I can’t believe I’m sending this email, but I am at my wit’s end and don’t quite know where else to turn. I’ve been lurking on your blog for about 3 months, ever since we decided that an au pair situation would be a good one for us (we’re first timers).
Here’s a summary of the situation: My husband and I have two challenging full time careers, complete with demanding travel schedules. We have a 2.5 year old son, who has been in the care of a live out American nanny since he was 3 months old. We have both lived and worked overseas, and think we’re pretty culturally sensitive, as well as understanding to the challenges of working all day in a non native language. Having seen the model overseas, we liked the idea of welcoming our son’s care giver into our family, rather than treating them as an “employee”.
We selected a candidate that seems ideal on paper – she from eastern Europe, had worked in a day care facility with toddlers, seems to love children, and did a good job of “interviewing us” during the process. So I know she is here out of a genuine interest. Her spoken English is good (although I’m not sure about comprehension… more on that later). She arrived a few weeks ago, and after a few rocky first days of what seemed like a minor case of culture shock, really seems to be thriving in the family setting. She has made friends with another local au pair, and joins in family activities. She has also really worked to befriend our son, and it is obvious that he enjoys her company, energy levels and enthusiasm.
One of the areas that I haven’t seen much on the blog about (and so sorry if I’ve missed it!) (here’s one, see others below:
Ways to start orienting your New Au Pair: Some advice for the first two days) is the best way to on-board and train a new au pair – and get comfortable with the quality of child care. In our case, I had her overlap with our previous nanny for a few days, and my mom visited and helped out AP for a few days.
Here’s the (main) problem – I’m getting an earful from my mother about real safety concerns. From not holding hands when walking along a busy street or in parking lots, to turning her back on him when he’s in precarious situations, to ‘playing’ with a long string from a balloon by letting him wrap it around his neck (loosely), to food not cut into small pieces – there are stories every day. And they all seem like child care 101 kind of stuff, but also stuff that can have dire consequences.
It seems that AP is a great playmate, but maybe not so much a guardian. Some of this, I think, is due to the fact that my son is pretty verbal, and so appears more mature than he is. (She expected him to climb into the bathtub by himself, and is quizzical as to why he is not potty trained.) Some of this may also be inexperience in caring for children outside of an institutional setting.
And while I can address the issues of concern as they come up, I’m starting to panic because it isn’t just one minor behavior change that I am asking for. I’m not confident that this AP has the right mindset that she needs to have safety as her top priority (even though I have said it). And that a toddler – even one who can do and say a lot – can’t judge or protect himself from risk.
Add to that the fact that my AP is pretty confident in her own skills, sends the subtle message that I’m being a bit patronizing (she’s clearly a very bright girl), and doesn’t respond to feedback in a particularly open manner – and we have a pretty large disconnect/ tough situation brewing. My mom returns home at the end of the week, so I have some decisions to make.
1. So – my question is: what the heck do I do? How do I bring this up in a way that drives change?
2. Is it fair to restrict her to the house and backyard for some time, even though that’s not what we talked about when we interviewed? (She will have access to a car, but at this stage, there’s no way I’m letting her use it for my child even though that will upset the schedule quite a bit).
3. How do I know this is getting better when I’m not here to see it? And more generally – I see folks with young kids on the blog. How on earth do you ever get your au pair trained when you aren’t there day in and day out, and get comfortable that your child is in good, safe hands?
4. To top it off, this isn’t the only mindset change I think she will need to make. She says “no” way too much for my taste and seems to engage in battles of will, so I will have to coach her on navigating a two year old ego, too.
So I’m setting a bit of a precedent here with how I deal with this situation. Other changes can obviously come later. First I need to deal with real safety concerns, but I’m just seeing that how I handle this sets the tone for the year and that is weighing on me too.
I would love any thoughts… just as soon as you and your readers have them, or before! I’m just afraid that will be a set back for the relationship we’re trying to build.
Ways to start orienting your New Au Pair: Some advice for the first two days
Advice Wanted: How to set the right tone from Week 1
After the Car Accident: Advice on what to talk about with your Au Pair (this post has some ideas for how to talk about difficult issues in ways that build your relationship)
Extra Umbrellas and Hidden House Keys: The beauty of redundancy