When it comes to ending relationships, both personally and professionally, I’m usually the initiator. It’s a role I’ve often found myself in from a young age, whether it was breaking hearts in the schoolyard, ending my miserable starter marriage, or firing staff members. It’s not that I enjoy letting people go, because I don’t. It’s more that I know when it’s time to call it quits.
Had I not taken action, the relationships I’ve ended could have gone on, gotten worse, and made everyone involved bitter. But I firmly believe it’s better to cut your losses and move on while you still can. This holds true in many relationships, including the one you have with your children’s caretaker. I know firsthand because I had to “break up” with mine recently. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I followed through, and I learned a few things for the future (if there ever is a “next time”).
I’ve been told I have an uncanny ability to fire people in such a fashion that they’re often grateful for it. Although I’ve never been fired, I know how I would want to be treated: with respect and decency. If someone wanted to fire me based on my performance, I would expect to receive clear warnings along the way, so I could have a chance to improve — and if I did ultimately get fired, it wouldn’t be a surprise. I make a point of regularly expressing concerns I have with others, whether during performance reviews with my staff, meetings, and even in personal relationships. I always give the person in question the benefit of the doubt and assume she may be unaware of the issue. To me, a warning is not a red flag being raised, but rather a life preserver being thrown.
And when it comes to ending the relationship, I always focus on the person’s positive traits and don’t try and make her feel badly about herself. Often, it’s just a matter of not being a good fit; sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and I’m always willing to take 50 percent of the blame.
When it came to breaking up with our nanny, though, I wasn’t quite as confident. This year, my daughter Madison turned 6, and between her full-time schooling and robust after-school schedule, our full-time nanny (who had been with us since Madison was 3 months old) no longer fit into the equation, from both a financial and logistical perspective. But what do you do when the person you need to let go feels like part of the family? This woman had taught us how to change diapers, bathe our baby, and cut her nails (when we were scared we’d cut off her tiny fingers in the process), and helped us grow from a married couple to a couple of parents. For six years, when our nanny said goodbye before the weekend, it always came with a long, drawn out hug-and-kiss fest between her and our daughter. On Mondays, the squeals of delight from both parties upon seeing one another made it seem as though they had been apart for months. We loved this woman, but we had grown out of “needing” her and didn’t know how to handle it.
Of all the breakups I’ve initiated, this one was the hardest for me. For days, I rehearsed what I would say to her in the mirror, and each time I’d find myself rambling, my eyes brimming with tears. I couldn’t employ my typical tactics: Her performance was spectacular, and we hadn’t fallen out of love with her. We had simply grown apart. So, I sat her down and told her that a lot of thought went into this decision and we were heartbroken, but financially and logistically, it didn’t make sense to keep a full-time nanny. I emphasized how much we loved her, and that she would always be a part of our family. I hadn’t given her warning, or a life preserver, ahead of time because she hadn’t done anything wrong. But, she still deserved respect and decency, so I gave her three months notice during which she could continue to work for us while we helped find her a new family to become a part of.
Fast-forward eight months and we have a terrific new part-time sitter, and a great relationship with our former nanny.
If you need to break up with your caregiver, here are some tips on how to do it in a way that doesn’t ruin your relationship:
Give as much notice as possible: This is one scenario in which you don’t want to “rip off the Band-Aid.” Plan ahead and schedule her last day for the end of the calendar year (after the holidays), or at the end of the school year when your child is headed to camp. The advance notice is a courtesy to a caregiver. The strategic timing not only gives her a better chance of finding a new job (fewer people are looking for nannies in the middle of the school year), but it also gives your child time to acclimate to the situation.
Write a heartfelt recommendation: An honest, glowing recommendation can be crucial in your nanny’s job hunt. Take the time to really describe the relationship you had with him; not just the duties involved in the job. I put so much time and thought into writing a heartfelt recommendation for my nanny that people who didn’t have kids told me they wished they did, just so they could hire her!
Help her secure a new job: Go beyond writing the recommendation. Most good caregivers don’t have a lot of interview and job-searching experience because they stay with families for years at a time. Help her by listing classified ads, posting in your neighborhood blogs, emailing class parents who may have younger children, and posting on social media outlets about your fantastic former nanny who’s looking for a new gig.
Let your child meet with your nanny and new sitter together: An unofficial passing of the torch can make everyone feel more comfortable. Your nanny can give your sitter some tips, and your child will see that everyone is friendly with one another and there are no secrets.
Keep in touch regularly: Share milestones with your caregiver and keep him up to date. Invite him to school plays, ballet recitals, and birthday parties that he would’ve attended if he still worked for you. Remember to call on his birthday and send a handmade card from your child, a gift, and maybe even a class picture.
Show your appreciation. “Express how grateful you are for all of [her] hard work,” says Noa Mintz, the founder of Nannies by Noa. “Keep [her] in your life, invite [her] to family events, and have [her] over for dinner. It’s important to make sure the nanny understands it’s not a full goodbye, and the labor of love [she] put into your child’s development for so long is invaluable. It means a lot to nannies who have committed their lives to caring for and nurturing your kids when their parents can’t be present. Oftentimes it takes a nanny’s departure to really appreciate everything [she’s] done to support your family.”
In today’s world, the best thing we can do for our children is surround them with as many supportive role models as possible. Taking these actions will allow you to maintain a positive, loving relationship with someone who has been and can continue to be an integral part of your child’s life.
Jenny Powers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.