Au Pair is harsh and negative with Host Kids: Can we change her interaction style?

by cv harquail on March 27, 2014

Dear Au Pair Mom Community, I really need your advice about a situation I have where I don’t think “rematch” is feasible (and besides my husband is totally against it).

Basically we have had an Au Pair (our 3rd) for the last 9 months. The first 6 months were great. She’s organized, responsible, a good cook, a good driver, wants to be a pediatric nurse or pediatrician and has taken several of the prerequisite courses so has some medical background and really enjoys being with kids. She is from an Eastern European country.

3215020854_608960e60c_mOur only early hesitation with her:

The Au Pair often took a very “harsh” tone with my 3 and 4 year old.

She made some comments about them being “spoiled” in their behavior, saying that kids in her home country would not behave the way mine do. She was always kind of “on” them about stuff that we really let go. We wrote it off as a cultural difference and didn’t really worry about it much —  although my kids started doing this thing where they’d cry on Mondays when it was time for her to start work.

Over the holidays my parents were in town and home during the day with them while we were at work. My mom pulled me aside and said she didn’t like the way the AuPair talked to the kids, that she was inflexible, and she was worried about the negative tone she had with them constantly. One example was calling my 3 year old “a baby” over and over when he had a potty accident.

We had a direct conversation about it and informed our LCC. The AP cried, said she didn’t mean to say anything mean to the kids, promised she’d work harder on being patient and speaking more kindly to the kids.

But oddly over the last 3 months it seems to have gotten worse. Our AP seems to not want to improve or change anything we ask her.  

Her inflexibility is making me insane. For example, she had recently cleared out my daughter’s dresser drawers and reorganized them. A few days later a neighbor gave us a bag of hand me downs (which my daughter was THRILLED about) but the AP bitched and moaned and went on and on about how spoiled my daughter was, how she had too many clothes. My daughter was devastated. I directly told her that I didn’t want her saying that kind of thing, particularly in front of my daughter. She sort of shrugged, like she heard me but just didn’t care.

She also has taken to doing some things “medically” that she thinks are important, like making the children wear shoes in the house because she thinks they’ll get electrical shocks from the  friction sparks on the carpet (it’s winter and the air is dry, hence, static electricity) , even though I’m fine with them being barefoot. I have a lot of other similar examples.

Now the kids have actually started saying they don’t like her. When she’s not around they say it and say that she is always shouting at them. I really don’t think she’s “shouting” but she does talk in a very loud, harsh voice (by nature).

If it were earlier in her year, I’d consider rematch. If it were only a few weeks until she departed, I’d hold my breath. But, neither of these is an option.  With 3 months left and a visit from her family in the books and travel plans made for her travel month that involve our hometown as a base, I just can’t think that rematching is a good idea. Training someone for only what will be ~10 weeks before our (already selected) new AP arrives? Taking that gamble?

She’s not a bad person at all, all of the good qualities above that I described are still in place, I think she’s just burned out and culturally feels our kids are brats and wants to deal with it her own way. I would LOVE advice on how to improve things in the last 3 months so that I don’t go crazy and my kids don’t end up hating her.

~  CantTakeItAnymoreHostMom


See also:


Too Stern? Or Not Stern Enough? Your Au Pair’s ‘Tone of Voice’ with Kids
Classic Case: Can you change a Princess?
3 Tips for Cross-Cultural Conversation




Image: Harsh Sun Shadow Baby, from clappstar, Some rights reserved 


TexasHM March 27, 2014 at 1:22 pm

You’re not going to like what I have to say on this. Yes, its “only” 3 more months and yes she has made plans but I am telling you as someone that has had a similar situation but our AP was not harsh – you are much more tolerant of this behavior than we would ever be which is fine, and we are strict with our kids but I would have zero tolerance for any of the things you mentioned above – ridiculing for a potty accident, harsh tone, impatience, etc. We had an AP get engaged at that same mark and I think she also was getting burned out but she became a nightmare from a personal perspective but continued to be fantastic with my kids so we toughed it out. She got sloppy on chores and really distant with us and it was hard to manage but she loved my kids and they were all happy.

In this scenario, I honestly don’t think the angst continuing this that will fall on you and your children is in any way tolerable. I know it is so hard to cut bait sometimes but seriously – if I told you that you could have an awesome AP in a couple of weeks that was excited to be there, didn’t push back on your rules, loved your kids and had an emotional bond with them and made your life easier and happier would you honestly tell me – no, we are going to stick it out because its only 3 months?!

I feel terrible for you and have a lot of respect for your willingness to try to make this work and is it possible? Sure, but why?! Here’s how its possible – you set strict guidelines for conduct and get the LCC involved and police the crap out of it for every moment of the next 3 months and if she messes up you have no recourse because you said you will not rematch. I also tend toward if she showed this behavior when your parents are in the house I can only imagine the behavior when no one is home!

These are your babies! They deserve better and you deserve better and rematch does not make you a bad person and it doesn’t make your AP a bad person.
If it were me, I would sit down with LCC, create an exit plan and tell your AP and then you can try as much as possible to make things easy on her that way (can I leave the 16th vs 17th? – sure). Yes, it stinks for her that she made plans and her family is visiting but seriously, if she treats your children like this does she also expect you to accommodate her on the rest of this?

THIS WILL NOT GET BETTER. I am so sorry. You did your diligence and got your LCC involved before and she didn’t improve. You have done your part and then some and she is not. There has to be consequences and you have to get someone that respects your family and fulfills the role. Sending prayers your way!

HRHM March 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm


WarmStateMomma March 27, 2014 at 1:27 pm

I’m interested to see what the more experienced HMs suggest.

Her behavior sounds unkind to me. I wouldn’t let an anyone treat my child unkindly for 3 more months just because she had big plans, but I might be tempted to use those big plans as leverage. As in, “if you don’t treat my child with kindness, I will rematch or just terminate your contract, which will speed up your departure date.” To help her save face and resolve the issue without resentment, I might consider saying that her approach appears to stem from something good – concern for the kids’ welfare, anxiety about parting from the kids, whatever.

TexasHM March 27, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I am so spun up about this I should probably quit while I am behind but I know (as a HM that had lowered our standard over and over to the point of losing myself as I suspect you may be as well) that sometimes it takes a loud voice of reason to help see the light.
What you describe is CRUEL, HATEFUL and would not be tolerated in any daycare center I have ever patronized. Your kids are CRYING at the thought of going into her care. The negative tone is not only bad, it can psychologically DAMAGE your children! And the fact that she hurt your daughters feelings, you called her out and she didn’t care? DESPICABLE.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t technically think she’s shouting at the kids – your kids hear it as shouting and are obviously distressed by whatever tone she is taking with them.
Can your new AP come earlier? Is it possible that your current AP knows you won’t rematch and thats fueling (and will continue to) the personality that she can dial in because it won’t make any difference.
If nothing else – PLEASE reconsider the travel month – home base idea.

Seattle Mom March 28, 2014 at 1:40 am

I am having the exact same reaction to this situation.

You need to protect your children, OP. That is your primary responsibility. To them. Not to this AP. I don’t care if it’s cultural or if this woman’s mother has cancer or what. Your children shouldn’t have to endure that kind of treatment. It has gone on too long, and it needs to stop. Just because they have already endured it for 9 months (with increasing intensity) does not mean they could/should endure it for 3 more months. You do not owe anything to this woman. You owe EVERYTHING to your kids- you are the only one who can protect them.

You will feel better once she is out of your life, no matter how expensive or inconvenient it will be to deal with the rematch.

It reminds me of the AP we had to let go… she wasn’t as bad as yours (with the kids) but she was too harsh with my children- she seemed to enjoy pushing them around all the time, on a power trip- she had to go.

Should be working March 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Our last AP had a harsh tone with kids, not as harsh as yours. She claimed it wasn’t harsh, it was normal. She claimed she didn’t have an angry look on her face all the time, but when I spoke to her about it she admitted that even her friends said she had a “scary” expression on her face a lot. She once called our 7-yr-old a “baby”, and only at that point did my husband get angry.

Now in retrospect, with an unbelievably cheerful AP, do I think I should have set my limits sooner. My kids were sad when she left but nowadays whenever I bring up the old AP they say, “Yeah, but she was so grumpy.” My daughter (preteen anyway, so maybe it was going to happen regardless) starting with grumpy door-slamming and other AP-like behaviors while that old AP was here.

I don’t know if I would have rematched but ALL YEAR LONG my husband and I complained to each other about the grumpy face and the harsh tone. This is now something I talk about AT LENGTH with future APs, the need for cheerfulness and patient tones.

It won’t get better. Your kids are 3 & 4. They shouldn’t have to live with this. Mine are older, so I felt they were less vulnerable and it wasn’t as bad for them to learn to get along with someone who cares about them but has a strict tone. But in retrospect I regret having subjected them to that for a year. The AP was loving and enthusiastic but came from a strict family where grumpy faces and anger were daily fare. Now I ask a LOT about how people in the AP’s family deal with moods and complaints and “spoiledness” during matching. Yes, our kids are very spoiled by some standards. But our standards are more about flexibility, patience, reminding, constructive discussions, “How to talk so kids will listen…” and so on. They are our standards and I need to remember (and you all can remind me!) not to feel apologetic about the way we raise our kids with the next AP.

Dorsi March 27, 2014 at 1:55 pm

We have had a AP that is fairly brusque with the kids for 6 weeks and (shhh…don’t tell her) are going to go into rematch this weekend. It is impressive the amount of change I have seen with the kids since she arrived. They have had many caregivers (5 APs, lots of occasional college sitters) and they have never cried to be left with one — until now. Our AP is failing at many aspects of her job — the household management/chores part, the responsibility, as well as her behavior with the kids. If my only problem was her treatment of the children, this is what I would do:

-Give her a very short time frame to improve (1 week).
-Educate her as to why we treat children the way we do. I am a big fan of Gottman’s “Raising an emotionally intelligent child” book. There are lots of 6-8 page summaries on the internet (it is widely used in parenting classes). If her English was adequate I would ask her to read the whole book. It takes a rational approach as to why we treat kids with kindness and respect, and how we help them learn to manage feelings. It gives lots of concrete examples as to why dismissing children’s emotions or shaming them is harmful.
-Facilitate some fun bonding. Buy some “just add water” cookie mixes. Pay for them to go to a movie together. Relax the chore expectation to provide time to do fun kid things.

I agree with the chorus of “rematch” However, you have an AP who may be very motivated to change behavior if she see that you will terminate her. Kids are forgiving — if she makes a genuine effort (even if the feelings are not genuine), they can do fine.

Should be working March 27, 2014 at 2:05 pm

My handbook has several lines on how shaming is not a permitted form of discourse or discipline. Some of our APs have been from what I consider “old-fashioned” or “high-shame” families or cultures. They don’t even get it. I spend time talking about this and giving examples while matching, but I’m not sure a shame-culture/family AP can get past it.

Dorsi March 27, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I wonder how prevalent the “shaming cultures” are. We have had a string of Au Pairs from South America and (despite some other failings) they have been all sweetness and love with the kids. The current is from a Mediterranean culture and we have seen a bit of shaming (telling the 5 year old she is a baby for crying). My LCC says she typically hears about the baby-name-calling from the Mediterranean APs. I wonder if some of them are that way? most of them? if there are other countries where that is common? or really uncommon?

Should be working March 27, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Germans might not consider themselves shaming, but sometimes I have seen two German APs be so. Or maybe better: discounting a child’s feelings and focusing only on the facts, which has in my view the effect of shaming the child for having the feelings. And our “baby” name-caller was German. I think the strictness/rigidity thing is more German.

Do they tell them at orientation that they shouldn’t name-call/baby-call and shame kids?

German Au-Pair March 27, 2014 at 7:22 pm

No they don’t. They should.
And you are right. We don’t consider ourselves shamers but I really find myself asking “How old are you?” quite a bit and honestly don’t find that problematic in certain contexts. Of course calling a child a baby for having a potty accident is horrible. But when a 10 year old keeps coloring the table after being told to stop three times, I actually find the question whether the child things this is age appropriate pretty reasonable. I would say something like “how old are you? You do understand that you are not supposed to color the table but you are doing it anyway”.
If my pre-teen brother asks me to make him a sandwich because he simply doesn’t want to, I ask him how old he is that he thinks I need to do it for him.
I personally think there’s a difference between disregarding children’s feelings or shaming them for something they are clearly already uncomfortable with and raising the question if this conscious, deliberate behavior is age appropriate.

Host Mom in the City March 28, 2014 at 9:22 am

We’ve had two German au pairs and haven’t found them to be shaming, inflexible disciplinarians at all. They were both extraordinaires, so highly educated and experienced in child development, so that could have had something to do with it.

We are on the natural consequences and treating children with respect side of things for sure. We don’t punish, do time outs, yell, or hit ever. I would not put up with shaming for a second. But we do expect our children to be respectful, follow rules, act their ages, do things for themselves, etc. We do what we say we are going to do and don’t put up with whining (e.g., “if you throw your food again, you will be done with dinner” – if it happens again, plate is removed, you go to bed hungry and I don’t give in to screaming whining fits).

We’ve found our style to be a perfect fit with our Germans any way as even without explaining, both of them have perfectly aligned with what we do already – they treated our children with full respectful but also expected them to be polite and well-behaved and respectful of others. Perfect balance for us :)

Seattle Mom March 28, 2014 at 1:50 am

Our Thai AP used more shaming than I would have liked, but she seemed to do it in such a gentle and loving way that I could let it slide… when my 4 year old was crying over some inconsequential thing (as 4 year olds do) she would hold her in her lap and gently tell her there was no reason to cry, that she shouldn’t cry…

What she said didn’t sit well with me, but she wasn’t being angry or mean in her delivery, so i was ok with it.

I’ve heard that shaming is prevalent in French culture (from my friend whose husband is french and she has HUGE issues with some of his parenting- and another friend who is french and sometimes i have trouble watching her with her kids). But we are on our 3rd French AP and I haven’t really noticed any of them shaming the kids, even the one we rematched (she had other issues). So maybe it’s something people do to their own kids but not their charges? I don’t know.. My MIL still uses shame all the time, and DH struggles to not shame our kids reflexively. I tried to get him to read the Gottman book (I try to get everyone in my family to read it, but no one will!)- there is a video you can get from the library that summarizes it in 20 minutes.

JJens June 19, 2014 at 1:12 am

I have this issue with my new French AP. She seems constantly angry with the kids and expects them to do exactly as she says. I work from home and hear the way she speaks to my 6month old and 4yr old (now that school is out) and am seriously on the verge of letting her go. She asks the baby what is wrong in an impatient tone.. He’s a baby! He should be speaking… My daughter is a Montessori kid so she doesn’t need much and is independent, but expects to be spoken to as a little person. The AP just talks down to her and she is now telling me she doesn’t like the AP or want to me with her. It’s been 2+ months and I feel bad sending her home – this is everything to her – but I don’t know that I can take this anymore!

Dorsi June 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Let go of the guilt. It is very easy to rematch with a new family if you are infant qualified. Your job is to make sure your children get loving care (whatever the definition of that is for your family). Your job is not to ensure that the AP has an awesome year. We had a bad AP recently, kids crying to not be left with her, because she was cold and unwilling to engage them. Rematch is scary and hard, but dealing with your kids as they fall apart is harder.

cv harquail March 27, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Here is a link to a two page summary of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child:

This book is a great resource– I second the recommendation, especially about the specific ‘things you can do’.

HM in SoCal March 27, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I do not know how you will handle the next 3 months and don’t think your kids should have to at all. When your children are crying when they are going into her care, that means it is time to rematch. I too have fallen into the trap of trying to make the Au Pair happy in the extreme, thinking it would improve the situation but it only makes it worse. I would tell her she is on notice. You will rematch if she doesn’t not treat your children kindly. The first time you see this behavior, pull the plug. Make sure she knows she will lose her family visit and her travel month as your house being home base if this does not change. You are not responsible for making her life wonderful when she is doing such a lousy job with her employment. Good luck to you.

Momma Gadget March 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm

OP- Why are you disregarding what both your children and your parents have told you? Considering what she does and says in front of you/your parents, what do you think she does when there are no witnesses? This is not a cultural difference, it is emotional abuse.
If your AP slapped your child in the face would you keep her because you only had a few more weeks? Chastising a 3 year old for having an accident is just as hurtful.
These are little munchkins, how dare she declare them spoiled! All small children this age are self absorbed, it is not until they are older that they start to LEARN empathy… an important quality which this AP is obviously not modeling.

Whether the AP thinks your kids are more spoiled than kids in her home country is irrelevant. These are your children. This is your home. She should be abiding by your rules.

She sounds resentful, inexperienced, envious, vindictive and petulant… maybe it is because her time is up,or maybe she comes from an abusive background. Does it really matter why? She is mean to your children.

Angie host mom March 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Since you are asking for advice on how to manage this now without rematching and without changing the plan for your new au pair’s arrival, here’s what I would do under those assumptions.

1. Call your new au pair and ask if she can come earlier at all. Tell the truth that you have a difficult situation right now and would appreciate it if she could come earlier. If she says yes, every week earlier she can arrive is 10% of the 10 weeks you have left. The agency will help you with this if they are any good.

2. Reduce your childrens’ exposure to the au pair for now, any way you can. For example, schedule gymnastics classes, library storytimes or playdates or something else for your kids to be doing during the au pair’s work hours, where she can drive and monitor but not be the primary influence on your child’s happiness. Get your family to visit and take the kids and have the au pair do the laundry and dishes and run errands. Do NOT worry about getting your “hours” out of the au pair, worry about minimizing exposure to the au pair.

3. Improve the au pairs attitude when she is with your children. There has to be something your au pair likes to do with them. Watching a tv show, seeing a kids movie, swimming, walking in the park, going to the zoo, playing bingo.. I don’t care what it is and how weird and backward it seems to have your kids do what your au pair likes, but you need to improve the attitude of the au pair if you are going to keep them around your children.

4. Break up the week. Arrange alternate care for Wednesdays if at all possible, or do trading days with another mom. Both your kids and your au pair will have a lot less frustration if the exposure is limited to 2-3 days at a time instead of 5.

5. Tell your kids to take off their shoes. Tell the au pair she can’t make them wear them unless she shows you medical evidence that you believe. I know I seem very accommodating to the au pair in the rest of this post, but really, what you are trying to do is minimize her impact on your kids – you set the household rules, not your au pair, the kids need to know that you are in charge and will stand up for them if there is a conflict. Yes, you need to let the au pair enforce the rules and back her up – but she doesn’t get to set the rules.

Should be working March 27, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Although I think the OP should rematch, these are good suggestions if the OP decides not to. “Minimize exposure”, yes. I sort of did this with our grumpy-faced AP, and it was annoying but it made me feel better about things.

Host Mom in the City March 28, 2014 at 9:14 am

I did this too with our not-good au pair for our last few months. I ended up signing the kids up for full-day summer camps even though we could have left them full-time with our aupair for the summer, took days off, had them stay with my parents when possible, etc. It made me even more resentful and costs thousands more than it should have, but it was better than leaving them in her care. Ours wasn’t mean to the kids, she just made it very clear that they weren’t her priority, ignored them most of the time because she was on her phone texting or on Facebook, never planned any activities, and rarely spoke with them or interacted with them.

In retrospect what it amounted to was that I chose not rocking the boat for our au pair during her last six months over my own needs, the well-being of my children, and thousands of dollars. What was I thinking???

hOstCDmom March 27, 2014 at 3:30 pm

This is really excellent advice that addresses the OP’s stated question. While the majority (all) of us think rematch/early end of contract is the right way to go (and you will get a 10/52 credit toward your future AP if you take the credit and don’t push for a refund, so if your next AP is via the same agency you won’t lost money), if the facts of your circumstance dictate that it is better for you to stick it out, the I think Angie host mom has great suggestions for a conscious, intentional way to mitigate the negative impact on your kids over the next 10 weeks.

NJ Aupair Mom March 27, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I know how inconvenient it would be to get a new aupair 3 months before this aupair is up but, I also know what a serious impact a bad aupair can have on your kids. If your aupair was part of my household she would no longer be employed by us. I know is it hard but there is no room for a girl who is jealous and mean to my children in our home.
We recently had an aupair who felt like she was better than us in every possible way. She placed a negative spin on every situation. Her family was better than ours, our children were spoiled because they had too many clothes, we had too much food etc. We decided that she was not a fit for us. A month later we had a teacher’s conference. The teacher said she could tell when that Aupair started and when she left based on our DD’s behavior.

Our scenario is not as bad as what you described but I would never leave my children with someone after they cried and ask me not to. I would think that would be a huge warning signal. I also would worry what the aupair was doing to my children when no one was looking. If she feels comfortable being that mean in front of you imagine how she will act behind your back…. I believe in putting the childrens safety first.

Good luck with your decision…

AmericanAP in Germany March 27, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I don’t have much more to add than what the HMs here have already said, other than even though going into rematch is scary, think of the peace of mind you’ll have when your children don’t cry to be left alone with the AP anymore.

I think this might largely be a cultural issue because I have the opposite experience here in Germany. My host parents expect me to be much harsher with their children in ways I’m frankly uncomfortable with (slapping his hand harshly when he throws something, for example). I know, there are worse things in the world, but I guess it’s my American sensibilities that make me think a pointed tone and taking away TV are adequate punishment. Regardless, this is something that can easily be modified and if she can’t bring herself to do so in a VERY timely manner, I think it’s best to bite the bullet and go into rematch.

German Au-Pair March 28, 2014 at 6:56 am

OT: where in Germany do you live?

AmericanAP in Germany March 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I’m in a tiny little Dorf around Mainz. We’re about 15 minutes from Alzey, 30 or so from Mainz. Are you back in Germany now? I’m staying here after my year is up in September to get my masters degree in Erfurt :)

German Au-Pair March 28, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Yes, I am back and about 3.5h away from you. If you’re ever headed in the direction of Köln, Düsseldorf, anywhere in that area -or the Netherlands-, let me know and maybe we can arrange something. I’m close to Dortmund but can also travel for free within NRW.
If you’d like to get in touch, let me know.

Caring HP March 27, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Your situation sounds so like one we had. We too had red flags with the Kids reacting adverse to APs presence. The AP had been fairly good initially but she had depression set in due to certain other personal circumstances and to boot, she got more and more homesick. In retrospect that explained why she got worse, and worse.

It was agreed with the Agency that she should be sent home. LCC and HF agreed it would be unwise to place her with other Kids/HF. This was best for her given her personal circumstances too.

Listen to the child! If a Kid is crying on a Monday morning and showing negative reactions and your visitors as [possibly] more objective/outsider visitors also saw fit to raise a red flag to you, listen. We did a number of impromptu surprise visits home, eavesdropped and had folks ‘drop by’ or ‘observe’ discretely and confirmed our suspicions.

Although I did not realize it while it was happening as much, once she left, the children changed and got so much happier over the coming weeks. It had been a big stress on them. I should have listened to my kids and friend and others who pointed out red flags. She is a nice girl and very honest and so it was harder for me to recognize (being so close to her) the signs of clinical depression setting in that eventually rendered it unwise to leave her with my Kids.
I don’t mean to say your AP has clinical depression – I am referring to our ex-AP who had this and other circumstances going on.

BTW you might also consider whether your AP is exhausted, working OT, partying too hard leaving herself impatient and intolerant with the kids in comparison to earlier in her AP Year, or whether she needs a break away. We find when APs don’t ever go away on weekends because they are saving for the Travel Month or something, they get more disengaged or worn out from the kids. Whereas when they get themselves off camping, or backpacking or sightseeing with buddies for a weekend they cheer up and come back refreshed and delighted to have fun with the Kids again.

BTW we tried all that with our ex-AP and none of it worked – her issue was deeper. We had even given her 2 weeks EXTRA vacation at great inconvenience and expense, to no avail.

I am now far more aware and have promised to listen to my kids better in future.

In retrospect it is lovely to see how my kids ran to, and hugged and rejoiced when nice APs enter the room versus how they would cry or act up or be ‘naughty’ when the negative AP was around. My instinct is REMATCH and make sure there is another adult nearby if you are having her care for the kids in the interim.
You might consider whether the Kids can do daycare or something and if you have to have the AP work, consider whether she can just do errands and chores associated with the Kids but not actually be their sole caregiver alone.

We had issues once the rematch was announced … the bitterness can set in and the negative behaviors to the kids can sometimes (not always) get worse or more passive aggressive. OUr kids did suffer.

WarmStateMomma March 27, 2014 at 4:35 pm

OP – If you do let the AP stay, have you considered what it might be like having her family in your home? My guess is that her family shares her views on “spoiled American kids” and she’s probably been venting to them about your kids already.

exaupair March 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm

The bottom line is when the children cry and are afraid when being left with her. I know it can be a cultural thing and a difference in bringing kids up, but in that case she would have to go. I would like my kids to feel safe and happy in my own house.
If she was in other ways reasonable I would give her fair referenced so that she would have a chance of finding a host family who raises their children in more strict way and shares her values.

Skny March 27, 2014 at 10:23 pm

I second calling new Au pair and asking if she can come any early.
This Au pair would not survive in my household either. I would not accept this treatment of my children for that long.
We have adopted from Ukraine and have seen this is also common culture in Ukraine, Russia and other similar countries.
Anyway, I would find someone else or get next Au pair to arrive earlier

Amelie March 27, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Can’t your agency find you a temporary au pair for the remaining 3 months before the new ones? Some great au pairs out there just need to finish their year!

Taking a Computer Lunch March 27, 2014 at 10:30 pm

I can understand being in countdown mode, but here’s my advice. You and DH should start showing up unexpectedly. If your mother advised you that things are not well, then take some time off from work (I know it’s hard – btdt), and show up in the middle of the day, return home suddenly in the morning, get a neighbor or a trusted friend to pop-in. Ask the LCC to pop in, and if she won’t, at least to telephone the AP and check in. And the decided how much you and your kids can bear for the next 10 weeks.

I will say that all APs, to one extent or another, become short-timers in their last 3 months. I’ve written in plenty of places that counting down is extremely stressful for them, no matter how much they are looking forward to returning home. She should not be taking her stress out on the kids.

I agree with the others who advocated for a warning. Ask for a family meeting after the kids have gone to bed, express your issues, give her time to respond, and give her expectations for change. Tell her that you are considering rematch and you want to see evidence that she can be cheerful and positive in her efforts to get your kids to do what she wants them to do. Tell her that while you want to honor her end-of-year plans, that you cannot if she is going to continue to shame your children, ridicule them and complain about caring for them. Recall for her, all the reasons why you’ve enjoyed her company for the first nine months and tell her that you want her to get back to that mode of interacting with your children, so you may all end the year on a high note – one in which she continues to be part of the family.

Anna March 28, 2014 at 8:01 am

Your au pair is judgemental of you, your family, your lifestyle, your children, and the whole american way of life, and also possibly jealous and materialistic (in like “I didn’t have any of that growing up, how come they deserve what I didn’t have”). She made up her mind and it is not open to respectful cultural exchange. I bet she is Russian or Ukrainian, I have seen and felt this kind of attitude, and I myself, half a lifetime ago, come from that culture.

I cannot be comfortable in my home when I feel that my au pair has no respect for me and my choices, and is judging me and discussing me behind my back. It is like talking to a person who has a double bottom, or two faces… you never really know her, or what to expect of her. She can never become close to you or in any sense part of your family, and not through your fault, but through her self-imposed separation and inferiority or superiority complex.

Unfortunately this wisdom came from experience similar to yours. My Russian au pair was reserved, she was not outwardly harsh to my kids, but she was totallly unloving, uninvolved, mechanical. My then two year old affectionate boy had to be physically torn from me, crying, and thrust into her hands in the mornings (and no, it didn’t improve in a few months), while she was standing five feet away, not smiling, not saying hi, not extending her hands…

She was with us for eight months and we rematched because of a different reason. In hindsight I should’ve done it much earlier. My kids, especially my younger one, were tramautized for a very long time by her “care”.

exaupair March 28, 2014 at 10:04 am

I’m from eastern Europe too, and we are known to open-minded, cheerful and generous people in general :-) I would have thought Russians or Ukrainians would be rather warm and friendly! Growing up behind the iron curtain was not that bad really :-)

Didis March 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm

I am au pair from eastern Europe and honestly, yes, in our area kids are raised differently. we were raised like she is behaving with your kids.
I think she wasn’t aware that things are different in this age and she should behave accordingly.
as au pair with same background I would diffidently recommend you not to let it go. Because it is not that she can’t behave diffrently, she just I believe, thinks that her behavior is beneficial for kids and she will “raise them better and stronger”. You need to openly, not trying to compromise but tell her what is problem, why do you think it is wrong and what will consequence if she doesn’t change innext few weeks.
it’s your life, your children and she needs to be aware that she is here to help you and do the best for kids, not to reinforce her opinion just because she believes it’s correct despite what you as a parent think.
if that doesnt make a change, you shouldn’t feel bad sending her to rematch because she doesn’t feel bad not following your rules.

hOstCDmom March 28, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful response Didis!

Former HF & LC March 28, 2014 at 8:09 pm

I disagree with TexasHM that what your au pair has done is “cruel”, “hateful” and “despicable”. I take issue with each host parent that does not recognize how deeply cultural values affect and inform behavior – everyone’s behavior. Values differ greatly across the world, and they are neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’, just different. Would parents from other cultures use the same words, above? I don’t think so.

We have all signed up for the ‘cultural exchange’ component of this cost efficient form of childcare. Although I would never advocate for continuing in a relationship that is toxic, and / or unsafe, I invite us to consider engaging in deep cross cultural dialogue with your au pairs and host families. If you don’t think you can or should try see another’s perspective to understand why they think and feel the way they do, perhaps an international au pair is not the right option. A true cultural exchange involves reciprocity and mutual understudying.

Imagine how profoundly transformational deep- dialogue sessions would be where each party listed their values, ex. host parents: “egalitarianism”, “respect/support autonomy in our children”, “cheery attitude”, “enthusiasm”, “choices and options”, au pair: “hierarchy”, “frugality, or economic restraint”. This might lead to a deeper level of understanding, and empathy.

Emerald City HM March 28, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Just becasue we signed up for a a cultural exchange program doesn’t mean that we have to allow our children to be called babies and be shamed for having an accident. That just wouldn’t fly in my house. Yes, I’m not perfect, I do lose my cool, and I expect that an au pair might have her off days too, we all do.

When we interview, we ask about their thoughts on interacting with children to enough of a degree where if this were our au pair, she would have been misrepresenting herself during the interview. We match with au pairs that have a similar style to ours, becasue they are spending 40-45 hours a week with our girls.

I value the cultural exchange portion of the program (learning about traditions, songs, language, sharing ours, etc.), but that does not mean I need to compromise my personal parenting style in the process. A parenting style isn’t necessarily an aspect of cultural exchange, they even vary quite a bit on this board alone. I personally would absolutely rematch with this au pair and think the OP should too. However, I don’t see this as an absolute “send her home” situation, there might be another family that she just fits better with.

Seattle Mom March 29, 2014 at 1:39 am

So the interesting thing for me about being a HM is that now the shoe is on the other foot- I totally understand why everyone in my host country treated me the way they did and thought I was this weird anomaly/toy for them to play with.

They were busy living their lives, doing their thing. They didn’t really have time to consider what I did or why, or where I really came from. They wanted me to do my job (which was to help them), and entertain them as I butchered their language and tried to do all the things they had learned to do as toddlers, that Americans never do.

Now I totally get it. I’m a bit more enlightened than they were, as a host country person, because i’ve been on the other side of things. But I see that we’re all just busy living our lives… we’re not really in this for some kind of profound exploration of cultural norms. And if you think more than 1% of the host parent population is… (outside of the anthropologists and socio-cultural whateverists) well I would bet that they are not. Most of us really want the relationships and recognize that something special can happen when you connect across cultures. But there ain’t no way we’re putting our kids on the tracks and letting them get steam rolled because it’s someone else’s culture.

Dorsi March 29, 2014 at 2:37 am

I look back on my year as an exchange student as a profoundly formative experience. It wasn’t until I was a host mom that I truly understood that it wasn’t the same thing for my host family. We have a warm relationship and are in fairly close contact, but I did not make them who they are. It is a privilege to have that role to an AP, but in the meantime, the more important tasks are my day to day juggles.

BritishAP April 2, 2014 at 6:39 am

I’m an AP at the moment, and have actually had a similar issue with feeling like the kids are not disciplined, and in some ways a bit spoilt. However, I *hope* that I’ve dealt with it a lot better than the AP the post is about. Although it’s frustrating to have to adapt to a completely different style of childcare to what you’re used to, I think the important thing to remember is that, at the end of the day, the children are raised primarily by their parents and, when you have kids, it’s up to you how you bring them up. It’s your choice, and, also, it gives your kids consistency if you’re all using the same techniques.

Sure, cultural exchange is important, and yes, I think it goes way beyond songs, different meals and sharing your language. A lot of it, for both the host family and the AP, is about learning how things are done in other countries, and that includes different ways of raising kids. OP – it’s up to you how you want your kids looked after, and you get the final choice in this. “House rules” include how you want your children treated, and the AP has to follow these rules. That’s not really up for negotiation. But you did sign up for a cultural exchange, and so you need to be understanding and friendly about how you enforce these rules.

Try and accept that it’s not your AP “doing something wrong”, or deliberately treating your children badly. She’s doing what she’s been raised to do and, and in hiring childcare from another country, you were agreeing that the person looking after your kids was going to have different ideas and values to you. Sit down with her again and discuss what’s been happening, but make sure you keep the tone friendly and don’t accuse. Tell her about your parenting styles, and ask about her opinions. Use it as an opportunity to learn. But end by telling her that it’s interesting how raising kids can vary so much, but that in your family you really emphasise positive reinforcement, valuing each kid for who he/she is, or whatever values you raise your kids on. Give her practical ways to deal with things, and tell her things you want done.

Tell her you want her to chat to your kids more, or that child X loves cuddles and attention, or whatever. Try and do all this as positively as possible – e.g. “It must be tough looking after the kids all day, and we appreciate it’s even harder if you’re used to looking after children in a different way, but we think you might find it easier if you did X, because this is what our kids are used to.”
Good luck!

Host Mom in the City April 2, 2014 at 8:18 am

Love this – thanks!

Annis Rotman March 28, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your further write
ups thank you once again.

Former HF & LC March 28, 2014 at 11:55 pm

The ‘culture’ in cultural exchange is much more than sharing songs and language, Emerald City. It’s about being open to learning about each other’s perspectives, values and ways of life such as different forms of upbringing. To do this we have to accept that ‘our way isn’t the only way’; we could then begin to understand why someone might behave so differently from us. We could even learn how to express our needs from a position of greater awareness and compassion.

I do wonder how much deep cultural exchange occurs in a relationship where there’s so much power distance. . .

Emerald City HM March 29, 2014 at 1:13 am

Are you questioning my personal integrity or the nature of the program?

This past year we learned that in Japanese culture left handedness is basically not allowed. Does this mean we should have allowed our au pair to “correct” our 3 year old when she used her left hand in the spirit of cultural exchange?

Furthermore, if I had the opportunity to live in another country for a year I would be more interested in experiencing that culture because that’s why I would be there. I wouldn’t be trying to impose my beliefs on whomever was housing me.

Seattle Mom March 29, 2014 at 1:29 am

I don’t think the au pair program is about sacrificing our children in the name of “deep” cultural exchange. If you want a deep cultural exchange you join the Peace Corps- I did that, it was great, but now I need loving childcare first and cultural exchange second. There’s a reason why people aren’t allowed into the Peace Corps with dependents.

And anyway, your whole argument smacks of moral relativism. Which I have been accused of in the past, so I guess it takes one to know one. But just because someone acts a certain way because it is ingrained in them from their culture does not mean that we have to accept it. Yes, it would be nice to understand where it’s coming from, but our first responsibility is to our kids. There are plenty of cultural practices around the world that I do not agree with and I would not willingly/knowingly subject my kids to. I’m not going to list some of the more outrageous ones, but maybe you can guess what they are.

Some au pairs are probably able to adjust better to their host culture than others, when it comes to childcare. Some will never adjust. As others have said, there’s no reason why anyone should accept someone shaming their child in the name of cultural exchange.

I knew Peace Corps Volunteers who were sent home because they did things in the host country that were perfectly acceptable (even desirable) in American culture, but not in the host culture. Same thing here- there has to be an adjustment in order for this to work. We can learn from au pairs, but they still may need to do some adjusting, especially in the area of childcare.

HRHM March 29, 2014 at 11:58 am

“Deep” cultural exchange is not what Au Pairs are about. They are here to see the America of the movies. Hence the constant deluge of APs wanting Miami, LA or NYC! If they wanted “deep” cultural exchange, they would seek positions in “real” America, places like central PA, Appalachia, rural Alabama and small cities. No, they are not here to experience “deep” cultural exchange, just cultural exchange like songs, food, holidays etc.

In our house ,we love to talk about the deeper aspects of culture around the dinner table, including politics, religion, healthcare, relationship norms and childcare. But at the end of the day, no matter how good that conversation goes, my AP is going to care for MY KIDS MY WAY. I’m not rejecting cultural exchange, but I’m pretty sure her Mom wouldn’t let me come to their house and upset their way of life in the name of cultural exchange…

Momma Gadget March 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm

As Other’s have mentioned “cultural exchange” does not extend to the physical, and emotional detriment of my children.

Theoretical discussions are fine, and it IS completely theoretical on the APs part since no AP has their own first hand parenting experience.I am happy to discuss how the APs upbringing was so different than here in the US… But NO, Former HF & LC, we do not need “to accept that our way isn’t the only way” when it comes to our decision on how we want our children handled.

The OPs children are very young, after 9 months an AP who arrogantly snubs, and disregards the HPs direction,and is verbally abusive to small children should go home regardless of what her cultural beliefs on the correct method of child rearing are.

Skny March 29, 2014 at 7:24 am

I come from a country where spanking is the norm. You obey or get spanked. Basic. Being an Au pair I learned there was another way. I watched 3-4yo triplets and learned different discipline ways.
8 out of 10 Au pairs from my country are frustrated because they feel American children misbehave because they are not spanked. I hear complaints about it all the time.
I also only recruit Au pairs from my home country. Does that mean I should let them spank my children for the sake of respecting cultural differences?
Instead, when I match I explain clearly that we do not spank, that the kids will misbehave, and they need to be open to our ways of discipline vs complain about it.
In between, we did house an Au pair from my home country for about 4 weeks (emergency to help LCC), and I am pretty sure she did hit my oldest at least once. My girls hated her and never wanted to be with her. She was a terrible Au pair. But the day after she left (found a family outside agency) our weekly housecleaner told she saw Au pair smacking my daughter. Wish she had told me before. By that point it was too late

TexasHM March 29, 2014 at 7:56 am

Former HF and LC, since you chose my comments I’ll respond. I want to make clear one thing. Did I say AP is a horrible person? No. I said that behavior was despicable, horrible etc. I am passing no judgment on her as a person, I don’t know her. I’m pretty sure we’ve all met very nice APs that for whatever reason were not good APs (wrong match, poor driver, inflexible, etc). We love the cultural exchange, it’s why we do this program but if you cause harm (physically, emotionally, psychologically, whatever) to my child and we mediate that (remember she has already talked to this AP about her tone and shaming) then we are done. I will not allow my kids to bear the burden of your “culture” in the spirit of exchange.

eastcoastmom March 29, 2014 at 8:39 am

Wow, if I thought “cultural exchange” meant I’d have to put up with whatever my au pair threw at my kids I never would have signed up for the program. That’s unbelievably outrageous.

To the OP – we have an AP who took a harsh tone with our kids at the beginning and my kids were telling me she shouted at them and didn’t talk nicely to them. I sat down with her and gave specific examples of things she was saying that I didn’t want her to say anymore, specific things she was doing that I didn’t want her to do anymore. Then I gave her alternatives – when the kids do this, you should say that. We watched parenting videos together. We used 123 Magic, and that was good because it gave her a plan, something she could actually use. And it worked with my kids. Now they love her and run to hug her when she’s been away for a while. But, the difference I think it that she really wants to do a good job. She takes pride in her work. The fact that yours is shrugging off your comments is not a good sign. I don’t think an intervention is going to work. And if you threaten her with re-match or not having her travel month then I fear she may just try to put on a nice face in front of you but take out her resentment on your kids when you aren’t around.

When we’ve re-matched in the past we found short-term care for the kids. You can find someone on a childcare site – we found to be a good one for our area. I was surprised too – one of the girls we found on the site was a relative of one of our neighbors. The LCC may also know of someone with a few months to go, and then you could do summer camps if needed.

It’s easy to slip into a state where you don’t completely realize what’s happening and how badly your children are being affected. We try so hard to make things work with our APs – we have so much invested in them, especially after 9 months. But your children are definitely suffering, and they can’t change their situation. They have to put up with whatever you decide for them. And you really don’t owe a bad au pair anything aside from her paycheck.

Good luck.

cv harquail March 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm

EastCoastMom- Watching parenting videos is a training method I’ve thought about in theory, but never tried. Do you have some videos, series or sites that you thought were particularly helpful? I’d love to know. cvh

Should be working March 29, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Parenting videos!! I need to come out of the Stone Age and find out where to get these!! I can’t believe the “How to talk…” people haven’t done this. What a fab idea. Or maybe they have. Do tell, anyone who knows these! Also I’d love some by the “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy” author.

Eastcoastmom March 30, 2014 at 1:28 pm

The 123 Magic program has DVDs that go along with it. I borrowed them from a friend. There may even be some videos on YouTube. I’d start by looking on amazon and then see if you can find the DVDs at the library or on the internet.

Seattle Mom April 1, 2014 at 4:27 pm
TexasHM March 29, 2014 at 10:23 am

Id also like to point out that true cultural exchange usually requires flexibility and openmindedness, neither of which this AP has if she continues to disrespect the parents wishes. Cultural exchange is exactly that – and exchange of ideas and understanding with the hope being that each side leaves having learned something and broadened their life experience. I often say our APs teach us as much or more than we teach them but I’d be willing to bet if this AP hit this child the chorus would be the same. Harming children in any way, especially after having been mediated over this, is beyond unacceptable. I wish this HF all the best.

AussiePair March 29, 2014 at 11:43 pm

I agree with the majority of host moms here, you need to rematch yesterday! I’m not from a culture where shaming is big, but my mother was big into shaming and I can tell you all the ways in which that stays with you and plays on your mind well into your adult years. What your au pair is doing is emotional abuse, not to mention she is disregarding and disrespecting you and your style of parenting. Yes an au pair is going to have a different way of handling your children, but if you find it inappropriate or not fitting with your values you don’t have to put up with it because it’s more convenient for the au pair.

Cultural exchange requires a give and take from both sides, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your values and ideals in exchange for the au pair’s. This is one of the moments where it’s the au pairs turn to compromise, not yours. If she can’t change (and if appears she can’t or rather won’t) then it’s time for her to go.

GerMom April 17, 2014 at 9:04 am

Hello everyone. I am in a similar situation and I would really appreciate any advice. I am a HM from Germany. Our sons are 3 and 5 years old and they attend kindergarden 8 hrs per day. My husband and I both work full-time. We now have our fourth AP (a young male from Australia who is studying to become a teacher and apparently has a lot of experience in being a preschool teacher).

When we got to know him online prior to his arrival we really thought we hit the lottery jackpot. He has been with our family for 1 month now (he is supposed to stay with us for 11 months) and it turns out that he has two different personalities. One is this really funny guy, who dresses all colorfull, paints his nails, enjoys a lot of fun activities and hobbies, smiling all the time, embracing life, has a great interest in the German culture and is really lovely to be around.

But as soon as it comes to spending time with the children he turns into this super-strict nanny “from hell”. Saying no to everything (I did not know before that the word “no” could be used so many times in one single day). He speaks to them in such a harsh and unfriendly voice it breaks my heart. My older son says that he is very aggressive when he picks them up from kindergarden, always telling them to hurry up (for no reason) and aggressively grabbing them by their shoulders etc. I feel that everytime my kids are not “easy to handle” – which after 8 hrs of kindergarden happens once in a while – he really gets mad at them.

Also when the whole family is together and my husband or I correct the children he will automatically correct them too but in a very weird stern kind of voice and it is just driving me insane because I feel like someone is grabbing the steering wheel while I am driving. It once occurred that we were out in a park on a sunny Sunday ready to head back home when my older son jumped on his bicycle to ride another round. I called him in a friendly voice to remind him that we were leaving when all of a sudden our AP jumped towards him, grabbed him and dragged him off the bicycle. My son was crying, saying that his arm hurt and that our AP was the meanest and worst AP we ever had (true!). I still managed to handle the situation without criticising him in front of the kids. Instaed I spoke to him about it later (and not for the first time) making it clear that this is not how we treat our children. As for now: when it’s 4:00 pm I start getting nervous because I know that he is with my children and if he can’t pace himself while we as parents are around, what is he capable of doing when we are not?
Another issue is that even though he sent us a lot of information about himself before he came to stay with us, he did not mention that he was having some psychological issues. Now that he is here he sort of incidentally tells me that a) he is suffering from panic attacks occasionally b) he was diagnosed with severe adhd when he was 12, took is medication until he was 18 and then decided by himself that he no longer wanted to take the medicine (without any doctor or other specialist suggesting this). I feel that a lot of his issues might result from this condition. His anxiety and his mood swings, his out of the blue aggression and so on
I also have to mention that we live in quite a trendy area of downtown Berlin which turns out to be the sole reason (it seems) for why he wanted to stay with us in the first place. As a former exchange student to the USA this is something that also bothers me. Back when I went abroad I wanted to get to know the real culture of America and I did have a great year in a small town in Michigan with a lovely hostfamily. Now I feel like I am about to crush his dream of his “crazy Berlin year” because if we tell him to look for a new family in the very near future, chances are little that he will find a family that lives in the same or a similar area. A lot of German hostfamilies in fact live in smaller cities as far as I know.

To cut a long story short: my question is: if we tell him to look for a new hostfamily, what should we do if a new family wants to talk to us?

Basically I can not recommend him as an aupair because of his unpredictable aggressive behaviour with the kids. Which means that he will probably not find a new hostfamily and will have to go home. I usually give people second and third chances, but this has gone too far in a very short time. Help!!!

As an experienced HM and former exchange student I would have never thought that this could happen to me/us. Also I have to mention that we “found” him on aupair-world (an online matchmaking platform for APs and hostfamilies). So there is no agency that we could turn to. Any advice will be appreciated very much!!!

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