Classic Case: Your childcare needs are not your Au Pair’s priority

by cv harquail on December 29, 2010

There are several situations that host parents and au pairs seem to see over and over. Each time, the situation has its own particular details, and it is happening to a host parent or au pair who feels the problems acutely and specifically. And yet, the situation has an underlying issue that we see time and again. It seems that with so many of these specific problems, once we sweep away the details we can see the right action to take.

Often when I get emails from host parents (or au pairs), the issue they have is one we’ve seen and addressed before. In the back of my mind I hesitate to put these emails up as posts. We’ve talked about the underlying issue before, often in several specific situations. I worry that it might be too much repetition to anyone other than the parent or au pair currently having this experience.

However, it occurred to me today that maybe we can just label these “Classic Cases” — common situations we’ve seen before, happening in a particular guise this time around. Those of us who’ve been there and feel really done with it can move on, while those of us who have fresh suggestions and energy can respond directly to the Classic Case.

Here’s a classic case, from Mom22Boys. (I enumerate the classic pieces of this specific situation.)

Relatively new au pair, (1) wants to take classes when she wants them, which happens to be when the host parent needs childcare. Now that the conflict has been made clear, the au pair is adding on additional grievances, to the point where (2) the host parents wonders if it’s even worth trying to resolve. The host mom doesn’t think she has the energy to cope with a rematch. (3) The au pair seems confident that a rematch will work in her favor, and shows no concerns about putting the family in a bad situation.

I have an answer for this mom, and the answer is the classic “Rematch. Now.” 201012291317.jpg

And as always, it’s not which action to take, but how to unfold the endgame in a way that protects your kids, makes judicious use of your energy, and leaves you with enough goodwill to try again.

Our Mexican au pair (23) has been here for 2 months and yesterday requested a rematch from our area director (out of the blue, from my perspective, and without first discussing it with me). Although she has not bonded well with my kids yet (maybe it’s language–I think she doesn’t understand them and they don’t really understand her– maybe it’s her style/personality…not sure) and isn’t so great at enforcing the household rules with the kids, she tries to be helpful and seems patient and kind with my kids when I observe them together. She’s easy to live with, and gets along fine with me and my mom (who lives with us). Before her rematch request, I was relatively content with how things were going and I was hopeful my kids would adjust to her.

She has 2 complaints. First, she wants to take ESL classes Monday through Thursday nights. When we discussed this issue a month ago, I told her that, as with my last 2 APs, I could and would happily accommodate her taking a class 2 nights per week (her English really needs work and it’s a problem), but I needed her to work some evening hours on 2 nights per week. I told her I would be flexible as to which 2 nights per week she wanted to take her class and would make sure I am home by 5:30 so she can get to class on time.

I am a single mom and work from home (though looking for a full-time job) and have arranged my schedule (and the au pair’s work schedule) so that I have 2 evenings per week when she can help me with dinner, bath, bedtime, etc. with my 2 boys (ages 3 and 18 months). I’ve made sure to stick with the State Dept guidelines in terms of the limits on her work hours (45 hrs max per week, 10 hrs max per day, 1.5 days off and 1 full weekend off per month).

I’ve spent several hours making phone calls, doing research, etc. (at her request because she was having trouble communicating) to help her find an ESL class that she likes and that works for our schedule. I thought we had resolved this issue a month ago when we agreed that she would register for an ESL class at the local adult school (I would pay for it) for the winter and if she didn’t like it she could take a different class in the spring. Two weeks ago I reminded her that we should register her for the class to make sure she had a spot–she didn’t reply. 2 days ago she told me that she wanted to register for a community college class because they start next week. I said I thought we agreed a month ago to go the adult school route and reevaluate community college classes in the spring if she didn’t like the adult school classes (which have LOTS of other au pairs).

She said she thinks the community college classes are better (not sure why but she’s adamant). I said ok, but you need to find one that is 2 nights per week. She said she needs to go every night to really improve her English. I said that I understood her goals, but I needed her to work in the evening 2 nights per week, and why don’t we explore some other activities/classes that she could do during her free time to improve her English (I’ve sent her links to online ESL programs, a Saturday class, etc. all of which are free and she could do in her free time). She is firm that she wants to go to class every evening and wants to find a family with a work schedule that will accommodate this.

Second, she complained that she has no car. This was very surprising to me in that she’d never EVER raised the issue before yesterday AFTER she’d requested a rematch, and I was very up front about her not having her own car. We live 1 block from the train station (which in combination with a bus will take her to any of the classes she is looking at, and lots of other places) and my other au pairs have used the train (and a bike, which I also offered, but found out she doesn’t know how to ride one) until they got their driver’s license and then they used my mom’s car in the evenings and on the weekends when she wasn’t using it (which is most of the time). And one au pair never drove, and happily used the train for the year she lived with us.

I told the AP that until she got her driver’s license she was not legal to drive under my insurance, though we have an appointment for her to take the written test for her learner’s permit next week and I hope within a month after that she can take her road test and get her license. She said she couldn’t drive my mom’s car because it is a manual transmission and I told her that I would teach her how to drive it. She complained that we hadn’t practiced yet and I told her that, like with our last au pair, once she has her learner’s permit (next week hopefully) and is legal to drive we would go out and practice. Given that she had only been driving in Mexico for less than a year before she came her, I told her that once I’m comfortable she is a competent driver she could take my mom’s car when she needed it. I explained that our last au pair used my mom’s car almost every evening to go to the gym, class, out with friends, etc. and as long as she’s competent to drive the car she could do the same thing.

She told me she didn’t believe that my last au pair got to use the car. Dumbfounded, I asked her why she thought that and she said that if she had used the car she wouldn’t have needed the bike. I explained that she used the bike until she got her license (about 2 months, delayed a bit because there was a problem with her documents) and afterwards for exercise. She made a face and clearly still didn’t believe me and I asked her if she thought I was lying about it. She didn’t respond but seemed to remain unconvinced.

Basically, I am really disappointed she did not talk to me before requesting a rematch. Also, I am now wondering if we can even work this out given that she seems so focused on her own goals and agenda without appearing to care or understand the impact a rematch would have on my kids and our family (nor does she appear to understand that from our AP agency’s perspective, neither of these issues is a valid reason to rematch, according to my LCC). I explained that she should talk to our LCC but that I didn’t think the agency would think these were good reasons to rematch and she said she’s made her decision, she has her reasons and she didn’t see how the agency could deny her request (and also said she thought she could get 2-3 chances to rematch–not sure where she got that from).

I am VERY reluctant about rematching. Our last au pair was with us for 4 months before she had to go home for a family emergency, and we were without an au pair for 2 months until our current one arrived. I really, really don’t want to put my kids through that again, but I’m not sure I trust her enough to move forward, even if we resolve these issues, wondering when the next issue is going to come up where she doesn’t get exactly what she wants and says she wants to leave.

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts/advice! Thanks, Mom22Boys

Parents and au pairs– ready for your wisdom. Please comment!

Image: Mini Paper Chandelier, Craft

{ 21 comments }

PA AP mom December 29, 2010 at 3:51 pm

It is clear to me from the OP’s post that NOTHING is going to be good enough for this au pair. No matter how many hoops you jump through to make HER happy, she will find something to complain about.

Cut your losses now and find a new AP. No sense wasting anymore time of this one who is clearly all about her needs and not interested at all in yours.

NJMom December 29, 2010 at 5:00 pm

I agree: REMATCH. This will never work. But I also am suspicous, given her overconfidence in her ability to rematch that she may have something up her sleeve. Is it possible she “pre-matched” herself with a family somewhere, either in your town or through a website? She does seem awfully hasty and her reasons seem dubious so it seems that she may not be relying on the agency to help her. Does she indicate that she will stay at your house while she looks for a new family? The whole thing seems fishy to me.

Should be working December 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I agree with the others. This au pair is not going to be happy with you, and she seems to have no sense of what her JOB is with you. Her conflicts over work times, the car, and not believing you–three strikes, plus she’s already requested rematch and why would you want to talk her out of it if she is so eager to go? At least your kids are so young that the transition to a new person will happen quickly. I would consider a transition au pair–they are ready to start right away. It requires checking references, and especially the LCC of the candidate’s cluster.

It must be awful to have two transitions in a row. But like the previous poster said, don’t let this AP take any more of your time or efforts.

JJ host mom December 29, 2010 at 5:33 pm

It seems like the au pair has already decided to go. You’ve been more than generous with her. There’s nothing else you can do to hold onto her. I think she’s actually right – the agency can’t force an au pair or host parent to stay in a situation they don’t want to be in.

And frankly, good riddance. You’re better off without her. She sounds like a piece of work.

I’m in the middle of a 2 month gap between au pairs right now and it is painful. I totally hear you. Can you find a temporary nanny on care.com? Does your work have backup daycare available? Are there in-country au pairs you could consider? I feel like 2 months is the worst it can get; chances are that this time you’d find an au pair much sooner. Maybe check with your LCC on what the pool of in-country au pairs looks like right now, and on arrival dates, to give yourself a better idea of what timelines you’re looking at.

Gianna December 29, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I think JJ is probably right – that the agency cannot force an aupair to stay someplace where she is unhappy but I am not absolutely sure. Can’t the agency say that she must have a good reason to rematch and this case doesn’t fit the bill ? I don’t think flameout is the right word in this case. I agree with the others who think she has an agenda. Did she take this job with the idea of coming here and working it unitl something better came along ? The business about having to go to school every day sends up alot of flags. How many aupairs really want to do that ? Is it possible that she has a job and that is why she wants the car so badly as well. Maybe she doesn’t really care about the odds of rematch because she has a job waiting for her. In any case, it is not a good thing – my thought is that you should rematch and she can get herself another family or go home.

NJMom December 29, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Ooh, yes, the job possibility is another one. That she has been hired for something every evening and wants the freedom to do that. Not to go too far out on a limb but we had an au pair (a MALE actually) sent home last year in our cluster for working every night as a Stripper. LOL. Well, maybe it’s not LOL but geez. Babysitter by day … Whatever it is, it’s not good for your family and I would not someone with this attitude (in the economy!) in my house. I’m sure you could find better in a transition au pair with some due diligence. Good luck.

Calif Mom December 30, 2010 at 10:36 am

LOL. I agree that this hard-nosed insistence on having every evening “for classes” is a little bit suspicious. If she were that motivated to learn English, she would be doing the Saturday class without hesitation.

NotitleForme December 29, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I guess you have a little princess in your own house and I would not be reluctant for rematch, you seems like a very good family and I guess you are going to find someone really fast and better than her! btw how old is her? She seems so imature and spoiled!

Hula Gal December 29, 2010 at 11:21 pm

As far as your reluctance to rematch for the reasons you stated, I definitely understand your concerns but I think anyone who is participating in the au pair program as a host family should go into it knowing that they may need to rematch. If you are going to participate in this program you should really have a contingency in place to ensure the program works as best as it can for you. If you are always in a position where you are under tremendous hardship if you have to rematch I think you are at a disadvantage. Being able to initiate rematch is the ultimate leverage you have to ensure that your arrangement with your au pair is always in your interest.

CO Host Mom December 30, 2010 at 12:30 am

Rematch. And I shared this on another post, but do consider in-country APs so you don’t have to go two months without an AP. I was really hesitant to do that, but I couldn’t go that long without childcare, and didn’t have any back-up options. I couldn’t live with my previous AP for another day, so I rematched and took my chances on the in-country pool. I only had FIVE to choose from, but in the end, I now have an awesome AP who arrived in my home less than a week after we rematched.

So yes, my advice is to rematch, but also is to consider in-country APs during the process.

Calif Mom December 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

What they said.

I understand your concern and reluctance to put your kids through another transition–but go re-read the part you wrote about them not bonding with this AP. They will be fine. They’re little. Trust me, your 3 yo will forget her a week after your nice new AP arrives and starts doting on them.

Our two favorite, most easygoing, flexible and LOVING au pairs (whom we still keep in touch with) were both in-country girls from rematch. In fact, they were in our metro area so I could interview them in person, and take them to a park for a playdate with my kids. I highly recommend this approach; you can really learn a lot about a person’s caregiving style in 20 minutes on a playground, even in winter!

Deb Schwarz December 30, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Agree with everyone – rematch asap! You have a princess and nothing will please her. Plus – you have the opportunity for someone who is a better fit for your family (e.g. better English, bonds with the kids, and actually trusts and enjoys your family). Try to focus on the end result. I wouldn’t give this one a second thought – although it sounds like you are just surprised/upset that she didn’t talk about the issues with you prior to the rematch. I usually get angry/annoyed with au pairs who don’t discuss problems ahead of time with me (LCC) or host family, so hopefully your LCC will express her disappointment/displeasure that she kept mum about it all – but in the long run, you are lucky this all surfaced relatively early.

CAMom December 30, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Don’t waste your time! There are good au pairs out there. We went through a similar situation with our old au pair (from Switzerland), where she requested the rematch out of the blue and we scrambled to find someone to care for our kids until we found someone else, but it was all for the best. Our old au pair, in fact, had another family lined up for her rematch before she even told us, and we did not find another au pair until four months down the line. However, it was worth it, as we ended up with someone who adores our kids, for whom the childcare aspect of the program is her priority and works with us to accomodate our schedule as well as hers, who is patient and gets along well with all of us, and has made a wonderful circle of friends for herself.

anonmom December 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I agree with the rest! REMATCH! NOW!!
Wow- she sounds selfish and unyielding. As for the lack of English skills, perhaps you need to find an au pair with better English in the future, your children are at an age where they do need to learn proper English themselves, and if the au pair will barely speak with them in English, this is another issue to consider- unless of course Spanish is already spoken in your home.

If it were me, I would not be choosing any au pairs from Mexico and some other countries, for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps once here, she is comparing what is available to her, vs her other au pair ‘friends’. Yes, rematch sucks. There are other options, try moving on them quickly. Also check out greataupair.com, some au pairs who are trying to rematch, or are in country and want another year elsewhere post there, and you may get lucky if they are already with your agency. Good Luck

Hula Gal December 30, 2010 at 9:18 pm

We found our current au pair through Great Au Pair (we pre-matched with her and had her sign up with our agency). I do recommend looking at this site as well. Our au pair happens to be Mexican and she has great English and is very happy with the amenities we have (doesn’t compare to other au pairs) and we are not super rich people – so don’t discount all Mexican au pairs. I think it is more of an issue of maturity than nationality with the OP’s au pair.

JBLV December 30, 2010 at 7:42 pm

It seems to me that the au pair is leaving, and there is nothing you can do about it. I think what most of us are saying here is don’t spend any more emotional energy on this one. Rip off the bandaid – accept you emotional and financial losses as soon as possible. Might she have another job lined up? Maybe. It doesn’t really matter, and you shouldn’t worry about it because there is nothing you can do.

The real question is: what to do next? As a single mother of two small children, you *may* have limited options. You could try a live-out nanny, but they don’t always stick around either. A nanny agency is expensive, but they can better guarantee coverage. And daycare doesn’t necessarily work because you need childcare in the evenings. You could try sittercity.com or greataupair.com.

If you do decide to rematch, go back to your family handbook and make it more thorough. Don’t have a section on car use because you don’t have a car? Put a car section in anyway explaining that s/he will not have a car and why. (As an aside, it seems to me that your current AP may have met a few other other APs in your area who have cars available to them, and felt entitled – just speculation. If so, it’s a maturity problem. Maybe request someone older next time?) Interview the prospective au pair extensively – send her the handbook before you interview her, and tell her you expect that she will read it before the interview. When you interview her, explain there are other families in the area who provide cars to their au pairs, but you can’t and “here is why.” “How do you feel about that?” etc.

Goog luck! Let us know what you are thinking!

Eurogirl December 31, 2010 at 9:24 am

A family I worked for in Austria had this problem with the au pair who came after me – an American girl who arrived speaking not one word of German (now, they wanted their children to learn some English from her too – but they were aged 3 and 4 at the time, so her not understanding them speaking in German – not helpful!) and decided to take an intensive class 8:30-13:30 every weekday, then she wanted all Saturday and Sundays off and complained that working afternoons and evenings was too much for her. I spoke with the mother and she was very upset, bending over backwards to work things out, to do more around the house and with the kids herself and even paying cleaner extra hours to do things that had been my job (kids laundry, vacuuming, that sort of small housework) but this American said was not her place and too much for her. Well. After all that, American girl left them with no notice! Just walked out. She wrote nasty letters to them saying they had worked her too hard and were unfair and left the letters in the room when she disappeared. They were without childcare (and both parents worked long hours, although flexible hours, they were quite long) for over a month.

So what I think is this: if your au pair is like that girl, and it sounds similar situation…if she wants to leave, no matter how hard you try and what changes you make at your own inconvienience…she will go eventually. Better to send her packing on your terms than be left with problems when she “just can’t take any more”.

Mom22boys December 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Thank you all SO much for all of the great advice!!! I now feel really good (though definitely frustrated) about rematching and know it’s absolutely the right thing to do for our family.

The AP was cocky and had attitude with me the morning after we talked. After she talked to the LCC and was told that she didn’t handle this well at all and might get sent home, she cried all afternoon. She also lied telling the LCC that I had her working 72 (!!) hours per week. Absolutely ridiculous. I think she belatedly realized she needed to come up with some legitimate issue to request a rematch and concocted that story. The LCC didn’t believe her (I’ve had 3 prior APs and nobody ever complained about their hours).

Finally the AP asked me to talk last night and asked if she could stay because the LCC told her we had to discuss things prior to a rematch. I asked her why I would have someone stay when they clearly wanted to leave and that I didn’t want someone who was unhappy caring for my kids or living in my house. I also didn’t want someone who was willing to lie to get what she wants. She explained the 72 hour work week claim by saying if she was here in the house and it was a work day she was “on the clock” regardless of what she was actually doing and that she was not scheduled (or asked) to work during those particular hours (she works a split shift).

Bottom line–I requested a rematch. Immediately after I did, I was SO happy and felt tremendous relief. I was shocked by my own reaction. I have been ignoring my feeling that she had no chemistry whatsoever with my kids since her arrival and hoping they would bond. The fact that my 18 month old screams and cries with her should have been a major red flag to me (he is the world’s happiest baby and loves everyone). But I was hoping things would settle down and afraid of yet ANOTHER transition for my kids.

You all are absolutely right: a change is well-worth getting a wonderful au pair. That said, I am waiting to see if my agency lets her rematch before I decide whether or not to go forward with my agency or switch. I am already wary of the rematch pool because from my experience APs like mine get put back in the pool for some other unwitting host family to learn the hard way about the AP’s problems. Not sure if all the agencies are the same about this, though. If I could afford it I think I would hire a nanny because the “switching costs” (both financial and emotional) are far less, but I’m stuck with an au pair for now. Maybe I will try a European au pair this time and abandon Latin America for now (I’ve had 2 from Brazil and 2 from Mexico). I will also check out greataupair.com. Thanks again and Happy New Year to you all!!

MommyMia December 31, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Good luck, and I think you’ll find you made the right decision, even if it means you must endure some weeks of stressful times searching for alternate childcare. You might also try AuPair-World.com–I found it easier to use (you can enter parameters of country, age, drivers, etc.) and some really good candidates posted on there. They can sign up with your current agency, if you decide to stick with them, as most aren’t yet with an agency. We found a number of excellent, experienced young women from English speaking countries, such as Canada, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa, etc.
Happy New Year and Happier New AuPair!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm

It sounds like you’ve resolved this problem – and my guess that an AP with poor English and no driving skills won’t match with another family. Once you start to get into a power struggle with an AP hellbent on having things her way, it becomes too much work to be worth it, quite frankly.

My advice for other HF – when things start heading south, email your AP and copy the LCC. Most APs read English far better than they hear it, and a politely worded email is easy for them to translate and digest. End the email with an offer to sit down and talk after the kids have gone to bed.

So, when the tantrums start about car use, send an email, “I understand you are upset about not being able to drive the car yet, as I explained to you, these are the things you need to do before I will let you behind the wheel of a car…” and copy the LCC. That way, the LCC has an inkling that all is not perfect, your AP will realize the LCC has been copied. Same thing for classes, holidays, or any time an AP is not pleased with the way things are going and seems overly pouty and persistent about it. Do your best to take any tone out of the email – keep it neutral or even better, try to make it positive. That way, it will mitigate any tone that was in your voice at the time of confrontation.

And it goes without saying, the price your next AP will pay is that you’ll have more sections in your handbook, that clarify in writing what your policy is.

And personally, I believe your AP wanted to study English four nights a week – it sounds as though improving her English was her primary objective in being here — and then it dawned on her that she had a job to do, too. (Sigh.)

NoVA Host Mom January 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Your own reaction is the confirmation that you have made the right decision. Don’t ever second guess that decision. Actually, I am tempted to ask if your current AP is related to my first one, a Princess through and through. Even tried to play a similar game with the working hours thing.

Just remember that no matter how hard you think it might be on your boys to go through another change, it is nothing to the stress they would have to live with I’d she stayed, not only from her directly but also feeling your own stress of her staying.

To add a bit to Lunch’s comments about sending e-mails, having things in written form on a computer also allows her to use a free translate website to check any words she is unsure of (or use a dictionary, if she has one).

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