By Lynn Perkins, CEO of UrbanSitter and a mother of three; and Dr. Juli Fraga, a psychologist with a private practice in San Francisco, specializing in women's health and family concerns
Questioning the relationship you have with your family's nanny and deciding whether to replace her can be a confusing and emotionally charged part of parenthood for many. Two experts weigh in on knowing if and when it's time to let your family's nanny go and how to prepare your children for the change.
Why might a parent feel it's time to consider finding a new nanny?
UrbanSitter: Your child's needs evolve as she gets older, and your childcare needs often evolve along with them. We see that families often make a childcare change when there's a prominent shift in their child's development or school phase. For instance, families sometimes move from a full-time to a part-time nanny when a child starts school or from a nanny who has a lot of experience with infants to one that is better suited to handle afterschool activities, help with homework or keep up with the active pace of a preschooler.
Dr. Fraga: If you begin to question the trust you have with your nanny, it may be time to think about changing childcare providers. Often, trust is compromised when boundaries begin to feel blurry. I had a nanny who once asked me to buy her a six-pack of beer while I was shopping. I realized this nanny was not going to work out for us because her boundaries were unprofessional.
Are there warning signs that could signal that our nanny isn't the right fit for our family?
UrbanSitter: A childcare provider with fantastic credentials and glowing reviews doesn't necessarily mean the person is the right fit for your family. Pay attention to your instincts and observe your children's reaction to the childcare provider. Common signs that something might be amiss, include:
• Friends tell you that the nanny is distracted or doing something other than paying attention to your child when seen together at the park.
• Your child seems regularly unhappy, despite an adequate amount of time to adjust to the nanny.
• Your nanny's behavior changes. She starts showing up late, doesn't seem engaged, or gives you signs that she may not be suitable for the next stage of your child's development -- saying, "Wow, Johnny sure does keep me busy now. I can't keep up with his energy." Or, "It's too hard to get him to the park."
• You find that your life is becoming more inconvenienced due to a change in the schedule or relationship. For instance, if you really need a nanny who can drive your child so that you aren't leaving work early to pick him up from school or you feel you aren't signing up for classes your child wants to do because the nanny can't drive, it might be time to reevaluate your family's needs.
Dr. Fraga: Overall, follow your gut feeling. A nanny may be qualified and wonderful, but might not be the best match for you. If you feel uneasy, avoid talking with her, or have strong feelings that arise when she comes to work in the morning, realize that these are all signs to pay close attention to.
Should I include my children in the decision to replace their nanny?
Dr. Fraga: Generally speaking, keep kids out of the decision. It puts undo responsibility on them to make an adult decision. However, consider your child's feedback. For example, my daughter told me that a nanny took her to her own home to "walk the dog," and I took what she told me seriously. While I didn't fire the nanny, I talked with her about communication and how she spends her time when she is watching my daughter.
UrbanSitter: We should always take cues from our children. If a baby is normally happy and seems distraught to be left with a care provider (even after a fair adjustment time) that could be a sign. With older children you can usually ask them about how they spent their day and listen to feedback they are giving you about the care provider.
If I need to let our nanny go, what's the best way to handle it?
Dr. Fraga: When the nanny begins, set up a contract that outlines concrete reasons she may be let go so you can refer to it later. Letting your nanny go can be stressful, and I recommend having both partners present at the meeting. Try to stick to concrete examples about why the relationship is not working out.
Just as it isn't a good idea to prolong a break-up with a partner, your relationship with your nanny should be no different.
UrbanSitter: Letting a nanny go is stressful, and in general families avoid it for too long once they feel that they need to make a change. Being sensitive to hurting feelings, especially when that person is working in our home is natural. It's important to remember that your nanny is not your friend, and it's best to communicate just like you would with any other employee or professional relationship.
How can I help my kids adjust to losing their nanny and transitioning to a new one?
UrbanSitter: Give your child time to transition but not so much notice that they get confused or stressed about the nanny still being there. Tell your kids that the nanny still cares about them, but just like Mom and Dad, nannies sometimes change jobs, too.
Dr. Fraga: When kids are older, it's important to talk with them about the transition and let them know the relationship did not work out. But, with infants and toddlers, they often adjust to new providers more smoothly than we do, and it's not necessary to engage them in a more in-depth conversation about the transition.
If you have to make the difficult decision to move on and find a new nanny, do a thorough search to find one that's right for the job and your family. Services like UrbanSitter are ideal resources for matching parents with babysitters and nannies who come well-recommended by others they may already know. Regardless of how you find a nanny candidate, be vigilant about background searches, screenings, and reference checks, and spend as much time gauging the rapport you have or don't have with a candidate. It's vital that both you and your children feel comfortable in her presence, since how you feel is just as important as what you see on paper.