Understanding family dynamics: do’s and don’ts as an Au Pair or Nanny

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As an au pair, nanny or tutor, it is important to understand your family’s dynamics. Are the parents married and together or are they divorced and living separately?

Having this type of information in your possession is vital when wanting to succeed as an au pair or nanny as it equips you with necessary information needed to run the household, manage and support the children where necessary and make decisions.

Understanding divorce

A separation or divorce is a highly stressful and emotional experience for everyone involved, but children often feel that their whole world has turned upside down. At any age, it can be traumatic to witness the dissolution of your parents’ marriage and the breakup of the family. Inevitably, such a transitional time doesn’t happen without some measure of grief and hardship, but you can dramatically reduce your children’s pain by making their well-being your top priority.

A good divorce

A ‘good’ divorce is one that is amicable and healthy and that can successfully operate together in the best interests of the child. A good divorce is when both parents have decided to leave the relationship and act in a civil and friendly manner for the sake of the child. They are both kind, respectful, thoughtful and accommodating towards each other. They inform each other about the child, changes in plans and schooling events. This type of divorce is usually done without lawyers

What you can expect as an Au Pair, Nanny or Tutor working in such environment

In a case like this where the divorce has gone really well, the divorced parents can sometimes get together at family events such as birthdays, sports days and Christmas. As an au pair, nanny or tutor, don’t think that this is weird and try not let it make you uncomfortable. Relax, this is fantastic for the children. Be sure to be respectful to both parents and inform both of them of the progress in their child and any concerns or problems you have.

A bad divorce

This is the worst yet probably the most typical type of divorce. The relationship between mom and dad has epically deteriorated and has most probably reached the volatile stage. The parental unit struggles to communicate, is constantly fighting and can never seem to reach an agreement.,

What you can expect as an Au Pair, Nanny or Tutor working in such environment

In the event you find yourself working for a divorced family, be sure to talk and ‘report’ directly with the parent who employed you however offer to keep lines of communication open with their ex partner.

What to watch out for in the parents:

  • As an au pair, be sure to watch out for fighting (should the parents start arguing in person or over the phone whilst in the presence of the child, take the child away and get them distracted by engaging in a fun activity)
  • Manipulation (parents who are going through a messy divorce are inclined to manipulate people to side with them. Be sure to remain as neutral as possible)
  • Blame (parents will often blame the other party. Be sure to not be influenced by either side and support the child even more if this starts to occur. The child will be feeling as if it is their fault)

How to deal with an ex wife or husband when children are involved

As an Au Pair or Nanny who comes into contact with your boss’s ex partner, it is important to:

  • Be polite
  • Offer help
  • Provide feedback on his or her children
  • Always let them know you are there for his or her children and to not take sides
  • Don’t engage and allow people to gossip about your boss or their ex partner
  • Don’t allow the ex wife or husband to bully you. Remember sometimes ex partners have a tendency to be jealous or unreasonable. Stand your ground.

How can I help a child through divorce as an Au Pair or Nanny?

Your patience, reassurance, and listening ear can minimise tension as your child learns to cope with these unfamiliar circumstances. By providing routine to your children during this difficult time, you remind them that they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. And by maintaining a working relationship with your ex-husband or wife, you can help your children avoid the stress and anxiety that comes with watching parents interact in general but especially in times of conflict. With your support, your kids can not only successfully navigate this unsettling time, but even emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.

Help your child grieve the divorce

For children, divorce can feel like an intense loss—the loss of a parent, the loss of the family unit, or simply the loss of the life they knew. You can help your children grieve their loss and adjust to new circumstances by helping them express their emotions.

Listen. Encourage your child to share their feelings and really
listen to them. They may be feeling sadness, loss or frustration about things you may not have expected.

Help them find words for their feelings. It’s normal for children to have difficulty expressing their feelings. You can help them by noticing their moods and encouraging them to talk.

Let them be honest. Children might be reluctant to share their true feelings for fear of hurting you. Let them know that whatever they say is okay. They may blame you for the divorce but if they aren’t able to share their honest feelings, they will have a harder time working through them.

Make talking about the divorce an ongoing process. As children age and mature, they often have new questions, feelings, or concerns about what happened, so you may want to go over the same ground again and again.

Acknowledge their feelings. You may not be able to fix their problems or change their sadness to happiness, but it is important for you to acknowledge their feelings rather than dismissing them. You can also inspire trust by showing that you understand.

Advice to moms and dads: Work with your ex

Conflict between parents—separated or not—can be very damaging for kids. It’s crucial to avoid putting your children in the middle of your fights, or making them feel like they have to choose between you. The following tips can save your kids a lot of heartache during your divorce:

Take it somewhere else. Never argue in front of your children or employees, whether it’s in person or over the phone. Ask your ex to talk another time, or drop the conversation altogether.

Use tact. Refrain from talking with your children about details of the other parent’s behaviour. It’s the oldest rule in the book: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Be nice. Be polite in your interactions with your ex-spouse. This not only sets a good example for your kids but can also encourage your ex to be gracious in response.

Look on the bright side. Choose to focus on the strengths of all family members. Encourage children to do the same.

Work on it. Make it a priority to develop an amicable relationship with your ex-spouse as soon as possible. Watching you be friendly can reassure children and teach problem-solving skills as well.


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As an au pair, nanny or tutor, it is important to understand that you are apart of the family and their support unit. Be sure to be involved as respectfully as possible whilst still being informed about what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable from ex partners.

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