All the little things … that add up to a BIG help

by cv harquail on March 5, 2011

Annonamomma has suggested that we take some time to talk about “all the little things” that keep a house, a home, and a host parent happy. She writes:
Could we do a post on the little things?? you know the little things that keep a house happy, i.e. send the no milk text, empty the dishwasher without being asked, sort of thing. I know that one of the other posters here has a section in their handbook which deals with the small things that drive her nuts but a post on it would be great – just to see what differs from house to house. I bet one thing that would be said all the time is how the uncomfortableness of having to ask an AP repeatedly to do things quickly turns to annoyance/resentment if a HM/HD is put in this position too often. Then the AP sees it as nagging and the HPs get resentful.

Great idea Annonamomma- so here’s the quesiton….

201103051128.jpg Host parents, can you share a few of the little things that, when noticed and addressed by your au pair, make all the difference in keeping your home running smoothly?

There are two inherent challenges here– First, these little things vary wildly from family to family. My “put the tongs points down in the dishwasher” is your “Use only the yellow post-its for phone messages” is her “Close the bathroom door”.

Second, by their very nature, all the little things we do that make the home run smoothly are nearly invisible- except when they are not done.

But in any case, talking about these little things creates a big picture: To make a home a well-run and happy place takes (1) being considerate of each other, and (2) everyone working together.

Fire away!

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{ 112 comments }

mel76 March 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Dishwashing is a big one. Don’t leave dishes in the sink. If you must leave dishes in the sink, put water on it, so it doesn’t dry up and the next person has to scrub it.

If you absolutely can’t fit another dish in the dishwasher, run it.

If you must use the one non-stick pan we own, do not use metal utensils in it and scratch off the surface.

Cover unused or leftover food in the fridge so it doesn’t dry out and get gross.

Those are my big ones. But to be fair, DH, the kids, and au pair are all guilty of these. I am sure I do stuff that annoys the crap out of someone else, too.

5kids=aupair March 7, 2011 at 12:55 am

I could’ve written that post.

Eurogirl March 5, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I used to hate that I was expected to be the only one in the house who ever emptied or filled the dishwasher. As an au pair, I felt like that was something EVERYONE in the house should do. And if I was away/not on duty/busy playing with the kids or working on something else…rather than leaving the dishwasher full of clean dishes until I was free to do it, it would have been reasonable that someone else emptied it once in a while. In THIRTEEN MONTHS, only when I was on holiday at home for a week was it ever emptied by anyone else. And even then it was full of clean dishes when I came back and I had to empty it before even unpacking.

I don’t think sole responsibility for the dishwasher is fair to put on the au pair. We all use dishes! Whoever is there and has time should be emptying it and turning it on. As part of a household.

I’m not suggesting any of the mothers on here mean this when they ask that their au pairs put dishwashers on or empty them…I’m just still angry about this and it was a few years ago that I was actually an au pair!!!

mel76 March 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Eurogirl, I think you are writing in general, not directed towards my post, but I just want to clarify, that everyone does dishes and uses the dishwasher in my house. But the dishwasher isn’t necessarily full after a meal, and gets filled later on. In our case, someone puts dishes in until it is full, leaves the rest in the sink, and then goes about their business. The next person comes along, wants to make dinner, there’s no room in the sink, and no room in the dishwasher to put them.

Eurogirl March 6, 2011 at 10:33 am

Sorry if I did not make it clear enough, it was 100% not directed at you, I promise, more of a general comment that, just as there are things that host parents think “oh the au pair takes for granted we will do that and never says thank you”…there are things that the au pair feels “oh they take for granted I will do that and never say thank you”.

The fact that my example experience was also a dishwasher, just coincidence.

That particular au pair job involved plenty of hard work (breakfast and getting the kids up in the morning, all household laundry (including ironing for three children, two parents) and vaccuuming, taking care of a large dog, full responsibilty for three children between the end of school (2.30pm) and bedtime (7.30/8pm)…) and things like the dishwasher/taking out the rubbish I was told I would be expected to help with when on duty as a member of the family. To then be the only one who ever bothered to empty the dishwasher or dustbins at all, to me is unfair.

If it is part of your au pair’s official job, different story. MAMH, your au pair’s job description is clearly different than mine was, that’s all… We are talking about little niggly “member of the household things”, not “not doing your job” things.

Emily March 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I don’t see emptying the dishwasher and filling it as a big deal at all, even if you have to do it everyday; but I guess it really depends on how you look at things.. My husband is the only one in the house who takes the garbage out, plows & shovels snow, mows the lawn, does the landscape around the house, paints the house, splits wood, loads the outdoor woodstove, wash the cars, …… I am the only one in the house who gives the kids baths, packs their lunches, cleans the house, does the laundry, sweeps & vacuums, dusts, ….. Things that we both do are, we work full time, take care of the kids, cook, pay all the bills, do grocery shopping, …..

MAHM March 6, 2011 at 9:02 am

For our AP this is part of her job description. She works so few hours (kids at school during the day) and has little other tasks required of her that I often “leave” the dishwasher for her to empty. This is simply not about “we all use the dishes”. The AP WORKS in the home and requires clear a job description like every one else who works. If I started doing her job the job description would become unclear and I would get resentful!!

1stimeHM March 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I agree that the little things can be very important and keep balance in the home. The last thing my husband I want to be is a nag to our AP.

This is our first time around, so we were not sure of the expectation of “repeated” insrtuctions, and as we have been finding out, it is more than we would like, for all the little things that make our house a home. I soppose in our view, the little things that others do when in the home make you part of the household and part of the family. I am sure this is a challenging balance for an AP, however, it is an unwritten instruction, otherwise I can just find a babysitter or be the gustopo and waive our family handbood around like a lunatic everyday, but that would not be an ideal situation for anyone.

Our “little” things include doing dishes from breakfast of lunch (at least put them in the dishwasher), wiping down the counters…ughh…really peanut butter smeared everywhere! wiping a spill off the floor and not tracking apple juice across three rooms of hardwood floors, putting the game/ puzzle peices away instead of just shoving them somewhere, or writing down that we ran out of something or allowing the children to eat in NON-designated areas of the house and pushing the evidence under the furniture…

Sometimes feeling a greater part of the whole is getting the little parts that make up that whole……we ask our AP not to complain that she does “not feel like part of us” when she makes no effort to do as we do, or reinforce what we do. Little things are very important and create big barriers in relationships. Maybe this is a matter of maturity, but isn’t that also what some APs seek? to grow up a little? to become more independent? experience another families culture? this is why the little things erk me, it is not just watching the children and being nice to them and nice to us, but being a part of something as a whole….including whole responsibility. Again, we are chalking it up to maturity level and ability to grow in this area.

I know I am a HM, however, I cannot be mommy to our AP when I am actively raising 4 children and working. It is definetly a challenge balancing these issues, however we are working on it an discuss each week when we sitdown to chat about “how” it is going instead of making a bid to do about all the little things. We are growing, as well as our AP so hopefully this will continue as we are only in month 2.

Calif Mom March 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Yes, it sounds like a maturity issue with your first au pair. They are NOT all like adding another teenager to the house to be taken care of!

It seems very easy for the immature ones to fall into the role of “Big Sister”, which I discourage. Their job is more like Auntie. Someone with more authority than an older sister. Someone the parents trust and will back up, and who will back up the parents.

Stay on top of this if you are just at month 2. It won’t get better if you leave it alone.

With our current, immature AP, I’ve found that putting notes, labels and instructions in obvious places helps reinforce your preferences for the small stuff (like the sign I taped above the kitchen sink, right on the window, that says “don’t leave sharp knives in the dish drainer”). What do you know? The knives’ blades aren’t all getting beaten to hell by being dumped in the dish drainer, with pots stacked on top any more.

Yes, I have an entire section in the handbook about how to care for sharp knives. In-your-face tactics are sometimes required, sorry to say.

I’ve put labels on the dishwasher itself (“please put utensils in the basket with the handles down”) and even a sign on the bathroom door with a sketch of the dog drinking out of the toilet bowl with the lid left open. Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words, and countless nags! :-)

1stimeHM March 11, 2011 at 12:00 am

LOL! I like the post it ideas and the picture is great! I think I need to adapt some visual strategies because I feel my meetings are just coaching sessions that lead to no change. I feel like I get approx. 1/3 of the things done after I talk to her about the little things. Dishes have been getting done and clothes put away, but she refuses to clean anything up ie: spilled juice, crumbs from cookies all over the floor and putting toys back in the appropriate spot such as puzzles peices and game peices….maybe I will draw some pics :)

AFhostmom March 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Hear hear on the dishes. I got SO sick of nagging our just rematched AP on this–the rules never got more restrictive, in fact they got easier in her time with us. Asking her to unload the DW 3 days a week was not too burdensome IMO. Luckily new AP is a 180.
If you want to eat dinner with us, help straighten up after. If you don’t want to eat dinner with us, fine, but clean up after yourself.
For previous AP, her little thing was the kids using the toilet and not flushing. Which I can understand to a degree but at their ages, it’s a bit much to expect them to always remember.
And the blankets–AP would sit on the couch with my 2 preschoolers for hours a day and leave blankets everywhere. Obviously this was an issue on multiple levels but once she went out of town, left her blanket in the living room, and my husband threw it in her closet since we were having guests. She got really angry that we went in her room. I get the personal space issue, totally–but I’d expect her to do the same if I left something out and she was having guests and needed a clean house.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I know you had problems with this AP and couch time, but if it had been me, I would have folded it nicely and put it on her bed – especially since she was using the blanket to cuddle with the kids.

AFHostMom March 5, 2011 at 11:07 pm

This particular incident was the 4th time in a week, after 3 times that my husband had asked her nicely to take it downstairs instead of leaving it lying around. And it really wasn’t so much cuddling as it was sitting around in front of the TV all day long, again against our guidelines.

AFHostMom March 5, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Oh and re-reading, I need to clarify. :) When I say threw it in her closet–I mean it was folded. And she wasn’t sharing the blanket with the kids–she told me she needed her own on the couch since they always used the other one (which was also left on the couch, but that was OK for us).
And I have to second the gratitude, as well.

Anonamomma March 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Hey there – thanks CV for turning this into a post :o)

This is kinda a continutation of another post which centered around chemistry, i.e what makes you “click” with another person. In that discussion one poster said that her AP didn’t realise when it was time to give her HF space (i.e. at bedtimes) and put this down to a lack of chemistry. However I think that there is a lack of something else – simple common sense.

Our AP recently left a post-it on the fridge “to let me know” there was no milk (rather than (a) go to the store herself that is less than a five minute walk away or (b). text me while I am on to way home so I can get some). I can laugh at it now but it took days for me to calm down and that can make living with me not so nice :o)

I have the handbook, the checklist, etc, etc. She knows what is expected and yet I constantly have to remind her to do this or ask if she did that. I am getting increasingly frustrated with her (in short I feel like a nag!) and it is putting a strain on our relationship.

Where is common sense in all this – if the trash needs to be emptied – empty it, if there is no milk – go buy some or text! etc, etc.

And this dynamtic is the same in all living arrangements not just AP & HF’s so good manners and common sense serve everyone.

For the next AP I am considering doing some top ten How-To lists… How-To Get Momma Mad?, (i.e. don’t do this) How To Earn Brownie Points (i.e. do this), etc and would love some input.

Eurogirl March 6, 2011 at 10:35 am

I LOVE the idea of the top ten lists, seems like a really cute and friendly way to get the message across :-)

Calif Mom March 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Agree — love this lighter approach to explaining your household’s systems to an AP.

Dorsi March 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I know this has been said before — but gratitude. I don’t have to take the AP out to dinner with my family, nor do I have to take her on many of the trips I take her on. I ended my last year kind of bitter because I rarely heard “Thank You” for any of the million extras we provided. (But, I have been lucky — all of my APs have done their fair share or more around the house! Which I try to consistently thank them for.)

azmom March 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Amen! After 6 weeks our AP asked for a sit down – she wanted to feel more like a member of the family. At first I was like Okay let’s see what I can do, but then later I was like wait… you mean, sharing nail polish remover, bringing her to the restaraunt every time we’ve gone with the kids, asking her what to make for dinner, stopping by a bakery that was her heritage, etc… But then we get NO thanks. No thanks for dinner, thanks for the stamps, thanks for the use of the computer, etc. I don’t MIND these things, but at least pretend you care that we do these things.

DarthaStewart March 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm

In our house, it means:
putting away the lunch dishes (and kids breakfast dishes) in the dishwasher, and washing little man’s cups by hand.
If the dishwasher is full and clean, unload it, or have the kids unload it.
If the trash is full, take it out.
Wipe the kitchen table down after meals.
Have one of the kids bring the mail in.
Helping start dinner occasionally.

Let me think some more…

Dorsi March 5, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Staying on top of laundry makes a huge difference.
Remembering what groceries we need at the store (or writing them down).
Helping out after meals, when AP is not working, makes me very happy. It made it into the manual for the newest AP, since the old one ate with us every night and stopped helping after a while.

DarthaStewart March 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Oh my goodness- yes.. Making sure to put items we’re about to run out of on the grocery list. We’ve run out of ketchup a few times because it didn’t get put on the list… And when there is no ketchup, it is a very bad thing… I have a ketchup addicted child!

Calif Mom March 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm

But don’t just dump it on me verbally! In general, timing of requests is very important and I think that the immature au pairs don’t realize this about how to interact with other people.

I don’t know about you guys, but these days I can remember NOTHING given to me verbally, especially if I’m doing something else at the time. But we have terrific, au pair-friendly systems for remembering things–email, whiteboard on the fridge and a family calendar on google that is parked in the cloud. Just because the AP wants to check something off her mental list doesn’t mean it’s a good time to verbally dump it onto my list. In fact, adding stress to my day like that will just honk me off and make me less inclined to try to remember and even less interested in fixing the problem. I have explained this a million times — “I won’t remember, send me an email or write it on the fridge.”

Should be working March 11, 2011 at 5:43 am

In my au pair daily log I have at the end the question, “Is there anything we need to buy or get for you or kids?” So when I come home I can just look at that and know that kid2 needs a protractor or kid1 needs to bring cupcakes or AP needs our signature on a form or whatever. And it’s written down. And AP can’t complain that I didn’t get it if she didn’t write it.

I also have a line for “Is there anything else about kids’ day or your day I should know?” Here is where she could note “Teacher said kid 2 had a fight on the playground,” or “Kid 1 really misses you when he comes home from school,” or “I have a test tomorrow in my course so I am going to stay in my room.”

Taking a Computer Lunch March 5, 2011 at 10:20 pm

I’m very fortunate, my AP really pitches in (as have most of her predecessors). Last week DH made steak for my son, himself, and enough for our AP and her friend who was staying the night. We headed out to a sporting event, telling the AP it was okay to leave the broiling pan, we would clean it. We came home to a spotless kitchen – the dishwasher had been run and emptied. The dishes had been washed and dried. It made me wish we had topped off her tank (which we often do, but not that night). Instead, I bought her a map of the night place she intends to visit and thanked her for going the extra mile.

I have found that the best means to get someone to pitch in is to have some give and take. If my AP’s clothes are in the dryer and I want to use it, I fold them nicely. If she leaves a couple of dishes around, I don’t complain if she always cleans up mine.

And I do my best to remember to thank her – even if she was “just doing her job.”

I must say, she is also the one who usually gets stuck emptying the dishwasher – because we usually run it after dinner and she’s the one who’s home during the day (but we would never leave it for her to empty!).

Eurogirl March 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

This is what I was saying that others seem to have misunderstood! That emptying the dishwasher when I was alone in the house or working, no problem. Coming home after a night out or even a weekend away to find that it had been deliberately left full for me to do (or that the dustbins hadn’t been emptied for three days while I was away)…that’s not fair…especially when it was emphasised to me “This is not part of your official job but we expect you to help with it as part of the household”.

The “give and take” you mention is exactly what I felt was lacking with that family. Don’t get me wrong I loved them very much and in a lot of ways they were very good to me…but I definitely felt the class divide between their family and my own life. And that they didn’t let me forget it either.

sandra newman March 7, 2011 at 11:51 am

thumbs up for you!

AFHostMom March 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Our new AP goes far above and beyond her job description (and yes we’re still in the honeymoon phase but I have a strong sense that it’s just the kind of person she is). When we have dinner together, she always starts to do the dishes–even on weekends. She respects the fact that my husband and I work hard outside of the home, BUT we also respect the fact that she works very hard too. So when she gets up, I get up too, and we clean up together. It’s a nice motivation for me not to leave things until morning, and the help is worth more than she knows. I’ve tried to shoo her away (nicely, don’t misinterpret please ;))and tell her I will take care of it but she says she likes to help.
But yeah, if we sat on our bums while she did all of the cleaning, or left the dishes for her for the next day or over the weekend, I would expect her to get resentful really quickly. That’s really unfair. Again, the mutual respect is tremendously important to making everyone happy and cmfortable. And “on par.”

iMom March 8, 2011 at 9:41 pm

I think this is key – and something I do – thanking the au pair for doing things that may or may not be “part of the job”. Our au pair helps with dishes almost every night and I always make a point to thank her because I want her to know I don’t take it for granted.

MI former AP March 6, 2011 at 5:50 am

I for myslef kinda used “the little things” like emptying the dishwasher, doing the dishes (like wash them in the sink), doing laundry as a little time-out for myself. Not in a bad way but to take a deep breath, have the kids playing by themself and planning on what we were going to do next.

I don’t know how old your kids are, but mine loved helping me with those tasks. They thought is was a “grown-up-thing”, which made it cool and maybe even adventurous! ;-) I remember my big one (female, 5yrs) that she even improved her adding and counting skills while we put the laundry together for each child. Even a little race (who gets the clothes into their room the fastes) was a blast for both of them. I don’t wanna say that your AP has to have the kids helping her but maybe it helps her to remember those things.

Seasoned Host Mom March 6, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I’ve certainly got one:

DON’T keep your cell on you at all times, respond to all texts as soon as they are received, and bring the darned thing to the dinner table! It’s rude! And, yes, it has begun to interfere with taking care of the children, but that’s another post.

PhillyMom March 8, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I agree with you, but it can be just as annoying if the au pair never answers the cell phone which had been provided by us. If you can’t reach her when a child needs to be picked up from school due to sickness, etc. Or if play dates can not be arranged since the au pair (who is with the kids) can not be reached.
I have to admit, part of the problem was the fear of answering a phone in general due to limited ability to understand English. But you gotta try at least!

Seasoned Host Mom March 10, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I agree about the parent-provided cell. I have that problem too, but her personal iPhone is always on her person! :-( That’s one of the many reasons it’s so frustrating.

EuroGirl March 12, 2011 at 9:59 am

This reminds me of one time…

HostMum – WHY DID YOU NOT ANSWER YOUR PHONE OH MY GOD I NEEDED YOU AND THE KIDS HOME HALF AN HOUR EARLIER THAN USUAL

EuroGirl – Oh my god, I’m so sorry, it was turned off and in my bag cause we were paddling in the pool at the playground.

The mobile phone issue is tricky cause you want to reach your au pair but…you don’t want her answering it to anyone else while your kids are in her care…there’s not really a way round that one…unless maybe you could programme the phone to do a different ring when it’s the host parents calling? I guess that might have worked.

5kids=aupair March 7, 2011 at 1:04 am

With this AP, I started her off by telling her our “hot buttons” so she would know what to avoid. Turning lights off, locking the doors, proper food storage, hangers on closet floors, not making sock balls, etc. I laughed these off to her as our psychosis and told her they make us crazy, and it has turned out to be a good strategy.

Should be working March 7, 2011 at 5:24 am

I’m not sure there are that many ‘little things’, instead there are phases or elements of the relationship where little things become dealbreakers because good will is used up; or, in a better scenario, there are things we wish our AP would do differently but things are going so well that we shrug them off. Like crumb removal, a big one for me: if the AP is cleaning up as part of her job (after kids’ breakfast, for instance), part of her job is to sweep, wipe counters off and clean out sink so that there are no crumbs. If I felt like she wasn’t doing her job in general, a consistent failure to do this could feel like the last straw (although of course a silly reason for rematch); if she was a great AP, DH and I would roll our eyes and laugh it off. And one definition of ‘great AP’ is ‘trainable’–that she learns to do what you ask, within reason.

There is a Talmudic story about a very fat man and his very fat wife. Someone asked the man how they could sleep together in such a small bed. He answered, “When we are happy with each other, the bed is plenty big. When we are unhappy with each other, the whole house is not big enough for both of us.” I think the basic idea here is true for life with APs or just about anyone.

Mom23 March 7, 2011 at 10:37 am

You are so right. We had one au pair who was so great about telling us that we worked so hard and that after the kids were asleep we should go out and take a walk, or go out to dinner, she was in the house and would keep the monitor on. She had us completely spoiled, making dinner without asking, etc. When we discovered that she was sneaking her boyfriend into the house late at night (always gone by the morning), we just looked the other way (we probably would have said okay had she asked). When someone is so good about taking care of your kids and you, all the other things (even big ones) just sort of melt away.

NE mom March 7, 2011 at 8:42 am

I hope I don’t come off as too bitter; I am writing after having to physically wake up our AP for her shift. This is probably the 5th time in 2 months I’ve had to do that.
Anyway, the concept of “goodwill,” as addressed by Should Be Working above pretty much covers it all for me. It needs to be built early on by both sides. Both sides trying hard, graciously putting forth extra effort, above and beyond the basics. If it’s there, that account can be drawn on when a little thing falls short (crumbs, trash, whatever), but if it’s not there, the little things sure add up! Hmmm, guess where we are??

I do get really detailed in our handbook and am hardcore about cleanliness and tidyness (and do expend the effort to be on top of her when things are falling short – and that comes at its own price of emotional energy…). We also addressed the “gratitude” chasm by including a section in our handbook about how culture in the U.S. really focuses on saying please and thank you and that it’s important to us for our daughters to learn that — and that all of the adults in our household need to model that behavior (we address table manners, telephone etiquette, body image, etc here as well).

So, the “little things” for me: be on time (and to build goodwill, consistently be 2 minutes early … man, that would go SO FAR for me right now); suggest a dinner for you or me to cook and accompany it with the shopping list for necessary ingredients; spontaneously do a craft or activity w/the kids – you don’t have to wait for me to suggest one!; take the trash/recycling to the garage – bonus points for actually putting them in their bins! I think, in general, I would be so happy with someone who is proactive about figuring out how our family works and how she can best fit in to make it work even better. Ok, I have now spent a few minutes daydreaming about the ideal situation for our family and getting myself fired up about where we are now. Need to end and do some deep breathing exercises!

tristatemom March 7, 2011 at 9:48 am

GOODWILL – it can’t be overemphasized! Our current AP is very liberal with using up our goodwill, especially relating to her friends and their idiotic actions. The goodwill aspect is a component that is difficult to screen for, the AP either gets it or doesn’t. Our last AP certainly was not perfect but she did so many little things that made my life easier and racked up a huge number of goodwill points. It made me look out for her needs and be more giving.
Anyway, to contribute something to this thread: I am very particular when it comes to laundry and the machine. I hate it when the dispenser for fabric softener becomes all clogged and gooey because the AP doesn’t dilute, uses too much etc…

Busy Mom March 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

Should be working’s story hits the nail on the head. If the AP is solid overall, it’s easier to overlook the little things. When the overall relationship is not going well, it grates on me when an AP seems incapable of:
-Saying “thank you” after being taken out to dinner or on an outing (is this generational or cultural I wonder?”)
-Turning off lights
-Wiping down the counter & stove after meal prep
-Maintaining a clean sink – I hate food particles stuck in the drain

In addition, there are also a few things that can turn a good AP into a great one. Do all 5 and you’re a superstar in our house!
-Volunteering to shovel snow
-Proactively organizing an overflowing kitchen cabinet or the art supplies
-Making a valiant attempt to straighten up a messy kid’s room
-Emptying out and reorganizing a toy bin or closet without being asked
-Replying when my kids email you (after departure)

aria March 7, 2011 at 11:54 am

I had to reply because I liked your ‘little things’ and I was an au pair! I honestly think the ‘saying polite things’ such as please (pass the salt), thank you (for the meal), etc are more cultural than generational- as someone else mentioned earlier, saying thank you is a big part of American culture, more than others. My roommate is from Eastern Europe and when she speaks to me, I sometimes feel a bit taken aback and almost defensive, but I realize that it’s just a different way of speaking. Many languages don’t have our excessively polite ways of phrasing things- Would you mind please emptying out the dishwasher? I speak French, and that sentence translated exactly sounds silly to me in French, as I’m sure it does in other languages.

Busy Mom March 8, 2011 at 8:51 am

Thank you for this insight aria. I’ll need to add something to our handbook like NE mom mentioned because it’s important to me that our AP model saying please/thank with my kids.

PhillyMom March 8, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I totally agree, proactively organizing something is such help and feels so good. We had an au pair who reorganized my tea drawer since she could never find what she wanted. I LOVED it. When we were on vacation (she stayed in our house with her friend) and the house was cleaner than when we left. It was great. She would bake bread! and other stuff. Oh the joy of someone who just has a feeling for what the host parents might need!
However that can not necessarily be expected of a 19/20 year old person who is on her own for the first time. I realize that. But it does make all the difference in the world if not everything has to be spelled out.

Mom23 March 7, 2011 at 10:29 am

My big one relates to locking up — putting the club on the car (all the way) and making sure the front door is locked at all times.

Another one is not doing the dishes on the one Saturday night a month my husband and I have date night. The other 29 days a month, I will wash up, but it sucks to have to come home from date night and have to clean up the kitchen (I can’t let the kitchen go until the next morning).

Former AP March 7, 2011 at 11:13 am

The problem iS (and I have heard the same thing from all my au pair friends at the time) is that when the AU Pair starts doing these little things to help, Host Families immediately think it´s part of our job and dont appreciate it at all. From that they start asking other things and more and more.

I have always cleaned the kitchen after I used it. I have always taken the trash out when full. I have always done the dishes, organized the mess and things like that. I think it was my place to do that once I was in the house all day long. But my host dad started leaving his dirty dishes for me to wash, if it wasnt me no one would ever take the trash out. And I couldnt leave the house to spend the night out if they were travelling because I “had to” water the flowers.

Tjing that made me more mad were the times when I was OFF and the Directv guy had to come or the Plumber or whatever. At first they asked me as a favour and I had no problem doing it. I spend all my day off to recieve the Directv guy. After that they started to ask people to come over and I HAD to stay in the house in my time off and if it was my job. And they never said thank you.

So as long you appreciate and is fair to what you Au Pair does that is fine, but most americans ( and I think it´s a cultural thing) when you give them your hand they ask for your arm and that is not fair to au pairs.

aria March 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I completely understand! I was always so frustrated with the first family I worked for because I felt like they just EXPECTED certain things… things I felt should be more like extras, or favors. For example, right from the start, I was told to do the parents’ laundry- ok, it really didn’t make a huge difference in time or effort to add their stuff in, BUT I would’ve preferred to gradually say, “hey, I don’t mind throwing your stuff in too,” instead of be obligated to wash Dad’s dirty shorts and Mom’s dirty panties right from the beginning.

I ate with them every night, and since Dad always cooked, I always washed up while the parents put the kids in bed- which I think I totally fair. However, it started getting totally UNfair when I would come down on Monday morning (after not being in all weekend) to find the sink overflowing with dirty pots, pans, and dishes. So frustrating!! Thank goodness I rematched after six weeks.

aria March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Had to add- I’m American, I didn’t agree with everything in Former AP’s post…

AFHostMom March 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm

That’s an unfair generalization. Those are habits of bad host families, period–I have traveled extensively around the world and I don’t think that Americans as a whole “ask for your arm,” and in fact as is often pointed out here we tend to be one of the more grateful societies as a whole (since we are generalizing).
I will agree that with some families there is an easy slide into expecting an AP to do something once she starts; but the same can be said in the reverse; with many APs, the more freedom they have, the more they abuse it. THIS causes equally bitter disappointments and resentment. The onus is on each party to maintain a relationship and respect one another. That’s what it boils down to–respect on both sides.

Emily March 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Surely there are HF who would take advantage of their aupair’s kindness and willingness to help (and the same can be said about some aupairs). However, there are MANY who do not, and treat their aupairs well. It is not right nor fair for you to make such generalizations, “but most americans ( and I think it´s a cultural thing) when you give them your hand they ask for your arm and that is not fair to au pairs,” just because you’re angry at your last HF. It’s no one’s fault that you were not able to speak up for yourself in front of your host parents. Instead, you bad mouth them behind their backs and insult other responsible host families. Your comment was completely uncalled for. Grow up!

Former Au Pair March 8, 2011 at 11:34 am

Dear Emily,

MOST doesnt mean ALL americans. And by that I meant Most of Americans I met. I am not saying all of them were like that. Maybe I did not experesed myself right.

And by the way, WHAT the heck do you know about me standing up for myself or NOT? I just wrote a little piece of what me and some other au pairs went through in this situation. The rest came from your own “mouth”. You dont know and I dont know you. So…next time keep your ideas about my post restricted to what I wrote and not to what you THINK of me :)
I think it´s not me who has to grow up!

_________

To the host parents that read my post I just want to say I didn´t express myself right. I was not trying to say that every host family in america are the same way, but the most I met were.

It seems it´s not me who has to grow up :)

A Host Mom March 8, 2011 at 11:47 am

I am sure that “most of the Americans you know” is a very small group of people and you should expect some backlash when you make a broad statement like “most Americans.” No doubt, the au pairs here are very quick to correct us host parents when we generalize about au pairs (i.e. about their cultures, entitlements, etc.).

used to be an AP March 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I think what A Host Mom said (“No doubt, the au pairs here are very quick to correct us host parents when we generalize about au pairs (i.e. about their cultures, entitlements, etc.”)is something that APs should think about a lot more. APs don’t want the be “generalized” so they shouldn’t do it to others either. It is wrong to do so. “The Europeans”, “The Americans”, “The Asians” do not exist. Of course there are cultural aspects that have an influence on our personalities, especially when we grow up, but that does not mean that people can be generalized like that. And not all APs do that.

Emily March 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Former AP- What you wrote spoke loudly about yourself. I was not the only one who had a problem with your generalizations of Americans. Your aupair friends’ experience with American host families do not represent how “MOST” Americans are. I would love to know what “the rest” was that came from my “own mouth”? Or did you not express yourself right again? Remember… I was not the one who posted how terrible my host family was, and then insulted “MOST” other Americans; but…… I guess you did not mean what you wrote.

HD in NY March 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Former AP,
Taking the easy way out, huh? Did not express yourself right?

just have to chime in March 9, 2011 at 10:22 am

Oh no HD in NY. Don’t you get it? She meant “most” Americans take advantage of their APs, not all. Such a world of difference !

Just like “all” au pairs, oh no, I mean “most” au pairs, oh no, I mean “some” au pairs, oh no I mean “certain of my select friends,” claim a misunderstanding in translation when they make a tempermental statement based on whatever childish emotion they feel at that minute that they cannot possibly support and then someone challenges them on it.

HM Pippa March 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I think in a lot of households, work gets divided up among the members of the family and turned into a routine. For example, I don’t mind doing toilets, but I hate to take the dog out in the morning. HD loves bathtime, but doesn’t have the patience for bedtime. Over time, we established a routine where I clean toilets and he takes the dog out in the morning. I do bed, he does bath. We take it for granted that the other person will do those things, and we are grateful for it at the same time. There is a give and take.

When an AP is added to the household mix, the workload gets shuffled around again. While there are jobs that I would never ask my AP to do (wash my underwear, make my bed), the are other jobs that she does which I take for granted and am also grateful for because it shares the work of running the household. I like that AP empties the dishwasher in the morning while she makes lunches. It has become part of our routine. While she does that, I have time to wash, dry and fold the laundry. Later in the day, she puts the kids clean, folded clothes away. I don’t sit eating crumpets and sipping tea while AP slaves away. But because we share the work, at the end of the day I may have an extra 15 minutes to spend with my kids. And there is no end to the gratitude I feel for that.

What APs may not realize is that their presence in the household also ADDS work for the HPs, too. Sure, the AP helps with the household, but they also contribute to the family’s workload. When it works best, the help provided by the AP is greater than the burden of meeting the needs (financial, emotional, dietary, social, educational) of another person.

There is no end of work running a household and raising children. When I offer a hand, life demands my arm. On my good days, I don’t whine about it, but am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference.

AFHostMom March 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

two thumbs up, HM Pippa. :)

HRHM March 9, 2011 at 8:46 am

“What APs may not realize is that their presence in the household also ADDS work for the HPs, too. Sure, the AP helps with the household, but they also contribute to the family’s workload. When it works best, the help provided by the AP is greater than the burden of meeting the needs (financial, emotional, dietary, social, educational) of another person.”

EXACTLY! I can’t tell you how many times this has been an issue for us… it is why we no longer have an AP as of Friday last. The help she provided got less and less and the demands she made got more and more. And with the previous AP2, I often felt like I had a third kid, but she was wonderful with my kids and pleasant to be around and that made up for some of it. With AP3, she was surly, insulting and demanding and in the end, not worth the small amount of work she actually did. If an AP ends up BEING more work than she is solving, she should soon find herself in rematch.

DarthaStewart March 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

Two thumbs up from me too. I love your comment about APs adding work to the household. My house gets dirty faster, we go through more food, and there is certainly overhead from having an au-pair.

Love it. Thank you for stating that so eloquently.

1stimeHM March 11, 2011 at 12:10 am

Ditto! thanks for putting it out there clearly. It should not be more work than help, at least as time goes on. Think I am going to “reassess” my current situatoin to determine that the little things are adding up to big things that are not working for my family. @Dartha, we are also dealing with an increasingly dirty home to the point I may need to hire some help and there is alot of waste of food and other resources since her arrival, and I want to be clear that it is not that the issue of her using resources, it is wasting…..like refusing to turn off lights bc she doesnt like to walk in a dark room, or throwing food away after it was prepared bc she doesnt eat leftovers, eventhough we do and so forth…

EuroGirl March 12, 2011 at 10:11 am

You don’t sit eating crumpets and sipping tea while AP slaves away (and that’s fabulous) but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t host parents that do.

I don’t think anyone means to tar all host families with the same brush, but the sad fact is that some people that hire an au pair don’t share the workload and an au pair who starts off willingly helping with household chores outside of her actual work sometimes ends up resentful that these “extras” are taken for granted…

Calif Mom March 10, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Directv guy coming? Hmm. Did you watch the TV after it was installed? I’m not sure that’s too big of a burden to ask you to handle. American workers don’t get a ton of time off in general. I would have had to take vacation time to do that myself. That would mean one less day of playing, with our au pair in, say, NYC.

another AP May 27, 2011 at 6:20 am

I think what she was bothered by was that they weren’t grateful. And who knows if she watched the television. I don’t use the family’s television. She stayed, yes? And continued to help out, yes? It is just another something that she will become resentful for if her HF doesn’t seem appreciative.

Remember, these are short posts on a board. We don’t know each other and have no idea what each HM, HD, or AP is truly feeling, or their circumstance. Let’s try to give our thoughts in a more civil way. This goes to all the comments. Sounds like there are many AP and HF (more than I would think to see) that need to grow up. And before you respond to that- your comment doesn’t make me think YOU need growing to do. But a few do read that way. Nothing against you, just some defense to the first poster.

HM Pippa March 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Our first AP had excellent parent management skills. The little things she did that made me a happy mama and a grateful, generous hm:

What greeted me when I arrived home from work reassured me that she cared about doing a great job with the kids:
• toddler was clean and dressed in cute outfits (hair in ponytails, face and hands washed)
• both kids had eaten a snack (and a healthy one!) so were not desperate for food
• older child had finished homework (most days AP stopped at the library on the way home from school for older child to do homework while she read books with the toddler)
• AP always had a story to tell me about something interesting or developmentally significant she noticed with the toddler. This was HUGE for me. It was my first year back to work and it really made me feel like I wasn’t missing out on my baby’s life.
• the house was tidy (except for the toys being played with at the moment).

Additionally,
• She always helped with dishes after eating dinner with us, and while I was inclined to leave the dishes in the sink that didn’t fit in the dishwasher, she would instead help me to wash and dry them by hand.
• She ate, and even liked, the food prepared for the family. And was not going through a vegetarian phase.
• She observed our parenting and discipline style, the household routine, and the kids’ routines and behaviors, and adjusted her actions to best support the kids, the household and the parents. This led her, after a few weeks, to go to the library for homework (she knew it was hard for older child to focus on schoolwork once home), to allow the little one lots of physical independence (she loves to climb too high for adult comfort, but well within her own capabilities) with unfaltering attention to safety, and to prepare a pot of tea for me while she made lunches (she saw me rushing every day to boil water as I ran out the door, late) which was in no way part of her duties, but for which I was enormously grateful.

In return, she had remarkable freedom, independence and flexibility from us. We allowed her to take road trips with the car, she had no curfew (although she always volunteered where she would be and when she would be home), we gladly gave her long weekends to travel with friends, hosted her family when they visited, and gave her several extra weeks vacation to travel with her family on the west coast.

Should be working March 8, 2011 at 4:33 am

Pippa: off topic here, BUT can you tell us how you screened for this AP and what her application looked like? If you have hosted several au pairs, can you say whether anything about her application stood out? Do you feel like this was partly luck or do you think your screening process made a difference?

HM Pippa March 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I would like to claim it is our thorough, thoughtful and intuitive application screening process that brought AP1 to us , but that same process brought a two week good-on-paper flame-out and an adequate “C-” who lacked initiative, maturity and honesty. I’ll tell you in a month if the screening of number 4 brings better results.

With AP1 we were in a big hurry to find childcare since I was offered a dream job I’d applied for on a lark (surprise!). We knew we needed a German speaking AP with an Abitur. Our matching expert gave us three apps at a time, which was critical for comparison, since we were brand new first timers. The first batch were all duds. (I suspect the agency gives the duds to all the new families hoping they won’t know any better.)

In the second group, AP1s application really stood out. First, her picture collage showed a young woman engaged in her community, having real, active, not-staged fun with her cousins over a several year period (you could watch the AP turn from a girl into a young woman in the pictures), and a close, loving family. I relied a lot on the pictures, and they showed a happy girl in a happy family.

I was looking for an AP who came from a family similar to our own–siblings, working professional mom, focus on academics and achievement, high expectations, good manners and social skills. The Abitur I required because she would need to help bilingual son with difficult German homework, but earning an Abi also can indicate a degree of discipline and smarts we wanted.

Some of the qualities that stood out in her application (and here I think CC (#1) does a good job with the questions they ask. APC (#2,3,4) not so much.): Her answers to the more philosophical questions were thoughtful and showed that she had taken care to produce a complete and honest application. She commented on how important education is, and not just in school but “voluntary” at home, too. She thought it was critical for a child to develop independence and learn how interact in the world (manners, polite conversation, handshakes). She said that it is important for adults to show kids how to act right and not just tell them. She wanted to become a teacher or social worker. Her brother, whom she adores, was training to be a police officer. Her parents are both working professionals. She is close to her grandfather and helps her mom care for him. Her family she described as close and loving, and they spent a lot of vacations traveling, RVing and camping. She was a very good student who takes the quality of her work and education seriously. She also said the usual stuff: loves to be with kids, likes to travel, etc. She described herself as honest, patient and reliable. And it was TRUE.

What really made the difference in this AP is that she was remarkably mature and self-aware relative to her very young age (days into her 19th year when she arrived). I learned through hindsight that her application was an accurate representation of who she is. After she returned home I looked through her application again and was amazed by how well her application represented her. She was honest in her app, both with us and with herself.

Any issues we had with her were all related to her being so young and still quite dependent on her family. When she arrived she could hardly imagine going out into the world to study or live on her own. It was a pleasure to watch her grow into a capable and independent young woman who was fearless to take on the world.

The standard that she achieved was that I felt that my kids were getting equal or better care from her than they would have from me. Really.

AP2 had a very similar looking application. The difference is she wrote what she figured host parents wanted to hear, but it bore no relationship to the truth of her behavior and beliefs. She said in the app that she enjoyed being active outdoors; at the beach she would touch neither sand nor water, but sat in fancy clothes on a towel reading a book. She wrote that she eats everything, only to discover she decided go vegetarian the week before she arrived. Claimed she was patient, but rolled eyes at and bickered with our 2year old within 24 hours. Choosing her profoundly shook my confidence in our ability to screen APs reliably.

Swift rematch AP3: same screening process on much reduced pool of rematch APs resulted in an mostly adequate C- effort who who stole and lied and was happier to tell me fairy tales about the little one’s day than ask for suggestions for dealing with 3yo behavior.

What I’ve learned: Neither self-awareness nor honesty can easily be screened for in an application.

We’re on #4 now (one week in) and I’m resigned to whatever fate the Matching Fairy has in store for me. Came home yesterday to breakfast and lunch dishes in the sink and a too large load of mixed white and dark kids’ laundry which came out of the wash with all the stains they entered, but the whites are now gray. I have a little work ahead of me to make this another glorious year.

HMinWi March 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Your experience with AP1 sounds a lot like what happened at our house. Honestly, the first year was so good that I could not imagine a better childcare scenario for anyone. For my children to be loved not only by their parents, but also by a kind, loving, and fun young adult who truly became a part of the family was more than I could have ever imagined. Every year since has held some kind of strange internal struggle or uncomfortable adjustment period, and I am resigned to the fact that AP1 will never be repeated. Good luck finding another superstar!

iMom March 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

We have had a similar situation – AP’s 1 and 3 were exceptional in almost every way – it caught my eye that you thought your kids were getting equal or better care from the AP than they would have from you. I feel the same way about these two. They both were amazing at anticipating our needs and filling in so naturally. I literally would not change a thing about AP 3 (current) and am desperately heartsick about her leaving. AP 2 failed on multiple levels – she was with us four months and it was generally a terrible experience. We have honed our screening somewhat, but really feel it is just the luck of the draw and we pray that we are fortunate with our 4th and final AP. The only thing that stood out that is now crucial for us in screening is that we require the AP to have worked in a childcare setting such as a preschool or kindergarten, rather than just babysitting, and we want an AP whose goal in life is to work with children, such as being a teacher. This seems to greatly increase the chances of an AP who really engages and ENJOYS your kids.

HRHM March 9, 2011 at 8:51 am

iMom, when you say “to have worked in a childcare setting” do you count the volunteer couple of weeks that most of the Germans seem to do in order to apply to be APs? Or do you look for an actual paying job over a longer time span? Just curious.

PhillyMom March 8, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Wow, I want that au pair! That sounds great. It is great to have an au pair who shows interest in the family in small details such as sharing dinner, helping and just simply greeting the host parents. It is great to have someone spontaneously starting a conversation. Currently, we have a very nice au pair who does everything which is expected of her and is finally realizing what other things could help. However, she never initiates a conversation or never tells us what she would like to do – not even when you give her choices. It’s getting so tiring to always initiate and hope she likes what we are doing. After 8 months I still often feel that I don’t know her despite trying really hard. I am looking forward to having an au pair who actually “wants to be part of the family” like they all claim they do.

Calif Mom March 10, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Um…be careful what you ask for! We have an AP now who just loves being part of our family, but she drives me crazy and frankly, I wish she would spend more time with her (equally shallow) friends… Our last au pair was much more in alignment with our values and interests, and was so easy! But she was usually spending her free time with her friends, so we were always inviting her to activities and being turned down. :-) In retrospect, last year was better!

PacificNW_mom March 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Thinking of the little things our current au pair does makes me smile! First of all, emptying the dishwasher is her “household job” and she is the best dishwasher-emptier ever! So I don’t count it amoung the little things. Some of my little things:
* telling me a sweet story about something my kids did that day that she found wonderful
* offering to walk the dog when I get home exhausted from work, DH is travelling and the kids want my attention
* picking up the wayward sock or two that did not make it to the laundry basket at the end of the day
* double-checking the weekly schedule to ensure that nothing is missed for the day…and reminding me of something I forgot to put on the schedule
…and more!

Diana March 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Wow.
Why don’t you get a servant?

[Note: I saw this comment rather late in the conversation, so there are several frustrated comments following that respond to this one. In my opinion, this particular comment is unhelpful and does not move the overall conversation towards a productive direction. I do note, too, that many responses to follow make an effort to find the ‘good’ inside this mention of “servant”. Thank you for that. Apologies for being late to moderate this. cvh 3/9/11]

azmom March 8, 2011 at 1:29 am

I’m sure this mom is indicating she APPRECIATES these little extras. Just like you’d appreciate if she picked you up from the airport on your weekend jaunt to see friends, or gave you a starbucks gift card. “WE” could say “why don’t you ask your real mom for those things” but we don’t. THis is just indicating the small things that we appreciate.

There’s a two way street as to being an adult member of a household. It doesn’t mean being sent to “your quarters” at 5:30 pm, but it also doesn’t mean the dishes get washed, the dogs get walked, the shopping gets done, the floors get scrubbed, the toilet paper purchased, the windows cleaned, the barbeque scrubbed, the grass cut… on its own. There’s a lot that goes into running a household.

Just as you like your down time, we do as well, and if we, in our spare time, can help you figure out the best route to take to find that little shop you heard about, then perhaps you can take a few minutes to double check we’re not missing the rehearsal that is happening at preschool, because yes, in our busy lives, we sometimes do forget these things and *appreciate* assistance.

PA AP mom March 8, 2011 at 9:24 am

Seriously Diana, where do you live that those few extras make you a servant????

The host mom was saying that she appreciated the extras that her AP does around the house.

I have more “extra” duties for our APs than some, but our AP only works 22 hours per week and has every weekend off.

used to be an AP March 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Diana,
that is totally out of line. As some one who was an au pair a few years ago, I just have to say that that comment in no way represents what APs are thinking. Of course there are some who do think so, but the au pairs that I met certainly did not. I did all of those things mentioned above (except the one with the dog, my HF did not have a dog but I fed the cats and from time to time emptied their litter box) and I didn’t mind. APs are expected to do some housework, and really what’s the big deal about doing a few extra things? My guess is that the extra stuff is appreciated by the majority of the HFs, and I think that a little help goes a long way.

Annonnaupair March 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Anyway, I think everybody has the right to an opinion. What is wrong with Diana thinking what she thinks? I dont agree with her, but I am tired of people who dont agree with someone´s opinion being mean here.

Emily March 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Annonnaupair,

What do you think of Diana’s comment to PacificNW_mom’s post? Friendly or mean?

A Host Mom March 8, 2011 at 5:41 pm

If you are going to choose a post to address mean responses, I think you could have chosen a different post other than Diana’s post of “Wow. Why don’t you get a servant?” (which was, IMHO, quite rude and very mean).

Annonaupair March 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Emily,

I think it´s her opinion. I think that is how she feels about what she read. That´s all I think. Do I agree with what she said? NO. But argueing with her because she thinks that is not nice at all. Free country, people has the right to think whatever they want.

what do you think?

A Host Mom March 8, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I think we may be having a language difference here. The word “servant” in the U.S. lingo can be interpreted to mean someone beneath you, or of a lower class. Personally, I don’t even refer to my cleaning lady as a “servant” even though she does falls within definition. Perhaps when Diana used the word “servant,” she didn’t mean it to be derogatory but just meant as hired help? I don’t know, just throwing that out there. I think sometimes we host parents forget that English is not the first language for several au pairs that post here.

Emily March 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm

What do I think? I think you are contradicting yourself. It’s okay for Diana to post her not-so-nice thoughts on other’s comments, but it’s not okay for others to post their thoughts on Diana’s? “Free country, people has the right to think whatever they want”, this is correct, but it’s hypocrisy to only apply it to certain people, like Diana.

PacificNW_mom March 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Wow. And I thought I was posting something positive. Thanks, ladies for sticking up for me. To be honest, we don’t choose APs from countries with servants, as we had a bad experience with that. Generalization, I know. Sorry to those lovely Brazilians and South Africans that we may miss meeting. And “servant” does refer to a lower class/poorer citizen in many countries and is derogatory there, too. We choose APs from Germany as we’ve found that kids are brought up with similar values to ours – their parents teach them that responsible adults do things like unload the dishwasher (don’t have a servant that is a dishwasher), keep a schedule, take walks outside with a family dog, etc.
But if our AP is seen as a servant in Diana’s eyes, so be it. Our lucky servant is part of our American family for life, gets use of a car, cellphone, trips to Hawaii, San Francisco, LA, Washington DC and only works 30 hours a week!

Host Mommy Dearest March 9, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Wow! Sign me up for that servant position for PacificNW_mom, seriously.

OB Mom March 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

My favorite things our current AP does (whether on her “job description” or not):

* Making us dinner once a week (outstanding cook that really enjoys sharing her culture with us this way).
* Doing all the grocery shopping each week. Only rarely makes a mistake, but we can all laugh at it (like buying Ginger instead of Gingerale).
* Feeding the dog spontaneously when she is particularly restless before I get home (and writing it down in our journal).
* Walking the dog occasionally (even on weekends).
* Asking me how my day was every day when I get home (she disclosed once that she noticed that most American’s ask that so thought it would be a nice thing to do). None of my previous AP’s have ever asked me about my work. A pleasant surprise.
* Assuring that the boys make their beds daily and clean up the playroom when asked.
* Getting the mail out of the mailbox and putting it on the counter in the kitchen. Small task, but saves my feet from getting cold outside.
* Last, and probably most importantly, being extra helpful to my DH whenever I have to go out of town (cooking extra meals or helping wash dishes afterwards).

Small, but simple gestures that allow our family to run a bit smoother every day.

Annonaupair March 9, 2011 at 10:56 am

Emily,

That is NOT what I meant at all. But by reading some other posts I noticed you like to change what other people write into something worse. Whish is ok because it is your opinion. You see how reading something and turning into a judgement always turn out bad?

What I am saying is that being harsh on anyone here because of their opinion is not nice. It´s not only Diana but everybody in this topic. I guess we all have to respect more each other here because each of us think differently. That´s why we are here in first place: to give HP different points of view all the time about situations.

I am not a Hipocrit. Although it´s your right to think whatever you want as long as you dont bring down people :) That is my point. It´s not about Diana.

I also agree with the person above that she used the word servant in a different way. I didn´t know also that it means a bad word I just thought it was an employee as well. Anyway…

Emily March 9, 2011 at 11:50 am

So when Diana makes a rude comment, you came to her defense and asked what was wrong with her “thinking what she thinks,” and stated “But argueing with her because she thinks that is not nice at all”; and of course, “Free country, people has the right to think whatever they want.” However, when others posted their comments to Diana’s, then they are being “mean”, you are “tired of people who dont agree with someone´s opinion being mean here.”
If this is not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.

Anonymous HM in NJ March 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Our current au pair does many small things to keep things running smoothly. In addition to being a nice caregiver to our school-age son:

1. She runs and empties the dishwasher during the week.
2. She takes out the garbage when it is full. We also do the same – just depends on who finds it first.
3. Last week she went out and bought butter, bread and milk without my asking her to. This was a big one.
4. My husband and I always take out the trash and recycling cans to the curb and she and my son always bring them in when they are empty
5. She and my son bring in the mail.
6. She does some groceries for me if I ask
7. She generally always leaves the kitchen clean.

A former au pair would not clean up the kitchen, felt exploited when we requested her to take out the trash when it was full (I would come home to find it overflowing onto the floor), wouldn’t bring in the garbage / recycling cans, would not say thank you after I had cooked a favorite dish for her, freely criticized our food and our taste in music, lay in the garden sunbathing while the rest of the family worked (that was a big one) – this was a difficult relationship.

euroAP March 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I really don’t understand why anyone WOULDN’T want to help with such little tasks! I enjoy doing the dishes with HD/HM and talking about stuff that’s been going on, I like to cook, I would never ever even dream of leaving the kitchen messy after a day at home and basically I just love going the extra mile for them – and they do the same for me. They’ve been so nice and extremely generous to me I don’t know if there are enough dirty dishes and poopy diapers for me to clean to show them how very much I appreciate everything :)

HMinWi March 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm

This was really very sweet to read, and I’m sure I’m not the only HM who hopes that my APs feel like this even once in a while.

Yogi March 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Good for you EuroAP. My current AP, who will soon be leaving, often leaves her shoes scattered all over the floor, never cleans up after herself and often doesn’t keep the food in the refrigerator, nor does she take the trash out…. Yikes.

anonmom March 7, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Oh, the ‘little things’ that drove me crazy!
* using the good bath towels while coloring their hair, of course staining them- AFTER being told not to use those towels. At least 6 towels destroyed.
* leaving the lights on everywhere in the house. PLEAASEEE turn off the lights when you leave the house! Yes, even turn them off when you leave the room- but at least when you leave the house! I hated coming home to the house lit up like Christmas with no one home!
* leaving the car on empty. ARGHHHHHH this one ‘little’ thin cost us over $1,000.00 when that happened for the last time- as a result of driving a car with empty tank.

* and, another biggie- the ‘gratitude’ [or lack thereof] for the many little things I did or went out of my way to do for you, your friends, family etc, when you were with us

AFHostMom March 8, 2011 at 10:14 am

Ugh the gas! Last AP did this several times. We don’t like our cars to go below a quarter tank but there were times when she drove the car home so low we didn’t even know if we’d make it to a gas station–and she had passed gas stations on her way.
This is one advantage of being able to have a non-driver now!

Taking a Computer Lunch March 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

We have the luxury of having an AP car, to which DH and I lay claim (with notice on the calendar) when we have weekend activities that send us in two directions. I make it clear to APs that while we do top off their tank from time to time, that they should not let it run on empty:

1) they never know when they are going to get stuck in traffic (and especially in winter and summer who wants to be without heat or AC)

2) they don’t want the engine to conk out away from a gas station – there may be neighborhoods they don’t want to walk in, especially late at night

I tell them to maintain a 1/4 of a tank at all times for these reasons. However, if it were a shared car that I was letting her borrow for the evening, then I would have a rule that she could not return the car with less than 1/4 tank of gas (and no, giving me money in return would not be good enough). Part of the privilege of driving is thinking ahead.

PA AP mom March 8, 2011 at 9:30 am

Extras that my AP does (that are very much appreciated):

*grocery shopping–we make a list together and she goes to the store on Mondays. She can get what she likes this way and I don’t have to do the shopping on the weekends.

*bringing in the mail and putting it on the kitchen counter

*sweeping under the breakfast bar when the kids are finished eating each morning

*supervising our boys feeding the cats and giving them water

*constantly reminding our boys about using their manners when hubby and I aren’t around to do so.

*Driving the boys to karate two nights a week and meeting me there. Saves me a 15 minute drive home and then 15 minutes back.

*Helping out with class parties in our boys’ school classrooms. The boys LOVE it!

and a whole lot more I am forgetting to mention.

ap March 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

If I open the dishwasher and it’s loaded with clean dishes, I empty it. It does not put my life in risk, I didn’t lose any of my fingers yet, and it’s sort of essential to create space to put the dirty dishes in. I absolutely don’t understand what is it with the other au pairs that they complain so much about it!

Must say I’m not so good with the trash can, I always think I can fit something else on it…

HM Pippa March 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm

One of our APs was great at taking out the trash. Then I realized it probably was to hide all the granola bar wrappers, candy wrappers, cookie boxes, broken dishes, dried out play-doh, burned spoons and melted plastic containers she didn’t want me to see.

EuroGirl March 12, 2011 at 10:21 am

Oh Pippa that made me laugh out loud – my host dad in France used to take out the dustbins quite often (different family than the ones who never took out their dustbins) anyway one night I was going out and took the bags from him to put out on my way…realised he was taking out a dustbin bag full of fast food wrappers, beer bottles and cigarette packs…which his clean living, teetotal, non-smoker, vegetarian wife would then never know about…

Work from home om March 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I think saying “thanks” and “going the extra” are a two way street.
I thank my au pair at the end of each day for the work she’s done, even on days when she’s forgotten to do something ie. dishwasher. Watching kids all day, keeping up with toys, laundry, etc is not easy. Honestly, some mondays I sit in my office chair and heave a sigh because my crazy work load is a lot less hectic than the zoo that 4 kids can be.
So I cut her some slack as long as my kids are safe, happy and clean.
We also include her in dinners out, day trips – or at least invite her, because that is what being part of a family is about. She remembers to say thank you pretty often, and when she doesn’t I take it as more of a sign of her comfort level then her ingratitude.
Things that make this work for us is:
Being on time – she is on time in the morning and I’m on time when her shift is over. I don’t think its fair to get tetchy about an au pair starting a few minutes late if you are occasionally late getting home because of traffic. It goes both ways people.
I have a pre-printed grocery list on the fridge, check off what we are out of. If she texts me during the day – bonus.
Pitch in where you see the need – but be realistic. Sometimes I have to ask my 40 yr old husband to take out the trash (right after he’s tossed a napkin in it only to have it fall to the ground the dang thing is so high).
Assume we are all responsible and occasionally forgetful adults and speak up if you see something amiss. A few weeks ago I completely forgot my kids had a half day. My au pair noticed on the school calendar on the fridge and handled everything beautifully.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 8, 2011 at 10:48 pm

For the AP who goes the extra mile without being asked, I’m much more likely to come home early so she can go do something she wants without demanding that she use her vacation time. Not only does she receive gifts at major holidays, I’m much more likely to include her in a little round of gift-giving (e.g. books for everyone in the family on Valentine’s Day). I’m much more likely to top off the tank in “her” car when I use it to drive a mile or two. And I always say yes if she asks if someone may spend the night.

I’m not a rich HM. There are no hotel rooms, plane tickets, fancy holidays, or theater tickets. Just give and take and heartfelt “thank-yous.” Could I live without an AP? I have, but it wasn’t very nice for The Camel. Do I ask the AP to do something I wouldn’t do myself? Absolutely not! That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate her.

Jenny March 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I normally do all the above mentioned. I load and empty dishwasher, I tidy up the kitchen to the best I can (and the best I can involves a lot of stove top cleaning, sweeping, wiping up kitchen counter, throwing food gone bad out, organizing fridge and cabinets, etc etc etc.) I do all that without being asked and don’t expect anything in exchange. I see it as what I’d like someone to do if they lived in my house (I lived alone prior to becoming an au pair and had other people living with me, aka roommates, to cut down on costs of rent, etc. and the little things they didn’t do and the messes they left behind drove me crazy and made me send all of them away :)). I also organized the kid’s room separating toys in labeled bins so they know where each toy goes, so cleaning up has been made easier for me and them, same for their books. However, and don’t get me wrong I’m at the end of my second year with this family and I absolutely love them all, especially the kids, I started to notice that my efforts weren’t appreciated, not in the not saying thank you kind of situation, but just in the fact that there was no attempt whatsoever to keep all the organizing and cleaning I had done. As soon as I turned my back to it chaos was reinstalled again and the mess was always there for me to clean. My host mom has said time and time again the she ain’t the most organized person in the world, so I get it, totally, my mom isn’t either, it doesn’t make me love her any less, but it annoys me all the same.

It might be because, as the end of my au pair program approaches, I’ve gotten weary of all the work, and right now I just do things when “I feel like doing them,” I do leave the dish washer full from time to time and if I come home after a weekend off and there are dishes in the sink, sorry, they are staying. I still do a lot of cleaning, and just recently reorganized toys and clothes. I’d like the appreciation, though, to come in the form of maintaining organized the things I’ve organized, or at least trying to, as it is for me, for my culture, the best way of showing respect and it’s much much much better than a thank you, as it comes to easily here.

Amelie March 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Jenny,

Maybe is not that they don’t appreciate the work you have organizing everything, but it’s just that they, for being a little more disorganized, don’t care if things are a little messy – what you’d call ‘the chaos’ -, and that’s why they don’t make an effort to keep things the way you left them.

AFHostMom March 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm

This is a fair point; to be quite honest my house is cleaner than it’d be if we didn’t have an AP, and it’s due in part to her helping out but also to me not wanting to put her in the situation where she feels like she is a housekeeper and HAS to do the extras. If we didn’t have someone else living with us, I would let more things go, I think, like leaving the dishes overnight and vacuuming less.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 9, 2011 at 10:13 pm

This is always an area of contention between most APs and us. I’m a slob. I spend all day at work, and then I get home and I have few hours with the people I love the most. If I have to choose between playing with my kids and cleaning my house, I’ll play with my kids. (Although I do have a breaking point when I must clean – like last weekend when I used a nozzle attachment when I cleaned my son’s room so I wouldn’t vacuum up Lego pieces and other toys for which I had paid.) I warn every AP who attempts to organize me – clean if you must, but you’re going to get angry and frustrated when you realize that cleanliness is not the most important thing in my life. It gets worse in the summer when my order is 1) kids and 2) garden.

mel76 March 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I think it is the dream of anyone that has ever cleaned or organized anything, that everyone else would just keep it that way…permanently.

Jodk405 March 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

I am a married working mom with 3 kids whose husband really doesn’t make an effort very often to help with the kids. We are on our second AP. The first AP did her first year I wanted to extend with her, but her and husband had some issure. big issue was she was not smart with her money and never had any. Honestly I think he was jealous of our friendship and how we clicked so well.
How I miss our old AP. After reading all of your posts I realize how much she really did for us. She would start dinner every night and I would clean the kitchen. She always would tell me a sweet story of what the kids did that day. She organized the kids’ closets drawers, toys in the basement and their cabinet in the kitchen without being asked. She would actually research things my 18 month could eat since he was allergic to so many things. She was very proactive. She never disrespected us by disobeying any of our houserules. She was always so affectionate with the kids and always treated them as if they were her own.
I feel that I showed my appreciation. I gave her $50 extra dollars to open a new account at a different bank because she didn’t like the one she started with. I bought her gifts for Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s, and birthday gifts. We let her have parties with other APs at our house and bought all the stuff. I paid for half of her flight to go to Texas on vacation. I would let her take the car the whole weekend when she was off.
This new AP is young, from a different country and not as experienced. She has only been with us for 4 weeks, but I just don’t feel like we are clicking. We are going to have a sit down with her this weekend and go over the little things. I try not to compare the two APs, but its so hard not to. I feel like we are paying alot of money for this help and she needs to step it up. If she left tomorrow I am sure I would be just fine.

HRHM March 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

No offense, but I don’t know that my husband would be able to convince me to not rematch with a great AP because she “was not smart with her money and never had any” Who cares? If she was asking for more or loans, just say no and move on. It’s called natural consequences and she’d learn pretty quickly to be better with her money.

It sucks that in retrospect you wish you had kept her, but there’s nothing to do now but try to bring your new AP up to speed. Remember, she will never BE the old one, so try to give her the benefit of the doubt and encourage her to succeed. Hope it works out well for you!

Jodk405 March 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

No offense taken. And you know you are right. I should have not let him convince me to rematch. What the heck was I thinking!? I guess I was thinking in order to keep the peace with my family I would go along with him. Hindsite is always 20/20.

Our old AP is still in the area and we keep in touch. She has kept her distance a bit because she didn’t want to make things harder for the new AP. She is happy and I am happy for her even though I still miss her.

It will all work out. :)

Taking a Computer Lunch March 11, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Don’t underestimate the power of keeping peace in the family. When one parent or one child cannot get along with an AP, it upsets the balance in the whole household. The question becomes – is the lack of balance survivable or not?

When I chafed at an AP’s seeming inability to come up to speed in driving and language, I actually proposed rematch to my LCC. Because I have a special needs child, the pool was practically nil (as in 2 potential in-country special-needs willing), and I chose to make it work. (Although in going through old email, I could tell how stressed out it made me – I’m much happier this year.)

So, having chosen rematch, do be careful not to take it out on the successor because she’s not “perfect.” Presumably she’s not asking for advances on her salary, and therefore causing less stress.

Jodk405 March 11, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I think I used the wrong word. We did not technically “rematch”. AP1 finished her year with us and we had planned to extend, but she changed her mind later because of all the stress and tension in the house.
She chose a family who lived in the city and we decided to try an AP from a different country.
All in all it was proably best for both parties we part ways before things got ugly.
You are right Taking a Computer Lunch, new AP always has some money in her pocket and husband isn’t stressing me out.

Miscelanea April 10, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Would love my host family to say ‘Thank you’. I consider myself an organized person, mess drives me crazy, so I find myself cleaning and tyding up the house quite often.
My host family is the opposite, they couldn’t be messier. There’re always dishes everywhere, clothes all over the house, things that I put away thousand times are always out of place =S And what is it with the newspaper? Is it so hard to fold it and put it away??. But well, I take a deep breath every morning when I go downstairs and start cleaning. I know I don’t have to do it, and they never ask me to. But we all live here, is it so hard to keep the spaces we share decent looking?
The house is clean until they get home, once they are here, seems like this place exploded.
Really don’t get it. They know how much I hate mess, they know I clean constantly and they don’t even care, never say ‘thank you’ when they get home, after a long day and the house is clean, dinner is ready and kid is in bed.
Sometimes I feel like I have to do everything that is house and kids related. I clean, cook, do the laundry for the family, give baths to my host kid, put him to bed 6 nights a week(even though they get home 5.30 I work until 8pm 6 days a week), take him to the Doctor, and if I’m away for the weekend, only God knows how much cleaning is waiting for me on monday.
I don’t mind doing the things I do, don’t want to complain. But I would like them to appreciate how easy I make their lives by showing that they care, once in a while. Sometimes I feel like a maid, or like a number, ’45hours of flexible childcare’ they call me =/

Anna April 11, 2011 at 11:07 am

You bring up an important point.
It is important to have a match with a family in terms of neatness.
We’ve ran into this problem before

Our house is moderately messy – not horrible by far, but not neat most of the time. I try to keep it neat (how I grew up and where my heart is) but I suppose I don’t try hard enough. I just don’t have enough energy at the end of the day. I do appreciate when the au pair does her part and helps out. But there is a limit – I don’t ask for major help.

But a neat person will feel uncomfortable in such a house, will feel compelled to clean, and resentful for the time it takes. Keep in mind that a family might feel resentful for the work you do. They don’t ask you for it, and they feel bad that you drive yourself crazy with it and that you spend so much time on it. They also might feel your silent disapproval of their lifestyle daily – since you daily “fix” their surroundings. What is “decent looking” to them might be exactly the newspaper on the floor and other things that you are fixing to be “decent” by your standard.

We had an au pair who was naturally neat and helped out, and I know the mess drove her nuts. Now we have an au pair who doesn’t even help kids pick up their toys daily (which is on the list of her duties), leaves the kids’ laundry for me to finish over the weekend, doesn’t sweep cheerios off the floor unless reminded daily, doesn’t wipe the baby’s high chair tray, has never vacuumed her own room (in months), lets my 4-year-olds dirty pajamas lay on the bathroom floor for days (unless I pick them up) etc. Guess what, it drives ME crazy because now I do all this work – clean up kids toys once every few weeks to perfection, show her and tell her to maintain it exactly like that, only to see it all gone to hell the next day…

It is hard to match perfectly in this respect. Both parties have to let go somewhat. People are different, you have to appreciate the positives and close your eyeson some of the negatives. Otherwise none will be happy. Consider it a part of learning experience. One day you will have to live with a spouse who is the opposite of you, and if you don’t learn to let certain things go, you will never have peace in the family. It took me a few years to figure out when I got married, and learn to close the door and close the eyes on some of my husband’s mess, otherwise we’ll be bickering 24 hours a day.

In your situation, I would only pick up the places that you are in daily and that drive you nuts and are absolutely necessary (like kitchen and playroom), and leave the rest of the mess be. Certainly don’t do THEIR laundry!!!!

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