Divorce can be a painful experience for the parting spouses and their children . . . and their nanny. Here are some of the trouble spots for nannies and how nannies can best handle them.
The Jealous Mother
The mother may accuse the nanny of stealing her children’s affections and/or the mother’s place in their lives. This is particularly likely if the mother is the parent who leaves the family home in the wake of the divorce. To address this matter, the nanny should reassure the mother that no one can take her (the mother’s) place in the children’s lives and hearts. The nanny should arrange for opportunities for the children to nurture their relationships with both parents, such as making handmade I-Love-You/Thinking-of-You greeting cards. The nanny should not discuss the mother’s feelings with the children unless she (the nanny) has permission from the mother to do so, as this may be seen by the mother as one more violation that she (the mother) has experienced at the hands of the nanny.
The Jealous Wife
The mother (who is also a wife) may accuse the nanny of engaging in an extramarital affair with her husband. The nanny should calmly and directly assert her innocence and promptly avoid one-on-one contact with the husband. While the husband may or may not be fostering the perception of an affair, it is best to err on the side of caution and ensure that a third party (i.e., the children or others) is always present when the husband and the nanny interact. The nanny should not discuss the mother’s allegations with the children.
The Lonely Husband
The husband may miss domestic interaction with an adult female. He may see the nanny as the perfect substitute for his now-absent wife. After all, the nanny is in his home, attends to his children, and is already familiar to him. The nanny should kindly but firmly draw a boundary for the husband by stating that she is there as a nanny only. The nanny should further state that developing a more intimate relationship with the husband would be inappropriate. If the husband continues to pursue the nanny, the nanny should ensure that a third party is always present when the husband and the nanny interact. The nanny should not discuss this misguided affection with the children or their mother.
The Absentee Parents
During and immediately after a divorce, one or both parents may be preoccupied. More may be asked of the nanny during this time. Even with the best of work ethics, the nanny may not be able to be on call 24/7, and conflict may arise when the nanny cannot meet the increased demands placed upon her during and immediately after the divorce. In this situation, the nanny must calmly and patiently tell the parents that she has been and will continue to be meeting as many of their requests as she reasonably can, but that she cannot reasonably be expected to be available 24/7. The nanny should not discuss the increased work demands with the children.
The Emotive Parents
Throughout the divorce, one or both parents may have difficulty controlling their emotions. They may be tearful one moment and angry the next. They may lack patience and respond disproportionately to stressors. They may take out their anger on their children and/or the nanny. The nanny should not redirect the parental behavior; however, the nanny should comfort the children whenever they are the recipient of the parental anger. In speaking with the children about the situation, the nanny should explain to the children that divorce is hard on parents, and ___parent___ probably didn’t mean to act angrily toward them. While the nanny should not condone the parental anger, she should not criticize it either. Instead, the nanny should focus on teaching the children empathy.
The Nanny as Confidante
Either or both parents may need to talk to someone about the stress in their lives as they move through this difficult transition period. The nanny, who is nurturing and typically quite accessible to them, may be the ideal sounding board, at least as the parents view it. However, this puts the nanny in a difficult situation, especially if both parents are using her as a confidante. The nanny should not encourage the parents to cast her in the role of confidante, but she should not blatantly refuse the role, either. By remaining quiet as the parents confide in her and refraining from asking questions or offering statements that may prolong the discussion, the nanny can minimize her involvement in the discussion. Everything that the parents share in such a discussion should be confidential unless it pertains to the health and well being of the parents, children, or others. Thus, unless a parent utters a desire to harm him-/herself or others (for example), the discussion should not be repeated to others.
The Nanny as Legal Witness
One parent’s lawyer may call the nanny to be a witness during the divorce hearing. Typical questions a nanny may expect to be asked in such a situation include the following. Have you ever seen ___parent___ intoxicated around the children? In your professional experience, would you say that ___parent___ is a responsible parent? An involved parent? Have you observed ___parent’s___ apartment? Is it child-friendly? Is it clean? Is healthy food in the refrigerator when the children are present? After the nanny has finished giving her witness statement, she should not discuss the matter with either parent or with the children.
During a divorce, the nanny needs to keep her attention focused on the well being of the children in her care: while the parents may be busy attending to their own emotional needs, the nanny should be attending to the emotional needs of the children, who will likely be experiencing their own divorce-related trauma and grief. When the parents try to involve the nanny in the divorce, the nanny should gently avoid any interaction that is not directly related to attending to the children. The nanny should always display respect for the parents and seek to resolve misunderstandings and conflicts between the parents and the nanny, but the nanny’s primary focus, at this time more than ever, needs to be on the children.