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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Working with Divorced Parents - A Nanny's Prospective

Working with Divorced Parents
A Nanny’s Prospective – by Kellie Geres

As a career nanny of 21years, I have spent the past ten years working with divorced parents. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly in all situations. Divorce is not an easy decision to reach for any couple, and when there are children involved it’s even more difficult. As the child care provider in these situations it’s my job to make the situation as stress free for the child/children and be the one constant in their lives in the ever changing dynamics of the family structure. It’s also my job to communicate to the parents the issues I see the divorce having on the children and make the parents aware of emotional, behavioral, social and educational changes I notice in the child/children that may be caused by the action of the parents and the stress of the divorce.
I should point out that I am a very hands-on nanny with many responsibilities other than child care. I also wear the hat of household manager, overseeing the day-to-day runnings of two busy households during the time the children are in school. Working with divorced parents, I’ve come to realize there is much that can be done between the parents and the nanny; that can make the situation a win-win for all, despite the trauma of divorce.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Daily. I have been able to maintain this by email primarily, but speak with at least one parent each day. Email is a great tool because it allows me to communicate directly to each parent and let them know exactly what is going on, schedule reminders, concerns, school updates, doctor/dentist appointment reminders, etc. With two working parents, whose schedule is full of meetings, travel, and clients obligations – email is a direct and fast way to reach them with the day-to-day runnings of a busy house – or in the case of divorce – two houses. A household log works well and can be as simple as a spiral bound notebook left on the kitchen counter in each home. Each day, the nanny should write down what happened during her time with the kids, observations, etc. I also like to include something personal about each child, such as their favorite part of the day. This gives the parents a great tool to open up communication with their child about what they did during the day. Also, weekly updates on Friday on how your week went, reminders for the upcoming week, things you want the parents to pay attention to over the weekend, needs of the each household, etc.

One of the best investments I have made in my career is a BlackBerry. This allows me to be in constant communication with either parent. If the kids and I are out and about and I have a quick question, I shoot off an email rather than call and interrupt them. Pick up the kids and they have a project due the next day or a test - email the parents to give them a heads up of what is due. Dads in a meeting and moms traveling in another country – I receive a call from the school that one of the children is sick and needs to come home. I can email the parents to let them know what’s going on. I’ve even emailed call me immediately when necessary and get a faster response than had I called and left a voice mail.

My BlackBerry also allows me to have the kids’ schedules and appointments at my fingertips. I also have all the family contacts, school contacts, doctors’, dentists’, friends, service companies, landscape, plumber, electrician, school website passwords and so much more that helps me be more efficient in my job, on a daily basis. A BlackBerry makes a great gift for your nanny to show your appreciation and all that she does for your family, or households.

Do not make your nanny the messenger. Too many times parents fail to communicate with each other, and rely upon the nanny, or even worse- the children, to communicate important issues, schedule changes, needs, etc., and that is not appropriate. It is the responsibility of each parent to put their ego’s aside, not point blame on the other parent, and be able to communicate the needs of the children and the households with each other. The current children I care for spend one week with each parent – Friday pm to Friday am. So one week with mom, one week with dad. Now, schedules can be adjusted for work/travel needs of each parent, and it takes some coordinating – and communicating to make it work, but if all parties are on board, it does. Don’t expect your nanny to tell your ex that you can’t take the kids your scheduled weekend because you are away. You need to communicate that yourself. Never put that responsibility on the child. It places the nanny and/or child in the middle of your dilemma.

One of the responsibilities of the nanny can be maintaining the family schedule. I have an 11 x 14 spiral bound monthly calendar that lists all the children’s activities, school functions, practice schedules, doctor/dentist appointments, tests, special projects, etc. Mom makes up the monthly visitation schedule between each parent, and once I have that, I fill in each date on the spiral calendar with either parent initial so the children – and parent – have a reminder of where they will be on any given day. Once I have filled in what I know in advance in a certain month, I then go and have that copied for each household. Each parent then displays it prominently where all have access to it. As other events come up, they are handwritten on each calendar. I typically copy three months at a time, so we know what’s going on in advance. As always, I have my BlackBerry and can refer to it at a moment’s notice for clarification on any detail. May seem like a lot, but with all the kids have going on and the running of two households, you have to be organized.

I’ve also found that the children benefit from having their own calendars in their room. We use simple dry-erase ones, monthly fill in the blank, purchased at Staples. The youngest child likes to do her own, decorating it and filling in special things she has going on – sleepover at a friend’s, movie release date, shopping trips, etc. Each keeps them in their room, so it gives them instant access to their own schedule and gentle reminders of what’s to come.

Children will feel much more calm and relaxed in familiar environments. When you have two households, maintain the same rules and expectations in each. Also make sure each child has their own space in each home, familiar object that make them comfortable, favorite books, toys, even toiletries and medications. While it may seem extreme, and costly, to have duplicate sets of some items, it will save in the trauma of going from one place to the other according to your visitation schedule. It is also helpful when those unexpected schedule changes pop up. There have been a number of times in the morning I know the kids are scheduled to be at dads and then a sudden change has them at moms that night. I don’t have to worry about what clothes they have, what toiletries, etc., as there is ample supply at both. It is also the nanny’s responsibility to keep the kids focused and feeling secure in these sudden changes. Children of divorce, as with many children, don’t like change and can take a while to adapt to sudden changes. Make the child/children feel secure in knowing, dad had a client emergency and wants to be with you, but felt it would be too late so you’re going to be with mom tonight. We still have the bag of current favorite clothes and game system/games that I shuttle back and forth, but overall; maintaining two households, fully stocked is a blessing and helps these children feel secure in their environment.

Check your attitude at the door. As I said earlier, parents need to put their egos aside and not point blame, especially in front of the children. Children pick up changes in mood, stress levels and attitudes of adults. Don’t name call, demean, or belittle your ex in the presence of the children, and advise friends and family to follow as well. Now, I’m guilty of lamenting to one parent how I disagree with how the other parent does certain things, and how I’m concerned about their supervision or eating habits when I’m not around, but it brings to the attention of the other parent concerns of the children. Don’t expect your nanny to choose sides. Putting her in the middle of your divorce is unfair to all parties. You may enjoy a close relationship with your nanny, but be careful not to cross the line between friend/confidant and employer. The nanny is there in the best interest of the child/children. For parents don’t divulge personal information about your ex to your children in hopes of winning their love or making them choose sides. Don’t make your children feel they need to choose sides or pick one parent over the other – that’s like asking which parent they love more. Enjoy the time you have with them and when you don’t have them, be looking forward to when they’ll be back.

Be clear and concise with your nanny. What is expected in one home should be expected in the other. If homework is to be done before playtime, maintain that schedule in both homes. Keep dietary needs and basic wellness consistent. A nanny plays a key role in this and should speak up when she notices changes and concerns in a household. I often struggle with this, as I feel like a tattle-tale. However, I have to remind myself it is in the best interest of the children if one parent is not maintaining certain standards of care and to let the other parent know about it. Or if one parent is making the child do something they don’t wish to, or feel pressured to do - the nanny can step in and alert the other parent to a conflict that they may need to get involved in. Sometime parents don’t realize they are doing it to the child, until someone close to them points it out.

Be sure to let all involved parties in your child/children’s’ lives know what’s going on. Teachers, coaches, tutors, parents of your child’s best friend – these people all have important roles in the lives of your children. They spend a lot of time with your children and see in them what sometimes you can’t. They can also be watching for changes in behavior, and hear what your children are talking about when you are not around.

Clearly define your work agreement with your nanny. In the case of working for divorced parents this is even more necessary and important, as multiple parties are involved. Make sure that all parties are clear on the terms of the contract, and that one party just doesn’t assume in matters of importance. For instance, if the children are away with one parent on vacation, does that mean you are on vacation? Is it paid?

Keeping Track of the Money. Another matter of importance is household and child related expenses. Initially when I started my current job six years ago, I had one credit card for all purchases. I would submit expenses by category – mom/dad/children/auto. Parents finally realized this wasn’t working as well for them, so now I have a credit card for each parent/household and one for children’s purchases and auto – gas, maintenance, etc. This way, each parent is responsible for their own purchases, and shared costs are split – children and auto. I am an authorized user on their accounts, I bare no responsibility, have that clearly defined in my work agreement and while I maintain and am responsible for multiple credit cards, it makes my life, and the parents so much easier and organized.

Qualities of a nanny in working for divorced parents. While these are similar to what any nanny job may entail, a nanny working for divorced parents needs to be highly organized and efficient. She must also be able to multi-task, be adept and extremely flexible in handling last minute schedule changes. She must be a great communicator – bringing to attention any concerns she has relating to the children or anything going on that affects her ability to do her job. I find this one to be the most difficult, as I dislike confrontation, but in order to be the best nanny I can be, I need to be able communicate that something isn’t working and to hope that the parent or parents are willing and able to work with me in finding resolution. Take initiative. See something that needs to be done? Bring it to the attention of the parent and offer to do it or find someone to get it done or offer a solution. They will thank you for it and appreciate your attention to details.

For parents who don’t employ a nanny, these suggestions and observations can work for you as well. The divorce is not only about the breakup of your marriage, it is the breakup of your family as the children have grown to know it. By maintaining a healthy relationship with your ex, children can continue to thrive during this difficult time.

Kellie Geres is a career nanny/household manager of 21years. She is the 1997 International Nanny Association Nanny of the Year and the current president of ADCAN – Association of DC Area Nannies. She blogs at AllThingsNanny, NNRW, Nanny Groups and is on the development team of Regarding Nannies. She resides in the Washington, DC metro area.


CincyNanny January 21, 2010 at 2:26 PM  

Wow, what a great write-up, Kellie. Coming from a divorced family, myself, I see that a Nanny has a great opportunity to bring added stability to a family of divorce. I'm sure it has it's challenges, but how awesome for the children to have a security blanket that moves back and forth with them. (I would have loved that!)

Anonymous January 21, 2010 at 4:18 PM  

Great article! Here is an online reminder tool that could help organize your family.

Anonymous January 21, 2010 at 8:05 PM  

As always Kellie, you have shared so many helpful insights and helpful hints! Kudos!

Gael Ann

Candi January 22, 2010 at 2:28 PM  

Single parents can benefit significantly from hiring a nanny:

-It’s an affordable childcare option - hiring a nanny is often less expensive than sending your children to daycare.
-They can pitch in around the house, helping with meal preparation, errands, housework and more, which can be a huge time (and money) saver.
-They offer single parents a break from the busy pace of caring for their children, working and juggling other responsibilities. In addition to relying on their nannies while they’re working, single parents can enjoy much-needed “me time” away - at the gym, meeting friends, etc. - knowing that their children are being cared for by a capable nanny.
Nannies: are certainly not a replacement for a parent, but they’re a huge help to single parents, providing mentoring and consistent, loving care. Nannies are invaluable in supporting the needs of both single parents and their children.

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