Monday, June 13, 2016

A very special post from Jan St. Clair

The following post was written by a woman who is a gift to the nanny community.
She also adds her final thoughts as her job that she talks about in her final note comes to an end after 11 years.

Jan St Clair ,thank you for sharing your words so eloquently.

Article I wrote in 1997, about how I learned to weather the loss of "my kids" at the end of my nanny jobs. I now face the end of the new job I mentioned in final note following the article. :
When I began my first nanny job, I was confident that I could maintain a professional distance from the children and spare us all pain from the inevitable separation at the end of the job, and I had a plan. I set out to divert the children’s attention and affection from me and toward their parents, by always commenting about how much mommy & daddy love them, and how proud mommy & daddy will be when they see this new accomplishment, etc. Of course, I couldn’t stop my own growing affection and pride from showing as I told them these things. I never let myself say “I love you,” I always said I’m so lucky Mommy and Daddy picked me to come and take care of you. I like you SO much!” (Well, I excused myself, I couldn’t be a cold fish...I HAD to tell them I liked and appreciated them....)
As a live-out nanny I went to my own home at the end of each day, so it was easy to convince the children that I am not part of the family. I showed them pictures of my own family and casually talked about my home life. As their verbal skills grew, they began questioning how mommy and daddy could love them better than anything and yet leave them every day to go to work. Once they had grasped the reassurance that their loving parents regretfully leave them in order to go earn money to buy the family food, clothing, etc., I started showing them my paycheck. I explained that caring for them is my job, and that mommy and daddy give me money for it so I can buy my food and clothes and pay rent for my home. I made it clear that I liked this arrangement and enjoyed my job because I liked children in general and them in particular. I always tried to present an honest picture of myself as a benevolent outsider, though I was more and more aware that the children depended on my consistent presence and support through 50 hours per week of their waking lives, and that we meshed together during the day like parts of a well-tuned, well-oiled machine.
After two years, the mother decided to put the children in Daycare near her job so she could see them more often. During those years, the children and I had inevitably become what non-caregivers refer to as “attached”, despite my continual efforts to spare us. This “attachment” is the emotional equivalent of plants that have grown up together with the roots now so tangled and intertwined that there can be no separation without loss of a major part of each delicate root structure and trauma to each plant. As I was faced with losing “my children”, I was shocked by the intensity of my feelings.
The mother and I planned the transition together and carefully prepared the children for the change, and since I live in the area and was welcome in the home, I could truthfully promise to visit and keep in touch. At last I told them quite openly of my love for them, and emphasized (with their mother) that my moving on was for grownup reasons that had nothing to do with them, and that I would miss being with them every day.
I still had no idea how much I would miss them. But I threw myself into easing them through the impending separation with visits to the (sensitive and like-minded) new family I’d be working for, checking off days on a handmade countdown calendar, planning our last special day together, reading library books on Daycare (there ís NOTHING about nannies leaving, and there should be), going to our special haunts one last time, sharing my feelings and inviting theirs (and accepting theirs even when they weren’t expressed the way I anticipated) and talking about life changes in general when growing people move on from one thing to another (school, job, marriage) and how very many feelings everyone can feel at such times .
Regardless of all my efforts, it was an agonizing separation all around. I had come to expect the separation to hurt me, but I had no idea how much or for how long. Initially I felt constant and excruciating emotional pain, cried myself to sleep a lot, and agonized over the rough adjustment the children were reportedly having. We waited a couple of weeks before getting together, but during early visits, the children would cling to me and ask me to come back. I was careful to support both their feelings and the party line that the parents and I had established. I’d lament aloud that I wished there were two of me: one to take care of the children I cared for now, and one to take care of them...and that I wished there were two of them, so that they could have fun at their new “school” and still be home with me. (I wanted to point out that we all genuinely missed each other, but had all moved on to new lives.) For a full year, each time I would leave their home after a joyous visit grief would grip my heart with a physical ache. Toward the end of the year the ache gradually eased, and finally I could simply enjoy our time together then contentedly return to my own life. I got together with the family frequently at first, then gradually spaced out the visits so that now (4 years later) I see them every few months and send handmade cards for every holiday and milestone. It is a great joy to me to watch them continue to grow and develop, and they make it clear that I hold a special place in their hearts as well. The parents are delighted with the enhancement to their children’s emotional support system--former nannies make wonderful extended-family members in a day and age when loved and trusted adults for children to look to are far and few between.
Now, I am at my third job, and after 8 months there I am still somewhat achy over the loss of the twins from my second job (I took care of them for over three years using the same approach, but with adjusted expectations and a little modification. I didn’t delay expressing my own love with these children or with my current one, even though I’ve continued to stress family love over my own.). I still see each of my former charges often, and sometimes get the moms and kids from the first 2 families together in the playground for a group visit: the kids ask for each other when I visit the individual families. The loss was easier the second time, partly because I was prepared, and partly because the children had an easier adjustment-- which eliminated mother-hen-type worry and irrational guilt from my part of the mix.
I think that even though my careful and forthright approach was not the panacea I had expected, it did help the children. It laid a foundation for each of them to have their own developmental-level ability to accept and understand losing me as a caregiver and retaining me as the lifelong (if largely absentee) friend I expect to be. It said to them that they can count on the people who care about them to do their best to tell them what they need to know. It may have kept them from having to fear who else might drop out of their lives without warning.
I have come to the conclusion that every nanny job will involve both joy and grief--probably of equal intensity. No matter how much we may wish to shield ourselves and our charges from the powerful painful emotions, to deny or suppress them makes our lives even more difficult and does not allow us to reach the other side of grief and move on. All that can make those feelings bearable is to face them honestly and to support each other through them. How we prepare ourselves and the children for the separation will not ease the grief, but it will demonstrate our confidence that it can be survived and resolved with trust and love intact. It is one of the valuable life lessons we are in a position to pass on to our charges.
Dealing with the other emotional sandbagging during the course of the job (such as
ourselves and our full-hearted contributions becoming invisible to the children when they see us and their parents watching them in an audience) is the warm-up for the final event, as I see it. You call on your network of fellow-nannies or family members or friends who will listen and care, and you vent your feelings. You get through them together. You build your network of people to call on, and who can then call on you. You test the fiber of your safety net, and build a solid base of support.
I do recognize that it is not always possible for nannies to visit often (or even once) after the job ends, but keeping in contact via mail and the occasional phone call can communicate to the children that you continue to care, and any responses will provide you with some welcome continuity as well. (You might try enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope to encourage a return letter.)
12/21/04 notes: This article was written in 1997, and the children I first cared for are now teenagers. We stay in touch as much as their schedules and mine permit, and visit at least around Christmastime. I’ve managed to keep in touch with all “my kids who live with their parents” throughout the years, to the enrichment of all our lives.
Now I am facing the natural end of my 4th job, as after 6 years with the family the youngest interviews for full time school starting in September 05. I found out just yesterday that beginning Sept. 1, 2005, rather than the 25-30 hours a week I had projected, with another part time job in the mornings to make up the loss of the 42 hours I currently work, their childcare needs are expected to drop to less than 10 hours/week. I may be able to keep those few hours with them, but the daily relationship with this family will end, and I will need to get another primary job in September. I may not even manage to find a job allowing me to keep weekly hours with them at all. I grieve.
I do not fear for the children’s safety or wellbeing, as they have excellent parents and the teachers in their school are exceptional. I’m glad not to have that concern added to the mix of emotions I’m dealing with. I am lucky and unlucky to know so far in advance, I can prepare in plenty of time to find the best possible new job, and I will have a prolonged ache of anticipated loss in my heart until the actual separation.
Does the end of a job ever get easier? I don’t think so. It can become less complicated by additional concerns (like worry that I’ll ever stop hurting, I’ve experienced this before… or that I’ll ever get another job, I have excellent references and experience). But hurting when the job ends is another hazard of the profession, and to me it ís worth the benefits I reap by working in this career. I have another set of honorary extended family members, and a bond with 2 more kids that will stretch but not snap as we see each other less often. I have nanny friends who understand my loss, and offer support. And I am in a profession that offers children’s love and trust in exchange for dedicated care. It is wonderful food for the soul. I will heal in time. I will heal.
Janice St.Clair
4/27/05 notes
The children I spoke of in this article did not go to daycare. Even when they were in the playgroups I’d organized, I was right there with them. I’m coming to realize that with children who have a broad base of adult caregivers/teachers, that the loss of our daily contact may not be as traumatic for the children as for me…they will experience a change, but they are already used to being with other adults and are entwined with them. They will just be with them for longer hours, and I will be there much less often. Perhaps the younger child, who will be starting a new school with new teachers, will have a harder adjustment than his sister, and will need extra support.
The mom in my current job does not want to refer at all to my “last day” and create an unnatural sense of loss for the children. They already lost a great-grandmother to death, and she doesn’t want the association of that pain and permanent separation in their minds. She wants to let my last day pass without remarking, have the schedule change to accommodate school, and have planned visits with me for the first few weeks marked on the calendar, so the if the kids ask for me (IF!) they can be told when they will see me again and assured that I am still a part of their lives. Of course I urged her to call me with milestones so I could congratulate them immediately via phone, and to invite me to school plays and such.
It’s harder on me to face the end of this job without sharing the loss with the children. I am excited about my upcoming job, and since it is with children of much the same ages, there is potential for getting everyone together for playdates as I did with other former charges.
I am not sure that my boss’s current plan is the best one, but my own feelings are clouding my thoughts at present. Whatever my feelings, the children’s needs come first. I have many ways to process my own grief…I will do whatever the mom and I can work out as being best for the children.

1 comment:

  1. The new job I was excited about in the final note is just coming to an end this July 2016. I have had a wonderful 11 year run with two wonderful kids who are now teens, and the younger one will join his sister in boarding school in the fall. I am very fortunate that this terrific family is keeping me on, very part time, as a household assistant. I am currently finding that the moving on of my teens to high school feels poignant. We will see if grief strikes later. Janice StClair