The pain that comes with unexpectedly losing your relationship with a child

October 4 | Guest post by Jacqueline
Αθήνα / Athens
Photo by Metro Centric used by CC license

Any kind of grief is incredibly difficult to write about — putting words to paper makes everything that much more real. My wife and I recently "lost" two little girls — they're still very much alive, but we're no longer part of their lives. Victoria, my wife, was their nanny.

Victoria had worked for the family for six months. She was in charge of a two-year-old and an infant from eight thirty to five thirty, four days a week. She watched the older girl begin speaking much more, and watched the younger hold her head up and learn to sit upright. While I wasn't nearly as physically involved, I was emotionally entrenched in the lives of these two girls. I also have my "own" children — two-year-old twins whom I care for, and we had playdates with Victoria's girls weekly. When I wasn't with my own kids, I was with her. I loved those kids, too.

Last week the girl's parents told Victoria that they had unexpectedly found someone else to watch them. They stressed that they had not in any way been looking — this kind of fell into their laps. The family has known from the beginning that Victoria is completing her Master's degree in Montessori Education and she would only be available for a few years. On top of that, her time was divided between the girls and her classes. When a family friend's children went to school, they were all talking about the nanny they didn't need anymore. It turns out this nanny was the quintessential nanny — the one who stays with families for eight years and has been doing this for three decades.

While we don't completely understand the decision, we don't harbor any ill feelings towards the parents of the girls. We can understand how they came to the conclusion that the new nanny would be better in the long run — but many tears have been shed (by both parties). The mother of the girls has promised us that she still wants us involved in their lives — she's said we're family. We appreciate that, and we want to stay.

Of course, none of that changes the fact that two little girls were ripped from us last week. None of that changes the sense of loss of the tears we've both shed. The mother of the twins I watch told me once that she loved how invested I was in her kids, and that she didn't understand acquaintances who worried the nanny would get "too close." Getting involved is just how Victoria and I work — if we're going to be with your children, we're going to to love them like you do. We're going to throw ourselves into their lives. It's the most rewarding way to be — we couldn't do it any other way.

This makes it much harder when we get abruptly expelled. I've had a family move away, and I've had another where the Grandma unexpectedly came to live with them. This isn't the first time this has happened, but it's the worst. The sense of loss is huge. I know we'll see the girls on occasion, and they are alive and well and happy, but we are mourning the loss of relationship. Victoria won't see the baby start crawling or the toddler start preschool. We're mourning goodbyes that come from out of the blue, and learning how to pick our hearts up off the floor.

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  1. My heart aches for you– I'm a nanny for the most wonderful children, and it would break my heart to have to leave them. I hope you guys manage to stay in touch and continue to be involved in their lives!

  2. This is so sad. I would love to see another article or two on the difficulty of parent-esque relationships — dealing with an estranged teenage/adult child, or losing the relationship with stepchildren after a divorce — but also with how to heal and move on as well as how to maintain a relationship despite that.

    5 agree
    • Agreed. I'm dealing with the lost of stepchildren after a divorce myself and would love to know how other people work through it.

  3. I really like this story. I'm a nanny too, and I am very very attached to all the kids I take care of and their families. everyone is growing up and i have been feeling less useful these days, i cannot imagine not getting to see everyone on a regular basis.

  4. I recently went through this too. I work as a nanny and in June I had to say goodbye to not one but three families. There were lots of tears especially for the family I had worked for 2 years with. I had watched the kids blossom into wonderful human beings and then had them torn away. Its a different kind of grief but an emotion to recognize non the less.

  5. I'm a social worker and it's always hard to see the kids go, especially since I legally can no longer contact them (and wouldn't want to – I know my presence isn't usually welcome and it's best for all involved parties once services end!). Well said!

    1 agrees
  6. I really resonate with this. In April of this year I had to leave the family I worked for when my husband was stationed 1,000 miles away. We knew it was coming so it was easier to brace ourselves, but it was (and is) a challenge. Luckily I still get to skype with the girls occasionially and I even went to visit the last time I was in town.
    It's a strange loss, very hard to express in words. Some days, I just MISS them.

    1 agrees
  7. This story really speaks to me. I was a full time nanny for a family for over 3 years, although I had watched them occasionally for a year before I became full time. The children were 4 and 6 when I started watching them and 8 and 10 when I left the family. My own daughter was only 6 weeks old the first time that I watched them, so she grew up with them and thought of them as her siblings. Life circumstances changed, I had to leave them, and it broke my heart. We did stay very close and I always considered them a part of my family. Recently, more than 4 years later, the family has reached out to me again and even though my role is different this time, I am now working with them again and I couldn't be happier.

    1 agrees
  8. Thanks everyone for the comments; I knew I wasn't alone. I appreciate everyone else's story. We've worked through a lot of the grief and are now more in the planning for the next stage phase, but this was in a lot of ways because Victoria had only been with them a few months. The kids I watch has been over a year, and the day anything happens with that…there will be tears.

    1 agrees
  9. I understand the hurt. I lost my niece and nephew when they were 3 and 6, respectively. I'd been essentially another parent to them from birth until that time, and when I left the religion I'd been raised in, my sister and her husband "threw me out" of the family. Fifteen years later, I still cry from the hurt of missing them.

    At least we know they had our love and we had theirs…

  10. Kudos to you wifey for her Montessori Education (I'm in a course in Oregon right now for the same!) Any Kudos to you and her for your awesome positive involvement in children's lives! It's hard to loose kids you have cared for, I've been doing it with special needs kids since I was 14, from deaf/blind, austism, to cerebral palsy. They take a bit of your heart with them each time, but I always try to remember that I had a positive effect on their life whether or not I say in it, and their souls will remember that, whether they consciously do or not.

  11. What an eloquent, bittersweet article! Thank you for sharing your story of grief, Jacqueline.
    I just returned from a grief & healing retreat, and we talked quite a bit about "disenfranchised mourners." It is so important to recognize that it IS grief, and that you do the grieving — that anyone does when in an unusual grief situation. Too many (one is too many) people will tell you that they "…don't get it, why are you so upset?" or "Don't be sad."
    Be sad. Cry, and grieve. Your grief is warranted, and validated.

  12. I have felt what you are feeling, too. I lived with a former boyfriend from the time his daughter was five months old until she was almost 4 1/2 years old. I was the one checking for a fever at one a.m., potty training, making school lunches, etc. I saw her once after the breakup, she grabbed my hand and refused to let go.

    It's pretty much the saddest I've ever been.

    It gets easier over time just like the separation of any other relationship. I still miss her, I was recently saddened when she passed me in a grocery store (three years after I last saw her) and didn't recognize me anymore… but it wasn't *as* terrible as I expected it to be. Admittedly, having my own son in the past year helped me feel better as well.

    She's happy and healthy and has a good relationship with her step-mom, which are all the things I hoped for her. Knowing that makes it much easier for me.

    1 agrees
  13. My situation is a lot different, but it has caused a lot of the same typed of feelings. When I was a teenager, my aunt had a baby. I was the one who told her the name she gave him. I was one of the first people to hold him. I used to go and watch him after school all the time while she was working. Through his first year and a half, we were close. The two of them had actually been living with my grandmother, and she was instrumental in raising him too. Then one day my aunt moved out without any notice. She refuses to have contact with us, and she's even been lying to the courts to make sure the kid's father and my family get as little visitation as possible. None of us know why she is doing this, since she will not speak to us or tell us what the problem is. My cousin is 7 now. I've only seen him 3 times in the last 5 years, and he barely knows who I am. My whole family is reeling from this, everyone misses him so terribly, and there is nothing we can do.

  14. I feel a little creepy and negative saying this, but perhaps there's something to be said for going into non-parental roles with a crisp awareness that we may say goodbye to these little ones long before they grow up. Not that we shouldn't love them, but maintain a little bit of heart-distance if they're not our kids.

    I haven't been successful with that, frankly, but maybe I should have tried it a number of years back. I also think I should have a few different babysitters and part time nannies and group daycare situations, specifically so my son (or his caregivers) doesn't get traumatized when one or more of them drops away. Say, if I quit my part-time job to be with him full time, or when he starts school, or my main nanny/babysitter has her own child, or whatever.

    2 agree
    • I don't think heart-distance works. Not if I am going to do my job the best I can. It isn't as if I don't go into it with my eyes wide open to the pain I will feel later, but I choose to invest my whole heart anyway.

  15. I wanted to say first, that there is NO WAY to care for children (as a nanny, sitter or teacher) without becoming attached. You can't help it it's human to become invested in this little person.
    And also, it really never gets easier, but at least you still get to be part of the girls' lives! And you can take comfort in the fact that they will grow up to be wise girls and part of that is thanks to YOU!
    That's the price we pay for being nannies–or even mothers–your heart will be broken at times, and at others so full of love it hurts.

    2 agree
  16. Oh I've been there. A few years ago, I had a neighbor with a young daughter, whom I occasionally baby sat for. Suddenly that situation abruptly changed when her mother's behavior became erratic and bizzare. She stopped picking the little one up, or the little girl would appear at my door in the middle of the night. I shifted to the role of primary caregiver, while the situation got sorted out by social services and the police. I as the one caring for her when she had the flu, giving her dinner and tucking her in at night. Eventually she was placed with family, but I still mourn the loss of her, because even though she wasn't mine it was hard not to become attached to a little one that needed me.

  17. im a nanny and I work in daycare, I still miss children I cared for 6 years ago, I would give anything to see how they have grown up and who they have become.
    If I had to leave the girls I nanny for now I would be heartbroken i've seen them come so far and learn so much, they are absolutley amazing, and as I plan to have my own children my thoughts always drift back to them and having to eventually leave them, im not looking forward to it but I guess that is the nature of caring for someone else's children.

  18. This article was just what I needed to see. I helped raise triplets from 9 until they were 18. I was a step mom and coparent their Mother, Father and I all worked together to raise these kids. The relationship with their father and I ended rather poorly, and I left although I still saw the kids sometimes. After awhile they have made the decision to not include me in their lives at all. Going from almost daily parental contact to nothing is so hard. There is so much grief. I respect their decisions they are adults and make their own choices, but it just kills me. This will be the second Holiday season with out them. When I talk about it people say "well they're not your kids, what did you expect"… it just doesn't erase all those years of homework, slumber partys, and love. It is a little easier after time and knowing they're doing well. I still call their mom every so often for updates, but there is a hole in my heart. It is comforting to know I'm not alone.

    2 agree
  19. I had a summer nanny job 1 day a week for 10 hours with a 18 month (now 21 month) old boy whom I got very attached to! His parents just informed me last week that they are hiring a full time nanny and letting me go. I am a bit crushed, I will miss him a lot! And I feel sad he will forget about me in a matter of months when right now he's so attached to me and I bring a lot of joy into his life as does he bring into mine.

  20. Thank you for this post. I was a nanny for a family for 3 years, since the girls were 5 months old and 2.5 yrs old. Now they are 3.5 and 5.5 yo. I loved these children so much, I stayed in a work environment that I hated. I recently found out the family would be moving this summer. I quit two weeks ago, because I felt taken advantage of, but can not stop crying. I don't regret my decision, but I certainly feel the loss of these two girls very deeply. I'm also considering a couple of sessions with a counselor.

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