Surviving Grandma (or any other unexpected houseguest)
It’s not in your work agreement, it’s not a workshop at any conference you have ever been to, yet every professional nanny needs to know “How to survive a visit from the grandparents or the aunts or the cousins or any other out of town guests that will disrupt the daily flow.” For the duration of this article I will refer to the visitor as “Grandma”
I have always worked for families whose relatives lived out of town. I believe that you have to look at visiting family as an exciting event instead of a dreaded occasion.
My first suggestion is to discuss the visit with your employer in a positive way.
Ask a little bit about grandma, maybe there is a reason why she is coming.Ask what she is like, what she likes to do, if she likes to go sightseeing, if you are going to be expected to drive her, how your employer wants you to handle the discipline issues and what you can expect while grandma is visiting. Is it ok to let grandma break the rules? If your employer says yes it’s ok then maybe the two of you can discuss which rules are house rules that are to never be broken. It’s a good idea to establish these guidelines with your employer regardless, so look at this as a positive opportunity for communication. Other things to discuss with your employer at this time would be:
If grandma tells you to go home early, is it ok if you leave?
Is it ok to leave grandma in a room alone with the children?
Is it ok if you run errands and leave the children with grandma?
Having this conversation ahead of time will help you know what to expect and what your employer expects of you.
Treat grandma as you would treat a guest in your own home.
Show grandma that you are a professional and pay attention to her interaction with the children.
Let Grandma be Grandma
Sometimes as nannies we consider someone else’s home our turf when in reality, it isn’t. It is inconvenient when Grandma comes and breaks the rules, but if this was your child wouldn’t you want them to be able to have good memories of their Grandma even if she lived far away? Think about what it means to your employer to be able to know that her children are spending precious time with their family and that they don’t have to be pressured to take a week off work.
Most grandparents just want to spend time with the grandkids but some don’t. This is why it is important to discuss this with your employer ahead of time.
Kristen Kanoski, a 20 year professional nanny veteran and mother of 2 year old Jack offers this advice:
You have to take the attitude of “these are her grandchildren and if she wants to spoil them, she can”. I didn’t always get excited about the grandparents/or grandmother coming. I did try to make it the best visit when they came. I learned what each one liked and didn’t like and worked the grandparents schedule into ours. I had grandparents who didn’t do any sightseeing and just wanted to hang out with us and grandparents who went sightseeing and only saw the kids when the parents were home. I went about our normal routine, until I figured out the people who were visiting.
You might plan some activities at the house, something you would do anyway, like baking cookies, or an art project and see if the grandma wants to help.
I had one grandma that questioned everything I did. She would ask me questions like “Why did you pick that toy for her to play with?” Instead getting upset about it I just turned it around and asked her what she would done, and boy did she tell me! It opened up the door to communication with her and even though I didn’t agree with all of her ideas about child developmentI just listened to what she had to say.Since I worked for this family for 8 years, there were lots of visits and lots of discussions but we learned a lot from each other.
Myrna Alphonse, M.A./NCC and professional nanny for 15 years says:
I LOVE the Grandparents. They have been some of my best advocates in my jobs. I believe partially because I am an old soul, and they are “old schooled” as I believe in for kids. Second, the Grans can offer so much dynamic insight to the family you work for and the interpersonal dynamics that have often left me puzzled. I take it with a grain of salt, know that there is an end date in mind, and stay super busy to avoid conflict. She may even be an asset to help you have a little one on one time with one of your charges that needs some extra TLC.
Mary Ann Meddish, the current INA Nanny of the Year offers this advice:
Every job is different as well as every grandparent. try to look at the grandparents coming as a gift to the children. Make sure mom knows the schedule and that you have the authority to follow it and from there go with the flow and think of ideas that will work with the kind of grandma this child has been blessed with.
One grandma loved to cook and my charges baked every day after nap with her and I typed up the recipes and took photos of them cooking and the children decorated the pages and made a cookbook. One grandma came from England for a month at a time and she was totally hands on so when she came we made plans to celebrate her arrival and departure, scheduled fun activities, many times the parents planned vacations while she was with us, and I made all the doctor and dentist appointments I could fit in knowing she was happy to stay with he kids. The flip side of this one was that 6 months later we went and stayed with Grandma in England and France for 4 weeks and the next year we visited England and Spain for 6 weeks.
With one grandma I learned to give her a schedule for her visit so she knew what was happening when and she would occasionally attend an activity or ask to ride along to the mall and sometimes even suggest an activity where there was an empty time slot. The key is always to remember that having a grandparent is a gift and they might not have them long and you want them to have happy memories and mementos of times with grandparents even if it totally mucks up your week!
In the end, it’s not really about “surviving the grandparents” as much as it is “embracing them” Grandparents have the right to spend time with their grandchildren and if we want the best for the children in our care we need to make the effort to allow them to enjoy it. My dad bosses mom used to come and hang out with us when my employers went away for the weekend. We bonded for life over something I still laugh about. My charge was 9 months old. Grandma or (Gammu as he called her) said that she would like to have some really good pizza for dinner.
We went to a nice pizza restaurant. My charge didn’t like it in his high chair and trying to avoid a meltdown I let him sit on my lap. His applesauce was still sitting on the tray of the high chair. Suddenly he decided he wanted down. He let out a horrible scream, kicked his foot, hit the tray of the high chair and sent the high chair to the ground, and applesauce straight into the air. As the applesauce came down, it rained applesauce everywhere. The waiter came to clean up.
No words were spoken. I gathered our things, and Grandma and I headed for the door. She whispered “you go ahead, I will get the bill.” The minute I was out the door my charge stopped screaming. Grandma came out and we walked silently to the car. As I was putting my charge in his car seat, he decided he wasn’t doing that either. He arched his back and let out a blood curdling scream. I didn’t know what Grandma was doing, all I could think of was that she must think I was the worst nanny in the world and how was I going to get through the rest of the weekend.
I finally wrestled my charge into his car seat, got into the drivers seat with all the dignity I could muster for someone covered in applesauce, and tried to pull myself together before I started the car.
Grandma turned around to my charge in the backseat, looked at him pensively and said “So………………..your daddy thinks your perfect!”
I looked at Grandma and she looked at me and we both started laughing. We sat in the car and laughed for 10 minutes, but in that 10 minutes we bonded for life. After that when she came to visit we would giggle and laugh and talk about her life and talk about my life and her visits were one of the highlights of my job. A year later when I met my husband, Gammu had to give her approval, so we took my charge and drove 3 hours to her house to spend the weekend. (She highly approved) She came to my wedding and she painted us a beautiful watercolor print that hangs proudly in our dining room.
She sent us cookies at Christmas and clever notes with recipes and great ideas. I have so many fond memories of her and I am so thankful that we bonded.
Grandma has the right to visit her grandchildren. Try to embrace her instead of survive her.
Do your best to build a bridge, do your best to create a bond and you won’t regret it. You can help give your charges important time with grandma, help them create precious memories and you might even make a friend or learn something in the process.