No, I promise this is not a post about Justin Bieber.
Never hire your friends. It was a piece of advice I heard from several old timers when I was about to embark on the world of hiring caregivers. That was almost thirty years ago, and I understand what they were saying. As with any job, when the lines between friendship and employee get blurry, feelings can get hurt and friendships can get fractured. I would like to say that I have always followed that rule, but I can’t. I’ve broken it. Twice. Each time taught me valuable lessons.
When I was in my late twenties I liked to think I knew everything. Mostly that was to cover up the fact that I usually didn’t have a clue. But I couldn’t tell people that. I was a young professional working in my first job out of grad school, confident, some might even say a bit cocky. One crash came when I found out my caregiver had been stealing my money for months.
At a time when ATMs were not very popular, I used to send this particular caregiver to the grocery store with a list of items I wanted her to buy and a signed personal check to pay for the groceries. To make a long story short, she would buy her groceries at the same time, pay for them all with the check that I gave her and then tell me she lost the receipt. She didn’t work for me all the time, so it took me a while to catch on. By the time I realized what she had been doing, I estimated she had stolen several hundred dollars. I fired her immediately and never looked back.
That created a situation that had me looking for a caregiver that could start quickly at the same time one of my good friends, Andrea, was looking for a job. When we discussed the possibility of her working for me, we naively thought there might be some potential problems, but we would be fine. We were mistaken.
Back then, I did not have clear caregiver boundaries or policies for caregivers, nor any strategies for keeping my emotions under control. When my anger or frustration escalated, I did not have the skills to effectively make myself understood. I also had many needs, without a good handle on the fact that one person can only do so much. Andrea and I struggled to the point that our friendship was almost destroyed. That was completely my responsibility and I can only hope that I have grown up significantly since those days. She hung in there with me and showed me by example how to give people second chances even when they hurt you deeply. Andrea and I are still close friends. Sometimes memories of that season of our lives leave me amazed that she is still talking to me.
Fast forward almost twenty years.
In mid-April of this year, I was unexpectedly in the hospital on two separate occasions. A kidney blockage and a fierce infection had my body telling me who was the boss in no uncertain terms. That meant I was on powerful antibiotics for what seemed like an eternity and I also had a tube in my kidney to drain the infection that was there. While I was in the hospital, additionally it meant that all the caregiver interviews that I had set up to find replacements for the beloved team that was leaving had to be cancelled, and eventually, all of those prospects went on to find other jobs. I expressed my concern over my need for caregivers to several friends and I asked them to pray about the situation along with me.
A few days later my cell phone rang in my hospital room. My friend Dale had an idea. He is a teacher and a coach and he needed some employment for the month of June.
“What would you think of my coming up to Lawrence on weekends and staying on your sofa? I could do whatever caregiving things you need in addition to doing some projects around your house. We haven’t really had time to hang out since we were at Emporia State. Do you like this idea?”
Immediately I wanted to say no. I knew I wasn’t willing to have anything ruin the connection we had. Our friendship is too special to me for that. Dale knows me well and when I expressed my hesitation to him, he had already thought it through. He suggested we take it one day at a time and check in with each other at the end of every weekend to see if the arrangement was still working for both of us. We agreed to give it a try.
In the last four weeks I have discovered that Dale can make a spectacular stir-fry; do eleven loads of laundry in a day and a half, clean a toilet probably better than a billionaire’s housekeeper and has both my front and back yards looking better than they did on the day I moved into my house.
He helps me in and out of the shower and cleans me up after embarrassing personal accidents. He handles everything with grace and humor. We have butted heads over little things like where my trash cans should be placed in the bathroom and the correct way to package cheese before you put it in the freezer. Because of the circumstances of both of our lives, we each like to be in control of things. But when we have clashed we have always been able to have a productive conversation about the things that bother us. The end result of each disagreement is that we understand each other better. We also have had wonderful conversations about many of the issues in each of our lives, making our bond stronger than ever. I’m not sure any of that would have happened if Dale hadn’t been humble enough to be a caregiver as well as a friend and present me with the idea several weeks ago.
What do I think about the advice I was given about not hiring friends before I started on this journey of hiring caregivers? I still think it is a pretty good rule to live by. If all my friends were caregivers I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have any friends left. However, both of my experiences in taking that risk have taught me something extremely important.
Never say never!