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.”
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