I worked until my oldest was three and a half. While I was working, we hired a lovely, young, overly qualified nanny from the local children’s gym. From my daughter’s perspective, she was family. Nanny came to our house at least once a week, they told each other “I love you”, gave kisses and so on. When I resigned from my job and we moved 40 minutes away, both Nanny and I made an effort to continue the relationship. I made the weekly drive to the children’s gym for class and Nanny came up to babysit for date night.
Later Nanny asked if she could take my oldest to a local amusement park for the day. My husband and I deliberated this as a daylong trip is a challenge, even for parents. After a lot of consideration and clearly coordinating the specifics of the day, we agreed. When the day came, I found Nanny invited several people we did not know well including a new boyfriend. When I picked my daughter up at the end of the day, I found the money I had given her untouched and was told that they never sat down for a proper meal, surviving the 100 degree day on just applesauce and crackers. My daughter was unwell, she was unwilling to walk and had no color in her face. I considered taking her to urgent care but opted for a local restaurant where she drank three glasses of water and ate three slices of pizza.
The next day I emailed Nanny to communicate my disappointment and concern over the events of the day. My email was firm, worded strongly and emotionally charged, which was in stark contrast to our relationship up until this point. Days passed and I did not receive a reply. I sent text messages that also went unanswered. I offered to drive down to speak to Nanny in person and these appointments were never set or followed through. I was eventually told her feelings were hurt. That was it. I never heard from her again.
For months my daughter asked about Nanny and when she would see her again. Advocating for my daughter, I sent Nanny pictures and video asking if we could chat because my daughter deeply missed her. None of these messages received a reply. During these months I lost a lot of sleep. I felt angry, sad, ashamed and very worried. Someone who was very important to my daughter was gone without explanation or a proper goodbye, and I felt responsible. I worried what effect this might have on her emotionally, if she would grow up to resent me or if it would ultimately contribute to fundamental insecurity. I searched online for resources as to how to explain the loss of a friend to a three year old and wasn’t able to find anything of use so I went with my instincts.
I explained to my daughter that Mom hurt Nanny’s feelings and she didn’t want to be my friend anymore but that she still loves her and wishes she could see her. When she said “Mommy, I miss Nanny.” I would say “I miss her, too. She loves you, she’s just upset with me.” My daughter came up with several plans to rectify the situation. She suggested we buy her a nice present and give it to her. She also suggested we knock on her door because she might be home and she would probably want to see her new shoes. As a mom, all of this was absolutely heartbreaking.
It’s been about a year and a half since this all happened and my daughter still mentions Nanny. I always listen, careful not to change the subject or discount her feelings. She doesn’t ask to see her but she has said that she thinks she’ll see her again when her feelings aren’t hurt anymore.
As a mom, what I’ve learned from this situation is to try and keep clear and distinct boundaries between paid childcare providers and family. We have a new babysitter that my daughter loves but she does not go to her house, we don’t chat much about her in day to day conversation and we don’t invite her to family events. She is clearly the babysitter to my kids and I intend to keep it that way. I’ve also learned that children are resilient. I am completely certain that I have worried about this traumatic incident much more intensely than my daughter has.
If a fellow parent ever has to navigate this situation with their own children, my advice is to be selectively honest. Do not say anything that might be misconstrued as blame on the child and do not talk badly about the nanny. Most importantly ask them how they feel about it and listen to the answer. Listen even if it breaks your heart. Just know that as time passes it will get easier and your kids will be okay.