Dear AuPairMom — Hi, I was using google to look for some advice when I came across your website. I’m an au pair and I’ve been living in the US for 3 months now and at the minute, my 9 months remaining just feels like the longest time. I look after 2 kids and I’m really having difficulties with the younger one (11 years old). He seems very angry at everything.
He compares me to his former AP and finds me lacking.
I know that he was very close to his old au pair who had been there for 2 years. He constantly compares me too her and tells me how she would have done it some much better. He doesn’t listen to me and I really struggle to get him to complete all his after school activities/chores that his parents want him to get done. It just feels like a constant battle with him over every small thing, and so I don’t really feel like I’m building any kind of relationship with him because all we seem to do is argue.
I tried to talk to my host parents about this and they were supportive and said they understood that I wouldn’t become an authority figure for a while… But their patience isn’t actually helping me with specific ideas for what to do.
Would getting at the root of his anger help?
My host parents work really long hours and so I feel like I’m having to cope with this angry child all on my own without having any idea what the root of his anger is. I tried talking to him about the root of his anger but he insists he’s fine.
Today was just rock bottom. He refused to go to school and nothing I said could get him to go, so my host mum had a big row with him and then left to work, leaving me with this child having a complete meltdown. He got so worked up he threw up and so I had to call the school to tell him he had thrown up and wouldn’t be coming into school today. So that just left me all day looking after him with no break. My host parents aren’t going to be back until about 8 which I just feel is too long a day for me to work — it becomes a 14 hour day, because I’m responsible for putting him to bed too.
I just feel a bit taken advantage of because they know that I won’t leave him alone, so they can just go to work and forget about it. I feel like they’re trying to make it my problem instead of confronting the problem themselves. I know I need to discuss this with them but I don’t know how to bring it up.
And there’s more…
I’m also unhappy with other things (such as me having to do all the chores around the house…including many that have nothing to do with the kids like making my host parents’ bed). I know I need to talk about these other issues too, and I don’t want to bring it all up at once and make them angry.
I’d really appreciate any advice you have to offer…. Thanks, R.P.
Dear RP — Sounds like you’ve got a problem within a problem within a problem.
Many layers of anger, passive and active abuse, and avoidance. It looks to me like these are all related in a system. The bad news is that the problem-system is complicated; the good news is that if you work on one element, you can influence the other elements too.
For perspective, let’s start by making it clear that an 11 year old who is angry and throws tantrums has probably been pulling similar crap for years. Nobody up and develops that kind of anger towards a person, especially an au pair with only 3 months in the family. Consider that the boy’s anger has been an issue for some time now (in one form or another). And, consider that his parents know this, and that they have apparently NOT figured out a way to manage his anger effectively.
And, let’s be clear– your host parents ARE taking advantage of you. Sure, they could have hoped you’d cover for them when their child got ‘sick’, but then they should have worked to find a way to let you off as soon as they came home (or even have one of them come home earlier). If they have not acknowledged the situation they left you in, and at the very least thanked you, that’s even more of a problem.
Finally, you should not be doing chores unrelated to kids. Period. Again, if things were all going well and you wanted to help out, fine… but O.M.G. you should not be making their bed!
Here’s what I think you might consider:
1. Call your LCC and talk with her about the chores. Ask her to schedule a meeting/check-up with the parents– as though it’s the LCC’s normal thing to do– and have the LCC explicitly go over what the au pair roles say your are allowed to do and specifically what you should not be expected to do. if there are specific chores in addition to the bed-making, tell these to your LCC so she can address these directly. The idea here is to make it your LCCs job to reinforce the guidelines with the parents who are breaking the rules.
2. Ask the host parents for a scheduled meeting time, just you and them. Tell them that their son’s anger with you makes it difficult for you to do the kind of job you and they want you to do. Tell them you need specific directions from them about what you should do, and what they will do, and how the parents’ and caregivers’ behaviors will reinforce each other. Remind them that as the parents they must set the tone of what will and won’t be tolerated, and that they have to create the framework for the whole family. (Note, it sounds like the parents probably also have anger issues… it’s a family system thing, not about you. Repeat: it’s not about you.)
3. Go to the library and check out the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (there may also be one for teens– get that too). Read it, start following the advice. You need a system for dealing with him, and this one is a good one, especially until his parents get it together.
4. Prepare for a rematch. In the absence of information about the whole system from everyone’s perspective, we have only your persecutive to work with. We give you the benefit of the doubt and we assume you are seeing everything clearly and aren’t adding to the problems. If things are as you say, there is a decent chance that you will not be able to fix the situation and that your host parents won’t change. While you can be optimistic and do your very best, you might also consider whether there are enough other good things to make staying with this family worth the work of dealing with an angry tween.
5. Clarify the learning challenge that this situation offers you, and then address that as a personal challenge. You are being taken advantage of by the child, and by the parents. Your strategy for managing this conflict isn’t working, and you need to try new strategies– some of which may feel weird to you. Try them anyway. Try being direct. Try standing up for yourself directly and indirectly. Stop making the bed. Consider that you are in this situation, with angry people who are hard to manage, and that this is a situation that you’ve been in before. Break the pattern. Things are already not working, so try something new.
Okay parents and au pairs– open for your advice! cv