Au Pairs and the Single Host Parent

by cv harquail on April 18, 2010

We haven’t talked much about the specific challenges of host parent – au pair relationships when there is only one parent, a single parent, involved.

There are some challenges that are specific to the gender & orientation balance, of, say, a female au pair and a single host dad, or a male au pair and a single host mom.  These are situations where — **worst case** — the parent and the au pair could mimic all the household and romantic dynamics of a male-female couple in a way that complicates the appropriate job & role assignments of host parent and au pair.

sureshot coffeeWhat is more likely to be challenging, I think, in a single parent- au pair relationship is asking or expecting the au pair to take up the same kind of partnership that the host parent might get from another parenting partner. A particularly mature au pair could become almost that kind of partner, but it would be something that he or she needed to agree to in advance, since this really can take more psychic energy that a young adult might want to give for a year.

There are many readers out there who are (or who have become) single host parents.  Let’s talk about what challenges are specific to single host parent – au pair relationships.

And, to start this conversation, let’s temporarily set aside the differences between host parents who are single by choice, by tragedy and by divorce. Then, in a few later posts (and we have one coming up) we can talk about different kinds of single host parent situations (e.g., after losing a spouse, during/after divorce, contested custody situations, and so on.)

So, what are some of the special challenges — and opportunities — for single host parents?


Matt April 20, 2010 at 10:34 am

I am a single host dad by tragedy. My wife passed away from breast cancer almost two years ago. It is because of this that I have an Au Pair. I have 4 young children and specifically requested an Au Pair that is 21 yrs or older due to maturity. I have to say my Au Pair experience has been very positive. One of the challenges was that I was not sure if I wanted her to take on a “motherly” role. I just kind of let things evolve. She has not turned into a “mother” figure nor is she trying to be. This is fine with me. She is very good about letting me have the time and place to be the Parent.
I pretty much give her free rein of doing what needs done with the children becuase I trust her judgement. As far as feeling any type of “romantic” feelings this is non-existant. She is attractive but half my age. I just don’t feel any of those feelings nor would I wnat to introduce complication into the situation. I view her as a family member and Au Pair/business relationship. I think that’s what you have to do from day one. She is given the choice to participate in any activities or outings we have. She does not always choose to go. I have begun dating a woman my age and my Au Pair has been very benefical/helpful. She is there so I can go on dates.

I think an opportunity for the Au Pair is to mature more since they ulmitately have more responsibility. There are not two parents to take some of the load off. An Au Pair of a single parent is able to make decisions on her own and not feel she is stepping on one of the parents toes.

An opportuniy for me is to be able to go out at night and have some free time away from the kids knowing they are with someone they are comfortable with.

HRHM April 20, 2010 at 11:14 am

I have been both – first a single HM due to being geographically separated, now a dual parent HF since we’re colocated once again. In some ways it was easier with just me. I had a tight bond with both of those APs and I think they liked having the extra responsibility (and voice) in the house. Once DH was back on the scene, the rules were harder to enforce (may be unique to me, but probably not!) and her input was slightly diminished. I think with the right AP, it can be a great experience and can help the AP mature/evolve more quickly than she otherwise might. It can also be a mess with an AP who doesn’t want/isn’t ready for that level of responsibility.

Angie April 20, 2010 at 11:26 am

When I compare notes with my single HM friend, the times when she struggles with her au pair are when she’s laying down the law on rules. I think having a partner to reinforce you makes it easier, or you need a strong area director.

Ex-Aupair April 20, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I spent 7 months working as an Au-pair in England for a single mother and her three children. At first things went really well, but within 2 months, she stopped coming home on time and providing vital things for the house, such as food (- honest to god, I was left with a tenner a week to find a family of 5, because she refused to cook and had barely anything in the house). I became a Mother to the children because they had no contact with their own. It wasn’t a situation I was comfortable with, but felt I had no choice but to live with it. The deal breaker came, when she told me she was going on holiday for 3 weeks, on her own, to meet her internet boyfriend in America, and that I would be left with the children. By the time I left, Social Services were following up a complaint made by the children’s school regarding parental neglect.

Obviously, I understand this was a crazy situation and a bizarre HM, but it has put me off ever working for a single parent again. The stress and exhaustion was too much for me.

Soccer Mom April 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Did you call Social Services? I would have if I were you!

Ex-Aupair April 21, 2010 at 7:30 am

The school approached me with their concerns, and using my evidence took it further.

I could honestly write a book about this woman, ‘The Nanny Diaries’ have nothing on her!

HRHM April 21, 2010 at 7:50 am

I have to say the I think the AP job in the UK is much different than it is in the US. Our current AP spent last year in England and her description of what she did and how she was treated made my jaw drop. I’m not sure if it’s just that the LCCs here keep most people from going off the reservation or if the rules are vastly different!? She told how she routinely had the kid by herself for 3 days while the Mom traveled for work, how she cleaned the whole house, mowed the lawn, did all the shopping, etc. And that she only made 400Eu per month but was only supposed to working 25 hours. She also had side jobs babysitting.

Either way, I wouldn’t generalize the conditions for UK APs to single host parents everywhere. There are hours/work abuses that occur even in 2 HP families.

Euromom April 21, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Can I just say that this was a bizarre situtation and not typical to Host Familys in Europe, just like in the US, there is the good and bad and it was just bad luck that Ex-Au Pair ended up in a not so pleasant family. I will say however that generally in Europe au pairs are not required to work over 30 -35 hrs per week.

English Au Pair..x April 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I read this website quite often and i sometimes am shocked by how different Au Pairing in America sounds to in England. I am not at all complaining though as i love my job it just seems like in America there are a lot more rules and regulations to be followed.
I have the experience of working with a 2 parent family and now with a single mother so i can speak from my experience. When i worked with the 2 parent family although i enjoyed my time there and my experience i couldn’t help feeling sometimes that i was in the way, i find it so much easier living and working with a single mum, for me it is much more comfortable and i feel this experience has been much more beneficial for me. I’m not saying it’s not hard work because believe me it is… being with a single parent family means more hours and more responsibility and with 3 boys it’s a lot fo energy. But it’s responsibility that was plainly laid out when i accepted the job so i am not complaining.
I love the 3 boys i look after and although it’s cliche i do feel like there big sister. I love my host mum and i wouldn’t have my job any other way. So for me a single host family would always be my choice and i think if i do go to another i would definitley only pick a single parent.

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