Classic Case: Should we keep trying with a Mediocre Au Pair?

by cv harquail on March 4, 2014

Here’s a situation we see time and time again on AuPairMom:

The family has an au pair (often, their first one) and the au pair is only okay. The au pair’s relationship with the kids is “fine”, but the au pair doesn’t follow through on her other responsibilities. The host parents have tried a few things, and are now wondering– is there something they missed?

I hesitated to put this email up on the blog, because we have, in fact, answered this question before.


We already know to tell a host mom: Use a checklist, have a ‘you’re on notice’ meeting, call the LCC, be more explicit, be firm, and so on. We remind the host mom that most host parents who go into rematch report that they should have done it sooner.  We tell people not to extend au pairs that are only ‘so-so’.  We tell each other “there *are* great au pairs out there. You can find one.”

What is there left to tell this Host Mom, below?  

Dear AuPairMoms —  Our first ever AP has been with us for approximately 2 months. She is 19, and from the same European country as me.  We have 3y-o boy and 1 y-o girl. My husband and I both have FT office jobs.

We generally like our AP though think she is quite immature and very self-centered.

Our AP seems to have a mediocre relationship with our children but generally seems to be more interested in her cell phone, FB, texting and skype during and outside her work hours.

My husband and I had gone back and forth as to whether to be very firm with rules, chores, boundaries for our AP. Ultimately decided that she was an adult and we wanted to trust her that she would make the right choices, judgment calls and prove us that she is responsible and reliable. Unfortunately, in retrospect this seems to be a mistake. Although our situation is mostly working out, our AP does not seem to be following our rules and does not seem to be doing the assigned chores most of the times and things seem to be progressively worse.

We had given her a list of rules and household chores when she started, communicated all verbally and gave it to her in writing, went over all later again, and tried different things. At first she would follow for a little but the little over time got littler and littler to the point that now, when we ask her to do something (which we don’t think we should need to ask her to do in the first place) she simply does not do it.

To give some examples and prove we are not slave drivers, the list of her daily chores includes playroom and kids’ rooms clean up with the help of the kids, put away dishes, clean kitchen table and counters, sweep kitchen; weekly chores include kids’ laundry; monthly chores are washing kids’ bedding. We have gotten to the point that we have to ask her number of times to do the laundry and it still is not done, forget the sweeping or clean up.

Also, social media use such as FB, skype, cell phone use, texting are an ongoing issue. We expressed number of times that we’d like her to limit cell phone, computer and such to 5 minutes per hour during her time with the kids. She agrees but never seems to actually follow through.

[See this post: Host Mom Advice Wanted: Allow Au Pair to use personal computer while on duty? ]

To make matters feel even worse, our AP constantly compares her situation to her AP friends and is in disbelief how others need to do these chores and those chores, have a curfew, and strict HPs; and is surprised how many of her friends end up in re-match.

So now instead of having some help with the household we come home to a disaster and spend a good portion of the precious time at home with our kids cleaning up after the 3 kids (our two toddlers and our teenage AP) and debating how to diplomatically approach the subject to not to hurt the AP feelings.

We feel we are being very flexible because we want all of us, including her, to be happy but are getting to the point of being frustrated that our expectations are not being met and are running out of patience and ideas. Please help!


See also: Taming The Au Pair Texting Distraction
Host Mom Advice Wanted: Allow Au Pair to use personal computer while on duty?

Image: There Is No Blue – Wildflower Photography by Humbolt St. available for purchase on Etsy


hOstCDmom March 4, 2014 at 9:26 am


When you are putting more energy into making it work than the benefit you are getting out of having an AP, rematch is the best option. In this order: Examine your backup options; call your LCC to discuss perhaps matching with an in country/rematch/extension AP (to minimize the gap in childcare); and then start the two week transition period ASAP (I would not agree to a mediation, followed by a 2 week trial period before you even start the 2 week transition period — you have already tried and tried to make this better.)

Sometimes it just doesn’t work, but you can easily find better than what you currently have (you have way less than mediocre; even in the rematch pool you will find someone who is “decent” and an improvement (and who will do all the “chores’ you list, which are normal AP responsibilities and thus make your life easier), even if they aren’t your perfect candidate.

Host Mom in the City March 5, 2014 at 7:23 am

I just read your post over again, and hOstCDm is right – you don’t have a mediocre au pair – you have a pretty bad one. A mediocre au pair would at least he finishing her basic duties, particularly after you reminded her. She may not be doing them well and she may not be doing them in a timely manner and she certainly wouldn’t be going above and beyond bare minimum requirements, but she would be getting them done. A mediocre au pair would, at two months, still care about giving you the impression at least that she wasn’t on FB every two minutes while with the kids. It sounds like you’ve got one that doesn’t even care so early in your year. At least my own personal bad au pair was truly mediocre and not just plain bad for about three months.

OP, go ahead and start that two-week rematch period. You’ve tried to be clear. It’s time. You will drive yourself insane over the next right months and your kids will be really hurt by her lack of interest in them. I feel like I have long-term mental damage from finishing out that year, it was that stressful and consuming.

Dorsi March 4, 2014 at 9:59 am

I think the central question here, which the letter writer doesn’t give enough information to answer, is: Is this an Au Pair failure or a Management failure?

This may be a management failure, and with appropriate changes, this could work out to be a good situation. The family needs to clearly communicate their expectations and give feedback on whether the AP is meeting those expectations. Probably on a daily basis. If the AP does not fulfill expectations, then this is an AP failure. I think many of us have a hard time confronting someone (especially someone who is caring for our children) and saying things that are not nice to hear: “you have not done these things. this is a problem.” What does she say when she is confronted with the statement, “I asked you to pick up the playroom while the children were napping. Why did this not get done?”

She is 19 and likely away from home for the first time — there may need to be some hurt feelings in order for her to understand her responsibilities. There may be a cultural element at play as well.

It might also help to start with a little AP self-assessment: how does she think she is doing on childcare? household chores? In any case, it is time for some serious changes — no AP should make you feel like you have another child to clean up after.

Should be working March 4, 2014 at 11:09 am

Yeah, she is worse than mediocre, she’s a bad au pair. Not (as far as we know) SCARY-bad, but just bad. It sounds like you have tried and tried. If you really have, in writing and clearly, then I would see if the agency will let you start rematch. In two weeks you could be starting over already with a grateful au pair out of the rematch pool (and read around here about how to interview for that!! Number one: contact previous HF!!). If you communicated all that stuff in writing, like in email, forward that all to the LCC as part of your case for starting rematch now.

BUT I imagine the agency will require you to have a mediation meeting, which means you then have a 2-week trial of improvement, and THEN 2 weeks where you have to house the departing au pair, which stinks.

Maybe if you use the word “rematch” with the au pair she will improve drastically. Maybe if you yourselves consider this a “BIG RESET” conversation it will help you to demand what you need (politely), like when you come home and things are a mess.

I would keep my eye on the rematch pool, just in case. Please keep us posted! I’m always curious how the first-time HFs fare in these difficult situations. And be sure to read all the posts about managing the AP.

Multitasking Host Mom March 4, 2014 at 11:43 am

I could have written this post about our first au pair. She was just too young and immature. Her interactions with the kids was just so-so. It was her first full time job, and frankly she was just overwhelmed by it all. We made it through the year, but let’s just say it was not fun. Looking back, I did talk to her about the problems and brainstorm solutions, but I wouldn’t say I was firm in my needs and directions. It is hard to really challenge someone who is watching your precious children. There was a little nagging feeling that if the au pair is mad at me, the host mom, that they would somehow take it out on the kids. Intellectually, I know that would not have happened, but the small thought was still there. Fast forward a few years later, and we now know what it is like to have an awesome au pair. I know that when our current wonderful AP moves on, and we have to pick her successor, I now have the confidence to say what my family needs from the next au pair and not settle for less. My advice is to get the LCC involved and do a mediation time period. Clearly, tell the AP that if this and this does not happen you will start the rematch process at this set date. Then it puts the ownership of saving this situation on the AP. Who knows…she might rise to the occasion…and if she doesn’t you can move on knowing you gave this your best shot.

Momma Gadget March 4, 2014 at 11:56 am

I think this is one of the toughest things about hosting. It is fairly easy to cut the cord when you have a bad match ( or at least after the first time). It is such an enriching experience when you have an excellent match. But where do you draw the line for a mediocre AP?
We had such a great relationship with the last AP, that we thought maybe we were overly tough in our evaluation of out next AP. Plus we had a crazy difficult year. Our AP is a nice enough person, and really pitched in during the big issues. But in the day to day did the bare minimum. In hindsight we realize that there was just not much effort put forward in the areas the AP didn’t feel like doing. As we come into the home stretch, I realize that we were so tired of repeating the same requests ( that should be common sense) over and over, that we lowered our standards. I am a better, more experience HM than I ever was- So looking back now ,I am shocked that we some how have put up with a whole year of “Not terrible, just not great”.

Our DCs are older and don’t really require the entertaining nurturing vital for younger kids . Home work was done. Kids were safe and fed ( though not well), They were chauffeured to/from a school and activities in a timely manner. Laundry was done (again not well). AP never cause any commotion, lied or wrecked anything. Is that enough?
Because of the myriad of family challenges this year-I was just too tired to do a serious reset again, and honestly I’m not really sure if it would have made a difference. Had I just bitten the bullet and did it again, would it have given me the ammunition to cut the cord? I don’t know. What do you do when your AP really rises to the occasion during crises, but is just barely ‘OK’ the rest (majority) of the time?

I know that getting angry with a departing AP can be a natural emotional protection to make it easier to say good bye. But there is more to it than that. This is the first time in the 5 years/ 6 APs that we have been hosting, including the 2 rematches, that I really just want this to be over. It makes me really sad. I am working very hard to compensate for these feelings and give our AP a proper good send off.

Should be working March 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Momma Gadget, I feel for you. After our last AP left and we started over with a new AP, I realized how my standards had gotten lower and lower in a few key respects–not housekeeping, but interaction with teenage kids. And I had gotten accustomed to a baseline stress level around AP issues. And we are both experienced HPs!! So how do we maintain the high, or even just “pretty-good” standards with APs? It really is the scenario of the frog in the pot, slowly boiled before he realizes it.

When our AP left I realized that DH and I had a whole lot less to talk about. It was admittedly entertaining, her dramas with family, clothing, and I always had to inquire how the interactions with kids had gone. But with the new, no-drama AP I just don’t THINK about things with the AP as much. Maybe that’s the standard: how much mental/emotional energy is this taking for you on a daily/weekly basis (after the first few orientation weeks).

In the specific case of an AP who rises to the occasion, that seems like a possibly redeemable situation. Maybe she just needs more of a sense that her daily work IS important, that it makes a huge difference in your lives. Plus careful management–which is where things get exhausting.

Host Mom in the City March 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm

So funny about having less to talk about! There was a period when all my husband and I talked about was how much stress our mediocre au pair was causing us. You’re right about the difference between a good au pair and a mediocre one – it’s the time I spend obsessing. With the mediocre one, I knew that my kids were not her #1 priority – she made that very clear. Not even close. So I didn’t totally trust her intentions on anything. With our current au pair, she made it clear right from the beginning that she has the maturity to be really AT her job when she’s with the kids and that she makes decisions with their best interests in mind.

Some examples – both au pairs occasionally put the kids down for a nap even though they don’t nap anymore. With our first, I’m pretty sure she would do it when she wanted a break and it would become a struggle because the kids didn’t really need to nap. Then she would let them sleep for hours because it was obviously easier for her. With our second, I trust that she knows when the kids are truly tired and she knows to wake them up early enough that they still sleep at night. Both au pairs have taken the kids shopping before – our first would take my 5yo and drag him around to do her own thing, sit him in the dressing room at Forever 21, etc. She would then fail to tell me that she had done so, and minimized it when she found out he told me. Our second once took him shopping too – she asked me in the morning if it was ok because she needed something last minute. I know she would make it fun for him too and keep the trip to just what she needed, so I didn’t think twice about it.

So so much easier to not be second-guessing everything your au pair does. Our current au pair really does make my life easier; our second au pair made my life infinitely more stressful.

AnotherSeattleHostMom March 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm

I think, knowing what I know now about having a GREAT au pair that I would move on. We are in a bit of a mediocre situation ourselves but the AP is generally receptive to feedback and takes suggestions we make, follows directions, etc. so she just takes a little more management but she makes adjustments as we request. I think that’s the issue here is that you have been very specific and black and white (5 minutes of social media per hour is pretty generous!) and she hasn’t improved. That to me shows that she probably won’t…unless the real threat of rematch is there…but I personally wouldn’t threaten it…I’d just do it.

Should be working March 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

How strict are the agencies about requiring mediation in such a case? As I talked to my LCC about starting mediation with our last AP (who within a week had told me she wanted to leave) I suddenly felt the LOOONG 2-week-mediation plus 2-week-housing requirements looming and it was horrifying.

Host Mom X March 4, 2014 at 5:12 pm

APC, at least, is not. We have had two re-matches with them, and our AD knew it was time, and helped us get things going. The first rematch wanted to just leave the program at that point anyway, and make her way in America “under the radar.” She didn’t put it that way to the AD, but the AD didn’t try to get us to work on the relationship. With the second rematch, we initiated rematch after the first week, but we had been in touch with our AD about the issues as soon as the AP arrived, and the AD came over and had conference calls with us and she knew another two weeks wasn’t going to solve anything (the AP knew it too). We did actually end up having that AP stay with us for a full month (with close supervision) until our new extension AP could start, and the rematch AP actually found another match. But – the month was not for mediation. The rematch itself happened in the second week of hosting that AP.

Seattle Mom March 4, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I’m with CCAP and I know that LCCs are trained to push for mediation in most cases, but there is no requirement for it. We knew on our AP #2s third day that we needed to rematch ASAP. She was not unsafe, but we could not live with her. I emailed our LCC by the end of the first week as a heads’ up and to ask her for advice about what we should tell our AP and when (since we knew we had the one month grace period to get through, not to mention it was just before Christmas, etc). Our LCC understood that mediation wasn’t possible, and we had our transition meeting on the first day possible.

Should be working March 4, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Can I ask what the issue was and how the LCC knew that mediation was not possible?

It’s good to know that CCAP doesn’t absolutely require mediation.

Host Mom in the City March 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

OP, you just described our second au pair to a “T.” I didn’t even realize how far my standards had lowered by the end of the year. I was looking back at the end of the year to think of something she did well over the year and all I could come up with was that she was a very safe driver and was always on time. Literally everything else she did was mediocre or actually terrible. She spent the majority of her time and focus (both on and off-duty) tending to her social life. I think she was just very very immature, even for her age, and possibly, wanted to do the au pair year to go a little wild out from under the watch of her mother.

We assumed the best at first – perhaps we weren’t clear enough, or she just didn’t understand, or the job was too hard for her, or we were doing something wrong, etc. We clarified, explained, wrote things down, reminded, etc. over and over and over and finally just realized she wasn’t a person that cared about doing a good job. She couldn’t separate her work life from her social life and started just lying to me about her phone use rather than focusing on her job. She had a very easy job – two kids, 25 hours a week, literally no other work, not even laundry. It wasn’t that she couldn’t do the job well, she just didn’t care to. It got slowly worse and worse and the last three months felt like torture. Seeing her ignore my kids over and over, hearing her talk about how easy all her au pair friends had it (unsaid implication: as compared to me), listening to her begin to lie about things, etc. It was maddening.

The worst was that after she left, my kids told me more about their life with her – that she would literally put them in the basement and sit on the couch and text all afternoon, even after they kept asking if she could please play with them or please get them a snack. There was visible relief from them when she left and they were very slow to warm up to our new au pair.

I hate to pigeon-hole someone, but honestly if you’re having repeated issues with social life creep into on-duty time, I can pretty much say with certainty that it won’t get better. She will tell you that she’ll do better and she’ll just find better ways of hiding it. You won’t ever regain the trust and you’ll always suspect she’s doing the bare minimum. I now see that I should have rematched at about month three. I’ve never been in rematch, so I don’t know if this is true, but I think part of the reason I didn’t is because I was afraid of “tainting” our track record. New au pairs always seem to ask how many au pairs you’ve had and want to hear about how they want and talk to them if possible before matching. I was afraid of how having a rematch would impact our ability to match with great au pairs. In retrospect, it was so awful that I shouldn’t have cared so much.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, but I think you’ll feel a huge sense of relief if you just end it.

Should be working March 4, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Wow, that basement story is terrible!!

Let me ask my favorite question: In matching was there any hint of this kind of immaturity and lack of interest in the childcare? How did she come across in matching, and what were your main reasons for choosing her? Do you think you could spot this “type” again, are there any signals to watch for? Or looking back was it simply bad luck and unknowable?

Host Mom in the City March 4, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Well first of all, she was my only non-extraordinaire au pair. Our other two have been extraordinaires and are therefore very experienced. I have a list of things I look for including tons of experience, commitment to something for a long period (anything, really, but could be job, sport, instrument, etc.), supportive parents, 21+, etc. This au pair was none of these things – I was in a huge hurry, it was my first time doing the Cultural Care matching process and I didn’t yet know that it doesn’t work for me the way I want to match, and we’d had such a great experience with our first au pair I think I was overly positive on the program and assumed anyone in it would be as great. Looking back, she basically didn’t meet any of our criteria and I didn’t interview nearly well enough. She seemed “nice” in her application and our interview, and I didn’t quite yet feel confident in my criteria making much of a difference, so I tossed it out the window. My other two have been fantastic, using my criteria and extensive interviewing prior to matching.

Part of the difficulty though was that she was really not self-aware. I think she actually thought she was a pretty good au pair and that she liked kids. Her application was better than some others I’ve seen – she did have a week here and a week there of work in a school and professed to spend lots of times with nieces and nephews and neighbors and just loved kids. She told one really good story about a time she was in a preschool and was challenged and really worked hard to get through it. But looking back, there wasn’t anything behind all that talk. She didn’t have much childcare experience really at all. Nothing that actually proved to me that she enjoyed being with kids (she didn’t).

Lesson learned here (and this relates to our other discussion of “padding” your application from both sides) – of course everyone wants to paint themselves in the best light, but you must look for PROOF of what anyone says, not just blindly believe them. If I had a nickel for every time an au pair application said “I just love kids!!” but then didn’t have much to show for actually spending any time with them….

Multitasking Host Mom March 4, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I know you addressed your question to HMitC, but I thought I would chime in with my experience. Looking back on our first AP who was so-so, yes there were some flags (maybe not bright red flags, but things I should have noticed more). Before, we had hired college age babysitters to do after school care for about 15 hours a week. They had come with only evening babysitting experience, and I thought that would be enough for an AP. But for this au pair, with frequent one night a week babysitting jobs, who had never worked full time, the 30 hours a week during the school year and the full 45 during summer/vacations was just too much for her.

I now look for someone who has had to show up for many hours either in an internship or with a job. Also, her main reason for coming here was to learn the English language to help with future jobs, and I should have listened to that more when interviewing. Now if an AP doesn’t mention the words “kids or children”, by the third sentence of their profile, I move on.

In the interview, she went on and on about how much she liked hanging out with her younger sister. I found out later their bonding time mostly consisted of watching cartoons together. She didn’t like to run around a playground, or help put together a kid’s craft, or read the same book for the fifth time, so she just didn’t do it. At the end of the year, my husband and I agreed that this so-so AP would have been a great exchange student, she was a very sweet person and easy to live with, but just didn’t have it in her to give great child care.

Now the last Red Flag was my fault. When search for our first AP, I was starting a new job, and only had a couple weeks to pick someone. I know I felt rushed and frustrated, and picked an AP who was good enough and ended up with a so-so AP. We now give ourselves 4 months to find a new au pair. Our current AP, we found within the first week of looking, but not having that deadline pressure gave us the time to talk by Skype and email back and forth for a little bit of time, to confirm that we were the right match for each other. (Also, with the help of all of the advice on aupair mom, I have gotten better at asking the right interview questions to tease out these red flags!)

Taking a Computer Lunch March 4, 2014 at 6:41 pm

You can read about my ‘reset your attitude’ conversation elsewhere. However OP, I think you’re done. You said you are from the same country as the AP, you’ve asked her several times to limit her texting and do the chores you need done, and all she’s given you is lip service. If you find yourself venting about her to anyone who will listen, then call your LCC and ask for a mediated meeting. It may end in a rematch at the end of the evening, so have your back-up plans in place. Ask your LCC, prior to the meeting, whether there are infant-qualified APs in rematch, or extension APs available in the near future. Once you require an infant-qualified AP or a special needs willing AP then your choices are limited – even if you are with a big agency like APIA.

AP #6 was excellent at her job, but abysmal with us, her HP. Her driving and English remained mediocre throughout the year and she mistook the end of our requests for getting her U.S. license as not caring – it was an easy out for us not to extend.

AP #8 was immature and not only self-centered, but constantly sought the limelight. Not what I needed in a caregiver for my kids. We should have rematched, but DH didn’t want to wait for an out-of-country arrival. However, a few months into the calm of AP #9, he said to me, “If this ever were to happen again, we will go into rematch.”

I urge the OP to call her LCC tonight. If your AP is not hearing your message, then it’s time to get a new AP. You have a baby and a toddler, they need a caregiver, not just a warm body in the house.

WestMom March 5, 2014 at 7:42 am

What is there to say? This girl really doesn’t have the chops to be an Au Pair (or hold a job for that matter). Rematch ASAP, and find someone with proven experience in completing *something* (my preference is for 21yr+ personally, we don’t consider anyone younger than that…).

We did have problems in the past with Internet access during work time. We now have a serious talk- even bf matching about acceptable Internet use during work (translator, recipe finder, homework help, return a text to a friend that says: ‘I’ll get back to you after my shift’, and that’s it…). no texting, no Skype, and no social media. 

Lastly, I have no patience for an au pair complaining about her situation, when it sounds very fair and in line with the normal expectations of the program. Tells me she did not have the right motivation. Rematch immediately.

Host Mom in the City March 5, 2014 at 9:12 am

When we matched with our current (third) au pair after our awful issues with social media use while on the job, we put it right up front in our letter and also in our handbook, and we said that it was a concern of ours right up front when we were interviewing. We basically phrased it that the kids were really upset that their second au pair spent a lot of time ignoring them because she was on her phone and that it was so hurtful that we want to make sure that any future au pair understands that we will be really sensitive to phone use while on duty. We made it clear that of course we understand brief use – a “hey – tonight’s plan sounds good – text you after work!” or something like that is totally fine. Anything beyond that, not fine with us. I will do this with any future matches too as it worked well this time around.

Should be working March 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm

All good ideas. I think I haven’t been direct and upfront enough about the internet/texting stuff in my info and arrival-orientation. It’s in the handbook and I say it sort of quickly again on arrival, but somehow I (WHY?) feel embarrassed to do that because it feels like scolding in advance.

And then, surprise, a few weeks in the kids tell me she’s texting a lot while on duty. I need to say more than once, slowly and seriously, that I don’t want the AP on the phone or computer while working. Thanks for these reminders and for the push to say it UP FRONT CLEARLY AND WITH GRAVITAS.

skny March 6, 2014 at 7:22 pm

We have been telling all candidates that we do not allow internet use at all when at work. and that cell phone use is also reduced. The must agree before match

Dorsi March 9, 2014 at 4:19 am

Thanks for the reminder (slowly and clearly WITH GRAVITAS). We are a few weeks into AP#6 and having our first real struggle with texting on the job. I am still in that honeymoon phase where I want everyone to be happy. However, I know her effort and engagement is not going to increase without some specific management.


WestMom March 9, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I think this would be a great topic for this forum. We all seem to have struggled with electronic use at least once…

TexasHM March 5, 2014 at 10:06 am

I agree with all above. Rematch. There are a couple key points you hit –

1. the comparison to other families – this is not only rude, its incredibly insensitive. How would APs feel if we walked around comparing them to their friends or to previous APs that did a better job?! This gives some insight into her personality and tells me she is extremely selfish and self centered. No sign of empathy or compassion for others feelings.

2. You have asked her to do things and now she just ignores you and doesn’t do them. I know some have said you need to be very firm etc etc, and that might help but this tells me again, she has no desire to please/do a good job. She is obviously not self-motivated and the sheer amount of time/energy it would take for you to motivate her day in and day out (assuming thats even possible) is staggering and unreasonable.

Like others have said, if you need it for your sanity, have a mediation meeting and tell her she has two weeks to start chipping in. If your sanity is fine and you know you need to move on and its not your fault then proceed directly to rematch.

I have to say that I am starting to believe that some of this really falls on the agencies as far as expectation setting. We recently switched from the largest agency to Interexchange and the difference in the candidates and expectations were mind blowing. We had some trouble with the candidates from the big agency and had to spend A LOT of time expectation setting and getting the LCC to back us up because in the large agency there was a lot of “selling” the experience to the girls and even though we told them otherwise and orientation told them otherwise, they still believed the hype to a degree, some more than others (the ones that totally buy it usually get sent home fairly quickly).

At Interexchange, the application the APs sign says clearly it is a job and to be taken seriously. That they have rights (hours, paid vacation, etc) but that they are here to provide stable, consistent childcare in exchange for the opportunity of cultural exchange, shelter of a family and some education and some travel. They also provide some top notch documentation to both the APs and the HFs about house rules, expectations, etc that make it clear that the things you mentioned above are not only normal and assumed (tidy up kids stuff, kids laundry, bedding, etc), but it could be more.

Something about having in print – “Do you prefer the AP do laundry on a certain day of the week, what cycles should they use” etc makes a world of difference vs just having it in our handbook and telling them ourselves. Our one month in awesome rematch AP from Interexchange has now gotten to know the APs from the larger agency here that we knew and she is regularly shocked by how much they don’t know about the program, how much the HFs and APs get away with (program rules) and about the kinds of things the APs complain about. Not to say that people can’t break the rules at Interexchange but they sure make it impossible to say you didn’t know and since everything gets logged in their planner (agency requirement – schedule, # of hours actually worked, stipend paid date and amount, etc) I think it makes it much harder for those that want to skirt the rules to do so without a lot more effort.

Seattle Mom March 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm

I agree with all of the above. One personal note to add: a couple of weeks ago I considered sending my “mediocre AP” story to this blog. But my AP really is just mediocre, not bad like the OP’s AP! And she’s getting better, so I think we’ll be ok. I don’t think we’ll be in rematch territory unless things really deteriorate in unexpected ways.

My AP has been with us for about 6 weeks and shows very little initiative, and does not have as dynamic a personality as we like. She makes dumb mistakes that result in things we care about being lost/broken- she’s not really careful with objects. She also seems to let the kids walk all over her, which bugs me.. but so far she’s getting them to do what she needs them to do and they like her. She takes direction well and is easy to get along with- she has a pleasant personality and good manners. And sometimes she does things on her own, it seems that she’s starting to understand the routine. She seems to genuinely want to do a good job, and she’s not completely incompetent. Just a little.

So I felt like things were bad about 2 weeks ago, I even sent an email to my LCC just to vent a little and let her know things weren’t great. But now I think they are just fine (and I kept my LCC updated on the situation). I think over the next few months we’ll get to like our AP better, and recognize her strengths and talents. She’s just different than our first 2 APs and it’s taking some getting used to (even though she’s from the same country as our first AP).

If our AP were deliberately not doing things we had specifically asked her to do that would be another story. In fact part of the problem with her is that on occasion she does not clean up after the kids as she should and we come home to a messy house. But I think she just forgets… because she cleans up about 90% of the time, and especially after she’s been reminded.

Should be working March 5, 2014 at 6:47 pm

I try to talk to the prospective AP’s mom during matching, they give a pretty honest assessment (so far) of whether the AP is messy or tidy.

“Taking direction” is big, especially if the au pair is not so experienced and will need direction. We had an AP who did not take direction well (the story about refusing to change sheets more often than once every two weeks) but she had so much initiative and positive energy about other things that it was not a dealbreaker. Again, as the personality tests show, “initiative” goes along with “stubbornness”. What made me more angry than the sheets was when that same AP, on a trip with us to a pretty exotic place, was taking pictures of the people even though signs told us not to treat them like animals in a zoo–and even when I demanded she stop, she took a few more.

Seattle Mom March 6, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I agree with you on taking direction- it’s big but not a deal-breaker if the AP is doing well on their own. Our last AP could not take direction at all, I think it had to do with being Thai after reading some of Old China Hand’s comments on Asian culture. She just seemed really annoyed or angry whenever we told her we wanted her to do something differently. BUT she did do what we wanted, for the most part, she just did it her way, which was usually fine. AND she was just super amazing with the kids- one of the most creative and high-energy people I have had the honor of knowing. So we just learned to live with the fact that she was never going to run the dryer for less than 1 1/2 hours even though the clothes get dry in half that time. She was always going to buy wayyyy too much random stuff for the kitchen. She was going to wash and fold everything in the house (including our personal laundry) once a week, even though we weren’t really sure we wanted her to do that. She was going to take the kids to her friend’s Thai restaurant for lunch, where they would eat good food, but they would stay too late past their nap sometimes and get too much chocolate from the owner. And we loved her!

eastcoastmom March 6, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Seattle Mom, this sounds just like our current AP. We are about 6 months in and things have gotten better, but because she’s slightly incompetent too I’m very worried about how this summer is going to go. I can see I’m going to have to plan out every second of every day because she’s not self motivated and can’t seem to think of things to do with the kids very often. I find myself constantly saying “either she’s messing with me or she’s following that rule of never do a bad job well.” Not that we give her bad jobs – you all know what I mean. And she’s the WORST cook ever! Can’t follow a recipe to save her life.

I’m still reading through the comments. I hope the OP updates us. Rematch sounds like a good call to me too. No reason to prolong the agony. We’ve BTDT before too.

Skny March 6, 2014 at 4:47 am

On the chores, expectations, etc… It is really hard because some Au pairs do have a better deal. No way around.
My last Au pair who was great, and we loved a lot, was always pointing that another Au pair in our area had free gas on her time off, and could take the car as far as 10hs away. I honestly get it. We live in a far away land and everything is far. We offer Au pair a car for herself, and allow them to go as far as 2hs away with it. No more because if the car breaks I can’t go 10hs away to retrieve car and Au pair. 2hs is my limit. I also can’t afford to pay my Au pair’s gas during her free time. The cost of maintaining, insuring a third car is enough for us. So unfortunately she has to pay for her gas… But sad for her, her friend gets all her gas cost covered.
My Au pairs work all 45hs. Not because I want to be mean, but because I work 45hs a week and need it with kids under 3/4. And if there is a holiday, or a day that hubby and I stay home a day during the week, I will give it off for her and sometimes ask her to work Sat night. We do not have relatives or respite. Ever. So those 3 or 4 sat a year are all we get in a year for date night.
In between, many Au pairs will watch one or two school aged kids, work 20hs a week, and have every weekend off. So I hear that too.
Au pairs comparing and commenting is inevitable.
In between, as I told before, our former Au pair that we love is coming back for 8 weeks (her vacation time) to help us out during last 5 weeks of gestation and 3 first weeks after birth.
SHE volunteered. Said she had vacation to use. We offered for her to stay here for free as a guest. She declined saying she needed work to pay for travel costs, and other things at home. SHE suggested coming instead of us hiring someone new so soon before baby was born. We happily and gladly accepted, assisted with part of air ticket and agreed on a value.
Next thing you know, last week she asks me in Skype if we are going to give has money, because family x still gives their Au pairs free gas money.
They just don’t completely get the whole cost for families…

Should be working March 6, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Wait, I’m not sure I get the last part of the story. A beloved former au pair offers to come for her vacation to help out after baby is born (so in principle to work for you?). Actually in that case I would offer her gas money. Or at least the whole situation needs to be negotiated, because it’s not the official au pair situation. It doesn’t strike me as greedy on her part, because this is a pretty extraordinary offer.

Otherwise, yes I get it. Somehow, although my handbook is CRYSTAL CLEAR about how often the AP works on Sat night (maybe 5x/yr), when those Sat nights come some APs act put upon. Also, I point out that while I could do the morning set up with kids all by myself, one reason we have an AP is just to make it easier for me, and we have the hours, so we’ll use them. Some APs after awhile have asked me if she can have a morning off to sleep in because “you can do it all yourself anyway”. and seem to resent having to wake up and work for just one hour when, indeed, it’s not that I absolutely need the help. I try to point out that, indeed, I don’t NEED the help, but then if I didn’t use the help I could also just get an afternoon babysitter.

hOstCDmom March 6, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I think SKNY was saying that she is going to be paying the former AP, who is coming for 8 weeks, but is not planning to also pay for AP personal gas…(or maybe I misunderstood ?)

Momma Gadget March 6, 2014 at 4:07 pm

That is tricky because it isn’t and official AP position. We only had one AP ( our 1st) openly do the comparison thing. We told her that that family family didn’t choose her, and that was not the situation that either of us agreed to.

My first inclination would be to say “We are not X family, we’ve already settled on compensation and we just can’t afford any more.”
But since she is doing you a favor, maybe there is a compromise- that you will give her up to 10$ a week gas money, but anything over that she needs to pay.

Host Mom in the City March 6, 2014 at 4:40 pm

The host family comparison thing was like the nail in the coffin with au pair #2. At least every other day, she would make a comment such as “[friend] is going to drive tonight since her host parents pay for all her gas” and “can you believe [friend] only has to work every other week since her kids alternate between their mom’s and dad’s house? That would be so great” and “so funny that most of my friends only work like 20 hours” and “[friend] is gone on another trip! Her host family takes her on so many vacations!”

It wasn’t conversational – it was a veiled attempt to tell me that she thought everyone else was getting a great deal. It was another example of her immaturity and inability to see the world view. I wanted to remind her that she herself only worked 25 hours for most of the year, that such and such friend was just over here complaining bitterly about how mean her host mom is, that she had literally no chores at all and she had JUST told me that this friend’s host parents required her to practically be a housekeeper, that such and such friend may have her own car, but her host parents dictated her two vacation weeks where ours had a really flexible schedule, etc. I wish I had been more forward. I still can’t believe I just took these comments and sat there in silence.

skny March 6, 2014 at 7:32 pm

We are giving her a fair raised rate, which was agreed upon before. I was just surprised she waited a lot before asking.. Family x gives their au pair a credit card for gas. I am not doing it. we truly cannot afford.
What I said I could do is give her a car with full tank on Fridays, and she only needs to return with 1/4 tank (so I can get to work on Monday (we switch cars during week/weekend. During week she has a minivan, on weekends a civic).

skny March 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm

plus again, we are not the best family in the program. Fair, compassionate, caring, etc…
But we are FAR from wealthy. Some weeks after we pay all bills, groceries, retirement and college savings, etc… our shopping power is way lower than our au pairs. She has way more disposable cash than I do.

skny March 9, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Ok, so loved former au pair is back (for her third season with us). She has been by far our best au pair, and I just got a reminder of why. She arrived on Friday and the girls were extremely happy to see her.
If you think my kids are 2 and 4, and she has been away since last August, it is amazing they even remember her. It is as if she had never left. She just gets them.
It was refreshing to just give her the car and house keyes back, hand the cell phone and say good night… No need to teach anything, give directions, introduce anyone….
Too bad she is only staying 8 weeks. I could have her here forever. That is one of those times I wish we lived in a big city. She would come back to stay with us longer IF we lived closer to a big city where she could take some more interesting classes (and places to go, have more au pair friends). Oh well… will enjoy her while we can!!!.
Just hope I dont get spoiled for the next au pair to come in June…

Host Mom in the City March 6, 2014 at 7:20 am

Skny made me think of something that might have worked for me in bringing up rematching with our bad au pair. It was too difficult for me to say “you are a terrible au pair and we don’t want you here anymore” which is so harsh to say to someone (though it felt true!). What about posing it as “the job our family needs someone to do involves these duties and chores for these hours. Unfortunately it seems like at this point you’ve realized that’s not a job you want to do. We’re going to initiate rematch and we’ll help the LCC find you a family that has a job that better fits what you want out of the year.” That I could have said I think.

WarmStateMomma March 6, 2014 at 10:36 am

Well said! It’s honest but not unkind.

Peachtree Mom March 6, 2014 at 6:29 pm

In the beginning our au pair used the comparison of her friend never having to work a weekend and some other comparisons. It was very hurtful because she was in no way overwork and I thought everything was great. Our 6yo is in school everyday, and we have a housekeeper etc. Heck every two weeks we took our daughter out of town for 2 days.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 6, 2014 at 9:47 pm

The discussion of fairness always comes up. It’s a good time to teach your AP the idiomatic expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” The AP who works 45-hours per week caring for infants and toddlers has to be reminded that she’s off for the day at 5:00 or 6:00 while her friends who have the middle of the day off have to work later in the evening and on weekends.

Someone might get to borrow a family car with a full tank of gas, while others have nearly unlimited access to an “au pair car,” while others have to beg to use a car at all. So to the AP who complains to you about her situation, ask her if ALL of her friends are in that boat. (And quite frankly, if you aren’t in a situation to let your AP drive a car, then toss her a $5 to help pay for gas to cluster meetings and classes every once in a while. If she’s a lousy driver and hasn’t earned the privilege, that’s another matter – give her benchmarks toward earning the driver’s license that will grant it.)

Every AP rolls her eyes at having to work on the weekend (who in their teens or 20s does?!), but if you offer her the right to have friends over for dinner after the kids go to bed, chances are “they’re all working.” While she can always find a friend or two to hang with on the Friday or Saturday night she’s free, chances are there may be no close friends she’d actually want in the house when you come home. Really. To be fair, book the weekends in advance. I do my best to schedule my AP by the 3rd weekend of the previous month. Sure, things come up – that last minute dinner invitation that doesn’t include the kids – or the dinner invitation that does and you don’t need her to work after all. The sooner she knows when she will be working, the sooner she can make those last minute plans with friends. (One caveat – do your best not to schedule your AP for the last weekend she’s working – she’s saying goodbye to all her friends, too. If it can’t be helped, then soften the blow “I know you probably planned…. but…. and I am sorry.”)

If you’ve had a “reset your attitude” conversation and it hasn’t helped, then ask your LCC to call or arrange to visit your AP and help her see that the chores and the hours that she’s working are well within HF expectations. When AP #8 gave me a snarky “I didn’t come here to be a housemaid” after I explained that with a 25-hour working schedule that I expected three loads of laundry and some light cleaning to be done any time during the week when she wasn’t with the kids, I asked my LCC to explain that it was a reasonable expectation. (Afterwards, when she wasn’t accomplishing my work goals for her week, I told her she had a choice, I would schedule the work to be done and limit her flexibility, or she could choose when to do it.)

Finally, like it or not, you’re a manager. Your employee isn’t always going to be happy about the work. It you don’t like conflict, you’re going to have to suck it up. Remember, it’s good practice for when your teenagers don’t like your rules, except it will be parentally loaded. Don’t take it personally a) that she complains to other APs or b) is unhappy. Be firm but reasonable in your expectations.

Finally, you don’t have to be rich to be generous. Invite your AP to play board games with you on family game night, let her invite a friend to share a special dinner with you at home, make that meal to which she always wants to have seconds, and invite her AP friends and their host children to your childrens’ birthday parties (the latter doesn’t work so well with teenagers). Finally, remember than an extra day off goes a lot further than a tank of gas when it comes to good will. When she goes the extra mile, then buy her a favorite food or a small gift certificate to Starbucks or her favorite eatery (in the old days I bought phone cards). It’s not hard to show your AP that you care – it doesn’t have to be lavish.

And when your AP complains that X never has to pay for gas, be honest, “I wish I could afford to do that for you, because you always work so hard. However, when I chose to host and AP, I had to give up a lot of things. I don’t go out a lot, I don’t spend a lot of money on myself, and I really can’t afford to buy you a tank of gas. If you’re driving your friends everywhere, then it’s okay to ask them to pitch in and help pay for gas, especially the ones that can’t ask their HF for the car.”

Don’t feel guilty that you don’t have endless resources. Do what is reasonable for your budget and be generous in spirit. (My income has increased exponentially since I started hosting, which means I can now afford an AP, but not huge family vacation. So be it. AP #9 is more than halfway through her year and I haven’t gone into rematch yet (although I’ve been tempted twice.)

Dorsi March 9, 2014 at 4:56 am

This is such a great summary of “fair” and “generous” — something we probably all aspire to.

skny March 7, 2014 at 8:09 am

great post, thanks

Host mom by the sea March 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

My AP met an AP (not here with any organization, living on an expired visa, paid only in cash) that seems a little wild.

For the past three weekends (weekends are always off) she has come home hung over and exhausted after staying with different men.

I don’t want to interfere but it leaves me feeling very unsettled.

Also, because this new friend is not with an agency, she is being paid a bit more in cash and I keep hearing comparisons. Should I address these things?

She is great with our two kids, although now she is always exhausted Monday and even Tuesday after her weekend.

The only tasks I ask is to clean up after her dishes and the baby bottles. She never does this. I can’t decide whether to extend if she wants to extend. Am I being to hard on her ?

cv harquail March 10, 2014 at 1:44 pm

WM- I’ll set that one up too.

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