Stuck in the Middle

I don’t know of any other job that requires you to be in other people’s business. What I mean is, as a nanny, it is important to understand family dynamics, drama and everyday life in order to successfully  do our job. HOWEVER, it is NOT our job to be judgmental  pick sides or have a say in “fixing” any situations that arise.  I have had and seen several families over the years that have family drama ranging from separated parents, divorced parents, estranged grandparents to step families. Each of these change how a family functions.

Separated parents are confusing for children. Often times children don’t understand how one day their parents can be living in the same house, then the next dad has a suitcase and says he is “going to sleep over at Uncle Marks house for a bit”. Usually separation means parents are having disagreements or fighting which can be scary for children. The kids may have questions or need someone to vent to. Comfort them, hug them, tell them everything will work out. Don’t give any details about what parents are fighting about. Don’t help the children pick sides. Don’t give them false promises like “Dad will come home.” If the parent’s end up getting a divorce, the children will resent you. Not having a parent in the house changes how the house functions. Since each parent has “jobs” (ie dishes, discipline, cleaning etc), if that is taken away someone has to pick up the slack. This adds stress to the other parent that is still home. You as the nanny will probably be put in the middle. I had a parent one time that tried convincing me that her husband was the most horrible person in the world. He was lazy, he was dumb, he was a bad parent. REMEMBER: It is NOT your place to comment on a parenting style or take sides. I told my employer that while I understood there was conflict, I was not a family counselor or experienced in dealing with separation, and for the sake of the family it would be best for me not to “pick sides”. When and IF the parent returns, there will be a sensitive time of readjustment. Be aware of this, and help ease the awkwardness. Be available to talk to the children as they may not want to talk to either parent about what happened. Don’t “dumb down” what happened but be vague enough to not target one parent as the bad parent.

Divorced Parents are, I think, the most difficult to deal with as a nanny. I worked for a dad who was recently divorced. He and his ex wife had not finalized in custody agreement with their two kids which added a lot of confusion and disarray on everyone’s part. The children only saw their mom on the weekends, which for a 10 year old girl was not enough. She was starting puberty and had many questions that the dad did not want to answer. He at one point asked me to help. I did not feel comfortable with that and he understood. The dad worked long hours and many nights didn’t see the kids. I was the only one offering love and support for the kids who were obviously upset. It had been a nasty divorce and the parent’s couldn’t even look at each other without fighting. This affected my job. How so? Friday nights after I picked up the kids from school I would drop them off at their mothers house. I was not allowed to talk to her or do any errands for her as I was completely employed by the father. Eventually the parent’s came to an agreement. Since the parent’s both lived in the school district, the kids stayed with their father Sunday through Wednesday and their mother Wednesday night through Saturday. This equaled more change for everyone. Not only did the kids have two different homes, two different sets of parents, and two parenting styles..the mother hired a nanny, so the kids had TWO nannies! Needless to say the children rebelled and I left shortly after the second nanny was hired. I recommended that the dad hire the mom’s nanny to add a little stability in the children’s life. He agreed. Lessons learned: Before you take a job, look into what is going on and why a nanny is needed. Sometimes it is just conflict with work, sometimes the parents just don’t want responsibility. Sometimes there is a nasty divorce going on. Just beware you will be a part of it. Enter at your own risk.

Estranged Grandparents are people you may or may not ever meet. I was watching two little kids one day and while getting them ready to go to the park, the doorbell rang. Using safety techniques learned in Babysitting class, I called the mom and asked if she was expecting anyone. I described the elderly woman and man. She said it was her ex husband’s crazy parents. They lost visitation rights after her divorce but still tried to see the kids. She said I could answer the door and say now wasn’t a good time, but under no circumstances could they come in or see the kids. When I answered the door, the couple was very nice, asking to come inside. I replied that now wasn’t a good time, they could come back when the mom came back. They said they had traveled very far and only wanted a few minutes with the children. Again I replied now wasn’t a good time and guests were not allowed in the house when parent’s weren’t home. After their third attempt to come inside the house, I called the mom again. She said there was legal documentation that prohibited them from seeing the kids. If they attempted to come inside, the police would get involved. Luckily they left and the police weren’t called. If that ever happened again, I would not have answered the door to begin with.

Step Families are one area I have not personally dealt with but have had other nanny friends that have. Some families mesh well and others stay separated even after marriage. In some cases, parents will chose to discipline only their biological kids, not the step children. Others will combine discipline habits and have cohesion. Unity is not always seen between step brothers and sisters, especially in the beginning. As a nanny it is important to diffuse anger outbursts, provide group activities that help teamwork strategies and friendships, and be a support system for the children. Be sympathetic of these changes. One child may have grown up with nannies and another may have been raised without. Sit down with the parent’s and get a game plan. Talk about what is acceptable for rewards, for consequences, how disagreements will be handled, and what they expect from you.

REMEMBER: every situation is different. Don’t be a counselor or shrink. Parents WILL put you in the middle. You are there for the children. That is YOUR priority. Be a companion and be supportive. 🙂 Smile. Sometimes it will be the only positive thing a child will respond to.

I hope you never have a family issue as big as the ones I listed today.. feel free to comment if you have been in any of these situations.

One thought on “Stuck in the Middle

  1. Pingback: It’s All About You | My Everyday Psychology

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