The “Fire Or Blood” Rule for Au Pairs With Work-At-Home Parents

by cv harquail on January 20, 2014

I saw this photo on Twitter today and it cracked me up. 

do not disturb




It reminded me of my own (vain? valiant?) attempts to teach my au pairs and now my tweenagers when it is and isn’t okay to interrupt me in my home office.

(Remember this photo?)

These days, I’ve shifted to a new and less draconian rule:

If my fingers are moving on the keyboard or if I am on the phone (or both at the same time, supermom!) I am NOT TO BE INTERRUPTED.

A colleague of mine who also often works at home has a simple rule for her au pair, which she calls

The Fire Or Blood Rule:

  • If it’s on fire, she can be interrupted.
  • If there’s blood, she can be interrupted.

Otherwise, it’s up to the au pair to use her/his best judgement.

Au Pairs, how do you decide whether or not to interrupt a working-from-home parent?

Are there any hard and fast “interruption rules” at your house?


See also: Tip for the Work-At-Home Parent with an Au Pair: Have Rules for Interruption


didis January 20, 2014 at 9:57 pm

It’s really hard for me to not interrupt my hosts during their (and mine) working hours cause they very often come out of office for a coffee and quick chat, to go to gym or read a book to children. Kids are used to idea that it is not a big deal, and sometimes when I could make decision by myself (direct tv guy appears on door, smoke alarm goes on, neighbor child locked out of house) I choose not to, because I am used to them always being there.

My hosts never showed anger when I knocked on door, and if I knew that is a big deal I wouldn’t bother them at all.

I believe hosts are the one who need to set the rules, and stick to them .

Also, of the topic just to point out that many au pairs feel huge pressure with hosts working from home. Every time child cries, screams or anything there is always fear that we will be judged. so my advice to hosts is to tell your au pair once in a while how much you have faith in her and how much you appreciate dedication and effort they put into managing and handling situations with kids.

LookingForwardToBeAP January 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Great off topic! I have a host mom who is back in college and spends a lot of time at home, I love her and she is awesome, both as a mom and a hostmom, and I still feel that everytime one of the kids cry I am somehow on the spot light. Almost everynight she tells me “I appreciate what you did today” and I absolutely thank that she does this (I’ve been here for 2 months).

Momma Gadget January 22, 2014 at 3:07 pm

LFTBAP- I am so happy to hear that your found a good match and things are going well you first months here!

LookingForwardToBeAP January 22, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Thank you so much! (I thought about changing my name to “HappyAP”, but better not jinx it). I am very happy and comfortable and I have to say the advices and opinions I have read here are pure gold, and help me everyday =)

American Host Mom in Europe January 21, 2014 at 5:54 am

I work 100% from home, in an upstairs office (all other kid-friendly rooms and activities are downstairs). My three kids (nearly 6, 4,5 and 4,5) are home from about 3:30pm daily, and I work till 5:30. I try to see them most days when they come home (I pick them up two days a week), and if I know I won’t be available to greet them, I try to let them know ahead of time, or at least ensure our au pair knows. I’ve not had to set any fixed rules for interruptions, and it is never really a problem. The kids know the au pair is in charge and to ask her for things (and she knows). When they were younger, sometimes my son would scream for me (sometimes he’d want to nurse), and sometimes I’d let my au pairs handle it (which they usually did), and sometimes, if I had time, I’d go downstairs and explain that as I had time that day, I could come — so the kids knew not to always expect it. Now, they sometimes come up into my office, but are pretty good at sitting / playing quietly, and it is only rarely that I have to mute a call and call for the au pair to come get them. So my circumstance is more occasional interruptions from the kids than the au pair, which I guess means I’ve matched well? :-) This is our 4th au pair since I went back to work.

ToniAnAmericanAuPairInEurope January 21, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I’m a new Au Pair only been here at my host family’s home for 3 weeks. Still getting into the swing of things but my host mom works from home. She has an upstairs office and I’m usually downstairs with my host kid whose 10 months. He’s still nursing and won’t drink from a bottle. So certain hours his feeding schedule I have to interrupt her. Or sometimes she’ll come downstairs when she’s not sure of how an English sentence goes as that’s not her first language.

All the other times I know not to interrupt her but if its about the baby she won’t mind. She’s a worrier so it can vary.

Host Mom in the City January 22, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Sounds like you’re off to a good start! Might be a good thing to check in on in a couple weeks to make sure you’re both happy with the way it’s working.

TexasHM January 22, 2014 at 5:06 pm

I work from home most of the time and travel the rest. My office is in the front room and the kids mostly play upstairs or are out and about. We make it a point that the AP is the boss during her hours. If I walk out in the kitchen for a drink and they try to suck me in, I tell them “AP is the boss go ask her” and I don’t get involved. Both APs told the new incoming AP that we were really good about respecting our APs and empowering them so while I am sure at times its stressful because the kids are loud or I have to kick one out of my office I think all and all it works for us. We are very transparent about it all before matching as we don’t like surprises and we also strongly encourage candidates to talk to our current AP about any concerns.
The kids peek in my office occasionally and can usually tell if its no-go time or not. If they peek in and I am not busy and they want to show me a new outfit, I wave them in, check it out quickly, hug and send them back on their way. If I am busy and wave them out they are great about quietly making their way upstairs and generally shush their siblings en route. The kids respect that mom works hard and its serious business but also know that they are #1 and if, on rare occasion, they want to celebrate something with me they can peek in and see if they get the green light. :) Our APs do the same (peek for the green light) if they have an urgent question or need something or if they can hear me on a call they text me.
I guess our only interrupt rule is regarding discipline – because we do spank our kids for major issues (safety violations, threatening or harming a sibling or AP) I do ask the AP to let me know immediately if any of these things happen so I can leave my office and address it immediately but, probably because our kids know we will do it, this very very rarely happens. As they get older, the urgency will decrease and it likely won’t be necessary to address immediately and can wait until the end of the day but at least while ours are/were younger, we pounce on that behavior so they associate the consequence with the action.

filleaupair February 17, 2014 at 11:21 am

To add to this, I suggested that we all have meetings maybe once a week and touch base with each other and talk about what we’ve noticed has worked and not worked for the baby and for ourselves. I also included the fact that it would be a much better way to have real conversations and recharge rather than having the added pressure of having conversations on the run all the time. The mom agreed whole heartily… “then I guess she talked to the father and came back to me and said actually I don’t think the meeting thing is going to work because the dad already things we are over monitoring the baby anyway…..” What!?!????? I am wondering how we are ever supposed to feel like a team if there is never a time to check up on each other.

anna former au pair June 19, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Both my hm’s had one parent work from home. One familj had an office with a door- one didn’t. Guess in which family there was usually a problem?

My tip (respectfully for everyone’s peace of mind) if you are going to work from home, make sure you have a door so you can get privacy if you want it!

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