In the nearly 6 years we’ve been talking together on this blog, we’ve never once had a concern with an au pair that was simple. Never. Not once.
The situation is never just “She won’t follow directions”, or “He can’t pass the state driver’s license test”.
There’s always some complicated mix of themes, usually involving the schedule, the car, the kids, her/his expectations, your expectations, the Agency’s support, and the alignment of the heavens.
When we get emails like the one from this host mom below, or the next few that I’ve got pending from some unhapppy au pairs, I often feel kind of stuck.
On the one hand, we’ve been here before.
We’ve talked about situations like this over and over, to the point where the steps should be clear:
- Make sure you’re following the rules.
- Clearly communicate your expectations.
- Have your au pair clearly communicate his/her expectations.
- Clarify, confirm and itemize the actual conflicts.
- Be kind and demonstrate some empathy.
- Identify what’s non-negotiable.
- Discuss where you have some flexibility.
- Get the Local Community Counselor involved for support.
- Create a plan about what has to get done/changed/resolved and by when.
- Pursue that plan with a positive intent. And, if there is no improvement after a good faith effort,
- Initiate rematch.
(Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.)
On the other hand, each of us experiences our au pair-host parent dilemma as unique. Each situation has unique, specific personalities and details that make a ‘one size fits all’ answer feel too pat.
I’m wondering– is it possible to look at the situation below, and the list of steps I’ve generated above, and develop a process that will fit every situation?
And, can we apply this process to each situation, so that we can save our energy to focus more specific advice on what’s unique in the situation?
Read this email through and offer some of your usual terrific advice to the host mom.
Also, though, add some ideas about the ‘big picture’ process that we might offer as a first step to any host parent with an unhappy situation.
Dear AuPairMom —
I am a first time host mom on the East Coast and have had an au pair from South America since beginning of September. She’s 25 years old and speaks English competently. She works 40-45 hours per week and I follow the rules to a ‘T.’
We have three children. During the week, our 4-year old is in full time daycare and our au pair cares for our 4-month old and 20-month old.
Our au pair arrived while I was on maternity leave. While I was home, I helped to onboard her, get her driving, and get her license. I returned to work this week.
Last night our au pair told us that she is unhappy because she is not able to go our with her friends.
The first sets of issues have to do with the car. We have two cars– on that my husband uses, and a minivan that I share with her. We agreed to giving her the minivan on nights she is not working. On weekdays, she can drive me to work and have the car during the daytime.
In addition to these times, though, our au pair wants to have the minivan all day on the weekends. But the weekend days are exactly when we need two cars. Plus the minivan is the only car that works well with the kids — because the car seats are in it.
Our au pair is also unhappy about the limitations on how far she can drive the car. We limited the driving radius to 10 miles because wanted to see how things went with her driving a large vehicle in a new country. She is not happy because she wants to be able to drive it to a city 50miles away.
The second issue is with working on weekends. Our au pair is unhappy because she wants an additional weekend off per month. Of course, she has one full weekend off, as per the au pair rules. However, we need her to work on Saturday days because my husband and I have busy jobs/travel for work and need the support then.
As far as her relationship with the kids, our au pair is better with the two younger children than my older one. However, she is not a ‘rock star’ meaning she doesn’t proactively find activities to do with the children. She depends on me to give her ideas. This was ok in the beginning but 3 months out, that is becoming a problem. She can just sit all day and just watch them crawl/run around without actually doing an activity with them.
Regarding our relationship with our au pair, I like her as a person. I’ve become fond of her and I thought we had an open relationship. I asked her everyday how she was doing and she always told me she was fine. But last night we were suprised when we got note from her telling us how unhappy she is. I was really disappointed she did not come to me earlier. She even called the community counselor before she spoke with us.
When we talked with her last night, she said that she wanted to know by this weekend —
- if she can have the car all the time on the weekends and
- if she can have 2 whole weekends off per month (1 additional weekend off in addition to the one she is supposed to get off).
What’s your advice on what to do here? Do we rematch or try to work things out?
Thanks so much for your help. ~ HostMomAK