Quitting Time: How to Give Notice with Grace

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. 

by sarah lemblé wolsey.

A former employer once wrote in a reference letter, “Anyone can take a job. How one leaves shows their true character.” There is a fine line between business and personal that is easy to blur in the intimate profession of a nanny. It seems even more difficult to keep this line in mind when it comes time to leave. There are so many reasons to quit and ways to do so, but if we maintain the integrity we had when we accepted a position when we leave it, we can preserve the bond built from caring for a family that isn’t our own. At the very least, we preserve our self respect in knowing we did our best.

The next time you find yourself ready to move on to the next job, keep these five simple steps in mind when it comes to giving notice.

1. Timing Is of the Essence.

Finding the right nanny-family fit is a time-consuming and tedious process, which is why I recommend giving at least three to four weeks’ notice when leaving a position. This allows parents time to search for a replacement, and gives children the time they need to prepare for someone new while still under familiar guidance and care. There may even be a few days of overlap between you and the new nanny to further smooth the transition. If not, ample time has still been given for the family to make necessary arrangements before you leave and, if you have not already found a new position, your search can be further supported with a good reference. It is also important to be thoughtful about when you are giving notice. Is it the middle of the school year or busy season for the parents? If possible, make your announcement a little less stressful by being mindful of the family’s schedule. Try to pick a time that would be the least disruptive for you to leave.

2. Be Considerate.

Once you have decided to give notice, set aside a time to do so in person, without the children present. In the event that schedules or situations do not allow a face-to-face meeting, choose a time in the evening, or when you know the children aren’t around, to deliver the news over the phone. If neither of these methods are conducive, send a carefully worded email as a last resort. Use caution if you choose to send an email, as it may not accurately convey the tone or feeling behind the straightforward words written. Whatever method of delivery you use, always be thoughtful and clear in what you say, the reasons you give, and how you present them. Your quitting can be nerve-racking and emotional for everyone involved, so practice and review what you’re going to say beforehand and make notes to refer to if you feel you need them.

3. Tell the Kids Together.

Ideally, you’ve been working in a parent–nanny team, so your departure should be approached in the same way other childcare-related decisions have been: together as a united front. Once you have agreed on your last day with the family, suggest that you tell the children together. If you aren’t able to tell them together, try to at least agree upon what will be said when they are told and how you will all respond to questions that come up over the course of your final weeks. Because younger children do not have an accurate concept of time, I recommend telling them about two weeks prior to your last day and creating a calendar or other visual countdown that children can look at to prevent the constant worry that every day is your last. Discuss with the parents how you would like to present your decision. When you do, assure the children that they are loved and are in no way responsible for your choice to move on. Be prepared for questions such as “Where are you going?” “Will you be gone forever?” and “When will we see you?”. If you are not the first nanny they’ve had, chances are the children will have preconceived notions and expectations of what it means to lose a nanny (or other household staff member), especially if they are no longer in contact with her. Be sensitive, understanding, positive, and reassuring.

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4. Make a Kid Date.

Brighten the news and lessen the blow by setting a date soon after your departure to return for a visit. Mark the calendar with the children and decide on what you would like to do. You could have a sleepover, movie night, dinner/dessert date, or attend a special event they have coming up (birthday party, soccer game, or music recital). If you’re moving away or can’t do an actual activity with them, make a Skype date or arrange to send them something in the mail and tell them to expect a special delivery by a certain date. Quick comfort can be found in knowing that while you may not be around daily, you will still love and care about them just the same and plan to stay in touch. Seeing the date on the calendar and setting a plan in motion will calm some of the anxiety your old nanny family may be feeling, especially if they have lost touch with previous caregivers.

5. Keep in Touch.

Forming new bonds is always difficult. Keeping in touch aids the transition for everyone by ensuring that the children continue to feel secure. Knowing they still have access to you can boost their confidence in making new connections and lessen the worry about losing or replacing anyone. Depending on your comfort level, propose that the children have the option to call or text initially, if or when they are missing you, or recommend they draw a picture or write a note to you. If you meet the new nanny before you leave, exchange information and let her know that you are available for last-minute questions or texts from the sand box if the kids have news that can’t wait. Continue to express interest to the parents about attending birthday parties, keeping up on life events, receiving pictures and updates, and hearing about how things are going. Depending on the relationship and your ability to keep in touch, check in periodically by email, call, or visit. Consider offering your services as a date night babysitter if your schedule allows, and make it known that you are still invested in their lives despite relinquishing your role as a household employee.

The Magic Formula

Ten years and six families into my nanny career, I feel proud and privileged to maintain a positive and close relationship with the families and children whose lives hold special places in my heart. Since leaving each position I have attended coffee dates, book readings, unassigned visits to The Hamptons, Thanksgiving dinners, Bar Mitzvahs, and annual birthday parties for my former employers and their children. When I got married last year, former MomBosses attended my bridal shower and past charges were active participants in the wedding itself. We have stayed in touch and involved, and the children whose photos and drawings still adorn my fridge continue to know me and my devoted love for them. The decision to leave is never easy, but having a formula that can produce positive results is certainly helpful. While these steps may not predict how a family is going to feel or react to their nanny leaving, they do ensure that a nanny has the tools to leave with integrity, grace, and memorable character.