1-1.

I wish I could tell you I was able to use the steps to help Gay. I have called her cell and left more vague messages, none of which have been returned. Susie has seen Gay in the street, but they haven’t spoken. I take comfort in knowing that at least she is alive.

I wonder if I was willfully blind when I accepted Susie’s initial explanation of Gay’s injuries as an accident; Susie was her mother after all. I wish now that I had asked more questions. Maybe Gay would have confided what was going on, but I doubt it.

I’ve turned my frustration at being unable to help Gay into writing this blog. (As you may have guessed the names used are all pseudonyms.) I can only hope the information I’ve offered will help another victim of abuse.

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