Au Pairs and Online Romances: Your role as a Host Parent

by cv harquail on June 10, 2011

As host parents we feel responsible for keeping our au pairs safe, since they are under our roofs and with our families. However, we recognize that what they do on their own time is (largely) their own business.

Au pairs deserve social autonomy, privacy, and the chance to experiment with new things and new relationships. But, these same au pairs who want autonomy can be a little naive about the ways of the world (or even just the ways of the USA). Many are simply too starry-eyed to make consistently good decisions, especially when it comes to dating.

201106101742.jpgAdd to these concerns the horror stories we hear about “guys you meet online”, and concerns about cyber-safety, and we are understandably cautions about romances that au pairs strike up with people they meet online.

On the other hand, purportedly One in Six marriages in the US these days is between people who met online. Sure, that figure comes from, but even if it’s inflated, it’s still supports the competing claim that you really can begin a healthy relationship online.

  • So, what advice do you give an au pair about relationships with people s/he’s meeting online?
  • What kind of behavior do you approve of? What limits do you set? How do you help your au pair navigate the world of online relationships?

Here’s the story that prompts the topic:

Let me preface this by saying that we have a nanny, not an au pair. Our nanny is a former au pair, but since we are in Canada and there is no comparable program, she is a nanny here. That said, throughout our communications before she came to join us, we mutually decided that we preferred the au pair format (care-giver is more a part of the family than an employee) over the nanny relationship. Our nanny lives with us. She is our first experience with live-in care.

Our nanny has been with our family for approximately one month. So far we really like her! Our children adore her, she does the household tasks she is supposed to and is easy to get along with. We’ve had the occasional language issue, and a couple of smaller issues, but nothing serious.

Three weeks before she came to Canada, she met a her “boyfriend” online. He is a student in the US on a student visa. Since my spouse and I are both school teachers and have Spring Break off, we asked if she would like that week for travel or vacation. She declined, but in that conversation it came out that she had invited her “boyfriend” (someone she has known online for approximately 2 months and whom she has never met) to our hometown for the week before Spring Break.

She let it slip that while she didn’t plan to have him stay at our home, she planned to have him meet with her and the children at nearby parks. I immediately let her know that under no terms were my children to meet with a man we had never met. Period. She agreed and that has been the end of the having him come to our hometown idea.

She now wants to fly to another city to have a romantic weekend with her “boyfriend.” While I understand that I am not her mother, we have had a hostmum relationship (in our short time together).

Frankly, I think that it is a stupid idea to meet a stranger in a strange city for a getaway. The safety implications are clear to me, but seem inconsequential to her.

What role is a hostmum to take? Were she a nanny, I would treat her like an employee and say, ” See you Monday!” She has introduced me as a hostmum and has encouraged the relationship as a “hostmum” over that of employer… What are we to do?


See also:
In Loco Parentis? Your Parental Responsibilities when your AP’s behavior challenges your values
Your Au Pair’s Friends: Key to Her/His Happiness?
The Boyfriend-Back-Home: Always bad news?

Image: bear chat rooms from jenny downing


Indi Au Pair to be June 10, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Well, the term “meet online” is really ambiguous, did they met on a dating website ie,, etc? or did the met on a site like facebook with mutual friends or was it in a web formum called “sugar daddy looking for naughty kitten”? I think it really depends on the setting but I, as an Au Pair, would never dare to expose my HF in such a way, it’s really naive. I think the fact that she “let it slip” instead of asking for your previous opinion and approval of possible playdates with the kids and this man is a yellow flag of poor judgement on her part. If you have the Host Mom relationship with her and you abstain of saying something and know on wood something goes wrong, I think you’ll regret it, so rather be cautios…maybe the best idea would be to “get involved” in the term of “Ok, I’m open about this, but as your Host Mom I have a certain level of responsability about you…the risks of you going to an unfamiliar city to met a stranger are x, x, and x and it’ll not only affect YOU if something goes wrong, it’ll affect my family and your family as well. So how did you meet, how has he proven you he’s someone you can “trust”, have you done a background check, does you family knows?, etc.” If you show her that you’re interested and no “OMG, NO” maybe she’ll lower her guard and be more willing about sharing and telling you the truth about the whole thing. If after all she tell you, you feel it’s not THAT risky, maybe have them met at a neutral point closer to your town. I wouldn’t suggest your exact location as that sounds equally as dangerous in case the man is a creeper. Maybe suggest her taking a male chaperon with her, a friend close to her age and male would be good.
At the end this is an oportunity to either grow or damge the relationship between her and your family.

German Au-Pair June 10, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I agree: “meeting online” can have very different faces.
I also met people online and met with them, for example other au pairs. How do you think most au pairs meet? They meet online and then visit each other or have meetings with many others attending.
I’ve made some close friends over the internet who I would’ve never met otherwise and who I know in person and visit regularly. “The internet” does not equal “The internet”.
You really should ask how exactly they met and if it’s still a little strange to you give the common advice of meeting in a public area e.g. in a café (or better yet: the café at the airport) first and maybe taking a hostel room rather then sleeping in his apartment the very first day. And tell her to call you every day.
Of course you cannot really keep her from doing what the wants here but you definitely can talk to her about how you feel about the situation. Make clear that you really try to be open minded about this and that you want to support her but that you also feel like you shoul point out the dangers as you care for her.
Maybe she’ll even agree to you “meeting” this boy via skype? So at least there is a picture here (and he’s not a 40 year old man telling her he’s a 19 year old cutie) and maybe it will make you feel better?

You thinking about this shows you care and since you both wanted to have a family-ish relationship, she most likely will appreciate your concerns. I know I would.

Europair June 10, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I think that the Skype meeting is a really good idea. If he refuses to meet via Skype, something is up. Honestly, it seems a bit premature that they want to spend an entire week together after 2 months. I also think it’s better to meet a ‘stranger’ on your own turf; perhaps he would consider coming up for a weekend, and have your nanny take that weekend off. Thus, the kids wouldn’t be involved, but you can find her easily should there be an emergency.

I think another factor here is the nanny’s age. At 18 or 19, I was a complete fool when it came to dating safely. Now, at 22, I may not seem much older, but I’ve become very familiar with just how unsafe women can be in relationships. If she’s older, you may want to give her the benefit of the doubt. If she’s younger, she may need someone to take on a motherly role. On the other hand, she may need to figure out things through experience. I had to, but now I wish I had taken my mother’s advice.

Tahoe mom 2 twins June 11, 2011 at 10:12 am

Our au pair (21 years old and longer with us or part of the program) was engaging in a relationship online with another Norwegian boy. She first made it sound like she has been friends with him since childhood, and that they grew up spending summers in the same resort town.when she told us he and his friends were coming to San Francisco, I naturally got excited for her and encouraged their visit. They were planning to stay at a hostel near Union Square. She told me they were planning to drive to Vegas, and she would like to take her vacation week to go with them. In July. Through Death Valley. My husband and I then started getting concerned, suspicious, or whatever one feels when they’ve just heard the most ridiculous idea ever. She would also be the only girl in the car and in the Vegas hotel room. We told her to grab a girlfriend and fly; at least you know you’ll get back home if the boys decide they don’t to drive back to SF. When she was reluctant to do this, I put on my ball busting “mom” cap and fortunately started digging. Turns out, she never met the guy in person. He contacted her over Facebook. Many of the “coincidences” they shared could easily have been discovered on her open book of a Facebook page. Fortunately in our handbook, we expressly stated that our names, images, and address were never allowed to be posted; I had friended her before her arrival and frequently checked her page while she was with us to confirm she abided, which she did. The moral of my story is that a girl who appears to have her head on straight can still get a little thrown off by a cute boy with a good line. She turned out to be incredibly naive and even had some emotional and learning disabilities which effected her personally and professionally, which were not disclosed to us beforehand by the au pair or Cultural Care ( in the agency’s defense, it’s possible they didn’t know either and it wasn’t on her medical records or declared in her application.) Au pairs need someone to look out for them while here, and it’s important for someone (either the host parent or a trusted family friend) to take on the role of a confidant for her. I played myself more like her big sister, sharing clothes, music, face booking, shopping together, and encouraging her growth while telling her “like it is” (that boy sounds like trouble…don’t get a tattoo unless you’ve wanted it desperately for a full year…you should definitely go to Disneyland next month with your au pair friends…etc). My husband was the guy who kept her grounded when I needed back up, or if my suggestion wasn’t being considered. He and I worked as a team to, yes, sometimes manipulate her when she started getting a little too floopy with boys or situations. I personally still believe Mr. Norway was working towards getting her alone, and who knows what could have happened then, but I was not willing to find out. I was also prepared to speak to her mother, father, sister and LCC if I couldn’t put the kabbosh on this Vegas trip. Get nosy, and dig deeper when your instincts suggest a red flag. I personally feel that many, if not all, of the kids who join the au pair program do so BECAUSE it gives them the safety net of a family to guide them through their year abroad. I think we, as host parents, have a responsibility to be that guide.

German Au-Pair June 11, 2011 at 11:02 am

Just wanted to throw in here -a little OT- that FB provides a service with which you can exclude one specific person from being able to see a specific photo album. So just because you don’t see an album on her FB-page doesn’t mean it’s not there…
Maybe I’m a little paranoid here but just to make sure rules like that are obeyed I’d ask someone else to check her FB every now and then (and even then you also can decide to show a spefici album to a spefici group only e.g. all her au pair friends).

Not saying that was the case here but in general this information might be nice to have as some people don’t seem to know that.

southern HM June 11, 2011 at 10:50 am

I don’t care where she met him– the fact that she was planning to meet an online stranger with your children by her side is absolutely unacceptable and would likely result in a rematch/end of the professional relationship if I were in your position. She may be a nice girl who is a little misguided or naive, but that plan crossed a line that signals a serious error in judgment that should not be overlooked.

nj LC June 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm

You have every right to have been concerned about her planning a first time meeting with a total stranger with your children present. I’m glad that she told you about it ahead of time and that you both have an honest and open line of communication. Kudos to you!

With regards to what she does on her own time however, she is an adult in her own right. You can’t tell an adult what to do nor force them to act the way you think they should; you can offer her some sound advice and hope that she makes wise decisions. You need to find a way to make peace with that, as if she were your child. But she isn’t and that’s why you feel this ambiguity.

The truth is that her down time belongs to her. You can’t and shouldn’t try to control that aspect of her life. If you have grave doubts and can’t wrap your head around the fact that she should be autonomous with her free time, then she’s not right for you, and perhaps you’ve backed yourself up into the limitations of a live-in childcare situation.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 12, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I thought about this one last night, and you know, I met 5 out of 6 of my APs through the Internet (okay, they were vetted by an agency) and 1 by telephone. Still, both they and we were taking a risk.

So, the trick is not to stop Internet interaction, because it’s a tool and the world is changing. There are a ton of socializing networks, and even my LCC has a Facebook page for local APs.

The trick is to teach your AP about what is safe and what is not (because you’ll have to do it with your children — and probably sooner rather than later — today I read an article that the number of children 10-14 who are on Facebook is growing rapidly).

Don’t shun the AP/nanny who “lets it slip” – you’re lucky that she’s not confident. Don’t yell at her, but do express concern. So the boyfriend is not coming to your community, but it’s time to have a chat anyway about keeping herself safe (not only with people she’s never met in person, but those she does meet – for example, in bars). Is your nanny looking to get married and stay in the US or Canada? If she is, then she may not be aware that her desperation may put her in harm’s way.

azmom June 13, 2011 at 2:03 am

i think this is an issue AND i met my husband online.

first, she was going to introduce your kids to this guy (our fhb explicitly states that the children are not to meet any other people other than other au pairs in our cluster, and their families, or “our” friends)
second, as TACL indicated, find out why she’s out meeting people online. is she looking for a husband/green card? if so, you may see more of this behavior and you’ll want to either watch closely or let her know you’re looking into rematch since her goals for the program do not match up with what the program is for (not a horrible thing, but letting her know she needs to keep her mind on the kids, the experience in the US and NOT meeting some guy who will like her enough to marry her in the upcoming months0
third, if she’s not looking for a guy to marry, get her more active in the local cluster, find her some dance lessons or painting or whatever it is she’s interested in so she’s not scouring the internet for new friends.

good luck

R June 13, 2011 at 4:12 am

I found this post very interesting as I met my fiance Online, while I was an au pair in America. I never met him while I was in America, but if I would have, I never would have considered letting him meet the Host Children. It would not have been appropriate, especially without discussing it with my hostfamily.

However, I do not believe you should tell her that she can not go on the “romantic weekend”, as that will not help anyone. I would tell the au pair what the risks of the meeting are and how to stay safe.

As for when I first met my fiance, I had my brother with me. Because we had never met (I had seen him on webcam, but its not the same) I felt I needed my brother to approve of him, before I spent any time with him on my own.
Also, my parents met him before I went anywhere alone with him. Another imporant thing I did to keep me safe was to give my fiances address and phone number (which I knew was correct) to my parents, just as he gave his parents my address and phone number.

Internet is a risk, but then again, what way of meeting is not.

As long as your au pair is honest and stay safe she should be okay to go. Maybe (in my opinion) it would have been safer if the boyfriend would have visited your hometown so you could have met with him to “approve”. Other than that, get the hotells address and phone number, get his address and phone number AND MOST IMPORTANTLY get her to ring you on set times to make sure she is ok.

Hope this helps…

Calif Mom June 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm

As others have said, the issue here is not controlling what the au pair does on her free time, but safety–your family’s, and her personal safety as well.

I know 3 happily married couples who met online. No shame in that at all; if you are smart about it.

Yes, an au pair’s free time is her free time, but when her choices trickle over into her on-the-clock responsibilities, then host families get to weigh in and set standards of behavior in order to safeguard their kids, their homes and attempt to safeguard their au pairs (when they aren’t making wise choices themselves). Employers pay for Employee Assistance Programs (to help their employees stop alcoholism, abusive relationships, drug dependence, depression, elder care, etc) for a reason; off the clock behaviors affect work performance. This is not butting in, it is required of the situation when an “employee” shows that intervention is needed.

If you feel your au pair is mature and wise enough to handle the situation, then I think a host can take a more hands-off approach. But if you think the au pair is putting your kids and/or herself in danger because she’s naive, you are not being over-protective, you are just being protective. And that’s your duty, not just your right.

There’s such a wide spectrum of awareness, culture norms, and maturity among au pairs that it’s very hard to generalize on these issues. Sometimes au pairs need direction, and you’re not being over-involved if you offer your perspective or even if you direct her behavior more overtly. Au pairs are, inherently, extremely involved in our lives, and us in theirs. It’s just how this works.

MAHM June 13, 2011 at 7:02 pm

What a huge headache. This is why I got out of the AP program. I needed an adult to help with childcare not another child to take care of.

Calif Mom June 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm

This is why the initialim “YMMV” was popularized. One of our most immature childcare providers EVER was a traditional nanny. And the most mature also happens to be our youngest AP. Go figure. No guarantees any way you slice the childcare pie.

R June 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Well said!

Marilia Maciel June 23, 2011 at 10:50 pm


I`ve been an au pair for two years. I lived with two very different families in USA. Of course we had some issues, but not big deals. So, I think that you, as a host mother, should advise her for not going there. I agree with you that it is dangerous to meet a stranger in a strange city. If you guys have a nice relationship, I think you should expose to her your point of view and let her know that it might be dangerous. Show her even though you are not her mother, you care about her. I`m sure she`ll understand it.

I met some guys through the internet and then I met them in person, but I always met them in public places and in places that I were sure that that my friends and even my host family knew about.

Every family has issues. But to judge this girl as “another child” and just quit the program is not the right decision. I think a good conversation can bring awesome results! ;)

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