3 Questions to Ask Yourself as Rematch Approaches

by cv harquail on September 16, 2009

We received an email from a host mom who unintentionally became a doormat, and who wonders whether she should consider rematching. Since I feel confident at how you all will respond once your read her email (a link to which appears below), I thought instead we might consider how, when facing a rematch, we can do better with our next choice of au pair.200909161006.jpg

Rather than moving directly to what characteristics we think we want this time, in order to correct the disappointments of the past, another way to approach the situation is to see what you can learn about yourself from the bad situation. Try these three questions:

Now that I know what I know:

1. What expectations do I have for our au pair — whoever s/he will be — that are simply not negotiable?

(For us, these are safety, safe driving, non-smoking, and kindness towards the kids. Pretty much anything else I can deal with.)

2. How did I act at the very first sign of trouble?

Did you skirt away from it and avoid a conversation, hoping it would go away? Did you think “I’ll just give her a chance to use her turn signals/alarm clock correctly the next time? Did you speak with her kindly and directly about your expectations?

3. What was I afraid would happen if I constructively confronted the former au pair about my concerns?

Did this happen? Was the outcome I feared anything like what did happen? Was my fear worse than reality?

What other questions do you think we should ask ourselves?

Here is the link to the email by the distressed host mom, fyi.

Also, here’s a link to a post “What do you really want” from the blog “Lessons from a Recovering Doormat”— it’s pretty interesting!


Southern Host Mom September 16, 2009 at 11:39 am

The question that comes to my mind is, “Why am I so afraid of the rematch process?” We had 3 successful years with Au Pairs, then within 2 weeks after the arrival of our 4th, we found ourselves in rematch. I think was most frightened of the rematch process, having no idea what to expect. Though the process was a bit stressful, (I spent countless hours on the phone with our Community Counselor, late evenings and over the weekend), we ended up with a rematch Au Pair who was a great match with our family. I was most impressed with our Counselor, and appreciative of all her advice and support. I would be much LESS afraid of rematching (if appropriate) in the future!

My 2 cents September 16, 2009 at 12:31 pm

I think another critical question, perhaps a “1b” to question 1 is: “and how do I plan to clearly communicate those expectations to the prospective AP?” Or, perhaps to address those little things that end up really getting to you when they add up or happen over and over again (like failure to empty dishwashers, clean up toys): “How can I better clearly communicate what will be expected of our AP as not only a caregiver, but a quasi-family member?”

We spell out in our handbook our expectations in a handbook we give during interviewing. It says in no uncertain terms, for one example, that we expect the AP to clean up after herself and the kids after every meal, and that we expect her to act as a good family citizen by doing things like, for example, taking out the kitchen trash when she can see it’s full. We give examples of our expectations for what the AP will be doing during the day with the kids such as, that we expect her to not just watch them from the couch but to be on the floor with them playing. We literally put these things in there as examples! Yeah, too some we may sound kind of crazy or micro-managey, but IMHO this is the best way to set the tone for what you expect from the AP and to avoid the AP that may not understand or agree with having to perform responsibilities that, frankly, are part of being an AP and a family member in your average American family. Also, it makes it so much easier when the AP does not do something she should because it’s not as if she didn’t have a clue as to what was expected of her.

And point out those little things that are getting forgotten, as they happen. Don’t let them pile up to the point that you are aggravated and may blow up. So not worth it!

OB Mom September 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Questions to ask for next time:

1) Did I spend the time to explain my expectations. We come off a good year with an old au pair and everything us running smoothly, we forget that we may have to state to obvious multiple times (e.g. I expect that the kitchen counter be cleaned off before 5 pm when I will start making dinner; Your family job (all days of the week): is to empty the dishwasher — HF empties trash, HM cooks dinner). For this I also find that writing these repetitive tasks down in log book for the first several weeks is helpful.

2) Did I start with high enough expectations (at work I have come to realize that it is easier to “let things loosen” rather than “tighten them up” … why do I have a harder time with this at home)?

3) Did I ask her about her relationship with her family? (if we want them to be a part of our family, we need to know how she gets along with her own family).

4) Did I ask her to describe some activities she would do with the kids (to see how engaged she might be with them and how much of a self starter she might be … if she says “what they want to do” or can’t come up with anything creative that she’s initiated with kids she’s cared for before, I know we’re in trouble).

Just like with a job interview, we should use “situational questions”, not yes/no questions for the interview. And just like a new hire in a job we need to fairly explain our expectations and set both short term and long term goals for them. But unlike a work environment, we have to remember that so much of their lives are different than before, the culture, the home, the chaos, and they can’t ever “go away” after a long days work. They are young and need to be told where they are doing the right things as well as where they need to improve.

Anonymous September 16, 2009 at 1:27 pm

I know why you are afraid of rematch – it is a pain in the neck and possibly expensive. It is expensive insofar as cashflow and budegting is concerned. Lots of relationships are like that. I might well leave my employer if I wasn’t so vested in my retirement plan and if I knew I had another job waiting for me and if I could find something so close to home as this with the same nice co-workers.
All the self-help books tell you that married men don’t leave their wives for one major reason: inconvenience. Marriage is well worth working on saving ; in this economy we all have to think before we tell our employers to go jump in the lake . But an aupair who is very disrespectful and does not take good care of the kids is not anyone you have a moral commitment to maintain. I liked the suggestion on another thread of having a backup childcare plan. I think you should prepare one ( it isn’ t easy ) and then tell the agency/LCC that you want them to start looking for another placement for this aupair ASAP. You cannot throw her out on the street but you can tell her that her primary responsibility to find another placement.
Then, when she is resettled, you can collect your wits and find another aupair. Why should you go through this anxiety and pressure. What I personally do not think works too well is the tactic of suggesting that you might take away cell phones, etc. If you have to resort to that sort of thing, it doesn’t seem to me worth the effort. Disciplining someone and monitoring their behavior is hard work. Not worth it, in my opinion.

TX Mom September 16, 2009 at 2:42 pm

What specific actions am I going to take to actively manage the next AP’s performance better? It’s hard, but you have to use the rematch time to improve your handbook, your calendar process, your menu planning, your checklists…

Anonymous this time September 16, 2009 at 3:06 pm

This comment has been moved to an upcoming post…. check back tomorrow! cvh

SeaMom September 16, 2009 at 3:39 pm

In regards to Anoy this time: yes you can. Take an hour of your 45 hours per week for child care and send the children off with HD or what works for you. Then sit down with the AP and read/summarize the handbook with her. If I feel the AP hasn’t reviewed it then this is what I do. Yes, it takes time but in the long run the AP can’t look at you blankly and also say I didn’t know that.

Darthastewart September 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I’ve also had them not read it, and it’s not unusual that if we DO go over it together, they still act ignorant about things months later. I think that they get so overwhelmed in the first couple of months, that they tend to lose a lot of information.

TX Mom September 16, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Anon This Time, this is one of those processes that you could commit to improve upon. (The “not reading the handbook” is on my list of “I’m going to avoid that problem again.”) Next time (or this time) you could review sections of the handbook at your weekly meetings. For example on that first day, after s/he has unpacked and read the manual go over safety items with the AP AND the manual. (“Here is the fire extinguisher on the wall that is shown in the picture on page 3” … watch the AP write notes in the handbook.) I disagree with SeaMom that this needs to be done during the AP’s duty hours, however.

SeattleHostMom September 16, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I think the question of asking the new potential AP about her relationships with her family is a good one. I didn’t ask it of our second AP (that we rematched with), but as soon as she arrived she could only say negative things about her dad, her brother, her sister-in-law; she showed a tremendous amount of disrespect in regards to them. She also showed a very negative attitude toward women in general, which was a red flag.

As for the handbook: bah! I went through so much angst with this :) With our first AP, we just gave it to her. For our second, I added in all the things that I discovered I expected, and sat down with her and went through the whole thing. I tried to keep the language simple, but by doing that I think I may have ended up sounding harsh. Even walking through it with her (and being a native Eng speaker), she didn’t grasp any of it, and many things that were clearly spelled out (and she nodded when I explained it), she claimed she had never heard before.

I read CVs handbook recently, and I’ll definitely be basing future handbooks on that :)

NewAPMom September 16, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Our first AP never read the handbook. Or maybe she did… but what I’ve come to realize since is that she doesn’t absorb written information. (She could never pass the test to get her driver’s permit, despite “reading” the book many times.) I think it’s an excellent idea to sit down and go over one chapter at a time and will do that next time.

One specific thing I did when thinking about rematching was figure out what interview questions I could ask that would screen out some of the problems we had the first time.

anonymous September 16, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Do I have my part of guilt in this relationship?

Sometimes it’s difficult to see if we also have gone wrong in some aspects. It might be a two way problem.

Calif Mom September 17, 2009 at 1:15 am

Our first au pair that ‘stuck’, from rematch, had asked me during the rematch ‘sizing each other up’ period whether we were first-time hosts or if she was coming in on another ap’s coattails, basically. We were both inexperienced; her original placement had been into a situation where the family didn’t bond with her b/c –the au pair felt–the mom was looking to replace their first ‘love’ who had gone home.

Knowing now what I know, if a young prospective au pair were to ask for my advice, I would absolutely tell her to be looking for an ‘experienced’ host family — rather than having problems with the kids not loving/bonding with them, the perils of an inexperienced ‘manager’ in the home environment are much more devastating to everyone involved. Kids DO adjust and adapt and learn to love many different types of people; at least my two, very different personality-owning kids have not had problems with that (except for the mean AP and the one with depression). But all the other ‘stuff’ of living with a person who is not family, not employee, but a little bit of both is incredibly complex.

I do hope the doormat hosts don’t wholly blame the AP concept for their woes — that’s kind of a cop out. You absolutely CAN and SHOULD evaluate what has happened, swallow hard, take your lumps, and start managing your way onto a better path.

Simple tools from the office store can really help. Sticky notes, white boards, a label maker. (Just put a label on my dishwasher door yesterday, actually. It says “put handles down, please” b/c this has been bugging me.) I sort of spin these things as being to help teach the kids, but it’s as much for the AP as for them. Put one on the washer that says “please have laundry finished before hosts are home” if that’s a problem. We also have a “Checklist for Happy Homecomings” on the fridge, which lists out what needs to be done before parents walk in the door. I do this with a light touch, and my oldest can read it so it’s ‘for the kids’, but until I did posted the lighthearted reminder, it wasn’t happening. I put it up, and voila! They really CAN pick up all the toys before mom and dad get home. Imagine that!

We have 2 whiteboards on the fridge. One is for food-related things (“need frozen peas” and “leftover chicken for kids’ lunches” are currently posted). The other is for other stuff. Tonight’s are both from AP — “Kid has spots on back of neck. Please check.” “don’t forget car for conversation class — need to leave 6:15”. See how it helps everyone? it’s not micromanaging, it’s providing information. (And yes, my fridge door is crowded at this point. But they all head for food after school, so things have a chance to be seen there.)

This blog is jam packed with tactics. Go tactic shopping while you’re chewing over all of this mishegoss you’re into. But you have to be willing to integrate new tactics into how you do ‘business’. And that means being brave. It’s what we tell our kids, right? Being brave doesn’t mean the thing you are worried about isn’t scary; being means that you are really scared but you find your strength and do the thing anyway.

So take a deep breath and figure out HOW you are going to manage this differently next time. It’s not the AP (not totally, anyway, most of the time — but there are exceptions, and Miss Pointy Boots I DO mean you!)

Yes, there are absolutely times when you have a bad fit. Yes, there are princesses! (don’t get me started!) But a commitment to managing problems and not just lumping everything, and a few silly-seeming tactics–like labeling directions right onto the dishwasher–can actually help!

Hula Gal September 17, 2009 at 10:03 am

I think if you are first time host parents you don’t know what a good host parent – au pair relationship really looks like and what is an acceptable dynamic and what is not. It is the “devil you know” dilemma. I find this idea that the au pair is a part of the family and should be treated like a daughter to be absurd. She is not my daughter and I am not going to treat her like one. She is an adult, embarking on an adult adventure which includes looking after herself and taking care of my children. Will I be thoughtful and considerate of her needs, yes. Will I be her maid, cook, therapist, travel agent, etc., no. If she expects me to coddle her she will not last in my home. Not after that last one. Now we know better. Because the au pair we have now is a thoughtful of our needs as we are of hers. It is give and take. She is more mature than the last one. It does help that she is an extension au pair who has already been in the US for one year so she knows the drill. But from what I understand from her first au pair hosts, she was wonderful with them too. So if there are problems within the first three months, you need to take action. Don’t fear rematch. If you do, you will not get the best you can get out of the au pair program. Sometimes changes need to be made. You do not owe the au pair anything other than treating her with courtesy when you tell her it isn’t working and you are going to find a better match for your family. And if your LCC is telling you something that you don’t agree with do what you think is best for your family. If you act respectfully in this process you will always be right.

Answers to your Q’s:
1. Not negotiable – During her work hours the au pair must put the basic needs of my child above her own. If she is hungry, tired, or needs to have her diaper changed that is the most important thing at that moment. The au pair will be respectful of my husband, myself and our baby and show consideration for our needs and the rules we have set.
2. First signs of trouble: With the second au pair that put us into rematch, I sat down with the au pair and had a heart to heart about her concerns. I encouraged her to give it two weeks to decide if she wanted to rematch. We were desperate to make it work because our first one bailed after a few days. I believe that I would have felt like there was something wrong with my husband and myself that we couldn’t “make it work” with the second one. I suppose it was pride because we were opening our home to this au pair and exposing our private life to judgment. I’m over that one now! ;-)
3. I was nervous about confronting her the first time because I didn’t know how the conversation would go and I was afraid she would see that I had fears too. I decided to approach it like a manager to an employee trying to mentor the employee. That helped to maintain my confidence and come in as the one holding the cards. This was key to not becoming a doormat. We were never doormats but we were always in a position of having to “discuss” issues with the au pair. We just got to a point where her roller coaster mood swings and sub-par childcare was making us question whether we getting a good value from what we were paying to participate in the program. That is when the light bulb went off. We went into rematch and we couldn’t be happier. I love our new au pair. I wish she could live in the US and be our nanny forever! ;-)

CoCa September 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

Oh, Hula Gal – we seem to think alike on so many points!

But it is really hard, isn’t it, when you’re a first time host, to know what it’s really supposed to mean to be totally satisfied with an AP. I feel a bit like the teenager who says “I don’t know if I’m in love with him, because I don’t know what love feels like” ;-)

I know it’s different in extreme cases like the doormat situation above. But when it’s just “I’m not feeling 100%, or even 80% as someone suggested, happy”. When she is basically a nice girl who is really TRYING to do it right but you are just not sure her personality or work style is a fit. Maybe I’m just being an unreasonable b*tch who expect everyone to do everything MY way? :-)

Anonymous September 17, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I had an aha moment when I read a comment that said
” I am not looking for a daughter but an adult roommate ” or something like that. That sounded real good and very workable.
What I find puzzling is the juxtaposition of the phrases ” first love”
” absolutely adore my aupair ” ” I am just in love with her ” and ” employee who must be managed. How many of us look for an employee we ” just adore “. No, we look for someone who is obedient, loyal ,competant , full of initiative and can hit the ground running. Someone smart enough to learn the job and make my life easier while making me look good without ever becoming competition for my job. All this stuff about love sounds like something from The Devil Wears Prada. Meaning: this one’s uppity but God, I loved the last one. She got my coffee the way I like it, she found that Harry Potter book that wasn’t published yet, she took calls at midnight on the weekend. We have to be reasonable. That is why I was so impressed with the adult roomate concept. I give her an opportunity to see this country and travel and she provides excellent childcare. We respect each other. We are considerate of each other’s time and privacy. That’s all she wrote.

CoCa September 17, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I totally agree with you, Anonymous – I would absolutely like an adult roommate and employee, not a daughter. I won’t go into too many details here for privacy reasons but I can without hesitation say that next time, I will have to be far clearer about that during matching.

I guess one of my questions to ask myself in case of a rematch, then, would be “Could my laid back attitude in interviews be obscuring the fact that I mean business, and does that leave a potential candidate expecting far more of a handholding substitute mother than I am prepared to be?”

The program rules and guidelines don’t help, though, as I think they really do make you feel guilty for being explicit about your expectations. And I do know au pairs (our current one included) who reject families that seem to ask too many questions about work as if that is all that matters. I know, I know – let them reject you then as you need to find one that fits. You live and learn.

Anonymous September 17, 2009 at 2:29 pm

I read the Recovering Doormat blog. It was great. It comes down, really, to knowing what we want.
I have always thought I knew what I wanted but oftentimes did not express it. Sometimes I had to trade off what I wanted for practical reasons but knowing what I want is critical to setting goals and dealing with other people.
Like Mick Jagger said, you can’t always get what you want but you can get what you need. Sometimes cutting your losses is the best way to do that.

Calif Mom September 17, 2009 at 10:46 pm

CoCa — YES! Being too laid back on this au pair hosting adventure doesn’t work well. But danged if lessons learned in managing my AP (from the generous souls here who are much more active managers than I am naturally) hasn’t helped me manage staff better at work!

I wish someone had told me early on that taking the time to get a little, well, compulsiver than my comfort level normally allows would prevent a lot of unnecessary angst for all of us.

And Hula Gal — I am SOOOOO happy to hear the new AP is working out! You sound like there’s a new swish in your step. :-)

Darthastewart September 18, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Calif Mom- I’ve found that it certainly has been interesting how learning to manage an au-pair at home has affected my managing people at work. Interesting how the skills transfer, huh?

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