Au Pair Asks: Host Dad is Mean to Child

by cv harquail on February 16, 2010

Although this blog is not really for au pairs, there are times when other host parents are the best folks to offer advice to an au pair. This particular situation is a tough one, since the problem concerns how the Host Dad treats his son, and how (or even whether) the Host Mom and the au pair can change the situation.

Au Pair Lucy recently wrote with a question about some dynamics with her Host Dad that are turning out to be quite difficult. She’d like our thoughts about what to do.201002151502.jpg

Hi I’m an au pair in France, currently in my seventh month with the same family. I feel like I got so so lucky with this family and I’m really happy with everything, except with the Host Dad.

I feel like the Host Dad is really really negative towards his eldest son. I cannot handle it anymore. The child has difficulty taking care with his handwriting, and I’m always next to him helping with his homework and reminding him to take care with his handwriting. He has been getting punishments because of this, so I try to make him do his best at all times. One day he had taken so much care with his handwriting and I was so proud, I told him to go show his father, who was playing video games in the room next-door. His father refused to pause the game to look at his son’s work, and what’s more, called him selfish for it, and he came back into the room to me in tears.

I really can’t understand how someone could have decided to have a child, which he did, the children were planned, and treat them like that?

The father has blown up at the child, 8 years old, quite a few times over these past 7 months.

I really feel like, as an au pair, I can’t say that I disagree with how he treats his children. I feel like that is a conversation that would ruin my relationship with the family, whom, apart from him, I absolutely adore! On the other hand I can’t sit back and let him abuse a child emotionally, because I feel like that is what he is doing.

Do you have any advice for me about this situation?

Start with the Host Mom ?

SInce the first thing I’d advise would be to talk with the Host Mom, I wrote Lucy back to aks her if she’d done this already, and what had come of it. Lucy replied:

My Host Mom evidently has spoken about this with the father, because she mentioned to me that he would be making an effort to be less hard on his son.

Which worked for about a month, around Christmas, when all their family was around, but he no longer seems to be making the effort.

And I feel bad for my Host Mom because I’m pretty sure she knows how I view the situation, and I feel like she is trying to please everyone. She doesn’t contradict her husband, then she has to comfort her son and then reassure me that she is not ok with what is going on. It really isn’t fair on her, so I don’t know if I could bring it up with her, I feel like she has enough pressure as it is.

201002151507.jpgHaving an au pair around has usually helped me be a better mom. I’ve wanted to be a good role model, and frankly also not embarrass myself. I have occasionally been aware that having my au pair around has prevented me from acting out my own worst Mom behavior. And, I’ve also been embarrassed to not have acted as warmly towards my kids or my spouse in front of (not to mention away from) my au pair.

But, other than being told that I wasn’t teaching my kids enough about Jesus, I’ve never had to respond to implicit or explicit criticism from an au pair.

So, I wonder what the best way is to:

  • Protect the Host Child
  • Support the Host Mom and Host Dad in better behavior
  • Kindly confront the Host Dad

Parents and au pairs, what should Lucy consider?

Temple of Philae, Dec 2008 – 27 from Ed Yourdon

Green Pencil by Pink Sherbet Photography (D Sharon Pruitt)

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Hostmom February 16, 2010 at 10:38 am

That is very sad. I have boy/girl twins and will tell you that there is a BIG difference in the way their father interacts with them. I have on many occasions pointed this out and told him he was being, basically a jerk to his son. I think sometimes men just have different expectations of boys – men don’t cry, you should take care of it yourself… and unfortunately doesn’t matter if that boy is 3, 13 or 30. I think it is the Mom’s job to step in and talk to the Dad about his behaviour and how it is hurting the boy. And the Mom may be busy and it may be hard for her to talk to the Dad, but it is her JOB as the mom. this is after all her child who she should want to be happy, secure, loved, etc. And if it did get better after one talk, then more continual discussions would probably help – not argurments or anything, just friendly reminders that he is 8 and really looks up to Dad for a male role model, approval, support etc. As hard as it may to be to believe, I think some men really just don’t get it and don’t see it as a problem or a priority.

The only thing you can do, I think, is to continue to support the son and make sure he does know how special he is and how great his accomplishments are…. let him know that there is someone that unconditionally supports him no matter what. and maybe support/remind the mom in talking to the dad.

Host Mom NY February 16, 2010 at 11:32 am

I agree that the best thing to do is to show your support for the little boy. I wouldn’t confront a Dad who can’t pause a video game to look at his son’s hard work. He will not like it and it won’t change his behavior.

Continue to be an example of support and encouragement and maybe a little of it will rub off!

Soccer Mom February 16, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Wow. Sounds like a sad Supernanny episode from which I am sure to let out a few tears for the child or children. Jo always sucessfully shows the parent how he (or she) is harming his relationship with his child, but I know you are not Jo, and the family did not call upon you to “fix” what is wrong, so it’s not your place. Maybe when HD is having a good moment (if there is a good moment for him) you can take the time to say “Hey, HD, (in front of the child) ChildX worked really hard on his handwriting (or whatever is deserving of praise) today, I was so proud of him! You should see what he did!” Maybe that will prompt him to show some interest and give praise where praise is due? Maybe even rope mom into giving some kudos so it’s like peer presure for good parenting? Good luck!

Calif Mom February 16, 2010 at 10:11 pm

This is painful to consider. The dynamics are very difficult for the AP to navigate, and my first thought was indeed that she should focus on being a rock for this boy, even after the au pair year is done. This will be hard to do, if the boy does not have a way to communicate privately. Putting the mom in the middle will not be a good move for the AP, who is quite savvy in realizing that the mom is indeed trying to make everyone happy and probably hates her hub’s behavior as well. Doesn’t sound like he’d be open to much intervention, and it is risky for the AP to go out on a limb that way. No good answers here.

Noelle February 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm

I’m so happy to hear that Lucy is in the house, worried about this little boy, because it sounds like neither of his parents are in a position to do so – that’s a big problem, but it’s something I think Lucy (or any AP) can really hope to change.

My suggestions to Lucy are:
– continue to be a fan and champion for this little boy, proud of his accomplishments and giving praise for his hard work
– and second, help this boy learn to feel good about what he does and who he is even if his parents don’t notice (or next AP doesn’t notice, etc). Is there an activity he can join (like boy scouts, acting club, soccer, etc) that may provide him with support and confidence as he gets older?

Lucy can’t be there forever. This family’s next AP may not be so concerned about him, and she might not stay with the family for long. I think this boy’s best hope is to learn to look for love and support outside of his father, and learn to manage his father’s impact on him (and learn to stay under the father’s radar, so to speak).

Poor kid. My compliments to Lucy for reaching out for advice. The little boy is lucky to have her.

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