Au Pairs and Your Privacy: My Au Pair’s kindof nosy!

by cv harquail on March 22, 2010

When invite an au pair to come live in our home and be ‘part of the family’, our lives become an open book.

  • Frustrated with your DS? Your au pair knows.201003220607.jpg
  • Threw out 6 bags of organic greens that decomposed in the fridge? She saw it.
  • Hoarding Thin Mints in your special cabinet even though you’re trying to lose weight? You think you’re fooling her?

Some of the drama of life, including your mistakes, your relationship concerns, and your bank balance, can float over the heads of your kids. But au pairs are a bit more aware. They notice what’s going on around them, inside your house. This can be kind of a drag– who wants their au pair knowing everything about them?

I’ve been lucky with our au pairs who, despite their excellent English, have all known when to leave the kitchen if I’m on the phone with my best friend. I have a home office where I can keep our family papers, and a bedroom with a door where I can try on one ill-fitting outfit after another without anyone commenting. I do have some privacy, which is a good thing.

Not so lucky is Host Mom CK. She doesn’t have secrets, just regular family stuff. What she does have, though, is an au pair who regularly crosses the line between being aware and being nosey:

We are hosting our second au pair and she’s been with us for about 5 months. One issue (there are others) that really bothers me is that she is nosy. By this I mean that she reads and looks at things that I feel are not her business.

I don’t think she is doing this maliciously, I think she is just a very curious person and doesn’t have a sense of boundaries. For example, she reads or looks at *everything* to the point that it slows her down in her job. On top of this, she looks at papers that are on the counter.

Because I don’t have an office or a desk, I use an area of the kitchen counter as my “desk” area. Being a piling type, things are not neatly organized here and it is often a dumping ground for bills and mail. I often find my au pair picking up things from this counter area and reading them: flyers, brochures, catalogs, junk mail, kids work from school, instruction manuals, etc. She will pick up stray pieces of paper in the car, even just receipts, and read them.

I have not yet seen her pick up a credit card bill, but given her curiosity with the rest of it, I imagine she does this when I’m not around.

She also tends to ask a lot of questions in a way that feels intrusive. For example, I make a phone call to inquire about a class for dc and when I hang up I get questions about what the class is, when would it be, what would it be like, etc. I’ve even been asked questions about personal calls where I am discussing a personal issue with a friend and when I hang up, she asks me questions about what’s going on, etc. It makes me wonder if she’s looking through my drawers and stuff when I’m out of the house.


Advice on how I might address this?

In addition to recommending that CK find a spot of her own (even a nice basket from Target where bills, etc. can be placed, and which can then be put “off limits”), what ideas have you?

Next Door’s Cat from World of Oddy
Nosey from joellybaby


My 2 cents March 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Some of this I think is your AP showing serious interest in the family and the kids and the world around her. So, if she’s reading the paper, looking at the kids art projects, and wants to know who is having a sale on what that seems normal, if not a positive sign. She’s seems to be invested in what’s going on around her and finding ideas for stuff to do or talk about, probably with you! If you leave materials out on the kitchen table then that’s what is to be expected. I’m not talking about opening up envelopes and such of course. If that’s going on she needs to be reprimanded, but I’m not reading your post this way.

The listening in on the phone calls is different, although I’ll admit that both my dh and I, and the kids, ask each other questions based on what we overhear! Perhaps a few sharp and direct “I don’t want to talk about it”-s or “it doesn’t concern you”-s will send the message that she’s not supposed to hearing what she is hearing. If she still doesn’t get it after the rebukes, then sit her down and have a more direct conversation. If it’s a truly private conversation, take it in another room or outside as it’s really not realistic to expect people in the same room not to absorb a single thing.

KittyGirl March 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I think she is probably just curious and wants to be part of the family. Its kind of mean to say – everyone else in the family can know family business but not you – pretend you don’t notice! Unless she asks mean or obviously irritating questions – I think you should answer them and be open with her as much as you feel comfortable.

Euromom March 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Another suggestion and again fairly obvious – if you don’t want her to hear a phone conversatin – just say – I’m sorry I need privacy for this call and “nod” her towards another room thus encouraging her to leave the room while you chat away.

It’s a bit unfair having a conversation in front of her and then expecting her to understand that it is “private”. It’s all about setting boundaries and these ones need to be reset.

Taking a computer lunch March 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm

As for mail/children’s stuff/etc. on the counter. One of my au pairs didn’t like the fact that we left our daughter’s copious school paperwork in a huge pile to rummage through on a regular basis. She took an empty Cheerios box, covered it in paper, decorated it and put my daughter’s name on it. Everything that came in for my daughter was put in that box. It was a great system and cut down on the clutter. We weed it out once a week on paper recycling day.

I must admit, I hide my bills in the liquor cabinet, mainly because my office desk is not tidy enough for them (now I understand why my mother’s bedroom was alway so cluttered). I throw them in there and close the door, with the anticipation that it’s private.

I figure anything left out is fair game, but everything that’s squirreled away is not. I purposely point out to new au pairs the coupon books, and Sunday newspaper inserts that offer bargains. I purposely show them the kids’ progress reports. I want them to feel vested in what the kids are doing.

If I want a phone conversation to be private, I leave the common area (when my kids were little they would follow me). This sets the stage for the APs, too — that phone conversations are to be kept private even if they are in a language that is not commonly understood.

Anonymous March 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm

If you are going to Target, pick up an expensive shredder too

MommyMia March 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I think you meant to say “inexpensive!”

PA au pair mom March 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

In our house, we think of anything that is left out in the open as “fair game”. We keep our bills that have come in and need to be paid in a small stationary box with a lid.

Calif Mom March 22, 2010 at 11:30 pm

She sounds like a curious type, and a “reader”. Maybe with a splash of cluelessness/immaturity.

She definitely got the memo about this being a “part of the family” experience! That description above could be a mother-in-law! :-)

Jane March 24, 2010 at 11:23 am

I think she’s being a bit intrusive beyond curiosity, myself. I definitely think you need to just remove papers you don’t want her viewing, and if you can’t, you need to be honest and tell her that not everything on the counter is for her consumption. Afterall, she’s not embarrassed about reading your personal materials, why do you need to be embarrassed about saying they are private? The same goes for the phone calls. I had a co-worker who listened to every persoanl call I had to make at work and then questioned me about it–doctors appointments, etc. I learned to make those calls from my car on my lunch break. Some folks don’t know they are being intrusive. But, that doesn’t mean it won’t drive you crazy!!! I suggest finding someways to insert boundaries for your private life. Being a part of the family doesn’t mean being a part of everything.

Anonymous March 26, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I think this is the hardest part of having someone live with you.
My in laws ask questions that my sister would never dream of asking.
I have a dreadful co-worker and when she walks into my office, I say
” I cannot talk right now, I will call you back when I have some more privacy ?.” Email is very helpful in that respect – it is quiet.

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