All real, all the time

by cv harquail on May 26, 2009

A regular reader and commenter sent me an email this morning asking whether the story posted with the poll is real, or whether I made it up.

Dear readers, may I just say, you can’t make this s%*# up. I am as surprised as you are at what people are willing to put up with, at what people do with their au pairs or to their au pairs, and at what au pairs do.

The regular commenter wondered whether this crazy story was a ploy to get more traffic to the site… Reflecting on the question, it seems this would be a reasonably good ploy for that (1) if I desperately wanted more traffic and (2) if I was willing to risk my reputation and credibility for a few more readers.

Re: more traffic. Sure, I’d like more traffic, because the more host families and au pairs who come and read AuPairMom ,the more you all and I can make a difference in host family-au pair relationships. But already, AuPairMom is by *far* the most widely-read au pair advice blog.

At the moment, I’m more worried about getting my stuff packed for my business trip tomorrow! AuPairMom.com gets a lot of traffic already, and I’m not that worried about it. I would like more people to sign up for the email list, and I’d like more host families to read and to comment, but as you know so far all I’ve done to drive traffic has been the Au Pair Appreciation Week event and a flurry of posts when I was trying to avoid writing the paper that I’m presenting at my conference on Friday. (Au PairMom is a great procrastination opportunity not only for you, moms and dads, but for me too. So much easier to write about this than to write about Brandividuals! )

Re: Risking my credibility.

Blogs, social networks, wikis and any kind of social media run on trust. Without trust, no one listens. (Read my paper on Brandividuals !) I really don’t have much of a reason to risk losing your trust, readers, because if you don’t trust me you won’t read the blog and we won’t get anywhere with the mission to save the world one host family at a time. cat behind post spying vibragiel.jpg

I am also operating on the presumption that I can trust those who write in with their stories and requests. Because I want people to be able to share tough situations, i have made it possible for anyone who wants to to keep her or his identity anonymous. As you know if you’ve commented, you don’t have to register on the blog or put in your email in order to contribute to the conversation. I set it up this way for your convenience, and because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was ‘harvesting’ email addresses to send you solicitations for agencies, handbooks, consulting advice, or "nighttime enhancements" of any kind.

Keep in mind, too, that AuPairMom is the only blog other than TwiceBlessedChinaMom that does not have adverts or any other kind of monetization. Why? Well, if I was out to sell you something, could you feel as comfortable saying what you need to say? Would I?

That said, I have wondered at times whether the stories are real. I look at spelling errors, typing errors, problems with sentence and paragraph construction, narrative flow, etc. … but to me any mistakes in these areas make me think that the stories come from real people who are not professional writers. (I’m pretty sure Calif Mom is a professional writer, though :-) ).

I felt that the only downside of this approach was that the blog would be vulnerable to people being mean and us/me not being able to hold these people accountable. But it never occurred to me that you readers would wonder if I was faking you out. So, it turns out that we (you readers and I) are both vulnerable.

Other thoughts:

Why did I do a poll on this story ? Truth be told, I was in a hurry. I wanted to get something up while I packed for my conference. Also, as I shared with The Regular Commenter, to be perfectly honest, I was annoyed that the person had (1) put her own story in someone else’s comment thread, and (2) that she hadn’t bothered to read other posts to give her some perspective before asking us for advice that she could have already gotten by looking at the "Can this relationship be saved" category. I figured that if we took a poll, she’d get what she needed (the push to ask for rematch) and we would not all be repeating the advice we just gave to someone else last week. And, I didn’t want to ignore her request for help because- heck – she really seems to need it.

Looks like I need to be more explicit and transparent about my policies on AuPairMom. Although there are some guidelines about what kind of comments are welcome (and what kind are not), I have also run in to problems with commenters getting mean, people advertising their sites and businesses in comments, people taking posts and images from this site and polishing them up so they can post them on their own sites, people adopting categories from this site, putting up widgets that they found here, and so on. The meanness I have to find a strategy for dealing with– more on that in a few weeks. The copying I’m just trying to accept as part of what happens with good ideas. Plus, if the mission is to help people become better host parents, then if other sites occasionally copy AuPairMom, it just spreads the good advice further & faster.

There is some stuff that goes on in the background of this blog, to be sure. Occasionally I delete a mean comment (and tell the person why, if I have their address). Sometimes I just don’t get to really important questions because I have family & job responsibilities that come first and then the time passes. Sometimes, I reach out to a person via email instead of the blog, if their situation is too painful to bear.

But I’m not a fiction writer (I’m a PhD scientist, remember). Even if I wanted to, I could not make this shit up. I am neither clever enough, devious enough or desperate en9gh. And besides, life is just way crazier than my imagination.

That said, I’d love your comments on what would help you feel more confident about what you read and what you share. Tell me if you think I should require registration or emails, or if you have other ideas for building confidence and trust across the AuPairMom conversation.

In the meantime, I’m running to Target. I can’t find my summertime Spanx and can’t get into my best presentation outfit without it.

Note to The Regular Commenter: Thanks for caring enough to share your concern.

cv

{ 25 comments }

MA HM May 26, 2009 at 3:06 pm

It just occurred to me that there should be a “CV/AuPiarMom” Appreciation week!! This blog has been invaluable to me. The information and emotional support are wonderful. As a first time HM I feel well prepared for the year ahead. Thank you cv for all of your time and energy that you put into this blog!

Darthastewart May 26, 2009 at 3:24 pm

I’m sure that there is no way that you could make this stuff up Witness my own list: (After nearly 11 years with au-pairs, we’ve had some doozies)
1. The au-pair who came and went in the same week, spending her life savings on a return trip for $2500.
2. The au-pair who had a drivers’ license who flipped the car into a ditch in less than 30 seconds.
3. The au-pair who got lost, so she stopped the car in the middle of a 4 lane major road, got out (accidentally locked the keys in the car), and went walking down the road to try to find out where she was, and was confused when people kept stopping and asking if she needed help. (she was stopped in the left lane!)
4. The au-pair who went on vacation and didn’t return. Took my cell phone with him, and kept it. Apparently while on vacation, he learned he was a father.
The list goes on… _sigh_

Anonymous May 26, 2009 at 3:34 pm

No changes needed! I love this blog!

Franzi May 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm

love this blog! you know i do

Meaghan May 26, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I can only wish that I am making this up! I have read about several other similiar situations on this blog. I am only looking for help and advice. This blog is great and to accuse the person responsible for its success is simply just not right. Thanks for all your helpful comments. If you haven’t done this before and haven’t gotten much help from the agency, how do you know what is right or wrong.

Thanks again for all the help and support. I vote for CV/Au Pair Mom appreciation week!!!

Jillian May 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I think this is a great site, I love reading other people’s advice. Keep up the good work!

Calif Mom May 26, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Great. Now I’m going to have to proofread my comments. : ) While my career has been built on writing, I don’t own a black turtleneck and don’t think of myself as A Writer, so can I stay? ;-) Thanks for the hat-tip, CVH.

That’s funny, I never even thought of someone making this stuff up. Aren’t there more interesting things to fictionalize than the au pair/host family diad?

Given that this is an open forum and our au pairs can find us (especially if we ever let them share our computer, if they use the history button they can even find the name we use to post comments!), I do think it’s important to keep the option of anonymous posting.

We are a pretty mature and savvy group, and I think self-policing has worked, though perhaps CVH has been doing more police work than we realize behind the scenes.

As for the hijacking of comments on someone else’s post, I would be generous in interpreting how that happened. My guess is that the host was desperate and googled “au pair advice” and found this blog, and that string of comments seemed like a good place to jump in and ask for help. As someone who often doesn’t notice headlines but reads all the small print, I could totally see myself doing this and missing the tab up top that says “need advice?”

Maybe you could put a line next to the comment box that reminds posters that if they are going off topic or starting a new question, to put it in the right place? So next to “Leave a Comment” it would say, maybe in parens, “If you are describing a new situation, please do whatever…” maybe even give a link to the Need Some Advice? page. I have no idea if that’s possible. HTML is def beyond my pay grade.

And you know this blog has saved my sanity more than once!

NjMom May 26, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Having been a host mom for more than 3 years now and having heard my share of crazy SH#T it never occurred to me that you were making this up. And none of this crazy stuff has happened in my home thank goodness. Keep up the great work!

Mom of 2 Girls May 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Ditto that we LOVE this site, and don’t know what we did without it when we first starting hosting APs three years ago! I, too, never stopped to consider what all goes on behind the scenes, and I commend you CVH for your dedication and what must be hundreds of hours weekly that you must put into this. Because too many other people have described situations that are uncannily similar to what we’ve experienced, I could never even think that the stories were made up! I envy those of you who haven’t had any of these all-too-real situations, and I thank all those who have shared their interview questions and strategies because I’m hopeful that we won’t repeat past mistakes. Keep up the excellent work, please!

Abby May 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I love this site & know from experience that unfortunately you are not making it up. I wish I had found this sooner.

maya May 27, 2009 at 8:39 am

I love love love this blog. I am a first time host mom. As you know, I have been dealing with lots of “little things” with my lovely (sense the sarcasm) au pair and truly appreciate the guidance I have received from this site and its commentators. [As an update, yes, we still have her because (a) I am too chicken to try someone else, kinda the devil you know thing; and (b) my husband still isn’t convinced rematch is the best approach. Everyday there is another “little thing”, like yesterday when I cam home and, although it was 80 degrees outside, she had dressed the kids in heavy winter sweatsuits and turned the heat on, or last weekend, when she decided not to come home one night and didn’t bother to tell us.] Anyway, please keep up the great work. You are offering a terrific service to the host family community and should be proud!!

Momof4 May 27, 2009 at 9:15 am

I LOVE this site and truthfully would be lost without it right now! :) All of the insight, advice and guidance is immeasurable. This being our first year as host parents and already having 2 au pairs from two different countries in our home, it is comforting to see other host parents have had similar experiences and we are “not the only ones” dealing with challenging and sometimes shocking situations.
Thank you for all of the time and effort you put into such a wonderful site and I will continue to promote your site to every host parent I know! :)

Jennifer May 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I’m so sorry to hear you have been scrutinized so unfairly. As much as I’d like to think that post was a parody, the sad fact is, that stuff really happens. I know people would rather exclaim “say it ain’t so!” and shoot the messenger than wrap their minds around that kind of situation.

I for one am grateful for this site. You have provided me so many insights on what works and doesn’t work in AP/HF relationships. Managing relationships can be a messy undertaking in even optimal situations. When taking into account that having an AP involves a collision of sensitive issues ( e.g., childrearing, culture, AP adolescent development and host family style) it’s no wonder that difficulties arise .

I have learned so much from the collective wisdom arising from everyone considering these situations. I know that there will be even more to learn when we’re readying ourselves for matching again.

So please, know how appreciated your efforts are! Ignore those who questionyou or put their own negative slant on things. That reflectsvon them, certainly not you!

Thanks again for all of your hard work.

Lucky1 May 27, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I agree with all the previous posters and their comments that we are lucky to have this site. I am getting ready to be a first time HM and this site has really helped prepare me for our first AP. I don’t know where I would be without it and I thank you too for all your countless hours of dedication and concern. You are providing a service that is invaluable and we all heart you. Shame on anyone who thinks otherwise.

Mary May 27, 2009 at 9:09 pm

This is one of the most inteligent blog I´ve ever read! I can feel everything is true and the owner care about the best storie and advices to post and help the other HM and AP´s… Don´t you worry about the comments about the blog, I think there a large chance it was wrote by an au pair…who thinks that this kind of stories demages the AP´s image…

I AM an au pair too…and I´m saying this because I know lot of girls tha complains A LOT about their host families in their blogs, and they REALLY think that this kind of behavior is the best option, because all the family have to treat them as a family member, with lots o love and undertanding but they DON´T worrie to act the same way, while working, because we can be friends, or family member, but yes, we ARE working to the HF too…we are not just having fun, or being on vacation…

It´s hard to me to write it and admite that many AP have this behavior…but it´s the true! :(

This blog it really FAIR…and it´s always worried about showing the both sides of the stories…I´ve learned a lot of things here, and I always feel free to express mt opnions…

Good luck and don´t give up what you believe…if he/she didn´t like it, move on and go read another thing….

ps: sorry about my English, I´m still learning… lol…

D May 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

I think the site is great!! Love it. I hope its successful & gets lots of traffic! I post here as a host mom & soon to be CC as well. :) I love it. I will say the stories have to be real. As we as a host family have our own crazy stories you’d never believe. But yes, they do happen!! I totally support this site 100%

As far as pictures & widgets here. Your pics are free stock photography. :) & the widgets….well anybody can use those, thats wordpress for ya. Copying a whole theme though & diverting traffic thats where it’s foul play. But ya, I love the ideas here & hope to become a CC here soon, I would love to have a blog that my own au pairs would use. And the topics here are helpful! Although I would never copy the posts here. Thats too bad, people are doing that. Can’t they be creative on their own!!

I love the ideas here as I said….primarily for being a CC. Keep up the good work. Remember….take the bad with the good. Moderate out the crap. :)

THANKS CVH!!!

Jeana May 28, 2009 at 7:24 am

You do a great job introducing topics and sharing concerns host families have. Anyone that would think that you’re creating information on this site just hasn’t been a host mom for long enough! Stick around, and that person will have their own interesting stories to share! I had a perfect aupair the first time around, and when our agency had a special aupair/host-mom mother’s day brunch, we played a game to get to know the people in the room. We needed to find families who were new, the family that was the most experienced, families who’d never been in re-match, etc. I remember our cluster leader saying something funny about how if you haven’t been in rematch, hang in there, your day will come! I’ve made awesome matches, and I’ve made mistakes with two of our matches. My funniest story is about our aupair who was accompanying us on vacation, out of state. She asked if she could take off over the weekend we’d be on vacation. I said yes. Her next question was, “You wouldn’t mind if my (male) friend stays at your cousin’s house with us, would you?” This was someone I’d never met, my cousin, whom we were visiting was 85 at the time, and the thought of bringing some unknown male friend totally shocked me, but I recovered quickly and said, “No”. There is no way that we make up the stories and situations we share! Thanks so much for being a place where we can connect and help each other be better host parents, and make the best possible decisions about the aupairs with whom we match.

Calif Mom May 28, 2009 at 9:53 am

Maya — thanks for the update! I applaud your tenacity, (we have a much-loved book around the house called Princesses are Not Quitters!) but at some point I just shake my head at your current AP. What’s the deal with that girl? Is she just not that smart? I have been fooled by candidates who have great English, thinking that that means they are also smart. Those traits may correlate, but are not causative. Best wishes for the summer! Hope she doesn’t take them to the pool in down coats…

Mary — thanks for posting your perspective. Fairness is hugely important in our family, and I do feel a lot of respect and empathy for these brave young women who choose to leave their family and their culture behind for a year to experience something different and give themselves a competitive edge when they go back home, often to cultures that don’t offer a lot of opportunities to young women. Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same thing; this is why the very same network of au pair friends that we want for our APs, to support them and have fun, can be so difficult for hosts because of differing needs and expectations between families. Some get cars and weekends off; some use the bus and work every saturday night, etc.

While I realize I sometimes get snarky here about past APs, it’s usually because I feel they have not been fair to me, have looked for life to hand them the perfect lifestyle on a platter. Wouldn’t we all like that? :-)

So thank you for recognizing that we do try to weigh all sides of a situation here on this blog. I’ll try to tone down the snark.

Maya May 28, 2009 at 10:58 am

Just a not of clarification.

Comment from ‘maya’ above is from a different Maya. I did not post that. My AP has been gone since the end of April and I did not post a update on my situation. I am planning on doing it in the near future though.

Anna May 28, 2009 at 1:06 pm

yes and I also want to say that I am “Anna” the host mom, different from “Anna” the au pair (wow, this blog is getting so popular we are getting duplication in names)

Dory May 28, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I am really bad at this anonymous thing. The update from maya above was really Dory. I should just use my real name. But I am pretty sure my au pair looks at this site. Sorry real Maya!!

Maya May 28, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Dory, no problem. I was getting confused with this also, plus the anonymity factor is playing its role. I have also posted under MTR before and will probably just switch to that, less possibility of duplicates.

Cary May 31, 2009 at 8:42 pm

I also have an au pair from Germany. She insists that if she has to work on the weekend it can only be to watch the kids. She should not be expected to do their dishes, vacuum up after them, wipe of the counter tops, etc. We came home from our “date” to a disaster. Why bother? I told her that we had 45 hours and that everyday was the same. We are well under our hours, but it appears that anything is too much to ask. We came home last night and the kids were not bathed and the house was a mess. The kids were still awake and running around. She was lying on the couch and indicated that she was very tired. I spend today doing kids laundry and cleaning up after her. I know that you are all going to say rematch, but where do they get this from. Apparently, someone in Germany is telling them that they aren’t suppose to be working. What am I paying all of this money for?

Franzi June 1, 2009 at 4:58 am

@cary, ask your AP who told her that she is only supposed to watch the kids. i’d actually recommend the same to the OP who also has a german princess in her home. if this comes from anyone in the agency, i’d complain to the agency. however, my guess is she doesn’t know where she got it from so i’d just tell her she either get the rule book and show you the paragraph, or she should stick to the program rules (and your rules) – and they don’t make a difference in working on the weekend or during the week, as long as 1.5 days a week are off.

AnnaAuPair June 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm

@ Cary: I don’t know with which agency you are, but I definitely know, that NO agency in germany tells them that and that I haven’t heard of any other official voice saying that.
I’m from germany myself and although the agencies make being an AuPair seem easier than it actually is, they ALL tell us to work 45 h with 1 1/2 days off (which doesn’t necessarily have to be a weekend day) and 1 WE per month.
Unfortunately being an AuPair has become quiet popular in Germany – because it is said to be an easy way to come to the US, travel a lot and on the side take a little care of some children ^^

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