Can I revise my promise to sponsor my au pair?

by cv harquail on July 21, 2010

I’ve got a problem regarding my au pair that might actually be my fault.

Our au pair is personally wonderful, lovely to have in the house, very helpful. She’s been with us 19 months. She is 23 and from Bosnia. She has a great relationship with my 6 yr old and 4 yr old. She loves them and is very concerned about them, my friends all tell me she is super attentive and playful with them (for example at the park or at the pool and I’m not with them). Outside of the problems below, the only other issue I have with her is that she refuses to discipline the girls, saying she “loves them too much.” jek i the box mini bench.jpg

I have been getting frustrated with her because I feel that she still doesn’t really understand me sometimes when I give her directions, and she does not use common sense.

  • Two months ago, she took my daughter to a class and dropped her off, not even noticing the class was halfway over and she was late, and she had the wrong time to pick-up my daughter – my daughter ended up sitting by herself for 30 minutes!
  • Last month, I needed her to take my daughter to a piano lesson while I was in a business meeting and she told me beforehand that she knew where to take her, knew the location, but of course she didn’t and ended up driving in circles and missing the lesson. Why couldn’t she have mapquested it??? I gave her the address! (And, yes, she has her own computer!).
  • Then, she was nice enough to do my laundry – I didn’t ask her to do it but saw her doing it. I asked her not to put anything of mine in the dryer. She says, “ok, ok” and then I woke up and not only were 3 bikinis, a juicy sweatsuit, and 2 dresses in the dryer, but she had washed them with a red beach towel!! I talked to her about it and she denied putting them in the dryer. My husband and I did not do it, and I promise you it wasn’t my 3 year old!
  • We get back from vacation (she was in the house for the week and we let her have friends come and stay with her during that week), and the TV in the living room is turned on and the piano bench is all scratched up with strange scratches…. She has no explanation….
  • Today, I need her to come home with the kids at a certain time, so I call and say, “Can you come home after 12:15?” She says, “yes, yes, I come right now.” I say, “No, listen, not now – at 12:!5.” she says, ‘Oh, oh, yes, ok.”

You’d think that working with these issues with our au pair would be the problem, but here’s the thing

This is her 2nd year as an au pair. We promised her that at the end of this year we would get her an I-20 visa and sponsor her while she’s in school. She would continue to help take care of the kids while I sponsored her, which I understand is skirting the rules but which we have figured out how to do fairly.

But now, I’m having second thoughts. If it were simply an issue of extending, we might be choosing a different, new au pair.

However, even though her misunderstanding/lack of common sense issues are a problem, I know it would devastate her to have to go back to Bosnia.I ’m afraid of crushing her, sending her back to a country where her life will be terrible.   I also know she wouldn’t run off and get married (like my last au pair) to stay here because she is a really good girl…

So I’m looking for suggestions.

  • How can I fix the relationship so it can continue?
  • Do you think I’m being too nice and shouldn’t feel so responsible for her life?
  • Should I go on to sponsor her?
  • If I choose not to sponsor her, how do I go back now and tell her we don’t feel comfortable sponsoring her? That it will be VERY awkward around my house. Yet I can’t wait until the last minute to tell her – it would be terribly unfair.

I’d really like some help with this. I’m open to any and all suggestions.


Image by JekInTheBox


NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 10:42 am

I have used Mapquest, and still ended up lost/not finding the destination. So on that point, I can understand. But the rest just sounds as if she really isn’t paying much attention to what you say, or she is comfortable and therefore feels like certain things are just not important. I don’t know. However, regarding the sponsorship, that is a lot of responsibility to take on, and be accountable for. Financially as well as emotionally. I personally wouldn’t do it, no matter how much I loved the aupair. If you truly want to back out of your deal, but do not want to make it tense or awkward for the amount of time you have left with her, why not blame it on the visa/permit laws? Tell her after you spoke with someone (govt official, lawyer, etc.), you realized the implications it would have on your family, and you just can’t risk it? Therefore, you are not technically the bad guy. Yes, I am sure she will be disappointed, but if you are having problems with her now, when she is here legally, how do you think it would be if you had no legal recourse because she is technically not supposed to be “working” for you while here on a student visa? Good luck! Please keep us updated!

Courtj July 21, 2010 at 11:51 am

I agree with using the visa/permit laws and the things NewAPMama said above. You can offer to help her find a school that would sponsor her (I think there are some schools that still do).

However, in the meantime you also need to have a conversation with her about the things that are bothering you. Of course that conversation didn’t work for us, but I am in my last two weeks.

Good luck, I hope it works out well.

First Time HP July 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

Maybe there is more to the story but these just don’t seem like that big of issues. One month she mixes up a class time, the next month she can’t find piano class it just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. You say she is great with the kids and have other people tell you how attentive she is which seems more important. It also sounds like she maybe has a hard time understanding some of the directions, maybe still struggling a bit speaking English. I know my AP normally understands me just fine but if I am in a hurry and blurt something out really quick she won’t always pick it up. I’d work on her organizational skills but overall she sounds like a good AP. I agree that it isn’t your responsibility to sponsor her but you willingly made the offer so I personally wouldn’t back out of it due to these reasons.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

My advice on the driving – when an AP says she knows where she is going (and you don’t have a GPS), ask her how she will get there – it will save you a lot of heartache (as someone who once had an AP drive in circles 50 miles out of her way with a friend who had already been in the US for 10 months – the friend finally recognized a landmark 30 miles into the journey – this is when The Camel was on medicine that required her to be fed a meal 20 minutes after she took it – 1 1/2 hours later she was asleep!

Host Mom in Virginia July 21, 2010 at 11:48 am

I don’t agree with the above comment. It sounds like you are making excuses for the au pair’s performance that may be considered important to this host family. Bottom line – it is you and your husband’s decision to determine what is best for your children (first and foremost).

First Time HP July 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

If she continually makes the same mistake or makes a serious mistake that puts the kids in some kind of harm then I would agree with you. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes and I just can’t see sending someone home because she didn’t understand what you were saying when you called on the phone or because she was trying to help you out and accidentally put some clothing the dryer that she shouldn’t have. I try to look more at someones character, are they honest, do they really care about the kids and family, do they show respect for your house and values, and at least based on the examples provided she seems to.

aupair21 July 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm

well she didnt exactly seem honest from what the hostmom said here and neither did she respect the house when the family left for vacation.. :P

NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I agree. I can handle a lot from an aupair (clothes shrunk, dings in the car, late for curfew, etc.), but I cannot handle or condone lying. If my aupair lied to me about something as trivial as misunderstanding drying instructions, then I would wonder what else she is lying to me about? Perhaps on an even larger scale? And it sounds like she was not willing to tell you what happened to your piano bench. Unless you have a cat, or she was scratching something like a lottery ticket, on it, I cannot imagine how you would end up with scratches all over it? But it goes back to the honesty factor. Again, that would be another ground for rematch for me.

First Time HP July 21, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I’m not sure what was written that leads you to believe she was lying. You can’t say for sure that she is responsible for the scratches on the piano bench, there is a 6 and 4 year old in the house so I think its just as likely one of them did it, or that someone had something on their pants or in their pocket and did it unknowingly while sitting on it. To say someone is lying you would have to know, that they know what happened and aren’t telling you the truth so since HM doesn’t know what happened to it she is can’t know AP is lying. Same thing with the clothes, I admit that it is likely that AP did it but taking a bunch of clothes out of the wash and putting them in the dryer someone could easily miss some articles of clothing (or not realize that a piece of clothing is the HM’s), so she might not realize she did it.

NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I think you are just trying to take the side of the aupair. I think it is clear from the post that the HF went away, and came back to find scratches all over the piano bench. Not really sure how you can defend that, but okay. As for the dryer, I doubt the OP would have posted the fact that she TOLD the aupair not to put the clothes in the dryer, and then they ended up there. Seeing as how none of the children or HP’s did it, by your reasoning they magically walked in there.

NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 4:21 pm

And also, if she had “accidently” put an article of clothing of the HM in the dryer, that would be one thing. But she clearly wrote that it was MULTIPLE items of clothing. It is kind of hard to accidently put that many in the dryer.

First Time HP July 21, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I’m really just trying to be objective, and if you look at the facts you might think she is lying but you can’t say that for sure. Unless she inspected the bench immediately prior to leaving for vacation she doesn’t know for sure when it happened, and you certainty can’t say for sure the AP knows. So my opinion its a bit harsh to back out of your promise to help her get an education, a huge and significant event in this girls life, because you think she might be lying or because she ruined a few pieces of clothing. Just seems a very harsh punishment for 1. something you don’t even know she did and 2. something she likely did while she was trying to help you out.

JBLV July 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm

My husband and I struggle all the time to separate out the annoying things that young people around the world will do from egregious, irreparable actions that become deal breakers. Many times we find that we get caught up in the small things when we need to be focused on the big ones. The fact that she ruined your clothes is very, very frustrating and, I’m sure, expensive. But looking at it from afar, I have to say it is not a deal breaker. If it were, I would have fired my husband a long time ago (every time he does my laundry he shrinks something or bleaches something, etc.). Same goes with scratches on furniture. If it were the case that scratches on furniture were a deal breaker, my husband would have fired me years ago. Unfortunately, these are things that host parents need to chalk up as “normal wear and tear by someone living in our home.” When our au pair does something stupid, but under the “normal wear and tear” category, it makes our blood boil. That reaction is hard to avoid, but needs to be under check. (If she started a fire or posed a safety threat, that’s an entirely different matter. If she does has complete disrespect for your home and belongings, that’s also a time to re-evaluate, but it doesn’t sound like your au pair is there yet.)

Now on to the “big stuff.” Leaving a 6-year-old by herself for 30 minutes is not acceptable (if indeed she was by herself). If I were you, I would sit her down at an appointed time and say:

“There is something that has been bothering me for a while and I have waited to speak with you about so that I can get some perspective [you may want to look up the Bosnian word for “perspective” to show her if the word is not one you think she knows]. Two months ago, you had ____________ sit by herself for 30 minutes because you got the time wrong for pick up. This is truly unacceptable, and I been doubting your abilities to care for my little girls. *Being late cannot happen again.* *Leaving ___________ alone cannot happen again.* We need to sit down every morning and discuss the activities for the day and the times you will need to be at the activities. *Being late cannot happen again.* We also need to discuss the route you will take to drive the kids where they need to be. If there are problems in the future, like being late or not being able to find the place where the activity will be (though you’ve insisted you know how to get there), I may need to get new childcare for my little girls. So, let’s move forward together and make sure that these things never happen again. I will help you, but you also need to be more responsible.”

West Coast Mom July 21, 2010 at 1:41 pm

JBLV, right on the money. I especially like your tone in your suggested AP conversation with AP. May need to call you for consult form time to time ;-)

And sooo very true about husbands and laundry.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Before you cancel the sponsorship, you need to have a chat. Write down the list of missed appointments, lessons, and failures in communication. It sounds like she’s not listening well enough or preparing well enough for what needs to be done.

With our AP, whose receptive English is okay if the words are spoken distinctly with a pause between each word, we have found that she does better if information is in writing. We write out addresses where she needs to go (or input them directly into the car’s GPS). Times for everything are on the calendar. We point out the calendar to her weekly, especially if there is a change.

Confront her about the damage to your home. Tell her that you need to know that you can trust her to take care of the house as if it were hers when you are away – and that includes not inviting irresponsible friends.

The bottom line, you can can’t “fix” the relationship, because it’s not yours to fix. If this is her 2nd year with you, it sounds like she’s gotten comfortable. It also sounds likes she’s playing on your sympathy. While you have a soft spot for making her life easier, her responsibility in this relationship is to do what is necessary – to get the children where they need to be on time, to communicate when she doesn’t understand something. And I think you need to be up front – that her behavior makes you think that her continued living in your house is going to work. Make it clear that sponsorship is an incredible investment on your part – and that she needs to do her part to make it work. Give her some benchmarks to improve, and if she can’t, then cut your losses at the end of her year.

As someone who has attempted to sponsor an AP – it is a huge investment, especially if you’re paying tuition, as I did. You better make sure this is the best person for you (which was true for us at the time). Is your AP taking full-time courses now? Because if she’s making this many errors and she’s not carrying a full load, do you honestly think things will improve when she’s juggling courses and studying?

JBLV July 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

“Confront her about the damage to your home. Tell her that you need to know that you can trust her to take care of the house as if it were hers when you are away – and that includes not inviting irresponsible friends.” Agreed. Even though these things may not be deal breakers, she needs to know that damage is not acceptable.

JBLV July 21, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Also, I know nothing about J1-Visas. Not keeping your promise because the J1-Visa is a hassle, you are not being ethical. If you want to take back your promise, you should tell her right away and understand that it is now your duty to help her find another host family that will sponsor her J1-Visa or find another way for her to stay in the US.

If you don’t want to sponsor her because she is not the caregiver you want, you need to speak with her right away because she is breaking her promise to you. From what was described in your post, however, I would tend to want to give her another chance.

NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Actually, a student visa is an F-1 or an M-1, depending on program of study. And it is not just a hassle, it is ILLEGAL to sponsor someone and have them work for you. So, no, given that fact, I do not think it is unethical if she was to change her mind. If anything is unethical, it is your suggestion that the OP should help her aupair find another family who is willing to break the law, and possibly lose the opportunity/priviledge of participating in the AP program.

HMom July 21, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Along this line of thought, if we’re trying to judge what’s ethical or unethical…offering to sponsor the AP in the first place (and the APs acceptance of it) was unethical on both sides.

NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Yes, you are right, it was.

JBLV July 21, 2010 at 11:21 pm

It is possible to be ethical and still break the law. It is possible to be unethical and and be within the bounds of the law. I think the questions JekInTheBox DMBM is having is within the context of what she promised her AP.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 21, 2010 at 8:24 pm

There has been a conversation on this thread – sponsoring APs – elsewhere.

aupair21 July 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm

the fact that she wont dicipline your girls cause she “loves them too much” would drive MY hostmom absolutely insane, I can promise you that :P Sounds very annoying and not like she knows much about childcare (sorry, i know you said she has a very good relationship with them). But really, dicipline is such a HUGE part of my job as an au pair, i just dont know how my kids would have been like if I didnt dicipline them. Does this make you the bad guy? (from the girls’ point of view)

NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm

If you love a child, you need to discipline them. Otherwise, they do not learn to respect rules and boundaries. Thankfully, my aupair is great at balancing a strict, yet fun and respectful attitude. If she refused, then that would be grounds for rematch.

StephinBoston July 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I completely agree with aupair21 and NewAPMama, I think the hardest part of au pairing and parenting is consistent discipline. I stress that over and over when I match with someone, the way you show you love your kids (or the kids you take care of) is by teaching them by example, following thru and discipline when appropriate (and of course have fun and cuddle when it’s time for that).

HRHM July 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm

IMHO, you should forgo the sponsorship (see previous post on not extending with a so-so AP) and start looking for your next AP. You have NO obligation to “find another family” to help her skirt US immigration laws as one PP seemed to suggest.

As far as her behavior is concerned, you can probably chalk a lot of it up to culture. I’ve had 2 APs from former-Yugoslavia (one Bosnian and one Serbian) and you are describing them to a T! They always know what they are doing and need no help! Even when they have no idea what they are doing and need a lot of help! They have ruined my clothes (I asked them not to do my wash too, but that didn’t stop them!) and the girls’, destroyed non-stick pans, ruined furniture, and botched paint jobs (yes, they asked to do it) but ignoring and/or refusing my advise and assistance.

When holes appear in doors, or the car battery dies after they’ve had the car for the day, they cannot for the life of them explain how these things occurred, but it’s not their fault. It’s not “lying” in their culture, it’s a survival skill. Until you confront them with proof (bank statement showing the 50 fee they paid to get the car out of impound) they will not fess up.

Cut your losses – find a new AP and get a fresh start. You can always use the excuse that it is totally illegal for her to work as your AP while on a student visa – ‘cus it is!

JBLV July 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm

HRHM, you don’t think it unethical to renege on a promise? It seems that HM was ready and willing to sponsor her J1-Visa when it suited HM’s needs (2nd year extension, continuity of care when the au pair visa was finished, etc). If that is the case, HM needs ask:

1. Do I no longer want to continue with the J1-Visa sponsorship because it is too much of a hassle or too expensive for me?
***If that’s the case: Then HM needs to fess up completely to the AP as soon as possible (or risk becoming the “liar” in the relationship). HM needs to explain that she promised more than she can deliver, and help AP find a way to stay in the U.S. without her sponsorship. Offering help is the least HM can do for breaking her promise.

2. Do I no longer want to continue with the J1-Visa sponsorship because I am suddenly nervous about skirting the law?
***If that’s the case: HM needs to fess up completely to the AP as soon as possible (or risk becoming the “liar” in the relationship), and offer to help AP find a way to stay in the U.S. legally. Offering help is the least she can do for breaking her promise.

3. Do I no longer want to sponsor her J1-Visa because I don’t think she can give the kind of care my children need?
***If that’s the case: Talk to the AP right away about HM concerns, and either give AP a second chance or tell AP that HM will no longer sponsor the J1-Visa *because AP has broken her end of the bargain.* If she chooses to keep the AP, she can take some of the excellent advice given here. (e.g. Building off of what HRHM said, Host Mom could explain, “In the U.S., if you’ve damaged something or had an accident, you need to take responsibility for it. We consider it lying if you claim to not know what happened when you actually do know. We are more forgiving if you tell us the truth than if you lie. We will begin to distrust you if you do not take responsibility, and this is a very bad thing. It is very important for me for you to take responsibility and tell the truth. If you cannot adjust to this cultural difference, we may have some serious problems.”)

First Time HP July 21, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Exactly! I think a few posts have missed the point here. Many suggest that her performance merit keeping her for another year and I too agree that I would not go to this extent, the added cost, work, and possibly slightly illegal set up to help out this AP. BUT I also would never have promised her in the first place. Now that she has, it seems like she is trying to work her way out of it.

I think its ironic that many of the same people who demand such high standards of honesty and integrity from our APs are now telling HM to just lie and back out of her promise.

NewAPMama July 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm

C’est la vie. That’s life. Sometimes things do not always goes as planned. While the OP may have had good intentions before, that doesn’t mean she necessarily has to go through with it now. And I think it is stupid/silly to expect everything to always go as we had orginally planned it to. The OP is allowed to change her mind. The aupair has already had two years in the US, and should be satisfied with that.

First Time HP July 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm

I do agree with you on that point. If HM wants to back out of the promise there is nothing stopping her.

The only issue I had was somehow trying to justify backing out on promise and not taking responsibility for her mistake. The HM is the one that made a bad decision and promised something that she no longer wants to follow through on. To me its an excuse to say well she ruined my bikini so the deals off. HM should be honest with herself and the AP, admit she made a mistake and if she’s willing to accept that then by all means break the deal.

Melissa July 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm

I do find it rather contradictory that some posters had concerns with an AP not being truthful and then suggesting that the OP bend the truth by saying that they can no longer sponsor her because of legal/logistical reasons. However, based on the OP’s original question, it didn’t sound to me like she has reservations with the legality, cost or hassle factor of sponsoring the AP. It sounds like her doubts are clearly based on the APs performance, and it also sounds like she is truly concerned about the AP and wants to do the right thing.

While I wouldn’t advocate lying to the AP, I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as telling the AP that she broke her end of the bargain. I would guess the AP won’t see it that way and I’m sure the OP wants to do her best to not hurt the APs feelings. I think first, the OP needs to decide whether she wants to try to resolve these problems and improve her performance. IMHO, although the examples themselves seem fairly minor, the fact that a number of instances have occurred would drive me nuts and cause me to seriously question her judgment and common sense (luckily, these were all little things, but what if a serious situation came up and she again used poor judgment?). If the OP decides she doesn’t want to sponsor her, she should have an honest conversation with the AP, and share her concerns and why she feels it is no longer a plausible option, in a gentle way. I don’t think she has any ‘obligation’ to find her another family or alternative, but it would certainly be a nice thing to do and probably help maintain the good relationship for the rest of her stay.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I would never advocate for “bending the truth” myself. I would be up front. Not knowing all the facts, and seeing one side of the story – I think the AP has become rather comfortable doing a so-so job and knowing she won’t be held accountable for it. The HM needs to confront her and establish some benchmarks, and make it clear that sponsorship for another year is dependent upon meeting those benchmarks.

Having sponsored an AP (first as a student while we waited for the employer application to rise to the top of the queue – the AP was ready to move on before the latter ever happened), I’ll tell you quite frankly – it’s a huge commitment. We paid 100% of the tuition, plus continued the stipend – we were out of pocket for $21,000 the first year (in 2002) and had absolutely no give in our finances. Our “date nights” were at home after the kids went to bed. The AP was absolutely perfect for our kids – a former pediatric intensive care nurse – with The Camel being diagnosed with two potentially fatal medical conditions as the result of a chromosome disorder – while the AP lived with us. We couldn’t have had someone better.

However, with two typical kids having continuity of care is “fantastic,” but it is not necessarily a life-saving measure. It’s a luxury, and the AP needs to understand that her role in having that luxury is essential.

Don’t lie. Don’t sugar-coat. Be persistent and make it clear what you want. Yes, there may be cultural factors here. Don’t accuse the AP of lying, but do accuse her of failing to recognize that you need to know the truth. You need to be able to trust her with your children and in your household. She needs to know “her house too” doesn’t mean it’s okay to overlook damage, it means being honest and saying, “I’m sorry this happened,” before you discover it.

My message to everyone is to be gun-shy about sponsorship. Be 100% sure that your AP is the best and only person able to meet your needs – especially if you have pre-schoolers and they’re going to study full-time. Make sure she’s organized and can handle the load. My AP had had a history of holding down 2 jobs and going to school part-time, so I had no doubt she could handle the workload – plus her medical experience with special needs children made her perfect. It’s a huge commitment, and it’s 100% NOT like being an AP – because you no longer have an agency to back either of you up.

In my opinion the OP cannot back out without giving the AP a second chance to meet her expectations. She also must be completely honest with the AP and demand that the AP be completely honest with her.

Should be working July 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm

While zipping up my flame-retardant suit, I must say frankly that I think the question of lying or complete-truth-telling on the part of the HF here is not important. And I’m a huge fan of the ‘Ethicist’ column!

If the HF is certain that this AP is not someone they want to continue with, and does not want to sponsor, for whatever reason–whether the legal/illegal question (which sounds like it was not the major consideration) or not–then they shouldn’t sponsor the AP. Relationship promises change. Married couples break up; friends who have promised to be there for one another drift or have fallings-out. People change their minds. I don’t think the HF has to abide by a promise made to this AP; they should not have made that promise in my view, but they don’t have to honor it either. It is ‘unethical’ to not abide by a promise but it is also something that happens. It is also for that matter ‘unethical’ with regard to your children to keep an AP that you don’t feel 100% sure of her safety-consciousness.

When APs change their minds and go back home because they are homesick, it is not ‘unethical’ in my view for them to break their commitment to stay with an HF for a year. It is also (flame away) not so important in my view as to whether they tell the HF the truth about why they are leaving. Honesty is important within a relationship, but IMHO when it is part of ending a relationship less so. I tell people I don’t want to be close friends with that I am ‘so busy’ and that is why I didn’t return calls. If a boyfriend dumps me, do I really need to know it was for another girl/woman?

For all the emphasis posters here put on obeying the gut feeling, I think that the gut rules in this case too. No sponsorship. In my view it doesn’t matter if you tell her the real reason or not, because you are going to end the relationship and thus the trust bond will be dissolved in any case.

Should be working July 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Ok, while I typed my anti-honesty defense here, the OP posted her outcome at the bottom, and it’s a wonderful outcome! AP has time to figure out a solution, HF is not stuck doing something they don’t feel 100% good about, and everyone has some space for reflection on the smallish things that went wrong.

But I would still stand by my controversial position on the honesty issue!

aupair21 July 22, 2010 at 11:51 am

i completely agree with you! she is not obligated to do something that’s illegal in the first place!

darthastewart July 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I think at this point, I would just cut my losses- Honestly, you can say that it’s going to be more expensive and difficult than you had thought it would be. Unless you’ve already finished all of your paperwork, you can easily use this excuse.

Gianna July 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Let’s not forget that we have learned on this website recently that many aupairs read this site. So, it might be smart to think twice before going back to the aupair with a story that comes directly from a suggestion here. I am a big believer in kind truth.
” We have learned that it is not legal for us to sponsor you and have you work for us on the terms we originally planned . We don’t feel comfortable any longer because we don’t want to break the law. This has been a good year and although we need to address these couple of issues ( x, y ,z ) we would like to finish the year with you.” If the issues are not corrected, then you can figure out if rematch is the way to go. Let me pose a question : if she has an opportunity to get married or get a better job off the books, will she worry about her ethical obligation to you ? No one likes agency fees and rematch is a pain in the neck but I think it is better than dancing on a tightrope without a net. A mature woman with children to support would be a better risk, I think, than a young woman with little to lose no matter how sweet she is. What would you do if something happened to your daughter while she was waiting all alone and you were operating outside the law ?

KM July 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm

What a good heart you have to want to help your au pair have greater opportunities in her life. Returning to Bosnia may not be all that bad. With improved English, some college courses and a letter of reference from you, she may be able to land a good job there. She can create opportunity for herself in her native country.

We had a male au pair who took courses in small business management. He returned to his home country and opened the first Internet cafe in his village. Then he opened another in the next village. He took what he learned as an au pair and applied it to improve his life and the lives of others. This is a win-win. He was such a kid, we wondered what he would make of himself.

If you can’t see your au pair using what she learned here to improve her life in Bosnia, perhaps sponsoring her is not a good idea. Your heart is in the right place, but your methods may not be beyond reproach. Would you pass a “60 Minutes” interview with Mike Wallace? That’s always been our litmus test.

NJMom July 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I agree with Computer Lunch that you should make very clear that her staying on your sponsorship is 100% contingent on performance. It seems odd to me that you would commit to sponsor someone that wasn’t 110% meeting your expectations … perhaps she has been slipping only lately? Or perhaps you had rose colored glasses on about her earlier? It is a HUGE commitment to sponsor someone and you should be really sure about them and it should be made clear to this AP that your generous offer of sponsorship is of course tied to her performance. After all, you still need for childcare (I assume) even after she is a student.

Calif Mom July 22, 2010 at 9:29 am

Not to quibble, but I need to quibble with an AP who posted above. It’s not “slightly illegal” to help out this AP. It’s actively illegal in this case. Agree that it might or might not be unethical. [Hmmm. Someone should send the issue of working on student visas to the NYT Ethics columnist!]

We demand high ethical standards from our APs, also demand them of the rest of our family, like others above. Please be careful lobbing accusations of double standards!

As pointed out, there are 2 issues here: current performance and what to do about the future.

I was able to coach a not-great au pair into better performance and what I thought at the time was a Terrific Year 2. Not perfect, but definitely acceptable and my family was able to bob along dealing with other things without worrying about what was going on with the AP. (In retrospect, I should have asked her to do more. I’m still too soft and hate feeling like I’m being demanding. I really didn’t ask her to do much and could have/should have asked for more.)

Honestly, the girl in the original post just sounds ditzy, probably not that bright, but not “lying” or deceptive. A little clueless, yes. I’m waaaaay interpreting here, but perhaps she either really didn’t know how the scratches got into the furniture (she was in the kitchen when it happened, or she was enjoying herself too much to realize what was happening, etc) so when you asked and she said she “didn’t know” she was being honest. She was probably embarrassed and felt guilty about it, and caved into that little kid response of “I don’t know!”

In our house, when we have a round robin of “I didn’t do it!s” that is clearly not getting us anywhere, an adult turns to the dog, looks him in the eye, and sternly reminds him to put the scissors back into the drawer when he’s done using them and warns that he will not be allowed to use them any more. I don’t have time or energy for blame–it’s about changing behavior in the future.

TACL and other PPs offered great tactics to use to improve her understanding of your priorities.

Many many an au pair falls into the bucket of “seeming to understand”– I bet we would be stunned to learn the actual percentage of what we say that is truly understood at the different stages of second language acquisition. There must be data about this…I think Jeana is an ESL expert–are you still visiting here? I’d love to hear your perspective on this one!

So OP, you *are* going to need to step up and actively manage her differently. Simplify and set up systems so that she *can’t* screw things up. (Leaving your kid for half an hour is a Big Deal. I bet your kid lost some trust in the AP when that happened. Be sure to talk to your kid about it one on one, and let the AP know that that cannot happen again.)

As for the future:
I was not able to find a way to keep an AP after the end of Year 2 legally, which was a deal-killer for us. It was *very* hard to accept that, because we love her very much and had gotten so very comfortable with her. BOTH kids adore her, which is no small thing.

We, too, need to keep everything Mike Wallace-proof (though, please, gentle readers, take any kind of ‘investigative journalism’–*especially* on TV–with a big spoonful of salt! Think of 60 Mins as entertainment, not news or truth. TV news is made with the same recipe as laws and sausages.)

We told her we were doing research into the costs (which she does understand and value as a driver in decision-making) and the risks. We reported back to her on what we were finding as we learned new things. This way, it was a process of exploration and step-by-step, parallel track decision-making, not a big reversal.

We each needed to decide different things; host family had to decide whether to be willing to take risks of student visa sponsorship, AP had to decide whether to return home and try to get a different visa from there or try to get a different visa while still here.

So we decided to find next, legal AP. (I cried a lot about this.) AP pursued her next steps (applying for student visa, finding a sponsor on her own). It was sad and a bit of a roller coaster for months, but fast forward:

New au pair is a better fit for us than any we’ve had before. Kids both love her (and respect her authority–at least so far!). She offered last night to help get dinner ready *during the day*!

Former AP found a sponsor, got her visas, and can pop over to visit, or even babysit occasionally. Kids know she is near, and that is comforting for them during this time of transition.

Things have a way of working out. Follow your gut, even when it’s hard. (And read every scrap of comments here about interviewing/selecting your next AP!)

KM July 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Totally agree with your Mike Wallace comment. It’s just an expression our family uses. Whether entertainment or not, having a substantive issue come to the attention of regulators, local authorities or the news media could put a host family and/or au pair on the spot. Maybe we are too cautious. . .but what if. . . .

Deb Schwarz July 22, 2010 at 9:50 am

These would probably be deal breakers for me (especially if it happens more than once or twice).
There are plenty of families out there that are willing to sponsor au pairs on a student visa. Just tell her to post an ad on Craigslist.

Good luck!

BTW (my AuPair Mom friends) – we finally did the exit with our sweet very unassertive au pair, I found her a great family with two kids – and we are still looking for ourselves and are considering a male au pair from South Africa (I should have found myself an au pair first – that’s my only regret). We are on vacation with her and it’s a bit tough having a “lame duck” who thinks our kids are abnormal (and gloats when they misbehave – e.g. “I told you so”), but what the heck – at least she packs and unpacks their bags and helps at times.


Gianna July 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Deb, Since you are an LCC can you tell us how that would work ? If we were to find a very nice young lady on Craigslist who is presently an aupair, how would we go about it from there ? Would we need to contact her present aupair agency or should we just start the sponsorship paperwork ? Any insight you can offer would be wonderful. Thanks for your help.

JJ Host Mom July 23, 2010 at 12:59 am

Deb, glad you got the first part worked out!

Perfect Host Mom July 22, 2010 at 10:37 am

Calif Mom is spot on (not to mention hysterical — I wish we had a dog to blame). We had a similar experience with an AP we hated to lose, but sponsorship is a huge commitment and very expensive if you comply with the law.

It is not “skirting the law” or “possibly illegal” to employ your au pair while she is in student status — it is breaking the law to serve your interests. Even if it breaks your heart to say no to a responsible young lady who you care about, who loves your children and who makes your life easier, it also violates the spirit of the program as a cultural exchange and it creates an impression among the girls that (1) it is ok to disregard the immigration laws and (2) “nice” host families “help” their au pairs by sponsoring them. Read the sponsorship forms carefully and you will see that it is a bigger obligation that just “helping someone out.” You should not feel bad about backing out, because you shouldn’t take on that obligation for anyone less than extraordinary. Having said that, you should tell her as soon as you have made the decision.

momto2 July 24, 2010 at 8:56 am

With all due respect to your interpretation of immigration law, your post is inaccurate. Please note the following guidance from the US Department of State:

“Generally, immigration regulations are very strict with respect to working while carrying a student visa. F-1 status, which is the most common status for full-time international students, allows for part time, on-campus employment (fewer than 20 hours per week.) Jobs available on campus typically do not pay much, certainly not enough to finance a university education. An F-1 student is generally entitled up to one year of post-completion practical training. Authorization for this type of practical training may be granted for a maximum of 12 months and only starts once you have graduated or completed your course of study.”

A lot of folks make the student visa deal with their au pairs without understanding the laws on the matter. It is breaking the law whether you are serving your interests or the interests of the au pair. It constitutes visa fraud to sponsor someone under the auspices of education for the purposes of working as a au pair, period. We have employed several extraordinary nannies and au pairs over the years, but there’s not a single one for whom I’d break the law and risk losing my job.

Perfect Host Mom July 25, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Momto2 – I think you misread or misunderstood my post. I am in complete agreement that it is illegal. We thoroughly researched the law when we sadly parted ways with our last au pair, and we discovered that employing our au pair would be illegal. I was objecting to the prior posts, which suggested that sponsoring while employing your au pair is merely “skirting the law” and somehow not illegal.

Karin Six July 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Luckily, GPS systems are getting cheaper & cheaper and a lot of au pairs buy one if they are driving (in CA) and the host family does not own one. (Luckily, they can take them home and use them there too. Cellphones are also getting better at giving directions.) Au pairs, like everyone else, will have their strengths and weaknesses. I think that the above would not be a deal breaker as the children are no doubt already very attached to the au pair. Taking her by the hand and showing her the places she must drive (beforehand) would help everyone. A sponsorship is a huge commitment and if a host family is not comfortable with it, they shouldn’t do it. If a host family would like to help an au pair, they should make the conditions known beforehand as backing out will cause a lot of distress and hard feelings. Perhaps a compromise is in order and other arrangements can be made where both parties still feel good about the situation. There are many international colleges in Europe. She would have to take an English proficiency exam so it would be very productive for the au pair to continue with her English classes. As to understanding instructions, after living in Holland for 7 years, there were times my head was spinning from all of the new words I learned everyday! Sometimes, I would just shake my head “yes” not fully knowing what I was agreeing to. One time, I spent 93 Guilders (the currency back then) at the hair salon instead of $39 I thought I would be paying due to not paying attention! But hey, I was only a 20 year old!!

Thankful Mom July 22, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I’m the mom with the original problem and I just want everyone who posted comments to know how very much I appreciated ALL of the insights – each one of you added tremendously to my understanding of the issues and to my decision.

Yesterday, I found that schools can allow them to work if the work is in their field of study (early childhood education). So, I told the au pair that when I made the agreement 4 months ago, I didn’t know they weren’t allowed to work. I told her if she could get the college to write the letter, that would make all the difference for us.

Today she told me she couldn’t get the letter, and we had a really good and productive conversation. I told her that although I’d been less than thrilled with a few of the things that have happened in the last few months, they wouldn’t be deal breakers because we enjoy having her and the girls love her and we do trust her with our children. She understood that because of my husband’s job, it would not reflect well for us to get involved with something illegal and no matter how much we want to help her, we just have to put our family’s well being first.

She was grateful for the conversation, and she still has 6 months with us so she has plenty of time (hopefully) to meet the man of her dreams or come up with another option. She said another family offered to sponsor her, and I said great, but I cautioned her about starting anything while she was still here under the current agency’s contract/sponsorship.

I really think things are going to work out fine, and I know I didn’t handle things perfectly because I was more worried about pleasing my au pair than really thinking through the arrangement. It’s definitely a lesson learned.

Thanks so much for your comments and time on this topic – I wanted to let you know how it came to a head.

JJ Host Mom July 23, 2010 at 1:01 am

Really glad to hear that you’re working things out.

EC July 27, 2010 at 5:59 am

As someone who has studied in the US as an international student I am confused why your Au Pair would need you to sponsor her at all if she has a place at a college. If she has a place, the college or university itself should sponsor her visa. At least that was how it worked for me and all the other international students that I know. She should not need an outside sponsor if she has a place at a college.

Jennifer July 22, 2010 at 6:34 pm

It is your choice. Period. If HM is reconsidering doing something illegal to in large partbbenefit someone else, then ultimately, it is entirely fair and correct for her to change her mind and do the legal thing. In this day and age
immigration (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security are still outrageous when they get their claws into someone who is violating immigration law. From a legal and ethical standpoint there is no obligation to uphold an agreement that puts either party at risk for adverse outcome. End of story.

What concerns me is that HM is grappiling with trying to justify her decision to pointing out behaviors that have occurred over months that, at the time, did not rise to the level of severity that there were any repercussions for the AP.

Letting AP know ASAP regarding the decision about not doing sponsorship is the most considerate option. Clearly laying out expectations for AP performance for the duration is needed. If AP’s behavior deteriorates before the contract is up, then let her go.

It is clear that HM was agreeable to sponsorship more for the benefit if the AP rather than family need. That is sweet, but misguided. The AP program affords for cultural e exchange for a set period of time. The program is NOT about rescuing people from the lack of opportunity in their home countries.

The HF clearly does not NEED this AP to the extent that they would take the burden of time, expense and legal risk to have her. No need to justify it by making AP subpar. Address the problem behaviors but own the decision based on what is best for the HF.

In my opinion, HM has no obligation to honor an agreement that was shady to begin with.

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