While I love talking about all the wonderful little people who make my life so much more fun than it could be normally, there is another side to nannying that people don’t talk about much. It’s when things don’t work out, and you have to let parents go, or when they have to let you go.
I’ve only been let go once in my entire nannying career. I was 22 and working full-time for a harried family with two adorable little girls. The little ones, ages 5 and 7, had their challenges, but we had a good routine going on. The issue was that their mother, a full-time bartender and owner of her own restaurant, didn’t feel like we had a good routine at all. She also felt that my discipline methods (which were to separate the girls when they fought, no matter if it was night or day, because they shared a room and had very little separate time away from each other) were unorthodox and I quote, “abusive”. Funny, I didn’t think that separating children so that they didn’t maul each other to death like young tigers was abusive, but your mileage may vary, I suppose.
While I understand why she let me go for some reasons (I was sick most of that year, losing my gall bladder and dealing with two respiratory flus, constant gastritis attacks from the stress and the onset of my IBS), I feel that the main problem was that I just wasn’t a good fit with the family. I was expected to be a 24/7 maid without extra compensation, often being yelled at when my main priority (the children) caused me not to complete one of the many extra chores the woman piled on me. I got in trouble for things the children did, including accidental breaking of dishes that was no one’s fault, really. Because of the woman’s crazy work schedule, I was called earlier and earlier in the day to come and look after the children, and asked to stay until 2 and 3 AM, even though I had an 8 o’clock class many mornings out of the week. I dealt with the children’s issues, including illness, sleep problems, and my suspicion that the youngest girl was on the autism spectrum. I worked patiently with the children, trying to schedule activities and help with homework. And in the end, it wasn’t good enough.
Yes, I guess I’m still a little bitter.
But I can’t say that I, also, haven’t let families go in the past. I most recently did it a year ago, when a family with three children asked me to babysit occasionally for about two months and then refused to call me again until a year had gone by. Their children were rude and undisciplined, and after being called fat, ugly, and having pillows thrown at me each time I looked after them and then being cut off without notice for an entire year, I didn’t feel obligated to agree to babysit for them again. I let another family go for underpaying me constantly and refusing to pay me on time. And I’ve let families go because I can feel that I’m not a good fit with them, as in the case of the three-year-old who didn’t like me.
Thankfully, this unpleasant part of being a nanny is not something I’ve had to experience very often. My families now are wonderful. I enjoy being with all of them so much, and many of them are my friends.
So, what does it take for me to let a family go? Here are a few things that have either drawn me to put families on probation in the past:
- Payment issues: I expect to be paid on time, every time. I provide a service for you, so your end of the contract is to pay me what we have agreed upon. When families consistently don’t pay me, I can’t continue to work for them. As much as I do love working with children, I don’t do it for free. If a family has issues with paying me and have talked to me upfront about it, this changes. I am understanding of money issues – I’ve had them myself!
- Blatant disrespect: This could be from the children (consistent disrespect with no help from the parents to correct it) or from the parents (snide remarks, inappropriate yelling, or odd comments). I am a human being who deserves to be respected. When this doesn’t happen, I can’t continue to come to work and do my job to the best of my ability. We both need to be comfortable with each other, and in the case of your children, I need to mesh with them and vice versa. Sometimes, this has changed and families have completely turned around, but other times, I’ve let them go because they need someone who will fit in better, and I need someone who will respect me as a person.
- The contract changes without my agreement: If I have agreed to provide a service for you, beyond occasional babysitting which for me, is not contracted, then I will hold up my end of the bargain. Occasionally, things have changed without being discussed with me first (addition of a lot of extra duties, times being pushed or changed, the parents need to work different hours and my pay gets cut, I’m suddenly called in to look after sick children despite the agreement that I don’t do that, etc.) and I find that disrespectful, not to mention impactful to the relationship that I have with a family. Normally, this can be ironed out with a talk, but if it can’t be, then we may need to part ways.
- Our styles don’t mesh: This is rare for me, but it’s happened that my caregiving style has not meshed with a family’s needs and caregiving style. Again, this can be ironed out with a chat about expectations, but if parents and children are not willing to change or don’t feel they have to (and this is valid – after all, I’m the interloper here), then it’s time for them to find someone who can work better with their family and style.
- It’s just not working out: And this can comprise a number of reasons. The child doesn’t like me. I don’t like the child. I feel uncomfortable with some aspect of the job. The parents are uncomfortable with something I’m doing. The schedule becomes crazy. I find another job. There can be a lot of reasons why a family/caregiver relationship doesn’t work out, and sometimes that will happen. It’s sad, but it’s part of this career.
When I let a family go, I enumerate the reasons why. I give examples. I stay respectful, and I don’t play the blame game. I’ve read stories on the Internet and heard horror stories in real life of providers who will yell at the parents, in front of the children, vilify the children or do other awful things. This isn’t helpful and it certainly doesn’t make you look like a good provider. Even if the kids are the most awful children I’ve ever looked after, what does it benefit anyone to tell a parent that? That makes me look petty and it also makes me look incompetent. Plus, no child is 100% awful, so it’s also a lie.
I have been able, with the exception of the time I got let go, to leave respectfully and without drama. This is the best way to do it. While sometimes nanny relationships don’t work out, never burn bridges. You don’t know if you’ll have to ask for a reference from the family you’ve just let go or if a future client will want to know details about what happened.
Thankfully, I haven’t done this in a long time and I hope I don’t have to ever again. I focus on the positive relationships I have with my clients and friends – after all, it’s those relationships that keep me doing this day after day!