Au Pair’s Room Is Also the Playroom. The Laundry Room. And the …

by cv harquail on October 7, 2016

Here’s another email that indirectly points out how important it is that US Au Pairs and Host Families have State Department Regulations that make certain conditions mandatory.
This Au Pair, writing from Europe, has discovered that her Host Family family expects the Au Pair bedroom to also be the “playroom”.

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US Au Pair regulations require that an au pair’s room have a window (for fire safety) and a door that can be locked (for privacy and personal security).

An Au Pair’s room can’t be a space that is used for anything other than his or her personal space. It can’t be a playroom, a family TV room, an annex of the laundry room, or part of a passageway from one room in the house to another (e.g., like a railroad flat, where you can’t get to the back door without walking through the bedroom).

See Your Au Pair’s Bedroom: Minimum Requirements

It’s easy for parents who store things in their extra bedroom to “forget” that they need to remove their stuff from the room once it becomes the “Au Pair Room”.

Sure, you can store a few blankets or tablecloths in the closet, or use one row of the bookcase from your undergraduate statistics classes, but you can’t use up a whole closet, all the space under the bed, and/or the entire bookcase.  Anything you store there can only be accessed with the Au Pair’s permission to enter the room — and without disturbing his or her stuff.

Each Au Pair needs a room of their own.

 A space they can personalize to meet their needs and some of their tastes. A place where they can spread out and relax.  Having your stuff in there, or having the kids playing in there, makes this impossible.

You’d think people would know this and create Au Pair rooms that are relatively empty, with attractive but ‘bare bones’ so that the Au Pair has room for him or herself.

 But just last month I visited the home of friends who were getting their first au pair after several nannies.  The mom proudly showed me the lovely, sunlit third floor space, with the built-in book cases stuffed to the brim with old piano music, musty books from her mom’s house, and bric a brac from every estate sale held in my town over the last decade.

 Delicately, I suggested that my friend pack up most of this stuff and put it in the attic space down the hall.

 I wanted to suggest the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I’ve seem my friend’s home office, and clutter is how she rolls. She just needs to roll that clutter out of her au pair’s bedroom (and, out of the third floor bathroom too).

 The Au Pair who wrote for advice has two other problems she’s worried about– but I’m thinking that, if the family can’t even give her the private space that’s required, they’re unlikely to respond to any efforts to adjust their unreasonable work expectations.

 

Dear Au Pair Moms —  I am looking for some advice to figure out if I am over reacting or if my concerns are reasonable.

 I’m an Au Pair in Europe.  The family seemed lovely during our conversations and skype calls and I met them through a friend’s recommendation.

Before I arrived we formed a contract with a generally list of responsibilities and information about the job and family. One of my concerns immediately was my room was to be used as a “playroom”, which I told them that I required a room separate from the family. They reassured me that it would be my own room and that they would move out the toys and everything.

We also agreed on 4 hours a day Monday to Friday with the occasional Saturday (one per month) where I could hang out with the kids and Sundays completely off.

Fast forward to my arrival and I come into a room full of toys and children’s clothes. My first day they informed me that they use this room as storage (which has eventually turned into basically a shared space) and that they have decided that our agreement hours will need to be one hour shorter so instead I work 3 hours a day and then until noon on Saturday mornings. I instantly had a bad feeling about this but I wanted to make it work and decided to accommodate them because I wasn’t sure what to do. 

 I have now been with the family for 3 weeks and have become very resentful to the altering of our contract, especially in regards to not having my own space (kids, parents and nanny come into my room throughout the day in order to access toys and clothes).  I have also been having a tough time with feeling closely monitored by the parents, they ask me when I’m going to wash my laundry, tell me to clean my room, make my bed, not to have any personal items in sight and that my closet is messy.

 When I left some items on my bed for a few hours while I was working, I was told my room was a mess and that the HM is not my mother and does not need another child.  

 They have very strict rules for not forgetting anything in the main living area (I have been trying my best to be as clean as possible) and told me that they were unhappy when I closed my door after I was done work and didn’t offer to help with the children when I was off duty.

 These expectations of needing to be with the family when I wasn’t on duty and to be always asking how I can help were never communicated to me. We had a conversation about all of this not too long ago and I was made to feel that I was being unreasonable and selfish for taking issue with the changes they had made to the contract without discussing it with me.  

 They also say I am “not trying hard enough to be a part of the family”. I know that my responsibilities as mainly a playmate and English teacher are quite easy compared to other au pairs (which they made sure to emphasize to me), especially because there’s a cooking/cleaning/child minding nanny who works Monday to Friday, but I can’t help but to feel resentful and anxious, as well as lacking in basic respect. 

 Otherwise from this laundry list of issues, I really enjoy the kids and our relationship. I need to know, am I being unreasonable? What should I do since they believe these problems are my fault because in their opinion I’m not trying hard enough? We have agreed to add my hours in the week in order to scrap the working on Saturdays but there is really no compromise in regards to my room (which is one of the things I am most stressed about). I am torn on whether I should just suck it up and this is just what is expected of Au Pairs or if I should expect better?

Some advice is badly needed!

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Aupair Paris October 7, 2016 at 6:24 pm

This family sounds really, really, really like my first abusive family, also in Europe. There were other issues that were more dramatic, but they didn’t occur immediately – they happened after some initial goodwill had been worn down by smaller issue, and some of the initial ones were the room-as-playroom issue, the changing of agreed details (including salary in my case) and the dictating of when I should do my laundry (all clothes including jeans to be washed after being worn once – they were disgusted that I would wear jeans more than once – and I am not a sweaty or smelly person), at what times I might shower and for how long (the bathroom was through the kids’ bedroom)… The room issue too. Throw in some “French people are just cleaner than English people” comments and…

Europe is a huge, huge continent, and I suppose it would be inappropriate to ask for more details – I’m sure lots of families must be abusive in this way. But this post has given me chills in how exactly it matches my first experience.

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Aupair Paris October 7, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Then again, my first family didn’t have another nanny. They could’ve hired one, I guess, but given that they refused to even pay my (European au pair = v. cheap) wages most of the time, I think they’d be too stingy.

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massmom October 7, 2016 at 9:59 pm

This does not sound salvageable to me. If the family does not recognize that an au pair needs their own personal space, I’m not sure how you get around this. Our au pairs know that the only reason we will go in their room without permission when they are not home is if they have obviously left the heat or AC on blast while traveling, if they’ve left an alarm going off, or if they have left a shared household item like an ironing board in their room. And since they know the rules upfront, these things rarely if ever happen. Our kids also know they are never to go in the room without being invited. I have no idea how clean or messy my APs keep their room, (with the exception of one who would hoard dirty dishes in her room until they became moldy and we ran out of dishes), and I don’t really care about their housekeeping. It would drive me nuts to have people in and out of my room. When you live where you work, you need to be able to close the door and relax! I would try having another conversation with them saying that after trying the arrangement for a few weeks, living in a private room is non-negotiable and they’ll need to make a change if you are to stay. But I don’t hold out much hope that they will accommodate you.

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SA_Au Pair October 8, 2016 at 3:50 am

After spending a lot of time running around with the kids having a space that’s completely mine is essential for my sanity. I wouldn’t have made it past the first week with a family like this – they don’t seem to care about offering their au pair a very basic thing- her own space and privacy, and the fact that they’re not living up to what was agreed upon in the contract prior to the OP’s arrival is worrying. There is only so much compromising you can do, find a new family that will keep their end of the bargain – get out of there.

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FirstTimeHM October 8, 2016 at 9:23 am

This doesn’t sound good.
You don’t have a space of your own and you need to make sure everything personal in the kid’s playroom (which just happens to be the place where you sleep) is tidied up immediately.
Most European countries have regulations for au pairs and having a private space of at least 3 meters by 3 meters with a window and a door is a must. This family knows that.

If your contract has changed in your benefit (less hours, same sum of money at the end of the month) it would have been better if they discussed it up front. They might have thought it not a big deal and a nice suprise. But the feeling I get from the description is that this family thinks they own you and treat you like a hired help who should do as she’s told but is definately not ‘on par’ with the rest of them.

I think you should start looking for another family.

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Frankfurt AP Boy October 9, 2016 at 3:41 am

Can you give an example of a European country with regulations on working conditions? My experience of the UK, Spain and Germany are that there doesn’t seem to be any.

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Former AP Now HM October 9, 2016 at 1:50 pm

The UK and Germany absolutely have regulations on working conditions. I can’t speak for Spain (never lived there), but most EU countries do have regulations. I seem to remember that the Netherlands are quite strict. Of course, many families have informal agreements and may not follow the regulations, but they do exist.

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FirstTimeHM October 9, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK absolutely have regulations, those of the Netherlands being quite strict.
If this au pair is in the Netherlands she would have an agency and a person to contact, and an emergency number that is available day and night. Unless she has agreed to do this not by the book, which can cause her a lot of trouble as she would be illegal after her tourist visa expired.

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CorkAupair November 11, 2016 at 10:33 am

This is not always the case.

I am from the Netherlands myself and became an Au Pair for a family in my own country, moved up there (this is a while ago though). But there was no Agency involved. There was no dad around and the HM was not reasonable with her expectations. She also kicked me out on an hours notice.. if it even was an hour (went upstairs packed my bag and left), she didn’t even pay me for that week I just finished, or bought my trainticket or even took me to the trainstation (luckily it wasn’t a long walk).

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HMof2 October 8, 2016 at 10:23 am

Just want to comment on CV’s reference about US Au Pair regulations requiring a room with window, door, or lock .

According to 22 CFR 62.31 which regulates the US AP Program, that there is a requirement for providing a US AP with a “suitable private bedroom” but the language is silent on specifics about whether this means a room with a window, door, or lock.

The document states that … (e) Au pair placement. Sponsors shall secure, prior to the au pair’s departure from the home country, a host family placement for each participant. Sponsors shall not: … (6) Place the au pair with a family who cannot provide the au pair with a suitable private bedroom; and

Of course, each agency in their contract with the HF has the option to add more specific requirements on top of the US State Department 22 CFR 62.31 regulation, such as a room must have a window, door or lock. Providing an AP with a bedroom that includes amenities such as a window, door or lock is a nice thing for the HF to do, but not specifically required by the US State Department regulations.

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WestMom October 8, 2016 at 11:40 am

Some agencies might have their own regulations. We have never been asked for a lock (though we have one), but an egress requirement should be imposed across the board.

It is a safety hazard to put your AP in a room without either a door to the outside or an egress window. Period. If your AP bedroom would not pass muster with your building department, then it’s not safe enough for your au pair. It doesn’t really matter that it’s not an agency requirement per se. It is a building department and fire code regulation.

I am amazed that some families pass the bedroom inspection without a way to exit the room safely in case of fire. I suspect that some of the agencies don’t properly train their LCCs to make sure the room is not only following agency regulations, but is also safe!

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Schnitzelpizza October 18, 2016 at 5:58 am

Plus possible local building requirements to legally make a (basement) room a bedroom. I know that my HP told me to make the basement rooms bedrooms for the boys they had to add windows of a certain size (escape window) and add a ladder.

Of course at the same time one of my friends had to “live” in a pretty much unfinished basement. Her “private bath” was seperated from her sleeping area by a clothes line with drapes (might have been sheets or just fabric), the room didn’t have a door but a curtain and led directly into the kids’ playroom (where the teenager would go to watch tv on the weekends). No window. In case of a fire I am sure she would have died. I didn’t have any idea how that room passed inspection back then and still don’t. (I am fairly certain the family showed the LCC a different room… I can’t imagine any sane person would have nodded it through as it was)

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Frankfurt AP Boy October 9, 2016 at 3:48 am

To me this is a bit tricky. There are lots of families that decide to have an au pair even though they don’t have a independent room for them. I remember when I was searching it was not uncommon to come across families in which the au pair would actually share a room with the kids. So I don’t find it so shocking that there are families in which the au pair is in a room that is used for other things. The question is a personal one: how important is it to have your own space? That is what they promise so you shouldn’t feel bad about expecting it now. As a native English speaking you wouldn’t find it difficult to find another au pair position within a week or two, so don’t feel trapped.

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Jessi October 9, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Erm…. nope. This is not at all tricky. Part of the compensation of being an au pair is room and board! So in no way should it be substandard or shared. Even more so as they pulled a bait and switch on her “They reassured me that it would be my own room and that they would move out the toys and everything”.

Im not surprised to hear that there are families that think that this is ok.

To the poster: move. This family is not going to get better or follow anything else you put in the contract. Find another family (if you want to) and high tail it out of there!

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Frankfurt AP Boy October 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Some families don’t have a room to spare and by allowing au pairs to share rooms it allows a wider range of families to potentially have an au pair. I don’t see a problem with it, as long as the au pair knows what the situation will be. In this case, as you say, they changed the agreement – to me that’s the issue.

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Aupair Paris October 10, 2016 at 6:11 am

If a family does not have a spare room, they cannot afford an au pair. This *is* a problem, and it is unfair that some families struggle to pay for childcare and other families don’t – but that is not the childcare provider’s problem or responsibility. As au pairs we are paid a wage that would be illegal if not augmented with room and board. If you do not get there, then it is, or should be, purely illegal.

As for it being a personal choice on the part of the au pair – I’d agree if it weren’t for the fact that one au pair having very, very low standards of what (s)he is willing to settle for, makes it difficult for the next au pair to stick up for themself and ask for what they have a right to… No man is an island etc.

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Frankfurt AP Boy October 11, 2016 at 3:08 pm

There are many factors that make some au pair families more appealing than others. Having your own room is one of them – and indeed a minimum standard for many of us (I would never consider sharing a room). Families without a spare room surely get fewer quality applicants, which is a an incentive for host families to provide a room just for the au pair. However, there are also many other families that pose potential disadvantages for au pairs such as if they have over 4 children, if they they have very young babies, proxy parental role while the parents are away for prolonged periods of time, remote location etc etc. I don’t see some of those type of situations as necessarily worse than not having your own room.

Also, if we calculated it purely on the monetary value of what the au pair receives .. the value of a shared room in one part of the word may be equal to the value of your own room in another.

Aupair Paris October 11, 2016 at 4:43 pm

For those in countries not the US (where it’s dictated by agencies), there are indeed charts – good examples are on aupairworld – showing what the acceptable offer range is in various countries. A room of one’s own is always included. As I said, to settle for less than that does a disservice to any subsequent au pairs, although no one is legally obliged to stick to these limits..

Mimi October 12, 2016 at 5:33 pm

I believe that the building code for each state dictates what is a suitable bedroom. In some states, that means a window. (It could also mean a closet within the room itself…)

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HMof2 October 12, 2016 at 5:54 pm

Since each state or for that matter, each local jurisdiction has its own building codes, it makes sense that the actual US State Dept regulation left it as “suitable private bedroom” without more specifics on door, lock or window, so the language is flexible enough to not conflict with local codes.

I know that there is also differing local rules to determining what is a “legal bedroom” that real estate appraisers go by so that you cannot advertise your house for sale to count rooms as bedrooms that do not meet the legal definition of a “bedroom” but you might be using it as a bedroom personally.

I think that providing an environment that is safe and healthy (mind and body) should be a priority for any HF wanting to have a successful AP year. If you wouldn’t want to live in the room/circumstance that you are subjecting your AP to live in, then the room is not adequate as a bedroom for anyone.

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