Awkward: It’s not a walk of shame if we know you are safe

by cv harquail on March 8, 2010

So let’s jump on in to another awkward topic — If your au pair is having fun, safe overnights, and she just wants to make sure you’re not worried, how should she tell you? Should she even tell you?

I don’t actually want to know if my au pair is having fun. I do want to know that she is being medically safe, that she is being socially safe, and that we can find her if there is an emergency.

Me being me, I have been pretty straightforward in talking to our au pairs about their personal safety. I have said in so many words “I don’t want to know who you’re dating, I just want to know that you are safe, and when to worry.” And I have always brought this up myself with each of our au pairs, rather early in their time with us, so we had a a system established for making sure that we had the ‘just in case’ information,even before it was needed.

A System: (1) Contact phone number, (2) Home tonight yes or no?

Back before cell phones, our au pair would write down the name, address and phone number of her boyfriend, and also the contact information for her best au pair girlfriends. She sealed this in an envelope, and we put it in the cabinet to be opened “just in case”. If she had more than one boyfriend, I never knew. I just knew that there was an envelope with information just in case.

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I also asked our au pairs just to let me know with with a quick phone call if they had changed plans and were not coming home that night. I didn’t want to worry if she had planned to stay out somewhere, but I did want to be able to call the police if we expected her home and she never wandered back in.

Later, once our au pairs had cell phones, a quick text message and another contact phone number were all I asked for. I really didn’t need to know “who”, just “whether” and “when” they were coming home. This managed to get me the information I needed if there were an emergency, but gave our au pair a smidgen of privacy.

[[In the background, I was also concerned about whether the guys they were dating were decent young men, but I never had real worries because all of our au pairs were sensible young women who were pretty picky when it came to American guys. (The Irish and Scottish soccer coaches were a whole different matter.)  ]]

Now, consider this thoughtful email from a au pair.

First of all, I really love your blog, and have been reading it ever since I began my application last year. Host parents on the blog seem to share really useful advice.

I realize that what I’m asking may be a difficult subject to discuss (especially since I’ve gotten the impression that this is even more taboo here than in my home country), but I really need some advice, and I don’t know where else to get it.

I am happily placed with a host family I love, and I feel like I can talk to them about everything – except this.

I have kinda started seeing an American guy in the town where I live, and I’ve told my host parents that I went on a date with him. The problem is, I haven’t told them that we’re also sleeping together, ’cause I’m afraid of how they might react.

I am being careful, and I don’t just mean using protection. I always tell one or more of my friends where I’m going, how long I’ll be there, and message them when I get home. Going without sex for my whole year in the US was never really an option for me, and this guy is perfect, as none of us actually wants a relationship. I just don’t feel right lying to my host parents about where I go when I go to see him.

So what I really need some advice on is this:

Should I tell my host parents about this (in a gentle way) so that they can know where I am at all times? Or is there such a thing as too much information?

How would you react if you knew your au pair was having casual sex?

How can I handle this thing without having them lose their trust in me?

I’m not very open to comments about ending my relationship with this guy, because is a a great person and we’re clear on what our relationship is. AP22

Now, this is my kind of au pair– safe, sensible and thoughtful. What advice do you have for her?


You can buy this print from TheWheatfield on Etsy for only $22! The guy you can probably find in Williamsburg (Brooklyn).

{ 30 comments }

Jodi March 8, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I am totally upfront about sex/hooking up etc with my Au Pairs. I do not mind who they are sleeping with, as long as they are safe and I know if/when they are out for the whole night. I am also very open about them allowing a boyfriend/girlfriend spend the night, as long as it is not a one night stand. They also need to let me know if someone is spending the night so there is no unanticipated walk of shame in the morning.

I think that you should be totally open with your host parents. Let them know that you are seeing someone and that you will be spending the night with him occasionally. Believe me, they probably went to college, they know the drill. You do not need their consent, but you should let them know where you are, so they know if/when to start worrying about you.

been there March 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

This would be to much information for me! I need my AP to let me know if she’ll be home or not (she always needs to be home the night prior to working) on her “off duty nights”. She needs to always carry her cell phone, on and charged. That’s it. But I can say this easily because our AP is a girl with good common sense. I’m sure there are some shenanigans, what 20 year old could resist? I don’t expect her to be Mother Teresa!!!

Chev March 8, 2010 at 10:45 pm

When you’re going out/hanging out with the guy i’d let them know, just so they know where you are and don’t worry. But whatever you’re doing is your own business and they probably don’t want to know that much about it as long as you’re safe. I have an awesome host family too and i tell them when i’m seeing someone and what time to expect me home and i always keep my cell on me but i don’t think they really want more details than that :)

Calif Mom March 8, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Just tell me whether you’re going to be home or not. “Sleepover” can mean many things, and I don’t have bandwidth for thinking much past that!

I really don’t want to know if it’s a guy; I do want you to know you can always call if you need us or get stuck someplace, no matter time of day, where you are, etc. We will always pick you up–or your friends. Safety first, morality second. That’s your business. I’m really not your mom!

Taking a computer lunch March 9, 2010 at 12:08 am

DH and I are probably more liberal than most HP. We consider our APs adults, so we don’t make them call in (most do at first – and that’s fine in the event their parents call from home, then we don’t sound clueless), we don’t have a curfew, the car doesn’t have a curfew, and we consider it ok to have men over. All of our APs have to work hard, and none have abused the privileges we offer.

I consider the AP year like the first year of college – it’s time to have fun, experiment and figure out who you are. No one has been slipped a mickey or bludgeoned. When we think behavior is dangerous (like going home alone with strangers), we talk openly about it. None of our APs has ever skipped a shift (unlike the agency nurses we used one year) and all have been loving and attentive, and at least faked being bright-eyed in the morning.

All I really want to know from my APs is, “Are you coming home tonight?” and “Are you bringing someone with you?” Mostly its about controlling the noise from DD, whose handicapped accessible room is above the AP’s (and who has figured out where the volume knob is on her electronic keyboard). If I hear the AP come in during the wee hours (I can hear it from DD’s baby monitor), then DD goes somewhere else to play quietly on weekend mornings.

If the relationship evolves into something serious, we always invite our AP to have her boyfriend join us for dinner.

anonaupair40 March 9, 2010 at 7:12 am

As an au pair, I had a serious boyfriend and we were using protection. I had a UTI and took some antibiotics for the infection and not knowing their reverse effects on my birth control, got pregnant. I found out at 4 weeks, I was pregnant and scheduled an abortion immediatly. When I went to my app’t (this was in europe), the doctor couldnt find the fetus on the screen and said I must have miscarried (I had bleeding the night before), it all made sense. 2 weeks later, I still didnt have my period so I retook the test and I was still pregnant. Finally at 8 weeks I had the abortion. at week 7 I wanted to tell the HM what was going on. I was exhausted and had morning sickness. I never told her, in fear of what she would think. How would other HMs deal with this situation?

Anna March 9, 2010 at 7:28 am

Abortion is a very sensitive topic in the US. Some people are pro-choice, some very anti. In the US, you shouldn’t have told your hostmom. She might have tried to dissuade you from abortion into having a baby, and if you still went with your decision, she might have had difficult time with her conscience after that, and difficult time continuing hosting you (disappointment in you).
Also when one becomes a mother, has wanted children, sees their 8-week fetus on the ultrasound, etc., their feelings about abortion might be changed, and not necessarily reflect their political leanings.
I am pro-choice politically and vote for pro-choice candidates, but I would never have an abortion myself if not for serious health reasons, and would have an extremely difficult time with an au pair in your situation. In fact I am not sure I would be able to keep her after this.

PA au pair mom March 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Not all HM’s would have tried to dissuade the AP from an abortion. I would have been understanding and offered my AP some time off until she was “feeling better”.

Should be working March 9, 2010 at 1:18 pm

If I were the au pair, I’d just tell the HM that I had a ‘tummy bug’ or just that I was sick and explicitly ask for 2 days to recover. No need to disclose everything, unless you are very close to the HF.

Melissa March 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Regardless of the HP’s political and personal views on abortion, I think that is a VERY serious situation and would hope the AP has someone to talk with about it (whether HM, LCC). Getting pregnant is a huge deal, particularly in another country without the benefit of having your immediate family and friends around. Regardless of the outcome (abortion, miscarriage), I would think that the AP would have a lot of emotional issues to work through afterwards and would worry about her being able to continue to function well in her role as an AP and truly ‘be there’ for my kids.

Anonymous March 9, 2010 at 9:41 am

I don’t need to know if my AP is having sex – too much info for me! I would be completely fine with her coming to me if she needed assistance in securing birth control, but otherwise, I don’t want/need to know. We do require our AP to let us know if she isn’t coming home at night – she doesn’t tell us where she’s going to be, and that’s fine, we just want to know if she’s going to be home or if we should lock up the house, turn off lights, etc…..

Typically she sends us a text message if she’s out and not coming back. If she’s already home and decides late to go over to her boyfriend’s, then she leaves a note if we are in bed.

This could bring up an entire new discussion topic, though, about dealing with situations when the APs boyfriends starts to interfere with the household and childcare responsibilities. That has been our problem, to the point the boyfriend is no longer welcome in our home. We were having issues where he would refuse to bring her home in time for work, arrange random “romantic weekend getaways” when she was scheduled to work or participate in a family activity (a child’s birthday party), and other mostly insignificant but irritating things like drinking all the beer we had in the fridge for an upcoming party.

TX Mom March 11, 2010 at 11:44 am

I prefer the BF’s back home for all these reasons. :) When the BF is local our AP’s get distracted with their duties.
I am glad that there are countless men I have not met, but most of the “serious” BF’s have come to our house and generally they have been great guys and they are welcome. (They have respected our rules and our AP’s duties.) That being said, our kids got attached to one BF and were very disappointed that the AP did not remain as attached to him.

Anonymous March 9, 2010 at 9:48 am

Thanks again for giving me something to think about. We prefer to know whether or not our AP will be home because we worry about her. I always know when the AP is not with “just friends” because it’s not so hard to read their body language. I’m ok with it though some may not be. I worry about their choices but I’m not their mother and so can only share my caution and concern if the behavior seems out of character for them or dangerous to their health and welfare. I do prefer to have contact with their friends, but not so much the boy friends. We don’t have boyfriends to our house – though we’ve invited one for the holiday meal – and frankly it’s nice when the boyfriends are only casual and not serious as then you can lose your APs attention entirely. (Lived through one of those and it was NOT fun). I think I will bring this up with our new APs shortly after they arrive and the timing seems appropriate. We do cover overnight guests, friends, boyfriends in our application, etc. but it’s a big topic and bears additional discussion. This way if there is a problem (like the one mentioned above) our AP won’t have to “go it alone”. Not all HMs are pro-choice, but if you know yours is – it would seem such a procedure which can affect your health and certainly your mental amd emotional well being as it is stressful should be something your HM or LCC is generally aware of. You will be tired and a bit out of sorts and perhaps in need of some emotional support or extra rest – even if you had a cold wouldn’t you like some comfort?

Mom23 March 9, 2010 at 10:22 am

We ask our au pairs no matter what age to call and leave a voice mail if they are out. I really don’t need to know where they are, just that they are safe.

Our first au pair snuck her boyfriend in and out of the house a few times. We were not happy about it, but we didn’t say anything, but after that we made it a point to tell our au pairs that friends (however they defined it) could stay over, but they needed to let us know first. We have also made it clear that if my husband and I are out on a weekend night and the au pair wants to have a “friend” over that is okay, as long as her first priority is the children. We have never had a problem.

Calif Mom March 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm

That has been our policy, too. If you would like to have someone stay over (any gender) just let us know. If you aren’t coming home, just let us know. So far, it works. I don’t worry, they don’t feel like I’m prying, and HD doesn’t get surprised walking around the house in his jammies in the morning! :-)

Calif Mom March 10, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Come to think of it, our handbook says “no men overnight”. None have ever asked to bring a guy home. Maybe HD intimidates them too much?

Should be working March 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

In our daily au pair log, which is mostly questions about the kids’ days and what they ate from their lunchboxes, I have a yes/no question regarding whether the AP would like the car that evening, and a reminder about the work-evening curfew (midnight) and the car curfew on non-work evenings (1am). I also ask that the AP send a text message if she turns out to be out all night. I don’t need to know where she is, just that she is safe. And we tell her often that if she is ever in trouble or needs help, she should call us and we’ll come get her, no questions asked.

Having a boyfriend/girlfriend at our house, however, is absolutely out of the question. Her private life is private. No strangers allowed in my house.

To the original poster, I would ‘read’ the signals from your host family. If they are curious about who you’re out with, and you want to tell them, you could say you are ‘ casually dating’ someone. That can mean a lot of things, from dinners and kissing to passionate overnights. And it’s none of their business. If they don’t ask who you’re out with, you don’t need to tell them, and I personally would not.

It would, however, be a great gesture to tell them occasionally how you appreciate their concern for your safety, and reassure them that you are cautious and prudent and know what it means to take care of yourself.

Hula Gal March 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I think I would laugh if my au pair told me she was having staying over night with a guy and having sex with him. Not out of meanness but because I would think it very innocent of her to feel the need to tell me. I’m in the camp of “what you do when you are not in our home is your business”. Just don’t bring anything home – boys, contagious illnesses, a too-tired to do anything demeanor etc. My struggle has been that my au pair has a very active social life, is very private about her social life and is 25. She leaves on Friday and sometimes does not return again until Sunday after we go to bed! She does a good job for us but I sometimes worry about her safety. When I was her age I lived on my own and relished my privacy. So although I have attempted to institute a “call me if you are not coming home tonight” policy she rarely complies not out of spite but because she doesn’t think to do it all the time. I’ve given up. But it still bothers me because if something were to happen to her I would not be able to give any details to police or her parents because I know almost nothing about her personal life. Although she is an active facebook user so I suppose I could poke around there. ;-)

HM in NV March 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

We have the identical issue. Our AP is out all the time and rarely tells me what she does. Similar to you, I think her personal life is her business and don’t care from a parent role – I don’t view her as nor want another child. And I agree that the bottom line is whether and how it impacts how she does her job as an AP, which we haven’t had much issue with. However, I have to admit it really bugs us sometimes. After all, she is living in our house and it is really hard to think of her as ‘family’ and not just an employee or boarder if we know nothing of her personal life. And, maybe it’s a cultural difference (doubt it though, b/c we’ve had other APs from the same country), but it just seems rude to me to not give a general idea of where you’re going and when you’re going to be home. We would never dream of leaving the house for the weekend and not telling her where we’re going.

Host Mommy Dearest March 9, 2010 at 11:52 pm

We have the saaame issue. I also don’t want to know what she is doing, but for safety sake and out of consideration for us she needs to tell us where she is going and when we can expect her home. She can text us or leave a note……none of our APs, except our current, has had a problem with this. We are not giving up – we told her after this past weekend that this conversation about it (our 4th) will be our last since it is making us miserable and our next step is rematch. One weekend she had the car and was out 3 and a half hours past curfew with no call or text, and did not respond to calls or texts. She said she left her cell in our car which was parked at her friend’s house while they went in another friend’s car, and the battery on her friend’s car died. None of her friends’ would lend her their cells to call us? Oh, they would, but she didn’t have our number. She was actually at a 3rd friend’s house and had internet access, so I explained how to use the internet and/or 411 to get a phone number. Bottom line is that car batteries die, cell phone batteries die, things don’t go as expected even for the most responsible of people, so if a little communication can save your bacon, I think you should put in the effort. That, and the AP is living in our home, so I think it is reasonable for her to let us know where she is going and when (or if) we can expect her home that night.

Calif Mom March 10, 2010 at 9:50 pm

(love your “handle”, by the way. APs–this is an idiom lesson. Go look it up on wikipedia… :-) )

Melissa March 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Like many topics, this depends a lot on the individual au pair. As a general rule, we let our APs know that they need to tell us if they are going to be out overnight, preferably before they leave or send me a text by a reasonable time. I tell our APs at the beginning that I’m not asking from a parental perspective, but just because it’s common courtesy when living in someone’s house – so we know to lock up, set the alarm, etc, and that we know she is safe. She doesn’t HAVE to tell me where she is, however, I do encourage that for safety sake (even though she has a cell, there have been plenty of times where the batteries die, she’s out of minutes, etc). While I enjoy hearing out my AP’s social life, including who her friends and boyfriends are, and feel like that really helps us feel like she is part of the family, I certainly don’t need the details of exactly what she is doing or even how serious or casual her relationship is. As another poster said, ‘sleepover’ can mean lots of things and I don’t need the details. We do however, require her to give us an exact address when she has our car out overnight.
I find that the more mature, responsible APs that we’ve had have had no problem with these rules. Of course, they were the ones we felt the least need to enforce these rules with, b/c we trusted their judgment and they never abused the car usage and were not partiers. On the other hand, the APs who’ve had a tough time following these rules were the ones who demonstrated more questionable judgment (IMO) in their social/love lives and pushed the limits with car and work night curfew.
Regarding overnight guests, we make it clear in our handbook that we do not allow overnight male guests. It has nothing to do with our morals or personal views on sex, I just don’t think it’s an appropriate model for my two young girls to see a strange man in the morning. Also, I would not take the risk of having a relative stranger (meeting in a bar and dating for a month doesn’t count as really knowing someone in my book) in my house while me and HD and my young children are sleeping. There are unfortunately just too many scary stories out there to take that chance.

JJ March 9, 2010 at 7:14 pm

If you were my au pair, I’d want a general idea of when to expect you home, so I know when to start worrying, and a phone number I can reach you at in case of emergency. I provide a cell phone to my au pair so I’d just expect her to have that with her. If you needed something, help with birth control or anything, I’d be happy to give you pointers. But other than that I consider au pairs adults and wouldn’t need them to give me any more information than they would give another adult roommate. Oh, and we also have a no-overnight-guests policy but I don’t think you were asking that.

AP22 March 10, 2010 at 12:50 am

Thank you all so much for your replies. I do have a cell phone, my host family can reach me on that at all times, and I’ve given his number and address to my two best friends, just in case. My host mom once said, as I was leaving the house on a Friday night, that as long as I was back for work on Monday, I should just have fun, so I guess I’m worrying for no reason:)

I’d never take him back to my host family’s house, as the kids bedroom is directly above mine, and, well, you can hear anything that goes on from either room:P Even if my family was away, it would feel too much like mixing business and pleasure, and I totally understand that so many of you have a no-overnight-guests rule.

Should be working: Thank you for the tip about “casually dating”, that’s better put than anything I could come up with myself;)

momto2 March 10, 2010 at 7:15 am

This has been a very big issue with 2 of our au pairs. We do realize that these are adults, however, from our experience, we feel it is necessary to set up some rules with regard to dating and socializing. One of our AP’s got involved with a pretty rowdy crowd of other AP’s and their AP “groupies” (don’t know about you all, but we have a bunch of young guys who seem to just seem to comb the AP circuit looking for new girls to date), and she made some pretty irresponsible choices with regards to staying out all night, every weekend. It is not possible to lead this lifestyle and not have it impact your job. She eventually crashed our car, out of fatigue, while driving the kids to school. Another AP got involved in a relationship with a married man. We appreciate that AP’s are adults, but we also have to be cognizant of the role model aspect, and we feel this teaches a negative lesson to our children about marriage and trust. And, what happens when the “wife” finds all of the AP’s phone calls and texts in her husband’s phone? Um, the phone is registered in my name. All-in-all, we understand that there has to be some latitude to have a personal life, but when the AP makes choices that negatively impact the host family’s safety, this is when we feel we need to step in and set up some guidelines. It’s only one year.

TX Mom March 11, 2010 at 11:33 am

LOL about the mobile phone in your name! Good lesson to all of us.

I agree about the fatigue concern so we set a curfew on “work nights.” Our AP’s must be home 8 hours before being on duty. It doesn’t guarantee that they actually get 8 hours of sleep, but at least it avoids the fear of “will they pull into the driveway before I have to leave for work?”

Hula Gal March 11, 2010 at 11:12 am

I’m a very liberal person but I am stunned that so many host parents allow their au pairs to bring men home for overnight visits. It just seems to be so innapropriate and I also worry about the security aspect. Do you know these men before she brings them over?

HRHM March 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I’m with you. I wouldn’t want to wake up and find some strange man I don’t know walking the halls of my house in the middle of the night. How do you know she isn’t bringing home a pedophile, theif, serial killer or rapist? ! :0

Anonymous April 21, 2010 at 10:17 pm

I feel the same, I am shocked by this. I can’t imagine any family letting a stranger in their home, especially while the entire family is so vulnerable while they are sleeping, especially with daughters.

Another point in regards to Anna, who posted: “In the US, you shouldn’t have told your hostmom. She might have tried to dissuade you from abortion into having a baby, and if you still went with your decision, she might have had difficult time with her conscience after that, and difficult time continuing hosting you (disappointment in you). ”

Pregnancy and abortion is a very serious issue…and I believe that the host mother should be told. Abortion is not always the answer, it has lifelong ramifications, both physically and psychologically and is an invasive medical procedure. All options must be explored and this can only be done by discussion, thorough education of each option (has a young woman from another country know that at 8 weeks there is a heartbeat and fingers and toes?) and an abundance of careful thought. If my daughter were an Au Pair and found herself pregnant, I would pray that my daughter would not go through this alone and that someone would take the time to help her make the right decision…and if she did choose abortion, she had a responsible, compassionate adult to help her each step of the way. Abortion should never be the first answer and requires careful consideration.

Her second point refers to not telling the host mom because she “would not continue hosting you.” Keeping her Au Pair position should be the least of her worries if she was pregnant and considering a life changing decision of abortion. At a time like this, it is probably time to go home for support and healing.

HostdadinNJ March 12, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I have zero interest in whether or not our Au Pair has relationships, either physical or otherswise with anyone. I want her to make friends and enjoy herself here, as any 20something woman should. I don’t need her to define for me what her version of “fun” is. What I do ask, is our Au pair simply send us a text if she is keeping the car out past a certain time, or if she is staying out overnight. My cell volume is off at night, so if I wake up and she isn’t home, I simply look at the phone and know that she is ok.

To the young woman who needed an abortion, I feel sorry you went through that alone. Moral and religous views aside, this is not something you should have to deal with by yourself, and quality medical care is imperative regardless of the decision.

Your post gave me something to think about, as we have always let our Au Pair know that if she ever needs us when she is out, say she took the car and wasn’t expected to drink but ended up doing so, to please call the house if she is stuck and can’t get home. We assure her we would not get mad (assuming it isn’t habit) as our concern would be to get her home safely. Perhaps with future Au Pairs, either in the manual or some other way, my wife will discuss the possibility of more sensitive issues (getting pregnant, catching an STD, etc) as sensitive as can be and try and let the woman know that she could come to her if something should happen and she need assistance.

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