Au Pair Asks: My Host Family Fights. Is it okay to rematch?

by cv harquail on May 8, 2014

Personally, I can’t imagine living in a family where the members actively fight with one another. It’s one thing to have sibling bickering, or to have the parents yell at each other (very) occasionally when something goes wrong. But to live in a household where people are actively hostile? That would depress me no end.

1325168374_ba792e33cb_zWhen I read this au pair’s email request, I had the usual one-word answer:


A hostile or unhappy family situation is more than an au pair can handle, and more than he or she should be able to bear.

Maybe you disagree? Or maybe you see something in this email that suggests a different approach?

From OkToHastaLaVista?:

What should an Au Pair do when kids only fight all the time and the family never really spend “family time”? 

I’ve worked with kids of all ages but my current kids are the hardest, they just want to play on electronics, which they are not allowed to, and when asked to play a board game or play outside with me they pretend I don’t exist.

It’s really hard, I feel like they don’t need an Au Pair, I just stay all day sitting around, putting their stuff away, because they never talk to me or do sometime I ask them for, like take a shower, eat dinner, simple daily things…

Besides that the house is full of tension, one of the kids is depressed and needs attention while the other kids fight all the time. My host mom even says she “can’t take this anymore.”

Recently one of the kids came to me and said “I just wish they (his parents) would stop fighting”.

I am thinking about looking for rematch, but I wonder if I ask for one, if it will seem like I am not good enough, since I don’t want to go through stress and problems. But is there something I should do?

I don’t believe that Au Pairs can be expected to change the kids’ behavior. This should be the parent’s task. If the mom can’t take this anymore, should I?

Image: “Pareja Felina 2: Peleas de pareja” by José Luis Ruiz


TexasHM May 8, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Can we get a little more context? Things like how long have you been in the family? Has there been any kind of traumatic event (death of family member, etc)? Did they have previous APs? If so, did these APs have the same experience? Have you talked to the HPs about the kids behavior – ignoring you, trying to do things that aren’t allowed, fighting, etc? If so, what did the HPs do (or not do)? All of these things would impact my decision on making a call like this. And what do you mean when you say they “never spend family time”? Can you give us a better idea what a day is like?

WarmStateMomma May 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Rematch. This kind of unhealthy family dynamic is not going to change just because you ask for a meeting with the HPs and the LCC. I would tell prospective HFs that the reason you need to rematch is because your current HF fights constantly and you’re looking for a healthier family to join. HD and I wouldn’t be put off by an AP who gave that as her reason.

Should be working May 8, 2014 at 7:29 pm

CV’s title puts this in the context of the family fighting all the time. BUT the (piece of?) the letter we have seems to me more about the AP having a non-relationship with the kids. And in a way that could happen in lots of families, even non-hostile ones.

My kids have definitely often turned down APs’ requests to play a board game or play outside, and “declined” to shower or do what the AP asks. It sounds like the AP wants kids who are more compliant and that this is the biggest problem. It reminds me of the videos where the AP talks about how she wants to play board games and play outside with kids–and I wonder to myself, “Well but what about when they don’t want to??

The AP who writes in says that the house is full of tension, and the implication is that the parents are hostile to each other. But again, these don’t seem to be her/his biggest problems. The AP could easily find a family where the parents get along, but where the kids STILL only want to play electronics, are not compliant, and one kid is depressed, and all the kids fight with each other a lot.

So sure, the AP can ask for a rematch. But be clear about why. I can EASILY see this turning into AP and agency describing the problem as a “tense household with fighting”, thereby covering over the problem that the AP did not manage to develop a relationship to the kids and perhaps didn’t have the skill and experience to command the kids’ respect and get them to enjoy things with her/him.

Angie host mom May 8, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Like other moms have said, not nearly enough context to figure this one out. Could just be a no relationship with kids situation.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 8, 2014 at 9:44 pm

While my typically developing teen doesn’t sass the AP, he makes a point of fighting with DH and I (to the point if we ask him why, he just shrugs – it’s a sport). However, our current AP is his 9th, and while we happily play board games together, he is bored by the few he possesses that are 1:1. In fact, IMO, asking a tween or teen to play board games is an AP mistake. If they are boys – offer to kick a soccer ball, shoot basketballs, or do something active (one beloved AP tolerated stick fighting). If you want to get a boy to talk, you must get active! For both tweens and teens, say, “It’s time to go outside,” because if you ask, “Do you want…” then the answer is always going to be “No!” Take them to the library. Tell them to help you bake cookies. Teach them how to make a special food from your country that they enjoy eating.

But if the tension is thick in the house, realize that you can’t fix it, especially in a year. Bail to protect your sanity, but before you do, enlist the help of your LCC – because you’ll want her on your side when you seek another HF.

London Mum May 9, 2014 at 3:04 am

By “fighting” do you mean arguing, or actual physical fighting? That’s a big difference and if it’s the latter, I would just get out. As for the kids fighting, that is a horrible situation and do they ignore/disrespect their parents in the same way as you? If yes, then I think it has become a culture within the family and you will not be able to change it! Sadly, I would rematch.

Mimi May 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm

I think part of what makes the AP experience tough for some is that the year they have with a family is only a drop in the bucket of the greater family dynamic. Some years will be harder than others based on lots of different factors. This is one of the reasons I think it’s really important to talk about previous AP experience with whatever age group is appropriate for your household when matching and to also make sure you have fully developed child profiles in your handbook/application/whatever. On the flip side, Aps need to ask questions about personalities of the children they are caring for. Managing expectations is a really big part of a successful AP experience for everyone, IMO.

Our last AP could characterize our house as a battle zone based on her last impression of us as a family because of the dynamics that were playing out at the time she was leaving. My oldest (about to be 10) and she did not get along primarily because he’s at that age where he’s challenging authority more, and she was not handling it well at all. It progressively got worse as she got more homesick around the holidays and worried about going home. Despite working with both of them, the last two months were very tense. She nitpicked him to death, and while I have always supported our APs 100% (even if they weren’t in the right because it was a teaching moment for everyone) it became really hard to do this. Add to it the juxtaposition of her being really super sweet to his two younger siblings, her eventual refusal to be around him, his hurt feelings about this (demonstrated through increased aggravation of everyone), and two HPs with high stress jobs dealing with all this, and you can image what that snapshot in time will look like. Today, with a new AP, it’s a whole new family.

You don’t want to look back on your time with regret or disappointment because of a tense environment. At the same time, ask yourself if there might be something you are doing that might be adding to the tension. Having trouble connecting with the kids might be one. Without more details, it’s hard to determine what might be the root of the issue. I’m not sure what constitutes family time in your mind and how this family doesn’t meet that expectation, but if you can’t communicate with the HPs about the family dynamic and positive ways you might impact it, then you need to rematch. Your LCC and the previous AP could be good places to start with some questions if you want to try, and TACL is 100% right about enlisting the help of the LCC, not only because if you rematch you’ll need her help, but if this is a real issue that will impact future APs, then she needs to be aware of it.

anon for this one May 9, 2014 at 3:31 pm

I have had APs for several years. There have been 2 years in particular where I’m sure the AP thought DH and I were either on the verge of divorce or going to end up murdering each other on occasion. No, it’s not fair to have to be exposed to the family strife that can sometimes exist. And yes, sometimes it is a reason to rematch. But it needs to be pretty consistently pretty bad.

We are certainly in a better place maritally than we were in those rough patches, but does that mean we never argue or disagree (and maybe even shout once in a while)? No – it’s just who he is/we are (ok, him more than me, but I’m not perfect either). If you come from a family that never had ANY discord, it may not be something you can tolerate. But I don’t know too many families in the US who never disagree, so you may be hard pressed to find one in rematch.

My 2 cents…

German Au-Pair May 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm

I don’t think it’s about disagreeing but more about this constant tension -and maybe also family styles.
I come from a family where exploding at one another is pretty typical and my parents have never been the kind who’d calmly talks things out. I’ve grown up in a family situation that is everything but calm, understanding and nurturing. To me it has never been an issue because I’ve known this all my life and know how to read it -if someone screamed at me pretty randomly I didn’t take it personally and knew things would have smoothed over soon. I have friends who say they couldn’t stand this, who are intimidated by this and who say this would be a tension (that I didn’t experience as such at all) they couldn’t have every day.
So even if there’s really not an unusual big issue, it might still be something some people couldn’t live with.

Also, if the kids fight to the extent of using violence against each other -like a friend experienced- I’m not sure I could handle it either if the parents won’t step in. When using violence against each other has already become every day life, there’s nothing an au pair alone can do and I absolutely understand not wanting to deal with this every day in a place where you work and live.

What I get from the letter is that the AP has a hard time engaging the kids which I agree, can partly be her fault. But when even the mother keeps saying she can’t take it anymore, maybe the kids are so horrible to the AP that even her best effort couldn’t make things okay. It’s absolutely the AP’s job to engage the kids and find ways to connect but it’s also absolutely the mom’s job to identify the problem and work on raising her kids to be people she CAN take…

Now NZ former HM May 10, 2014 at 5:35 am

And the HD’s job too!

German Au-Pair May 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Of course!! I usually say HP, I was just referring to the mom here because she apparently said she couldn’t take it anymore.

WarmStateMomma May 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Just curious – What did the OP do in this situation?

Comments on this entry are closed.