The Best Things Teachers Can Do To Support Kids Of Single Parents

It was my son’s “sophomore year” of preschool.

He was four and felt good about returning to the classroom where he’d have one more year to practice tying his sneakers on the shoe board, spend lots of time at his favorite math center, sing songs about loving all kinds of people, put the Wheel of Choices to use when there were tantrums and grabbing blocks and tears, and would somehow get through the nap hour every day. He loved that classroom, had oodles of friends and was led by an amazing teacher who lapsed into cheery, accompanied sign language, even while talking to parents. Big things happened in kindergarten, he’d heard, and he was still very happy to be back in room 008.

The teacher pulled me aside that first week of his second year.

I’d been talking to my group of mom friends, women I’d developed a relationship with the previous year and had spent time with over play dates and Friday night dinners where the juice boxes and wine flowed freely. We were a tight-knit circle of working mothers who helped each other out when babysitters cancelled, traffic was horrific and when we really just needed a few child-free hours to go to Target or dinner. Those moms had become a social and support network for me during the critical months of my early divorce. With one conversation with the pre-K teacher, the circle was about to expand by one mom.

“I want you to meet another Jessica,” she said. “She’s a single mom, too. I think you two should know each other. And I think your boys will get along well.”

That one insight, and the sensitivity to bring two women going through similar stuff, both with boys, was one of the kindest, most supportive school moments I’ve had as a parent. The teacher had so many gifts to offer my son, and in this interaction, she was also tending to me, maybe more than she knew.

At the restaurant where we like to meet, four or so years since that introduction, the staff sometimes puts “The Jessicas” on our bill. And although our sons now go to different schools and only see each other every few months, there is a shorthand there that they both can read.

The first time we went to their house for pizza and a playdate, this single mama’s son greeted mine at the door.

“So,” he said, trying to act casual, “I hear your parents are divorced.”

“Yup,” my boy answered, no frills attached.

“Cool,” the other kid responded. “Want to see the tons of Legos in my room?”

And then they were off. And we were left, the Jessicas, standing silent and teary and a momentous meeting at the front door that neither of our sons saw as anything at all outside the norm.

The preschool teacher who facilitated that meeting also listened attentively and compassionately when I let her know we were moving, that my son was struggling with visitation transitions, and other unfoldings of our home life that I could have kept private. Sometimes she offered information on child development, other times she offered to incorporate those issues in anonymous ways in class lessons, and she often reassured me that, despite the turmoil of the divorce, where my son was showing signs of thriving.

She was, in my experience, the ideal teacher for a single parent. In the years since, she and other teachers have offered other kinds of support that have made the classroom a kinder place for both my student and me to be. Here are a couple of shining single-parent supportive moments:

1. Adding “two-home” books to the unit on families. When the preschoolers were studying how families work as a part of their social studies curriculum, we donated a copy of My Two Homes to the classroom. When kids had questions about how it worked for my son, he had the opportunity to answer and the other students then felt free to bring it up. It normalized a situation and now his friends think it’s no biggie that his mom and dad don’t live together, that the Not Boyfriend is often around and that Santa has two stops to make for him.

2. Agreeing to separate parent-teacher conferences. No matter whether I’m in court or on civil terms with my son’s father or not, scheduling our own times to meet with the teacher has made a big difference in how much can happen in that ten minutes twice a year. I’ve been grateful when teachers are willing to add more time to their packed-full schedules to accommodate our situation and our very different work hours. Most importantly, it allows me to focus in solely on my son, to get through questions I have and to really hear the teacher’s assessment.

3. Alerting me if we’ve both signed up to volunteer for the same event. I’ve let teachers know that I am happy to chaperone on field trips, set up for assemblies and get as room-parenty as they like, but it’s not best for me to hold small hands through the zoo if my ex-husband is also present. I don’t want to put my boy in an awkward which-parent-do-I-stand-with? situation so I am happy to bow out until another field trip, International Fest or field day. I simply say, “Can you please let me know if his dad raises his hand to volunteer and I will happily sign up for another time?” and they have most often helped.

In a perfect co-parenting arrangement, this wouldn’t be an item on the list. None of these items may need to be on your list at all, in fact. If you have that, more power (and co-chaperoning to the planetarium and pumpkin farm) to you.

For us, for the last five years, I’m grateful for the gestures teachers have made to support a single mom’s kid being in and being comfortable in their classrooms. It’s not necessary, not required, and has made a big difference with a book, an introduction or ten more minutes of time.

How have teachers supported your unique family situation? How would you like teachers to support your single-parented family?

This post originally appeared on

Would You Review a Bad Nanny Online?

A few days before Christmas, we had to fire our nanny suddenly.

The timing wasn’t great, but when would it ever be? Between us, my boyfriend and I have two businesses, one of which is a demanding new restaurant, and two kids, one of which is a very active one-year old.

We’d had suspicions that our nanny wasn’t being honest with us, and one day while my son was home for winter break and we had plans for lots of holiday family happenings, we confirmed that nagging feeling: She was lying to us several times a day, and in doing so, putting our toddler in harm’s way repeatedly. Our baby was physically fine, but there’s no way the damage of lying could ever repair the relationship. She had to be let go. Immediately.

You don’t need the details to understand the pit-in-the-belly feeling of realizing the person you’ve entrusted with your child has blatantly disregarded the code of care between a family and their babysitter, nanny or teacher. I felt it well up so much that I ached at the core. How dare she put the most vulnerable member of our family at risk? I was upset and nervous to confront her the next morning when she came into our home as if all was well.

My boyfriend was blunt: “This is what you did and why we are letting you go today.” And she responded with candor, admitting what she’d done. In the pause, I exhaled. Then she began rattling off excuses and threatening she wanted to be paid for hours we’d already compensated her for. She stiffened defensively as she spoke. It all sounded so prepared. And that’s when I got mad — composed but enraged. I was having none of it.

Finally, in the middle of a sentence, I told her we were done and it was time to leave.

We collected our keys and saw her out. She lives only six blocks from us, but we have not seen or heard from her since. I launched back into the holidays and recruiting college students to babysit over their break while I worked from home, and we pieced together a safe, happy transition for our children and for us. By some grace, a happy, structured, reputable daycare opened a new center a few blocks from our home (at nearly half the cost of the in-home nanny), and our daughter got the last available spot. We were moving on, and I decided to accept the gift of more time with my kids over the hectic holidays, working late on client needs if I had to, and trying to trust that it would all work out.

And it has. So why go back and rehash? Why wake the churning in my stomach? Why bring up the awful nanny experience we had when my family is thriving in our new normal?

Several days ago, I got an email from the childcare site where we’d found that nanny, informing me that I no longer had access to her background check. I don’t need it, of course, but it reminded me that she’d had stellar references, whom I’d called diligently before we offered her the job. She had no arrests or DMV issues, was CPR-certified, showed no red flags of the problems we encountered.

That thought was then replaced by an overwhelming need to inform other parents — mothers or fathers who might be in a scramble to find someone wonderful to care for their young child, or who are fed up with being stood up by nanny candidates or receiving dozens of emails from highly unqualified parties — of what happened when I hired this great-on-paper caregiver. I returned to the site to report her or review her, whichever would carry the most weight with potential employer-parents and the site itself.

As I waited on hold to speak to a guest services agent for the site, I posted on Facebook. Would you?, I asked, write up a bad nanny?



The comments poured in, and overwhelmingly, the answer was “YES” and “PLEASE.” The responses came primarily from parents who’d been there, either seeking information about someone they are considering hiring for childcare, or those who’d had their own horrible endings to a caregiver relationship.

“I’d want to know,” I read over and over. Of course, there were clarifications — advice to keep it brief, stick to the facts, use professional language, be sure not to slam her character.

I got all of this. I knew better than to let the fear or rage take over as I typed. But then I also was advised by a couple of friends to just move on rather than risk her fighting back in any way.

I heard all of it, and held it close as I soothed the sadness and (still) disbelief that this all went down the way it did. There’s not a right answer to how to react when someone has betrayed your parent-trust so flagrantly. But I wonder, what would you do? What’s the right answer for your family?

Would you take the time (and energy and gut-punch emotion) to give a poor rating or honest review to a babysitter or nanny?

Have you been in a similar position? Did you file a report or warn other parents in some way?

Would you? Should you? Is it fair to report a nanny you’ve fired?

This post originally appeared on Alpha Moms.