Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gentle Transitions Guide

Gentle Transitions
You can find books about being a nanny,what a nanny needs to know, how to put together your portfolio,how to interview a family and what you need to put in a work agreement, but you can’t find a book that tells a nanny how to heal her broken heart when she either outgrows or her job , or the job ends.
The subject of leaving a family, and the grief that follows, is a topic that very few nannies or parents have a desire to talk about.
There are many things that make our profession unique but the one thing that sets it apart from all the rest is the fact that we come into a family, we play an integral part of loving and caring for, and helping to raise their children, and our reward for a job well done is to move on.
I once heard someone say that a nanny comes when you think you need her least, and leaves when you need her most. There is a truthful irony about nannies which is:
If we do our job and do it well, we work ourselves out of a job. No matter how hard you work, or how well you do your job, it is inevitable that your job will come to an end.
As nannies it is our job to teach the children in our care not to need us.
Our challenge is to convince ourselves that we don’t need them.
Sometimes you can plan for those endings and sometimes they come unexpectedly.
Jobs end for lots of reasons:
Children grow up
Parent loses job and has to downsize
Parents find alternative care that is cheaper
Nannies find jobs that pay more
Parent and nanny no longer agree on lots of issues
In a perfect world a parent and a nanny can sit down and talk about the upcoming transition and plan for it together.
But...more often than not it ends badly. Even when you are trying to work together to make it a good parting, it can still end badly.
If the nanny chooses to leave:
sometimes the parents can feel hurt or betrayed,
If the parent decides to end the relationship:, sometimes the nanny can feel hurt or betrayed, but no matter who chooses to end the relationship, it is always highly emotional and difficult especially for the nanny and the child who form very close bonds.
Lets talk about signs that point to the end of a job, ways to prepare the children, and ways to take care of yourself.
In a perfect world, when the job is ending, you have the opportunity to talk with the parents and plan for it. You can plan to slowly transition the children. Financially it is not always feasible.
I have been with my current family for 17 years. In that 17 years there have been many changes but we always talk and we always try to have a plan. We started talking early in the relationship how we would phase my job down and also how important it was for us to always be a part of each other’s lives.
Sometimes, financially, for a nanny this is impossible but if you can make the changes gradually it is helpful for all concerned.
In most cases, that is not an option.
Whether you stay with a family for 6 months or 6 years, it does not take long to fall in love with the children, and when that job ends, it hurts.
Even more so if it ends unexpectedly or without warning.
If the writing is on the wall, you need to read it and heed it, because if you don’t, you might find that your employers will make that decision for you.
It is much better for you to choose to leave, than to be told the job is over.
Emotionally, even though it is still painful, when it is your decision, not someone else’s you have a tendency to feel more in control.
Jobs end for lots of reasons. They don't always have to be bad reasons.
Some are happy reasons.
If the nanny decides to have a child of her own,
or if the nanny gets married and moves away those can be happy reasons.

But the most common reasons that jobs end are:
Children grow up.
Some parents just don’t see the need for a full time nanny once their children are in pre school and often times pre-schools offer extended care.
Parents lose their job and have to downsize
Parents find alternative care that is cheaper
Nanny finds a job that pays more
Parent and nanny no longer agree on lots of issues

If you are on the fence about leaving your job you might want to make a list of the pros and cons of your job. Give each pro or con a point value and see which side has the most value to you. This can be a helpful tool in making your decision. Sometimes it's sort of like counting your blessings, we often take the best things for granted.

If you ask nannies who either left jobs by mutual consent or left jobs that they have outgrown, they will often tell you that they saw the signs, they just did not want to believe that their job was coming to an end.
If you are unhappy in your job, the chances are great that your employer is also unhappy. Over the years I have advised countless nannies in person or via the internet about problems they are having on their jobs. The first question I ask them, is if they have talked to their employers, they always answer NO.

Being a parenting partner in a family is very much like any relationship.
Relationships can not grow, they can not solidify, nor can they survive if you do not have good communication.
There are lots of ways to communicate: Daily logs, phone calls, weekly meetings, monthly dinners, email or a combination of these. The bottom line is that if you are not using any of these, you can’t expect your job to last long term.
More than once I have talked to nannies who say they are unhappy in their jobs. Once they decide to start looking for a new job on the internet, they are completely SHOCKED to find their job being advertised online.

So, to better prepare yourself, it is smart for you to know what the warning signs are that a job is coming to an end.
How do you know when the writing is on the wall?

What are the signals that it is time to move on?
I solicited feedback from nannies online asking them the signs that it was time for a nanny to move on.

The number one response to that question was:
1. When you stop communicating
I could type all day on just this one topic but the bottom line is that this is a relationship and when you don’t communicate there is no relationship.
When there is no relationship….soon there will be no job.

2.When the parents stop trying to be respectful or accommodating to your needs.As a nanny you have the right to a life beyond your work. In fact, you will be a better rounded nanny if you have a life beyond your work. Do not allow your employer to diminish the importance of your life over theirs. You have the right to be sick, the right to go to the dentist and Dr. and the right to take care of yourself.

3. When the parents start to take on responsibilities that used to be yours.

4. When everything is an issue .

5. When everything is an issue for “you”.

6.When the parents don’t back you up even after a discussion on the importance of doing so.
You tell your charge no TV while eating breakfast but you walk in every morning to the TV on and the kids eating breakfast in front of it.

7. Your paycheck bounces

8. Lack of respect

9. Your employer belittles you in front of others

10. Parents correct you in front of the children.

11. Parents disagree with everything you say

12. When you start the day and wish it was already over.

13. When you dread going to work.

14. When the parents stop responding enthusiastically to plans you have made or things you have done.

15. When your employer asks you to return all credit cards etc. in an effort to use only cash to better track expenses

16. You stop having regular meetings

17. You feel like you are walking on eggshells.

18. The children have outgrown your level of expertise.

When you are unhappy in your job…..Your employer is probably unhappy with you.
If the writing is on the wall, you need to read it and heed it.
If you don’t, you might find that your employers will make that decision for you.
It is much better for you to choose to leave, than to be told the job is over.
When it is your decision, it is still difficult, but you will feel more in control having made the decision than having the decision made for you
In a perfect world a parent and a nanny can sit down and talk about the upcoming transition and plan for it together.Realistically, this is not always possible.If the new person is starting, or your new job needs you sooner or the money for the parents to keep you there is just not available it creates a stressful work environment.
Even when the nanny and the parents are trying to work together to make it a good parting, it often ends badly.

If the nanny chooses to leave:
sometimes the parents can feel hurt or betrayed,
If the parent decides to end the relationship:
sometimes the nanny can feel hurt or betrayed,
but no matter who chooses to end the relationship, it is always highly emotional and difficult especially for the nanny and the child who form very close bonds.
This is a time when emotions are running very high. One of the things that nannies yearn for at this point in the transition is validation that they have done a great job. At a time when the nanny wants the parents to say "You are so wonderful, how will we ever live without you?" the parents actions are saying "We are going to be just fine without you here."
It is very important to remember that this is not the time you are going to be validated for a job well done.
First of all, you aren't gone can they miss you?
Secondly, if you look at this situation from the parents perspective, their goal at this point in time is to send their children a very strong message that "it's all going to be ok" Most of us work for very strong, very intelligent, successful families and at this point in time, they want their children to know above all else, it will all be fine.
Even though this may feel insulting to you at the time, you have to remember, these are not your children and their parents will be caring for them long after you are gone and it is still our responsibility to set the example for them, and to help them believe that it will be ok. Remember that you are a professional and that teaching these children how to say goodbye, is one of the most important life lessons they will learn.

Since emotions are running rampant at this point, the best thing that all of you can do is focus on the children and helping them get through this situation.
I have created a tip sheet using information that I have gleaned over the years from other nannies on how to prepare the children.
How do you prepare the children?

First and foremost, the nanny and the parents need to discuss who will tell the children, when they will be told and whether or not the nanny will be present. They should also discuss what they will tell the children so that they present a unified front.

Here are ways that you can prepare the children that will also help you prepare yourself.

1. Educate children from the day you begin caring for them, so that they understand that youwill always love them and they will always be in your heart, but you will not always be there on a daily basis.
2. It is important that they understand that you are there to do a job and when you leave, it is not because of anything that they did wrong.
3. Make sure that if you are still going to be able to see them, that they know that.
4. If you will still be having visits with them, it is a good idea to set up a future visit and mark it on the calendar so they understand that they will see you again.
5. If you are moving away, leave them your picture, your new phone number, your email address and a way to get in touch with you.
6. Give them certificates that recognize how much they have grown and what they have learned.
7. Make a picture album together
8. Transition with the new nanny if at all possible.
9. Make friends with the new nanny.
10. Speak positively about the new nanny.
You can say things like “You and ----- are going to have so much fun together. Did you know that she can …………..
11. If you accept the new nanny, it gives your child permission to accept them too.
12. Never promise to stay forever
13. When they are old enough to understand, talk about past charges...Like, "When I was E---'s Nanny we used to………..."
14. If your current charges see you keeping in touch with your past charges you can use that to teach them that at some point you will be needed to help another family just as you moved on to help them.
15. Adopt a natural circle of life philosophy.
16. Point out when their friends change nannies.
17. Always remind them that they will have their parents to care for them.
18. Don't lie to them.
19. Make sure that they know it is nothing they have done.
20. If the children are old enough, share with them when you go on an interview,and tell them about the kids you met and what they thought and if they had things in common. This makes them feel like more of the transition process.
21. Talk in a positive way about the good things that are to come. How you can come and visit them.
22. If mom will now be at home, try to help them see how much fun that will be.
23. Set up emails and I show them how to email you and remind them that you can 'talk' all the time via email and they can call and write.
24. If there are special traditions they want to carry on, try to do that for them.
25. One nanny said that her charge was going to miss her Rice Krispie Treats - so she taught her how to make them her “special way”
26. Make an extra effort to remember their birthdays and Holidays
27. Have a special picture made together
28. Talk about the great memories

Remember that you are the adult in this situation and always take the high road.
Dealing with the stages of Grief
Often times when nannies see the writing on the wall, they go into the first stage of grief.
The first stage of grief is denial.
If I pretend this is not happening it won’t be, and I won’t have to figure out what to do or how to find a new job or most importantly, how to leave these children that I love so much.
Then comes Anger
“After all I have done for this family I can’t believe that they treat me like this!
Then comes
If I can just focus on the children it will be ok.
Then you move on:
You either realize that loving the children is not enough and that you have no choice but to move on, or the parents let you go and the decision is beyond your control.This is the time that you find yourself sinking into that dark hole of sadness and pain.
You know that you have to make important decisions but you just can’t find the energy. It is hard to get from one minute to the next and impossible to think of your life in terms of tomorrow, much less the future. This is also the time when you might say to yourself, I will never be a nanny again, this is just too painful.
Eventually you are forced to accept that the job is ending and you need to decide what to do next.
Sometimes, even when a job ends, it is still hard to move on to the stage of acceptance. Sometimes not being able to accept that loss contributes to not being happy or successful in our next position.
Change is always difficult and it is always an adjustment when you change jobs. Oftentimes, when nannies change jobs, if they are a live in nanny, they also change their place to live.
It is also harder for a nanny because unlike a job where you work in a factory, or sit at a desk all day our job elicits emotions of love, compassion caring and tenderness.
How do you just turn those feelings off when the job ends?
So when we leave a job, we also have to deal with an end or a change to a relationship.
It’s easy to say that this is a part of our job and that saying goodbye goes with the territory. It’s easy to say that we “just have to be professional” about it. It’s easy to say
“You just focus on the positive and move on”
It just is not “EASY” to do.
When you are going through the process of grieving, it is important to have a good support system in place to help you stay focused and help you deal with your emotions.
Grieving is a process that you have to work through in your own time on your own schedule.
Let yourself feel, let yourself hurt, let yourself cry, and then most importantly
Let yourself heal.

When we have to say goodbye, for whatever reason, we often feel betrayed by the parents who entrusted us to love and care for their children.
It is hard to be rational with a broken heart but it is very important to accept what you can not change and look to your future.

In Merle Shain’s book “Hearts that We Broke Long Ago” she said:
“ People do not usually set out to hurt you, but sometimes you get in the way of what they want or what they need."

If you stop and think about that statement, there is a lot of truth to it.
When that family hired you, they did not say, let’s hire a nanny, keep her until she gets attached to the children, and then let her go.
It is just a natural process of our job.
Sometimes when a job is ending, the parents feel emotional too. If the nanny makes the choice to leave, the parents might feel rejected, and wonder “What did we do to make her want to leave us?”
At a time when they might want to say “We don’t’ know how we can live without you, their actions might say “We couldn’t care less that you are leaving”
Sometimes it is hard for parents to admit what an important part of your life they are, and if the parents are letting the nanny go they might try to send the message that they will be just fine without her.
Never forget that your first priority is support the children through this transition. This is quite possibly one of the most important lessons you will teach the children in your care, and it is crucial that we set an example that they can follow.
It also helps to focus on the good times you have had with this family and the happy memories you will take with you.
At a time when it is easier to see the negative, try to remember the great experiences you had, the opportunities you were offered and what you learned from the time you spent there.
We usually learn more from the hard times in our lives than we do from the happy times.
If a position is ending badly, and you wish that you could pour your heart out to the family, you might try just writing a letter to get your feelings out on paper. You don’t have to mail it but just writing your thoughts down might be helpful in processing all the emotion you are feeling.
When you allow yourself to forgive, you can move forward but until you can forgive (Whether it is for treating you badly, or letting you go, or keeping you from their children) you can never truly move forward and you can never truly begin to heal.
If you choose to hold on to the wrong that was done to you, you choose to drag a heavy load around with you and it will weigh you down and hold you back. It will also keep you in the pain.
Dealing with the pain is not something that is going to go away in a week or month or even years. .
Children grow up in spite of us, whether we are there, or not. I sometimes find myself looking at old pictures or videos of my charges when they were little I truly miss them being at those stages of their life but I also enjoy seeing them grow up and learn and know that I have had a part of all of that.
If you are leaving a family on good terms it is important for you to talk about how you are going to deal with telling the children.
Who is going to tell them, what they will be told and whether or not you will be a part of that.
The nanny should never tell a child she is leaving without the parents ok, and she should never tell the child that the parents are making her leave or firing her.
Even though you might be hurt or angry, you should always take the high road as you transition to the final days in this position.
You will never be sorry you took the high road, but you may regret it if you take the low road.
In the book "
How to Survive the Loss of Love" they talk about the stages of recovery taking place in three distinct, yet overlapping stages.
They are :
understanding/acceptance/moving on
Each stage of recovery is
a part of the healing process

Having said all of that, sometimes, the pain is more than we can bear alone.
If you think you need help, don't hesitate. Get it at once.
If you are feeling suicidal--or even think you might be feeling suicidal--call a Suicide Prevention Hotline at once.
You should also seek help at once if you:
feel you are "coming apart"
are no longer in control
are about to take an action you may later regret
have a history of emotional disturbance
turn to alcohol, drugs or other addictive substances in time of need
feel isolated with no one to turn to
repeatedly find yourself in loss situations
Sometimes, we all need a little bit of extra help to get through a really difficult time. It is nothing to be embarrassed about.
I want to leave you with a few more tips:
These tips on how to survive leaving a family were part of the "Gentle Transitions" workshop at the 1999 NAN Conference.
Thanks to all of the great survivors out there who wrote to me and shared their tips on how they got through it.
I suggest that you keep this for yourself. You can also find this online at
Maintain Contact.
If at all possible, take some time for yourself to re-energize and clear your head. Try to avoid leaving a job on Friday and starting a new one on Monday. Even if you can only manage 2 or 3 days, take a break.
Allow yourself to grieve. You have loved and cared for these children. You have a right to be sad, you have a right to feel a great loss and you need to grieve.
If you are moving away, you can send cards, or letters, or email. Many nannies say that this is what helped them the most.
Save some money out of your paycheck every week so that you don’t end up leaving a job with no prospects in sight and no money in the bank.
Take lots of pictures so that you will always be able to go back and look at them.
Make sure the children understand that it is not their fault and it is not that parents fault that this is happening.
Make sure that they understand that you will still love them and that they will be in your heart and you will be in theirs always.
Have your picture taken together so they will have a visual memory of you with them.
Keep one for yourself.
Talk about the fun times you have had with them.
Try to focus on the positive even the last few days.
Make a memory book with them or for them (Make one for yourself too)
Have a special song that they can sing when they miss you, and tell them when they sing it, know that you will be thinking of them too. (You could also do this with a book)
Keep in touch with them. In the beginning this is crucial for all of you. As time goes by, it will get easier.
Help them set up email accounts.

Remember that the love you gave to these children is something no one else could have ever given them, and no one else can take away.
Remember that a good nanny always works herself out of a job.
Remember that these are not your children, and eventually you will have to leave.
Teach them that you have come to do a job, and your job is to love them and care for them and teach them to be independent.
Help them to understand that you will not be there forever but you will always be in their lives and you will always love them.
Remember that time is a great healer.
Remember that as nannies our job is to help give them roots, and those roots will always be there.
Remember that you are a better person for loving them, as hard as it is to let them go.
Keep your correspondence and actions with your employers as professional as possible up to the last day of employment. It is tempting to reciprocate "ugliness" or "rudeness" with the same behavior, but do not allow yourself to do that.
Maintain your professionalism.
Give your employers as much notice as possible in order to help them find another nanny

You could also provide them with lists from local sources and names of several people that have expressed an interest in the position.
If you will be in the same area, make friends with the new nanny. If you like and respect the person who comes after you, it will help you to know that those children are in good loving hands.
Remember that recovery from grief and loss is a zigzag. You will have good days and bad days especially in the beginning.
Let go of your pain and anger.
Keep a journal
If the children are older you might consider getting a journal that you send back and forth to each other.
Remember that love looks forward.
Believe that what happens is what is meant to be, and there is another wonderful family out there just waiting for you to come and be a part of their lives too.

When you start to interview again, don’t try to compare one family to another family. There is no way to measure one family against another.
Don’t hold back on your love. As painful as the end can be, remember what you learned from these children and how much you gained from the time you spent with them.
"The roots of love sink down and deep and strike out far, and they are arteries that feed our lives, so we must see that they get the water and sun they need so they can nourish us. And when you put something good into the world, something good comes back to you (Merle Shain)
I would like to leave you with one final thought from the movie “Hope Floats”
Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad. The best part is in the middle and hope floats. You just have to wait for it to rise.
Copyright: Glenda Propst/Gentle Transitions 1999

I can't believe it's been a year

Its' hard to believe that has been a year since I launched this blog because so much has happened in this last year. I want to thank those of you who have visited the blog and hope that it has helped ease you through your transition.
One of the things that I discovered over the course of this year is that was hard to direct people to the blog because they had to read it backwards, so in celebration of my one year, I will post the highlights of the workshop in one blog post.

I hope that you find it helpful and hopeful and I hope that the last year has brought not just change to your life but growth.