Childcare vs. Child Chores: What’s a fair balance for an Au Pair?

by cv harquail on November 7, 2014

An Au Pair’s primary role is child care– as in, caring for the actual child.  

Virtually no young adult comes to the US for a year to do a kid’s laundry, make the kid’s bed, or clean splashed applesauce off the kitchen floor. While the child-related housework chores are certainly part of the tasks that an au pair might be responsible for, these sorts of chores should not be the main focus of any au pair’s work week.

You won’t find a statement that clear on an agency’s site, because it’s my opinion. Yet it’s not only my opinion, it’s how the au pair program is explained and ‘sold’ — to both au pairs and host parents.

Peg ManThat’s why, when I read this au pair’s email, below, I could imagine how a host parent could lure her/himself into thinking that au pairs could be primarily housekeepers, and at the same time I could imagine why an au pair would get upset about spending 30-35 hours a week doing housework.

The Au Pair program is a childcare program, not a way to get a housekeeper who can do a little babysitting.

It’s true that the state department rules do not delineate how much of an au pair’s week can be spent on child-related household chores vs. direct care for the child.  This is a grey area– and with grey areas, we look at the spirit of the program to guide our interpretations of what is fair or appropriate.

There are only three situations that I can think of where having an au pair do more ‘chores’ than direct ‘care’ might be appropriate:

1. If a host family and an au pair made this agreement before they matched, and the au pair did not feel pressured into agreeing, then a “non-conventional work load” – like 34 hrs of chores and 10 hours of direct care balance — would be ‘okay’. But if the host family sprung this on an au pair after the au pair matched, that would seem unfair.

2. If a host family had teenagers (i.e., children who were largely able to care for themselves) and needed mostly chauffeuring and someone around to make sure they didn’t light the house on fire,  having a large portion of the work be driving (which is, to me, less problematic than laundry or vacuuming) vs. helping the kids with homework, would seem fair to me.

(And in this case, I’d try to find ways to have the au pair and kids interact during the drive– maybe even stop at Starbucks for a drink and a chat– so that the au pair could have a person-to-person connection with the kids.)

3. Finally, if the shift in emphasis was only temporary, say- if the family was going on vacation, the au pair was staying behind, and the family found 20 hours of non-childcare but still child related tasks to do — that would seem fine.

But think about it– when we interview prospective au pair candidates, what do we look for? We host parents look for au pairs who like kids, who have values and personalities that fit with ours, and who are here for a family-centered cultural adventure.

None of us asks prospective au pairs  how well they vacuum, or what kinds of dish soap they prefer. Right?

Au Pairs are here to care for children, and to have a large part of that care be person-to-person.

Here’s the email that prompted this post– what advice do you have for this au pair?  

Also, I’m predicting he’ll be up for rematch. He seems like he’d make a *wonderful* au pair for a family who wants an au pair to interactively care for their kids.

Dear AuPairMom—

This is the start of my 4th week as an au pair. I’m looking after 4 children.

My Host dad works mon-fri 6:30 – 18:30 and my Host mom is a stay at home mom. They have had a full-time nanny for 8 years prior to my arrival. The kids ages are 5, 7, 9, 11 and they all attend school mon-fri from 8:30 – 15:30.

 My question is related to working hours. My host parents make sure that I am working the maximum of 45hrs per week. from 7am-9am, then  2pm-8pm weekdays, and 5 hours on a Saturday. Should I be performing household duties such as laundry and vacuuming an hour and a half before the kids get home from school, and continuing housework coupled with childcare duties throughout the rest of the day up until 8pm? …

I would like advice on guidelines that specify exactly what constitutes childcare work hours and if my host parents should be maximizing my 45 hrs per week by adding housework hours when the kids are at school, thus minimizing the hours of interaction with the kids relating to actual childcare.

This beautiful image by Eric Peacock is from Flickr


Should be working November 7, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Homework, play, bathing/bedtime and driving (not mentioned, but how can 4 kids NOT need a lot of driving) are a LOT of kid-contact. I have trouble believing that this is max 10 hrs/week.

For kids older than toddlers, and definitely older than 8 or so, the au pair doesn’t so much “play with the kids” as help them out, organize them, engage with them, talk to them. We are getting to the point that I’m having ethical quandaries over the next few yrs, when our youngest kids will be 10 and 14. The au pair is not really a playmate, certainly not for the teen, but still she is an important part of their lives.

So I’m not sure I totally see this AP’s side of the story. For instance kid laundry–even for 4 kids twice a week–just doesn’t take that long with “modern technology”. I have trouble seeing it last longer than 2-3 hrs/week, including time spent folding. And it seems to me that the AP’s job would be not to clean up everything for every kid’s room every day, but to HELP THE KID do that cleaning.

Still, it sounds like this family has a SAHM who wants to have the kid-related time and cedes more of the chores to the AP. If the AP is cleaning up meals that he didn’t cook or eat, that seems wrong to me, except on a very occasional basis.

I would frame this to the HPs as you wanting to help the kids develop more self-help skills and spending more quality time with them by turning all that play-area and room-cleaning into shared activity with kids. You can’t just ask to go outside and play soccer with them if the HPs want the indoor space tidied and it is kid-related. But you can make it part of your AP job to join in with kids in cleanup. I would LOVE it if my AP would do less of the cleanup herself and enlist the kids more in it.

WarmStateMomma November 7, 2014 at 11:57 pm

It’s really hard to gauge how much time is needed to do the housework the AP describes. For example, I can get three times as much done in an hour as my husband even though he *thinks* he’s working hard…. The amount of time we schedule the AP for chores depends more on the AP than the chores assigned. If our AP thought that using a machine to wash or dry laundry was a time-consuming task, we’d probably have to schedule a lot more hours to cover the AP’s leisurely pace. OTOH, maybe it’s a family of slobs, their laundry must be done by hand, or there is some other reason laundry and cleaning truly takes 35 hours per week. We just can’t know.

I also wonder if the AP is counting the homework, bathing and bedtime routine as part of his 10 hours of child care/interaction (in which case, he sounds really efficient at those tasks with 4 kids!!), or as the housework? In my mind, the homework, bathing and bedtime routine are all “child care” rather than housework.

DowntownMom November 8, 2014 at 12:45 am

This is very interesting. Several of my female au pairs enjoyed doing gardening over spending time with the kids or doing childcare-related chores. it drove me nuts, because I am a stickler regarding rules, and most importantly because my kids got ignored. I honestly think they would have preferred being gardeners or housekeepers over caring for kids!

Always Hopeful HM November 8, 2014 at 1:15 am

Oh boy. In my view, the AP is mixing the idea what is expected of a babysitter with what is expected of one providing home child care. To me, taking care of the child means helping with homework, keeping up with laundry, making sure the kids keep their rooms clean, clearing the dirty kitchen after messing it, etc. Of course, it also includes fun stuff like going to the park and playing catch in the back yard, but if all I needed was someone to play with my child and stand nearby so he didmt catch fire, I wouldn’t have an au pair– I’d have a babysitter.

As others said, it’s hard to gauge how much time all these chores take. From the description of hours, though it appears that possibly OP is being overscheduled? (Sounds like 45 hours + up to an additional 10 while kids are in school. Did I get that right?) that definitely illegal and a recipe for burnout, so I would start there in addressing the issues with the HF. On the issue of chores generally, I would say you’ll have to accept it to some extent, or match with a family with very young children who need such constant attention that there’s no time for chores or other aspects of care. Kids generate mess, and 4 kids are going to necessarily leave a TON of mess in their wake.

MidwestHostMom November 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm

From the post, it sounds like this is a very normal au pair schedule for a family with kids in school. OP works M-F from 7-9am (with kids leaving for school at 8:30am) and then again from 2-8pm (with kids arriving from school at 3:30pm), and 5 hours on Saturday. This leaves 2 scheduled hours per day M-F for child-related chores without direct contact with the children.

The list of chores seems to be child-related, and 10 hours per week seems to be a reasonable amount of time to accomplish what is listed, as long as the person has some familiarity with how to accomplish the chores.

Perhaps there is an issue with the division of duties between the OP and HM during the times when the children are home? But that doesn’t seem to be what was presented. To echo another poster, there is a difference between providing home child care and being a babysitter/playmate — especially with kids aged 5, 7, 9, and 11 years old.

cv harquail November 8, 2014 at 12:18 pm

the issue is 10 hours of kid interaction vs. 35 hours of chores (seems you might think it’s the other way around).

AlwaysHopeful HM November 8, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Maybe the mom can split the kids with the au pair, so each spends time with them, and mom can have some of the coveted one on one time kids crave. I guess part of my confusion is in understanding why the chores are taking so long. It may be that the mom is taking the kids off of OP’s hands to give him space to finish up the assigned chores? Or that the non-kid time was added to the schedule to accommodate that? I agree that it would be a drag to spend all day everyday on the grunt end of childcare, but the chores themselves don’t seem excessive, so maybe it’s a mater of talking to he HP to develop ways of being more efficient. It’s also not clear what OP considers a chore. Is it just the twice-weekly laundry, daily tidying, and cooking once a week, or does it include “homework duty, play duty, and bathing/ getting kids ready for bed”? To me, the only thing that sounds non-child related is cooking dinner, but once weekly sounds like just being part of the family to me. Maybe there’s some other dynamic at play here…? I’m really struggling to out my finger on just how OP ended up with a 35/10 imbalance, given the info presented.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 8, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Admittedly, I only have one kid, so maybe I just dont have a good sense of how much work each kid adds…

CAmom22 November 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I am also confused by how the AP might be defining the 10 hours “child-related” time and the 35 hours “housework-related” time. Mostly because I can’t see 35 hours of housework based on what is described. It sounds like the morning shift (7-9) might involve getting kids ready and taking them to school (an 8:30 start, the description reads) and the afternoon shift as described starts only 1.5 hours before school ends. Since he is then involved with homework, play and getting kids ready for bed I don’t see how it’s possible to have only 10 hours max with child interaction given the info provided. Unless the definition of child interaction as some have noted above involves play only and not the getting ready, doing homework, driving, etc… And based on chore descriptions I can’t imagine how those could take 35 hours/week. Maybe we just need more information?

NewbieAuPair November 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm

I have a similar problem. I’m not in the States, so there are no rules about what jobs I can/cannot do, or the hours.

I find I spend the majority of my on duty time (and much of my off duty time, because if I don’t it piles up) doing the entire family’s laundry. I also cook dinner every night I am on duty (Mon-thurs, every other Saturday). Every evening after dinner, the parents read the kids a story and put them to bed whilst I stack the dishwasher/ do the dishes/ wipe the table. I also have to clean the floors (sweep/ mop/ vacuum) once a week, and ensure that all rooms (except parents room and study) are kept clean and tidy.

At the weekends, when I am off duty, the parents tell me to go out and enjoy myself, and every time I return I find that they have been out with the kids doing fun stuff, without me. The weekends I haven’t gone out, they just stay in. It feels like I am sent out on purpose, to save money when they go out as a family, and that I am not part of the family. It is really disappointing because in the handbook I received when I arrived, it said I would be part of the family and join them on day trips and holidays. Whenever I return home, I find the house (which I left clean and tidy) in an absolute mess (toys everywhere, food left out etc), and have to clean it up, even though I was not on duty when the mess happened.

When I approach the family about this, they tell me I am here to make their lives easier. I do understand this, but being I am being employed as an au pair, for below minimum wage, and not as a maid or housekeeper which is what I think they actually need.

Julia November 20, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Are you me? Because you basically described my au pair life, and I’m about to quit. That’s not what I came here for.
Well, also, my children don’t listen to me because the parents undermine my authority and then act surprised. Yeah, if you only heard the last sentence of my conversation with your little princess where I tell her off for the things she said to me when you were out of earshot, and you tell me off for it, your kids won’t take me seriously anymore.

katie December 3, 2014 at 3:47 pm

GET OUT NOW! They’re exploiting you. You’re an au pair, not a maid or a nanny.

TexasHM November 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm

I almost wonder if the issue is more around having the mom home all the time. He says “My Host mom is at home nearly all the time and she seems to be more involved in the childcare side of things, while I’m mostly doing housework related to the children once they return from school”.

If that means when the kids get home from school mom plays with them and interacts with them and AP is expected to shadow and do all the cleanup I could see why AP could feel more like a housekeeper than a childcare provider. Not passing judgment, just saying I could see how he might feel he was misled from an experience perspective if he thought he was going to be sole caregiving at least some of the time and now really isn’t.

I would also think that would make it tough to bond with the kids which would also probably exacerbate him feeling like a second class citizen in the household. As far as starting chores before kids are home = totally fine and normal for a school age household AP.

I think what may be abnormal is the being more of a full time mothers helper than independent AP role. Would love it if the original poster could give a little more context there.

NJ Mama November 8, 2014 at 5:29 pm

I agree that it sounds like he may be shadowing the mom and doing all the cleanup/heavy lifting, which is different than what my AP does and very different I think from what most APs expect to do. My AP tidies up, cleans up after breakfast and dinner (but just for the kids b/c my H and I are rarely there then), helps with homework (although my kids are 8 and 11 and are pretty independent), and does laundry — but she’ll often fold while hanging with the kids, which is completely fine with me and actually kind of sweet.

Also I will say that he does a lot more household work than I have my AP do for my two kids. For example — it sounds like he has to keep the kids’ rooms clean every day, vacuum them twice a week and vacuum the common areas every day. I have my AP encourage my kids to keep their own rooms clean and pick up after themselves, and also my kids put away their own laundry (although they will often let it pile up and do it once a week. But at least they do it).

My AP doesn’t change the bedding — I have a cleaning lady who comes in every other week and does that. I guess I should do it more often but I don’t. Changing bedding once a week on four beds — it’s more than just washing and folding clothes. I do the vacuuming but just once a week — I dunno, maybe we’re slobs in comparison to this family? Four kids is a lot but the youngest is 5 — i.e., the mess shouldn’t be as bad as chasing a bunch of toddlers.

There are definitely times when my AP is on the clock in the morning and evening and I let her take the lead in getting kids ready for school and ready for bed — especially if I still have work to do from home. But there are also times when I jump and we do it together, or I take over. I”m away from my kids all day so I enjoy this. So with my AP there is more of a give and take when she’s on the clock and I’m home. Also if my H gets home from work early he’ll often cut the AP loose for the same reasons. If there isn’t any kind of give and take I can see the AP becoming resentful.

Also it’s unclear if he’s doing everyone’s laundry and cleaning up after everyone after the meals, or just the kids. That’s a big difference.

One thing that really jumps out at me is that if the kids aren’t expected to pick up after themselves, then the role is very different. Even the 5-year-old can certainly help pull the sheets and blankets up on his/her bed and then have the AP help finish making it so it looks nice. That’s also much more of an interactive thing. I wouldn’t know how to bring this up to the host parents though — that could be a touchy subject if the host family brought in the AP largely to have him shadow the mom and help keep the house clean.

I will also end on this note – as much as I say that I try to have my kids be more independent — and they are great at doing certain things — I know we could do a lot better in this department. I still feel like I and the AP do too much for them. Especially when we’re rushing around I can be incredibly impatient and more in a “I’m just going to do it myself” mode. It’s something I’m always struggling with, and if I figure this one out I’ll let you all know lol!

Seattle Mom November 10, 2014 at 8:48 pm

I had the same reaction to this post. It sounds like he’s doing all the cruddy parts of the AP job without getting the rewarding parts- the relationship with the children. From what I can tell it’s more difficult to build relationships with older children in general, but if the mother is always there then it must be much harder.

So I don’t think the problem is the chores or hours per se, just that he got a bum deal and doesn’t get to hang out with the kids without mom around.

5kids=aupair November 9, 2014 at 1:59 am

What’s nice is that the AP actually sounds like he would like more interaction with the kids. I am in in a similar situation with 5 kids, most school aged. Since the kids aren’t around as much, there is less kid-time. I do think that one of the keys of larger families is “divide and concur” so he could suggest that he takes care of the boys while she the girls, or some other rotating breakdown each night. He could suggest that he ride bikes with the kids after dinner, or practices soccer, or drives kid #3 to dance, etc. With multiple kids, there must be some opportunities for more one-on-one time with the kids, even in the limited after school hours. Sometimes I have our AP take some faction of the kids to the park or the library or even out for ice cream. I suggest to this AP that he makes lots of suggestions such as this and frame it as bonding time with the kids since they’re in school all day. Hopefully this will begin to gain him more child time and less work time.

AmericanAP in Germany November 9, 2014 at 7:02 am

I was in a situation where I was doing a lot of non-child care related cleaning (dusting, vaccuming all rooms including host parents’ bed room, toilet scrubbing, floor washing etc), in addition to the normal homework help and playing with kids, which put me well over my weekly hours. That was too much, what OP is describing here really isn’t. I completely get that it’s frustrating to do be doing housework if you’d rather spend time with the kids. But honestly, it doesn’t sound like he’s being asked to do anything non-child related. I’m sure his host mom would appreciate that he wants to spend more time with the kids, and perhaps he could frame it to her in that way, but overall if he’s not going over his hours and not doing non-child related cleaning, I don’t think he has much to stand on. Even though I get where he is coming from.

NbhostmOm November 9, 2014 at 9:55 am

The question I’d really like answered is, what was the AP promised up front during matching? Reading between the lines, this appears to me to be a mismatch between expectations and reality. I know a few APs with similar arrangements and they’re quite happy. The thing is, these HPs were quite upfront about the role during matching and searched for someone who was happy to tackle a lot of child related housework. I’m wondering if the posting AP didn’t get a clear description of the day to day expectations from the HPs during matching?

Peachtree Mom November 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

I agree with the earlier statement of divide and conquer. Often times after dinner I sit down with our daughter to do homework and our aupair will clean up. If the homework is difficult to understand esp the math worksheets I can wade through the ambiguous instructions while our aupair cannot. It makes no sense for the two of us to sit at the table. If the homework is easy, I clean up and just check the homework later. Sometimes divide and conquer is the way to go.

old au pair mom November 9, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Once it is made clear that all the kids are in school full time, a prospective AP should realize h/she will be devoting time to tasks w/o the kids present. Not all AP families use the full 45 hours but many do, scheduling the AP for an hour or 2 w/o kids to catch up on laundry, finish up kitchen chores or general tidy. This seems very reasonable and even thoughtful. As a stay at home mom for many years, I know it is hard to accomplish tasks when the kiddos are home and (at least in my case, bouncing and skateboarding down the halls). For your upcoming discussion with the LAR how about suggesting that the kids help with their laundry, pull off their sheets (really tons of fun for the littles and esp. good muscle engagement for the ADHD kiddo before school). Definitely toss their own pullups and it sounds like a kid chore chart might help with productivity and kiddo independence and engaging with the kids while getting the chores done.
Stay at home moms should make APs aware that theirs might not be the typical AP household and how it might be different.

ex AuPair November 10, 2014 at 10:03 am

Even with the follow up I still don’t think this is a question of “how many child care related chores are fair” but more of a “how well should you know what you are getting into” question. (tl;dr Before matching make sure that both sides are on the same page when it comes to how much childcare and childcare related chores are required.)

I was an au pair for four (12, 10 & 8 years, 15 months).
The three oldest had fairly full schedules with school (one leaving at 6.30 am, the middle two at 9 am; one returning at 3 pm, the other two at 4 pm) plus sports (basketball, baseball, softball, ballet, cross country) plus music lessons (trumpet, piano) plus wanting to meet their friends (including driving them there and back again) plus orthodontist appointments (for two) PLUS a toddler who was home all day with no time to do chores alone but still being expected to
– supervise homework
– helping with school projects (and showing up for at least six different show&tells)
– doing laundry (for three who never even wore their pjs twice plus one who had leaky diapers at least once a week)
– picking up after the kids (one play area for the little one in the family room plus a “kids only” basement plus den)
– family chores (keeping the kitchen clean, loading/unloading dishwasher, getting the mail, taking out trash, vacuuming, cleaning girl’s bathroom)
– cooking lunch for the toddler, preparing a snack for all four, cooking dinner for all of us (incl. HPs) about once or twice a week.
Plus of course… caring for a toddler 45+ hours each week (going to story time, to the park, to the playground, to the zoo, changing diapers, playdates, swimming).

I swear I was not Mary Poppins! I was a regular 19 year old with mediocre childcare experience. And a very straight forward host family that provided a very straight forward schedule and set of rules:
7 am to 5 pm
all kids need to be alive and accounted for when host parents return
good luck
(bonus: all kids were in school on time, dressed appropriately, are fed, watered and homework is done, dog has been walked, no more than one in time-out, also house is not on fire)

“Should I be performing household duties such as laundry and vacuuming an hour and a half before the kids get home from school, and continuing housework coupled with childcare duties throughout the rest of the day up until 8pm?”

If they are child related chores (e.g. kids’ laundry, vacuuming kids’ rooms)… why not? While 1 1/2 hours sounds like a lot, with four rooms plus two play areas plus two bath rooms that does sound about the time it would need to do that. I’d rather get that done and over with while the kids are still at school than when they are back home. APs who watch younger kids who are home all day will do chores like these while performing their childcare duties and/or while the kids nap. At least AP in this case can do these jobs in peace and quiet without supervising homework by the side.

“My Host mom is at home nearly all the time and she seems to be more involved in the childcare side of things, while I’m mostly doing housework related to the children once they return from school.”

That’s why SAHMs have an AP, no? For the extra set of hands?
I think it’s great that HM is involved in childcare! They are her children in the end. With two people at home (HM & AP) there are two adults to share the workload. AP isn’t allowed to drive yet so of course HM is the one to take the kids to practice. She is probably happy the other three don’t have to tag along (unless she can drop them off / pick them up on the way) and AP is home to supervise the rest. But as in every situation, the new person (AP) will end up with whatever the old person (HM) likes least about her job.

Also, what are “housework related chores” when the kids are back? After 1 1/2 hours of cleaning before the kids return all that I can come up with is maybe finishing laundry (moving to dryer or folding) and picking up after the kids just that moment (wiping table after a snack, loading cups that have just been used into the dishwasher) or fixing snacks / dinner. All this can be done together with the kids or with their help even. The kids are old enough to help AP prepare dinner.

I don’t see how that can even be an issue. AP cannot drive (likely due to HP’s insurance issues if I may take a guess) YET. Nowhere do I read that AP may never drive. HM is obviously home all day and the kids should be in school between 9 am and 3 pm or so – if AP hasn’t yet approached HM to schedule driving training for AP during these kids-free hours then AP should. What does AP do in their free time (9 to 2) there is no possibility in these five hours to get some driving practice or prepare to get a US driving license?

Pull-ups and ADHD?
I do have an issue with this as I always have an issue with HFs (and APs) not disclosing health issues. But has AP tried to make the kids throw away their own pull ups? I assume an 11 year old will go to the bathroom first thing in the morning (to wash up), there is no way to get the child to change and throw away a pull up in the bathroom? Has this been talked about (with HPs and oldest kids)?
Plus, I’d rather have an 11 year old in pull ups and use 30 seconds to throw them away (no need to even touch them, pick them up with a laundry bag) than changing wet bed linens every morning. Takes a lot more time to wash bedding every day.

“Oldish” host kids being babied?
Cultural differences. Even just family differences. I have babysat 10 year olds who couldn’t even brush their teeth alone. I have babysat 5 year olds who were pretty much self sufficient (including making sandwiches). My older US kids were all three extremely well raised (really just needed some supervision and someone to make sure they didn’t kill each other) and independent, while my friend’s 8 year old host child wasn’t even allowed to cross the road alone to go to the school play ground or to go to school in the mornings with her watching from the door.

Thing is, what kind of work environment did AP expect before arrival (excluding the ADHS/pull ups problem)?

Kids that age are at school “all day”. APs with kids who are at school will often have a split working day, getting them ready in the morning and welcoming them home in the afternoon. You can only interact with a child that is home. There will be less interaction with a child who is at school from 8.30 to 3.30 than with a child who is home all day.
I’m more astonished that it only takes 10 hours to supervise four kids doing homework, playing with them and getting them ready for bed.

“7am-9am, then 2pm-8pm”
So 1 1/2 hours with kids in the morning (waking them up, supervising breakfast, getting them ready for school?), 1/2 hour to pick up after kids are gone, 1 1/2 hours child related chores in the afternoon and then childcare, coupled with doing chores for another 4 1/2 hours. Assuming HM isn’t dragging all four kids along all afternoon, I don’t see how this can only be 10 hours of childcare a week?

1 1/2 hours in the morning is 7 1/2 hours already.
Plus homework duty – say 1/2 hour per day (which sounds a tad little for four) is 10 hours.
Plus play “duty” (playing with host kids is not “play duty”, it’s part of providing childcare) of maybe another 30 minutes? Is 12 1/2 hours already.
What about Saturdays? During the five hours AP works on Saturdays, is there absolutely no contact with the kids? Just cleaning?

Unless HM takes all four kids with her whenever she takes one to practice (which I find unlikely or would at least find extremely strange) I don’t see how that can be all even. AP might hardly ever have all four at home at the same time but that sounds great to me, actually! There were days where I would have loved to have a second driver at home who could just have helped meet everybody’s needs. There would have been so many fewer “No, I can’t take you to X’s place. Baby is napping.” or “No, we can’t go to the park, Y has baseball practice and now we need to all get in the car to pick him up.”

APs may work up to 45 hours a week. If that’s what a HF needs, that is what they will schedule. With four school-aged kids, a fairly full schedule is to be expected.

Excluding the ADHD/pull up situation… I don’t think AP and HPs communicated their needs, wishes and expectations clearly enough. AP seems not to have been aware of the amount of childcare related chores the HPs expected (or maybe just not aware of the time it takes to do these). HPs seem not to have been aware that AP though being an au pair meant babysitting only.

AP might feel better in a family where both parents work and a child is not yet in school. AP might feel more “au pair like” with full and sole responsibility and 45 hours of having a child at home. Though AP should expect childcare chores to be similar. While I know that some HFs don’t require their AP to do anything, most will require some chores, even if they are just child related (cleaning kids’ rooms, kids’ laundry, kids’ bathrooms) and picking up after yourself and the kids (fixing breakfast/lunch/snacks, un-/loading dishwasher etc.). Being the only adult at home during the day usually means doing more chores rather then fewer but AP might be able to find a HF with a cleaning lady of course.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 10, 2014 at 10:06 am

I wondered if, by “dispose of, OP actually meant “tend to the diaper genie” rather than “pull the disposable undergarments’t off of a typically-developing nine year old and throw them away.” I can imagine if I were an AP that I would be unhappy with the former, but it is part of the job. I might be completely unwilling to do the latter, as it seems to cross boundaries I would want to approach.

NoVA Twin Mom November 10, 2014 at 11:16 am

That makes a lot more sense. Hopefully you’re right :)

anonforthisone November 10, 2014 at 10:34 am

Not to sound sexist, but I wonder if some of the gripe here is related to gender. It seems to me that this young man may have come here expecting to spend most of his time playing soccer and riding bikes with the kids. Now he is placed in a role that most HMs are very familiar with – coralling children while trying to keep the house from imploding! There’s a reason not many HMs are chiming in to sympathize (welcome to our world LOL) If he came from a home where his Mom did all this without Dad (or kids) help, he may be seeing for the first time what it really means to be “on par”.

I know some EU APs complain occasionally about doing tons of housework, but I’ve yet to hear any female US APs complain about this (appropriate) level of kid related tasks…

Returning HM November 10, 2014 at 11:16 am

We are on our third male AP (after 6 years of hosting females), and honestly, this sounds a lot like our job except that we have two children. Our 10 year old still has to be taken to pee every night at 10pm, otherwise he will absolutely pee in his bed (and does so maybe 2-3x a month anyway). He is developmentally delayed, but his neuro-typical older sister needed to be taken until she was nearly 9. Apparently my husband wet his bed until 12 and his mother until she was 14, and they were both typically developing. Having weak bladder control at night has nothing to do with poor parenting or coddling. The only “choice” I make here as a parent is not to shame my child for needing to pee but instead openly address it as something that is not their fault and totally normal given their family history. This also has nothing to do with when a child is ready for daytime toilet training.

Because of this issue, it does mean our male AP has to wash pee-soaked sheets if our son pees on one of the nights I am away for work. He has never once complained about this but sees this as another part of his job. He is also super speedy about putting the laundry in and switching it over (all while the children are not at home, mostly while he is making himself his huge breakfast and lunch that he cooks each day), and he will fold when our son is working on his HW later this afternoon. Laundry doesn’t have to be the entire day’s activity if you get a system going for it.

I do think there may be a gender component going on with the OP’s complaints, and this was my biggest fear with hosting a male AP. Fortunately, we haven’t had this issue at all with our three.

Last thing: I think it’s easy when you don’t have children or when your children are young to think “Oh I am never going to be the kind of mom who *schedules* my child so much,” but once your children hit 10 and 12, as mine are, it’s very hard NOT to have some kind of scheduled activity after school. In our case, with our son, it’s speech therapy, occupational therapy, and social skills, not to mention swimming lessons and special needs soccer (all extremely important for his development). For our daughter, she is a competitive swimmer as her greatest passion in the world, and there is no middle ground in swimming at her age and level: you either swim 5-6 practices a week, or you don’t participate in the team. Add in HW and practicing her instrument (required by her school), plus Hebrew school one day a week, and that is a fully packed schedule that has her gone from home all except about a half hour between 7am and 9pm most days of the week. I don’t think this is unusual at all for athletes, to be honest, and certainly, the life of driving to and from therapy appts is par for the course with anyone who has or cares for a child with special needs.

This poor family may not have done a good job of screening their AP and making sure he understood, in advance of matching, the realities of caring for older children who are athletic or who have other passions or needs going on. Our APs get to see and talk through the schedule well in advance of deciding to match with us, which means they come in with eyes wide open about how much time they will or won’t have for free play and riding bikes. For the most part, our job is a whole load of driving, waiting in waiting rooms, waiting outside the pool for pickup, cooking, wiping counters, sorting laundry, being read out loud to, and overseeing homework. Tomorrow is a day off from school, and our AP will sit on the floor for hours I am sure and play legos with our son, but that happens only once a month or so, on a closed-school day. Welcome to the world of AP’ing older children. If an AP wants to play soccer with his host children all day or ride bikes all morning, then it would be wise to pick a family with much younger children who are home all day and not yet involved in organized sports and activities.

Christina November 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm

We still have young children and I work outside the home, so our au pair gets a lot of kid time. But, I did take note during our last meeting with our au pair coordinator that she gives out a sheet to host families for suggestions on ways to fill the 45 hours if it is not all used for child care — and it included laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc. It seems clear that her expectation is that you’d use all 45 hours even if you don’t need child care for 45 hours.

I don’t think that is unreasonable given that you are agreeing to 45 hours.

I also think that part of the issue here is working in a family with a stay at home parent. I would think that would be a real challenge and may give the au pair the feeling of getting the short end of the stick by being stuck doing those things that the HP doesn’t want to do. So, I can see that perspective as well.

I haven’t crossed that bridge yet of not filling the 45 hours with non-child care.

TexasHM November 10, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I have to be honest, I was withholding judgment round one and trying to put both sets of shoes on and consider every angle but now seeing the OP response I am disappointed. I felt like the tone was combative, immature and judgmental. I read all the comments previous to the second response and I didn’t see any that “took the HPs side” exclusively which also happens to be an immature accusation btw. The posters (both APs and HFs) on this site do an exceptional job for the most part of reserving judgment, being constructive and putting themselves in others shoes with the end goal of resolving problems and becoming better (APs and HFs) and just because you didn’t get a chorus of validation does not give you any right to criticize the advice/responses you got after posters took the time to read your story, think about their advice/experiences and share whatever they thought might be useful to you.
The vast majority of added context in your second response is useless and judgmental. I started originally feeling bad for you because I thought they may have misrepresented the role (intentionally or unintentionally – I figured the latter) but after reading your second response I feel sorry for your HF. The AP program is not easy for either side and as HFs, we open our homes to APs which is a very vulnerable thing to do. We open ourselves up for criticism of our home (how big, kids getting own rooms, how much stuff we have, clothing usage), our kids (brats, difficult, whatever someone who has never had a child wants to say about them), and ourselves (parenting choices, decisions, interactions, “poor discipline”).
To answer your actual question no, your host family is doing nothing wrong. Everything they are doing is well within the bounds of the AP program and common in school age households. They absolutely can and should use the full 45 hours per week if they need them and everyone agreed to that coming in. Yes, they probably could have given you a better picture of what life in their household is like but you also mentioned they are a first time HF and its extremely difficult to frame this job for an incoming AP when you have never had one. In fact, our handbook and job description changes with every single AP we get! We also don’t allow the AP to drive until they have a state license for a myriad of reasons (many mentioned above).
So, if you want to have a constructive conversation these are the things I would discuss further if I were you:
Have you attempted to get a state license? If not, why not? What (if any) help is needed from your host family to accomplish that and have you asked them for that help?
Are you willing to constructively work toward resolving the current issues? (That does not mean changing their schedules or lifestyle, it means you adapting to their household with perhaps some adjustment on their part in areas they approve ex: having kids get more involved in chores)
If you are not making an effort and don’t desire to make an effort then this entire exercise is a waste of time. It sounds like your mind is already made up and you were looking for validation. In that case I will give you validation that you are not a good match, nothing more.

Returning HM November 10, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I, too, hadn’t said a word the first time around because I thought there were gray areas, but the “added context” posting really did add the needed context and laid bare an attitude that seems both judgmental and inflexible. That said, it seems very likely that the HF, being new to hosting, did not do a good job of explaining their job in advance to this AP. They may not have even realized how much they needed to spell out what “time with and caring for children” looks like in their house, because of having had the same nanny for eight years.

Host Mom X November 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I still think I haven’t heard enough of both sides here to make a judgment, so I’m withholding mine generally, but I will echo that it does sound to me that the host family may not have accurately portrayed what they were looking for in and expected of their AP during the matching process. This doesn’t mean that the AP shouldn’t necessarily make an effort to try to work with the family’s situation (I don’t want to be too much of a pessimist, but it is harder for male APs to find families in rematch than for female APs), but I can see from his perspective that this may have been a bit of a (likely unintentional) bait-and-switch.

We started hosting APs after having had a nanny, and we did a TERRIBLE job of explaining the job to our first AP during the matching process, we did a terrible job of Skype-screening, and we ended up in rematch because we ended up with an AP who wasn’t cut out for and didn’t want to do the job, in our case a full 45 hours of toddler and baby care (I wouldn’t describe it as a bait and switch for us, but we have since converted to a “dare to match” family and we send out the whole shebang of handbook documents in our first emails now. If a candidate reads it or tries to read it and has questions – great! If a candidate doesn’t even bother, we move on. I am happy to say we recently matched with a new AP for whom we have high hopes based on this process.).

Anyway – back to the issue at hand. I can just imagine the Skype interviews that took place here. The AP above says “They felt that the Nanny hadn’t paid much attention to the kids and that a change was needed, a new burst of energy. However, now they don’t have a full-time housekeeper anymore, only me as an au pair, hence the issue at hand.” Reading between the lines, the family probably got on Skype with this AP and had a great conversation with him – he probably told them all about how he loves kids, loves to play sports with them, run around with them, etc. – and the family probably explained exactly what the AP wrote above: that they needed “a new burst of energy” because their current nanny was more of a housekeeper and didn’t really interact with the kids much now that they are older and don’t need hands-on baby and toddler care. And they probably clicked really well and the host family thought “this guy will be GREAT for our kids!” and the AP probably thought “this family sounds so fun and busy – I’ll have a great time with these kids!” So it likely was natural that this AP expected that the host family wanted less of a housekeeper and more of a companion for their kids – a contrast to the prior nanny. But on the other hand, the host family – in particular the host mom, since she’s the one at home – probably didn’t really fully imagine what exactly it was they wanted. The host mom may not have realized just how much she had come to rely on the nanny for the housekeeping aspects of her childcare duties. She may have thought that an AP – being young and energetic – would just take on what the nanny did but ALSO supply needed energy and fun. Honestly, I can say that having for so many years now relied on APs, nannies, and cleaning services, I have less of a realistic idea of just how MUCH I rely on these essential helpers in my life. For instance, because we emphasize to our APs that we want our kids to take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves, and therefore our APs’ role should be to direct our kids in clean-up, but not do it herself, I assume that this is what’s happening. (And we enforce that behavior on the weekends.) But – it could be that our APs do a lot more of the clean-up than we think, and we’d never know until we got an AP that worked differently. In this case, the host mom may just be going about doing what she had always done in her household, and hasn’t sat down yet to figure out how to allow this AP to actually add that “burst of energy” that she wanted, while still helping out with the essential “grunt work” of maintaining a household with four active kids.

So – I don’t see this situation as unsalvage-able. I think that a lot of the suggestions made above could work really well. If this AP asks the host parents to sit down with him and have a talk about how he thinks he could “add value” as we say in the business world to the “burst of energy” component, while maybe also helping him figure out more efficient strategies for dealing with the “grunt work,” including ideas about helping the kids develop more responsibility for these tasks – things could really change for the better. The AP would feel more fulfilled in his job, the family would truly benefit from the AP’s desire to spend time with the kids – which is presumably why they switched to him from the nanny in the first place, and there would be open lines of communication for the future and possibly a great year.

I would just add (sorry, I know this post is really long already), that a friend of mine who recently welcomed her first AP called me with what I’d call a “usual” list of newbie host family concerns, and she seemed ready for re-match. And I even agreed, based on her concerns, that rematch was likely the only way out. But – I did suggest that she first just sit and write out her issues in an email to her LCC (to document, as those on this site have always suggested, but also to organize her thoughts and identify the true issues), and then have a focused conversation with the AP (and of course, read this site from top to bottom!). I didn’t think it would work, because some of the issues sounded egregious. But she said this talk made a world of difference, the AP opened up and asked many questions, they clarified a whole list of things, and the situation turned around 100%. Now I have a newfound respect for the “re-set” conversation. And maybe that is just what is needed here, but to be initiated by the AP.

Should be working November 10, 2014 at 4:54 pm

I love turnaround stories!! I always wonder if they really ever happen, or what proportion of attempts at turnaround succeed. Turnaround seems so unlikely in the HP/AP dynamic, because hackles get raised, feathers ruffled, resentments entrenched, and it is hard to give things a genuine reboot. But I love if it happens.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 11, 2014 at 7:19 am

Returning HM, you said everything I needed to hear in your posts yesterday! Between reminding me that my son is not the only child older than 3 who still occasionally wets his bed (he’s 7) and THAT’S OKAY, and learning that it’s possible to have not just one, but 3 (!!) turnaround situations that worked out– at a time that i desperately need things to turn around– you really made my day!!!!

TexasHM November 11, 2014 at 10:04 am

I suspect it’s directly correlated to attitude and effort. If AP (or HF) is struggling but has the right attitude and is willing to put forth an effort I think almost anything can be turned around. We’ve had a few bumps in the road where I agonized over having the conversation but did and things were almost immediately resolved then I felt silly for getting so worked up about it. Returning HM have you found that to be the case?

ExperiencedHM November 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Wow, talk about harsh and negative. Seems like you put a whole lot of judgement out there.

As far as I know having an Au Pair is about taking a young foreign national into your home and integrating them into your culture and family life, all while allowing them to care for your children as a role model. Sure this includes housework related to the children, but from your response it seems like you’re dead set on being an employer and getting your monies worth. Don’t try and read between the lines and formulate your own story as if you know everything about this OP and the HF.

As readers we won’t know the full story, and from what he says, he just wants some clarity on the role of an au pair vs the role of a nanny/housekeeper/babysitter. That seems fair enough to ask and does not create an argument.

happyhostmom November 11, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Adding in a late reply, but I agree with Experienced HM. I think that the situation he is in was born out of a lack of communication, experience and different expectations. The fact that he wants to get to know the kids better and be more of a True Au Pair (as in On par with the family) speaks volumes to me. It sounds like as a first time HF perhaps they didn’t know how to explain their family as well. And again, as an AP, sometimes you may not know what to expect with being an AP. It is his first time doing it, and sometimes things get lost in translation. There are some AP’s, as PP’s said that prefer this family’s situation. It may just be a mismatch. To the OP I applaud your efforts to reach out on here and get some advice/perspective and also for reaching out to your LCC. I hope things work out for you and your family and please keep us posted.

NZ HM November 23, 2014 at 5:02 am

The family and your job certainly didn’t sound like fun… I wish you all the best for your search and it’s great you can take something positive away from the comments and opinions on here! Maybe the one good thing about a bad situation: you learn a lot about yourself, your limits and your priorities; and about a bad aupair situation: you now know about all the things you should / could ask! Use it wisely. Good luck.

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