10 Tips for Working with Divorced Parents

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By Kellie Geres

I have spent the past 15 years working with divorced families. No divorce is easy, however, there are certain things you can do as a nanny to make this difficult time less stressful for the children while still maintaining a professional relationship with the parents.

  • Always remember that you are there for the children.  Their safety, well-being and comfort come first.
  • You are not there to be the new best friend of your boss, a sounding board for all things wrong with their spouse or to bear the brunt of the frustrations they are having with each other.
  • While tempers may rise, do not allow name calling or negative talk of the other spouse while children are present.  Also, don’t allow other family members or friends to do so in the presence of the children.  Children pick up on the feelings and tone of parents, and little ears become big listeners when they know it’s something they aren’t supposed to hear.
  • Do not let yourself become the messenger between parents, and don’t allow the children to relay messages either.  While they may not be able to communicate with each other, this isn’t about them.  It’s about their children and their needs.  Create a system of emails that consistently remind parents of upcoming appointments, events and obligations.
  • Maintain two separate households.  Have clothing, shoes, toiletries, medications, etc. in each home.  School bags and sports equipment can go back and forth.  While it may be added work to maintain these in both homes, it does come in handy for those last minute changes in location or when an emergency arises.
  • Consistency is key, but know that what one parent does may not be done at the other home.   Know what’s important and pick your battles.   If Mom lets them have ice cream for dessert every night, but Dad wants them to have fruit, it’s not going to harm them to have ice cream when they’re at Mom’s house.   Knowing that they are fed and bathed, their homework is done and that they’re safe in their home should be the main concerns.   Whether one parent lets them eat candy or watch cartoons for three hours should not cause a battle amongst the parents and caregivers.
  • Stability is key for kids, especially with divorce.   They want to know who is picking them up from school.   They want to know what time you will be home.   Know that they need the feeling of stability to feel safe and secure in their environment.  Be patient and calm when assuring them you’re going to be there for them.
  • Communicate with the parents your observations of how things are going with the kids.   Don’t use it as a means to ‘tattle’ on the other parent, but a note stating, “I notice that John plays video games when he comes home from school to chill for a while, but this is starting to affect getting his homework done in a timely manner” is acceptable.  While parents may set rules and guidelines, they are not the ones on the front working with the kids and may not realize when something is becoming an issue.
  • Create a calendar system for the kids to follow.   Buy monthly calendars that they can keep in their rooms, noting on each when they have practices, school holidays, appointments and when they are at Mom’s or Dad’s.    My system was to create a master calendar with a copy for each home, as well as one for each child’s bedroom.  This included appointments, visitation location, school happenings and more.  Once the kids got old enough, they started helping create the calendars, as they wanted to put the information on it.
  • Clearly define your role in your work agreement.  If you’re working for both parents in both homes, clearly outline the responsibilities and protocol for each home.   Treat it as two separate work agreements if it makes things easier.   But make sure your salary and benefits are defined and both parties agree.  It’s easier to have one party responsible for the payroll and let the parents determine which party is the main contact.  In my case, Mom handled all financials and benefits and the parents maintained a joint checking account for all child related expenses.

Divorce can be amicable between parents, or it can be very toxic.   Having a nanny who is equipped with the resources and information to deal with both situations can help make this transition a bit easier on all parties.

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