When Au Pair Host Parents Are Too Harsh With Their Kids

by cv harquail on September 13, 2017

It can be truly disheartening to see how some people treat their children.

There have been times (in the grocery store especially) when I’ve heard people say such mean things to their kids that I almost want to speak up and correct them myself.

It’s hard to stay out of the fray when I see parents being really awful.

Little boy crying

So, I think it would profoundly upset me if I were living in a home where the parents were not strict, but actually mean.

What can you do?

As an au pair, it’s possible to try to mitigate the meanness by being more gentle when you are in charge of the kids yourself. But it’s quite hard to intervene in a way that’s effective.

(Unless, of course, the kids are in danger.)

How would you advise this Tenderhearted Au Pair?

Hello Aupairmom!

I recently started at au pair placement in France which has been amazing and everything like a dream.

But…. I noticed that the parents are awfully strict on the kids. I mean really strict, like the children (2 and 5) get yelled at/smacked /manhandled, etc. The kids every five minutes and its incredibly disheartening to see a little girl and boy cry because her father wants her to learn 3 languages at the same time and he doesn’t understand why she gets confused and upset.

For example one time I was sat with her and the dad while they did french homework and the father couldn’t stop yelling because she didn’t get the alphabet in the right order! and along with other things my host family don’t have a contract with me so basically I have no foot to stand on so on Monday night after the parents were screaming at the kids for how long and me walking out and sobbing out controllable on a street corner, I told them that I can’t stay with them anymore because it’s too upsetting to see the kids under so much pressure.

Now did I do the right thing? or am I a massive spoiled brat? I feel terrible because they are lovely to me and so encouraging of me exploring paris but I can’t bear to know that I have to witness that for the next 8 months.

Sorry that is it just childish nonsense!
Thank you so much for reading and for any advice!


FormerAuPairNowNanny September 14, 2017 at 5:32 am

Phew, that’s a difficult situation. I’ve been nannying in a family with similar problems (the boy has a hard time reading, and the parents make fun of him whenever he pronounces a word incorrectly, and tell him that he “is too stupid anyway to get anything right” – like, to his face, they don’t say it about him, but directly tell him, “You’re so stupid, you can’t do anything right. I wonder why he gets upset when he has to do something new, or why he is so insecure all the time and has no ambition, which is what they keep complaining about). Anyway, sorry, back to your question. Things that worked out for me in that particular situation:
– Asking the parents to take over activities which I knew would frustrate them and cause rough attitudes towards the kids (I did all the reading and homework with them)
– Encouraging the kids, telling them that they’re right just the way they are, and not to give up even if something is hard
– Teaching the kids that it is not okay to make fun of others, and that everybody has strengths and weaknesses
– If you feel save in doing so, addressing the issues with the parents (I tried the “Please stop making fun of him when he pronounces words wrong, he will stop trying eventually”, although it didn’t work because the parents insisted that it was “so funny” and “he can’t take a joke”, but at least there’s a chance for understanding and possibly a change in behavior on side of the parents)

However, in the end, it is your decision whether you want to stay with them or not. It is absolutely okay to figure out that these people’s parenting-style does not comply with your concepts and that these discrepancies are beyond remedy. It’s their choice to parent their children as they like, but it’s your choice to say you don’t want to live and work in an environment with a value set very different from yours. So – if you don’t see any chance of change and you can’t stand it, leaving might be your best option. Of course, if you feel like the children are in danger-danger, like they will suffer physically and the parents are abusive, you might consider involving France’s child protective services. Be sure to only do so if there’s real danger (might be worth looking up France’s regulations on how to interact with children)!

AuPair Paris September 16, 2017 at 2:28 am

That’s horrible. I think some people would say to stay – to try and make a difference to these kids – but you can’t be their parents for them. One day you’ll have to leave, and their parents will keep parenting them. If I were you I’d leave, and try to be as honest as possible in a non-judgemental way with the parents about why. And give the kids a big hug as you go.

I’ve seen kids getting smacked by their parents in public in Paris. It’s not accepted exactly, but it’s much more normalised than here in the UK. I still don’t think it’s alright. Especially when they’re struggling with complicated learning rather than being naughty.

Previousaupair September 16, 2017 at 7:31 am

Hi Tenderhearted! I was an au pair in Paris a few years ago and witnessed similar problems- parents being sarcastic with small children, smacking them in the face, calling them stupid… I had heard similar stories from my friends so I chalked it up to ‘French people’ and stuck it out, but there were definitely times it was hard for me. If you know now you can’t watch this type of behaviour, leaving is definitely the right thing and good for you for being straightforward about why. No point making yourself miserable for months and realistically you can’t change the way people parent their own children. There are a lot of very nice families who will encourage you to explore and introduce you to wonderful pieces of France without making you want to flee the house in tears. Best of luck!

Anon September 17, 2017 at 12:26 am

Some of what you said didn’t surprise me but it’s definitely sad!
I have had a few French Au Pairs and learned that raising kids is really different there. I did some research on it and if you look into French Parenting culture, it is really strict and from the outside can look harsh and cruel or even a bit neglectful to someone from a different country.

Obviously, not all French families are like that.
Some of what’s happening could be culture shock, but considered normal for that family and people they know.

I think it’s ok if you don’t feel like you can be a part of it or live alongside it. It might make your time there a painful experience.

If you think there are ways you can live with it, then that’s worth thinking about. Especially if it’s a case that these kids aren’t being treated much differently to most families around them.

You don’t sound like a spoiled brat, just someone who grew up really differently!

FormerFrenchAuPairGermany September 20, 2017 at 8:50 am

I am from France, and I can assure you that this is not the normal “French” way to treat kids. The parenting culture might be different and considered more strict here but all you describe here is not normal, at all.

If you feel like it, talk about it with the parents, they might not even realize what they do here and hearing it from someone outside might help them.

If I was you I would just try to find an other family. It might be really hard to leave the children in this situation but you need to think about yourself first. I had to leave a Family when I was an Au pair in the Netherlands, because I could not stand the way they treated their kid (and me).

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