10 Tips for Working for Divorced Parents
Working as a nanny or babysitter for divorced parents can involve a whole new set of rules and guidelines.
With 6,646 divorces per day in the United States., half of all American children are part of divorced families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With statistics like this, it’s likely that (sooner or later) nannies and babysitters will work for a divorced family.
What specific information should you have before you begin the job in order to do what’s best for the children? What questions should you ask during the interview? What extra safety issues should you be aware of?
Here are ten tips for working for divorced parents.
Know What Questions to Ask During the Interview or on Your First Day
Conflicts and issues arise when both parents aren’t clear on rules for the child or fail to convey these rules to the caregiver. This includes discipline methods, visitations schedules and what’s permitted and what isn’t. Ask questions like:
- What are the legal custody arrangements for the child/children?
- Are they strictly adhered to or is the custody considered flexible?
- Will I ever be responsible for a direct custody handoff? If so, have these situations ever been unfriendly?
- What should I do if the other parent shows up when it's not his or her day to have custody?
“Understand exactly what is expected of you," suggests Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of "Money, Sex and Kids." Make sure you understand the rules for the children and stick to them. If you feel any of the rules aren't reasonable, discuss it with the parents.
Get a Specific Schedule
In addition to understanding general expectations, it’s important to have a calendar that outlines not only visitation, but activities, appointments, homework times, TV time and computer access.
Ask for a Copy of the Visitation Schedule
This schedule should be signed and approved by both parents. If a parent comes to pick up or visit with a child, the calendar will show exactly when this is permitted.
If the schedule was changed without your knowledge, contact the supervising parent to approve the change before the children leave,” Melissa Cummings RN, a child care specialist, says.
“If the parental relationship is not friendly and relaxed, the caregiver should avoid being directly responsible for the custody handoff,” adds Dr. Betsy Barton, Ph.D., a member of the board of directors for the National Parents Organization.
Learn Who Else Can Visit or Speak With the Children
“Some parents may specify that only certain people can be given information about the kids or can speak to the kids directly; everyone else should be told to call back when the parent is home,” says Cummings, who is also the co-founder of SHIFT Legacy (which works with men going through separation and divorce).
Note Important Phone Numbers
As with any caregiving job, know the important numbers to contact in the event of an emergency. In a divorce situation, there may be different emergency contacts (which may or may not include the other parent) for each household.
Anticipate Questions About Divorce
Kids are naturally curious and may turn to their nanny with touchy questions, rather than their parents. How do your employers want you to handle them?
“Steer clear of any talk about the cause of divorce,” Cummings advises. If the question comes up frequently, she suggests talking to the parents to determine an appropriate response.
And check out this article on How to Explain Divorce to Kids.
Set Limits With the Parents
Caregivers often find themselves in the awkward spot of becoming a go-between for the parents. Depending on the situation, "Tell Jill I said hi" may be fine, but "Tell Joe the check was due two weeks ago" crosses a boundary, says Cummings. "Set limits up front. Let both parents know that any parent-to-parent communication should be left off your plate.”
As hard as it may be, based on what you’ve seen or heard in the home, avoid taking sides or saying anything negative about either parent. Remind both parents that you don’t want to be drawn into the conflict and it's not your place to offer opinions.
And when you're alone with the kids, Dr. Barton recommends taking the opportunity to reassure them that both parents love them.
Know When to Get the Authorities Involved
Remaining a neutral party, of course, goes out the window if you feel the children are in danger. “Don’t keep secrets or get involved in clandestine activities,” Dr. Tessina warns. “If someone asks you to do something you feel is unethical or unhealthy for the children, say you cannot do it. If you see evidence of abuse, neglect or endangerment, you need to report it.”
Look for “Red Flags” and Trust Your Instincts
You can avoid most awkward or dangerous situations by using your judgment and deciding whether or not to work for divorced parents. “If you get a chance to see them together, and there’s a lot of bickering and hostility, or they talk negatively about each other, you may not want to get caught in the middle,” Dr. Tessina says.
If it goes beyond that, to supervised visitation or even a restraining order, delve deeper. Was there a domestic violence situation? Could your own safety be at risk? “Any situation you do not feel comfortable with is something you need to decide if it is worth taking on that stress,” Cummings says.
A freelance writer, inbound marketing specialist and mom to Ashley (age 5) and Alex (age 3), Dawn Allcot believes “trust your instincts” is good advice for virtually any situation. Learn more about her work here.