Can This Relationship Be Saved? Should It Be? Your Host Mom advice wanted….

by cv harquail on November 18, 2008

Hi Moms-

Just got this request for advice from another mom– It’s one of those questions that I find especially vexing: Can this relationship be saved? And, even before that, Should it be?   What do you think?  Here’s the story:

disgruntled au pair, resentful, au pair advice, low cost childcare I’m having a personality conflict with my au pair and am really unsure as to whether to try to work it out or cut my loses. These “conflicts” last for several days after I correct something she’s done. The first time, one of my boys indicated several times over two days that he wasn’t getting enough lunch. So, I checked to see what my au pair was putting in the lunch box. This then became that I was accusing her of starving my children and she wouldn’t speak to me for four days. This last time, she was 20 minutes late in starting in the morning. I knocked on her door to wake her up. This was the second time that week (she’s only on three mornings during the week), so I indicated if she needed help in understanding how to set her alarm clock we would help. That was four days ago. Last night – during our regular family meeting — she indicated that I discount her feelings and am unaware of her perspective on life, and that we were in crisis.

au pair advice, low cost childcare I will be the first admit that I am not a touchy feely person who solicits “friend” conversations with my au pair. I go to law school full-time and barely have enough time for my kids, much less time for a 26-year-old grown woman. I see her in passing in the morning and at the dinner table. I do thank her on an almost daily basis for doing my little girl’s hair, for taking the dog for a walk (not required to do so), for doing this or that with my kids. I say good morning, how are you doing, all the basic pleasantries. We had an au pair for two years and there were no serious conflicts at any time between us. Can it be fixed or will it just get worse?

Here’s my quick summary of the points:

  • This mom is doing her best to be kind and encouraging to her AP.
  • She has given the AP direct, specific feedback about things that need to be changed or adjusted.
  • She is conscientious about having meetings for feedback * relationship building, and (probably) doesn’t have a lot of flexible, informal time for interacting with the Au Pair.
  • The mom has some previous experience so she knows it can work and that she has been a good host mom.
  • The AP tasks in question are straightforward: making lunch and being on time. Neither one of these tasks is a "style" issue — just simple objective changes are needed.
  • On the down side– sleeping late twice in one week? Not a good sign.
  • On the plus side, the topic did come up during a family meeting.
  • The AP is a full grown adult (no teenager here).
  • She seems to have a overly dramatic reaction to criticism, both in terms of responding out of proportion and dragging things out.

two women arguing, problems with au pair relationship, can this relationship be saved? We don’t know:

  • How long the AuPair has been with the family/how much left in your year?
  • Whether the Mom is otherwise happy with the AP, her childcare approach, and her job performance.
  • Whether the kids like the AP.

Other questions we might have:

  • Does the mom actually like the AP?
  • Is the AP otherwise a nice addition to the family?
  • Any other signs of problems (low job performance, mean to kids, unsafe)?

Because my own bad experiences with APs had to do with one who was simply unwilling to try anything other than what she-was-doing-that-wasn’t-working, and another who was a drama queen, I’m a bit biased. So I want to hear what you all have to say, before I add my $.02.

Moms, help!


host dad nj November 19, 2008 at 1:46 am

My advice: REMATCH NOW. You’ve got enough on your hands with your own children without taking on another. It sounds to me that this immature and self-centered young woman is not cut out to be an au pair, and she is certainly not a positive presence in your household. I know from experience that the negativity and neediness takes a toll, and this sounds well beyond the normal ups and downs of an au pair relationship. It’s unlikely to get better.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you talk to your local au pair counselor to give her a heads up on the situation, and let her know you’re considering a re-match for specific reasons. She may reach out to the au pair, and if it makes sense, facilitate a re-match.

Good luck.

Wendy - Host mom NY November 19, 2008 at 2:57 am

Having someone in your home that you are paying to take care of your kids not speak to you for four days is not good. I think you and the au pair would be better served with a rematch.

Marguerite November 19, 2008 at 3:11 am

Another consideration – for this mom – ask your counselor ( and your friends and acquaintances ) exactly how your agency handles the rematch procedure .
Is it possible that you could have a gap in coverage at a time when you desperately need child care?
Also, will your agency ” assign ” another aupair to you or will you have to devote time and energy to reviewing profiles and interviewing people ?
Will you have to break in a new arrival at a period in your life when you are coping with heavy coursework or exams ? Most likely, you will not want this aupair train her replacement.
Also ask the counselor if there is a period of time after which all placements are final ? And finally, inquire about the financial implications of rematching. Do you have to sign on for another 12 month commitment ? Or, can you get someone who is in rematch herself ? How many people are available in rematch now through your agency ? And, would you want to do that or would you prefer to start over with someone brand new ? What is the next arrival date with your agency ? maybe.
You probably never thought about any of these things because your previous experiences were successful. Ask lots of questions. This is supposed to make your life less stressful. Only you can determine how important each aspect of the decision is to your peace of mind.
Best of luck to you – this is a hard one.

Host Mom November 19, 2008 at 11:10 am

My advice would be to let her go. The chemestry does not appear to be working, and frankly, the host mom should not have to tip toe around her 26 year old au pair worring when she will be upset and not speak to her for 4 days. I don’t think the issues can be worked out; it is a matter of personality differences; a very sensitive au pair matched with a busy, to-the-point host mom.

We sometimes forget that the au pairs are supposed to help lessening the work load and help the overall household in order for us to spend more time as a family. Sometimes it becomes all about the au pair because we (host parents) do not want to be seen / or feel that we are failing. Not all work relationships work out and it is better to cut it short.

Anonymous November 19, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Try speaking to your local counselor about explaining to the au pairs that when something is corrected it is not a “put down” on them. Some au pairs are not used to the “American” way of once it is discussed the problem is corrected then we all move on. They sometimes feel that you will always hold that against them. I had the same issue with an au pair and once we determined that she felt we were always looking for her to do something wrong we explained that although we may not always discuss the good things, the wrong things are what need attention.

Once that was out in the open, we made out a lot better. I would also tell your au pair the no speaking to you is not acceptable. She needs to communicate her feelings in order for the program and relationship to work. They have a tendency to hold everything in then up and want to leave with no discussion. It may be workth saving, but you won’t know unless she opens up and talks to you. If she won’t talk then it’s not worth your extra effort. The effort has to work both ways not just on your end.

cynthia November 20, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Am I crazy? It does not appear to me that much effort has been made on the host mother’s part at all. The very first step seems to be to take the effort to at least sit down and speak to the au pair and try to have an in depth conversation.

I had a very similar situation and I sat down with the au pair to discuss what I perceived to be “rudeness” and defensiveness. Turns out she was having a very hard time because unbeknownst to us things were going on back at her home. Had I continued ignoring the problem and letting it build up – it would have gotten worse, but instead I took the time to find out what was making her act this way.

If you don’t have the time or courtesy to speak to your au pair then you should have made arrangements for a babysitter to come to the home daily. When someone lives in the house with you – there should be some effort made to speak to her and to engage her in conversation. My guess is she feels totally alienated and is miserable.

I myself have overslept for work before – who hasn’t! It is an issue and it should be addressed with the au pair as far as being on time.

I doubt she’s a mind reader and my guess is that if she isn’t even engaged in conversation because you’re so busy – I highly doubt that you are so sweet when correcting her or asking her for something. That’s just my guess.

DC Host Mom December 8, 2008 at 2:51 pm

I agree that this is not going to jell — they have probably already moved into rematch (at least I hope they’re not still dragging it out, for everyone’s sake), but because these questions are so important and send people running to find information and feedback on the web to make sure they are not crazy or being unreasonable, that I’m going to comment even though I’m a little late because I just found this fantastic site. (I was thinking about starting a blog from this perspective but now I don’t have to, because it already exists!)

The AP does sound miserable and isolated — forgive the domestic metaphor, but she has made her own bed and is lying in it. This 4-day silent treatment thing is not tenable. We had a princess once and it was ridiculous. I had cautioned her with stark reality in describing her job, but her self image and idealism of “I can do anything for the beautiful children of the world” did not line up with the reality of having to work and take ownership of some duties, and manage two kids. Never again with a princess! Give me a hard working blue collar gal who really wants to learn as much as she can and appreciates that we are not slave drivers, even if we don’t have a perfect house or a luxury car for her to drive.

I have learned, through our various searches for APs who will mesh with our family, and having lived through a few rematches, that it is really important for HFs not to confuse age with maturity. I have a friend with a 19 year old rematch who is working out great, after replacing a 23 year old partier. This 19 year old really has her act together and isn’t afraid to work. How to screen for maturity is an important topic for another string!

Our first counselor had suggested that we only look at APs over a certain age, but following this advice we ended up at various times with the princess and then a sad sack, both of whom had a lot of personal work that needed to be done, and just didn’t have the skills/personality to handle our two kids.

And a word of hope on rematches: our favorite two au pairs have both been found through rematch, and they have both extended with us! The two weeks or so of going through a “break up” and “finding a new love” are absolute misery, and nerve wracking for the host parents. I got very little sleep or work done those weeks. As for the kids, they always seem to adapt, especially if parents are happier. As my OB told me 10 years ago in discussing childcare options: if Mom’s happy, everybody’s happy.

I have started reading more about managing staff (Harvard Business Review’s website has helpful info for “first time managers” ) and I think a lot of the research findings about how people operate in the workplace and how managers can shape their behavior and get them to do what you need done applies both to employees at the office and your AP — she’s employee/auntie/mom surrogate, but just like there’s no perfect employee, there’s no perfect AP either. Or perfect HF!

I know that personally, I tend to delegate and give my ‘staff’ a lot of leeway into how they do their job. But that style makes giving negative feedback a little trickier. Thank goodness HD is an excellent manager of staff, so he advises and also steps in when needed. I also kind of resent being in the Boss role both at work and at home — it’s not my natural comfort zone. But if I don’t really own that role, then things don’t go as well.

And don’t forget — this isn’t really for forever. I’m looking at next year, when I will have two kids at school all day, and thinking, wow, I have to figure out how to keep an AP from being completely bored.

HTH — DC Host Mom (kids 4 and 9, and AP Number Five)

Anna December 11, 2008 at 4:44 am

My personal opinion is that you should have a serious conversation with your au pair on where you stand, and spell out your expectations very clearly, and what is acceptable and not acceptable in this relationship.

I think you owe it to the commitment you both made, and to your own integrity, to lay the cards on the table and give her a chance – either take it, or rematch if you can’t live with it.

I would say to her, that in order for you to work together, silences and ignoring you is unacceptable. If she has a problem she MUST resolve it with you the same day. She wouldn’t go pouting with a real employer in a situation like that. And watching your kids is her JOB at this time, and you are both her employer and hostmom
And tell her that you expect her to be at work on time.
If she is willing to try, give her a plan, a timeline, for improving things.

I think that you should’ve addressed those issues right away, or did it throughout your stay together. Communication is key. Now if the au pair is not willing to communicate and abandon her drama queen approach, then you will have to rematch. Both of you have to work on the relationship, and if you are the only one, then its broken.

Rematch is hard. I went through that in July, but after three months of desperately doing all I can to train my au pair. I only rematched when I realized that I cannot trust her anymore with my kids, and I tried all I can. It is hard on the family, it is hard on the au pair, and (to a lesser extent), it is hard on the kids.

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