If only the distinction between “real concerns” and “nit-picky concerns” were clearcut, we’d never need to share ideas with each other!
We all seem to face, at some point or another, that question: Am I being unreasonable, or are my concerns legit? We have to address this question before we take any action, like asking our au pair to change his or her behavior, or changing our guidelines, or adjusting our expectations. And absolutely, we much be confident with our answer before we initiate rematch.
So I’m cruising my way down this email, asking “nit-picky or not?” and thinking at points 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 that the concerns are legit and that the host mom should talk with her au pair about these. And then I got to #6, and by #7 I was feeling pretty clear about what I’d advise.
But you read it through yourself, and respond in the comments.
We are a first time host family of me, my husband, two girls who are 4 and 1 years and we have a 21 year old French Au Pair, who has been living with us since the end of October (going on 3 months now). Our Au pair is a sweet girl but we seem to be having lots of little issues with her that are piling up into big ones.
Here is the background story anyway. We decided to host an Au Pair because we liked the idea of the kids having a special someone to take care of them while we were at work, and we needed the flexibility because I had just taken a job on a farm which required sometimes long hours due to the nature of the work, and daycare hours didn’t fit with us. We went through an Au Pair company, and it took us ages to find one due to us living in the country. When we did get our Au Pair, it was only because of a rematch where her original host family’s son had gotten ill and the mother needed to stay home from work to care for him long term. I was assured by the agency that it was not due to her performance.
We made sure that the Au Pair knew that the hours would be long, however she was only required to look after the children when both parents were at work (HD often finished early), and that she would be paid at the agreed rate of $8 an hour for every hour of childcare over the alloted 25 hours for $150.00 as per the agency agreement. [cv’s note: this host mom is in the UK] We also made sure she knew that the area was isolated from the city (about 300km from a capital city), however there were lots of backpackers around that she could socialise with.
When she first got here she planned all these activities with the kids and I made sure we went shopping for art and craft stuff and games for the kids and gave her brochures about library storytime, tourist activities and playgroups. I took her out to the local pub a few times to meet other people while my husband looked after the kids and encouraged her to go and meet other people, so she wouldn’t feel isolated. Everything was great to start with, but has since gone pear shaped.
Unfortunately 6 weeks after starting my new job and the Au Pair, my horrible new boss fired me because of my family responsibilities and because I refused to work 12 hour days and weekends. My husband had to go back to working away to support us and I managed to get a night/day job in a local hotel. Now my husband works away for one week then stays home for a week, and I have a very erratic roster that changes each week and sometimes involves nights, sometimes days and always every weekend. I think she understands that my roster changes all the time and there is nothing I can do about it, and I have told her that she is not required to work at all when my husband is home except when we botbh have an event on, e.g. he is playing cricket on a Saturday and I am working. However, I still pay her $150/week for the 25 hours, regardless of whether she works them or not, which I think is fair enough.
The problems are mostly small but many. I don’t mean to be picky, I really do like her but I am terrible with dealing with conflict and don’t know how to approach it.
1. She almost cost me $3000 in excess usage charges on the internet.
We live in the country, and I only had 7GB of data, which was specified in the Handbook. After receiving the first bill for $2000 just before christmas because she was downloading movies and watching streaming TV, I told her that the internet was to be used for general browsing, Facebook and occasionally Skype only – NO MOVIE/TV. She apologised and agreed. Luckily I got the amount credited because of a glitch in the system which should have alerted me to the excess usage, and now the alerts are in place. I know she felt really bad and it was a mistake because she assumed that it was the same as in France, so I was very understanding about it and told her I didn’t expect her to pay for it because it was a mistake. She was upset because she thought I would rematch her, but I explained to her that we value her and wouldn’t do that.
2. She spends all her time on the internet still.
When I had a closer look at the bill, I discovered that she had been on the net for 7-10 hours at a time, when she was supposed to be looking after the kids. I haven’t approached her about this yet, I just now disconnect the router whenever I leave the house. Sometimes I use the computer on my lap when the kids are around, however I also run a small on,line business and am capable of spending 5 min answering emails then 15 min playing with my kids. Even now since I disconnect it each time – when I get home she still has her laptop up playing a game or watching a movie or something.
3. I have tried to teach her to cook but it doesn’t sink it.
Egg, rice and a little bit of vegies is not a meal. When I cook a meal, it must have meat, vegetables and then carbs like a pasta or rice. I have shown her how to make stir-frys and cook steak but she doesn’t eat a lot of meat herself so she doesn’t seem to cook it for the kids. Even sandwiches for lunch are fine, as long as they are substantial.
4. She is dodging paying for her own fuel.
She met another French guy who became her boyfriend. At one stage she was driving out to his house (because he didn’t own a car) every night, often driving him to the pub and other towns. I explained to her more than once that it costs us $20 in fuel everytime she drove out and back (70km round trip), and that she must pay that each time she does the trip, She would often dodge it, saying she put fuel in the car or not putting the full amount in. She would often stay overnight or come home at 1-2am but that didn’t bother me as long as it didn’t interfere with her work. (However she has been slightly late several times and I detest lateness).
5. She doesn’t give us any space
Since the boyfriend is now travelling Australia, she spends all her free time at home, and usually in the loungeroom with me and the kids. I have to go to my room to get any privacy. I have had Pay TV installed in her room, we have wireless internet, and she has a nice big room but she prefers to spend her time with us, which is ok some of the time but not all, especially when my husband is home. Now in this – it is awesome that she helps me out all the times but it seems like that if she is home, she is working, which isn’t necessary. I am not paying her to look after the children when I am there because I can do it. I feel guilty because she seems to think she has to help all the time, even though I have told her that it isn’t required. Although, at times it would be nice to ask her to take the kids for an hour while I do some painting – (I sell my art online), but I feel guilty if I were to do this too.
6. She seems to dislike my older daughter.
DD1 is 4 and not an easy child. I love her but she has my sort of personality and is a highly strung, argumentative, tantrum throwing, often disrespectful child that can be difficult to entertain. Even I struggle with her at times, but I demand total respect, politeness and manners from her at all times. I deal with her tantrums by giving her time out but like all parents, sometimes I lose it too. We struggled from an early age because I had PND (post-partum depression, in the USA) and never truly bonded with her.
7. I have pulled the AP up twice now for yelling at DD1 to “Shut up!”
I have lost it once or twice and used those words but apologised straight away – and I have told her to do the same – but it’s not acceptable. DD1 and AP seem to always be bickering and I am sick of listening to it – she tells her off for the tiniest little things, even when I am home and it annoys me…. I am the parent not her! It gets to the point where I have to tell DD1 to leave AP alone! DD1 seems to like stirring her up too and AP’s disdain is starting to show. In contrast, AP loves my youngest, DD2 who is 1 and still in that adorable stage. She often cuddles her to sleep (much to my dismay as I am trying to teach her to go to sleep by herself in her cot).
My husband is starting to dislike her because he is very very protective of DD1 in particular (she is a daddy’s girl), but lets me deal with AP because he thinks I am more diplomatic. I am unsure what to do though – I am terrible with conflict but think I need to suck it up and deal with it.
I know I am not the best parent and may not always set the best example but I try my hardest. I struggle with depression and anxiety, medication helps but does not eliminate it dramatically. I sometimes have bad days where I cannot cope with the children and need some space. I struggle to deal with conflict because I sometimes have a Panic attack when attempting to bring up issues.
I feel terrible, because I like her even if her behavior annoys the hell outta me sometimes. But like any mother, my family must come first. Cheers, Ellie