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Children are resilient. They’re hearty little creatures with big imaginations and an even bigger capacity to adapt. But when their world is turned upside down by the breakup of their parents, children often struggle. The impulse for many parents is to keep their lives “normal.” You want them to know there’s consistency and love everywhere they will be, whether it’s your house or your ex’s house. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can help your kid adapt to their new world order, from giving them 15 minutes of absolutely undivided attention every day to reading all the parenting books to booking and normalizing appointments with counselors.
Keep care consistent
One of the best ways to give your kids a sense of grounding, stability, and even a feeling of autonomy, is to keep the people or person who care for them in their lives. Try your best to keep your child at the same daycare or in the same school district. Unfortunately, we know this is not often possible during a divorce, when your finances take a major hit. (If you need a little help—and most of us do—there’s no shame in setting up a cash fund or asking a friend to set one up for you.) Likewise, if you had a babysitter or nanny before the breakup, do your best to keep them during and after. Here’s why:
More peaceful transitions
There were times during my divorce when my friends and family were just a teeny bit afraid I might be so mad, I’d drive my car into my ex. If you’ve got a babysitter or nanny, you can coordinate transitions that are friendly and civil because you’re not there! Your kids can be handed off cheerfully, giving them a good an optimistic start to the next few days of other parent placement.
No taking sides
It can be agonizing for your child to be literally stuck in the middle with you. They may prefer to stay with you but know your ex will be mad if they don’t act excited to see them. Or maybe they truly love you both equally and don’t know how to express themselves during a transition. That can be incredibly stressful for your kids and you may not even know it’s happening. Make it easier for their brains by removing stress factors.
You have a partner
Parents need help. Nothing about modern childrearing is particularly easy. If it’s mutually agreed upon, your babysitter can take on extra responsibilities as well as make you feel a little less alone during a time that can be scary and alienating.
Routines can stay the same
Even if the location of your child changes, the way their mac and cheese is served or the way homework is handled can stay the same, thanks to a babysitter who can keep routines running wherever they may be.
Your child has an ally
Chances are, your babysitter is closer to your kids’ age than yours. And chances are they remember what it was like for them when their parents got divorced. Your child can have an ally in his or her babysitter. They can tell their babysitter what they’re really feeling without fear of hurting a parent’s feelings or having a parent react in a way that isn’t helpful. Babysitter can validate and empathize and maybe even offer coping strategies that worked for them. Your child can have a confidant all their own.
You have peace of mind
If you’re not convinced of the quality of life your child has at the other parent’s house, having a babysitter being there as the occasional impartial observer can do wonders for your peace of mind. You may not trust your ex as far as you can throw them (note: we do not endorse throwing exes), but you do trust your sitter and they would never let anything bad happen to your kid.
When to start looking for a babysitter?
If you don’t already have a babysitter in your child’s life but anticipate needing one in the future, now is the time to start looking. In some ways, parents are at an advantage when they start the babysitter search at the end of their relationship. Your child can see you working in solidarity for their benefit, which is always a comforting thing for a little one.
Chances are you and your ex don’t agree on anything. But if there is even a shred of commonality–and there should be if you have kids–you’ll be able to come together and find a person you can all agree upon.
Good help is hard to find
If you’re not sure where to find the perfect babysitter (or nanny or au pair), consider these ideas:
Friends and family
Ask your friends if they have leads. It’s possible you’ve been too wrapped up in your own business to consider that your friends may also have need of a babysitter now and then. Ask who they would recommend. If you have family in the area, find out if there’s a cousin, niece, or nephew who might be interested in childcare and looking for some extra cash.
Churches and places of worship
If you’re a member, great! If not, that’s not a dealbreaker. Call the office and explain that you’re looking for a caretaker for your child. The office administrator (who we all know is the highest authority there) can put an item in their newsletter or bulletin. More likely is that they might even have a few suggestions for ideal candidates right off the top of their heads.
Plenty of students are in need of spending money and a change of pace from campus life. Colleges are great because you’ll get older and more experienced candidates.
When you’re not super connected in an area and if you simply don’t have time to do the legwork, turn to online services. There are plenty out there, but when I was on the search, I went to care.com on the recommendation of everyone on Facebook. I posted something super eloquent like “Help! Babysitter?” and the answer was like Care.com again and again. It could not have been easier. It took the stress and time out of finding the perfect person for my son. Plus, candidates are background checked and come with recommendations and endorsements.
Maybe you’re not best friends with Brenda in HR, but you better believe she knows everyone and will make solid recommendations. If she doesn’t have connections of her own, she’ll tell you who in the office might.
Spoiler alert: childcare workers don’t get paid enough. It’s terrible and unfair. Many are looking for additional work outside of their day job. You’ll get a super qualified individual if you go this route. Bonus: he or she will have all the best craft ideas.
Keeping your child’s babysitter through these ups and downs will help you and your ex partner, but a thousand times more important than that: it will help your child. Do your best to keep their care consistent and to give them a helping witness that will advocate and look out just for them. When money becomes an issue, there’s no shame in setting up a cash fund to help pay for your child’s caretaker. You’re paying for a lawyer for your best interests, right? It’s absolutely allowed to pay for someone who will look out for your child’s best interests.
PS: When this plan will 100% not work
It should go without saying but if your ex ran off with the nanny, you can ignore all of the above. This happened to a friend of ours. And probably a friend of yours. It happens! But once the rage subsides, you can be grateful knowing your child’s new stepparent started as their beloved caretaker. Just kidding, we all know that’s not going to last.