Originally posted here.
For the 17 years, I’ve worked with children of divorced parents. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly in these 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 nanny, it’s my job to make this transition as stress free for the child/children as possible, and to be the one constant in their lives in the ever-changing dynamics of their family structure. It’s also my job to communicate to the parents the issues I see the divorce having on the children, and to make the parents aware of emotional, behavioral, social and educational changes I notice in the child/children that may be caused by the parents’ actions and the child’s coping with divorce.
Working with divorced parents and children, I’ve come to realize there is much that can be done between the parents and the nanny that can make these circumstances a win-win for all, despite the trauma of divorce.
I’ve come up with a list of 10 tips for families coping with divorce, to help everyone keep focus on giving the kids the divorce support they need.
#1: Communication is Key
Communication can be managed by emails daily between parents and the caregiver, but one parent should speak directly with the nanny each day. Email is a great tool, because it allows direct communication to each parent to let them know exactly what is going on, schedule reminders, concerns, school updates, doctor/dentist appointment reminders, etc.
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 suggest including something personal about each child, such as their favorite part of the day. This gives the parents a great tool to open up conversation 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 parent to pay attention to over the weekend, needs of the each household, etc.
There are also several apps available that nannies, parents and children who are old enough can download to keep logs of daily activities and communication. Baby Connect and Nanny Notes are just two examples of apps for nannies and parents.
If your nanny doesn’t have a smartphone, consider investing in one for her. This allows for constant communication and parental involvement with the nanny. A smartphone also allows your nanny to have the kids’ schedules and appointments at her fingertips. Also, all the family contacts, school contacts, doctors, dentists, friends, service companies, school website passwords and so much more that will help your nanny be more efficient in her job, on a daily basis.
#2: Your Nanny is Not the Messenger
Too often, 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. It is the responsibility of each parent to put their egos aside, not point blame on the other parent, and be able to communicate the needs of the children and the households with each other. Keep your divorce and children separate. 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 who is coping with divorce. Treating the nanny or children like messengers places them in the middle of your legal dilemma during a divorce.
#3: Create a Master Calendar
One of the responsibilities of being a nanny may be maintenance of the family schedule. Be it a paper calendar in each home with all appointments and activities, or an online format such as Google calendarthat can be shared and categorized, one of the best nannying and parenting tips I can give is to keep a central calendar.
Include all known children’s activities, school functions, practice schedules, doctor/dentist appointments, tests, special projects, etc. Include the visitation schedule so all is handy at-a-glance. I also suggest putting a paper calendar in the kids’ rooms so that they can see what is going on, to help them keep track of days as they transition into coping with divorce. The calendar gives them an opportunity to prepare mentally and physically for the changes in location and routine.
#4: Keep the Kids’ Environments Familiar
When you have two households, maintain the same rules and expectations in each. To offer the children divorce support, make sure each child has their own space in each home, familiar objects that make them comfortable, favorite books and toys, even toiletries and medications. While it may seem extreme, and costly, to have duplicate sets of some items, it will save both divorced parents and children stress while going from one place to the other, according to the 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 Dad’s, and then a sudden change has them at Mom’s 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 divorced parents, 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 that their parents’ parental involvement isn’t disappearing. Explain that Dad had an emergency, and although he wants to be with them, he wouldn’t be back until late, so it was best for them to go with their Mom. Explanations can help kids who are coping with divorce understand the changes going on around them.
There may still be the few items that need to go from one house to another, but overall, maintaining two fully-stocked households is a blessing that helps children of divorced parents feel secure in both their home environments.
#5: 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. Parents: Don’t name call, demean, or belittle your ex in the presence of the children, and advise friends and family to follow your example as well. Good nannying means helping the kids maintain positive relationships with both parents, so your nanny should never make negative remarks about either parent in front of the kids.
Parents, 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 or confidant, and employer. The nanny is there in the best interest of the children.
Parents shouldn’t divulge personal information about their exes to their 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, look forward to when they’ll be back.
#6: Be clear and concise with your nanny
What is expected in one home of divorced parents 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. If one parent is making the child do something they don’t wish to, or feel pressured to do–good nannying requires a nanny to step in and alert the other parent to a conflict that may need his or her involvement. Sometimes, parents don’t realize what they are doing to the child, until someone close to them points it out.
#7: Let Everyone in your Children’s’ Lives Know
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 in children coping with divorce, as well as hear what your children are talking about when you are not around.
#8: Clarify Your Nanny Work Agreement
When nannying for divorced parents, this is even more necessary and important, as multiple parties are involved. Make sure that both divorced parents are clear on the terms of the nanny contract, and that one party just doesn’t make assumptions about matters of importance. For instance, if the children are away with one parent on vacation, does that mean the nanny is on vacation? Is it paid? Organizing all aspects of the nannying job will help in times of conflict and uncertainty as issues arise.
#9: Keep Track of the Money
Another one of my most important parenting tips for divorced parents and their nannies is to closely maintain the household and child-related expenses. Depending on the dynamics of the parents and children, I recommend the following: One credit card for all child care and child related expenses. This includes all purchases your nanny will make for the children–clothing, medications, school supplies, classes, etc. If the nanny is provided a work vehicle, then the costs of that–gasoline, repairs, maintenance would go on that card as well. This is assuming that parental involvement is high, and that the parents are splitting the costs of the children and nanny, with an account set up for child-related expenses.
If the nanny is nannying independently in each home for divorced parents, I suggest a credit card for each household, so the nanny can purchase groceries or toiletries for each child, and pay for any other household-related duties she may be responsible for, such as errands, or any household related task.
It should be noted that the nanny becomes an authorized user on an account held by the parent, and is not financially responsible for the charges or payments of the account. This information should also be included in your nanny work agreement.
#10: Qualities of Nannying 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 multitask, and she must be adept and extremely flexible in handling last minute schedule (and emotional) changes.
Being a nanny, 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, I must be able to communicate that something isn’t working to the parents and children. Then, I communicate with the parent or parents to work to find resolution.
As a nanny for divorced parents, you must 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. The parent will thank you for it and appreciate your attention to details.
These suggestions and observations work as well for parents who don’t employ a nanny. The divorce is not only about the breakup of your marriage, it is the breakup of the family that the children have grown to know. By maintaining a healthy relationship with your ex and your nanny, parents and children coping with divorce can continue to thrive.