Sunday, 22 July 2012

When nannies say 'Goodbye' to a family

It is hard to say  'goodbye'.

The ending of a relationship, the death of a friend or relative, leaving a place of work, school or an old home: these are all cases of having to say 'goodbye'.

All involve both us and the person or object we won't see again, or will see in a different way, which means we usually have some sort of ritual to mark the end, and sometimes to signal a new beginning.

When a relationship ends, we might remove a ring, take down pictures, have a drink or meal with friends to cheer us up.

With a death there is usually a funeral, or some celebration of a life.  We might give flowers or send a card, we often look at photos of the person who has died and face some of the memories, lovely and sad, associated with the person.

When we leave a job, school, college or University there is usually a party, swapping of phone numbers, email addresses, promises (often broken) to keep in touch, plans for a re-union .

When we leave a home there is often a need for a final walk around, not just to check for the things we have forgotten, but to briefly call to mind memories associated with particular rooms, or perhaps a last look at a garden where we planted vegetables or particular flowers.

Often these goodbyes might have an overtone of relief, or a tinge of excitement because we are moving on to something new, but sometimes there is just loss.

So what happens when a nanny decides to move on, to go to another family, or to a new phase in her life?

First there is the initial decision that it is time to finish.  This might be because:
  •  the position has changed in its requirements,
  •  the nanny is no longer enjoying working with the particular children or family,
  •  the nanny wants to study, travel or move to a new life stage, perhaps marriage or pregnancy.
Whatever the reason,the nanny needs to make time to talk to the parents of the family and to give them a letter with a clearly stated date of finishing.  It is not OK just to write in a communications book a quick note like "finishing up nest Tuesday" or to leave a letter on the mantelpiece when you go home.  It is fair to give a reasonable period of notice, usually between 2 and 4 weeks.  If the nanny works through an agency, the agency should also be informed.

The children then should be told, with an explanation for them to understand.  This is important because children can think it is something that they have done that has made the nanny want to go.  If the reason for leaving is because of difficulties in managing the children or in the relationship with the parents it is not OK to say something like "I'm going to work with another family that will appreciate me more".  Be professional and say something along the lines of "It's time for me to meet another family and be their nanny for a while."

As the last day draws nearer you might want to countdown the number of sleeps, or mark them off the calendar.  If another nanny is to take over, it is good if you can talk about that positively eg " next week you will have to show x where the toys go", or "next week x will read your story, take you to the park etc."

Sometimes on the last day a family will hold a little event to mark the fact that you are leaving.  If not, be sure you do something special with the children: an outing or making a goodbye cake or biscuits.  It is also appropriate to give the children a photo of you with them (one for each child) for their memory book/box (and keep a copy for yourself).  This is especially so if you have been with the children for some time.  It is not helpful to make promises to keep in touch with the children unless you and the parents have discussed this, and unless you are sure that you will keep your word.  It can muddy the waters for a new nanny if you have contact with the children after you have finished with the family.

If you are sad to be leaving, meet with your friends, and tell them why you are sad.  Let them cheer you up, and then start the process of moving on, whether to a new job, to study, to travel, to start a family or to follow your dreams.

Then, from time to time, look at your photos and enjoy the memories they bring.


  1. Fabulous post Susan. With some families children would try to get me to promise that I would never leave. I'd be honest with them and say I'd be going one day, but would always care for them and think about them often and that their photos go on my Recipe book (which I still have 25 years later). The kids knew the other children and their stories, so it was a pride of place to make it to the book.
    It set the bar on our relationship.

    Four weeks is great timing - sometimes longer can make it hard for them to digest. We'd have special days and sometimes write a book together about what we did and what we loved the most.
    It was healing for them and me.
    As much as I'd love to say I always welcomed the new nanny with open arms, which I would consciously - I would sometimes have to 'settle' the worrying, fear factor that would rise up - would the new nanny be as good for the kids as me, will she ruin the great routines we had in place, would she remember those things that were really important to the kids???
    I'd remind myself that their parents have made the right choice for the family and put my fears aside. Big Breath.

    I think it is important to have at least one or two contacts afterwards, I've been told that my notes (I'd usually send two) in the weeks after would be responded to well by the kids and served as a reminder that yes - I had moved on.

    I would often be called in for babysits once I had left - and I'd always back the new nanny, I had a few little minxes who would try to play the adults in their lives up against each other. Once the kids realised that was the case - they would stop giving the new nanny a hard time (Rina used to do this etc...).
    There's strength in nanny numbers!

    1. Thanks for this encouraging post.

      Hearing experiences from nannies in the field adds to the thoughts we've expressed.

      Your comments about the doubts we all have about those who follow us in positions was especially useful.