Outdated Relationships aka Firing My Cleaning Lady

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Earlier this week I fired my cleaning lady.

I did a happy dance as I had been working up to this for three years and finally, finally I had found the resolve to do it.

She’d been with us for fourteen years.

Originally she cleaned our house along with another woman but as time went on, took over the job on her own.

To start with things went fine but as our boys grew and our needs changed, problems started to arise.

I couldn’t communicate with her. She spoke no English; I spoke no Spanish. I gesticulated, she nodded.

Nuh-uh. No dice.

I went on Google translator but it seemed she couldn’t read either as she ignored my written instructions.

And so our relationship couldn’t evolve. She continued to do exactly the same work, in exactly the same order.

For years.

This was irritating to me as I would have liked some extra work done or changes made or even some respect for a sick child trying to sleep but I simply couldn’t find a way to communicate.

Even asking her to call an English-speaking friend seemed beyond me.

The catalyst for our parting of ways came when my son built a card replica of the Ottoman Empire in the front room. He put hours into building this model. It was elaborate, it was extensive. It needed to be vacuumed around.

We did our best; we put up signs, I gesticulated and pointed. She nodded and said “OK.”

I left. Big mistake.

Should have stood guard.

Because when I came back, she had achieved what took armies of men and massive governmental mismanagement in the 17th century; the Empire had been pushed to one side.

In its place were just carpet stripes where the vacuum had been.

This happened numerous times.

My son took to locking his bedroom door to protect his creations and as time went on, my appreciation for her sterling work got buried under my irritation and what I took for disrespect towards my son and his things.

It was clear something had to be done. But I felt the only thing I could do was to fire her or learn Spanish.

I wasn’t prepared to do the latter. I could get any number of English-speaking house cleaners with just a phone call.

But I felt bad.

She had a small child as well as teenagers, I doubt she is overloaded with work in this economy especially without an English-speaking partner. I had trouble disconnecting.

Nevertheless as I thrashed around these thoughts, it became apparent to me I have these kinds of problems with all the relationships that don’t serve me. I simply find it horrendous to let them go.

I get consumed with guilt, project feelings onto the other person and then take them on for myself. I realized that dealing with the ending of outdated relationships comprise some of biggest life challenges I face and that I have to deal with them to get powerful.

I needed to be a warrior.

In the end, it was easy. She seemed to understand she was being fired well enough. I felt sad, as she had been with us a long time including when my sons came home from the hospital.

But I also felt release, lighter.

And stronger.

I have no plans either to replace her or do the cleaning myself. I have done nothing. But I know that sometimes we have to clean out the old even before we know what the new will be.

And while that not knowing isn’t always satisfying to the people around us and can be frightening for ourselves often enough, ultimately, it is the only way forward.

If we just trust that the vacuum will be filled, it will be. Literally πŸ˜‰

Have you struggled to fire a person you hire to help? Or hung on to relationships that no longer serve you? How do you end them? Let me know in the comments!

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Liguori May 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm

This is powerful; I smiled and nodded as I was reading it, I have had similar stories in my own life. Thank you for writing this as a reminder to us all to follow the little voice inside that tells us when change is needed. And I bet your housekeeper will (if not already) find work that suits her better as well! She may have been unhappy too.

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alisongolden May 18, 2010 at 8:05 am

That’s a good point, Lisa. I hadn’t thought that she might have been unhappy too. Maybe she just couldn’t communicate it to me either.

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Tina May 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

I’m so glad I’m not the only one! My previous cleaning guy was bringing along helpers more and more often, gradually stopped coming himself, and then disconnected his phone (though my checks kept getting cashed!). The helpers were quite nice, but I hadn’t hired THEM, I had hired HIM (10 years before). I had no way to communicate with them, but avoided the issue for several every-other-weeks. Finally one day, I met them at the door with cash and tried (apparently successfully) to convey “Don’t come back” in broken Spanish and gestures. It was traumatic, and I avoided hiring another housekeeper for over a year – until living with the results of my kids’ cleaning standards was more traumatic than a new housekeeper. We now have a lovely woman who kinda sorta speaks English, and will undoubtedly be with us until she retires.

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alisongolden May 25, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Hi Tina:
Oh no, you’re not the only one. I’ve heard a few of these stories since this post was published. And you did pretty well, only taking a few weeks to work up to it. Took me three years!

It IS traumatic. Especially when they show up again two weeks later like mine did and I had to do it all over again!

Alison

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J.J. September 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Sometimes it is best to sever a relationship that isn’t working. As time goes on and I get older, I realize that I can waste a lot of energy dealing with people and relationships which are actually draining the life out of me. Sometimes those relationships serve a purpose, like teaching you how to deal with certain kinds of situations (ex. being more assertive), but other times it’s just best to cut the cord and move on! Thanks for the post…I enjoyed it very much. πŸ™‚

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Alison Golden September 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Thanks, Jainnie! You are absolutely right and I too, as I’ve got older, just don’t spend as much time working at it. Life is too short. I was writing an article about aging this morning and the feedback was the same. As we get older, we get more careful about how we spend out time and with whom. πŸ™‚

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Linda Esposito
Twitter:
May 23, 2012 at 6:02 pm

It’s an interesting and complicated relationship we have with the hired hands. There’s so much personal history about how we relate to the underclass/working class, if you will. It sounds like both of you wanted to quit this relationship.

It’s got to be hard to clean others’ toilets and stay immune to the psychological/societal implications. Especially when you see your kids who have so much more than you by virtue of living or being born in the U.S.

I had a similar situation recently. “Sonia” came highly recommended, but didn’t deliver for the ridiculously high sum I paid her. I didn’t want to have to stay home from work and “inspect” her work–but as you mentioned, that’s exactly what I needed to do.

This may sound passive-aggressive, and probably is, but after one sub-par experience, I didn’t answer her subsequent messages about returning. Since when does cleaning the house not entail mopping the bathroom and bedrooms?

I feel bad only because cleaning houses is a crappy job, and there’s a person behind the dirt who must’ve had dreams and aspirations beyond…

Sometimes shitty experiences motivate us to get rid of the crap in our lives…or at least do the crap-thing part-time.

Bottom line: Regardless of what happened to us as children, there’s plenty of folks who rise above and accomplish their dreams.
Linda Esposito recently posted..Why Hope’s a BitchMy Profile

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Alison Golden May 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I come from a long line of gardeners, maids and cooks. We are definitely a ‘below stairs’ family. My mother was the first to kick that pattern, working in an office and hiring her own cleaning lady. So maybe I identified with this one a bit too much. I felt responsible because I felt I should know enough Spanish to communicate and I knew how hard it would be for her to get more work because of her non-English speaking but as many people have pointed out, she needed the work, it was her responsibility to learn the language if she wanted to maximize her opportunities. And she didn’t do that. I couldn’t even tell her why she was fired and when she showed up again two weeks later because she hadn’t even understood I’d fired her, the thing turned into a farce! At least I didn’t hesitate this time. I didn’t even let her out of her car. :-/
Alison Golden recently posted..5 Inspiring and Unconventional Personal Development Blogs You Should ReadMy Profile

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Francie June 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Hi — I’m native born, English speaking (although do speak Spanish!) college educated and a Veteran. I worked corporate for 20+ years until 9/11 deployment and cancer woke me up to living life, not getting through it. I happen to love to houseclean, and started a solo business. I am proud to say I turn away clients and make a very good living. I enjoy lightening their load. I get all my clients via word of mouth, so trust and communication are key to me. I found your website because I recently did a “first-time” clean for a potentially new monthly clean client. She was hesitant over my price, which I even lowered $25. I cleaned last weekend. The next day, she texted, saying she appreciated my work/time but would not need me in the future. It’s really bothering me because I don’t know WHY? If I did something not to her liking, I’d like the chance to learn/fix. If it was the money, I’d understand and would probably work around her needs. (I had told her that at our initial interview). See, once I do that first clean, subsequent cleanings are easier, so I can wiggle the price. So keeping a client like that is important to me. Note that I’m not saying I don’t work as hard/cut corners, it’s just that I’ve done the 6 months of dust removal, etc. I know I didn’t do anything wrong (stealing, breaking anything, etc) but I really wish I knew the reason! The other reason this is bothering me is…I don’t know what she has/will tell her friend. I am secure enough to know how that client feels about my work but I’m human enough (!) to really wonder what she’ll say! I am grateful to read what you all have already posted – I value Customer Service and always look for ways to exceed my customer’s expectations. Thanks for letting me air! And if you ever have a question I can answer from the Housekeeper perspective, I’ll gladly try!

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Alison Golden August 23, 2012 at 9:18 am

Thanks, Francie for your reply. I just recently had to fire my replacement cleaning lady and did explain this time why (save money – I will take her back on when the time comes) but the first time, it was impossible! I love having a cleaning lady and I love that I can employ someone to lighten my load and theirs by helping them support themselves. Win-win.
Alison Golden recently posted..5 Inspiring and Unconventional Personal Development Blogs You Should ReadMy Profile

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Carpet Bright May 15, 2016 at 7:32 am

I love how you wrote this…

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