Seasonal Schedule Shift Syndrome:
AuPairMom’s fancy name for “when your au pair gets grumpy because all of a sudden the whole schedule changes, and now s/he has to work an occasional Saturday night.”
When school ends and ‘summertime’ begins, family schedules change.
Rhythms for your kids’ days may change, as may your own work schedules. And, your au pair’s work schedule will change align with everyone else’s.
Supposedly, at some point in our parenting journey, we host parents start to get the gist of the seasons and what they mean to family coordination, and begin to plan ahead. I have not quite hit this place, but I look forward to it.
For host parents, the Seasonal Schedule Shift means that you have to reorganize daily schedules and weekly rhythms, add or subtract lunch, snack and dinner-making, calculate your au pair’s on & off duty hours and patterns, and get a whole new set of activities coordinated and organized. You want to do this smoothly, because you want it to be easy for kids to transition from a school-year to summer-time schedule without feeling disrupted or out of control.
(Note: Even the schedules of very little kids change with the seasons. The seasonal shift may correspond with new nap times, new playdate times, the end of Kindermusik and the start of the kiddie pool, etc. So it’s not all due to ‘school’.)
I think many of us host parents overestimate the degree to which an au pair (or anyone else in the family for that matter) is thinking ahead as the seasons change. In my family it always seems to come as a surprise that school is ending, day camp is upon us, the town pool closes at 7 on Mondays, and that the library has great craft activities.
For au pairs, the Seasonal Schedule Shift can be problematic. Why?
- Au Pairs have to learn all the pieces of any new routine.
They’ve got the current schedule down, and now they have to learn something new. They may feel anxious about managing the day camp bus scene, or driving to the town pool, or whatever.
- Au Pairs have to adjust their own personal schedule to the family’s revised schedule.
This can be harder than you’d think, because we forget how hard au pairs work to coordinate their off-duty times with each other and build their social lives around who is off duty & when.
- There’s no guarantee that your kids and Au Pair will even get into a routine… Not all 10 weeks of summer vacation are spent dong the same things, and the schedule can change dramatically from week to week.
That means that the Tuesday afternoon spin class is no longer an option, because they now have to take kids to swim team practice. Until August, when we’ll be at the beach and you won’t be able to go to spin class at all.
- The amount of time that your au pair works may change.
Many of us with kids in school full time only use 30 or so au pair hours in a given week… but with shorter times at day camp, or weeks when there is no camp, or weeks when camp is a half-day, you may end up scheduling them to be on duty all 45 hours.
- You au pair’s total weekly on-duty hours may change.
Instead of having your au pair be off-duty every Saturday night because you’ve used up their on-duty time during your work week, day camp may free ups a few of his/her hours so that you can your DP can actually go out on a weekend day or evening.
If there is anything the average au pair resents, it’s something that messes with her social life– especially in summer, when livin’ (and partyin’) are supposed to be easier.
To Reduce Seasonal Schedule Shift Syndrome, try this:
1. Make each new routine as clear as possible. Write it down, organize it on a daily agenda, sketch it out on a weekly calendar.
2. Be as clear as possible about what hours s/he’ll be certain to be off-duty, and what times may be changing week to week.
3. Offer an overview of the full summer’s plans. Plot out what is expected all 10 weeks– to the best of your ability. Note when “Magic for Muggles” camp ends and “Robotics” camp begins. Mark changes in drop off & pick up times clearly on your family calendar.
4. Plan ahead to discuss changes in weekly on-duty hours. Be explicit about what it used to be, what it is going to be, and that this is fair.
As we’ve discussed before, the most difficult situations to manage are those where the Seasonal Schedule Shift means that your au pair will be working more hours and/or be on duty during desirable socializing hours. S/he will have to get used to the “new normal” and you’ll need to help with that.
For example, explain that the 30 hour weeks will end with school and that 45 hour weeks will be normal. Where work hours increase to a full 45 hours, acknowledge that this is more work, that pay stays the same, and that this is still fair. Be able, gently, to point out that the previous six months s/he has (only) worked 30 hours per week, which is 67% of a full week. Having it lighter before doesn’t mean this new schedule is heavy– it’s normal.
Even if you went over all of this before you matched with your au pair, even if s/he knows it all ‘intellectually’, there will still be some emotions involved in making the Seasonal Schedule Shift. Be prepared, be empathic, and be kind.
Seasonal Schedule Shift Syndrome is something we can anticipate, but it is not likely something we host parents can prevent. Changing our routines is hard, changing our work expectations is hard, and dealing with ongoing variation is particularly tough. And, it’s part of life.
The best we can do is:
- Anticipate the issues
- Be ready with plans and explanations,
- Be available to ease the transitions, and
- Make it as easy as possible for our au pairs to (continue to) do a good job.
Do you have other ideas for reducing Seasonal Schedule Shift Syndrome? Share them, below!
When your Au Pair complains about working too many hours, but still less than 45… what can you do?
When Your Au Pair Breaks Your Psychological Contract
What’s the cure for “Summer Fever”?
It’s YOUR vacation, not hers. Okay?
Image: Zoe at the beach by mathewingram