Au Pairs and Common Sense: Guest Post by TakingAComputerLunch

by TakingAComputerLunch on February 27, 2013

Common sense plays a huge role in how we function as adults, especially those of us with children.

Mother Owl, fox, baby shower card, baby shower invitation, adoptive mother card, grandmother, whimsical, blank card

As parents, we know a late night out will cause us to pay double in the morning, because the kids’ internal alarm clocks don’t reset just because we’ve had no sleep. We know we need to think about what we say because we’re living with human sponges who remember everything. We know we’re responsible for our actions.

And so, how do we teach our au pairs common sense when it’s lacking?

Recently, after an evening out (notice I didn’t say “night”?), DH and I returned home to find the dining room table sopping wet. A child had knocked over a glass of milk, which spilled across the table. Instead of removing the tablecloth, our Au Pair asked the guilty party if there were another tablecloth. When she couldn’t find one, our Au Pair left it in place, not realizing that the milk was slowly seeping across the table and into the crevices of the pad that covered it. Common sense should have told her to remove the table cloth and wipe up the mess and not to worry whether or not there was a table cloth.

Another time, our Au Pair was caught in a rainstorm with our special needs child. Instead of picking her up and running to the car, she walked her through the downpour. Although the child was wearing a raincoat (at least her teacher had common sense), our Au Pair was not and neither were the contents of the child’s school backpack. Instead of unpacking the child’s backpack when she got home, she didn’t say or do anything.

DH, when he sought the notebook the next morning, discovered that it was ruined by remaining in the backpack overnight. In addition, a couple of articles of clothing smelled of mildew. (You might say it was our responsibility, but DH and I have asked our Au Pair to unpack said child’s backpack every day.)

Recently, and even though the table next to the clothes washer reads “Wash towels without anything else once a week”, the dear Au Pair just had to wear her brand new jeans, and so she threw them in. Because she had never done laundry at home, she didn’t know that dark blue jeans bleed. Sigh.

I recall on this blog, a HM in a cold state complaining when an Au Pair’s forgotten six pack exploded in the back seat of her car.

My LCC, when I complained, gave me wise advice,

“Common sense is not something that I have seen a rapid improvement in during the au pair year. It seems to be something you either have or you don’t.”

And so, DH and I have grit our teeth and decided to explain everything to our Au Pair. Because she needs to have every action spelled out.

For example, instead of saying “Please pack up the diaper bag,” which we have typically done at this point for her predecessors; we mention everything that needs to go into the bag. Tiresome? Yes.

We’re not good candidates for rematch. We have a special needs child that needs constant transportation and a typically developing child in way too many afterschool activities. And so, we’re seeking your advice.

If you can’t teach common sense, how do you bite the bullet and survive a year without it?

We’ve been gritting our teeth and trying to recall that while our Au Pair does appear to learn from experience, the lessons learned don’t scale up – that is, she does take what she learned from one mistake, and sit and review what she’s learned before plunging forward. DH and I spend a lot of time thinking through each situation for her, which is tiresome and makes us feel patronizing.

  • What are some common sense blunders you’ve experienced that forced you to rethink your relationship with your AP?

  •  What are your tips for surviving a year with an au pair who lacks common sense?

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Mother Owl, by Jahnavashti, available for purchase on Etsy

{ 109 comments }

Should be working February 27, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Alas, it hadn’t occurred to me to put in our handbook that APs may never pick up hitchhikers! We have kids who hang out at the bottom of our big, long hill to get a ride up the hill and then skateboard down (usually at higher speed than cars). Not a safe goal for the skateboarders, not safe for drivers or anyone, and while these kids aren’t otherwise apparently troublemakers it’s not a good example to MY kids to take strangers in the car even if they are only 13.

My 9-yr-old even told the AP, “I don’t think Mama would like us to do this,” and reported it to me that evening. Now it’s in the handbook. But the obvious problem is that commonsense issues aren’t foreseeable or cataloguable.

HRHM February 27, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Re: common sense and hitchhiking – I think this may be more of a “cultural” thing than a common sense thing. There are many areas of the planet where car ownership is much more exotic than it is in the US and people frequently hitchhike and transport hitchhikers. So in all cases, it may be a good point for either the HHHB or the first car conversations.

Busy Mom February 28, 2013 at 9:39 am

Don’t pick up hitchhikers is in our handbook! I think I picked up that tip from this blog a few years back…

HRHM February 27, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Oh the list is legion! Although, sometimes I think it’s a function of carelessness/laziness, possibly coupled with a lack of common sense that results in these incidents. Was it not the smartest move to stroll through the downpour? Absolutely. But it was probably just laziness that motivated leaving the soaked backpack around for someone else to deal with. Our current AP has great common sense, but halfway through the year, I find myself having to become MORE specific about how and when I want things done. Between the SAD and job complacency many small things start slipping and it’s a slippery slope.

If you really can’t fathom a rematch, you’re kind of stuck with treating her like a computer…input = output. I love checklists, emails, text reminders, we use the CC-provided daily log book and it allows us to give frequent reminders (EVERY week, the same notes, you’d think it wasn’t necessary, BUT…)

JJ Host Mom February 27, 2013 at 3:39 pm

We had an au pair like this once. It was actually our first au pair. She just needed lots of hand-holding and everything needed to be explicitly spelled out. But like you say, a lesson learned didn’t necessarily equate to doing things differently the next time. After struggling through it for 8 months we finally sent her home after an incident – our year old son had a 104 degree fever and rather than call us or the doctor for help, she sat outside with him in the 90+ degree sun all day. He could have died, it was very scary.

So what I learned based on that experience is that, to some extent, you can deal with lack of common sense by spelling things out, but you are not going to be able to predict and script every single situation. TACL it seems like this might be a potential issue for the Camel who seems like she has medical emergencies often enough that you’d need to have confidence that your au pair would know what to do in that situation. It’s funny this comes up because for some reason I’ve been thinking about your situation lately. I agree that there are not a lot of au pairs who would be willing/able to properly look after the Camel. But just about now there are a lot of new au pairs entering the pool. I’m wondering if you might be able to talk with your au pair, say “look, this just isn’t working because of X, we would be happy to provide you with a great reference and let you live with us as long as it takes for you to find a new host family, but would you stick with us for the time it takes to get a new au pair in from out of country?”

Another note – as I said above you can deal with a lack of common sense by scripting. But if the au pair isn’t following your instructions (which it sounds like this one isn’t) then that’s not going to work. From your posts I know that you communicate very well and very clearly – normally I’d suggest trying to figure out if it’s a communication issue but I’m sure you’ve already done that.

From where I stand, I just don’t know if this one is salvageable unfortunately.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Actually, she is doing well by The Camel, because she has learned from her mistakes – it’s just there are so many of them.

Some of the mistakes can be classified by just not knowing (washing new jeans with light green towels) because she never did a load of laundry or much housework before she appeared at our door. Others come down to communication (not telling us her boyfriend was in the house because she didn’t feel like leaving us a note – and we permit boyfriends – we just want to know!). And some of it comes down to doing what she wants to do.

She’s not mean, and I don’t think she’s stupid, but I’m in countdown mode – seven months left!

5kids=aupair February 28, 2013 at 8:28 am

At least she is learning from her mistakes! We once had one who still made the mistakes time and time again.

A B C Au Pair February 28, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Im in countdown mode too! But it’s 8 months for me… I know how it feels like

Emerald City HM February 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm

This seems like a sad place to be for an au pair. You should be getting out and enjoying your time, rather than counting down the time when you get to go home. Unless I’m misinterpreting your statement.

lifestartsnow March 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm

that reminds me: in your handbook put down the fahrenheit temperatures for fever and equate them to celsius PLUS provide an action the AP should take (eg call parents, call doctor etc). the AP may not realize how high 104F really is!

Taking a Computer Lunch March 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Of course, it never occurred to me – but a fever chart is useful (although our digital thermometer reads in F), it never occurred to me that I need to clue the AP into what is dangerous. (We’ve gone to 105 F – fortunately both HP were around and new instantly what to do.)

JJ Host Mom March 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Yep we learned that one the hard way.

lifestartsnow March 17, 2013 at 10:19 pm

i’d call myself very well adjusted to the US culture (after 4+ years on/off in the country) but things like fahrenheit and ounces still get me…

Tristatemom February 27, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I think you need to trust your instincts regarding safety here – walking in the rain is dumb, the table cloth thing is dumb but if you feel that in a life emergency situation she would be able to act properly, it may not be hopeless.
This may be an issue of majurity or tunnel vision (is she German :)?), but I have seen German APs that cannot deviate from the chosen path, it is very difficult for them to reassess at a moments notice. Requires that we think for them constantly and still leaves plenty room for mistakes. It is frustrating!

Taking a Computer Lunch February 27, 2013 at 10:55 pm

She is, but she’s actually our 3rd in a row. While the first two liked rules and structure, they learned to be flexible and to see another point of view (so much so that one of them had a really difficult time transitioning home to Germany). However, they were both Extraordinnaires, and so their work experience (plus larger role in their homes) made them able to stop, review, think and decide. Our current AP tells us that it seems obvious when we point out to her what she could have done differently, but of course when we get to that point we’re itched with irk. We will be starting the matching process for next year – and we’ll be dipping back into the Extraordinnaire pool. It’s worth the extra money to us, because it actually saves us money!

German Au-Pair February 28, 2013 at 12:36 am

I try really hard to be offended, but you are right…I very often find myself in situations where I actively have to remind myself to re-think my approach and stop being “stubborn”. It really is a cultural thing. I CAN be flexible, but I really do like to know on Monday what I will do on Saturday :D

But common sense is not the same. I would not grab a kid and run through the rain because I don’t think we’re made out of sugar, but I would protect the backpack with the electronics and documents with my jacket and make sure it doesn’t sit soaking in a puddle all night.

Seattle Mom February 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm

True, you can’t teach common sense (also known as good judgement)… but can you help an AP to think about different options when confronted with a new situation, and the consequences of each one? And then pick what to do based on the consequences. If you have an AP willing to learn, can it be done? I’m asking the crowd here, not sure if it is actually possible.

Maybe if you talk to the AP about thinking through consequences first, then she could learn to think a little more critically about what is happening?

It’s so hard.. I don’t know if I could hold on to an AP with lousy judgement. But if she has a good attitude and is willing to try to think, maybe it could work.

Seattle Mom February 27, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Just saw the above comments about safety issues though… I agree that it’s not really worth taking the risk with a medically fragile child. Or any child! I would also rematch if I had an AP who did what JJ Host Mom’s did.

Anna February 27, 2013 at 5:17 pm

In our case, our au pair’s lack of common sense translated into every facet of her work and life – at the end we had to rematch, because she had to be alone with two small kids at home all day, and she has demonstrated more than once that she could not make decisions that were safe.

Coaching didn’t help – she repeated the same mistake twice (gave a sick child medicine on her own initiative without calling me first or even letting me know the child is suddenly running a high fever; her english was poor so I questioned her ability to give the right medicine in the right dosage). After the first time it happened we had a talk and explained everything in excruciating detail… It didn’t help and she made an almost identical mistake soon after. She also would not call me with questions, ever. If someone doesn’t have common sense, would they know when they need help making a decision? If you cannot coach them for every situation, would they know when they need to call for help?

You are very gentle in identifying a problem. I call it not being smart. IMHO an au pair job is for someone who is smart – they have to start functioning very fast in a new country, new language, they have to be able to absorb a lot of info very fast… This has to be someone who is pretty sharp, in everything.

Dorsi February 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I am struggling with this with my (very) new AP. I have actually had that conversation (with DH, my friends, anyone who will listen) — is she just taking a while to ramp up, or is she really not smart? She seems to have a difficult time inferring/recognizing patterns/etc. For example, she started dumping trash into the kitchen can yesterday as soon as I took the bag out. Did she not realize that there was no bag in there (as there has been every other time she has put trash in — this is particularly obvious in our house as we have two cans next to each other, on bagless for recycling, and one with a bag for trash). If we have 5 diaper covers for the baby, and do laundry 1 time per week, and you throw it in the dirty laundry every time you change a diaper, do you think 5 diaper covers will last more than a day?

Taking a Computer Lunch February 27, 2013 at 11:04 pm

It’s hard, when the new AP arrives. You’ve gotten into your comfort zone with the outgoing AP – she knows your routine, your rules, and she heads out the door with friends at the end of her shift, and then, bam! you have a train a new AP who is overwhelmed by the newness of it all, feels like the rules are flying at her, and is worried that she’s making too many mistakes (especially when her friends who attended orientation with her are suddenly going into rematch or flying home).

I do 2 orientations – one when APs first arrive, and then a second 2-3 weeks in. When they make a mistake, it’s okay to begin a sentence, “I know this hard to remember, but this garbage can is for trash and it needs a liner. Here is where the trash bags are.” Of course it’s frustrating and you want her to get up to speed, but she does have a lot to juggle. And how blissful when the first month passes and you realize that she does actually remember some of the house rules.

When the current AP sighed about all our rules, DH kindly said, “I know it seems like a lot of rules to you, but remember this is our house and our way of doing things. We’ve run it like this for a long time and you aren’t going to do it your way and find that we’re happy about it. It seems like a lot of work now, but you’ll get it.” And she mostly has, except for every once in a while the lack of common sense slaps us in the face.

A B C Au Pair February 28, 2013 at 1:16 pm

You are right, the first time is overwhelming and you think you are making so many mistakes they’re gonna send you home. You want to get better, and faster and you wanna understand your family’s common sense but then they don’t even stick to what they say… all aps I know say the same thing… try to think if at any time you told her to do something a certain way an then you didn’t do it like that or if you told her not to do something and then asked her why she didn’t do it :)

PauliAP April 4, 2013 at 11:11 am

This happened to me ALL THE TIME. e.g. Don’t let child1 go outside cause he just got his tooth pulled out, he’s into meds and he needs to rest. (She leaves) I struggle with child1 because he won’t listen and he’ll be so stubborn and obviously won’t stay in the house. (She’s back) And after struggling all day long trying to keep child1 IN the house she tells me that I (quoting) ”…exagerated and that I SHOULD LET HIM DO WHATEVER HE WANTS ONCE IN A WHILE TO AVOID STRESS, FIGHTS AND FRUSTRATION.” (unquoting) And this kind of situations happened EVERY DAY. So next time I go back to the US as an au pair, I hope I can have more specific and clear HP, cause I’m the kind of person who follows rules and directions as I am told, so yeah.

TexasHM February 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Urgh, I feel for you. This was our first AP and here’s the kicker, I may be jumping to conclusions but we didn’t rematch because ironically, our AP seemed to have good judgment when it came to caring for the kids (would never think of giving them medicine, was very cautious in regards to their safety, proactive, etc) so we never did rematch, we puttered along and tolerated as it seems you have been doing.
I tend to agree that you can’t teach common sense. We tried being explicit with our first AP but ran into the same problem mentioned above – she would find new and creative ways to surprise us! Everything from getting water on the counter while doing dishes and instead of stopping and cleaning it up, continuing as the water went across the kitchen island and right onto a stack of large pictures I was pressing flat to frame. I guess I could have put the picture somewhere else but I had pointed it out to her that morning and honestly, who expects pictures to get soaked 8 feet away from the sink?! I would think if I saw I sprayed a bunch of water out by accident I would at least grab a towel and stop it from traveling the length of the kitchen and costing my HM over $200 to replace all the photos but hey, I am apparently crazy. BTW when I walked out and saw it she said it wasn’t her, that she had only spilled water next to her at the sink, despite the still standing water going from the sink to the pictures and onto the floor. Sigh.
While I’m sure it’s not what you want to hear, I don’t think you can coach it. I think you have to decide if you trust her judgment in safety situations and if the answer is yes, then decide if you can tolerate the little things continuing to happen (because they will). If the answer is no to either of those then I 100% agree with the poster that said you create an exit strategy with her while you screen and match with a new out of country AP.
I guess another question would be how much longer does she have? Having been there, if the answer is a few months you could probably tough it out with the concious decision to do so. If it’s longer than that I will pray for you! :)

Buffalogirl February 27, 2013 at 6:12 pm

We had an au pair for a year who was a complete and utter airhead. BUT, she was so kind, and sweet with the children, and was really a hard worker with her heart in the right place that we sucked it up. Really, I basically changed my expectations of the role she played in our household. She was more of a mother’s helper with me telling her everything to do (which she did willingly, to the letter, and never complained). She wasn’t lazy, she wasn’t a princess. She was just clueless. If I had been concerned for her judgement with the kids, I would have rematched. But strangely, she seemed to keep her head on with them (with the exception of once making hot chocolate waaaaay too hot) which I think came primarily from her work experience. She just lacked life experience. She turned my boys’ whites to pink. She accidentally dropped a toothpaste tube in the toilet and didn’t realize it. After 3 weeks of the toilet “not working right” we got a plumber in with a snake to discover the missing toothpaste. And FORGET ever getting important papers from school. Unless I asked for them, they spent a week or so on the floor of the car. But stranger still, she is one of my two au pairs who NEVER had a car accident.

My advice is, if you have no other choice but to suck it up for a year, reassess the role you’ll need her for (e.g. emptying/organizing backpacks) and redeploy her to other tasks that she may seem particularly good at. But start looking now — at least you can fantasize about all the great things the next one will have ;-)

TexasHM February 27, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Amen! This was us too! I buried my ideal AP dream and adjusted to a new, realistic/achievable role.

MidAtlantic Host Family February 27, 2013 at 8:54 pm

First time commenting here, but we recently found and have been reading everything here. I think your LCC gave sage advice. We have an embarrassing number of signs everywhere including the door to our kids’ bathroom and the doors to both the washer and dryer as a result of our last au pair that went home early. New au pair is awesome and probably does not need those signs (something we have frequently commented about). I am by no means suggesting you should go into transition, but your au pair might more successful in a mother’s helper role where a parent is constantly supervising and instructing. I do not think you can magically gift her common sense but if you figure it out, please let the rest of us know how.

Didis February 28, 2013 at 3:04 am

I, as an au pair, agree with all this above. She might be clueless, or just lazy and having her mind on many other things more important to her than this position in your house. I believe with people like that the best approach is act like they are one of the kids; tell them step by step what have to be done, write it if necessary and point out consequence if she doesnt do it properly. Also, if she is with you over 5 months now, maybe she is not as satisfied and trying to just go through days without thinking…
I guess my point is trying to work through it and being careful not to hurt her feelings will not to anything good, and straight forward approach might do some difference.

5kids=aupair February 28, 2013 at 9:21 am

This sounds like our AP from Slovakia. Sweetest girl ever, but totally clueless and had no learning curve. Once I handed her my toddler daughter’s shoes and told her that her barrette was inside and to put it in her hair and put her shoes on. Hours later, I ask where her barrette was. Yup, still in her shoe with the poor baby walking around on it for hours! I got very specific with APs telling them not to be afraid to ask questions when they don’t understand things. This AP was a nodder, yes, she understood everything. I’ve also learned to spell things out completely, but “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!”

It was our most stressful AP year ever, I kept thinking it would get better. Definitely should’ve rematched. And at the time, we only had 3 kids!

Georgiapeach March 1, 2013 at 2:26 am

I learned to talk very very slowly using the simplest verbiage possible. Then I use the same technique as when I was a manager: have them repeat back to me what I said.
Just like the employees who used to report to me, this worked well.

CA Host Mom March 1, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I have also tried the slow speech and basic concepts and am continually reminding HD to do the same (he’s got a tendency to use metaphors and complicated references to explain things without realizing it … ). I am curious, however, do you run across APs who are (or seem to be) offended by that approach? Our AP#2 was (complete with eye rolling and dismissive/sassy replies), but then she was also the disaster AP.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 1, 2013 at 7:46 am

We had a nodder once. I learned from her to ask, “Tell me what I asked you to do today while I’m at work,” and after one disastrous trek home (she got lost for 3 hours with the kids – before we had a gps in the car or a family cell phone plan) – “Tell me how you’re going to get home.”

Old China Hand February 28, 2013 at 10:19 am

This will seem a bit tangential, but bear with me for a minute. I am a science professor and in my classes I try to get students past the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application) to the higher levels (analysis, synthesis, evaluation). To do this, I need to help them practice it. They know how to read a science textbook, hear a lecture on it, and regurgitate the answers on a test. Even in my intro (100-level) classes, I don’t want them to learn at that level. I want them to take what they learn in class and critically analyze it, synthesize data from multiple lessons, and evaluate new information in the context of those data. I also want them to evaluate their learning (at a meta-level). However, none of that comes without practice. If I just test them at the higher level, I am setting them up for failure. So I need to give them lots of chances to practice the higher levels of thinking before testing them on it.

So, moving back to the au pair question, it seems like we have a similar thing with “common sense”. Because what is common sense but taking your accumulated knowledge, comprehension, and application from a bunch of diverse little things (like trash bag in the can, toilet paper CAN go in toilets in the US, the baby needs his apron when he eats) and distilling that knowledge (keep the plumping functional, keep the house in a state that makes it easier to clean, respect property, keep the baby clean) into new situations (don’t let the baby run around on the carpet without a diaper on, bring the 6-pack in from the cold car). So, as host parents, if we view ourselves in the coach mode rather than information deliverer mode, we would want to take some time and help our AP to distill the lessons from one experience, reflect on them, and evaluate how it connects to other experiences. Maybe that is something that can be incorporated into weekly meetings. Spend a few minutes each week thinking about lessons learned, what the underlying “bigger concept” is in them, and how it could apply to other situations.

For example, with our AP we have a problem where she doesn’t carry her cellphone on her all the time and we don’t have a house phone. So today I had to go home (only 10 minutes) to tell her about a worker coming this morning. It wasn’t a total wash since I could then leave more money to pay him, but if I had been able to get her on the phone (I tried calling and text), she could have paid him cash and then I would have paid her back. She got the connection immediately, without me even mentioning that I tried to reach her on the phone. She said, “Oh, I feel so sorry. If I had my phone, you would have gotten me”.

In another case, our AP got asked to loan some money to a friend (a lot of money) and she didn’t know how to say no. So we set up a system with her where we put half of her money every week into a bank account that she can’t directly get to. If she needs the money, we will give it to her, but this way she can learn to say no to her friends without feeling bad about it. And she is learning the important (common sense-related) skill of saving money.

I firmly believe that these skills can be learned, our APs just haven’t always had the chance yet. So, looking at host parenting from the perspective of helping someone to gain new life skills and experiences, we just need to figure out low-stakes ways to help them practice these important skills so that when the high stakes are there, we can trust that they will pass the test. If we don’t give them the chance to practice before the test, we are setting them up for failure.

Dorsi February 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I feel like the skills you are talking about go beyond common sense. The ability to synthesize information and apply it to novel situations certainly has a learned aspect. The difference (in my opinion) is the ability to recognize situations that you have been exposed to before and respond in a like fashion. Also, understanding whether a situation is novel (which is simply an issue of memory)

This morning we are dealing with a dishwasher disaster — dish soap in the washer made bubbles that have activated the float alarm and won’t drain. I don’t know what that means exactly. However, I don’t expect APs to know how to run the dishwasher. That is why I walk them through it step by step before they do it themselves. I think I have an AP who has a combination of inattentiveness and confidence (as well as difficulty imagining consequences — maybe not for this circumstance, but it does not take a vivid imagination to think of consequences if cloth diapers are not taken out for the once weekly diaper pick up.)

Old China Hand February 28, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I agree – some of it just takes a little imagination. No matter what I do, I can’t get our AP to take the diaper bag when she goes out with the baby. They are never out for very long and he normally poops on a pretty regular schedule, so she figures she knows she doesn’t need it. Culturally she is unwilling to use (and reuse) cloth spit rags, so she prefers to use tissue/toilet paper when he spits up. I have gotten her to take a single diaper with her for emergencies, but I suspect that usually doesn’t happen. :) One day she’ll have a big mess to deal with and come home with a naked baby, then maybe she’ll see the point of the diaper bag.

Emerald City HM February 28, 2013 at 4:51 pm

This post makes me laugh everytime I scroll past it. Mostly because I myself have forgotten the diaper bag and have realized halfway through lunch with friend that I really hope the baby doesn’t poop until I get back home.

Lina February 28, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Personally I hated the diaper bags. It was big and just not convenient to carry around. If I only went out for 1-3 h I had 1 diaper and wipes with me. I also stored some in the car. But never took the bag. Never had problems. So why do you get upset if she does not take it? It sounds like she got it pretty much under control, or am I missing something?

Old China Hand February 28, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I don’t really care if she doesn’t take the diaper bag, but I can imagine that she’ll have some pretty awkward situations to deal with if something happens and she needed it. I do wish she’d take a diaper and wipes so that she wouldn’t have to carry home a naked poopy baby if something bad happens. We use cloth diapers, so it can be a mess. But fundamentally I figure it is her business to deal with a mess at the library if there is one. She doesn’t drive, so she can’t stash stuff in the car.

Old China Hand February 28, 2013 at 10:48 pm

As another side note: I don’t want to sound whiny about our AP. We are 6 weeks into the year and I am so thrilled with the program that I can’t believe more people don’t get APs (we have the only one in our city, as far as I know). I find it surprising that she would go to the library for the afternoon with the baby without the diaper bag, but I don’t care as long as she deals with the side effects of those decisions. I really do like her and don’t want to come across differently.

Should be working February 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm

This is not just an AP problem, it’s a personnel problem, isn’t it? I have a support person at work with similar problems and I don’t know how to “train” her to be more imaginative, less lazy, more proactive. Example: I ask her to book a room for a small event, and I suggest a particular room. She comes back to me a few days later with an email telling me, simply, “That room is not available.” So then I have to email her AGAIN and ask for another room. Which it is obvious I need. Why do I have to spell it out? And that’s the pattern for all the work she does.

What do HR people say to this sort of thing? Can you train someone to be more commonsensical, see the logical next step, and do it?

PauliAP April 4, 2013 at 11:27 am

I ALWAYS SAY: ONE STEP FORWARD! So, I am always ONE STEP FORWARD, you know? Try to think BEYOND.

OpinionatedHM February 28, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Dorsi, We’ve had the dishsoap in the dishwasher experience too. Just pour some oil in the dishwasher and it will make the bubbles go away so the dishwasher can do it’s thing.

Should be working February 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm

What a great tip, I never heard this!

I once put dishsoap in the dishwasher as a new roommate in another country. My roomies laughed, but they did essentially leave me to clean up the 3-foot-high pile of suds that had made its way OUT of the dishwasher. Lesson quickly learned.

Dorsi February 28, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Agh! I needed that advice 12 hours ago. Will file away for future use — because it will probably happen again.

NJ LC February 28, 2013 at 11:08 am

Old China Hand, you found a way to articulate everything I’ve been thinking about while reading this entire post. Thank you!

We expect this age group of young adults to simply ‘get it’, without realizing that not everyone understands or learns from taking in information without practically applying it – and yes, that often means making mistakes along the way. We have to balance our expectations with the realities of cross cultural differences, miscommunications, thinking that common sense is ‘common’ (it often isn’t) and the very real fact that most of our au pairs left their parents’ homes without garnering enough life experience or maturity to think and act like the adults we expect them to be. These are not professionally trained nannies. There are limitations to this program, and this is where host parents have to take into consideration the reality of hiring an 18-26 year old with cultural, behavioral, cognitive (there is hard scientific data that shows people from different cultures use either deductive or inductive thinking and this very much affects thought processes and problem solving skills) and language differences.

I have 2 daughters – 19 and 21 – and no matter how much babysitting experience they’ve gained in their lives, I’m not so sure I would expect them to be successful as au pairs abroad without seriously preparing them with a plethora of experiential exercises and intensive coaching before sending them off. This would include months of ‘what if’ scenarios, analyzing potential critical incidents, and reflective exercises on safety and childcare issues. As smart as they are, as much childcare experience as they’ve had, their age and developmentally appropriate life experiences (and lack of host language proficiency) would prevent them from being mistake free without intensive training.

From an intercultural perspective, common sense isn’t so common, and thinking, learning and doing aren’t the same across cultures – or even amongst individuals. Let’s keep that into perspective when we discuss au pair mistakes.

Emerald City HM February 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm

This is a good point. I have an 18 year old son and as much as we’ve tried to teach him some things I often find myself rolling my eyes at some of the things he does that I would have thought he knew.

We’ve had one big issue that made me nervous, but it hasn’t been repeated. It was her first time taking care of both our infant and toddler without help and she had been trying to do an art project with our toddler. I guess it got interupted because when I came out to get lunch I found our kitched shears on top of the table (that the toddler can reach). We purchased child scissors after that incident.

Most of the other items revolve around messes, but tend to not be repeated once we mention them. Like, don’t let the toddler run around on our light carpet with markers (even if they are color wonder). Let me know if the baby has a poop-splosion so I can treat the stain rather than have it set when the clothes go in the dryer.

Host Mom in the City March 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm

The diaper bag issue made me think about other “rules” that host families might have (along the lines of “this is how we do it in our house, so you will too”) that might truly just be preferences.

I’m a mom of two elementary kids, so I’ve been through the diaper phase. But I literally never carried a diaper bag either. Too me, they’re annoying and bulky and unnecessary. I usually had a diaper and some wipes stashed in my purse and maybe an extra pair of pants. We lived in the city, so we walked everywhere – never had a car to stash stuff in. But really, even in the rare case of a true emergency, aren’t you usually somewhere where you can get one pretty quickly? Particularly if she doesn’t have a car – I’m assuming she’s walking around a well-populated area with a CVS or two or three within spitting distance.

I guess all that to say that we do need to consider whether something is indicative of lacking “common sense” (which I agree many of these examples on here seem to be!) and where it crosses over into “just a different way of doing something and that’s fine.”

But also – I’m all about natural consequences (obviously when it’s not a safety issue). Like if she really didn’t even bring a diaper and the baby had a huge blow-out and she had to carry her home – you’d bet I’d expect her to have everything all cleaned up. And she’s never make that mistake again – that’s the kind of thing that happens to all parents and we all learn pretty quickly!

A B C Au Pair February 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm

It seems to me that she does lack common sense but she is also insecure… as she didn’t know what to do, or as if something was stopping her. How is it your communication with her? Maybe she feels she doesn’t know you or what you want… maybe she expects you to tell her when she does something right. What I mean is maybe you are focusing on everything that she does wrong and there are other things that she does well and it is for her a big deal, esp if she wasn’t used to doing those things at home. I would try communicating more with her and see what and how she thinks, what her logic is! :-)

Taking a Computer Lunch February 28, 2013 at 11:12 pm

You are right, insecurity may play a role in the the display of a lack of common sense, but in my experience ALL APs feel insecure in their first weeks as an AP. They’re in a new country, with people they’ve never met, and living in their place of work. It’s tough all over. So insecurity doesn’t explain away everything. ALL APs make mistakes. It’s natural. So do HPs and HKs. They’re part of life – it’s learning from mistakes and using them to scale up that shows common sense.

What gets frustrating to HPs are events that take place long after the training period should have ended. A lack of common sense may come off as laziness to HF (did the AP make the pee-stained bed because she was too lazy to wash all the bedding – and probably AGAIN if the child was trying to sleep through the night without diapers – or did she really not notice?).

In my case, we have communicated, and the AP is sweet and apologetic and says that it is so obvious now that we spelled it out for her, but she just didn’t think (and we don’t have conversations EVERY time, sometimes we just roll our eyes and let them ride). And yes, some APs just “get it,” while others need to a) experience the after-effects of trying to stuff food into a child with stomach flu, b) having to throw away a moldy mattress damaged by fluid, c) scrape dried poop off a floor, d) or have clothing ruined by a new pair of jeans or a bright red shirt. The trick is whether they learn to take their time – stop, review, think, and decide, or continue to do what is easiest. And that will always separate our favorite APs from the ones that make us roll our eyes (hopefully inwardly).

If the AP did something that endangered my children’s lives, then we would be in rematch. We can bear the lack of common sense, although we find ourselves irritated by its constancy.

HRHM March 1, 2013 at 7:49 am

I too can bear a lack of common sense if it doesn’t endager the kids. However, when do you make the natural consequences hers instead of yours? How many things does she need to destroy before you start to insist that she fix/replace/compensate for the damaged items? After all, a replacement mattress can be several hundred dollars (hence the reason why all our mattresses, even the AP’s have water proof covers!) A really ditzy AP would probably go bankrupt in our house because I would start making her replace the towels, knives, pots and carpets she ruined! LOL

HM in CO mountains February 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I, like others who have posted, have opted to bear with it and overlook the imperfections of which there are many. I have a special needs child as well as typical kids and the most important thing to me is they are taken care of well.

I have had my current Au pair for over 7 months now. I am so exhausted from work and a child who doesn’t sleep that I got tired of micro managing. After the handbook, verbal reminders, a written note and schedule and still not getting it I gave up. How hard is it to remember to make the beds every day if I haven’t? Or to wipe up the smeared poop off the bathroom floor instead of leaving it? Or wiping up exploded tomato sauce in the microwave before it dries on and makes it harder to do? I’m sorry but to me these things are complete common sense and I would never have overlooked at 19 or 20. Except the microwave thing because they didn’t exist when I was 20 :)

Again, the most important thing is my kids are treated well and are happy-which they are. I would only send an au pair home for mistreating my kids, drug use, or driving drunk. I wouldn’t do it fir failing to make a bed every day. But after 3 Au pairs I’ve decided to give up on having another. I am finding it more work than the huge help I anticipated. Which is unfortunate since I had such high hopes for this program long term.

New HM in Colorado City February 28, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Reading the first sentence of your second paragraph while skimming through, I thought perhaps I had posted without realizing it. You could have gone on to say “Who dresses the baby in a tank top and shorts to pick up the older kids from school when there is 6inches of snow on the ground?” And I would have been absolutely convinced it was me. I still have high hopes, but agree it is so much work to spell out the most basic things. Grateful for this blog which gave me a more realistic picture and gives me some hope to see others who make it work.

HRHM March 1, 2013 at 7:52 am

Both HMs in CO – There really are competent young women in the AP pool! Don’t resign yourself that this is how it has to be. I understand (BTDT) but some of this may be country of origin, some of it interview misses, some of it timing. I almost gave up the hope of getting a great AP, but finally, 5th time’s the charm! :)

Dawn February 28, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I just welcomed my 6th AP last week. So far, so good – pleasant, accommodating, smart and lots of common sense, thank goodness.

But…I’ve had my share of APs who lack common sense. The most severe case of cluelessness involved my Thai AP who had never held down a job before APing (she was 24) and had been waited on hand and foot by “staff” in her home (her family was upper class by Thai standards). This resulted in a young woman who, while academically smart, failed to inform me of a serious burn to one of my then 3-year-olds, clogged our drains with cooking oil, rolled a paint can under my car (didn’t try to get it out, forgot to tell me it was under there – and, you guessed it, I rolled over it and wound up with exploding white paint on the undercarriage of the car), left needles, makeup and chemicals in reach of my toddlers, etc. I think her problems were based on lack of familiarity with how to keep a household and cultural barriers.

Three of my 6 APs have done this job before – one was an AP in two other countries, one came back after a few years away from the States and my current AP is a six-month extension. While they haven’t been better at everything, generally speaking, my APs with previous AP experience have been the best and have had more “common sense” than the others. I’m unlikely to hire someone to do this job who 1) has never done it before and 2) has no references I can speak with, in English, about the specific work I need them to do. No guarantees, but it’s helped me a great deal.

Boys Mama February 28, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I laughed out loud when I saw this post. I’ve always said one day I will write a book entitled “@$&! My Au Pairs do” because sometimes it’s unbelievable. Like the girl who took a very wet full size blanket across the house and up a flight of stairs to make our 4 year old’s bed. It was so wet it was heavy, so wet it soaked the sheets through to the mattress… Yet the look on her face – “What?! I didn’t notice it wasn’t dry!”. She also repeatedly “accidentally” rung the doorbell in the middle of the night as she drunkenly fumbled for her keys.. “Why are you here? Why is the dog barking? I didn’t ring the bell, I’m only looking for my keys! Where is the doorbell button?” And then one day as I frantically rushed a vomiting 6 year old and toddler into the house to shower him (and myself… Good times) and I left her with the kids to go get the Vomit Minivan to the auto spa. When I got back… She had decided to feed Mr Stomach Flu hot dogs. Multiple hot dogs. She said Coke would have settled his stomach too bad we don’t keep it in the house. HD only half jokingly told her the 6 year old would be sleeping in her room that night.

Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my favorite stories. Now for my take on common sense as a result of AP3- I think often we are sugar coating Not Smart with the code No Common Sense. We look for APs with good grades in school and high college/career ambitions to avoid repeating those experiences. She was not smart and she was profoundly lazy and it was a horrible mismatch for our fast paced family. We only once considered rematch when there was a safety issue but we kept her for the year partly because we feel a commitment to the APs we bring over, and partly because we had not yet experienced a really good AP and we didn’t know what we were missing. I spent the whole year worrying about the next lapse of common sense and if it would be a danger to the kids. We should have rematched, the mismatch was painful for a solid year. You can’t make a not smart person smart. Sorry to be so direct but that was our experience. Decide whether you can live with this as is.

EastCoastHM February 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm

side note – coke actually does work – it has antiemetic properties in the syrup used to make it. However, you can bypass the red label supermarket and get straight coke syrup at the pharmacy. :)

CAmom22 February 28, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I would have agreed several years ago, but we have had two experiences that led us to believe that being smart and having common sense are not one and the same. Our first AP was not highly intelligent. She was not a good student or a quick thinker. However, she was extremely street smart, exhibited very good judgement and all around had lots of common sense. For AP #2 we went with someone with a much higher level of education because our AP’s responsibilities include helping the kids with homework. So AP #2 was very school smart, but boy there was a serious lack of common sense. And I don’t think it stemmed from laziness; she was truly helpful around the house. But the common sense was just lacking… the wet blanket story reminded me of the time my daughter told her she wet the bed, but AP did not believe her because I guess the spot she checked was dry. And she made the bed beautifully. When I came home that night I stepped into the room and was hit with a nasty smell of urine, pulled the covers off the bed to find soaking wet sheets and mattress pad. And wet pajamas. All soaking wet and stinky… :-) But the bed was made very nicely!

au pair wonders about your dream au pair February 28, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Dear hostmoms and hostdads
I read through almost all the comments. I read a lot about common sense etc. Now I wonder, what would your dream au pair look like? in particular: activity (outside, how long, how many days etc.) fun time, school, household chores, do you want to hear from your kids during the day, or your au pair, how their day is going etc.—> detailed. And whatever else you can think of. i wonder about that a lot, because it sounds like you all have some sort of a set picture about a great au pair. Thanks

HRHM March 1, 2013 at 7:55 am

We aren’t here to help you fabricate the perfect application! LOL
Sorry!

au pair wonders about your dream au pair March 1, 2013 at 4:36 pm

HRHM: this has nothing to do with fabricate the perfect application:) I am already am au pair since almost two years;) and if au pair want to write a perfect aplication, then this is not a big problem for them. Almost all agencies offer workshops on how to fill out a perfect aplication. There is a person who already was an au pair, telling the future au pairs what to write, what makes their aplication perfect. Do you never wonder why you get a perfect aplication but not a perfect au pair? Or good au pair? So my question here was, what you would like us to do with your kids. Activities, school work etc. I think if you guys would honestly answer this question. A lot of au pairs could maybe LEARN something new. Your suggestion would not make future au pairs write a better aplication, they already have this help. But if you don’t want to, that’s ok. I just thought you might want us to learn some things, that from an au pairs perspective is not very important but it would be to you. Do you know what I mean?

Host Mom in the City March 1, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Your question makes sense, it’s just going to vary so so much. How old are the kids? How many kids? Do they go to school or preschool? What are your hours? What do the parents value? Where do you live? Do you have car access? Etc etc. I think “what the parents want in an au pair” is just going to vary so widely – best to ask the parents when you are interviewing.

Also, the question is very off-topic and there was no context for why you wanted to know. I think that’s why no one responded.

JJ Host Mom March 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I have all of this written out in my handbook and I send the relevant pages to au pairs before we match. But it definitely varies depending on the family.

Aussie Mum February 28, 2013 at 11:32 pm

I think the focus on smart/not smart isn’t the point, and common sense is a better way to look at it. But sometimes, it just boils down to the care factor – does the person care whether they are doing a good job? Having had non aupair employees you can recognise it pretty easily. When they are living in your home and caring for you children though it never goes away! Putting the wet blanket on a bed is the care factor at play I reckon. Even a very stupid person wouldn’t do that, its the lack of a decent work ethic.

Host Mom in the City March 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm

I agree that a lot of this probably boils down to integrity. I would find it really really hard to believe that someone truly didn’t notice thaty they were dragging a wet blanket up the stairs. I would bet she figured “whatever, I have to make this stupid bed or I’ll get in trouble and it’ll dry by the time she gets home and no one will know that I’ve done a crappy job.” And then when she got called on it – has no qualms about just flat-out lying that she didn’t notice. To that type of person, it’s all about how much you can get away with without getting caught.

Someone who values taking pride in their work will make sure to do the job correctly. Someone who values doing at most the absolute minimum just because they might get caught seems to be what we’re talking about here mostly.

German Au-Pair March 1, 2013 at 3:12 am

I haven’t read all the commons but I have two things to contribute:
Smart and good grades does NOT equal common sense. I have a friend who as at good at school as it gets -literally! Straight As in every subject!- and I’m surprised every day that she makes it through life.
She’s super sweet but common sense is not very high on her list sometimes.
Also being a good student does not necessarily translate into “being smart” anyway. I’d screen for hands-on experience instead of (or in addition to) good grades.

On a different note, I do think that some things that we would call common sense can be taught. I grew up not having to do a lot houshold-wise. My mum just never made me do it so it has always been a big problem for me to see things that need to be done. Tell me to do it, fine, expect me to find out myself -not so much.
This is something that I was semi-aware of but it wasn’t until many months into my first year, when my host parents got really annoyed by it (of course it’s partly their fault as they haven’t said anything to avoid conflict…) and set my head straight.
It still sometimes takes me concious effort to remember to be aware, but I’d say that I have improved a lot.

I think maybe it is time for you to face the uncomfortable conversation and not just tell her what she did wrong in this particular problem but that you need her to be more aware of things. Actually TELL her that you need her to use her common sense and that she needs to think in terms of “How would I feel if I came home to this?” That’s what I came up with for myself. Sometimes I choose to ignore things that could be done (like when my HP dumb all their dishes ON the empty dishwasher right after I cleaned the kitchen -be sure they’ll still be there when HP come back!) but in general it helps me to be more helpful.

Host Mom in the City March 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm

We’re actually a pretty neat family, but we’re also a really busy family (I’d assume most of us on here are). I’d say two or three times a week, I don’t get to all the dishes in the morning before we leave or clean a pot or two from dinner and I leave a few out in the sink for the day while I’m at work. I always worry that my au pair thinks I’m leaving them with the intention of her cleaning them. I’m truly not – I just didn’t get to it.

So totally off-topic, but please don’t assume that you’re host parents are leaving their own dirty dishes out hoping you’ll wash them. Believe me, most parents probably leave dishes out all day whether they have an au pair or not.

Now if they’re your dishes or anything to do with the kids while they were in your care, then yes, I would expect my au pair to clean them up. If they are dishes from a delicious dinner that your host mom cooked the night before and that you ate too, but that she didn’t get around to cleaning, it would really be thoughtful of an au pair to clean them (though not required). But if they’re just dishes your host family used that have nothing to do with you, by all means leave them and don’t feel guilty.

German Au-Pair March 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm

No no, you see, I don’t mind cleaning up. It’s one of my duties to empty the dishwasher in the morning, put the dirty things in sthat whoever left there, wash the pans that someone dumped there after dinner (we never eat dinner together, so it’s always their stuff) and I don’t mind.
What REALLY annoys me is when I’ve done all that, cleaned the counter, made the kitchen look presentable and one of my host parents goes to work later (or has the day off earlier than usually) and they either make something or just grab the stuff they had in their study and put it ON the dishwasher, that is empty and ready to use.
I am the one who came here and taught the kids to clean up after themselves -if you use a knife, put it in the dishwasher, it’s really not that hard. But I have failed to teach that to my host parents.
It’s just one of those little things that never fail to drive me nuts.

That said, when situations like you discribe occur (like my HM needs to bake cookies for some kids’ function and leaves the kitchen looking like something exploded) I do clean that up, because I do understand. I also sometimes just take what they’ve used and put it away, because sometimes -very rarely, but still- I’ll leave something out and they’ll put it away. It’s just how family works.

But you are right: they leave their stuff on the empty dishwasher on the weekends, too, when it will be tehir responsibility to get rid of them later.

Problem is that earlier during my stay they’ve actually complained to me that I am not KEEPING the counter clean after the initially clean in the morning -and after they dump all there stuff there again. It’s really not time consuming to not set your plate on the counter but open the dishwasher and put it in instead.
I’ve used an opportunity to tell them about the problem and they changed their behavior for exactly one week :D

Host Mom in the City March 1, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Oh, ok, I misunderstood. We don’t have our au pair do chores like that unless they are directly related to the kids or to some mess she’s made or had a hand in. Not knowing your situation at all, of course, but with my post, I just wanted to let it be known that sometimes keeping the kitchen clean is not a parent’s top priority :) So it may not be that they’re trying to be rude or hoping that you’ll clean it up – it’s just really hard to keep a clean kitchen sometimes when you’ve got little kids running around and full time jobs and whatever else you’ve got going on.

OpinionatedHM March 2, 2013 at 3:45 am

Dear German Au Pair,
What I find so great about your post is that a host parent could easily be writing exactly what you wrote, but about an Au Pair! This is one of those issues like putting the toilet seat down, or putting the cap back on the toothpaste, or replacing the toilet paper on the holder, that can make or break any relationship. Putting dishes in the sink without checking the dishwasher to see if it can be loaded with the dirty dishes, aargh! Major pet peeve! The thing is, it’s the person who cares most who bears the burden in these situations. I might not care if dishes are left in the sink for days when the dishwasher is empty and available. If that bothers you, then you do need to take care of it. Is this fair? No way. But it’s reality. It’s a frustrating reality of living with other adults. It’s good practice for living with a long term partner or spouse or roommate. In my world, I make the mess in the kitchen and my husband cleans it. Not because I think I shouldn’t and he should, but because I forget about the dishes as soon as I’m done cooking in them, or because I always think I’ll clean it tomorrow. My husband can’t bear to leave a mess for long. That’s his problem, not mine. (Of course, he thinks it’s my problem. Welcome to marriage.). i do love him, so I do my best to keep it clean. That’s the compromise. I hope you find your happy compromise with your host family.

German Au-Pair March 2, 2013 at 4:36 am

My issue here is not really an issue. By now I laugh about it and clean it when I want and don’t when I don’t.
The problem WAS however that my host parents would actually be upset with me for not KEEPING the kitchen clean after I’ve done the clean up in the morning. They weren’t really upset that I didn’t clean up after them, I’m sure they just weren’t aware of their behavior, but they expected the kitchen to be clean when they come home but still didn’t bother to put away their own stuff.
It drove me nuts for a while because I clean up after the kids right away (or make them) and after myself and sometimes my host parents managed completely mess up the kitchen within minutes after they came home and then were surprised it was a mess :D
I came to realize that they are not aware of that -you should see the kitchen on a Sunday evening!- they just dump their stuff on the empty dishwasher no matter if it will be them or me who’ll have to deal with it later. My host dad SEES me emptying the dishwasher in the morning and puts his fork ON the counter 2 minutes later. The only time I’ve seen him put it in was the day after I pointed it out (and that moment actually made me stop and marvel for a second :D )

But you’re right, that’s just something grown ups have to deal with when they live together.
I know realize that this story is also a very good match for this topic! If it was an au pair who watched the host mum empty the dishwasher and then still left her stuff on the counter, one might conclude she lacks common sense…maybe it is a good example for things someone could be aware of but isn’t…things that can be talked about. (Or learned to be taken with some sense of humor :D )

SKNY March 3, 2013 at 8:38 am

I will tell that I don’t mind coaching and teaching basic things, etc.
BUT it kills me when an au pair decides something is not her job and let things go bad, etc…
An example: I forgot some cheese outside of the refrigerator in the morning and at 6pm it was still out. I asked if she knew it would go bad, and she said yes, but it was not her job to pick up after parent’s mess. So she just let the cheese spoil.
This same au pair would do all the kid’s dishes and leave one cup that my husband used at breakfast behind. Or not do kids laundry when she was supposed to because we left something drying and she couldnt take out of the drier and place on a basket.
I do understand those things are not her job and I don’t do those daily. BUT I do cook dinner for her daily, I do shopping for food she likes daily, and my teenager do ALL dinner dishes every night (including au pair’s dishes, and all the pans and pots I used. It is the teenager’s chore). Au pair does NOT do teenager’s laundry or organize Teenager’s room (because hubby does teenager’s laundry with ours, and teenager is responsible for her things)… So it bothers me that we could do things for her, but she would ignore things if they were not her job

Taking a Computer Lunch March 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm

It sounds like you have more than a lack of common sense, you have a rocky AP-HF relationship. Is your AP defining her boundaries because she feels like she’s often asked to pick up things that have been left behind? (I try to regularly ask my APs when they clean up after us. I don’t complain if I have to wash a pot or put a glass in the dishwasher.)

Skny March 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm

She just left last friday. She was An extension Au

Skny March 3, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Sorry, error. She was an extension Au pair. She told us about how her last family took advantage of her and that she learned she once you do anything as a favor, it becomes an obligation. And that she wished she didn’t do anything for them from day one. To be fair, relation was good and she was great with the kids so I didn’t mind it at first at all.
But the 6 to 8 weeks relation really went downhill. Boyfriend proposed and she decided to leave the program early. She was staying longer as a favor for us because I am working out of town and would have been too hard to have new Au pair come in between.
I feel like every week became a little worse. She started ignoring requests, not taking kids out when I asked, forgetting to feed them snacks after nap. I finally decided to cut my loses and let her go. 3 weeks in day care won’t kill anyone.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 3, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I meant try to thank!

Skny March 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Ops… Bad cell phone. I mean last 6 to 8 weeks were bad

SKNY March 3, 2013 at 10:04 am

By the way TACL,
I do know of an au pair (24yo) who is still in her home country, is a teacher by education but not an extraordinaire (because she was afraid there were too little families in the extraordinaire pool), who already has the J1 visa with APIA, is ready to come at any point.
She used to work in early education/pre-school. She had a match and quit her job, but the family left the program (unknown reason for her) and she never left).
She doesn’t have special needs education but is interested in gaining the experience.

SKNY March 3, 2013 at 10:07 am

I think CV has my email if you would be interested in speaking to me

Should be working August 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

This isn’t the right place to post this comment/question, but most of the earlier threads about helping HCs and APs get along appear to be closed to further comments. I was hoping to find a thread about “tone”–how to help the AP know when to be tough, when to insist, when to give in, when to just do it for the kid even though the kid can do it for himself, when to reach for the ‘strict tone’ and when to leave it. How to say something in a non-grumpy tone if it’s going to be especially incendiary.

We have an AP who is great in most respects–responsible, friendly, truly cares about the kids, she goes out of her way to be part of the family and keep things smoothly rolling along.

With the exception of tone of voice, sometimes. It sounds like a small thing, but it happens relatively frequently that she gets all ‘tough’ with the kids in what seems to me (when I’m in earshot) to be the wrong moment. Like they are exhausted after a long day of swimming and the zoo, it’s clearly just not the time to insist that they empty the dishwasher or help put away clothes.

And it’s not even the insistence on the task, it’s more that she gets a ‘tough tone’ that could even be considered sarcastic or mean, although I know she really isn’t sarcastic or mean. I can use a pretty tough, even angry tone, but I feel like I do that when it’s called for and appropriate (mostly). E.g. my teenager is nervous about a trip to the mall with new friends, spends too long trying on different outfits, is all bent out of shape about her hair–and after everyone is in the car with all their gear, the AP says in a grumpy voice, “don’t you need to go get your purse?” It’s just unnecessarily b*tchy.

Is this part of the kids (who are all over 8) learning to get along with different types? They really like her. I just hear this tone, sometimes, that makes me feel for the kids. I know the AP has a really tough mom and grew up in a strict house, and we’ve talked about how in our house we try to be patient and supportive, and structured rather than ‘strict’ per se. She also has said how much she loves how nice we are and how relaxed we are compared to her family.

How can I help her with building the sense of judgment for when to use that tough tone and when not? I am not at all a super-gentle, patient mom, but I feel like I try to model restraint and judgment as to when to be harsh and when not.

Should be working August 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I realized the mall example doesn’t quite capture the problem, it’s not harsh to remind the teen about the purse and even to make her get it herself. It is just this very sarcastic or angry tone of voice–that I believe the AP doesn’t even feel, she actually was pretty relaxed about the whole preparations.

hOstCDmom August 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I can’t wait to hear the advice you get, SBW, because I think I have the same problem that your AP does (or at least I could improve as a parent in the same way you would like her too!)

In my case, I know my harsher tone (at the times when it isn’t necessary, bc sometimes it is necessary and/or appropriate) is usually due to my stress level at the moment, or feeling that my gazillion children are whirling dervishes and my world is slipping out of my control.

I know that having an AP helps me in this regard :) as I am more restrains and try to model (more) ideal parenting/child management when I have an “audience”! (I’m a PT-WAHM/SAHM, so AP sees/hears me in action a lot!)

Emerald City HM August 6, 2013 at 3:54 pm

On the surface, possibly because of her upbringing, it sounds to me like she might lack empathy. Which is kind of a difficult skill to learn, particularly if you aren’t given good guidance. You might look up how to teach empathy to adults or kids and see if that’s maybe a path that is helpful.

Should be working August 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm

ECHM, well, it’s more that she lacks in-the-moment empathy. Oftentimes she has shown great empathy in a larger context, explaining to me how my daughter feels when I’ve misunderstood or made a wrong call; and she notices moods and reacts accordingly some of the time. It’s this harsh tone that comes up in the wrong places or is just a little TOO harsh even if the kids are being obnoxious.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I put in my handbook that I’m the grouchy disciplinarian and what my teenagers need is more of a friend. Sure, I want the AP to figure out how to make them do what needs to be done so I don’t end up fighting with them over it when I get home, but I want them to engage.

If your AP is young and hasn’t really worked outside the home before, then she may not have a lot of experience cajoling kids. What I tell APs is that they are role models, not moms. (My extraordinnaires have tended to have more experience with kid motivation and have a few tricks up their sleeves that I don’t have.)

The most inexperienced AP was the one most likely to meet at the door whining she couldn’t get my youngest teenager to do what needed to be done. The tattletale mentality annoyed me endlessly, and made me curt with her. She was also more likely to have inappropriate conversations with that child – like which rock band singers had dropped out of school or had drug overdoses.

So, with your sharp AP, tell her that she’s a role model. You want her to help your teen and tween navigate their way to adulthood. Telling a teen that she’s forgotten her purse when they’re all the way in the car, is too late. Tell her, that the teenager would learn to pay attention if she said at the moment of the sale, “You don’t want to forget your purse.”

If she likes to bake, urge her to bake a cake with the kids or teach them how to make a treat from her country. If she’s sporty, have her work on a sport with them. Tell her the more she behaves like a favorite aunt and pays attention to them, praises them, and urges them to stretch their wings, the more they’ll trust her and do what she wants them to do.

Ask your LCC to provide tips on how to talk to big kids.

JJ Host Mom August 7, 2013 at 11:47 pm

If she’s smart, maybe given the pieces, she can figure out what’s going on and correct for it. My advice would be to talk to her and say “Most of the time you’re really supportive and loving with the kids, but then every once in awhile out of nowhere I hear a tone that doesn’t sound as nice. I think those moments may be getting in the way of your relationship with the kids.” And then mention certain examples of when you’ve heard it, and offer to point it out on the spot in the future, maybe using a secret passphrase that only the two of you understand. That way she can pay attention to whether there might be something going on in the moment.

Momma Gadget August 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I am interested in hearing this also.
A jocular, sarcastic tone is OK with my older teenager,but is often too harsh for my ( frustratingly) anxiety prone preteen.
Not sure how to explain the nuances.

DE in NZ HM August 6, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Don’t have good advice to offer as I am struggling with what is probably a very similar issue in my relationship (with UK DH), but I had a slight grin on my lips when I read Sbw’s post. First thing that came to mind: Is your AP German (or middle to Eastern European)? I’m originally from Germany and at home have often been told about / been accused of my ‘not nice’ or even ‘angry’ tone of voice that apparently I use in quite regular (English) conversations. It’s something I am not aware off most of the time (and usually I am not anywhere near angry) but have tried to work on for a number of years – not easy!

So it might just be her ‘professional/ business’ voice. I am not trying to excuse anything and I think it’s fair and important to address the issue with the AP/ help the AP. A first step might be to tell her how she sounds to you – she might not be aware and that (sarcastic or otherwise) message you pick up on might not be intended…

And, like others, I am also interested to hear from others for my own benefit!

MidAtlantic Host Family August 7, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Also German decent and accused of the same. I am not sure how to describe it but much more direct in communication without sugarcoating, which sometimes people read into it things I do not mean.

I agree with DE in NZ, but likewise it is something to work through. I much prefer someone to say something or ask than not.

Ruth August 7, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I read almost all of the comments here and laughed until I cried at some comments and, please, write the book, %*&# my Au Pair’s Do! And horrified at reading some of the other comments. HM’s in CO, I have the same ending in our quest for a terrific AP. We went through 3 AP’s in 6 months and then decided to leave the program and I have thought many times I should have written a blog on just the past 6 months and how it would have filled pages and pages! We finally decided to hire a live-in US nanny (without Agency fees, to boot, since Interexchange kept our fees) and I cannot believe how in the first week I was berating myself for not hiring a US nanny in the first place! She is college educated, smart, committed, loyal, experienced, hard working, ethical, fit right in on day 1 and I don’t have to spend the first 3 months catering to her to get a SS card, enroll in school, set up a bank account, drivers license, the time to go out driving with them, take them around, explain things 6 different ways for her to understand and the whole host of cultural and language issues that was far more drama than this program was worth (and, mind you, none of which I minded doing at all for someone new to our country, but the return on investment of what I got, the lack of commitment, the entitled attitude and everything else we had to deal with, just made it a no-go for us. Our lives are so much more peaceful now. The AP program is NOT what it used to be 20 years ago when I was a nanny myself and met many AP’s, some of whom I’m still in contact with today. I had thought I was just reinventing the wheel when we decided to go with this program, but it is a shame the credibility has deteriorated so badly due to social media where these girls know how to write the perfect application, say anything to the Host parents to get here and then know the Agency will rematch them in a heartbeat to make money off of them again. I have felt completely scammed!

MidAtlantic Host Family August 8, 2013 at 12:07 am

Ruth – How did you find the US Nanny?

Host Mom in the City August 9, 2013 at 10:43 am

I don’t have much experience since we’ve only had one regular au pair and one extraordinaire au pair. But purely based on our experiences and on the experiences of the host moms I know, I agree that there must be some level of “brokenness” in the recruitment and marketing of this program. When I look at the extraordinaire applications, I think THESE are the young adults who should be in this program. Twice now I have combed through all the applications for the regular program and been astounded that 90% of the applicants were accepted. Many of them clearly inflate their child care experience, but most of them are just so clearly coming for a fun year and have done so little child care that I can’t imagine they understand what they’re signing up for. Babysitting a few hours a month or anything to do with siblings or cousins should not count as experience or at least should be weighted very low.

I should have rematches months ago. But when I look at our au pair’s application, I see exactly why she acts the way she does. Why she has no clue how to handle children all day, how much things cost, or how to live in a family home. I should have known and not selected her. But I had been interviewing for two months with no one that appeared to have the experience and reasons for joining the program that aligned with ours, and finally went for personality over substance. I like her very much. She’s a nice kid. But she’s a kid.

I’m not sure what has to change, but after this experience, I will never host a regular au pair again. The money, stress, and time required was way beyond not worth it.

I’m hoping I can get over this jadedness with the program and have a successful next year… How can feedback to the agencies be provided?

Momma Gadget August 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm

“I agree that there must be some level of “brokenness” in the recruitment and marketing of this program.”
I think you are 100% right in this. But I have to say, it also 90% depends on the individual. Our best Au pair ever, admitted much later to relying on family friends to act as references, and exaggerating the hours of experience. But the Maturity level, dedication, and empathy more than made up for it.
I think there is nothing wrong with having candidates of varying experience as the needs of each family are different. Some families only need a mothers helper, or a chauffeur/homework police for older kids. Also the AP Program is foremost supposed to be a cultural program, not a professional nanny placement service. I do wish they would screen better for the party girls, the ones who are at risk of going AWOL.
I have also put on the rose colored glasses when looking over dossiers when I felt pressured to find a match….One time was disastrous, one time it was terrific. I have also found the perfect match, adored the AP on skype and in emails, only to find out through no fault of either, that we were really not well suited once she arrived.

Host Mom in the City August 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm

You’re right again, Momma Gadget, and maybe I just need to either lower my expectations of what I’m going to get out of this program or switch to another childcare option. We’d be happy to have a nanny, but I really like the live-in member of the family aspect of this program and learning about other cultures. It would be a shame to switch out of the program and lose out on those benefits because I can’t find someone who rises to a level beyond teenage babysitter keeping my kids alive. And maybe, since I’m basing all this on my one experience, I just chose poorly this year. Not even that it’s been so so bad, it’s just been so consistently mediocre given the expense and time. I really need to buck up on this.

A Host Mom August 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm

HMIC: You hit the nail on the head with your comment that “When I look at the extraordinaire applications, I think THESE are the young adults who should be in this program.” We matched with an extraordinaire this time around (she starts next month) because IMHO the majority of standard au pair candidates had no legitimate child care experience. Personally, I think APIA is capitalizing on the “extraordinaire” program, which is fine if you can afford the extra fees (which, are pretty substantial).

Multitasking Host Mom August 10, 2013 at 9:34 am

“Babysitting…siblings and cousins should not count as experience”
I fully agree with this statement. It does suprise me that the agencies allow this type of experience to count at all. It is such a different dynamic I feel between taking care of a family member and watching someone else’s children under their direction. It is a lot harder since you need to build up that trust and respect with the child that might not already be built in like with your own cousin, brother, or sister. When I screen initially for APs I first look at experience. If family babysitting and a couple week kindergarten internship is all the experience they have I don’t even look at their application. (And it is surprising how many that eliminates.) I need someone who knows how hard it is to be with children for 10 hours a day. It can be fun, but also very challenging.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 10, 2013 at 10:23 am

I think agencies will stop letting it count if HF stop selecting APs who don’t have wider experience. While candidates can pad their hours and experience, a close examination of the application (at least with APIA) reveals a lot. For me, any candidate who claims to have 8,000 hours of experience within a few years is obviously padding, and I don’t look any further. Why? Because I don’t trust any of her application if she’s not going to take it seriously.

When you interview candidates with questionable experience quiz them. Was a parent in the house when they provided care? Did they ever provide care for 8 straight hours? What did they do during that time?

It’s natural as HF, to sell ourselves to candidates. After all, we’re competing with other HF for the best APs. Don’t sell yourself too hard, especially if you’re interviewing APs straight out of high school. Look for practicums, long-term jobs, long-term volunteer activities, coaching, or some other sign that says she actually wants to be with kids. Don’t tell her how many perks you offer without telling her what an average day is like. Give her a sample schedule. Tell her to talk with your current AP.

Remember, candidates want to match. So ask them, have you been interviewed by other families. If they haven’t, then keep interviewing and circle back to them if they seem like the best candidate. In my experience, young candidates are so anxious to match, that they are likely to say yes to anything, figuring they can rematch if it doesn’t work out. You want them to have talked with a few families so they have a sense of what they want in a year. And if you lose her, then she wasn’t the candidate for you.

I have a 90-minute interview. I just said goodbye to a candidate that was very honest about who she was, if only I had been listening.

Ruth August 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm

A long time nanny recommended enannysource.com and I found the site to be really awesome for only $50! Their nanny contract, interview questions, etc are far more detailed than I ever received through agencies. I used the contract to outline EVERYTHING, so our nanny could decide if this role was for her, or not. We were also looking for someone this time around of our own faith and I had so many good candidates to pick from, it wasn’t easy to narrow it down to one, but we are far more happier than we’ve been for months and she even brought her own car! We bent over backwards in every way for the AP’s and it was all for naught! Such a shame since it can be an excellent program if you are able to get your money’s worth, but we found each AP came to the States with their own Agenda and told you whatever they needed to just to get here! And when they left it was as if they hadn’t inconvenienced us at all with their lack of commitment.

MidAtlantic Host Family August 9, 2013 at 8:06 am

Thank you Ruth. Do you think it helps for you and children to have someone of the same faith? How do you screen for it?

Ruth August 9, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Everyone has an excellent response I can certainly identify with. We went through the program b/c I have traveled quite extensively in my days before getting married and having a family and have ongoing friendships of 20+ years from various cultures. I thought, for sure, we would be the perfect home to host a cultural exchange, but it has been anything but that and I have recounted our disastrous story on a couple of other postings, so I don’t want to rehash the 3 situations again in case you all already know. It didn’t help that we had so very little support from our LC or Agency on top of it and they were only interested in rematching the girls and pushing hard for it even after one of them realized the program wasn’t for her at all and wanted out and she emailed me later to tell me how pressured she felt, but she stuck to her guns (granted, she’s still living here in the US illegally with some boy).

Because of our failed experience with lying, lack of integrity and commitment, we thought it would be best to put our faith out there very clearly in our profile (we love Jesus, but we’re not at all “religious”) and hope that if someone felt the same way, they would really try and live their lives with values and morals. Now, I know and don’t get me started on the people that profess that and do just the opposite, but I was really surprised to find some amazing candidates who also put similar values in their profiles (hence it’s likely very important to them as well), which made it easier to find each other! There’s less social media for the US nannies who don’t go through an Agency as well, so if it’s a year commitment, that is just what it is and I don’t think they would think there is another option (or at least I didn’t even when I went through an agency to be a live-in nanny 20 years ago).

We did hire another live-in b/c we also really liked that option from the program and drew on some of the program’s guidelines in letting her know we would ask no more than 45 hours from her, etc. We have truly had a world of difference in our experience now that we have withdrawn from the program and gone out on our own. I can recount back to the first day when she started and took the initiative to empty the kitchen trash. I was like, “there is a grace period for stuff like that and we’re not expecting you to do any of that right away” in a joking manner and she just replied with, “it’s full, I live here and I’m happy to do it!”. WHAT?? I was overjoyed with the initiative!! Or the fact that she walks out the door to walk my child and I’m confident he’s okay. She brought her own car, so we just pay her for mileage used to move and errands for us and, granted, we pay her a higher weekly rate since we’re not paying agency fees (which Interexchange never reimbursed us for anyway) and we’re not adding someone to our insurance, paying for an extra cell phone, worrying about someone damaging our car, etc.

And I will also address that I only had babysitting experience when I became a full time nanny 20+ years ago. My mom did everything for me: my laundry, cleaning, coooking, etc. but when I arrived to the new family I would be working for and had to clean 2 bathrooms every day, cook the family meals every night, etc. I already knew what was expected of me and didn’t feel hard done by at all. I just had 2 parents who had instilled character, responsibility and ethics. After a year, the family asked me to stay, but I was ready to move on. What cracks me up is we don’t ask these AP’s to clean bathrooms, cook every night, etc and, overall, the job is fairly easy with some great perks and we still can’t get a lasting commitment!

Busy Mom August 10, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Before our 5 APs, we had US born live-in nannies. They were wonderful young women (21-25, same age range as our APs) who were all college educated and had strong work ethics. We ‘imported’ several of them from other areas of the US to our home in NJ. Why did we switch to APs? Cost – plain & simple. When our youngest entered 1st grade and we no longer needed quite so many hours (55 with out live in nannies), we made the switch. It saved about $10K/year, not including the nanny agency fee. (Our nannies did not have cars, so we provided one.) I think it depends on the area of the US in which you live, but in northern NJ, we were paying $550/week (on the books) for a 55-hour, college educated, live-in nanny back in 2008. She had been with us several years, so that rate includes several pay increases.

We used agencies (hence, a fee) for all but 1, but keep in mind that the last nanny search we did was in 2005! Online sources are more heavily used now, though I suspect that the issue I had back in 2005 still holds today – I found that some of the nannies posting on online sites weren’t really interested. It’s easy to create an online profile and much more time-consuming for a young woman to sign up through an agency, be interviewed and provide references. It didn’t mean that the agency-sourced women were necessarily better, but I didn’t have to waste my time contacting women who had created a profile just for kicks.

We’ve been fortunate with our APs. Though #1 was not the best personality fit, we never had any issues with the major stuff (honesty, reliability, etc.). The next 4 have been great. I agree with what TACL says above – I am careful to not ‘sell’ our family too much and never make an offer on the first conversation. That gives me time to think about it (I once rescinded an offer to a nanny b/c I felt pressured to make the offer and then had serious 2nd thoughts) and gives the AP time as well. I also send our 22 page handbook during the interview process (chapters include responsibilities, hours, vacations, schedule, guests, car use, etc.). They read it and then we go through it section by section. I echo what TACL said about making sure a candidate interviews with other families. Even the older AP candidates are too willing to say ‘yes.’ I want one who has spoken with a few other families so they are making an intentional choice. To a person, our APs have said that they are surprised that other families provide so little specific information during the interview process while we provide so much. Those that like advance information (and hence fit well with our family) choose us.

Having older kids (teens and a tween) makes me somewhat less ‘particular’ than those of you with babies and toddlers. There are simply fewer specific instructions to follow and older kids amuse themselves. At this point, my AP primarily cooks & drives.

Ruth August 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Busy Mom – you and TACL sound like you both have it down when interviewing AP’s and I wish we had your skill set in that area when we were interviewing AP’s. I am very trusting and these girls are so sweet and “innocent” while interviewing that you can’t help but get your hopes up, but you have provided really knowledgable information for HF’s seeking AP’s; terrific advice I wish we had known prior to the start of this process.

Yes, $550 a week for a live-in nanny is quite high, but I was surprised to find many qualified nannies who stated their rate between $250-350 understanding it was a live-in position: private room, bathroom, living area, internet, utilities, food, vacation, mileage reimbursement, etc. in addition. For the AP, we were paying $100/mth in car insurance, $80/mth for her to have a cell phone, gas, agency fees, etc., that it was probably costing us more than what we’re paying now and, by no means, did we want to be stingy with our nanny. What she requested, we went above that and offered to pay the additional medicare, SS, etc. Given there are no agency fees, it eliminates the middle person anyway since I think our LC was more of a detriment than a help in the first place and the candidate pool was very low with Interexchange. I am very impressed to hear of APIA’s Extraordinaire program though and we would have likely gone that route if we didn’t already pay up front fees and been burned so badly by our experience.

MidAtlantic Host Family August 11, 2013 at 11:41 am

Ruth – I would not fault yourself. It is very easy to second guess yourself after-the-fact. Unfortunately, if not you, someone else would have been burned by the AP’s you ended up with.

Separately, paying extra for more stability seems like a no-brainer compared to the cost of things not working out, especially when your children are involved – whether it be for a nanny or the extraordinaire program. We also did not know about the extraordinaire option until reading it here.

Host Mom in the City August 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm

It sounds like you had a truly miserable experience, Ruth! Certainly don’t fault you for bailing after that! But I do want to be clear that I don’t mean to imply that there are no good regular au pairs and I know that others that perhaps have better selection/interviewing/managing skills have had good experiences. Our LCC has also actually been supportive. I was hoping she’d be able to give me more tips to dealing with my issues (her only response seems to be a mediation meeting), but she is always very responsive and happy to come talk to us on a moments notice. Definitely I can see how LCC quality could make or break a situation.

I think I just wasn’t prepared for the difference between a regular and an extraordinaire. I was expecting my regular au pair to get that her on-duty time is a job and to have a level of understanding of what constitutes good childcare as our extraordinaire did – she had an amazing time off-duty, but then was fully able to buckle down and really BE with the kids while on-duty. Our current au pair just continues her social life and thinks that her own preferences are on equal level to the kids while on duty. If she doesn’t want to do a puzzle even though the kids do – she tells them she doesn’t want to. She’ll just sit on her phone on the couch while the kids do a puzzle looking at her longingly. So are they fine? Yes of course. They can do a puzzle on their own. But it’s not what I thought I was getting at all.

We are currently with an agency that doesn’t have a separate extraordinaire type program. They told me when we switched that the applicants that would qualify for that program are just in the regular pool for them, and wasn’t that great. The issue is that I have to wade through 100 applications with experience such as “babysitting younger sibling – 30 days per month, 15 hours a day, 4 years” or “babysitting unrelated child – 2 days per month, 3 hours a day” There is no chance I’m even going to look a second further on those. I simply can’t believe that those applicants have a clue of what is going to be expected of them with up to 45 hours a week of childcare.

So we’re back to the extraordinaire program, where we have the option of like 30 applicants that have excellent experience and we just have to find the one that fits personality and expectations-wise. Hoping we chose well this time and hoping I can be a better manager, because man I was awful this time around.

I know there are good experiences out there. I know this can be a great program. I don’t mean to be entirely down on it, but it has been shockingly time-consuming and stress-inducing and a lot more expensive than I thought it would be and for a very substandard level of care.

Should be working August 12, 2013 at 12:27 am

I go back and forth when we have debated the pros and cons of the AP program before. Ultimately I will confess that I don’t think it’s a good program or a good idea really, for so many reasons:

Strangers taking strangers into their home for a year TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR KIDS, drive their cars, handle homework, cooking, laundry, and sundry other things; applicants are competing for spots and get coaching on what to say; applicants are often young, inexperienced, and not trained in taking care of kids (or driving or anything else); they should come to another country where another language is spoken; they live in a family with totally different expectations and lifestyle than what they grew up with; they are supposed to work 45 hrs/wk and often the work and living arrangements (I mean for HPs not on this blog) were not made totally clear to them; after a few months of course young people do not feel the same way about things as they did before arriving or at arrival, and their priorities shift from what they had imagined; etc. etc. And all this not to mention how some HFs have unreasonable expectations of preparedness; treat APs poorly; ignore the rules; etc. If someone described these ingredients to me, I would say, “And what makes you think these arrangements are likely to work out?”

I look at it as a quite flawed program that, with some luck and lots of effort, I have had good success with, knock on wood. The ingredients in my view aren’t that great, but a well prepared, careful and fortunate HF can often, and hopefully usually, end up with a pretty good match. I guess at this point if things don’t work out I have to blame my own interviewing and managing skills, because I see very well how iffy the idea behind the AP program is.

JJ Host Mom August 12, 2013 at 12:37 am

We had a string of ugly rematches, then got a good rematch au pair, who ended up leaving suddenly right after extending with us. All told we dealt with constant smoking, constant talking on the phone, totaling the car with the kids in it and refusing to take driving lessons, and a surprise pregnancy. And those are just the big ones; not to mention things like poor personality fit and seeming inability to do kids laundry. I was at the point I was done with au pairs, at least for a while so we took a break. But still, there are some things that I really like about au pairs; everything Ruth mentioned about what she likes about the live-in nanny, but also the cultural exchange program. So we decided to give it another shot and transferred to APIA to get an Extraordinaire. She’s been here a week and she is wonderful. It’s like a completely different program. Doesn’t even compare to APC’s regular au pairs. In her home country our current au pair was a kindergarten teacher, in charge of her own class of 24, had a bachelor’s degree, and had been living on her own for 10 years. I was worried she couldn’t be as good as she looked on paper, but she is and more, and is a wonderful personality fit for our family as well. She required virtually no training, she’s great with the kids, a good driver, good English, and every time I turn around she’s cleaned out another one of my messy closets. No kidding. I know it’s only been a week and I hope I don’t jinx anything by posting this, but I just wanted to shine a ray of hope that I know the au pair program can be awful, and when it’s bad it’s REALLY bad, I know. But it can also be really good.

I didn’t change anything about the way I interviewed or screened between au pairs. Same interview questions, same handbook. In fact I got in some trouble with APIA after I scared off one candidate with our handbook. But I stuck to my guns and kept sending it out. Our current au pair’s response to our handbook was “Well, I read it through twice and it seems reasonable” and she then went on to point out a few things that she liked about the way we discipline kids and some other stuff.

I think it’s true that sometimes the other agencies have regular au pairs that have extraordinaire experience; we had one au pair who was also a kindergarten teacher and would have qualified. But it’s worth pointing out that our current au pair told me she chose APIA because she could make a little more money as an Extraordinaire, so why not? I would have done the same thing. So from now on we’ll be sticking with APIA Extraordinaires. Although hopefully we’re set for a really long time with this one so I won’t have to think about it for a while.

Momma Gadget August 12, 2013 at 11:35 am

We had live in nannies for 11 years before switching to the AP program. We are also in northern NJ. The going rate for a live in Nanny for 2 children in my town now is 550-650+/week. So the cost difference is huge.
We have found that just because you pay more, doesn’t mean you get more. Our first nanny was a soft-spoken, kind sweet soul who was wonderful with our then infant son. But she could not be firm enough to handle him once he hit the terrible 2′s. After that we went through 3 other nannies ranging from horrible to passable. We finally agreed to let a relative, who was working as a private school kindergarten teacher, be our live in nanny (I was hesitant because I felt it was unfair to have her postpone her career to take care of my children) She stayed for almost 7 Years and it was a dream come true. Once both kids were in full time school, she went on to pursue her writing career.
Any childcare solution comes down to the individual a family hires- nanny, AP or daycare. Any way you are initially taking a huge leap of faith hiring a stranger to take care of your children.
In an economy where it is becoming increasingly necessary to have 2 incomes to keep a family planted in the middle class- it is blatantly evident that all childcare solutions are flawed in one way or another. I am currently witnessing the difficulties my assistant is experiencing with daycare for her 1st baby. Fortunate for her she is way more organized and efficient than I am capable of being.
I have said it before, I believe in the AP program, though I am not sure I would have had the confidence to hire an Au Pair when my children were infants/toddlers… I didn’t even know about it back then.
I’ve written else where on this Blog of our many “interesting” experiences in the AP program- but even the APs who did not work out for us were not terrible people. I am convinced that unexpected “surprises” are just part of life, and happen regardless of which type of childcare you choose. I think the bad experiences just push us into defining and finding the right (better)solutions for our families.
Ruth- I am so glad to hear you have found someone who gives your family the great childcare y’all deserve. That kind of peace of mind is priceless.

sunnyvah August 15, 2013 at 6:27 am

I was an au pair six years ago and i still like reading here. I’ve discussed the Pros and cons about the programm with my friends quite often (lots of former au pairs because you Stick to people who’ve been abroad). I had a negative experience, but luckily i also had one really awesome hf. I would do it again right away (if i’d be that age again) because both experiences taught me a lot. I’m sure I made mistakes and my hf was sometimes not so happy with my performancw (as was I win theirs). I’m very thankful that they stuck with me even though I was not pefect. I’m sure I had a positive influence to the kids in terms of realizing that the world is bigger than their country (yes, we have a few exhibition halls in Germany and I do know what a x-box is).
Right now i started my first “real” job after finishing my degree. When I talk to friends (different fields) who also started their first job I find some similarities in terms of being unsure “if that is it”. reality vs imagination. There is some kind of more “seriousness” in this job than with my part time jobs or au pairing. Don’t get me wrong, I took all my jobs serious and performed to my best knowledge (no one complained and I got good job reports. But now I’m working in the job I trained for. It’s not meant to be temporarily. And now I fully understand the difference to my time as an au pair. This was temporarily (gap year) and I don’t think this is necessarily bad, because I put up with things I wouldn’t now. Of course I was also younger and never lived on my own (pros and Conss again).
All this came to my mind because of the extraordinaire discussion. These au pairs already had that “real job” experience already and they kind of work in their job field.
However I wouldn’t want you to write normal au pairs off! I’m sure next to your job and family, this is MORE on your list, but then again, you’re able to shape another person (ok, I know, more work. I also know that family and work life is already a lot!) and your family and you will be shaped differently as well.
I’m just so glad I had these experiences (good and bad) and I wish it to other young people as well. I really appreciate the families on this page who try to be good hosts and I hope you’ll all get the “good au pair experience” some time!

Taking a Computer Lunch August 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

sunnyvah, you are correct. Regular APs do deserve a chance, but just as the companies sell APs on a year in the US, having fun, touring, and oh by the way, taking care of kids, too, they sell an AP to HF as hard-working willing childcare. The truth lies in between, doesn’t it. Out of the 3 regular APs I have hosted, 2 deserved to be Extraordinnaires (one may have been convinced not to apply for the program and the other came from an ineligible country) the other was immature and struggled to make it through the year. In the last weeks as the quality of her work deteriorated, I just bit my tongue (it turned out my LCC was right – she still lacked common sense). Is she better prepared for her next job – yes, she now understands what it means to work, she assumed a certain amount of responsibility, and she saw a commitment through. However, she wore me out – as a full-time working parent with a special needs child and a busy typically developing teenager, being a job coach stretched my time and patience thin. Having to pry a pouty teenager off the coach to do little tasks while she waited for the next big task to begin was tiring.

My 6th extraordinnaire just arrived a couple of days ago, and the difference is readily apparent. Even though she when she was not on the clock, she was following us around to learn the details of caring for the special needs child. After watching me feed The Camel one meal, she completely mastered all the little tasks necessary to feed her dinner, including taking the broom and dustpan out. It was a relief to me not to have to breakdown each task.

With a motivated au pair, I have more time to build a relationship that is more on par – to learn about likes and dislikes, and to create a familial relationship. I spent the last year realizing I hated being a job coach for 11 1/2 months (until I cried uncle).

Host Mom in the City August 17, 2013 at 10:20 pm

TACL – so glad you’re done with your year with your last au pair and that you already notice a difference with your new extraordinaire! You give me hope! Job coach – that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with my year and I similarly agree that the immaturity and degree of hand-holding that was required was in complete conflict with what I was “sold” by the agency. Our au pair is textbook here for a fun year with some sitting on the side, as I believe she thinks SHE was promised by the agency.

I still have two more months :(

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