If an AuPair is being exploited, is it okay for her to disappear?

by cv harquail on September 15, 2014

We’ve heard the horror stories of au pairs disappearing while the host family is at church, or in the middle of the night without warning. Although this is often selfish behavior by an au pair and intended as a slap in the face to the host parents, there are actually a few situations where I might recommend that an au pair disappear.

girl with suitcase1Obviously if an au pair is threatened with physical or emotional abuse, he or she should leave the host family house immediately. No question about that.

But if it’s a situation where the au pair is being taken advantage of and where s/he’s either pursued some appropriate path for negotiating a change or getting a rematch, we step into a gray area.

What would it take for us Host Parents and Au Pairs to say “Yes, this is a time when the Au Pair should just pack up and leave”?

What would an Au Pair need to do — before disappearing — t0 feel like s/he acted respectfully (given the circumstances) and in a manner s/he can feel proud of?

Read through this email from au Pair, and let’s talk about what she should do.  Then, we’ll vote.

I‘ve been an au pair in (a northern European country) for a little over 2 months now. At first it is always hard getting to know the family and the routine and all these things so I just thought that the host-mother is just not that patient. But now it is starting to get out of hand.  

My schedule looks like this from monday to friday:

1. Go for a walk with the dog at 9 am
2. Clean the living room, corridor and the kitchen (washing dishes, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms)
3. Every Monday and Thursday wash the kids clothes and put them to dry
4. Pick the kid up from school at 4 pm
5. Every thursday take him to music school by bike
6. Walk the dog with me and the kid
7. Make dinner
8. Play games after dinner for 45 minutes
9. Stand next to the kid while he washes his teeth.

For everyday doings, this is a lot cause I know that a lot of au pairs don’t do it. My family consists of single mother and a 7 year old boy. I have to clean a lot and the boy has a very hard character. The mother always yells and pours every bad emotion out on me.

The kid kicks and yells and doesn’t listen to me and I can’t control him. Even his mother can’t fully control him. So it’s hard on me, especially when I am tired of cleaning the house all day. Then the mother comes home after work and she is also tired and in a bad mood and she always pours it out on me when I try to ask something or explain.

Yesterday she came into my room and started yelling about me not cleaning the bathrooms. I told her that I did. I have to be clear on here, they are not tidy at all. Like the opposite of that. And so she didn’t listen to me and then she got mad that the boy didn’t have any clothes upstairs. And the clothes that were washed on Monday, weren’t dry by Tuesday night and she yelled at me for that too. But it’s not my fault that they don’t dry that quickly.

Today she told me that she is not paying for my monthly train card and when the language course starts in october, I have to pay 150 euros myself, the full money to go there and the 50 euro support I get 4 months later when the course has ended. She pays me 260 euros a month and it’s not much when I have to pay for everything. So 150 euros is a lot for me to pay.

The course is about 3 train stops away from where I live and she told me that I’m gonna pay for my train tickets myself or I’ll ride the bike there for like 45 minutes. But the bike is broken and the tires don’t stay full. I’ve told her that and she didn’t do anything and said that I was just complaining.

It’s really hard to clean here the house because the family has a newfoundland in their apartment so it’s always sand everywhere and mud. And they walk sometimes through the living room with their shoes on. And on weekends when I am free, they don’t clean at all, not even vacuuming so on Monday I always have an extra to do. I am exhausted and I don’t like talking to my host mother because she doesn’t listen and thinks things on her own way.

I told her that I wanted to go home when her vacation starts and she talked to me that long until I changed my mind. But now I can’t take it anymore and I am thinking of leaving at the beginning of the month, when they go for a walk with the dog, I’ll grab my things and go to my friends house because I know that if I’d tell her that I wanted to go home, she would say no and start talking about me staying. It’s really hard and I feel like the only way is to give back the things she has bought, take my things and leave, leaving her a note to explain. Is that illegal or if I don’t have anything else to do, is it okay? :( ~ Traurig und überarbeitet Au Pair

Is it okay for this Au Pair to disappear?

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see also:

Yes, You Have My Permission To Leave

{ 55 comments }

Dorsi September 15, 2014 at 11:05 pm

It sounds like you are in a situation that is very frustrating and you have poor communication with the host mom. I think “exploited” is the wrong word here — I see you working 1-2 hours in the morning, and 4-5 hours in the evening.

I don’t know that the situation is bad enough that it warrants leaving with no notice. I think you should sit down with the mother and discuss (with a specific list of concerns) or simply give appropriate notice (2 weeks is probably standard). You can leave without notice, and it is unethical and immature, but not likely to be illegal.

WarmStateMomma September 16, 2014 at 12:10 am

+1

Repeataupair September 16, 2014 at 1:20 am

I’m not saying I agree to everything but put in perspective she is paid 260€/month (and cost of life in Northern Europe is very high)

Exaupair September 16, 2014 at 10:16 am

260€/month is the industry standard in Germany and in many other European countries. This is because, unlike the AP program in the USA, this is seen here as an exchange program, and more value is placed on cultural exchange than on anything else. That being said, most families do provide little extras for their au pairs to make life easier on so little money. These include paying for a monthly transport ticket, providing a prepaid mobile phone, providing (AND SERVICING) a bike, buying toiletries for the AP, and paying for at least half of a language course. Now I’m not saying I’ve met any families who do all of these things, but every family I’ve met (and there’s been a lot) have done at least one of these things for their AP.

I’ve provided 2 links below where the OP can check against some good guidelines for families in Germany (if you’re not in Germany, the site has pages for most other countries too. Check both the AP and HF sites. It’s worth knowing about both sides of things). I would suggest that if you’ve decided to leave, nothing’s going to change your mind, so your best bet is to plan your trip home, or search for another family if that’s what you’d prefer, and once that is confirmed, tell your HM firmly and clearly that it’s not working out and that you’ll be leaving. Make sure you give her enough time to find some other childcare, 2 weeks should be enough. If you find she’s unbearable in those 2 weeks, you could move to your friends place and still come back to the house to work and care for the boy. I would definitely NOT recommend sneaking out, it’s unfair to the family, and it’s unfair to you. You have a backup accommodation option in your friend, so give her and you the time to work out something else and the end will be a lot less messy.

https://www.aupair-world.net/au_pair_program/germany/family/pocket_money

https://www.aupair-world.net/au_pair_program/germany/au_pair/pocket_money

icsamerica September 15, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Doesn’t sound like a great situation but I don’t see exploitation. Be dignified and request a rematch.

au pair September 15, 2014 at 11:24 pm

I totally understand her. If I were her, I would leave immediately. Yeah maybe give a 2 week notice, because that’s what you should do (be respectful) but on the other hand she isn’t respectful to you either. But you dont want to be like her..Anyway, I would leave. She has no right to treat you that way. I also know that in Europe the max hours per week are different (30h I think?) get out of there and find a new family that appreciates you. Good luck!!

TexasHM September 15, 2014 at 11:30 pm

I was conflicted in answering as well because not telling her because she would “try to talk me into staying” isn’t a good enough reason to sneak out. However, I also feel like consistently raising your voice to an au pair is way out of line. If this au pair was in the US I would absolutely have the LC manage, but being in Europe that is not an option. Yelling at an au pair about cleaning bathrooms is not ok. I don’t think the schedule/workload is a reason to leave because unless that was misrepresented you agreed to that upfront. So again, I am conflicted. If you are afraid the host mom would lose her cool and yell at you or worse, then I can understand leaving the house but I would at least call and tell her. But if you just don’t want to deal with her reaction or you don’t have the backbone to stand up and tell her you are leaving thats not a good enough reason to sneak out. You are an adult and adults have to navigate difficult situations. I have picked up and housed APs that were in threatening situations twice. One had to sneak out (LC helped her) and once discovered the HD threatened the AP, LC, tried to find her and us to the point where the police were notified. Thats a reason to sneak out. The other got the LC involved and it escalated so she was removed. I’ve known many many APs with problems but none that have ever snuck out. Unless you feel threatened (and maybe you do) I don’t think sneaking out should ever be an option.

Seattle Mom September 16, 2014 at 1:59 am

It sounds like if you give notice the HM will make your life very difficult. But I wouldn’t sneak out unless you really think she will hurt you. I don’t think she deserves to have notice of your departure (because of the yelling), but you also shouldn’t leave without telling her. Maybe tell her the day before you leave, rather than sneak out? If you are at all concerned about your safety then just leave.

LondonMum September 16, 2014 at 2:15 am

It sounds like the situation won’t improve so I think you should just give her 2 weeks notice and leave. It maybe an idea to initially tell her when she doesn’t have time to argue with you, so she can process the information and then discuss it later when she is calmer. Think of a phrase like “I have considered this for some time and my mind is made up” and just keep repeating it if she is going on and on at you to stay, it will help you to keep calm.

Sneaking out isn’t illegal but I think that what she is paying you might be illegal. In each country the rules are different but what are other APs being paid? It seems a very low wage to me.

Good luck, I hope you find a good family to continue your year.

German Au-Pair September 16, 2014 at 5:51 am

Why is there no option of giving notice? She is not in danger…she should just tell the host mom that she will leave in two weeks unless her contract tells her otherwise. She clearly is an AP in a German speaking country so I don’t know what kind of contracts are signed here. She will know best what she signed.
If the host mom turns out to be really horribloe when given notice, she still can say “Since you are treating me really badly durin this transition time, I will leave tomorrow”. I honestly don’t see a reason to sneak out as long as you’re not in danger. Your a grown woman so don’t let her talk you into anything, give notice and act accordingly if her behavior gets worse after that.

cv harquail September 16, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Oh, I didn’t think to make that an option. sorry.

used2bap September 16, 2014 at 6:48 am

I’m not sure she is in Germany, given that the country is in northern Europe. The only northern country using euros is Finland, so maybe she is there?

Tell you HM that you are leaving in two weeks (or whatever you’ve agreed upon). Be prepared to leave ASAP and notify a friend that you may need a place to stay. If you are in fact in Finland and need somewhere to go for a night or two, CV can probably give you my e-mail address. Good luck :)

Taking a Computer Lunch September 16, 2014 at 7:47 am

I’m sure most of us have faced difficult employers (although perhaps not had to live with them!). It is immature – and potentially unsafe for your host child – to sneak out. The contractual agreements in Europe are so different from the United States, but it seems to me that you could advertise your skills and look for employment with another family before you give notice. Do find a place for yourself to move, if, when giving notice, the HM kicks you out of the house. Do make sure you get paid all the money you are owed before you leave.

hostmomincolorado September 16, 2014 at 7:57 am

You need to be an adult and don’t “let” her talk you into staying. Sneaking away is an immature and irresponsible course of action to consider. Have another conversation and if your concerns are not met in a reasonable manner in the time frame you set, then explain that the consequence is that you will leave. This is how grown ups act in the real world. Yes, there are adults who don’t behave in this way, but they are not the type of people you should aspire to be.

NBHostMom September 16, 2014 at 8:57 am

I also agree, sneaking away might be tempting, but probably not the right choice. I’d suggest 1 week notice, 2 maximum. Given her backing out of paying for the language school, I wouldn’t be shocked if you don’t get paid for the last week’s work. I’m working on the assumption you don’t have a contract stating you will give more notice than the week.

Also, when you tell her you’re leaving, don’t get into a discussion about everything that is “wrong”. Unless you’re willing to stay if something is changed, this probably would not be a useful discussion.

Finally, have a plan as to where you will go if she unexpectedly asks you to leave immediately.

Nette September 16, 2014 at 9:22 am

The point of staying in this family is, that they are very complicated people. So every time I try to pick up the topic of me going home, she ignores me. Usually she says that she is busy with the boy, on the weekends she says she wants to rest. Basically I have no right time of talking to her, according to how she reacts all the time.
At first I tried my best and let it slide when she got mad but now I have just given up because I see, there is no point.
Of course, it is rude and everything else to just leave, without 2 weeks notice. But since I heard from the former au pair that worked here, that she doesn’t have a good history with other au pairs that they have had here past 7 years, I think it would be some what a lesson to learn. Cause the host mother has treated every au pair like that. And most of them have left after 2 weeks, some after 4 months and so on.

And the subject about money – 260 euros is the minimum pay here in Germany. They can’t pay less but most of them will not pay more. It is not much, especially when I have to buy the train ticket myself so I could leave the house even on the weekends to just meet my friends. And friends usually won’t come here cause it is very far away from the central.

WarmStateMomma September 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm

260 euros is not a lot of money, but the host family also provides food and lodging in an expensive country. The hours also sound like part-time work. I think the problem is the relationship with the host family, not the compensation or workload.

TexasHM September 16, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Agreed WSM.

AmericanAP in Germany September 17, 2014 at 12:18 am

The regulations are 6 hours per day and 30 per week, maximum. It sounds like AP is over her hours and the kinds of cleaning she is doing is not stated in European AP contracts. I would definitely feel (and did feel) like I was being exploited. However, I totally agree that it’s the relationship with the family that’s the problem. I stuck it out with mine because they were nice in other ways, among other reasons. I wouldn’t stay in this situation.

SwissAuPair September 17, 2014 at 12:54 am

This sounds not like a part-time job to me. The Aupair in Germany can’t work more than 6 hours per day and 30 hours per week! I think she needs to work all this hours. Cleaning the kitchen and bathroom every day, can be up to 2 hours work, then need to vacuum, that can take an hour too. When I clean all this areas in my house, I need about 4 hours.
So as long, as we don’t know how big the house / kitchen/ bathroom is, I think that we are not allowed to tell that it is not that much work. Also walking the dog. Here it’s very common to go at least for a one hour walk.

WarmStateMomma September 17, 2014 at 10:22 am

The part-time and full-time distinction varies a lot between the Europe and the US (and even within the US). I have a special arrangement with my employer to work only 30-35 hours per week and that’s considered part-time/”mommy track”/semi-retired in my profession. My sister works similar hours (in a different profession) and complains about her “long” hours.

NZ HM September 17, 2014 at 5:11 am

Agree 2! 260E is definitely not a lot of money but if it’s the minimum wage this means there are actually people out there who have to live on this amount, pay rent and food and possibly have dependables… Board and lodgings, insurance etc. are also part of the APs wage, which should not be discounted. Here in NZ the APs receive pocket money of NZ$160 to NZ$180 per week for 30 hrs (app. 400E per month) but their actual income is calculated based on minimum wage (i.e. AP stipend = minimum wage per hour * hrs minus rent). HP pay tax on the total amount (incl. rent).
I also feel urged to add that contrary to popular belief, Germany (where I’m from) is not a very expensive country, probably one of the cheapest of the ‘Northern European’ countries, definitely a lot cheaper than UK, Ireland, Scandinavia (and NZ)… If I’d had that amount of pocket money back in the day life would have been sweet! So it’s all relative.
Breach of contract/ working hours and emotional pressure/ stressful circumstances are definitely not relative and the AP should get out of there but not by running away!

Taking a Computer Lunch September 17, 2014 at 6:41 am

The American stipend for regular au pairs is based on minimum wage minus room and board as well.

When we tried to sponsor our au pair as an employer (she had worked as a PICU nurse in her native country, but had not achieved sufficient education to work as a nurse in the U.S.), a lawyer helped us vet our requirements with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, which took the advertisement we were going to post in a newspaper and vetted it. At the time (2001), they required us to pay $7 an hour plus room & board for a nanny with experience with children who had special needs and a U.S. driver’s license.

GermanHM September 16, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Hello Nette,
alias “trauriges und überarbeitetes Au pair”.

As many other host moms here stated, I agree that your situation does sound emotionally really terrible! Your tasks, working hours and payment (260 EUR + healt insurance + 50 EUR for language course at the end of each month) seem to be within the German Au pair regulations/ EU Au pair regulations though.
So, I also agree that just disappearing is immature and not a good solution.

Here is what you might want to do instead:
First of all, write your official notice on paper. In Germany you are anyway required to give written notice (handwritten is ok, no need for typing) even if you have talked to your host family.
Then, give it one last try to inform your host mother about your termination. If she starts yelling or doesn`t want to listen, simply hand her your written notice.

Once your host mother knows you ARE leaving, hopefully she will agree that you can terminate and leave immediately. Else you should stay the 2 weeks notice period. It will not be easy and I am feeling with you for your terrible situation. Lets hope for the best and your host mother agrees to let you go right away. Also, since your host mom seems to be emotional, she might even overreact and ask you to leave her home right away – so be prepared, have your things packed and have arranged a place to stay for the night in case this happens.

Please, als note that NOT giving notice and stay the required 2 weeks may prevent you to get your visa transferred to a new family. Which would be sad. Don`t give up yet! Hang on for two more weeks and you will be free to move on to hopefully a great au pair experience with a wonderful new host family!

I am wishing you all the best!
~GermanHM

PS: Here is a valid notice in German. Please, don`t forget to change all information written in [brackets]. Your last working day is the date of notice + 2 weeks. If you hand in the notice tomorrow on Sep. 17 it will be October 1.

Sehr geehrte Frau [XXX],
hiermit kündige ich, [YYY], geboren am [16. September 2000] in [Perth/Australien] den Arbeitsvertrag als Au pair fristgerecht innerhalb der vertraglich vereinbarten Kündigungsfrist von 2 Wochen zum [1. Oktoberr 2014].

Ich habe mich aus persönlichen Gründen dazu entschlossen, das Arbeitsverhältnis als Au pair nicht weiter fortzuführen.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
[Nette McDonald]
[handwritten signature]

Should be working September 16, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Nette, I don’t think you can teach this family a lesson, that sounds like a justification for sneaking off rather than a good reason.

I think you can either ask her–maybe by email–for 15 min to talk about things; or if she totally refuses that then say to her, “I realize you don’t have time to talk, but I need to tell you that I’m giving notice and will leave in two weeks.” If she has nothing to say, you have done your part. If she tries to coax you to stay, you can just say, “I have thought this over and this is my decision, but I did want to give you two weeks.”

That’s called the high road. If she is acting inappropriately angry then you can let her know that you don’t feel comfortable with that and also that it might lead to an earlier departure.

Au Pair Report author September 16, 2014 at 2:14 pm

The poll should have more nuanced options! I think giving two weeks’ notice is appropriate, but add a comment such as, “I can finish out my two weeks as long as you treat me respectfully. If you direct your anger toward me, I will not feel obligated to stay.” This is a good example of why au pairs need local advocates to represent them, but my sense is that European programs don’t offer counselors. When I was an au pair in France 20 years ago, I paid my fee, got matched with a family (no choice on my part), and never heard from the agency again. The tasks outlined here would be considered outside the bounds of the U.S. au pair program–especially the heavy cleaning and mandatory dog care. I do think this counts as exploitation because it violates the spirit of the au pair concept. “Au pair” is supposed to mean “on par” or “equal” and not subservient domestic. It’s sad to know that this host mom will probably take advantage of other au pairs in the future, but even sadder that the child’s behavioral issues may be exacerbated by frequent disruptions in child care. I think the family would be better off hiring a maid to clean the house and do the laundry and having the child stay in whatever the local equivalent of after-care is. But my guess is that having an au pair is cheaper.

OpinionatedHM September 16, 2014 at 5:37 pm

A person who cleans houses is not a “subservient domestic”. Housekeeping and housecleaning are very skilled jobs when done right and truly deserve more respect than they are given.

WarmStateMomma September 17, 2014 at 10:14 am

I don’t think you can compare the US and European programs. The European APs work part time, but house cleaning can be part of their duties. The American APs work full time, but don’t clean the house. If the AP were truly “on par,” she wouldn’t be saddled with regularly-scheduled child care responsibilities at all and there would be no reason to host or pay an AP when you could just host an exchange student.

Having hosted an AP who had no idea that “clean” was a choice one could make and who would leave dirty diapers on the kitchen floor, I completely agree with OpinionatedHM that cleaning a home requires some level of skill.

Old China Hand September 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I don’t think that having different job responsibilities or tasks that aren’t in ones job description (like heavy housework in the us for an ap) makes that work lower class or less skilled or anything like that. I grew up in Hong Kong and we had a domestic helper (amah) who still works for my parents. She lives at their apartment and cooks and cleans. She is part of our family. She also considers her life job to be doing service and working as an amah. That’s fine. Similarly, we hire a housekeeper once every two weeks to clean our house. She considers it her career work and says that as long as the people she works for are happy, she enjoys her job. Being of service to people is elevated to the status of worship in my religion (and in others) and there are lots of ways to be of service. Hiring someone to do things that you don’t have time to do or cause lots of stress in your marriage (cleaning the house for us) or because you work full time (an ap for us, since I am a professor) doesn’t mean that you view any of the people who do work for you as lower class. The phrase subservient domestic implies a class structure that I don’t think is appropriate.

OpinionatedHM September 18, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Yes, Thank you. A more articulate and detailed expression of my sentiments.

WarmStateMomma September 18, 2014 at 1:51 pm

+1

cv harquail September 18, 2014 at 3:42 pm

+2

AuPair Paris September 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I would say, it can sometimes be difficult to explain in writing the levels of emotional abuse that can happen in this sort of situation. I was with a family a little like this, before I found my current, wonderful family. It’s hard to explain how they made me feel. I worked all day to get everything perfect (and to clean their house to their standards was an all day task), and then they’d come home, and get yelled at for being lazy and never doing anything right. I had agreed to a certain amount of pocket money, as well as perks, and when I arrived found that they’d decided the perks weren’t necessary – without telling me in advance – and so I would have to, for example, pay for my own travel card. In fact, when I applied they told me they had a house cleaner – however she left the day before I arrived and the host mum simply said “oh, our cleaner has left, so I’ll expect you to do that now.”

It’s not the same exact situation, but it sounds similar enough that I have a lot of sympathy. The first thing this host Mum said to me in person was that I couldn’t leave – that it was too irresponsible, terrible for the children, they had no back up childcare. (This was a scary introduction, as you can imagine.) The constant repetition of how terrible it would be of me to leave, made me afraid to. Finally, when I had cleaned all day, and the Mum came home, and told me that she wasn’t paying me because she didn’t think I knew how to clean a bathroom (I had been a house cleaner in the past!), and looking after her kids wasn’t a real job anyway.

I went into my room, booked flights for two weeks away, so that I couldn’t be talked out of my plans, and then went back to her, and handed my two weeks notice. I was thrown out of the house immediately, with nowhere to go for two weeks, and no money to pay for another emergency flight.

I only write out my own story here to say… Well, abusive situations don’t always seem abusive! Without much detail, what is that story, but “She wasn’t happy with my standard of cleaning, and the kids were very naughty”. But actually it was the most abusive work situation I had ever been in. I do think there’s justification in leaving early, in these cases.

WarmStateMomma September 17, 2014 at 10:30 am

I sympathize with your experience. I worked for a year for a miserable employer and see some parallels with your story. Luckily, I wasn’t also living with my employer.

Nette September 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm

I can honestly totally agree with the last post – ”AuPair Paris” ..

If someone who hasn’t been to this kind of situation spot on, doesn’t actually know what it feels like, when this one person makes you feel guilty on all the ways that she can.
I admit that leaving this house and this family with only a note to follow, is very unprofessional and I really don’t feel, like it is the right thing to do. But I honestly, hand on my heart, am saying that I have no choice. I have tried talking, stated facts – everything in my power. And it doesn’t work. Due to the fact that I have to pay so many things from my own pocket money, I don’t even have the money to buy myself a ticket home. At first, I would just have to wait here til I get my another pay. And the host mother said, that if I give a two weeks notice starting now, she will not pay me. That is a whole another mess right there. And I know she ”can’t do it” but I know other au pairs, who have been in the same situation. If I wait for my pay and then give the two weeks notice, I would just die in here. I have stress as it is already and it is mentally exhausting. I feel like crying every day. And I complain because I know I am not a weak person. But this just feels hopeless.

Angie host mom September 16, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Sounds like your priorities need to be saving enough for a ticket home and finding a safe place to stay when you get kicked out because you’ve given two weeks notice. If you have a friend close by, see if you can stay with them for 2 weeks if you get kicked out. Unless you have family willing to buy you a ticket on very short notice, I wouldn’t give notice until I had at least a safe place to go if I were kicked out, and hopefully enough cash to make it home.

I know you work harder than our au pair, and that it is not pleasant. But, you really aren’t being asked to work any harder than many moms do – so it isn’t an unliveable workload (though maybe illegal or inappropriate for you). It’s the negative environment that sounds like it is driving you crazy, and the lack of help with the extras most HFs help with.

There is always a way out – and if you give notice I would demand that she pay you at least every other day for the work you are doing during the two weeks, rather than waiting til the end when she can stiff you. Be prepared for her to kick you out – which is what you want anyway.

Germanhostmum September 16, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Nette, are you in a bad position? Undoubtedly. Are you being exploited? No.
While the amount of housework might seem excessive to US hostmum eyes, it is not in Europe, especially as you are caring for a single school-age child. From what you say about your duties, you don’t have to get the boy ready for school in the morning, nor get him to bed. You care for him for maybe 3 hours a day. The German regulations say 30 hours per week, and with walking the dog and housework, I don’t think you are over 6 hours per day. You have the weekend off. You say other APs you know do less. I disagree. Most I know do more.
Again, the German regulations say 260 Euros (plus, obviously food, lodging, insurance, paying for transport to your language course, and 50 Euro per month to aid you with paying for your language lessons). If you are paid more, you would have to pay tax (on the whole, not just the 260 Euro – it comes to about 6-700 Euro), and your host family would have to pay social insurance for you. Believe me, both would be worse off. That your hostmum does not want to pay for the transport is a clear breach of contract, that she wants to pay you her part of the tuition (the 50 Euro per month) at the end is not. I know several families who do that – to make sure that the AP really completes the course. In your case, I am wondering if your host mum is in financial difficulties – maybe the father is behind with child support.
What should you do? Get on one of the Aupair websites – aupairworld is good – and find a new host family. Then give 2 weeks notice, that is the legal period. If you can demonstrate that she breached contract, you can inform the Arbeitsagentur -the government agency that oversees AP contracts. It will make it difficult for her to get another AP. Don’t just leave – I agree the situation sounds awful, but simply disappearing is not the adult thing to do. If you are scared to confront her alone, make sure there is a friend present. BTW, there is an AP helpline in Germany which you can call.

GermanHM September 16, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I agree, it is defenitely not in the spirit of the au pair program to exploit au pairs, emotionally or by bending the rules and assign too much work. Unfortunately it seems to happen in all countries. In Germany the choice is up to the au pair and host family – we can match via internet without an agency, choose an agency that offers a placement service or choose an agency that offers full support throughout the stay.
Unfortunately in a lot of EU countries it is allowed that au pairs do housework up to 50% of their working time. This is even stated in the required pre-written au pair – host family contract in Germany which we and our au pairs have to sign for the visa application. The program only excludes “very heavy duties” and gives as examples “cleaning out the garage”, “gardening”, “mowing the lawn”. Laundry, ironing, cooking and cleaning are among common au pair duties in Germany/ Europe.
In return the program in the EU is from what I read here a bit more flexible, e.g. any duration is possible, more room to negiote with host family about salariy and benefits. Also, au pairs receive 2 days paid vacation per month of stay – yes that is a month paid vacation for an entire year, in total 11 months work, 1 month off.

Most host families I know do not exploit the housework part and limit household tasks to what can be done within the allowed working hours. I have also been adviced again and again from other host moms to be very clear about those tasks and provide a written list of tasks during the matching process to be sure “the au pair is aware of what she is getting herself into”. Another good advice I got was to set specific working hours aside for the household tasks, e.g. while the children are at school or taking a nap. So the au pair does not have to struggle between childcare and housework.
In our family we certainly want our children to be first and assign not much household duties to the au pair. We would even be in line with the US regulations. It makes happier au pairs and that also makes our children happier.

Germanhostmum September 16, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Nette, your last post crossed mine. If she refuses to pay you for the 2 weeks of your notice, of course you can leave immediately, that is not a issue (and your legal right). I am simply saying you need to face up to her – also for you to find closure. If you have difficulties in finding a place to stay or in finding money to get home, I am sure CV can give you my email address, and I’ll try my best to help.

Nette September 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I am not complaining about the housework being too much, I am more complaining about how I do all of this and she adds things on the list – even though a lot of things were not and are not in the contract.. Although I know that most of the au pair friends that I personally have, all of them have maids who do it. Since I know, my family is supported by only one parent, I understand that not every family can afford a maid.
Every day – when I count in the cleaning, walking the dog, picking the boy up, making dinner til the part when I am free to go to my room – it is about 7,5 hours.
I get 260 euros, I have insurance and I know that the monthly transportation card is not a ”must-have” but due to the fact that the language course will start in another city, it is unreal for me to imagine waking up 3 times a week at half six – just so I can eat, get dressed, walk the dog and ride to school with the bike. Stay there til 12, drive back and start cleaning, then pick up the kid, deal with him and cook dinner and so on. I know that it wouldn’t be hard on the host-mother to pay the transportation with the train so that I could go there with a train. It would give me more time to deal with the house and have a break during the day.

I have to say that I have seen the contract when the host mother sent it on to my email and I read it but I haven’t signed it. So basically I do everything in the contract , I get paid but when I would leave, I don’t actually have to give a 2 weeks notice. Since I know that, I would leave right away, especially when she wouldn’t pay me the money but it is unfortunately not doable, since I don’t have any money right now.

German Au-Pair September 16, 2014 at 5:36 pm

So what is your question here then? It seems like you have set your mind on leaving right away but you have to wait until you get paid and then you’ll leave. Since waiting for being paid is your only option right now and your safety doesn’t seem at stake here, that’s what you’re going to do, right? And as soon as you get it, you can book and leave. But honestly, why sneak out? You can tell her “I booked a flight, I’m leaving today” anhd that’s that. That’s stranding up for yourself and that’s okay. Leaving without note, sneaking out whiloe she walks the dog is not a mature thing to do and I imagine it might haunt you later on.

NJ Mama September 16, 2014 at 6:49 pm

As poorly as you say you are being treated I do not think it justifies sneaking out. If I read it correctly, you said earlier that by sneaking out it would teach the host mom a lesson. But that doesn’t teach her anything–it just shows your immaturity. If you are going to quit then quit. Giving two weeks notice is the right thing to do. Quitting on the spot isn’t the best but it’s much much better than taking the sneaky way out.

I also don’t quite understand why you don’t want to tell her or at least leave her a note that says that while you have tried your best, it doesn’t seem like things are working, and therefore you are giving her two weeks notice that you will be leaving. You said the reason is that you are worried she will try to change your mind, but it sounds to me that you’ve very much made up your mind to leave. What you haven’t yet decided is how. If she starts to yell or be upset, respond the way you would when a child is having a tantrum — state quietly and firmly that this is your final decision. If you feel physically threatened or you believe she may just throw you out, then do as others have said and be ready to leave on the spot. But please, take the high road on this one and give notice.

German Au-Pair September 17, 2014 at 7:00 am

Also, if there’s any self-reflection to be expected (which I doubt…) then calmly telling her that the way she treats you in unaccaptable and the reason you’ve decided to leave is much more likely to accomplish that than sneaking out and putting yourself in the role of the bad guy since YOU did the wrong then and she’ll have someone to blame.

AmericanAP in Germany September 17, 2014 at 12:07 am

I’m not sure if you are in Germany (I just finished up my AP year there). I was made to do a LOT of child care and especially cleaning that was not in my contract, so I really understand how you feel. I know a lot of people are saying you are not technically being “exploited,” but in my eyes making you work more than your max hours (6 hrs/day, 30/week in Germany), and making you perform duties not outlined in your contract, is exploitation. My host family was lot nicer than yours, and I still felt exploited. I’m also guessing you don’t have an agency, so rematch isn’t an option like in the US, at least not in the official way. My advice would be to give her 2 weeks notice, but arrange where you are going to stay beforehand, in the event she kicks you out. I would want my money too, but at that point it’s probably better to cut your losses.

HRHM September 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

I’m not sure how a person is “made” to work longer hours or “made” to do something that is not in their contract. As with other posters here, I think communication is the issue.

If my employer asked me/told me that I had to work past my normal hours, I would tell them that this was beyond the agreed upon hours and we would discuss how I would be compensated for this overage (comp time on another day, extra pay, etc). It would be a negotiation. Same for extra/additional tasks.

I get it that you are young and afraid to have that conversation (especially since it sounds like your HM is a bit unhinged) but if you have the conversation the first time it happens, you either a) prevent it from becoming a pattern of abuse or b) learn quickly that you will need to start looking for a new job. I see examples over and over on this site of APs and HMs who tolerate lousy situations and there simply is no need. Communicate…

AmericanAP in Germany September 18, 2014 at 9:59 am

It’s true that you can’t really be “made” to do anything, but it’s very hard to say now when you speak limited German and your host mom approaches you with a weekly cleaning schedule, and it’s obvious cleaning is her main concern. It also took me a while to realize just how…strict she was about it. In my case it was okay, because the family was very friendly in other ways. It’s hard not to feel pressured to comply or be kicked out. Once you’ve registered in Germany as an American, you also cannot technically find a new host family. I didn’t want to leave Germany, thought I could just work through it — which I did! My situation was very different than Nette’s. I was only saying that I understand the complications and pressures of your host mom handing you chores and hours and greatly exceed what you agreed to. We all want to be liked after all.

Germanhostmum September 18, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I have to disagree. Of course you can change host families! You make it sound as if German host families treat American au pair as slaves :-). If you are on an au pair visum you have to find a new family within 2 weeks of leaving the first family, but nobody prohibits you from looking while you are with the first family. Also, I have never heard about this regulation being enforced against Americans, as you are not viewed as being likely to stay and live on state money… Maybe you were given incorrect information.

Dorsi September 17, 2014 at 11:26 am

Nette– you might want to take you outrage over having to get up at 6:30 THREE days a week to another forum. This is (primarily) a group of host parents. I doubt most of us get to sleep later than that on a regular basis. To describe it as “unreal” seems a bit dramatic.

Maybe it is not what you want, maybe it is not what you signed up for; everyone is in agreement that you may leave, but recommend you do it as an adult would.

old au pair mom September 16, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Dear Girl, She sounds like a way overwhelmed mom, but you are just a very young woman, also in over your head. Get the money you need to go, have your bags packed and then let her know your time with her is over. Then run out the door. You are not a 30 year old professional, you are in an unfortunate situation with a single parent with limited impulse control. Once you announce you are going, she will likely start yelling. It is not that you work too much or that you are paid too little, it is that the whole situation is bad and most likely will get worse. It is not your job to change her or make the host mom a better communicator (you could probably use a little help in this area too). I wish you the best of luck but you also might not be the best au pair out there, so you have to take a little blame for this mess. take care

European HM September 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

I do not feel that you are being exploited. Your are supposed to work 6 hrs a day. You pick up the kid at 4 pm – it probably is in bed by 8. That leaves 2 hours for cleaning/day. Deduct 10 minutes for walking the dog. (use the time for getting fit :-)) Considering that in my own (rather large) house, our househelp cleans 4 hours/week I would expect 10 hours/week more than enough for your duties.I do believe there is a dishwasher and I do believe that 10-15 minutes for a bathroom is enough if you do it every day. Same for the rest of the rooms.I also believe there is a washing machine – loading takes about 5 minutes max. And I believe, that the kid owns more clothes than only for 4 days. So why didn’t the kid have any clothes in the room? What did you expect you would do all day, if you knew your kid is at school every day from 8 til 4 pm? Do you make dinner for the whole family or just for you and the kid? Is it like preparing menues or more like: put some bread and spread on the table and eat? (I believe the kid will get a healthy meal during school?)
My impression is, that you thought the job less boring (housework is boring after all!) and now you feel that you are being taken advantage of. But what you described is about just what very many au-pairs do – it’s just typical.
The mature thing would be to tell the host-mum that you don’t like the job, you are looking for another one and that you will terminate the contract in 14 days. That’s the legal thing to do, too. If she gets angry at you, you have every right to leave immediately.
Besides:
260 Euros is a lot of money since you have it for your personal use – everything else is being paid for by the host-family. You knew and agreed on that salary (and the rest of the contract by arriving and the beginning of your work.) Our former au-pairs who still live around told me, they never had so much money for personal use ever after their au-pair year. As a matter of fact, I doubt, your host-mum has that amount for herself. (I often didn’t either). And please don’t blame anybody that you cannot leave the country because you have no money. You are legally obliged to have a return ticket – if you don’t it’s your personal problem.
Finally, I detect no affection for the kid whatsoever – did you even consider how the kid will feel if you just vanish?

Boys Mama September 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm

It’s pretty clear to me that you wrote to us hoping for a specific answer (walk out! You aren’t wrong!) but didn’t get it and are not open to entertaining any other solutions. We all have life experience here and the perspective of many, many decades. Walking out on this (imperfect) family and (bad) job is the wrong thing to do and you will regret it when you grow up. It’s hard and I don’t envy what you have to do, but you’ve got to do it, Sweet Girl. It’s life and it’s hard and if you want to hold your head up going forward, start now. Be strong and have a difficult confrontation and do it professionally. Stick up for yourself. Be the woman you will be proud of when you tell your own daughter about this terrible experience one day.

Then next time, read the contract. If you don’t want to agree to the terms, don’t take the job. Life and work are often hard, the sooner you learn coping skills the better your life will be.

I hope this doesn’t sound mean! My intentions are good. I think you need to hear this. Good luck! You will get through this stronger and more savvy than you were before. Don’t chicken out.

GermanAuPair September 18, 2014 at 1:48 am

I agree, also I would say stop comparing your situation to other Au Pairs you know. If you do you will never be happy there will always be an Au Pair out there who works fewer hours than you, earns more money than you, takes care of children more well mannered than yours, and gets more “extras” from their family. That said this does not sound like a good family at all and I can understand why you would leave but like the other commenters I would advise you to at least give a notice before leaving.

nette September 18, 2014 at 11:20 am

You have been really helpful. Giving me advice and different perpectives. I have decided to notice the host mother tonight. Since the boy kicked me and threw me with a thick and heavy book. I am done and my limit has been crossed. Thank you all and maybe I will give you a notice on how it meant. Since I wanted to only know is it legal to leave without notice, I know most of you are host mothers. Again, thank you for your answers and I am now confident of facing my host mother and telling her I am leaving.

Host Mom in the City September 18, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Good – hope it works out ok and that you find a new host family that treats you with respect.

Rebekah October 22, 2014 at 11:52 pm

I feel that if “it’s a situation where the au pair is being taken advantage of” as mentioned in the post. The au pair has the right to leave and also if the situation is similar to the one above, where the host mother is threatening not to pay for the train pass due to the cleaning is not up to par with her. I would tell the au pair, pack your bags, secure a flight home, and contact the agency that you are going home or you want a rematch if the agency is willing to work with the au pair.

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