4 Ways to Reduce “Seasonal Schedule Shift Syndrome”

by cv harquail on May 18, 2010

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.201005171616.jpg

(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.

au pair host family, new host family, choosing an au pair, best time to get an au pair, scheduling your au pair, au pair with flairAs 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!

See Also:
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

{ 26 comments }

Taking a computer lunch May 18, 2010 at 10:15 am

Our au pairs have tended to arrive and depart in August for the last few years, and the summer shift is hard on them – they get into countdown mode and want to say goodbye to their friends, have their last parties, go the gym they’ve always gone to at midday, and suddenly I need them to work from 7:30-4:00 five days a week. To top it off, for two of the years I have had to work extra hours prior to the schedule shift while researching & writing captions for major exhibitions (80-100 pieces of art), so my own time is inflexible. We do not allow au pairs to take vacation during the summer months, because we have to hire a driver to get my son to and from his day camps (I might as well not go to work if I have to take on that burden – because I’d only work 3 hours on a good day before I’d have to commute back out to pick him up on time).

I have found that it makes it easier if you have the chat in say, April. I sit them down with calendar, and say, “I know that summer seems far away…” and then point out the weeks that they will work full-time.

In May, as the end of the school year approaches, I sit them down again, and go through their schedule more specifically. In the past, all of my APs have been real go-getters. I haven’t had to tell any of them that they need to organize activities for the kids (in fact Make-A-Wish gave The Camel and above-ground swimming pool – her two life-threatening medical conditions made her eligible for a wish — so in the summer au pairs and their HK gravitate toward our backyard). This year’s AP is rather aloof and clueless with my typically developing child, so part of the May conversation will be, “You will need to think about activities to keep the children engaged. Perhaps if some of your AP friends (I doubt she has many) take care of children who are similar ages, you would want to invite them to visit. You could go here… You could go there… If you need additional funds, just ask in advance.”

I do my best not to surprise my APs with the seasonal shift (the bonus to them is less weekend work). I find as the year comes to a close, they get horribly tense anyway.

This year we’re resetting our AP arrival date so that it occurs after our family holiday (whisking a new arrival to our family holiday was a disaster last year, wish I had been reading this blog then!). That way, in the future, APs will be invited to join us as their year ends, and then have some time off as we prepare for the new school year and the new AP.

Summer, is, however, the perfect time to give them a break and take the kids for an afternoon (I know you’ve been working full-time all week, I want to give you tomorrow afternoon off. I’ll take the kids so you can have some free time…)

Dorsi May 18, 2010 at 11:41 am

I have said this before, but I feel strongly that one should schedule the AP for 45 hours a week, most of the time. We may pad the schedule: set up a Saturday night out 5p-12a and come home at 8p, or let the AP off early on a weekday. We may do grocery shopping as a group (AP + kids + me) during on duty hours. However, we try to make it seem like a perk that she is working less, so there is no resentment when she needs to work the full amount.

I work at an hourly job (albeit a highly compensated hourly position) in a field where there is a wide variety of mechanisms for paying people. Some jobs pay hourly, some pay based on amount of work done, some are salaried. I have worked in various situations within this — and it surprises me that the positions where you are paid for work done I (and my coworkers) act completely differently than in those where you are just biding your time and getting through your shift. My point here is that as a (presumably) better educated, more experienced person than my AP, I still have somewhat petty and simplistic relationship to how much work I am required to do. You are working with the psychology of the employee if you give them “extra” unanticipated time off, than if you make them suddenly work “extra” by working the full 45.

Host Mommy Dearest May 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

I don’t have this problem yet because I need the 45 year-round (the attitude about schedule is more even-keeled) but when my kids are both in school and I don’t NEED all the hours, I think scheduling them for all 45 and letting them go early is the more humane handling. It follows my learnings from work that under promising and over delivering is better than over promising and under delivering.

Taking a computer lunch May 18, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Personally, I disagree about scheduling APs for 45 hours when you don’t need them. It doesn’t permit them to plan ahead for using their free time. Perhaps if you’re up front about it – if we come home at 8:00, then you are off, it allows them to still plan to go out with friends – but if you get home at 10:00 or 11:00 and her friends have gone off, unless she has access to a car, she might feel stranded and resentful.

I want my APs to feel that they can schedule their college classes, an extra conversation class, a yoga class, time at the gym, or dinner with friends on weekday evenings, without having to worry whether or not I’ll a) show up on time or b) be there at all. I want them to feel free to plan their weekends in advance. (And quite frankly, I do like being with my kids, and feel like I get full value for my dollar without having to make an AP work every possible hour.) I must say, with my current aloof AP, I’m more likely to schedule her for more hours than I have been with all of my previous (and fantastic!) APs.

DH and I are more than gracious about liberal free time during the school year, but we do tell our APs that if The Camel is sick (and when she gets ill she really gets ill – she often spends a week at home where her brother might just spend a day or two), then she has to work a full-time schedule. (We do not let our APs take daytime classes for this reason – they would miss most of the winter classes otherwise.)

In my experience, while being up front about schedule shifts and expectations might still make APs feel resentful when they happen, it doesn’t take long for a great AP to behave graciously.

Host Mommy Dearest May 18, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I see what you are saying, TaCL, but I don’t think I will be preventing my AP from making plans. We already vary our schedule wildly from week to week as we get sitters where we can and work our AP’s schedule around what we can get, but barring sick kids or snow storms or the like, our AP gets her schedule over the weekend for the next week and we stick to it. We always solicit any info from our AP about trips, parties, gatherings or classes and make sacrifices or supplement coverage wherever possible to work the schedule around those and make sure she is able to attend. As it is now, if we wind up with 3 extra hours for the w/e, DH and I get giddy and we ask our AP to choose 3 hours over the w/e, any day or time, to work so that DH and I can take one trip out of the house without the kids. We will continue to be super flexible and accommodating of her plans even after we we don’t need all 45, so I don’t believe my padding the schedule to 45 will prevent her social planning in the least. In fact, often times our AP doesn’t know which 3 hours she wants to work and she tells us one thing then we let her switch it because on Friday her friends decide they want to change plans. Bottom line is that none of my 6 APs planned in advance unless for a big trip. Their social plans have been much more fluid, and a 45 hour padded schedule would not step on that more so than the 45 I do now. I guess I will have to wait a few more years to test out that theory though.

Kitty May 19, 2010 at 3:44 pm

yes I agree. Funny I can think of a way in like 2 seconds but i have a toddler and 2 school agers. My school agers have sooo many activities if I didn’t have the toddler I would totally have my aupair at soccer games and baseball games. I love watching my kids but watching EVERY ACTIVITy to and fro all the time gets old. I cant wait until all my kids are in school so my aupair can do more transporting and take the kids to bday parties and the boring kid events

Anonymous May 19, 2010 at 10:53 am

I’m not sure how I would do it, either. There just isn’t that much kid-related work that you can honestly assign to them once all your kids are in school during the day. How could you fill up 45 hours? I think you’d have a very resentful au pair.

And it just plain feels selfish to take those hours just because they are allotted to me if I don’t really need them.

On rare occasion my hub and I would like to have a date or attend a grown up event (once a month or so) and occasionally we need to do paperwork and if the kids are around they would interrupt us unmercifully, so we ask our au pair to cover on a weekend afternoon, but besides that, we really want to see the kids ourselves, not just delegate supervision to someone else. (Someone please remind me I said this the next time they are arguing over pushing the cart in the market on a weekend…) :-)

Host Mommy Dearest May 19, 2010 at 4:59 pm

ok, maybe my opinion will change once my kids are in school. I was thinking a 7am-10am and 2pm-7pm schedule during the week would be 40, with a 5 hour weekend shift once or twice a month for date night or something. Of course I would work around her class and other things going on for her. After getting kids on the school bus she would have time to start laundry or run to the grocery store or whatever else is needed. If she finishes those things at 9:30, or wants to go to the gym and knows she can finish from 2-3, I would be fine with that. Often times I get home from work and am told it was a busy day with the kids so there was not time to fold or put away the kids’ clothes so there’s the basket for ya. I actually have those days on the weekend myself, so I believe her, but if there is time scheduled to help prevent that, how is it not fair?

Also, today I am always rushing home from work, leaving as the clock strikes 5, mumbling at traffic if it is not moving because my AP’s shift is ending. There is not a minute to spare, and if (for example) I ran out of deoderant that morning, there is no time to stop at the drug store, so I will just have to keep using the travel size I found in the bathroom closet until the weekend when I have time to get to the store. It would be nice to say more then “gotta run” on my way out the door, or to be able to gather at one of my coworker’s good luck gatherings. I am thinking once or twice a week I can do a crock pot meal or caserole that she can throw in the oven and we can all eat as a family (currently the kids always have eaten already when I get home and I really wish we could eat together).

Also, maybe it will be different when the kids are older, but I encourage our AP to guide the kids to clean up after themselves, but the end result is less than optimal. Typically “clean up” is done and the playroom and bedrooms look picked up, but when I go to play with the kids in the evening or on the weekend, puzzles are all mixed together and toys are shoved in strange places. I end up spending some time over the weekend organizing toys, straightening books, taking stuff out of closets that got shoved there during clean up, etc. I think if the AP were ultimately responsible for things ending up in the right place, she might be more engaged in making sure the kids contribute the right way at clean up time. Also, realistically, things get disorganized and it is not always a good experience or even a good learning opportunity to involve the kids in reorganizing. It is my dream to have enough hours to schedule in a little time for her to maintain the kids’ playroom and bedrooms so that I do not encounter an avalanche during my all-too-fleeting time with the kids. Not sure if my dream is realistic, but we can all dream, can’t we?

franzi May 18, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I suggest, once all the camp flyers are in, to sit down with the AP and talk about each camp that you want to send your kids to in detail. what will the changes be for everyone involved? how will the ap’s schedule change? what will be different for the kids? what routines will change? will responsibilities shift? etc.

the camp culture was unknown to me (i did know about camps but not about the varieties) and a little explanation helped. also, by explaining the camps and the various options (half day, weeklong, home in the afternoon…) it will help the AP understand what your family wants and needs and thus be more d’accord with your camp decisions.

also, talk about new responsibilities she might have (more driving, driving on major roads, supervising summer reading etc).
and as soon as a pool is involved, remember the “adult in charge” post on here!

some Au Pair May 18, 2010 at 2:34 pm

my hostfamily wants me to work more then 50 hours a week. there explanation is that I only worked 30 hours a week during the rest of the year and that they cannot send all kids to daycare or something because the little ones are too young.

Host Mommy Dearest May 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I don’t agree with that. I have 4 babysitters I use, and between the 4 of them it is very unlikely that I cannot cover 5 hours of the 50 I need at some point during the week so I can stick to 45. I will work from home to cover the kids instead of commuting or leave work early to make sure I don’t schedule for more than 45 hours in the extremely rare case I can’t get coverage. It helps (for the HF) to have relationships with other babysitters in case you (AP) are sick, on vacation or anything else anyway, so maybe they should start their search on sittercity. Not sure how you can guide your HPs to go that route.

My 2 cents May 18, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Where are you? If you are in the U.S. they cannot make you work more than 45 hours and no more than 10 hours a day. Period. Be upfront about the issue and remind them that you are not permitted to work more than 45 hours, so you just can’t do it. They know the rules and they knew what would happen come summer time. They just don’t want to play by them and are counting on you not making an issue due to any number of reasons, including your desire to stay in country.

some Au Pair May 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Hey, thank you so much for that comment.

I felt like I am selfish or something when I talked about the 45 hours rule with my hostfamily.
I was afraid they would say things like: but we invite you for dinner when we go out and we buy you shampoo…. we dont have to do that either.

But you are right, these are the rules and they knew it before I arrived. Thank you again!!!

My 2 cents May 18, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Don’t feel guilty. This is not the arrangement you agreed to and the fact that they did not work you 45 hours was ultimately their choice and a gift to you and, like all gifts, doesn’t need to be “repaid” with service in-kind.

Do acknowledge all the extra stuff they have done, and do so often. You probably know this, but your relationship with them is give and take as is any other healthy one. They go out of their way for you, you don’t call them on working late an extra 30 minutes once in a blue moon, etc.

It is not reasonable for them to ask you to work extra hours to repay whatever hours they didn’t work you when the house schedule was easier, especially for free and for any regular period of time (and a lot of posters here would argue that’s not right either, and they would be correct).

Calif Mom May 19, 2010 at 10:41 am

Yes; you need to ask them to find a neighborhood babysitter or a college student, or some other arrangement for those extra hours IF working a few extra hours bothers you. Your counselor should back you up on this. (There are some au pairs whom it won’t bother, but if you are not okay with this, you are entirely within your rights to insist on the 45-hour week.)

AUPAIR Momma May 19, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Yes. Unless they are buying you Fekkai shampoo $35 a bottle .. I’m sure a few bottles of shampoo does not equal 5 extra hours a week. At going rate 5 hrs would be @ $50 -$75 extra dollars a week. Plus they didn’t ask your permission. that’s not nice. :(

cv harquail May 19, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Some AuPair-
read this post: Extra Hours: What’s fair pay when you break this taboo? and this one too: : Best Practices for asking your Au Pair to work Overtime . These will give you some ideas for pushing back on the idea of being “expected” to work overtime. As far as the hours you ‘didn’t work’ months ago, if host families don’t use them that week, they lose them forever. They can hope that you’ll appreciate the time off, and hope that you’ll maybe work a few extra hours a week overtime *with pay*, but they cannot make you work more than 45 hours. If this problem continues, talk with your counselor and have her intercede. She’s there to protect you, so ask her for help. cvh

aria May 18, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I think you should talk about the summer schedule before even matching! My HF told me upfront when they were still interviewing me that a) they would be going on a ski trip and I would be expected to share a room with the boys for a week and b) it would be just me, another au pair and the boys for the entire month of July in their country home while the parents stayed in the city and worked. Not exactly my idea of a dream July, but I like that they told me right away, no false pretenses.

PA AP mom May 18, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Agreed Aria. Our AP got here just as school was starting and only works 27.5 hours per week (most was 37 when I was in the hospital in February). We told her before we matched that while her school year schedule would be very light compared to most, her summer schedule would be 40-45 hourse per week.

I feel like being up front during the matching process and then reiterating throughout the year, especially as the end of the school year approaches, is the best method.

MommyMia May 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm

And not quite within the regulations, either, since you are not supposed to be “on the clock” 24/7, especially for month! That is a big no-no in all agencies’ regulations, I believe! I guess if you had another AP to split the schedule, they technically were within the rules, but that seems pretty extraordinary!

franzi May 19, 2010 at 1:22 pm

but this depends on when the match is made. if the ap arrives in april or may, the summer is right around the corner and the ap will likely remember that she was told about the schedule change.

if the ap arrives in september, it’s 9 or 10 months until the change really affects the ap. enough time to forget what you were or were not told during the matching process. also, selective hearing may apply.

AUPAIR Momma May 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm

that seems illegal! au pairs can only ‘work’ 45 hrs a week.. 2 au pairs is 90 hrs .. there are 168 HOURS in a week. If I were an aupair I would NEVER agree to this. Shocked that aupairs do agree. Plus super shocked a parent would do this to their kids. Maybe I should do this! But I’d feel too guilty and miss my cuties too much.

aria May 19, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I’m working in Europe, without an agency though, so all the regulations… buh bye! Not to say that there are no regulations in Europe, but in my experience, they are much more lax than in the States. Nobody I know actually *counts* their hours.

I’m actually not that bothered about the month (we’ll see what I say when July comes around, knock on wood!)- and parents will be coming every weekend to visit. I like taking care of the kids without the rents around anyway, and it’s fun to babysit with someone your age to hang out with. We’ll have an entire house to ourselves! Granted, the only invites to our parties will be the neighboring sheep, cows, and horses… :)

Kitty May 19, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I know aupairs like to take care of the kids w/out the rents around. I like to work w/ out my boss / anyone around too.

AUPAIR Momma May 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I think I’m too nice but I really want my au pairs to be happy. Switching schedules upsets them or confuses them or me /us. I just don’t do it unless absolutely necessary. I purposefully schedule items to replicate school for the most part. Yes there are a few exceptions but I send the older 2 to camp from 8-2 .. they go to school from 730-2 so to them it looks the ‘same’. I always sched 8-530 and then I let them finish early regularly but its understood these hours are to be respected unless 1 mo notice given. Its really made things easier. I totally believe/understand these are young girls they do not make that much $, they are in it and I am thankful for all the care they give my kids. I think its a good idea to try to understand their perspective and miminize change – rather than expect them to jump through hoops at every whim…

Calif Mom May 20, 2010 at 9:14 pm

All these comments make me think I’ll be sharing our google calendar with our new au pair even before she gets here (we’re going with a native speaker this time, so she’ll get more out of the calendar. Not sure I would do this with a not-yet-in-country au pair who isn’t a fluent English speaker).

Gee, I thought I was ahead of the game for having notes on updates for our guidebook written down. But maybe not as ahead of the game as I had hoped! Thanks for this post, cv!

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