Dear Au Pair: Yes, You Should Feel Guilty

by cv harquail on September 11, 2015

Of the five types of emails we get most often from Au Pairs, the most annoying type is when an Au Pair writes hoping we’ll resolve him or her of any guilt they feel over quitting.


There are times when it’s absolutely okay to quit.
To ask for rematch.
To throw in the towel and just go home.

But not this time.

 Dear Au Pair–

Three weeks in and you’ve changed your mind about the whole year?

This is NOT a situation where I or any other host mom will pat you on the head and say, “Sure honey, go on home now. No problem.

Note, too, that no Au Pair Agency will make it easier for you, either.

Frankly, you should feel guilty.  People have invested time, money, and their kids’ emotions to make a place for you here.

They have interviewed you, sponsored you, welcomed you into their home, and introduced you to their children.

And you want to go home, because you’ve changed your mind?

No. I will not tell you that it’s okay for you to quit. I will not help make it easier for you to tell your Host Parents you’re leaving.


I don’t want to be mean. I’d prefer to be compassionate. But I’ve just seen this one too many times to have any patience left.

You other Host Parents might be kinder than me? And you Au Pairs might have some ideas?

Dear Au Pair Mom,

I really need your advice. I came here as an Au Pair a few weeks ago. Before I came here I was working in an office for about three years. Now I just realized that this is what I want to do again and I got a great chance in my home country which I really do want to take and that the whole Au Pair thing is not for me.

I know I haven’t been here for a long time but I’m sure that I want to go home and I’m sure that I won’t be happy if I stay or that things won’t change if I would wait for some more weeks. I’m meeting other Au Pairs and I even went to the gym but it doesn’t change anything. I know about culture shock and homesickness but it’s not about that.

However, I feel really bad because my host family is so nice and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Can you give me an advice how I can tell this my host family in the nicest way that is possible?

See also:   Au Pair Asks: Is it okay to call it quits?

Image: Contemplating, by Jon Aldinger on Flickr


New to This September 11, 2015 at 10:57 am

You say a lot about what it’s NOT about (homesickness, etc.), but what IS it about? Why is au pairing not for you? Are there specific frustrations with your situation that you’re not disclosing? Ways in which it’s very different from what you expected? You sound like a person with some life experience under your belt; surely you had some evidence beforehand on which to base your belief that it was something you would want to do — and it had to take a lot of motivation to get this far. So what’s changed? If it’s not the situation, are you simply learning that you’re not at all the person that you thought you were? If that’s the case, I wonder whether you really do know yourself well enough to know that you can’t possibly make any happiness for yourself in your current situation.

I hope you’re mature enough to know that “being happy” is not equivalent to having your every wish fulfilled — it’s about having enough that’s good/decent in your life that you can learn to appreciate and enjoy those things. If you’ve fallen below that threshold, then either your situation has big problems you’re not making clear to us, you’re experiencing a mental health crisis that you haven’t recognized as such (and a change of circumstances may be unlikely to provide real relief, though leaving might get you better access to treatment), or your coping/survival skills are way below par for a mature adult. If it’s the last of those, then staying and working at being happy with where you are has the potential to be a learning experience that will contribute much more to your long-term ability to enjoy life than will almost any job offer I can imagine.

That said, maybe it’s not true that you can’t be happy as an au pair, but that’s something you’re telling yourself because it gives you the excuse to seize an opportunity you want even more, without having to face the awareness of yourself as someone who would simply blow off a commitment because it’s not convenient to keep it. If that’s what you’re doing, no one here can force you to acknowledge it, but I will say from experience that at least being honest with yourself about the fact that you’re not living up to your own definition of a good person, even if it doesn’t change what you choose, will help point you toward being a better person in the future — whereas lying to yourself to cover your character flaws is only likely to help them get worse.

Daisy September 11, 2015 at 11:30 am

OP, we can swap families. I mean that. Wow. Girl, I would humbly suggest you take this year and use it for good and to be carefree especially when you are in a kind/good family. I am willing to swap, where are you? This is time and opportunity too many people regret they squandered. A nice family too..

Returning HM September 11, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I have a different take than CV but not a different overall message. My take comes from working in dog rescue and dealing with all of the families who buy cute puppies but then change their minds about having them when said puppies turn out to chew, need attention, and need training. As much as I would love to tell the families to suck it up, that they made a commitment, and that they need to do the right thing and keep the dog, ultimately, the best thing for the dog itself is for them to give the dog as long as is needed to get into a good rescue organization, and to house the dog for as long or as short as needed to achieve this.

So my feeling is to apply this to the situation here too: If this is how OP feels, then she should say it ASAP, give her HF the time they need to find a new AP (leave immediately if they want, give them up to a month if they need it), and then go without drama and without expecting the family to do anything at all to aid in her departure.

OP, please sit your HPs down this weekend and tell them you are young, you didn’t know what you wanted, and you changed your mind. You are sure about this and you want to leave. Then ask them how you can help them prepare for this inevitable transition. Stay for as long (up to a month) or as little as they need you, and then go. Don’t hold it against them if they are annoyed and don’t want you around even while you’re working for them during this time.

Ultimately, the HF will be better with their new AP, just like the labs and goldens in our rescue are better off (always) in their new homes. It isn’t fun and yes you should feel guilty, but there is no point in a family keeping a dog who doesn’t want the dog, and no point in an AP staying on with a family when she doesn’t want to be an AP.

Emerald City HM September 11, 2015 at 12:32 pm

I completely agree after hosting an au pair that in hindsight (in my opinion) was not cut out to be an au pair.

If this is not the job or experience for you, please go home. It’s easier now than 7 months into the program after everyone is settled in and no one is expecting an upheaval.

NThostMom September 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Returning HM is absolutely right. We had an au pair who extended for a 2nd year, and then after 3 weeks decided that she wanted to go home. Although we were shocked and upset at first, her departure was the best thing that ever happened to us. We found an in-country au pair who could start two weeks later, and she turned out to be our rock star au pair who is our benchmark of what a truly great au pair can be. Three years later she is still very close to our family and we are so happy that a twist of fate brought her into our lives.

OP — I have the same advice with a slight twist. Call your LCC immediately. Tell her that you need to leave, you are sure about that, and you want to help the transition be as smooth as possible. Find out what the issues will be with your agency when you depart the US (assuming you are in the US). I believe at a minimum you will have to pay for your own flight home. She will try to talk you out of your decision, but if you know that you want to leave, be prepared for whatever consequences the agency has in place.

Then, immediately sit down with your host family. Tell them that you need to go home but that you are committed to helping them transition to a new au pair. THEN — you need to be the best darn au pair there has ever been in those weeks until the new au pair arrives. Get up early, be punctual, be cheery, entertain the kids, help the kids understand the transition, and be an absolutely perfect superstar au pair until you depart.

You should feel guilty. What you are doing is horrible. It is absolutely the worst nightmare of any host family. For your own growth you should also reflect on why you would commit to a job halfway around the world and then change your mind. When you become a parent, you will be SHOCKED that you could have been so casual about a job caring for children. However, if you already know that the job isn’t for you, go home and consider it a learning experience. Give the family a chance to find an au pair who truly wants to be there and be a part of their family.

TexasHM September 11, 2015 at 12:34 pm

I agree with ReturningHM. Once an AP decides he/she doesn’t want to be an AP for whatever reason (gets engaged, culture shock, job opportunity back home) it is best to be honest, tell the other parties involved immediately and then give 300% to making the transition as easy on them as possible.

I would venture to say that means you should offer to stay long enough for them to get another out of country AP (so potentially staying and providing them care for the next 8-12 weeks) because it is the right thing to do. It would think that would significantly reduce the stress level in the household (vs giving 2 weeks notice and them not even finding someone in rematch potentially). You don’t mention when you must return to do the job you want in your home country but I would do whatever you can to give your family as much time and effort as possible. This is exactly the kind of situation that often leads to families leaving the program entirely (too much risk) and then you would be responsible for a nice family leaving the program and taking the opportunity away from their future au pairs that would do almost anything for this experience and a nice family so be very sensitive. They will be very upset (especially if you do your job well and the kids are bonded to you) and they have every right to be.

MGHostMom September 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm

This happened to us with our first au pair, and we almost quit the program all together. It is a really really shitty thing to do to a family. As you grow older, learn to honor your commitments, even if means you don’t get what you want all the time.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 11, 2015 at 1:10 pm

I come from a world, where going into rematch or an AP heading home throws my family completely into a tizzy – in fact we suffered through a mediocre AP who needed constant job coaching for her entire year because DH did not want to go through the hell of rematch (it always, always, always, means out-of-country APs for us because the availability of APs with actual special needs experience is usually zero).

OP, make your decision and suffer the consequences. You may not think homesickness is not playing a role in your decision, but chances are, it is. The easy thing for almost every AP is to slide home and back into the life she left behind. This early in your year, you will have gained almost nothing from your short experience in the United States. Your HF will feel ill will toward you, and you’ll have to tolerate it. They may decide that you’ll need to pack your bags pronto, and you’ll have to accept that and buy the first ticket back (the agency will not do it for you). The best thing you can do is offer to stay until your successor is able to arrive. That may be less than 2 weeks or it could be as much as 12 weeks (so you may end up purchasing a premium ticket home just before Christmas and discover at that point that you have started to make a life for yourself here).

Make your decision and take your lumps. Don’t expect it to be easy. Don’t expect your HF to be happy.

Boy Au Pair Europe September 11, 2015 at 1:19 pm

To me this seems to be a problem with how it works in the USA. If a family pays for the flight and such then of course they should expect something in return for the money they have already invested. On the other hand, if an au pair isn’t happy and wants to leave then I don’t think the family should make a judgement on whether their reason for leaving is good or not: they want to leave because they feel it is right for them and that’s that. You surely wouldn’t want someone being in the house just because they are contractually obliged to do so. I personally would never put myself in a situation in which a family pays for my flight unless I could afford to pay them back that money if I decided to leave.

Fortysomething HM September 11, 2015 at 1:49 pm

I understand au pairs are young and, as we all did when we were in our late teens and early 20s, typically have a lot to learn at that age about life and reliability and commitment (some moreso than others, of course). But there is nothing whatsoever about this situation that is caused or impacted by the US system for au pairing, and who paid for the flight is entirely irrelevant. This is nothing more than a maturity and reliability issue, and that is the case whether the au pair and family are in the US, France, Spain or any other country.

When one makes a decision to be an au pair (no matter the country), and is accepted into a family as a caregiver, the host family is relying upon the au pair to live up to his/her end of the commitment (and the au pair should expect the same, of course). The family invests time, money and significant emotion into the situation, and then they place the care and well being of their children into the hands of this young adult. It goes both ways of course, the au pair is relying on the family to treat them well, abide by the rules and so forth. In short, it should not be taken lightly by either party.

Neither party should be able to say (as lightly as this au pair seems to be saying it after only 3 weeks — I have yogurts in my fridge with a longer expiration period): “Oh well, this is not for me, I want to end this relationship and that’s that and the reason should not be judged.”

That is not how life works. When you quit something important (whether it be au pairing or host family-ing or even just a “regular” job for which your employer invested time and money in choosing you over other candidates), you can bet your bottom dollar (or euro) that you will be judged, and rightfully so.

CA Mom of 2 September 11, 2015 at 2:19 pm

That’s not how it works in the USA (at least not with the agencies I’ve used). We have to go through agencies, and the agency pays for the flight. If someone leaves abruptly without completing their year we don’t pay more to get another au pair, but we do have to choose from the pool of available au pairs with that agency.

Boy Au Pair Europe September 11, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Okay thank you. Until I started reading this site I had no idea about au pairs in the USA.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 12, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Actually, in the U.S. the host family pays a hefty fee to the agency, from which the cost of the flight, as well as administering the AP program, is absorbed. The family loses a hefty portion of that fee if an AP bails and they choose not to go into rematch. The HF’s agency fees pay for the AP’s return flight ONLY if she completes her year – if the AP bails and chooses to go home, then she must pay for her one-way ticket home.

FirstTimeHM September 12, 2015 at 6:26 am

In Europe, at least in our country, the host family pays for everything up front. Our last (princes) au pair left after a bit over a week just because she didn’t like it, no notice period, nothing. She’s still in country enjoying a nice long holiday with her friends…
We have paid for her visa, her plane tickets, insurance, agency fees and everything else. That’s 5500 euro’s we won’t see again, and that’s a lot of money for a week, or a few weeks of childcare, even apart from the emotional investment.
So if you’re an au pair in Europe I would expect you to pay back a substantial amount of that money and honour your notice period, also by giving it more than the mandatory 2 weeks because you can’t get a replacement au pair that soon.

Boy Au Pair Spain September 12, 2015 at 12:39 pm

I think it is not a smart move to pay an employee 5500 euros before they even start working. How many weeks salary is that?? I have never met an au pair here in Spain or when I was a nanny in the UK, that had their flight paid for them. Seems like it opens the family up to get scammed and also leaves everyone with the feeling that the au pair is hugely indebted to the family.

I agree in that case the au pair should be obliged to pay the money back. However, it is very unlikely that they will have that sort of money. If they did, many would choose to travel with their own funds rather than becoming the au pair. I earn 60 euros a week as an au pair. It would take me many years to pay back 5500 (i also have other incomes but i say it to make the point of how au pairs usually live…).

I think really, morally, au pairs shouldnt accept that someone pays for their flight as there is always a chance you will change your mind and no one should feel obliged to stay somewhere they dont feel comfortable staying. Then again if someone offered to pay for a flight to the USA to be an au pair I guess i would find it difficult to turn down!

FirstTimeHM September 13, 2015 at 3:38 am

It is the law in my country, so it doesn’t matter if it’s smart or not smart. As a host family you simply have to pay and take the risk.

FirstTimeHM September 13, 2015 at 3:40 am

Forgot to mention that you don’t pay this to the au pair, you pay it to the agency and to the immigration service and to the insurance company and to the travel agency etc.

Boy Au Pair Spain September 13, 2015 at 3:46 am

May I ask what country that is? I am 99% that such a law would not be lawful if you were employing people from within the European Union. I assume you are not however.

Right, you don´t actually give the au pair the money but you give them services with the money. The effect is the same.

FirstTimeHM September 14, 2015 at 4:03 pm

In the Netherlands it’s the law that the host family goes through an agency, so you need to pay the agency fees.
The host family must provide housing, food, health insurance and au pair insurance.
The visa (mandatory) must be paid by the host family (only the agency can request it from the immigration service) and it’s the host family’s responsibility that the au pair has a valid ticket to return after her year as well. That ticket is part of the visa application process.
It’s the law that an au pair can not pay more than approx 30 dollars as agency fee and an au pair is not allowed to place a deposit, not for travel expences, not for completion of her year, not for anything.

This boils down to the au pair being very well protected, the host family is the one taking the risk.
So yes, if you’re an au pair here you can change your mind without consequences to yourself, except that if your visa has been issued you can’t withdraw it and you can’t come back for another year here.

Boy Au Pair Spain September 15, 2015 at 5:23 am

How strange. It seems you are right about the laws in the Netherlands. Maybe I am trying to teach you to suck eggs here but… another option is that you invite a ‘friend’ to live with you that looks after your children for you. Within the EU we all have a right to live wherever we want as long as we do not become a financial burden on the state. It is the rights under the free movement of workers but it applies to job seekers and students too. It would no doubt apply to anyone that is learning the local language and there is no way to prove if you are a job seeker or not. Furthermore, the registration in another EU country is a technicality. You have to register with the appropriate body within 3 months but the consequence is, at worst, being fined. I think I registered in Spain after around 10 months of living here. You cannot be evicted from another EU country unless for specific reasons of public security or health.

It seems like families are getting ripped off by doing it ‘by the book’ when there are other lawful alternatives. I am hoping to spend a summer in the Netherlands at some point in the next few years. I hope I do not have the hassle of having to go through an agency.

FirstTimeHM September 15, 2015 at 11:54 am

We did everything by the book because that would make it easy for the au pair to get a good health insurance, register as a member of our family with the authorities, open a bank account, etc.
I know that people from within the EU can come without a visa and that they don’t need to have their travel expenses reimbursed (I would still do that but that’s our choise) and don’t need to go through an agency. It would be a lot cheaper and if we’re going for another au pair it would most certainly be someone from within Europe. That way I could invite them for a long weekend to see how they really are before they are due to start.

Schnitzelpizza September 14, 2015 at 9:13 am


My au pair experience in Europe actually cost me more than my year in the USA because I paid for my own travel and health insurance. I don’t quite remember what I paid to go to the US “back then” but it included a $ 500 deposit (which was returned to me after successfully completing the year) and a similar amount as a non-refundable agency fee (I know it was much less than 1.000 DM / 500 Euros). For my au pair stay in Scandinavia I had to pay for my train ticket (100 Euros), ferry (400 Euros – I could have flown but didn’t want to with all the luggage) and health insurance (175 Euros). My host family would have reimbursed me for half of my travel expenses had I not left early (which in hindsight was really stupid as with giving four weeks notice to please them instead of the two that I had to I left less than four weeks early… but oh well…).

Host Mom in Paradise September 11, 2015 at 1:58 pm

I agree that the reason for leaving isn’t important. I love the suggestion of making this next month about the transition for the family. Learn what you can, and then teach it to the next AP. Try to be around for her to join so you can help train. Enjoy your time in the US, knowing it’s brief and you’re going home soon.

What if the host parents feel that way? They’ve made that emotional/financial investment and three weeks into the AP year they decide — crap! — this was a terrible mistake. Same situation, right? Not to say that I’m in that situation, but I am pretty fed up with the AP program. Maybe I should e-mail CV and ask for a separate thread about that.

cv harquail September 12, 2015 at 9:28 pm

Your wish is our next post :-) or at least in the coming week.

AuPair Paris September 11, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Yeah… You’re allowed to quit a job for any reason you like, with a reasonable notice period. And no, if a job is making you unhappy, and you quit it, you shouldn’t bear the guilt forever. Look, with all possible caveats about lovely host families and the impact on the kids, which are all things that one must think about when quitting any job involving children or other humans, sometimes I do think au pairs are seen by host parents as less than workers, with human rights. And that sometimes host parents see themselves as more than employers with basic employers’ rights.

I can see that it must be really annoying to invest time in au pair who then leaves. I thonk it’s similar when bosses hire and train workers who leave after two months. The impact on the family can be awful and can mess up their own work schedule and I’m not ignorant of that. That’s why notice periods exist – and sometimes two weeks notice doesn’t feel like enough. But APs are workers. We live in your house and eat your food but we are workers. And no, we don’t have to feel guilty for changing jobs.

I say this as an au pair who has extended with a wonderful family and left an abusive one. I would not leave my wonderful family hanging. I like them loads and love tje kids. But yes, if I were offered a great opportunity, if I became depressed or for any reason couldn’t handle it any more, I would leave. My contract and my HF’s inconvenience is not worth more than my mental health or my future career.

Meg September 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm

I have to say that I agree. Frankly, if my Au Pair ever wants to leave I hope she tells us that. I don’t really want her to suck it up and hate it for months on end.

NJ Mama September 11, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Actually AuPair Paris, I think precisely what makes the situation so upsetting to host families is not because we think of our APs “as less than workers.” It’s because we think of them as members of our family. And many of us go out of our way to treat them as members of our family. That goes for the kids too.

I also think whenever someone is leaving someone else in the lurch they should feel a little guilty. I think that is a healthy reaction. I think when people rationalize it away, I think it’s a big sign of immaturity.

When you’re in a job – this job or any other – and you get a better offer, it’s really immature if you leave someone in the lurch. The best thing to do is to leave on good terms. If your next job is all that great, they would very likely accommodate you. I had an au pair who had a job offer waiting for her when she returned. The employer tried to pressure her to start early — and she said no. And you know what? The employer waited for her to finish her year – because the employer also understood it was the right thing to do.

And if someone was so mentally unstable that their mental health would be threatened by staying an extra few weeks to smooth the transition, then I think they shouldn’t have gotten into this program (or any other) in the first place. But if they did, then yes – they would be doing the host family a favor by owning up to that and telling them sooner rather than later.

As for this OP … if you truly feel like you have made a mistake, if you truly don’t want to give it another few weeks, then the best thing you can do is what TexasHM and others have said — and that is to give the family a lot of notice and work hard to help with the transition.

I also agree with TACL that homesickness is probably playing a huge role at the moment with this OP. I think she should reach out to her LC and have a heart-to-heart. And if she’s looking at paying her way home, she should probably have a long talk with her parents.

AuPair Paris September 12, 2015 at 3:34 am

I’m not talkimg about rationalisations. I’m simply talking about cutting your losses
I’m all for proper notice – jobs should certainly wait a notice period. But in the current climate, at least where I’m from, it’s pretty immature and almost fantasist to imagine that you’re such a great prospect that your ideal job will definitely wait a matter of months for you.

As for ‘unstable’ mental health. That’s not something I’m going to get into here aside from saying again, that knowing when a situation is bad for you, likely to trigger something, or make you ill or unhappy, does not make you irresponsible, immature, or too unstable to work.

I think the question of whether the ‘part of the family’ narrative makes an AP *more* than a worker or *less* is a fascinating one though. We have all heard stories or been in situations where an AP is treated like a slave, expected to work all the hours God sends for a pittance etc, in the name of being part of a family. Then again I’m sure there are perks to it as well even though it’s not my thing.

Ultimately, I suppose we’re probably not too far from each other. Personally, I wouldn’t leave a family in the lurch if they weren’t abusive. I’d give a decent notice period. And I probably would feel guilty were I to leave early. But I have had enough therapy to be distrustful of anyone telling me I ought to feel bad about a decision I’ve thought through. I’m secure and confident enpugh in my ability to make good decisions for good reasons to resent anyone telling me I’m too young and silly to know what I’m doing. And I know well enough that putting my own best interests in the long term, before someone else’s temporary inconvenience does not make me selfish. At least not any more selfish than they are for being furious about it and wishing me guilt and sleepless nights.

Midwest Au pair September 12, 2015 at 12:30 pm

I think that was very well said. I also would not leave a family in the lurch “just because” but I do believe you can work things out. Yes it might not be ideal for you, but if we stayed and we felt unhappy for whatever reason, things wouldn’t be ideal for us either. I think any time an au pair leaves early you will face some trouble, but you CAN work it out! Together. Maybe it means to get a temporary nanny, put them into daycare, get a rematch au pair, maybe even an out if country au pair, have family help you if they live close by, work from home if you are able to do so and so on. I think that if you put yourself into the position of a young woman getting a job that will benefit your future, you would take it. In my country being an aupair isn’t something that increases my chances of a better job, it’s not even worth putting on a resume. But I know in other countries it does. I don’t have
Much sympathy for homesickness. Almost everyone goes through it, and it will get better! I was terribly homesick in my first 2 months, and I would have gone home if I had the chance. It was my mom that reminded me of the fact that I committed to a year and unless I feel the same way after 6 months, I don’t get to quit. I’m glad she “made” me stay. I ended up extending with that same family. All in all, it is ok to quit if you have a good reason! Just thinking about my hostdad who worked 6 months for this company, got
Recruited for a
Different job that payed more and was better for his career. He quit and didn’t even think twice. Was that ok? Sure, he gave 2 weeks notice and he was out.

Fortysomething HM September 11, 2015 at 4:20 pm

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that an au pair should place her host family’s “inconvenience” above her mental health or future career. The scenario above is nothing remotely like that.

This au pair has, as she herself said, been here only a few weeks and simply changed her mind that this “whole au pair thing is not for me.” The job back home seems to be ancillary to her general cavalier attitude that it’s no big deal that she simply changed her mind after just a few weeks without any real attempt to stick to her commitment for the benefit of her host family, and frankly, herself.

Sure, anyone can quit a job at any time. But doing so after just a few weeks has consequences, and in my field, it gets you a reputation of being an unreliable flake, which in my opinion, this au pair is based on her own description of the situation. And since I believe that unreliable and unhappy flakes should not be taking care of children, I agree with the others that she should own up to her feelings, take the consequences with some grace, give the host family time to find a replacement, go home and hopefully learn and grow

New to This September 11, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Would you feel the same about family that decided to “lay off” a good AP mid-year with two weeks’ notice because they happened to find a cheaper childcare option, or just decided they didn’t really like hosting as much as they thought they would? From the purely arm’s-length employer/employee perspective you’re taking, that would be a perfectly legitimate choice, but I suspect most of the people commenting here would feel perfectly rotten about doing it. Some people approach their AP contracts purely as business deals, I’m sure, and I think that’s fine as long as it’s mutually understood up front, but personal commitments don’t work along the same “Everyone’s in it for number one” lines; there’s an expectation that people are genuinely looking out for each other, too. And, I think most people see the AP relationship, from both sides, as having a substantial personal element.

That said, of course that doesn’t mean you always keep the contract no matter what — friends and family members back out on commitments to each other sometimes, too — but the OP’s attitude here seems awfully casual about it. By which I mean, maybe the job opportunity really is just that much of a life-changer, but if so, why the need to rationalize at such length about how they won’t ever be happy here, rather than just laying out the magnitude of what’s at stake professionally? And on the other hand, if it’s less about the job offer and more the whole picture of how they’re feeling about their experience, I’d expect to see more effort to understand and address the problems, rather than what actually appears from this letter as eagerness to simply throw in the towel.

(I do suppose it’s possible that the impression of casualness is an artifact of CV’s editing, but we’re reacting to what’s available to us…and OP, if you feel like you really have put much more into your conclusions than what’s come across here, then what to tell your HF is exactly what you haven’t told us: Why this is a career opportunity you really can’t afford to pass up, and/or all the brainstorming you’ve done about exactly why you’ve ended up so unhappy as an AP, what things you might do to ameliorate the situation, and why none of those have any real hope of working… The “personal relationship” bit DOES mean that if you’ve got a compelling case that sticking it out is going to be unavoidably rotten for you, you should be able to expect some sympathy and some forgiveness. But realize that you haven’t remotely made that case with the level of detail that appears here…)

All that said — yes, either party certainly CAN decide at any time to treat any interaction as a business transaction with no element of personal relationship, and make decisions in a 100% self-interested way — but where there’s been an expectation that there’s a relationship involved, they can’t just disregard that while reasonably expecting to retain the respect of the people they’ve decided to write off.

cv harquail September 12, 2015 at 9:34 pm

just a note about the attitude— this particular email was cut and pasted intact, because I wanted to preserve as much of the OPs view of the situation as possible. (Sometimes I do edit emails down, but even when i do I try to retain the same tone– which is why sometimes the grammar errors aren’t smoothed out either.)

momo4 September 12, 2015 at 10:20 pm

Agree 100%. Well put.

AuPair Paris September 13, 2015 at 3:15 am

It’s not that I’m saying ‘never feel guilty’ for backing out of a contract. It’s rather that I think au pairs are often expected to go above and beyond, sacrificing their own best interests for the pure love of this family they barely know, forgetting that they are humans doing a job, with rights. I don’t think it is for anyone to say ‘you should feel guilty’ for having made a choice like that. My situations were examples, but I also don’t think it’s particularly our right to say ‘I have judged the sources of your unhappiness in this job, and they are not sufficient, so stay unhappily there or you’re a bad person.’ That is not how emotions work, and I woild say the same thing to a host family who were finding that an ap in their house wasmaking them crazy and they couldn’t bear it.

So ok, human relationships evoke emotions. If you get along with your host family or AP, this is going to be more emotional, you’re going to feel more guilt, etc. But again, this is an organic thing – it’s not to be prescribed! You can’t say ‘how dare you exercise your workers’ rights?! You’re supposed to love us like a second family! ‘ That’s not how it works. You can feel what you feel when an AP leaves – but she still has the right to do so, and wishing her guilt and unhappiness bevause she ‘deserves it’ for putting her own happiness before her boss’ happiness, seems to me the epitome of the entitled behaviour that people excoriate in their au pairs.

AuPair Paris September 13, 2015 at 6:40 am

I think I’m coming across as too harsh here, so I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from better. I’m sensitive because I think too often that that ‘part of the family’ narrative is used to manipulate au pairs into doing things that they are not obliged to do. Feeling like part of the family might mean that you *don’t* leave when you feel like you want to. But if you don’t feel like part of the family that’s fine too.

As it happens, I am currently still an au pair because my prospective replacement cancelled last minute and I didn’t want to leave this family hanging without childcare – so I changed my plans. In this family, the kids feel like siblings to me. The parents feel like friendly and likable employers with.whom I share space and nice conversations. For me, that evoked enough emotion to want to totally change my plans for half a year to help them out.

In the abusive family I was with before, ‘part of the family’ was the order of the day. I was paid under the legal amount, because after I arrived, the HPs explained to me they were having a rough time and ‘we all have to make sacrifices’. I was only allowed four showers a week, each for no more than five minutes. I was yelled at constantly. The cleaning lady had quit and I was given her duties and then yelled at for not fulfilling them to the HM’s standards. At one point, the Host Mum threw her daughter’s dirty underwear at me because I hadn’t folded it before placing it in the laundry basket. This was in front of her four year old and two of the girl’s friends. The family said in front of me that people from my country were smelly, unclean and infamous for being sluts. They insisted that I replace all my clothes because they thought my skirts were too short, and despite having been aware of my piercings before I came, the insulted theor ugliness to my face and made suggrstions about wjat this implied about my sex-life/promiscuity in front of me.

Now this is extreme. I would never imply that anyone on this site would be capable of treating am au pair in that way. I did leave early, and I gave three weeks notice, because comments from around the internet had persuaded me that it would be cruel and evil not to. As you can probably guess from the above paragraph, I was chucked out the same day that I gave my notice.

The point to this story is not that the op is in the same situation or anything likeit. But if you spoke to that family now, I’m ffairly certain they’d tell you that all theor behaviour was justified because that’s how they treat each other in their family. It’s true. They were horrible to each other as well as towards me. So in this situation it’s obvious that the ‘part-of-the-family’ narrative has its limits. There are times when that narrative needs to be set aside ao that each party can look at their own rights and interests. For me, that is when someone is unhappy – never mind the reason. Yeah, we may all look askance at a family or AP who say they’re unhappy and we don’t get why, or think they have much reason to be. But if they are unhappy, they should change the situation. So yes – give as much notice as possible, sure. But if ‘as much as possible’ for your own sanity is two weeks – that’s the way it is. And no one has the right to tell you how you should feel about that.

New to This September 14, 2015 at 1:11 pm

I agree that that’s an appalling abuse of the “part of the family” premise — and also deeply hypocritical, because if you were “part of the family to them, that just means they’re wronging you doubly — it’s an abusive way to treat a family member as well as an abusive way to treat an employee. If it’s unkind of an au pair to TOO-casually bail on a commitment and leave the host family in the lurch, it’s far, FAR worse for the host family not only to bail on their commitments to an even more vulnerable au pair (pay rate, etc.), but to engage in emotional manipulation on top of it.

I can also easily see why anyone who’s experienced that kind of treatment WOULD want to treat any future AP/HF relationships as strictly self-interested business dealings (which I have no problem with, as long as everyone’s clear on that expectation), or at least to keep it at that level going into the year and only let any “relationship” side of things develop in its own time and on its own terms.

I do take the “part of the family” thing seriously (otherwise I’d just hire a nanny, which for my actual nonnegotiable childcare needs would be a lot cheaper at this stage), which means treating each other like there’s a personal commitment and not just a legal contract involved — but I also think that puts the LARGEST burden on me, because in a relationship that’s based on care and not just on economic exchange, I feel that much more obligated to be conscientious of disparities in power, maturity, and so on. Which doesn’t just mean being extra careful not to abuse the AP because I have more ability to mistreat them in ways that have serious consequences; it also means I’m better positioned to go above and beyond sometimes to make their life better, so I should be focused more on the “What can I do for you?” side of things than on “What have you done for me?” But even if it’s not a symmetric relationship, I do expect it to be bilateral, and would be hurt/angry over an attitude as uncaring as I perceive the OP’s to be.

Of course, as the name indicates, I’m talking more from general principle than experience here, and maybe a dose of reality will convince me that my principles are a little too pie-in-the-sky…

DC Metro Mom September 13, 2015 at 7:31 am

First, remember that the US is not the EU, and our “workers rights” system is not the same. Also, most contracts can go around most rights, except Constitutional rights (and even some of those). So, for example, salaried workers do not get overtime pay. You are budgeted for your salary whether you work 40 or 100 hours per week. You may or may not get a certain number of days off, etc.

Second, yes, she has the right to leave within 2 weeks. However, that doesn’t mean that it IS RIGHT. Those are two different things. As others have said, while you have the right to leave, it is part of being an empathetic adult (human being–since my four year old has figured out that it is important to honor commitments) to acknowledge that your actions have consequences on others.

I sympathize with your examples of manipulation, but (1) there is no indication that this is the case here and (2) that particular sword cuts both ways, as APs also use this to manipulate HFs.

Yes, the AP should go if she doesn’t feel as though this is for her. Nobody wants their child cared for by someone who doesn’t want to do it. Nobody is going to begrudge someone their entire professional future when they don’t want to be in their home. But, yes, she owes them common courtesy. She made a commitment. She knows that this will make things more difficult for them, and she does owe it to the family to ease this transition.

And let me make this clear–she owes this to them even if she thinks of them as “only an employer.” I gave my firm about 5 months notice. when most attorneys leave, they give at least 2. Then, the tradition is taking time to write in depth summaries of all activities on a case, information on the specific client that a new attorney may not know. This is, by the way, in addition to our billable requirements. But, it is in the best interest of the business and the client. Again, any business is, in the end, about another person and pleasing the client. Here is a good business lesson for her. Not to give 5 months, but to give as much time as possible, and do everything possible to make their lives easier in the transition. She could think of it as a good lesson in client relationships.

I will also say that, as a prior manager, the world is smaller than you think. And good reputation is easily lost, and a bad one is extremely difficult to turn around. Although the likelihood is that nobody is going to call the HF for a professional reference, I hope that this trait doesn’t carry over into her next job (which is possible, since she left a similar position to AP), because if it isn’t addressed, it may hurt her. I cannot tell you how many people call me for an unofficial reference on someone that I have supervised, worked with, or worked for. Note, I said unofficial. I was not listed as a reference, but the hiring official knew that I worked with/supervised/went to school with that person and wanted the real scoop.

I know that there is manipulation, but to assume that a few bad apples means that good HFs are not owed common courtesy and kindness bothers me, to be honest. It may not be your intent, but that is how it comes across.

AuPair Paris September 13, 2015 at 8:25 am

Whereas to me the response of many host parents comes across as ‘with all I’ve sacrificed in choosing this programme, the young person I’ve hired owes me his/her life and happiness for the entire year. Because they’re part of the family.’

In my opinion, the part of the family narrative functions only when it is freely given of by both sides. Using it to dad that an AP or HP sacrifice something, including spending a year of life miserable, is not something freely given.

As for future employers, I’m sure for some APS and certainly workers in general, that’s a huge consideration. Which has nothing to do with whether the au pair ‘should feel guilty’. If leaving early leaves her with a reputation as a flake, or with difficulty finding or keeping future employment, she’s probably going to spending enough time feeling bored and underemployed without a lot of strangers on an Internet forum telling her she should be dressed in a hair shirt and self-flagellating too. It’s not for the HP to make the decision for the AP, nor to assume that she hasn’t already taken these issues into account.

AlwaysHopeful HM September 13, 2015 at 9:47 am

Au Pair Paris, I think that what you see most HFs here reacting to is the OP’s cavalier regard for the commitment she has made and the magnitude of the effect her choices will have on others that have relied on her representations. In her post, she says that she feels bad because she will hurt the HF’s feelings. Hurt feelings don’t even approach the enormity of the consequences she is leaving for the HF. The posts here attempt to spell that out.

No one is suggesting she stay, in fact I think everyone has agreed that she should leave given the way she feels. But, she should leave with an appreciation that the choices she has made have left a substantial financial and emotional impact on the people who trusted her. It is so much more than hurt feelings or inconvenience. She doesn’t get to just do whatever feels good and demand that everyone has to be okay with it, because she has the “right” to leave.

I actually think the OP does feel guilt, and is asking to be let off the hook. Sorry– grown-up life doesn’t work that way. We belong to each other, whether “part of a family” or simple employer/employee, or just people who come across each other in the community. We all owe to each other basic empathy and compassion. So I do judge her choices, because I think she entered the au pairing world thinking only of herself, which she may be entitled to do, but which stinks. She won’t find a lot of support here for leaving it in the same way.

Also, I know this has been mentioned before, but nothing in the OP’s message suggests she’s being abused or manipulated. In fact, if you click on the link CV tagged for another AP who asked whether it was okay to leave, the anewer was a resounding YES — get out and dont look back. This is completely different.

AuPair Paris September 13, 2015 at 10:16 am

My stance is this: OP shouldn’t be asking for absolution from a group of people so very likely to empathise with her HF rather than with her. Regardless, those who empathise with her HF rather than with her, do not jave the right to tell her how she ought to feel in her situation. Saying ‘you should feel guilty’ on the premise that you know someone’s reasoning better than they do is neither kind nor empathetic, and to be honest, I get the sense that a lot of people are jumping on this OP’s letter to male generalisations about what APs should or should not do, when they find themselves unhappy.

My stance is a general one too. It assumes that if someone tells you they are unhappy enough to leave their job, the direct response should not be to tell them that they are bad for being unhappy, nor that they are bad for leaving their unhappy situation nor that they don’t have enough rrason fpr unhappiness for it to be real/justified. The suggestion that the AP ought tp feel guilty implies that she should either ignore her unhappiness for her host family’s benefit or else just not feel unhappy. I used extreme examples, not to suggest that OP is in those situations (my situation is one I would call ‘abusive’ and not merely ‘manipulative’ actually), but to point out what happens when these positions are taken to their logical conclusion.

In brief: sympathise with the HPs as much as you wish, and feel free to choose not to absolve the OP of her guilt. But saying ‘you should feel guilty’ is not, in my view, an acceptable response to a young person extracting herself from a situation which makes her unhappy.

momo4 September 13, 2015 at 10:46 am

AuPair Paris:
No one is saying the AP should feel guilty for being unhappy. We’ve all been unhappy with our jobs at one point or another.
People are saying that her *existing* feeling of guilt over leaving a nice family in the lurch and causing them distress is justified. Compassionate mature people feel guilt over causing suffering. This is not about rights, this is about empathy.
The absolutely horrible abusive family you suffered inexcusable treatment from would never get the kind of sympathy that the HF of the OP is getting from posters here. I am willing to bet that if you had left them in the lurch you would be cheered on by most HP posters here.

Dorsi September 14, 2015 at 9:53 am

I’ll add that in my last job, I had a clause that I would give 6 months notice or be financially liable for up to $30,000. I was in a position where they would not be able to replace me quickly and the cost of incentivizing someone to cover my workload would have been significant.

FirstTimeHM September 15, 2015 at 3:21 am

This au pair got a job back home at a moment that she’s newly arrived and settling in in her home for this coming year. That takes job hunting, that takes email correspondence, that takes effort over a period of at the very least more than a week.
It seems to me that she arrived at her host family’s home not committed and that lack of commitment has led her to accepting a job in her home country and quitting her job for this year.

This doesn’t come across as an unhappy au pair who did her utmost to solve matters, this comes across as a girl who simply decided to try it out, if she didn’t think it was heaven after all she could alway leave any time she wanted, the consequences to her host family probably didn’t even cross her mind until now.
To me this is not an unhappy au pair, but an immature girl that didn’t even bother to try.

New to This September 15, 2015 at 6:41 am

@FirstTimeHM — To be fair, getting the job offer may not have required any initiative on the AP’s part. Depending on the kind of work she does, the offer may simply have turned up in her inbox one day. This has happened to me occasionally; sometimes it’s a past employer who has a new contract available, but once it was something quite novel and highly unexpected; they needed to find someone on extremely short notice, had done some asking around and gotten my name from someone they trusted, and made me the offer without further ado. I believe I actually screamed when I read the email. :-)

AP NYC September 11, 2015 at 7:03 pm

A host family can find another au pair for the year but an au pair can’t get a year back. It is hard to know if you’re going to be cut out for the au pair experience before you become one. I understand it is very frustrating but to me, a HF is better off without an au pair who is only here because she feels obligated to stay. This au pair should feel guilty because she is putting the HF in a tough position but she shouldn’t feel ashamed. There is no shame in doing what’s right for you. There is no point in wasting a year of your life just because you want to assume the consequences of one mistake .

Dorsi September 12, 2015 at 10:42 am

My family lost 4 months last year to an AP who did not take the position seriously. I had invested in plane tickets for a family vacation, driver’s training and education, as well as time off work to orient. She was clearly not cut out to be an AP – she didn’t even try to rematch (given her qualifications and country of origin, she could have easily rematched). We had to go out of country to match, as there was no rematch candidate available. During this time period, my children dealt with an unpleasant and unhappy childcare provider, random/sporadic care providers, a lot of shuffling and disruption. We had moved a few weeks before that AP arrived, so there was already of lot of stress in our lived. After she left, our house was chaotic until we were settled in with another AP. They will never have those months back. While parents ultimately bear responsibility for creating harmony and security in their homes, this AP’s callous disregard for our family sent months of ripples.

My point is that everybody loses when an AP match is bad. The idea that the HF just gets a new AP and things move seamless forward is naive.

AP NYC September 14, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Yes, I understand what you’re saying but I still think it’s different because HF are still moving on with their lives, they still have their own career and job opportunities , their family, their social life and their hobbies, whereas as au pair, you have to put your life on hold for a year. We start this adventure by giving up a year of opportunities, of work experience and also our friends, our family and more… And that’s fine, most of us make this choice before getting on the plane but some of us don’t really see that until they arrive, unfortunately.

I know it takes time, energy (and money) for a family to find a good au pair but in the meantine, as tough as the situation can be, the HF ‘s life doesn’t stop. You still have your house, your family, your rules, your jobs and most importanly, your independence.

momo4 September 14, 2015 at 11:10 pm

If you feel it is such a sacrifice to become an AP, you probably shouldn’t.
Most AP’s seem to feel it is a great adventure and opportunity, an chance to make new friends and see new places, learn a language, a unique year in their life. If you mainly see it as putting your life on hold for year, why would you do it in the first place?
No sane HF would want an AP to stay all year if they were unhappy. I would not want an AP to come to my family in the first place if they felt strongly that they were “giving up a year of opportunities” by becoming an AP. Being an AP IS AN OPPORTUNITY. An opportunity for all sorts of things, and it is up to you what you choose to make of it.
Whatever these missed opportunities at home are, are they really so urgent that you cannot delay them for a few weeks to help your host family with a difficult transition, one that would not even have been necessary if you had not decided that you didn’t feel like being an AP after all?

AP NYC September 15, 2015 at 4:01 pm

That is not how I feel, it’s just the way it is. I dont know any au pair who at some point doesn’t miss her family, friends or independence. Feeling this way doesn’t mean you are not cut out to be an au pair, it’s just being human. Giving up on those things isn’t a sacrifice. It’s saying “ok I’m going to miss this and this, but this opportunity is worth it”.

Still, sometimes it’s hard. No matter what decision you make in life, there are always postive and negative sides and the OP job is no exception ! That’s the way I see things and I’ve been an au pair 4 times for 4 different families who all asked me to extend so , you can see things the way I do and still be a good au pair and even enjoy it !

When I say “putting our life on hold for a year”, I don’t mean it in a bad way,I just mean that no matter how awesome the experience is, once we go home, we have to start where we left off because things have not moved forward while we were abroad.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 15, 2015 at 11:27 pm

While I agree with you that many AP’s hold the opinion that their life is “on hold,” what I have seen in the 14 1/2 years that I have hosted APs is how much the young women with whom I have shared my home have grown. The best really push themselves – throw themselves into improving their English, extend themselves to make new friends beyond what they might have done at home, push themselves to travel (many get on an airplane alone for the first time – including, much to my surprise, many of the European AP I have hosted), volunteer, exercise (some join sports teams), and willingly open their hearts to new ideas of how to conduct themselves toward other people (become more generous, more conversational, more caring toward the planet as a whole).

It is not until they return home that many realize that their lives were not “on hold” at all. That in their absence from home they took advantage of an unparalleled opportunity to explore their world, open their mind to new ideas, learn, and grow as individuals on their own terms.

I can say this, because, I too, at the age of 20, left the U.S., went to Europe, and learned about the world, challenged my beliefs, explored my world, and returned home with an open mind unwilling to accept the status quo.

In reality, your life isn’t on hold. You only get one life, and by exposing yourself to new and different cultures you learn new ideas about where you fit in the world and what your obligations are to it.

And, you get to annoy your friends endlessly when you return home. They didn’t share in the experience, and find it bothersome to hear about it. AP NYC – I challenge you to discover, when you return home, whether you really start where you left off! As an American who lived in Europe on several occasions, I could never pull it off!

Dorsi September 15, 2015 at 6:41 pm

AP NYC – I do think this reflects a self-centric world view that many of us likely had in our 20’s. You seem to think that this moment, your moment is more amazing and important than anyone else’s moment. There is no greater value in your Saturday night than my Saturday night. My life is full of new opportunities, new friends, and more – that I put on hold when my childcare situation falls apart. My children have new opportunities and relationships that suffer when they have a new AP that isn’t allowed to drive them places. We have a three year old birthday that was soured by our particularly bad AP. Nothing will ever change that. I have important travel that I missed due to child care disruption. Those are opportunities lost forever. My friends don’t change when we have a rematch, but my opportunity to socialize with adults is gone.

You may feel that you are uniquely on the cusp of greatness, and we are just churning along in quiet desperation, but every day that each of us (me, you, my children) awaken, we are living our lives. Au Pairs are choosing a path, not putting their lives on hold. “You may never step in the same river twice.” You may not think your life is moving on while you are off being an AP, but it most certainly is.

I love that our APs are choosing an adventure – they are (almost all) curious, engaged people who are excellent role models for my children.

AlwaysHopeful HM September 15, 2015 at 7:29 pm

AP NYC, I do understand your point about giving up a year to become an au pair being time you’ll never get back, because for HFs it’s the same in ways big and small. I love hosting au pairs, but I know that I scale our family vacations and entertainment so that we can include our au pairs as much as possble. I half-joke to my friends that the hardest part of having an au pair is not being able to walk around the house with my bra off. Haven’t done it for 3 years now, and now that my son is getting older, the opportunity is gone, lol! But really what i mean is, there’s a certain level of comfort in my own home that is not the same with an au pair living there. I also miss out on times that would have been special, one-on-one moments with my son at 5, 6, 7… he’ll never be those ages again, thinking those thoughts, saying those precious things. Those moments alone are gone, shared with our extra family member which was sweet in its own way, but not the same. We miss out on just having our house, our car, our lIves to ourselves, as we wish, without always having to accommodate someone else’s wishes.Not just for one year, but for as long as we host au pairs. Oh, and the constant, constant worry that comes with being a host parent that is separate from the normal worry about our kids, etc. And all of these things are worth it, when the au pair relationship is good. When it is terrible, ending it is appropriate, but when it is just okay, and not all we had hoped it would be, we get through it, noticing what we’re giving up, naturally, but accepting it as the choice/commitment we’ve made, and making the best of it until it is over.

I think that in your 20s it is hard to appreciate just how short one year is. It feels like a lifetime, but really, unless you are in a truly miserable situation, or there is some extraordinary thing that happens, you could sleep for a year and come out okay on the other side of it!

AP NYC September 15, 2015 at 8:32 pm

I am sure it must be hard for the parents to miss out on all those special moment with their children and I am not saying that HF are not giving up on anything and arent making concessions, not at all. In the end, it’s 50/50, I am totally aware of that.When something doesn’t go as planned it affects everyone.

I guess the difference is that we come here alone and to a country we know nothing about (most of the time) . I am not saying that it’s harder or easier for the HF or the OP. It’s just different. In this situation, yes it’s really not cool for the HF but the OP needs to leave if she is not happy. She might regret it later ,or maybe not,but that’s her cross the bear.

It just bothers me that very often, when au pairs talk about their feelings or make the decision to leave when everything seems to be fine, they come across as entitled and self-centered. These kind of decisions are not easy to make. Just like it is not easy emotionally and financially for an HF to find a good au pair or get rid of a bad one . I would say the same thing to a HF that wants to end their contract with an au pair who is doing a good job but to whom they’re not feeling connected. At the end of the day, it’s an daventure for everyone and it’s about doing what makes you happy. I know it might sound naive and that ,yes,sometimes you do have to make sacrifices and do things that you don’t want to do because that’s life and that’s what grown-ups do… But I believe in compromises. And in this situation, the best option if for the OP to stay until the HF finds someone else. :)

EBHM September 11, 2015 at 7:46 pm

There’s never anything to be gained by feeling guilty. There’s definately nothing to be gained by feeling guilty over what we imagine someone else’s reaction will be to our action. We don’t know how this host family will react. If my au pair wanted to leave to pursue a better opportunity, I would not be terribly upset. I realize this is because of my particular circumstances. If the ap and the hf are able to come up with a transition plan that minimizes disruption to both parties, no reason for hard feelings. Of course the ap may look back on this after working decades in an office and wonder why she thought she had to give up a wonderful and hard to come by opportunity like this just to go back to doing what she’ll probably be doing until she retires.

momo4 September 11, 2015 at 8:16 pm

I do not think that most HPs would suggest that this AP stick out the whole year simply because the AP made a 1 year commitment. Realistically, anyone who has hosted APs quickly realizes that an unhappy AP makes for an unhappy household, and why would you want someone to stay with you for a year who does not want to be with you?

Of course the AP cannot get one year of her life back, but I agree with the other posters that the AP owes it to the family to stay long enough for them to find a replacement and not leave them in the lurch. Anyone who claims that it is easy to find a replacement AP has never had to do it.

Selecting and hosting an AP is an emotionally exhausting, stressful and time consuming experience. The AP may be an employee, but it is not at all like hiring someone to work in your coffee shop. If an AP suddenly decides that they changed their mind about being in the program, they should expect that there HF will be at the very least disappointed, possibly hurt, super stressed out, and may be even quite angry even if they are really nice.

The common assumption that APs are somehow just seen as employees by HPs is not true for a great number of HPs, APs are seen as part of the family as well.

Many HFs, including mine, also host APs in part because we do not have good alternatives for our child care needs. We may not have any family living nearby who can help, we may have children still at home during the day, and many of us work long or irregular hours at jobs that we cannot simply take several weeks away from to care for our children while we try to find child care. We do not have any social safety nets. There are often months or even years long waiting lists for good daycares. Maternity leave is 6 weeks if you are lucky and your employee offers it. Many families rely on both parents incomes, so one parent taking weeks to months off is simply not an option.

I think that due to their youth, inexperience, and cultural differences in how child care and work are handled in other countries, most APs have no idea what a difficult position they are putting their HF in if they leave on short notice. If they do understand and they have any degree of empathy, then yes, they will feel guilty as anyone would feel guilty for making someone else’s life harder and more stressful.

There is no easy way to tell your HPs that you are leaving. You just have to do it and to be honest about your reasons. But please give them time to find someone else to take your place if they need it!

exaupair September 12, 2015 at 4:26 am

I don’t think the OP ‘owes’ the family anything. You all seem to be forgetting that both APs and Host Parents are the agencies’ customers, and apart from the cultural experience it is a job. If the AP found a better job they shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving. Obviously they have to give notice, which in my opinion should be no more than 2 weeks, not an undefined ‘until-the-family-finds-another-au-pair’ time frame. I’m saying 2 weeks purely because if an AP goes into rematch they only have that much to find a new family before they are sent home.
By no means they should wait longer possibly sabotaging their chances of getting the job they wanted. To answer specifically to NJ Mama, yes it is not uncommon for the future employer to wait as long as it takes for the new employee. However given the recession in Europe that as only just ended, and demands in some fields it is not always going to be that way.

Finally, it is better for both parties to part ways, who needs an AP who only stays with them ‘because they think they have to’.

momo4 September 12, 2015 at 9:36 am

I did not mean to imply that the AP (at least the way things are arranged in the US where I am located) “owes” the HF anything right off the bat.

The original post seemed to be posing the question of whether it is totally fine for an AP to quit simply because she doesn’t feel like being an AP after all, and whether it is justified that she feel guilty for leaving the HF on short notice. And this is specifically in a case where the AP is NOT being abused or in a bad or otherwise not-as-advertised situation.

I believe that we all have to make the decision that is best for our lives even when it inconveniences other people, but that does not mean that you can’t also feel bad that you disappointed them and made their lives more difficult. That is part of being mature and having compassion and empathy: you understand the impact that your actions and choices have on other people and accept responsibility for the consequences of your choices. It’s not about twisting your life all out of shape to avoid inconveniencing others, its just about recognizing the impact your choices have on other people’s lives, and if you can minimize the damage, you do so.

When I was in my 20s, I accepted a teaching job while I was waiting to hear whether I was accepted into medical school. I was reluctant to accept the job, and I told them if I were acepted into medical school that I would go there instead even if it were only a matter of days before the school year started. They said they understood, but wanted me to accept the job anyway.
I did get accepted into medical school in August so I did not “honor my commitment” to the school (such as it was), and they had to scramble to find a replacement. People were angry at me, they felt I betrayed the school, they said I should just teach for the year and then go to medical school the next year, and I lost friends over it. But I knew that getting accepted into medical school was not guaranteed for the next year, and it was what I wanted to do, so I went.

This is all to say that I both understand and empathize with the choice to do what is right for you even when it makes things hard for other people, because I have been in that position. But if you make life difficult for other people, no matter how good the reason, it’s normal to feel bad about it while still doing what you need to do. Don’t look for excuses not to feel bad, just accept the situation and do your best to resolve it.

AlwaysHopeful HM September 12, 2015 at 9:56 am


Kate September 11, 2015 at 8:30 pm

The OP should inform her HF immediately and stay long enough for them to find a duitable replacement whether that is 2 weeks or 2 months.

DCBurbTwinMomma September 12, 2015 at 7:58 am

As a host parent, I want to say “stay until a replacement is found” because that would work best for me. As a person who has quit a job in the middle of highly complicated and detail-specific adjudication that ended up taking my replacements months (if not in some aspects years) to get up to speed, I say au pairs are not martyrs to someone else’s conveniences. I left to my past job to work writing and forming regulations and policy for a ground breaking law which is just something I felt I wanted to do similar to the OP wanting to work in her home country. Both equally selfish and all about our needs and wants be them legit or not. I know plenty of new moms who quit major litigation to be with their kiddos–similarly focused only on their wants and not that of the employer. So we shouldn’t expect our caregivers to be stop being human like we are to our employers regardless of how familial a situation this is for us. Many host family’s don’t think of what the au pair will face in rematch–they forge ahead for both legit and shady reasons and that au pair has two weeks to sink or swim.

So there must be a compromise. I think as a courtesy, OP could inquire as to when she needs to report. Maybe her employer can be flexible. If not, she should give the notice she can and go. We all know of au pairs that leave for less (missing the boyfriend who is moving on, friends doing cool things, hating American food etc). We all deal with agencies and we know they they send us folks who are uniquely situated to fail due to agency lies about this being an “adventure” instead of work, people lying about their actual experience or language skills, being overwhelmed with a totally new environment etc. We are thrilled to find someone amazing in light of what could be–we’re on this board, we know horror stories.

So I think she should respect that she’s handing the family the raw deal they feared hosting an au pair is about. I hope she stays as long as possible, but also feels no obligation to hurt her future. It is not her job to do everything to make the family whole, but it would be gracious if she could. In whatever circumstance, she should tell them ASAP to give them time. Delay is bad. If she’s grown enough to make decisions for herself (legit or not) she has to be mature enough to stand by them and face the difficulty that may come from that decision.

MilHostMom September 12, 2015 at 9:18 am

I have been in this situation twice as a HM, and can honestly say, it is extremely trying as a host family who works hard to welcome our au pairs into our family and to treat them well. Add in the stress of being left in the lurch without childcare, as we all know finding a replacement au pair is rarely easy or quick, and I think this au pair should absolutely feel guilt for putting a nice family in a bad situation. Not feeling that way simply shows a lack of maturity and compassion. That said, I also believe each situation is different, and should be treated as such. When one if our au pairs, who we had already grown to love, told us 4 months in to her year that she was extremely homesick and was truly struggling due to some issues out of her control…we were very sad to see her go, but knew it was for the best for her to go home and seek the help she needed. But when her replacement au pair announced, just 6 weeks into her stay with is and shortly after my husband had deployed for 9 months to Iraq (which we had told her would happen while we were matching, and had stressed to her the added importance of having stable childcare during that time), that she wanted to go with no good reason, then my reaction was far less generous. Her stated reason was she was having allergy issues, despite the fact that she refused to take allergy medication. The real reason, I later discovered, was that our home and lifestyle was not what she pictured for herself here in the US, because although we live quite comfortably, we are not by any means rich. So she “traded up” for a family in a multi-million dollar home in San Francisco….and didn’t even last 2 months with them either. The lesson in all this for me is that no matter how nice or accommodating you may try to be as a host mom, your AP will either be mature and capable enough to handle her year with you, or she will not. And there is not much you can do if she is not except to cut your losses and move on. It is a sign of maturity to honor one’s commitments, and I have learned the hard way that that is one of the most important qualities to find in an au pair.

Peachtree Mom September 12, 2015 at 9:55 am

Wow, I think shame on the agency for letting her “trade up”. I agree no one wants an unhappy aupair in their house but it seems there are no consequences for the person who just decides this isn’t for them…leaving the family who just shelled out $1000 for a driving course in a lurch or leaves owing the family hundreds of dollars for a prepaid education course. As for the above poster who felt the host family was not owed a thing…you can’t have it both ways. Either you are a member of the family and take on the responsibilities that go along with that or you are an employee. You can’t take the perks of the being a family member but then claim status of an employee when it suits the need. It would be so much easier in my house if I treated our aupair as an employee and did not worry about her needs and goals or have to get a beach house with an extra bedroom to accommodate her but we enjoy having her as another member of our family. If the OP is not happy, she should go but at least give the family the consideration of waiting until a replacement is available. We had a fabulous rematch within 2 weeks. We were still out the cost of the driving course and she left owing about $200 which makes me mad but my husband says that is the price of doing business. I am more the emotional type. I do think the agencies should have some sort of slush fund for that although the agency did cover the transportation cost of our rematch aupair to our home.

exaupair September 12, 2015 at 11:29 am

I agree with you, agencies should at least charge you only for the reminder of the year should you go into rematch at any point. In fact I thought that’s exactly what’s happening.

Au Pair Report September 12, 2015 at 11:07 am

She should leave and give the standard two weeks’ notice. I feel sorry for the host parents, but when I was a counselor, I told families that they need to have a backup child care plan even if it means extra money on a sitter if there is a gap between au pairs. I know the program feels expensive, but keep in mind that for what you are getting (full time live-in child care), it is cheap, sobif you incur extra expenses that is part of the “liability” built into using this mode of child care.

DC Metro Mom September 13, 2015 at 7:09 am

I disagree that it is “cheap.” It costs roughly the same as a live out nanny for most of us, and that does not include the added incidentals–upkeep on a third car (which almost every AP expects), driving lessons, extra auto insurance, added expenses for a third adult in the house, and that doesn’t even count the emotional and financial expense of another person in the home. We preferred it for the more family feel of an au pair; we specifically didn’t want an “employee only” relationship and we definitely didn’t like the idea of daycare (although, outside of this area, that would likely be a cheaper option, as well).

Do we know that there could be a problem? Yes. Having said that, the money is part of the reason that we are deciding that I should just stay home. We have tallied the numbers, and we will bring in more money with me staying home than with me as a full time attorney. It is that much money. Not that this is the topic, but since you brought it up, when we pay the money that we pay, it drives me nuts when agencies and LCCs act as though we are so lucky to get off so cheap. Number 1, it isn’t true. Number 2, it feeds into the “au pairs are treated like slaves” mentality, which is garbage.

Peachtree Mom September 13, 2015 at 7:56 am

I totally agree the program is NOT “cheap” and presenting it as such does brings bad feelings and misinterpretations. This program is expensive both monetary and emotional. Insurance is KILLER along with everything else mentioned above. The emotional investment/expense is big and tiring at times but as a poster mentioned in an earlier thread when it works, it works great. I really enjoy seeing our aupair smiling and happy and listening to her latest discovery . I enjoy seeing our daughter so happy with consistent, dependable care that does not require her to get up at “dark-30” in the morning for before school care. That low hourly price quoted in the agency literature does not begin to cover all the related expensed….but again worth it in my opinion because for now it works well for our family. We are warned about back up childcare and no parent is going to leave their children out on a limb but that still doesn’t make the inconvenience or added expense any easier because someone “changed their mind” or wants to trade up and will not help out in the transition period. I realize this OP said she wants to help out and hopefully will not leave the family in a lurch.

TexasHM September 13, 2015 at 10:21 am

AP Report I found your response maddening. Not only is this program nowhere near cheap (in fact for us it is definitely more than a nanny), insinuating that cost of backup care is the concern of HFs responding here is nuts and hasn’t even been mentioned. I know you were a counselor but did you ever host? I am going to assume you did not based on your response and actually your response is in line with what I have heard new LCs spew to families in the program (that have never hosted and have no idea what it entails).

What several on here (yourself and some of the APs that have responded) seem to fail to recognize is these are CHILDREN we are talking about. APs are not working at McDonald’s where if they walk out it’s no biggie and they hire another teen off the street to fill the job in minutes. As someone who has been through a horrible burnout AP situation (thankfully that was short lived) the impact is still very real to my family and it was 10 months ago now!

All most of us are saying is keep in mind you did commit to a year, no one is saying she should stay but what most of us are saying is that she should take measures to try and help the family (who she clearly states is very nice so please, let’s get off the AP slave train here) even if that means staying a few extra weeks so the KIDS don’t have to have 3 week AP followed by 2 week nanny followed by rematch AP (who hopefully works out). Any way you slice it, having 3 childcare scenarios in a month is a hot mess. Yes, we get “backup care” but the agency sells that as being needed for AP illness or AP vacation coverage – not for APs bailing because they changed their minds! I think if any of us HFs had been told that upfront many of us would have opted out of the AP program. Do things happen? Yes but you can bet we certainly don’t expect someone that we have spent months interviewing and preparing and settling in to get a job back home and bail. In fact the last few weeks we have again started talking about leaving the program. We invest a lot (our APs ARE family) and the risk of getting someone that would burnout again and the entitlement we are seeing lately in the AP community is giving us major pause.

OP – I appreciate that you at least feel bad and seem to want to make this as painless as possible for your nice host family. As such, being honest with them and giving them as much time/effort as possible goes a long way. Even if they are upset and don’t appreciate it now, you will feel much better about yourself in the long run and they will be less impacted which hopefully they will appreciate after the shock/pain has subsided.

momo4 September 13, 2015 at 10:55 am

Agree 100%. We feel the same way.

Julie September 13, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Amen, sister.

WarmStateMomma September 14, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Hosting APs is cheap now? Cheaper than a nanny? Not in my city. And certainly not when my AP only works 3.5 days a week.

And we have no “back up care plan.” What would that be anyway? The family who live and work full time 1,000 miles away? The friends who all work professional full-time jobs and are at work at the same time as us? The babysitter we don’t have because we host APs and just moved into our home a year ago? The day care with a 3-4 week waiting list? Telling people to have a back up plan seems more dismissive than helpful.

LuckyHM#3 September 14, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Couldnt agree more. I guess in some situations, hosting an AP might be cheaper. For us, given that our kids already go to elementary and the youngest is in preschool daily, aftercare for them will cost us less than half of what we pay for an AP not including the other extra costs including an astronomical amount for auto insurance.

PhillyMom September 15, 2015 at 3:10 pm

So true!!

LuckyHM#3 September 15, 2015 at 3:42 pm

After our recent rematch and having to wait 7 weeks for our new AP to arrive, DH and I were really questioning if the flexibility that we are willing to pay so much for was really worth it. It was summer as well so no school and we cobbled together summer camp, summer nanny and DH and I taking a day off here and there to make it work. Our current AP has been with us for less than 2 month and OMG, I totally see the value of having an AP. She’s worth her weight in gold and has made my life so much easier. She’s also so much younger than our previous APs but so matured. SHe’s not extending as she’s going back to finish college. My only fear now is that we may not be lucky like this again. I do say that if we got someone like the OP this time around just after the rematch, we would have quit the program

Seattle Mom September 21, 2015 at 7:08 pm

“What several on here (yourself and some of the APs that have responded) seem to fail to recognize is these are CHILDREN we are talking about. APs are not working at McDonald’s where if they walk out it’s no biggie and they hire another teen off the street to fill the job in minutes. ”

This exactly. And on the flip side, I recognize that my AP came from halfway around the world to my home, leaving behind her family & everything she knows. So everything I do takes into consideration how much she has already put forth. And I expect that everything she does will take into consideration how much I have on the line (namely, the health, safety, development, and happiness of my innocent little children). If I’m going to rematch, I am going to take her needs into consideration- as long as I don’t consider my children unsafe with her. Likewise, if she decides she needs to go home, I hope she considers the needs of my children, which are an extension of my needs for childcare.

My backup plan at this point is finding someone on I had to do that when my current AP lost her passport right before she was supposed to get on the plane. Luckily that was only a 2 week delay, but that was 2 full weeks of unplanned childcare right after a 2 week planned gap in childcare. It was extremely disruptive, and I am glad that my au pair recognized that and made the right noises and seemed apologetic. My 4 year old was a mess during that time- we ended up having an old au pair come to babysit half the time (she moved back to the States to get married) and some random girl off for the other half of the time, and the girl was pretty bad (nice, but very dumb). When the new AP finally came DD was so confused.. she really wanted our old AP to stay and complained about new AP for the first 2 months. She cried and whined and threw lots of tantrums. I think if new AP had come on time it would not have been so difficult.

NThostMom September 14, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Wow, as an agency’s LC you told families that they need to be prepared with a backup care plan? That is truly shocking, and baffling. Why would people sign up for childcare that isn’t reliable? Your insinuation that families choose to host an Au Pair because it is “cheap” is just wrong. Hosting an Au Pair costs us more than it would to have a full time Nanny, and that doesn’t even take into account the cost of housing and feeding the Au Pair.

NoVA Twin Mom September 14, 2015 at 2:07 pm

As much as I normally love our LCC, when we went into our first rematch (due to an au pair “trading up” to a better situation) and I pointed out the thin prospects in the rematch pool (NO infant qualified drivers without multiple car accidents anywhere in the US), complaining that we’d been told that in the unlikely event we were to go into rematch, there was always a pool of au pair candidates that were likewise in rematch to choose from – I was not so gently “reminded” that I’d been told upfront to have a backup childcare plan in place in case of rematch.

Um, I didn’t remember being told to have a backup plan, because as everyone points out, if I’d been told upfront that I needed a backup plan, why would I get an au pair in the first place? I believe her that it must have been mentioned somewhere, but I also think that in the “selling points” it was couched more along the lines of what I remembered – of course you SHOULD have a backup plan, but don’t worry, in the unlikely event you go into rematch, we always have a pool of highly qualified au pairs whose families didn’t work out – not like yours of course – that will be happy to move right in with you and provide a seamless transition for your child. Now sign here and provide your credit card number so we can bill you. :)

I think this is a talking point that LCCs are told to remind their “annoyed” families about when the families complain about disruptions in their child care due to au pairs initiating rematch – we DID tell you to have a back up plan, just in case. At the same time, I truly believe that LCCs (wisely) underemphasize this risk while selling the program to newcomers.

momo4 September 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

It’s nice to know that I am not the only one without a solid back-up plan :)

Reliability and flexibility are MAJOR selling points to the program, and I totally agree that programs tend to under emphasize the very real risk of suddenly being left without childcare.

My husband and I are both physicians and we simply cannot take off on short notice. My job does not offer sick or vacation days, so if I call off, I have to make the days up. I work in the hospital, so my work cannot be done from home, and the hours are long. Even if I decided to quit, I am required to give 6 months notice. My husband is self employed, and not working means not getting paid, not to mention that his schedule is always completely full and patients wait months to see him, so taking time off would be disastrous for them as well as him.
Both my parent’s still work full time and live across the country from me. My husband’s father also lives out of state. Our friends all work full time. Daycare? Weeks to months long waiting lists. Nannies? They all want to work full time regular hours, and to promised long term contracts. Babysitters? After 9 years of having an AP we do not have a list of readily available people. And did I mention we have 4 children?

So you can believe I make it pretty clear before matching how heavily we rely on our AP to be reliable, and how difficult it will be for us if they flake out.
We’ve only had 1 AP out of 9 decide to leave early, so we’ve been lucky. And we treat our APs very well, welcoming them into our family and accommodating them in any way we can. No day goes by when we do not feel grateful for what they do, and that they are part of our lives.

FirstTimeHM September 16, 2015 at 10:26 am

@momo4 In our country parents exchange reliable babysitters on the schoolyard while picking them up from school. If you have contact with the parents of your kids friends, they can give you names and addresses of the ones they ask (and honest references of course). When we were left in a lurch I had the backup in place in a day. It was juggling schedules of all the girls in the neigbourhood, but it worked out for the first few weeks. And pretty much all the parents from our friends called or dropped by to say that all four of my kids were more than welcome at their place if we needed it, also in the weekends (we both work in IT).

Dorsi September 15, 2015 at 6:44 pm

I would love to see a thread on back-up care plans (and lack thereof). I just signed a contract with IE – and they made me fill out a free text field about what our back up plans would be.

New to This September 15, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Ours had us describe what we would do if we needed more than 45 hours of care in a week. Having HFs think that through and come up with a decent answer seems like a smart move — having a plan in place makes it less likely someone will just default in a crisis to overworking the AP. But for situations where the AP is out of the picture, I’m surprised the agency is concerning itself with what the family does next.

ChiHostMom September 23, 2015 at 10:28 am

Even if where I live a nanny is more expensive, my backup is for more than 45 hours a week. It’s not ready to go for full time care and I don’t think anyone’s backup plan really can be. You have hired an AP, not your backup plan. And in my area a backup plan would be very difficult cost-wise for us.

APs are cheaper than nannys but not daycare for toddlers (it’s similar to daycare for newborns).

Agencies need to be reminded that backup care is not the same as full-time alternate care.

momo4 September 12, 2015 at 1:31 pm

I would be curious to know whether expectations and attitudes toward the roles of APs and HPs are different in different countries.

In the US where HF are required to go through an agency there is a very clear expectation that the by agreeing to be in the program, an AP is making a 1 year commitment. Families are generally very upset when APs leave early without a really compelling reason, generally one that involves factors outside the AP’s control (death or illness of a family member, personal illness, etc.) because it is perceived as a violation of a clear commitment. Actively looking for a job that will start while they are still supposed to be working as an AP, getting bored with being an AP, wishing you were with a richer/posher family, nicer location or easier circumstances than you have with the family you agreed to match with… These are not looked on favorably.

I think it is fair to say that many families in the US would not be hosting APs if they thought that at any minute the AP might give them 2 weeks notice (or none at all) and leave without a backward glance. This is not because we do not respect the AP and their autonomy, but because believe we are entering into a year long commitment that will be mutually beneficial, and we believe that the AP feels the same way. We feel that they are joining our family in a way that is far more intimate than any other employer-employee relationship would normally be. Given this, when an AP suddenly decides they just aren’t really into it anymore, it doesn’t feel like an employee leaving, it feels like a personal betrayal.

It seems that in other countries there are a lot of informal AP-HF matches without any agency involvement. From the posts on this site, it sounds like APs working there feel strongly that they are just employees with no obligation to their HF beyond the basic “2 weeks notice” and that they should be free to leave at any time for any reason without HF having any right to be upset about it.

I would love to hear from other people about how these perceptions and expectations seem to differ in different locations.

FirstTimeHM September 12, 2015 at 4:08 pm

It’s the same here, in my European country. We have to go through an agency, it’s absolutely illegal to have an au pair without an agency and only the agency can apply for her visa on the host family’s behalf.

The matching here usually goes without agencies, there are sites like aupairworld and greataupair that already have lots of good candidates. Families here do the matching themselves.
Before finalizing the matching, the au pairs are interviewed by the agency as well and great emphasis is placed on the fact that the host family counts on the au pair to stay the entire year.
Pretty much all host families, at least the ones I know, make it a very clear expectation that the au pair is there for the entire year, not for as long as she likes it.
The fees here are all payable up front and you loose out a large amount of money if your au pair bails. If she rematches you can get the fees back proportionally from the new HF, but not if she goes home.

A friend of ours has hosted au pairs for years. She always had au pairs from her native country (also European) and that were lovely girls. I’ve had them over quite often as our daughters love to play with each other.
In all her years of hosting she has had one mismatch. That girl was simply not happy with them and it was a mismatch of personality. She rematched but gave two months notice and also explained to her new host family that she wasn’t happy with her current host family but that they were good people and she wanted them to be able to get a good replacement. That did count heavily in her favour and that attitude made her new host family decide that she could be their new au pair.

Quitting, certainly without notice, is not considered acceptable here. Not by the host families but also not by the au pairs. Going home because of legitimate reasons is acceptable, and out of the au pair’s control.
Rematch because of personality mismatch is frowned upon by the host families, it’s really difficult for an au pair to find a family again because the agencies will act as a reference and won’t let the au pair go to the new family without informing them of the reason for the rematch as seen by the former host family and the agency.
Occasionally there’s a family that violates the rules and doesn’t treat the au pair fairly. The agency then will step in to protect the au pair and will try the utmost to get her placed again.

Pretty much all the families I know here that host, are very welcoming to their au pair and really try to make them a part of their family. They are very upset when an au pair leaves, and not just because of the stress she causes and the financial investment. We make room in our lives, in our homes, to have a complete stranger live with us. For us this isn’t a employer-employee relationship, it’s like having another daughter from another country and watching her grow during her year with us.

WarmStateMomma September 14, 2015 at 4:24 pm

I would be seriously upset if our AP just flaked out on us after I had to take time off work for the AP’s arrival/training, spent 3 painful hours in the Social Security Administration office with our AP, baby and a toddler, and made multiple trips with them all the DMV, driving school, etc. It is just so much work for the HPs to bring an AP on board that an AP would need a good reason to leave without me getting upset with her about the upheaval she caused.

I don’t think that being an AP is comparable to our professional jobs (where 2 weeks notice is often frowned upon as woefully inadequate and people have long-term career goals), but it’s definitely not the same as an hourly job at the mall that can be filled any day of the week. APs likely don’t realize how much the HF invests in the relationship or how critical child care is to our kids’ stability, our job security, etc.

Next time we recruit an AP, I will make a point of explaining how the AP fits into our picture and how much we rely on her to fulfill her side of the agreement. I would expect an AP to be upset if we flaked out on her after she put her life on hold to join us, spent thousands on agency fees, and was facing rematch. An AP should likewise anticipate that the HF would also have good reason to be upset.

Newish in NZ September 15, 2015 at 11:47 pm

I’m in New Zealand.

We’ve used an agency (two different ones for three au pairs so far) although I believe it’s perfectly legal to make an arrangement privately with an AP, as long as they have the required work visa and you/they pay their taxes etc. I wouldn’t do it because neither party is well protected, plus there’s no way I’d want to deal with the tax and payroll side of things! We actually knew an AP who worked here ‘privately’, and yes – as you suggest, he definitely felt he was a worker rather than a family member, and two weeks’ notice would have been ok by him I think. However, his HF did have him doing some pretty varied tasks (laying concrete in the driveway…).

From what I’ve gathered, it’s pretty expensive to have an AP in the States…? There seems to be a pretty big initial expense, too. So you guys are making a huge commitment. Here in NZ, we only pay a nominal placement fee (current agency fee was only $80USD! – it was $320USD with our last agency, and even that’s not bad, right?). We don’t pay for flights, visas, orientation week costs etc… I believe the AP pays for all these things (the agency may cover the orientation costs, but I think the AP pays the agency a fee anyway, so it possibly comes out of that – at least partially). There’s just the weekly ‘pocket money’ cost for us as the HF. Having said all that, like most HFs everywhere (probably), the emotional investment is huge, and then there’s the time taken off work to settle in etc…

We’re also very lucky that if you have a child aged 3-5, you get 20 hours of free care each week. This is a government subsidy, and it’s non means-tested (you can use it for any type of ‘early childhood education’ – daycare, preschool, nanny etc). So for us at the moment, the AP childcare arrangement is incredibly affordable.

All of this makes me wonder a couple of things about NZers ‘in the programme’:
— as the HF, we’re not investing an awful lot of money really; does that mean we’d feel less upset etc if the AP bailed on us? (I think it might, but I can’t answer from experience. I know we’d be frustrated over investing time and emotions – absolutely)
— for the AP, travelling about as far away as possible from her home country might make her more likely to really try hard to make things work out?
— for the AP again, putting so much money into the arrangement is probably another incentive to give it her all instead of quitting over a bit of homesickness or similar?
– for all involved, I wonder whether there’s a strong expectation, and feeling, of needing to be in it for the long haul right from the start… What I mean is, because we get the ‘free ECE’ hours, the AP is obliged to take on an ‘educator’ role. All this really means – in the AP case anyway – is that the AP is visited once a month by a qualified teacher, who gives advice and support on each child’s learning and development. The AP is encouraged to keep a learning journal for each kid, and is provided with craft and activity supplies each month to complement that month’s ‘learning theme’. It’s pretty cool really. Anyway, I wonder whether this really close, one-to-one support kind of fosters a sense, in the AP, of being indispensable (or at least heavily relied on)… She might feel she’d be letting more people down than just the host family and kids…?

Re other expectations: Although there’s definitely an element of expected family inclusion, I haven’t felt with either agency so far that we must bend over backwards to treat the AP like part of the family. All three of ours have been lovely girls; each very different. Our first ended in rematch after six months (at our request) but we’re still in touch. AP2 was a dream :) AP3 has only been with us 6 weeks and is just starting to have a ‘wobble’ – I think the honeymoon’s over and she may be starting to get a bit homesick. I don’t think she’d quit on us – she’s a very hard worker, keen to please and has very high standards for herself. If she DID quit on us, I’d really resent the time we’ve all taken to get her settled and sorted etc…

An AP on a recent orientation was collected by her host family and quit ONE HOUR AFTER arriving at their home…! It was the family’s first time hosting and apparently they were devastated. Word has it the agency refused to allow her to rematch and she returned home immediately. I suppose in this case – which I imagine is unusual – it was probably highly inconvenient and very upsetting for the family, but the financial impact would have been far greater for the AP than the HF.

If the HF requested rematch (or just decided they weren’t ‘cut out’ for hosting), the AP gets two weeks while they try to match her with a new family. I get the feeling the agency would really try their best – I guess if I were the AP and I’d sunk so much money into getting my flights, visa etc, I’d expect this. However – the AP could just make her own job arrangements; the visa they get is a general working visa so they could take up any other kind of job and continue their stay in NZ for the year. Our first AP did this; didn’t try to rematch, but got a job in a bar and enjoyed every moment of her remaining time. She truly wasn’t cut out for APing!

Interesting to learn how it works in different countries, and how varying aspects of the whole arrangement must affect our expectations etc.

anonymous September 16, 2015 at 12:08 pm

I want to move to NZ!!!

TexasHM September 12, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose a first time host family brings an AP over and then decides in the first couple of weeks it’s “not for them”. That’s essentially what we are talking about here. I am sure some APs here will try to argue that APs are more impacted because they could go home having lost money but I would argue the effects of a burnout are much harder on the HF. It’s not only expensive but impacts the kids greatly, can impact HPs jobs (either from time taken off to cover or missed meetings due to interviewing replacement etc) and is traumatic in every way. Is it fair that an AP go home because the HF changed their mind? No, but it happens. Same thing here.

Now, same flipped situation if we suddenly decided that APs were not for us anymore rather than kicking her out on the spot I would likely offer to give her a reference and allow her to stay beyond the 2 week period because I would feel helping her find a new family would be the least I could do for breaking my contract and causing her trauma. That’s all I was saying this AP should do. Not stay but realize this will be traumatic for them and do her best to lessen the blow and help them get a suitable match. Not 6 months, a defined period of up to 8-10 weeks at most and get the HF to agree to look right now and not wait and then if they find someone in a week then you go then! If they have to go out of country then they match ASAP and expedite and you cover until she arrives (likely 6-8 weeks).

If your employer will not/cannot wait then I would at least try to get them a months notice (vs 2 weeks). Just as APs have said 2 weeks isn’t enough time for them to properly find a family without settling, same goes for families and them rushing into another match that could fail would cause even more drama.

Meg September 12, 2015 at 9:58 pm

I think this is a great point. To be honest this is where my husband and I are. The program is not for us. But l don’t see that as my AP’s problem. I have no intention of her ever knowing we don’t care for the program. As long as she’s taking good care of my younger child we will do all we can to try to make her feel welcome and cared about and to facilitate her experiencing our country in the way she dreamed.

WarmStateMomma September 14, 2015 at 4:27 pm

I almost quit my job a couple of months ago after a pretty bad incident. The thought that we would have to put our (wonderful) AP into rematch if I weren’t working anymore was a discussion point when HD and I were weighing the options.

WestMom September 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm

My pressure is rising just thinking about this post.

So I am a host mom. I spend the last 3-4 months scanning multiple agency websites, introducing myself to Au Pairs, doing interviews, and eventually settling on a strong candidate. No kidding, to this point, I might have spent a good 50hrs to find this person. Now we match, and I have to pay app. $4000. I continue to be in touch, and start preparing for her arrival. I paint her room, I buy new bed sheets, I buy nice things for her welcome basket, and I buy a city tour and a sweatshirt for her training week. Now I pay the other $4000. Good, we are all set right?

Honestly, I would be absolutely livid if upon arriving, my AP decided that ‘this is not the right thing for her’. Like a slap in the face. It sounds like a case of entitled millennial. We (AP and the family) made a one-year commitment. Unless there are conflicts on either side, it is incredibly selfish for AP to even consider leaving so close after arrival. I wonder if this AP was already questioning her decision before arrival.

We can compare this to traditional employment, sure. I can tell you, as an employer, that it is in very bad form to leave your employment before the end of your commitment (or minimally before you have provided enough benefits to cover for the expense of hiring you). I recently had an employee, whom I courted for months, spent countless hours scheduling interviews and negotiating contracts. Upon arrival, he asked for vacation and asked to be sent to a paid conference, which we did. Two months into the job, he quit. Let me tell you that this person will never get a half-decent reference from anyone at our work place (despite being actually quite skilled at his job). It simply shows bad judgment and poor work ethics.

Would I want to keep this AP? Of course not. Minimally she should stay as long as is needed until her replacement is found. But while she stays, she should not expect any sympathy or special kindness from this family. She put them in a challenging situation. If anything she should put double effort as a sign of grace for the family having to put up with APs selfish behavior. And don’t expect to keep in touch or have a home base to go to when you next visit the USA.

AlwaysHopeful HM September 12, 2015 at 8:10 pm

It bears noting that there is no standard that says 2 weeks notice is always the right amount of time. In my job, for example, I would never consider giving only 2 weeks notice outside of some extreme, unexpected circumstance. It would be completely unprofessional of me, given the small size of the office and the nature of the work. It’s thet same way for the rest of the folks in the office. There’s a sense that “we wouldn’t think of doing that to each other.” The norm there is to give a couple months’ notice.

On the flip side, when IT folks in my agency resign, they generally need to leave immediately (because of their access to confidential info). And in the middle, when I had after school and summer jobs in high school, the boss would have looked at me like I had 6 eyes if I gave 3 or more weeks notice. Two weeks was absolutely appropriate for those jobs.

I do think the AP should leave. And I think she should give as much notice as she possibly can and help the transition as much as she can, not because some hard and fast rule dictates the amount of notice to be given, and not because it would be noble to do so, but because it would be pretty crappy of her not to. She has put this host family in a terrible position by accepting the new job, and before that by accepting the au pair job in the first place when she wasn’t really serious about the commitment. I don’t recall if the AP mentioned the ages of the kids, but I know for my own son, early departure has made a lasting mark. This is not a 2 week and out and dont look back kind of job. And it’s not a job you take on a whim and treat as you will, no matter the collateral damage.

Sorry– this has clearly struck a nerve with me, even though I haven’t been in this situation!

Fortysomething HM September 13, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Perhaps it is generational, perhaps it is personal values, but whatever the reason(s), I am struck by the superficial “this isn’t making me happy, so I’m going to quit and nobody should judge me for it” attitude displayed by some (thankfully not all — including my current rock star au pair, who is incredibly mature and reliable even at 19). My parents raised me to honor my commitments even when it wasn’t making me super happy and to find a way to get some good out of it. I am doing my best to raise a child similarly, and I hope she will maintain what I teach her when she heads into young adult-hood.

For example, my daughter joined a sport that she did not end up liking. We told her that it was fine not to do it the next year, but she committed to the season, her coach and teammates were counting on her to fulfill her commitment through the season (and indeed, another person who wanted that spot did not make the team because she did). Was she unhappy? Somewhat, yes. Did she learn a lesson that sometimes you need to honor your commitments? Absolutely, yes. And even if she doesn’t know it yet, hopefully she also learned that there are ways to keep an open mind and find happiness even when your initial feeling is that there is no happiness to be found.

Sometimes there is happiness, and indeed, pride, to be found in honoring one’s commitments. To dig a little deeper than the surface and find out what you are made of.

Again, I”m not suggesting that this au pair stay (as noted above, she appears massively immature and unreliable, which are not traits I want taking care of my child — I may not have even matched with her in the first place b/c au pairing is such a major deviation from an office job, I might have been concerned about her flaking in this very manner). I am suggesting, however, that this au pair was awfully quick to make up her mind that this “whole au pair thing isn’t for me” and to get to a place of throwing in the towel without any real effort to overcome what she found to be a challenge. That kind of attitude is inexcusable in this setting and many others. And yes, you are going to be judged harshly when you display that attitude, whether you think it’s fair or not. That’s life.

DowntownMom September 13, 2015 at 10:16 pm

I very much agree with you about sticking to a commitment one has made! That is such an important point.

Much of the agencies’ interviewing is actually geared towards making sure the APs are committed to a year and won’t flake out.

On a side note, the APs are cultural ambassadors of sorts.

batmum September 14, 2015 at 7:37 am

I am in Europe and it is a bit different as we dont have an agency and no up front financial comittment so its not a total write off if the aupair quits early but it is a royal pain in the rear. We have an aupair for the last year who is finishing up this week. I was chatting to another local host mum recently who told me she had heard several months ago that my girl was planning to leave but she felt guilty because we had paid for her residents permit as a goodwill gesture. I was floored. She never said a word to me and was always saying what a great family we are etc. now I feel crappy tot think she was unhappy in our home for however long I dont know and I’m upset and hurt that she didnt talk to us. I regularly try to check in and see that everything is ok and that they are happy. So I’m cross and embarrassed that she was happy to blab to other people that she hardly knows about wanting to leave and we were oblivious.
Whatever was going on with her, she decided to stay and was a reasonably good aupair but frankly, a part of me wishes she had left rather than to know now that she stayed here out of guilt and would rather have been somewhere else.

Schnitzelpizza September 14, 2015 at 10:03 am

Yes, I have actually read all previous comments. And yes, I actually agree with most of them. But… it’s as momo4 said “an unhappy AP makes for an unhappy household.”

OP has obviously already decided that she does not want to complete her year.
I don’t necessarily agree with that because I feel that if you make a one-year committment to be a host family’s au pair and they are a nice family and you are not homesick you should stick to what you have agreed to. Just because it morally is the right thing to do. [If they were mistreating her or she was sliding into depression because she was feeling so homesick or if her mom had been in a horrible accident that would be a different story but this does not seem to be the case here]
I also think that going job hunting in your home country, knowing that you are in a fixed one year contract is despicable because you are letting people down who were excited for you to join them and who spent a lot of their time and money on getting you where you are and you are deliberately leaving them in the lurch.

But. She has decided she wants to leave. We have a saying in German “Reisende soll man nicht aufhalten” (Don’t stop a rolling stone). If she wants to leave, she will leave. And it’s good that she is at least feeling guilty about it because maybe that will teach her something for her future. Even if it’s only to consider the effects making a decision has not only on you but also on the people around you.

OP what you can do to tell your “host family in the nicest way that is possible”?
Nothing. Tell them now. Tell them you are sorry. Take the blame. It’s your fault, not theirs. Do everything you can to give them enough time to find a suitable replacement and if that suitable replacement is out of country and needs eight weeks to arrive then at least stay those eight weeks. You won’t like it. You will feel like crap (been there, done that). Staying in your host family and working for them when you have already told them you are leaving will do nothing for your relationship. It’s their right to be mad at you. They are right to be mad at you. But it’s the right thing to do. (No, the right thing to do would have been to fulfil your commitment and not to go job hunting)

You also need to understand that this is your only chance to be an au pair in the US. If in two years you feel the need for “completion”, you cannot come back. I have just recently interviewed an applicant who, at the end of her interview, admitted that she had already been an au pair in the US for half a year but had quit early and now felt guilty. She desperately felt the need to go back and to do better because, as she had realized now, leaving early “because” had been a huge mistake. Well, we could both have saved two hours of our lives that we will never get back because – it’s impossible. And for the rest of her life, now that she is mature enough to realise that she has made a mistake, she will have this feeling that this part of her life is “incomplete”.

That is why, as an adult, you need to think about the decisions you make. No, being an au pair is not for everyone. To me, my second time as an au pair was actually much harder then the first because I slid back from being a fairly independent adult (mostly financially independent, working on getting my MA, having lived without my parents for five years) to being stuck in a family setting again (in a family that was actually not nice and did not stick to agreements that had been made previously). No, I did not fulfil the period we had agreed to but when I decided to leave I gave four weeks notice (instead of the two that I had to according to the contract) because me staying longer meant that I would leave on mom’s first day of vacation and at the end of her vacation the youngest would be going to day care and the older to summer camp (which was the day when I had originally planned to leave).
My last four weeks were crap. I was left home alone without internet access, without food, without a car, and without notice for a whole weekend. In a country where my pocket money was barely enough to get me over the weekend. Nobody spoke to me in my free time, at least not more than necessary. And I know they lied about my reasons for leaving as one of their extended family members told me the reason that was given to her. I would have rematched but it just didn’t make sense to (privately) rematch for 3 weeks. Did I think they would be happy? Of course not. But I at least expected them to appreciate that I was actually trying to do them a favour by staying longer and to make it work for them. Did I like the last month? Heck no, but it was the least I could do.

TexasHM September 14, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Schnitzelpizza you just single handedly restored my faith in hosting APs in this response. I can only hope we keep finding APs with strong character as you displayed, they were lucky to have you and it’s a shame they couldn’t rise above it and show you the same grace.

LuckyHM#3 September 14, 2015 at 1:26 pm

I agree with all the PPs that say the OP should feel guilty. No one is saying she should be obligated to stay the whole year but OP needs to tell them asap and ask them if they would like her to stay till they find a replacement. In my case, I wont let her stay, I would probably have her leave immediately but my children all go to school (elementary and preschool)) that all offer after-care options so may be easier for me to have her leave immediately, for other HFs, may not be as easy.

And when the situation was reversed where we decided to go into rematch with our last AP who seemed to really see this as a core employee/employer relationship and was out for #1, we went out of our way to work with her and the agency to give her way more than the 2 weeks of rematch so she could go a long vacation that she had already planned and then still have enough time to look for another family. I think we ended up with about 4/5 weeks and this was an AP that was not working out.

R. September 15, 2015 at 9:03 am

Au Pairs who had been selected should be grateful about it knowing how much privilege they are in. Many of us are out there, willing to take the risk, crossing our fingers, and begging if needed be just to get the spot. There are odds in being an Au Pair, of course. It won’t turn out exactly as what you had expected but before a person should decide in becoming an Au Pair, they ought to know what they’re trying to get into. Every bit of it as possible. Other than that, it’s a rather hefty amount – also, consider that almost everything is free and you have no costs for room, food, and certain bills. I’d very much agree, one should feel guilty about it.

QuirkyMom September 18, 2015 at 8:45 am

I’m probably piling on here in a Johnny-come-lately way, but we had an AP for whom we had bent over backwards to help her complete her year (including getting a temporary AP when first AP had to go home to heal from an injury) and then we agreed to extend with first AP, because she was so insistent and because two of our three our kids loved her so much even though she was not good with the third kid (our mistake there). First AP pulled the plug and called rematch on us, leaving us with two weeks’ notice. It was not only a huge scramble trying to find an out-of-country AP, it was also expensive and disruptive to get temporary care to bridge the gap between APs. Twice the price for half the hours of care plus huge impacts to my and my spouse’s ability to get our work done.

The main point I want to make is this — having our AP pull the plug was very, very hard on our kids. They were so looking forward to another year with her, and her deciding to leave — essentially on a whim, and because she wanted to see another part of the country and have a different adventure — really rocked them. If our AP had been more up-front sooner, and given us longer to transition, we could have gotten an out-of-country AP without having to put the kids through the disruption of three caregivers in as many months.

I am not saying that an AP should sacrifice a whole year of her life to a situation in which she is unhappy. But she is an adult (even if a young one) and made the choice and made the commitment to this family. The least she can do if she figures out she made a bad choice — or if a better one comes along — is give long enough notice to enable the family to make a smooth transition. The weeks involved are a much shorter period of her life than they are for the kids whose lives she is disrupting. Particularly in the scenario described in the original letter, where there is no abusive situation, the AP should be mature enough to recognize that it’s not just the host parents’ lives she will be disrupting but also the kids’, and she should be mature enough to delay her bliss-seeking for enough time to help the host family get new longer-term childcare arrangements in place and ease the kids through the transition.

Amelie September 18, 2015 at 11:08 am

For the first few weeks in the US, all I wanted was to save money and leave as soon as possible. I had been in the US before, I loved the country, my host family was amazing and I had au pair friends, but the job was so damn difficult. I took care of three small children, and having arrived during winter did not help at all.

I was 100% sure that I wanted to leave, that that job wasn’t for me, and that I wouldn’t change my mind. Turns out I did, as most au pairs do. Being an au pair is tough, for so many reasons, that we all feel like quitting at least a few times during the year.

But if you stick to it, boy, you’ll probably have some of the best times in your whole life.

Of course I agree with all the previous posters when they say that trying your best to stay and be commited to a family that was counting on you is the adult thing to say. But that’s is the HF perspective, and I’d like to offer you the point of view of an au pair.

Don’t quit. Not just because you made a commitment to your host family and should honour that – but also for you. Don’t throw away the chance of having an amazing year, full of great new experiences.

Elisabeth September 19, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Former AP here. COMPLETELY AGREE. If an AP feels after such a short time that they want to go home, they should be forced to stay until the family has found an adequate replacement. You should know before you come here whether or not there is a ‘better’ opportunity in your home country, or if this life isn’t for you.

Now, I re matched from my first family within two weeks, the LC gave me special treatment because of the situation, but I should have really waited a whole month before going into rematch. As it turned out, I moved to my new family on the one month mark. But like I said, I was not going home, and the situation was awful, and my LC, who is generally tough on all au pairs who want to rematch, knew that these were issues that wouldn’t, and couldn’t be fixed.(Had she told me that I HAD to stay for a month, then I would have, no questions.)

Going home and giving up, however, is a no-no. I had a friend who I met at orientation, who, when I announced that I was going into re match, announced that she wanted to go home. Her family were truly amazing. She had great hours, great kids, she even had a built in best friend next door (She and her friend had somehow matched with families who lived next door to each other (they weren’t even trying to get the same town/city, but they did)). But she wanted to go home. But she couldn’t give a reason why, although I know her BF had a lot to do with it. She couldn’t understand why I had no solution for her, or no sympathy.

I told her that our cases were very different, and while my issue was an actual issue, and the LC even recommended rematch after two weeks, her ‘issue’ was really nothing at all. She eventually told them, and they got angry at her when she couldn’t give them an explanation as to ‘why’. It is absolutely NOT okay to leave your family for “a better opportunity in my home country.” You have made a commitment to that family, they’re holding up their end of the deal, you should hold up yours.

Seattle Mom September 21, 2015 at 7:34 pm

I have one thing to add to this conversation. I think re-framing the wording is necessary. OP, whether or not you feel guilty is unimportant. Your guilt doesn’t help anyone. And I don’t believe in telling anyone how they should or shouldn’t feel.

However, you should recognize the potentially very large consequences of what you are doing. And the manner in which you conduct yourself should be in line with the size of those consequences, if you want to believe yourself to be a good person. You made a commitment to a family, and now that you are going to back down from that commitment the family is going to face some difficulties. How difficult depends on the individual family’s circumstances- the flexibility of their own jobs, whether they have family & friends they can lean on, etc. At the very least the kids will feel abandoned, and will have to adjust to someone new, and maybe they will have to adjust to many new people if there’s a period of cobbled-together childcare.

So no one can tell you how to feel. But we can all tell you to recognize the enormity of what you are doing. You left career plans on hold to come to the USA. But now you don’t want to do that anymore. Instead you want to go back and resume your life. But there are people here who you led to believe that you were capable of leaving your life behind. That has consequences.

As others have said, the honorable thing to do is to be honest, accept the blame, and do all that you can to ease the transition for your host family. Guilt is besides the point. It doesn’t do anything for anyone. Do what is right, and feel what you feel.

Dorsi September 21, 2015 at 9:11 pm

This is the answer I wish I had written.

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