With Your Au Pair’s Social Life, Be Caring Not Controlling

by cv harquail on January 28, 2017

If you can trust your Au Pair with your children, can’t you trust her with her own Saturday night plans?

5522241527_6f344c321f_mI wondered this, when I read the email (below) from the OverMonitoredAuPair.

I am a BIG believer in knowing how to find your Au Pair in an emergency during his/her off-duty time.

I am a BIG believer in knowing where your several-thousand dollar family car might be on any given evening. And,

I am a BIG believer in open communication between Au Pairs and Host Parents.

So it makes sense to me that an Au Pair should give Host Parents some information about where they are, when they are coming home, and when or whether to worry if they don’t.

With tools like “find my iphone” and car-based geo-trackers, it’s possible for us to snoop on our Au Pairs’ activity without their consent. With requests like “Text me where you are” and “Tell me what your plans are”, it’s possible for us to feel informed and at ease about what our Au Pair’s are up to, with just simple text messages.

However,  these are also ways to impose too much control over an Au Pair. To take away the Au Pair’s sense of liberty. To invade an Au Pair’s privacy. To spoil his or her sense of adventure.

For this Au Pair, I’d recommend a conversation with the Host Parents. It’s time for the Host Parents to back off a bit, and perhaps use some less invasive methods to feel comfortable that their Au Pair is safe and responsible.

These methods might include:

It’s important to show concern for your au pair, and to have the information you need to contact her in an emergency.  It’s also important not to be too controlling.  That neither supports your Au Pair’s growth as an adult, nor develops responsibility and trust between the two of you.

As a Host Parent, how do you find the right balance between needing to know and being overbearing?

As an Au Pair, how do you share information about your social life with your Host Parents yet maintain your privacy?

 

Dear AuPairMom, 
Thank you for reading this message. I’m currently an Au pair in the US and I’ve been here for about 6 months. Since I had a fender bender in early December my Host Family wants to know where I am at all times when I am off-duty.

First, it was just when I used the car. That was totally fine with me. I understand, and I am very grateful that I am still able to use the car.

BUT now, my Host Parents have begun to expect me to tell them where I am whenever I’m off-duty. This bothers me a lot.

Here’s an example:

If I want to go out I have to tell them where EXACTLY I’m going. That means I need to say not only “downtown”, but that I have to tell them the exact spot (“Restaurant XYZ”). They also want to know when I’m leaving the restaurant and when I change locations.

I know it might seem to be not that big of a deal but it really affects my life in a bad way.

They tell me that it is just for my best and that they worry about me. I totally understand that and I really want to appreciate their concerns. I have tried to constantly text them with the information they request, but I don’t think I can do that anymore.

There are often times where I am thinking of going out or even going anywhere and choose not to because I have to explain, plan, and track everything I do.

My freedom was always and still is very important to me. At home, my parents always knew that so I never had to text them every step I make.

I talked to my HP about this already and told them that this is really hard for me. There answer was “You will learn”. I really like my HP and I appreciate everything they do for me but that is something I can’t seem to do right.

For the record I tried to just not text them and they told me if I don’t do them they will take away my car privileges. Any thoughts on how to make this work ?

Thank you so much

 

See also:

Awkward: It’s not a walk of shame if we know you are safe
Monitoring Your Au Pair’s Driving Using Car Apps and Tools
Why have a curfew on your car and not your Au Pair?

 

Image: Mine were the only tracks, by Liz on Flickr

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

WestMom January 28, 2017 at 6:39 pm

I feel like we are missing a bit of the story here. The host parents were fine not knowing about this AP’s off duty whereabouts for the first 6 months of her stay. I can appreciate the new requirements since her accident, but to ask for all her location details even when she is not taking the car? I suspect trust was broken in more than one way here and this has not been fully explained in the story.

If not, your host parents are not being fair to you and this needs to be brought up to your coordinator. As far as I am concerned, you are an adult (at least in your home country, if not here) and under no obligation to tell them where you are going in your free time (without their car). But again, I suspect there is more tot his story.

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Anonymous in CA January 28, 2017 at 7:13 pm

@OP – when you had the fender bender, were you in a location that the HPs thought was unsafe in some way? I agree with WestMom, it seems there’s more to the story here, like maybe something that made the HPs concerned, possibly in connection with the fender bender since that’s when this started.

With our first AP, she took our car out to a club until 3 am; I’m not sure I would have instituted a car curfew only for that, but it was that combined with the empty champagne bottle under the driver’s seat that really undermined my trust (I don’t think she was drinking and driving, but she didn’t know it’s illegal to have any open containers in the passenger part of a moving vehicle, yet I feel it was her responsibility to know the law, especially given that she had a CA drivers license).

I only mention this as an example of when one thing (keeping car out until 3 am) on its own wasn’t necessarily going to result in a modification to my rules, but it was that combined with something else (the bottle) that led me to re-think our car rules for everyone’s safety.

Either way, you and your HPs probably need an open and honest conversation about things so that you and they both understand each other’s concerns.

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GER-BRITHMinGER January 29, 2017 at 4:59 am

I agree on the missing information. My question would also be firstly, were you within the limits of car use when the fender bender occured and secondly, of more importance IMO, how did you handle the situation? Did your hf have to come and ‘save’ you?

I’m trying to think now how I would react as a HM.

I remember when I had my first fender bender respectively something went a bit wrong when I was out at nighttime. I called/reported to the police, got/passed on the information concerning witnesses and gave the full report and signed it. Only then did I call my dad out of bed who arranged for the car to get back home. My dad had the car repaired and immediately encouraged me to drive again and to stick to what he had taught me.

Few years later something similiar happened to my younger brother. However, here my parents reaction was quite different. He was out of bounds from where he was supposed to be. It was a real turnover/flying/landing in the ditch accident which could have resulted in major injuries AND more importantly he phoned my dad middle of nighttime from some rural area basically giving no more information than “HELP!”
My parents were worried sick, shaking and crying in their pajamas. Luckily I just returned from a clubnight out and managed to hop onto the police patrol being sent out there by my parents. My brother and his friends had gotten themselves into a real state and had totally failed at solving the situation, i.e. calling police, going to the nearby farm house to ask for help, calling the automobile club to get the car out of the ditch. For my brother there was a massive car curfew for A LONG time and he was constantly being questioned on where he was going (and yes he was legally an adult at that time).

The different treatment was clearly justified by the fact that my brother had proven not to be mature enough to resolve a situation caused by him and may also have been unable to react appropiately in future incidents.

So, my answer would depend on how the au pair handled the situation that obviously has led to being distrusted and massively controlled.

However, anyone can find themselves in a bad situation, even going out to a restaurant in a safe area. I don’t believe it is possible to prevent that by questioning and interference. I think the best way to get this relationship back to normal would be for the au pair to remind the HP of how she has been handling difficult situations responsibly in the past (if that is the case) and to maybe give the information that she feels comfortable giving, before being questioned, in passing (such as AP soandso and me really enjoyed the food at X, so we’ll be heading there at around 8 for a few hours again). If the interrogation continues I would make it quite clear that there won’t be anymore information.

This is how I try and engage our AP into a conversation about her whereabouts: “I see you are going off to town. How’s your friend C, by the way? You’ve chosen a great night for having fun. There’s supposed to be a festival on the river. Oh, I thought that would be where you were going. You want some cash for a cab home? Oh, I see you will be staying the night at friend D. That’s a good decision. Have fun!”

I always get the information I need and ALWAYS accept if she chooses not to comment on something. She is an adult and it is none of my business.

Having said that – an adult won’t call me (middle of nighttime) because friend D has let her down or she failed to check the train times or she forget to take the emergency phone numbers of police, car insurance, AA to call after a minor bump etc.

If she does so she is in future making her plans my business because an adult would find a way to resolve this without disturbing her HP good nights sleep or working hours!

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WarmStateMomma January 29, 2017 at 12:56 pm

I want to know where my kids and car are at all times, but the AP is free to do what she wants in her off time. For kids and car, a simple “we’re going to the zoo today” is sufficient. And she has a phone so we can contact each other for emergencies.

For her free time, I want to know if lunch plans turn into a late night out. A quick text saying, “change of plans; I’m staying out tonight” is sufficient (so long as she doesn’t have my car). The AP is an adult and that means not worrying your housemates unduly, but it also means having the freedom to live a spontaneous life.

I would ask the HPs if there is a reason for their newfound concern. I would let them know it’s uncomfortable to always update your employer about your social plans. (This angle will remind them that they certainly don’t have to do that with their employers.) Approach the conversation like a rational adult instead of an emotional housemate so they see you that way.

I don’t understand why they would take away car privileges if you don’t keep them informed about your movements when you don’t have their car or kids, so I’d ask them about that. Try to understand their thinking so you can find a way to address it that works better than their current approach.

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Taking a Computer Lunch January 29, 2017 at 9:46 pm

In general, I’m a hands-off HM (HD is much less so and since his own teenage daughter is severely retarded and never going to date or take the car, I’ll never really know if it’s a girl/boy thing). I agree with the other HMs, that I feel like I’m missing a piece of the story here. It’s easy to do – when putting one’s best foot forward, it’s natural to leave out an important detail like “I went to a part of the city/state/country where I was told not to go.” If the accident occurred in an area where your HP felt that your well-being as well as their continued ownership of the vehicle was at risk, then you’re going to have to earn that trust back by being honest. “I don’t have real plans yet, but I’m meeting X and we’re going to decide what to do. Here’s her/his cell phone number in case you call me and I don’t pick up. I don’t want you to be worried.” My bottom line – when an AP messes up,it’s incumbent on her to earn back HF trust.

You say you’ve been here six months. I assume that means you’re half-way through your stay in the U.S. However, if you would like to extend and feel that you’re chafing at the new rules, then call for a meeting with your HP. If your LCC is a good advocate, then ask that she be present. If you don’t intend to extend, call for the meeting anyway, and ask what would help to earn back trust. Obviously, your HP trust you to make good decisions when you are caring for their children, so it begs the question – what bad choices have you made in your free time that make them feel nervous. (BTW making mistakes are part of growing up – no one learns common sense without them – it’s been my experience as a HP that I can forgive those errors more easily with rock star APs who take care of my kids well. For APs that let tasks slide, then every little mistake chafes.)

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2 kids and a cat January 30, 2017 at 7:48 am

I concur that there’s more to the story (whether the AP in question knows it or not).
We need to know where the kids and car are, and whether AP will be out all night or not (so we don’t lock her out with the deadbolt). We also ask that they not give our address to anyone they meet online.
If the family is saying “you’ll get used to it” then this is their new normal for you — and either you live by their rules in their house or you ask for rematch. A fender bender can be a major breach of trust, depending on the circumstances. Have you asked the family how you can earn back their trust? That conversation may begin to repair the relationship.

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oranje_mama January 31, 2017 at 11:25 am

I’m a pretty hands-off HM. No curfew or car curfew.
But.
Our APs are 18/19 years old, straight from the family home, in a foreign (less safe) country. I do ask them always what their plans are, and if they’re going with someone I know (in a normal conversational way, not like an interrogation). Depending on their destination, I might give some advice, for example on transportation (throwing in a reminder that it’s not safe to walk from the metro at night to our home . . .). I’m a bit “mom-ish” in my advice but it’s given in a friendly (non-commanding) way. I think most of the time, APs appreciate the advice.

I feel as HPs we do have some responsibility for our AP’s wellbeing. They are adults and will be making their own choices but if something terrible were to happen, I would want to feel like I’d given AP information/advice to help her make a good choice (and if she still makes a bad choice, that’s not my responsibility).

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HM February 2, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Generally speaking if a HP has to “monitor” your whereabouts there are bigger issues going on, I think you are right to be concerned about that.

I agree with the above comments. This is something you need to address with your host family. I would tell them your concerns and I would make sure you listen to theirs as well. If they feel like a breach of trust has happened, it might take time for you to earn back that trust. Be honest with yourself about this and ask yourself what you might have done to cause this reaction from your HF. You cannot change your HF or their rules but you can look at yourself and think about what you can do to help the situation.

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Bitka February 8, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Yes You can always say “You have to tell us where You are going because it is about Your safety”. Personally I don’t believe in that. In the house guide book of my host family there was an information that I should tell them where I’m going. They never asked I was never telling. It is a clear message for me. Thay are not intersted what is going on with You. They just want You to do Your work.
If You are just a worker for them do You really think that they would like to know what the care giver is doing after her/his working hours? The answer is they don’t care. They just want You to be on time so You could take care on their kids. After my experience I wouldn’t count on host familly at all. As an au pair call straight on the emergency number or inform about your plans some person that you can trust 100%. I guess GER-BRITHMinGER had the same way of thinking like the people that I was living next to :D.
If someone would like to monitor me also while I’m out of the house that would be pretty sick situation for me.
The thing is that if You don’t have good contact with Your au pair she/he won’t tell You anything from her/his life. You will be strangers for each other without any trust. Having an au pair can be cheap but it needs emotional impact.

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Taking a Computer Lunch February 8, 2017 at 9:52 pm

In the 16 years I have hosted APs, a couple have actually taken me up on my offer to pick them up in the middle of the night, no questions asked (to be honest, most solved their problems on their own – only a fraction about which I heard, of that I’m sure). I’d rather be angry about being woken up in the middle of the night than have to call her parents and tell them she was dead.

One AP got caught in a bad situation when another AP convinced her to double-date and go home with a couple of guys they met at a bar (believe me, the only thing you know about guys you meet in a bar is that they drink – they might be lovely guys – or as our AP found out – they might not). Stranded in an unsafe situation, it was actually closer to my usual morning when I left the house to get her.

The other AP called us on her birthday after she failed to yield at a stop sign – while driving our “little car” – and slammed into the side of a Hummer. Like hitting a moving brick wall – ripped off the front end of the car. DH went to get her, while I got up and purchased emergency AAA so she wouldn’t be hit with an astronomical towing fee (she was required to reimburse me for the AAA). At least she was only a few miles from our house. Had she been outside the driving zone, we would have felt like the last shred of trust had been broken (she was an okay AP but not a great one). We were relieved she wasn’t hurt, but then two days later – on a day when The Camel had no school – and she wanted to be off – she claimed to be sick. If it had been up to me, we would have initiated rematch right then, but DH didn’t want to wait 6 weeks for an out-of-country match to arrive.

Do HP want to know that the AP is going to wake up and take care of their kids the next day? Of course, that’s why they sponsored an AP in the first place. However, to think that HF don’t come to love and care for their APs at all is facetious. I find, especially, in the first weeks after an AP arrives, she hasn’t a clue which areas are safe, she’s excited when men come up to her and chat, and she wants to figure out things for herself. No one – and I mean no one – ever wants to have to call an AP’s parents and tell them she is injured, dead, or missing.

So instead of chafing at HP who care enough to ask. Stop and think. Are they controlling where I go (physically preventing you) or do they care enough about me to want to know where I am? In my experience – APs who do a fantastic job with the kids and make the rhythm of the job their own, earn a lot more leeway than mediocre young woman who have to be told over and over the basics of the tasks, have to be reminded to do chores, forget to help children bring home clothing and toys from a playdate, etc.

Finally, hosting APs (at least in the U.S.) is not cheap. It’s a luxury. But a great AP makes it worth every penny.

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Bitka February 8, 2017 at 12:11 pm

According to this paragraph
“I talked to my HP about this already and told them that this is really hard for me. There answer was “You will learn”. I really like my HP and I appreciate everything they do for me but that is something I can’t seem to do right.”

Change the familly no one can tell You what to do. They can suggest. I guess they are also not so nice for You. Tell them that You are sorry for what happened and if it will happened again You will quit so they wouldn’t have to worry where are and what you are doing. I think it is an answer who is responsible and adult.

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TexasHM February 9, 2017 at 11:40 am

Why would she like her HP if they are not nice? Threatening to quit without having a conversation first to try and resolve is anything but responsible and adult.

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Bitka February 10, 2017 at 9:18 am

She can do rematch so what do you mean by threatening by rematch? It would be offensive for me if someone would say “You will learn”. I would prefere “We require you to tell us your location because your safety it’s a priority for us”.

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Au pair in the city February 8, 2017 at 11:56 pm

Swarm – is a mobile app you can use for check-in to places where you are, just add your HP to friends and wherever you go – make a check-in. You can even add text or a photo to it. This will help you not to feel controlled or watched. Going to Starbucks? Park your car, check-in in Swarm and then meet friends.
Another question is that your family will keep asking questions when you’ve already checked in. But I’m sure they won’t.
Make it a nice habit. I use it for fun – interesting to see in future where I’ve been on that day.
Highly recommend.

Au pair from Oklahoma.

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TexasHM February 9, 2017 at 11:37 am

I got a completely different read on this. The AP said that she told the HF it was “hard” for her – meaning hard for her to text where she is going all the time. If the AP said this to me I would read this as “hard to remember to text” at which point I might also reply “Oh no problem you will learn to remember over time”. Doesn’t mean I don’t care. It could just be a misunderstanding. I get the impression (and this is VERY common) that the AP is avoiding sitting down and having a genuine, direct conversation with the host family. I see nothing in this email that says she has expressed to the host family that she doesn’t want to tell them what she is doing in her free time or that she has said it bothers her emotionally to have to do so.

There are a lot of assumptions being made in the comments above and I would caution folks to reread the text above. I read nothing in there that showed malicious intent by the host family. I read AP had a car accident and now HF has asked for more details of her whereabouts in her free time. AP told HF it was “hard for her”, seems like HF interpreted that to mean “hard for her to remember to text” so they took it lightly and tried to encourage her by telling her that she would learn over time and then AP responds by not texting them her whereabouts DELIBERATELY rather than having a candid, direct conversation about how much it bothers her.

I too got the same read as several posters above. It sounds like the HF has lost trust and does care about the AP so they have made changes to make them comfortable enough to keep her in their home. AP doesn’t like the changes but isn’t being direct with HF about it. I would be willing to wager a bet that if she brought the LC to their home to mediate the HF would be shocked.

Threatening to quit, deliberately not doing something you were asked to do and avoiding a direct conversation are all immature behaviors. This program is hard and if you want to prove you are a responsible adult you need to act as such. That means taking ownership of mistakes, proactively asking what you can do to remedy situations you have caused, being honest and direct about things that are dealbreakers or upsetting and doing what you are asked to do until you can sit down and agree to new terms. I am not saying the poster is or isn’t doing these things, just illustrating that if the HF is concerned about her judgment/maturity and then she responds by only casually commenting its “hard” and then deliberately not doing it then I as a HM would be likely to tighten the reins further because now AP is showing me that she isn’t mature enough/capable of fulfilling a simple ask that we all agreed to!

I do think the AP has a right to privacy in her free time. We didn’t see our AP all day Saturday. I texted her at sundown asking if she was joining for dinner and she responded that she wasn’t but was bringing the girls over in an hour for movie night. No worries. She volunteered that so I wouldn’t worry. That’s what mature adults do. They put themselves in others shoes. I also tell our AP what we are doing in our free time so it has nothing to do with me being her boss. We keep each other generally posted out of mutual respect. She doesn’t make me worry about her and I greatly appreciate that and give her more and more leeway on the “rules” over time.

I think most host families want a happy AP. I think if you approach this maturely and tell them that you want to earn their trust back, present ideas and tell them that sending them all the details in your free time is genuinely upsetting you and you need to be able to have the freedom in your free time to change plans without having to worry about texting them multiple times a day they will see it as a reasonable request. The key is to approach it as a collaborative conversation, not an ultimatum. You are seeking understanding. Why are you being asked to do this? Get the full answer and then offer other suggestions for how you can solve that problem in a way that is tolerable also for you. Maybe they are worried you will go to X part of town – ok you promise never to go there and prove to them you know the area well enough to never go there and then ask them if that will work instead. Maybe historically you have been bad about not telling them anything and they have been worried when you have been gone past dark with no word. Ok, I promise to give you an estimated return time and a phone number I can be reached at and then I promise as well if I am going to be later you will get a text. And then you need to do exactly that.

Talk to your HF. Don’t make it all about you. Make it about earning their trust AND reducing your stress – win/win. Focus on them and their needs and I am sure they will be open and appreciate it and want to work to a mutual win. If for some reason they don’t (trust is so damaged they are just trying to make it through the next 6 months) THEN you have shown maturity in approaching them to discuss and then you can decide if its a dealbreaker for you or not and get the LC involved to help. Good luck!

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NJ Mom February 9, 2017 at 8:22 pm

It does definitely sound like we’re missing part of the story here. I would definitely say to sit down with the HP and find out what’s going on (and with the LCC if needed).

Another possible take on what could be happening where the HP seem to be monitoring the AP’s whereabouts so closely could be due to timeliness. For example, if AP says that’s she’s going to dinner at a restaurant with a friend but then comes home at 3am, that’s going to make a HP concerned. To later find out that AP had dinner, then went to the friend’s house, watched a movie, etc – HP could be pretty mad for waiting up for hours wondering when to call the police. We’ve had a few instances of this kind of thing. AP said she was going to the bank and would be back very soon. 2 hours later, she comes home after going to the library, the store, etc. AP was not a very good driver, so we worried for 1.5 hours wondering if she got into an accident (we also didn’t want to call her in case she was driving and got distracted by her phone ringing). Or AP went out with friends for the evening and then didn’t return until the next day. The people I know who are terrible with time also have no idea there could be a problem at all. If OP was not good at being home when she says she’ll be home, the HP may be using this new rule just to keep their sanity.

We usually wouldn’t dictate what AP does in her free time, but also knowing approximately what’s she’s doing/where/with who/how long helps us to know if we do need to step in. For example, we’ve had to explain to AP why it’s not a good idea to go to a college party, and then stay overnight at the house of a guy she just met at the party. We do have the “text us if your plans change” rule, and we vetoed that overnight stay and AP came home. While it may have turned out fine, we didn’t want the AP to be in a potentially unsafe situation. We may have felt different had it been a different kind of party or if there was no drinking involved that could impair her judgement.

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