It's You, Not Us, but Let's Say It's Us Anyway.
September 26, 2011 11:07 AM   Subscribe

How do we get over the guilt and just fire our nanny already? Very specific caveat inside.

[Anonymous due to being about employment. We are in a southeastern state in the US if that applies.]

I know the simple answer should be "just fire her." That is great in theory and all, but if it were that simple in reality, then I wouldn't waste MeFi server space for this question. This is really about getting over feeling guilty, rather than simply firing somebody.

We hired a nanny only a short time ago and it just isn't working out, but it's been long enough already to realize that it will never work out. I don't need to write out why, but we have decided that after trying to work with her, she just isn't getting it, and she isn't showing any signs of being capable of getting it. Plus, she has done a thing or two that would get people automatically fired from any other job, yet not serious enough to chase her out of our house.

Here's the caveat: She quit her full-time career to nanny for us. She also had a few red flags during her interview, but we still liked her enough to hire her--and we were overtired with a new baby when we made our decision, which we feel is our own fault, not hers, thus adding more to the guilt.

So, basically, we feel too guilty to fire her.

Logically, we know that:
--We didn't decide for her to quit her career for us--she decided that for herself.
--It's also not our fault that she interviewed somewhat well but can't actually deliver what we have expected.
--There is no contract, but we also didn't say "we will give this a month trial," which we learned is normal to do, but only after the fact.
--We don't know if firing her will put her into a downward spiral and ruin her life, even though we know that is not our responsibility at all.
--We know that people who quit one job get fired from their new jobs every day, and they survive.

So, we know the answer is to "just fire her", and we know the logic presented above is, well, logical, but how do we get over the emotional hump of guilt and tell her we no longer need her services?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is a business decision, not a personal decision- act accordingly. Keep it civil and offer to give her references if you feel comfortable doing so.
posted by TheBones at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Give her decent severance pay.
posted by alms at 11:14 AM on September 26, 2011 [30 favorites]

I think your only moral responsibility here is that she's been told that losing her job is on the table if things aren't straightened out. If you've already told her that if she keeps doing X, Y and Z you're going to look for a new nanny, I don't think you need to feel bad about anything.
posted by auto-correct at 11:15 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Can you give 2 weeks notice or do you need her gone ASAP?
posted by jeffch at 11:16 AM on September 26, 2011

I would get over the emotional hump by arguing to myself that if she was offered a position somewhere that was better for her, overall, she would leave. Here, it's better for you if you fire her. The same rules apply on both sides.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:16 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was her decision to leave that job, not yours (unless you specifically asked her to quit). Absolutely give her severance pay, but start looking for a new nanny now.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:16 AM on September 26, 2011

I think you just have to take a deep breath and plunge into the water and manage the guilt after the fact -- not before.

You can't give her two weeks or any notice at all (you know that, I think? You don't want someone bearing you ill will hanging around your kid.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:17 AM on September 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

If it were me, I'd tell her it isn't working out and give her a check for 2 weeks. Thank her for working for you and offer her the best of luck with her future.
posted by birdherder at 11:18 AM on September 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

As private citizens in the US, we are uncomfortable being employers, especially when the job is in the household friendly-interaction kind of context. But really, it's a job. She may give a different impression in the moment you're firing her, but the long-term reality is, she's not heartbroken because she trusted you and loves your baby like it's her own, she is going to be mad at herself that she screwed up and lost her job.

Be professional. Tell her what's not working out (unless there's really no way at all for her to fix it, in which case no excuses, that only makes it seem negotiable) and give severance pay equal to either 2 weeks or one month's pay (she's only been with you a month? Make it 2 weeks' pay), give her permission to use you as a reference, and write out a general reccomendation letter that she can keep and photocopy.
posted by aimedwander at 11:24 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

What you need is a script that you follow when you tell her that her services are no longer required. Write the script down and practice it a few times before you talk to her (in person). Don't go into a lot of detail - the whys and the hows provide her a means to negotiate against your decision (I didn't know X wasn't acceptable! I'll do better next time!) and you'll be more likely to concede and let her stay.

If she gets emotional or pleads for you to retain her services, just keep repeating: "I'm sorry it's just not possible."
posted by rhapsodie at 11:25 AM on September 26, 2011

She didn't quit her career to be YOUR nanny. She quit her career to be A nanny. If she was serious enough about being a nanny to quit a career, then she'll work hard on finding another position. If she wasn't serious, well then that's totally not your problem.

Also, what auto-correct said. I hope that you gave her concrete examples on where her skills needed to improve. Otherwise, yeah, being fired out of the blue will be a shock to her.
posted by Melismata at 11:26 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

For your next nanny, write it into the contact (me mail me if you want to see our nanny contract.)

But for now, if you have some other care lined up, give her 2 weeks pay. At the end of the day when you come home, say 'Cindy, we're afraid that it isn't working out. Here's a check for 2 weeks pay. We need your keys and whatever.'
posted by k8t at 11:28 AM on September 26, 2011

This directly affect your CHILD. That is the bottom-line. Period. End of. Your guilty feelings would evaporate the instant something went wrong.
posted by mrmarley at 11:39 AM on September 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

Also she probably knows it isn't going well but doesn't want to quit and screw you guys out of childcare.
posted by k8t at 11:42 AM on September 26, 2011

she has done a thing or two that would get people automatically fired from any other job

Cannot reconcile "takes care of your child" with "thing OR TWO." Feelings of guilt should not come into this at all.
posted by sageleaf at 11:51 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, stop dithering -- do it now, worry about feeling guilty later.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:54 AM on September 26, 2011

--We didn't decide for her to quit her career for us--she decided that for herself.

Well, that's what she told you anyway. Maybe she was just about to be fired for the same sort of poor performance she is displaying here. In which case you helped her out for a bit of time where she might not have had any job at all.
posted by mikepop at 12:09 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are putting your child in the care of someone you find incompetent, you are paying them for this, and you are permitting her to make money without developing vital job skills like learning how to not get fired from every single other job out there. The only guilt you should feel is that you have let this go on this long and you're wasting money that could go to far more productive causes than this situation. Relieve yourself of the burden of this guilt and fire her today so she can move on to opportunities better fitting her and you can do what is right for your kid.
posted by Saydur at 12:17 PM on September 26, 2011

I'll argue that the feeling you have isn't guilt but fear of doing the hard, but correct, thing and that once you've cut the cord you will actually feel very good about it.

Somehow as a society we've elevated this type of procrastination to an art form.

Grown-ups are the people who do the hard things when they need doing in spite of personal feelings. Everyone else is juvenile, regardless of age.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:33 PM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

At the end of the day, you hired this person to be your nanny. You're certainly well within your right to be specific about what and how your nanny does things. So if she's not doing things to your liking, and you've specifically asked her to change her ways multiple times...then unfortunately you must let her go and find someone else. That being said, I would give her a month's severance pay and have her stop working immediately. This way you guys don't have to go through an awkward 2 weeks of having her continue working there, and she has a month of cushion to search for another job. Will it be hard for her? Most likely yes. Will she be upset and possibly angry, probably. But you must do what's best for you and your child. This will be difficult but she will eventually find employment elsewhere.
posted by ljs30 at 1:10 PM on September 26, 2011

1. The longer you wait, the harder it is. Your question implies that your child is quite young so I am assuming there are no attachment issues between your child and nanny, right?

2. Absolutely, make sure you gave her the chance with specific examples of things you wanted to be different with the clear explanation that her continued employment was at stake. This should be done in writing and with both you and your partner sitting down with her. If someone gets fired without this step, there is potential legal fallout. Practically speaking, this might fix things and if not, it should soften your own guilt when you finally do let the nanny go. Be firm and clear, you do not want the nanny coming back and pleading for her job because she misunderstood your expectations or thought she was doing what you wanted.

3. I personally wouldn't offer severance pay, but that's a nice thing to do. Depending on circumstances, you might choose to let her work for 2 more weeks.

4. Yes, for future reference: contract. In fact, it might not be too late. Tell your nanny that you've received advice that you really need to have a formal working arrangement set up, that this is the standard and you didn't realize it at first, but now you want to correct that. Spell out a probation period at the end of which you will re-evaluate things and create a mechanism for feedback. You need to spell out vacation time, taxes, expectation of doing any housework, cooking, shopping, taking the child to activities when they are older, overtime, etc. -- all issues that came up for us later that we hadn't considered when we were first time parents with a 3 month old child.

5. There is no reason to feel guilty if you've been clear and fair with your expectations; your nanny has agreed to meet these expectations and he/she is unable or unwilling to meet these. If you can't get over the guilt, then maybe you need to revisit #2 above. But you are not responsible for this person's post employment well-being. Being terminated because parents don't trust you with their child is part of the nature of nanny work. People are resilient and I suspect this person will be able to find other work. If their stability is really so borderline that your firing them will send them into a downward spiral AND you gave them the opportunity to succeed and they didn't, then you've really got to question whether this person is going to be a good caregiver for your child. Offer to be a reference for them, and agree to emphasize this person's strengths truthfully if anyone calls.

Our current nanny has been with us for 2+ years, but took 3 months off when she had her own child. At the beginning, we were extremely formal and firm with our expectations and with that setting the tone from the get go, things have become much more relaxed, we are all on the same page and she is like a member of our family. While she was on maternity, one of the nannies we hired temporarily was totally unreceptive to this approach and sure enough, by day 3 we caught her smoking at our house and she had locked herself and my son outside without a coat in the middle of winter. "Sorry, I really don't think you are a bad person or anything, but we don't feel that this is really working out and we won't need you to come back tomorrow." End of story, no regrets.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been a nanny, and a lot of people transition to nannying from "real" careers because it's right for our interests and skills. Active, meaningful, challenging but not competitive, and you can wear comfortable shoes!

That said, there are people who become nannies because they couldn't perform basic job functions and essentially rely on naïve, guilty, or uninterested parents to keep their jobs.

If she's the former type, she'll find a job that is a better fit for her skills and strengths. If she's the latter type, she'll find another job where her incompetence can't hurt anyone. Either way, it is the right thing to do.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, another thought:

A responsive, attentive nanny can be all the difference between a whiny, frustration-intolerant, insecure, and defiant child and one that is calm, patient, empathetic, creative, and curious. Think about what kind of three year old you want, then tell me you still feel guilty about letting a bad nanny go.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:45 PM on September 26, 2011

I am not a parent. But this is your child. I mean, I do think it's reasonable to think, "well, yeah, nobody's totally perfect and nobody's going to do things precisely the way I would." But that is not the same as, "This person is doing things that justify firing, but it's harder to fire her than to let her do fireable things in the presence of my kid."

Go ahead and feel guilty if you need to! It's just a feeling, it doesn't mandate your behavior. You're soft-hearted, and you will probably feel awful for maybe 24 hours after you do it (if you're not overwhelmed with relief instantly, which could very well be the case). You will also feel awful until you do it. Might as well get it over with.

(I recently quit a job after 4 months. The situation had become absurd, it was not going to improve, I had an offer on the table for MUCH more money. And yet I *agonized* over the decision. Because I don't like letting people down and I felt like only bad people job-hop. Once it was done I got over it, like, instantly. You will feel better as soon as this is done.)
posted by Lyn Never at 3:17 PM on September 26, 2011

You're not really feeling guilt so much as you're just feeling bad, which is totally understandable.

how do we get over the emotional hump of guilt and tell her we no longer need her services?

Maybe just understand your terminating her as a transaction in which the cost of "buying" a new nanny is feeling bad for a little while about firing her.
posted by Rykey at 4:23 PM on September 26, 2011

Help her find other employment before letting her go and/or give her a nice severance package.

If a month trial is normal, give her that -- in severance, if not necessarily continued employment.

If you're really feeling guilt, maybe that's because you're not doing your job right as her boss. Try sticking out that month with the idea in mind that if she isn't getting it, it's not because nannying is too hard for her (seems unlikely), but rather it's because you aren't doing a good job of communicating with or teaching her what you need.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:33 PM on September 26, 2011

Decent severance pay? Nice severance package? The woman screwed up and did a shitty job. She gets two weeks and a big Get Lost.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:39 PM on September 26, 2011

Do not give someone notice and then leave them with your baby, that's insane. Nor do you owe her a severance package after this short a time. Get your keys back, tell her her services are no longer required, and be done. Change the locks if it makes sense, but severance after a few weeks? No.
posted by dejah420 at 6:54 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree about the "no severance" comments here, especially giving a month's (!!) severance which is more than a lot of professionals get for years of service. That said, since you can't really give her a week's notice and let her work in your home, I probably would just cut a check for a week and have her leave. Not so much for the child safety part of it (unless she is a total monster and/or completely stupid); the more likely scenario would be that she, if angry, could do a lot of damage (keys copied, bank statements/property stolen, etc.).
posted by sfkiddo at 9:53 PM on September 26, 2011

I was thinking about this a little more, in terms of 'getting over' or 'getting past' the guilt, and I think you needn't or shouldn't try to but instead recognize guilt is beside the point. You know intellectually that it's not your fault and there's nothing else you can do here but you feel guilty anyway.

All that means is that you're a nice person. The feelings of guilt aren't pathological -- in this case, they're just not an indicator of what you should do, and you can't take Tylenol for them.

I think sometimes you just have to feel guilty, but that doesn't mean you did something wrong. You just feel bad for messing someone up. But there's nothing you can do about it and no other way to think about it, really. You have to hurt someone who brought it on themselves in order to protect your kid. I'd feel terrible about it too, actually. But again, it isn't your fault and you don't have a choice and 'feeling terrible' is just the unfortunate reality.

Sometimes you do the right thing *and* feel like shit.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:43 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

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