Advice Wanted: Au Pair changed her vacation… now what?

by cv harquail on March 10, 2009


Big conversation going on today about Mary’s au pair…. Here’s the conversation so far…. Join in!

Our au pair has been with us for 8 months. She transitioned from another family and has not been the greatest. She does the bare minimum and has left the children unsupervised. She doesn’t make good decisions and is very influenced by other people. My children are older 10 -12 but needed someone to supervised them, help with homework, drive to activities, etc. When she came we agreed to the dates for her two weeks of vacation. She already took the first week which turned out to be about 10 days. She had family and friends stay with us and went to the city on the weekends. The next vacation is planned for Spring Break and she told us she was going to Florida. We made plans to take a cruise. Since this time she has changed her plans several times and now indicates that she will stay home. I am not comfortable leaving her home alone. She has already had one car accident and I really don’t want her driving while we are away. I also don’t want a house full of strangers. Any suggestions? Thanks — Mary

This is a tough situation, Mary. I think the car issue (while you are on vacation) is easily solved — just take the keys and tell her you don’t feel comfortable having her drive while you are away. (Not that it would be an easy conversation, but it’s something you can control.) The not feeling comfortable leaving her home alone, though — honestly that sends up red flags for me. If you don’t trust her with your home, how can you trust her with your children?? That, in addition to the fact that you say she’s left the children unsupervised says REMATCH to me. –DawnTiled Primrose Heather Bailey.jpeg

Thanks Dawn We have already selected our next au pair. We are new to this and kept giving her one more chance. I think I learned my lesson. She is a nice person, but just doesn’t think. She should be going to school during this time. She would need a car to get there. However, if she was going away she would have missed the classes. Is there any requirement to the number of hours they must attend classes at the local college?   Thoughts??? —Mary

Give her money for a cab or a bus, whichever applies in your situation. You have to provide transportation to school, but don’t need to provide a car.. It might not be that expensive; if you are away for one week, usually the classes they take meet only once or twice a week. — Anna

Mary, if I were in your shoes, I would tell her that the week your family will be on the cruise is the week she is taking her vacation. Period. It is common to have one week of AP’s vacation to be selected by AP and another by the host family. This is the week you have selected for her. You are not comfortable leaving her in your house and you don’t want her driving. Therefore, she needs to make plans for when you are away. Missing 2 classes that week (assuming 2 classes a week schedule) is not a big deal. She can always talk to the instructor and get a makeup class or lecture notes.

Please understand that I am giving you this advice only because you children are older, 10-12. If they were all younger, I would be saying – REMATCH NOW! However, you can still rematch if you want to. — Maya

To Anna, I agree with the bus/cab fare. That will solve the no driving. However, if Mary is not comfortable having AP in the house while they are away for a week, that will not be solved unless AP goes away as well. — Maya

Maya Can you make the AP go somewhere? Is vacation defined as going away, or can she just not work for a week and get paid for it. She also claims not to have any money. It would be so much more relaxing not having to worry about her while we are away. — Mary

I think that the cab/bus fare is a good suggestion. Maya, your suggestion makes sense, but would it really be appropriate/allowed to say “you are not welcome in our home during the week we are away?” It’s one thing to say that she has to take her vacation time then — meaning that she can’t expect to use additional vacation days another time. But can a host family really say, “you must take vacation, and you must go AWAY somewhere for that vacation”? Doesn’t sound right to me. — Dawn

I think maybe I’d reiterate that this is her vacation time, so if she chooses not to go anywhere, she still needs to understand that she doesn’t have any additional time left. I’d also leave very strict rules/instructions about what she’s allowed to do and who she’s allowed to have over in the house while the family is away, as well as an explanation that she is not permitted to use the car. If she’s untrustworthy enough that Mary doesn’t think she can trust her to follow those explicit rules, then I reiterate that I don’t think she should be trusted to be responsible for children either. (Even though those children are somewhat older.) The explicit rules about use/respect of the home while the family is gone and the fact that the days will count as vacation days might be enough to “convince” the AP to go away on a vacation somewhere. But if not, then I’d just leave the money for cab or bus fare for the class. — Dawn
Dishes Aqua Lizzy House.jpeg

Maya, she has been with this family for 8 month. Many agencies have more restrictive rematch policies and consider a placement “final” after a shorter period of time. But I think that in some cases it can be negotiated. — Dawn

Dawn, the way I read Mary’s post suggested to me that her AP wants to go somewhere, but is undecided when, thus I suggested that Mary as hostparent can pick that week as AP’s vacation week. Thus AP will be going somewhere and be out of the house. I do agree that you cannot force AP to go somewhere if she decides to take a ’staycation’. Then, Anna’s suggestion of providing cab/bus fare is the best solution and then what you said about expectations and rules while family is away. — Anna

Anna, I know about more restricted rematch policies. However, like I said, considering age of Mary’s kids, I said that I would not rematch. If kids were younger, and AP left them alone, as Mary said, no agency can prevent you from rematching as you can claim that you AP endangered welfare of your children. Can you imagine not wanting to rematch if AP left a 7-8 year old alone in the house, even if she has been with the family for 8 months? However, it does depend on each individual child, child’s age, and family situation. — Maya

Thanks so much for all of your help. I think I will leave bus/cab money and have someone keep an eye on the house. Hopefully, the new AP I selected will be a better match. It is so hard to know. — Mary

Mary,  are you feeling uncomfortable about telling your Au Pair what *you* prefer? It’s perfectly okay for you to:

  • – take away the car keys/privilege and offer cab fare
  • – ask a few of your friends to randomly stop by and call to check in on her
  • – forbid her to have guests in the house while you are gone
  • – tell her that the week ‘counts’ as her vacation and that she will not have another vacation time scheduled… as per your initial agreement. Remember, you may not have chosen to take a cruise if you knew that she’d be available for childcare  — you arranged your vacation in part to accommodate her. You’ve done enough.

I understand why you might not want to do rematch this late in the game… it really takes a lot out of you and might not be worth the disruption right now. Also,  I agree that asking your au pair not to stay in house while you’re gone would be too harsh, although there is no reason not to forbid her to have others in the house.

Remember, it’s not just about whether you can trust her… it’s about whether you can trust her guests, the people you don’t know and who might not care about you. (That said, if she stays at home alone, lock your liquor, lock your bedroom door and put away your easy valuables & prescription meds. Again, it’s not her, it’s them.)

Also, it sounds like, underneath the details, she may have taken advantage of your goodwill already (with the leaving kids alone and getting another chance, having guests, having already taken a long vacation, and doing the bare minimum. You don’t really owe her more than what we all have suggested, imho.   — CVH

Other thoughts moms? Add them in the comments!


Calif mom March 10, 2009 at 7:44 am

Agree with consensus: You booked your cruise based on her stated preference. Your obligation is done. AP is taking a “staycation” — use the occasion to teach her some idiom. ; )

Bus/cab fare is a brilliant solution. Locking up liquor, meds and jewelry, eletronics sounds like a good precaution. (Yes, I have friends whose APs (or their friends) have gone through the liquor cabinet.

Let her know that you are going to have people stop by “to check and make sure she’s okay”. Have her check in with you on a daily basis. That might keep your presence a little closer in mind if you think she’s going to throw a party or something. Tell her no visitors while you’re away. Very reasonable.

The trust issue is a real problem for me, too, not just about the house but with the kids on a daily basis. But that’s another conversation.

Get your handbook ready while you’re waiting for your new AP!

and try to enjoy the cruise… maybe she’ll surprise you! If she does break any of the stipulations for while you’re away, you have grounds for rematch in my book.

Dawn March 10, 2009 at 5:01 pm

I like Calif Mom’s suggestion about letting the AP know that you plan to have friends stop by on a regular basis to “see if she’s okay.” That way, you’re letting her know that someone will be “paying attention” without it seeming like a bad thing. (In the same conversation, maybe you can leave her with a phone number or two of people she can/should call if anything comes up during the week that she needs assistance with — which is a nice thing to do, but also lets her know that there are specific people you have “authorized” to assist with any problems that might come up in the house, so for example, she can’t use a “blown fuse” as an excuse to invite friends over to “help.”)

I also think that Calif Mom’s suggestion about working on your new handbook is a great one. My handbook has changed (and, IMO, improved) with each successive AP because I try to use the various “issues” that arise with my current AP as learning experiences for the next one. Something I’ve started to do, which I recommend, is to keep either a small notebook or even a copy of your current handbook available to write notes in when you have experiences that lead you to want to change or clarify something the next time around. Even if you THINK you’ll remember when the time comes to update your handbook before your next AP arrives, it’s impossible to remember everything! Keeping contemporaneous notes is a huge help when it comes time to re-do the handbook! (A lot of the “notes” I took for revisions to my handbook also came from this blog! This is a great resource, but again, it’s helpful to write yourself a little note at the time you read something that you think you want to include in your handbook — you don’t want to have to scroll back through months of blog posts and comments to re-find something when you’re working on your new one.)

Franzi March 11, 2009 at 2:46 am

I think it is very important you stress the fact that this week is her vacation time. Stress that you want her to travel (maybe she can ask a friend to go somewhere with her?) – after all that is what she intended in the first place.
I believe it is good to chance scenery sometimes.

From what I understand, you chose to take that cruise because she said she would be away. This is something I would also mention. Not to be rude, but to let her know that you have to plan, both for your family and for her as the au pair.

If you do not trust her to be in your house then don’t have her there by herself!
I watched the house of my host family when I was back for a vacation. They had someone to watch the dog, I had a chance to meet my old friends. But this was only possible because they trusted me with the situation (e.g. they knew I knew what to do when something broke, who to call etc). Is that the case with your current au pair? Again, if you don’t trust her to handle an issue such as a water leak etc then do not allow her in the house by herself for a week!


Maya March 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I also thought of something else. With the case of an AP who wants to stay in the house, I would make sure that your LLC is aware of it. I would send an email to both AP and LLC stating the facts: AP chose this week as a vacation week, AP chose to stay home for her vacation, AP’s vacation balance after this week is zero days. This way, you AP cannot claim later that she has vacation days left.

cvh March 11, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Maya, that’s a great idea to notify the LCC — and the LCC can also use this as an opportunity to check in with the AP while the family is away.
Also, for families with APs that are likely to take advantage of vacation timing, keeping track of days by writing them on a calendar, emailing and ccing LCC may also be a good idea. you know you’ve moved into a more instrumental/less ‘family member’ place when you have to keep track like this, but it happens, and we need to change our systems to accommodate & support the relationships we have.

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