Don’t Let BedBugs Take a Bite out of Your Au Pair Relationship

by cv harquail on January 13, 2012

As a host parent, you’ve worried about car accidents, flu shots and even head lice. But did you ever think you’d need to worry about bedbugs?

HMJ didn’t think so.2617344565_fe185584fa_b.jpg

But now, bedbug-related fears — all very reasonable — are challenging her relationship to her terrific Au Pair.

Dear AuPairMom –

We are 18 months into our experience with our first aupair (she extended for an extra year). We love her and she is a responsible, beautiful young woman. Really a part of our family and a perfect fit for us. She has a boyfriend and it’s pretty serious but she insists she’s going home in 6 months regardless of her boyfriend. 

Our au pair spends every weekend with her boyfriend at his apartment from Friday night until late Sunday night. This has not been a problem for us at all. BUT, now we have an issue.

The boyfriend’s apartment has been confirmed for a bedbug infestation (from a new roommate that moved in in Thanksgiving).

We have had our house inspected and we’ve been told that we don’t have bedbugs in our house. However, I hear that bedbug inspections and also bedbug treatments are not fool-proof.

Obviously, we don’t want bedbugs to invade our home. We can’t bear the idea of them, much less the expense and trauma to deal with them (and the toxins all over the house).

I have told our au pair that she cannot stay over at her boyfriend’s home until the bedbug treatment is done and his apartment is declared bedbug-free. But, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with her going over there at all, even after the exterminator has been there.

Au au pair is devastated, crying all the time, not eating. I love her and don’t want to hurt her but I just don’t want to have to worry for 6 months about discovering bedbugs. The fellow who inspected out house has explained that she might be able to prevent bringing bedbugs home with her by taking off all her clothes before she enters the house (and leaving them and a clean change of clothes in the garage). And, he suggested that she leave her things in the car. But the car she uses is also the one that we use for the kids. And, if you have bedbugs in your garage how long until they get inside somehow, someway?

Apparently, the beg bugs (outside, in bags) can be killed in freezing temperatures AFTER 2 solid weeks. We currently have below freezing weather, but in 2 months that won’t be a solution.

And here’s the real problem: I don’t trust the boyfriend. I am not convinced they will spend the money to do the treatment correctly and keep up inspections. I don’t have any solid reason to feel this way just some bad impressions (he’s a deadbeat dad, hasn’t made accommodations to support her schedule, etc.)

What would you do? HMJ

Dear MHJ –

This is an especially tough situation since the real remedy — complete & trustworthy extermination — is beyond your control.

There’ a whole lot of distance between you and who’s responsible for the problem & on the hook for the solution (the boyfriend’s roommate). You’ve got to find a way to get your au pair, her boyfriend, and his roommate to care about this as much as you do.

You are completely right, of course, about wanting to protect your home, your kids, and your au pair from bedbugs and related extermination trauma.

Your request that your au pair not spend time at her boyfriend’s house is reasonable from that perspective. And, for a host of reasons, we understand that you wouldn’t want to invite him to sleep over or hang out in your home. Keep in mind, too, that your au pair shouldn’t be over at his place even immediately after the place is treated– sometimes it takes many treatments, and it always takes several weeks after any treatment to know whether it’s been effective.

I’ve got two suggestions — a ‘head’ strategy and a ‘heart’ strategy.

First, the information-oriented approach:

Ask your au pair to become an expert on bedbugs and how to eradicate them.

  • Ask her to identify what really is effective, and to develop a plan that (she and) her boyfriend could pursue to make his apartment and her safe from bedbugs.
  • Have her look online at bed bug slide shows like this one from WebMD or at YouTube videos of bedbugs crawling over someone’s bed or arm. It will completely creep her out and impress on her just how serious a bedbug infestation can be.
  • Position this as a way she needs to take care of herself. And, let it take the burden off you for being the person telling her not to hang out in that apartment.

Now for the Heart-based approach:

Use the “he would if he really cared” argument.

For example,

  • If her boyfriend really loves her and really wants to spend time with her at his home, he & his roommate need to exterminate and then have it
  • If her boyfriend really cares about her, and if he is really good enough for her, he can prove it by verifying that his apartment is bug-free.
  • If he really loved her, he wouldn’t want her to expose herself or her host family to bed bugs.

If she and he know what they’re really facing with bedbugs, and they care about each other (and your family), he should bite the bullet and deal with it.

Host parents, what else would you try?

See also:

Creepy, Crawly, Contagious Things- What if your Au Pair catches them too?

Image: Bunia Beagle AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by gmeger . Just fyi, beagles can be trained to ‘sniff out’ bedbugs.


ThinkingAboutThisIdea January 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm

But… even if she keep distance from her boyfriend’s apartment, she couldn’t catch the bedbugs from his clothes?

AFHostMom January 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Bedbugs really only come out at night unless there is a terrible, insane infestation.

This post makes me want to shower. When we lived abroad we stayed in some DICEY places. However, we got bed bugs at the place I’d have least expected them–a rather posh American-style hotel in Germany. They were terrible–so bad that they did come out during the day, and on our third day there we caught one, put it in a ziploc, and I slapped it onto the reception desk when they insisted that their rooms COULDN’T have bed bugs. Anyway, we were really afraid that we would bring them home with us, and even taking the precautions not to was exhausting. We bagged all our clothes and threw out the pack and play our baby had slept in. The car seats had to be scoured and wrapped, and the car had to be meticulously vacuumed. All this while my husband and I each had hundreds of bites and were on hard-core antihistamines so we could barely stay awake. We’re hyper-vigilant now.

The point is….bed bugs are a nightmare. The HM is WELL within her rights to insist that the AP not stay over at her boyfriend’s house. I can send some pictures of my bitten-all-to-heck face if the AP doesn’t get her fill from google image search!

Am I understanding correctly that the new roommate brought the bedbugs with him (nice housewarming gift!)? Frankly, he should be responsible for the cleanup, if he did. I do understand that it can be expensive to clean bedbugs out of an apartment, but this just isn’t okay.

Should be working January 14, 2012 at 3:54 am

This is perhaps the most confounding scenario I have ever seen on this website, precisely because it’s so far out of the HF’s control as to how and whether and when the problem will be taken care of, and the consequences of a failure on someone else’s part could be really awful (albeit not deadly–which would at least make it easier to be super-hardline). It’s a great AP, with a lame BF, with a hard-to-get-rid-of problem that could take over the HF’s life.

One has to hope that the AP realizes how awful it would be to have bedbugs in her own room and house, and that the ick factor would keep her away from the boyfriend’s house until it is resolved. I cross my fingers for you.

This makes lice look like a piece of cake, so I’m grateful for that flash of insight next time I get the dreaded phone call from kids’ school.

NoVA Host Mom January 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm

CV gives good approaches, and you shoul not hesitate to try everythinfg. Do not back down or try to find some way to work in the overnights with the BF.

Just a quick google search on the topic showed me that the bugs are now generally tolerant of the very toxic chemicals that have been used in the past. Also that they are “hitchhikers” and move around that way (even from BF’s clothes to her’s in some other unsuspecting hotel room), and that they can make a home in papers (like magazines and newspapers), and can live for months without eating (thanks, Mayo clinic, I will now be freaking out for quite some time).

You absolutely have the right to take whatever steps are necessary to protect not only your AP, but also your home, family and those who visit YOUR house, even if just for a playdate.

If she is still allowing this to affect your household (which is supposed to be her priority, as she lives there too), I might want to give a heads up to the LCC. Even if it has not reached an interention moment, the LCC should be in the loop about this. Between her not taking care of herself with the drama and not eating, and the risk of infestation to your home, the LCC should be ready to step in with a few strong reminders to AP about her responsibilities and where her priorities should be (I’m talking about not subjecting your home to this nightmare and cost, much less the risk of them hitchhiking home in her suitcase). It also might be a good teaching moment for the whole cluster (especially since no hotel or home is immune, and a costly room rate does not mean no bedbugs, since they could come in on any guest and I doubt every hotel vacuums their box springs out regularly).

SingleHM January 15, 2012 at 2:51 am

I now place my suitcases in the bathroom everytime I travel and never ever put my clothes on the bed. I sleep in special pjs and put them in a baggie before I come home.

Right now…go out to Target/Walmart/BedBathandBeyond…whatever and get VINYL mattress/pillow covers. Cover ANYTHING you can. Her bed/pillows, YOURs and your CHILDREN’s!!! WASH the sheets/mattress pads in the hottest water, OFTEN!

Vacuum and do these precautionary methods until this is resolved!

JJ Host Mom January 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm

This is a tough one.

Perhaps point out that in addition to contaminating your home with bedbugs, she’ll almost certainly take them back to her home country with her in 6 months and contract her home there as well.

AngieHostMum January 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm

You should first be really happy she is telling you about this. Tell her that! The last thing you want is for her to decide to not be open and honest with you because it creates problems for her with her boyfriend.

If it was us, realistically, we would offer to pay for part of the bedbug extermination if we had a say in who did the extermination. NOT our responsibility, but definitely our problem.

massaupairmom January 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm

I’m with Angie. If it meant I could have control over the process, I would offer to pay for the extermination. Heck, if you don’t get rid of them at boyfriend’s apartment, you’ll likely be paying to get rid of them at your house anyway – probably more expensive and definitely more disruptive to your life. I also would not hesitate to tell my au pair that she has to take all of the precautions mentioned above (nothing she takes into bf apartment comes back into house) and let her know you’ll ask her to help pay for extermination if you need it at your house.

CalifMom January 16, 2012 at 11:31 am

Good advice above.

Deadbeat dad BF is worth this much to her? Hmm. I wonder if perhaps she is so upset because she is also sering the deadbeat side of him when she thought he would treat her better, that she is special, that his ex is a you-know-what — except she isn’t ready to admit this yet.

Dept of Ag and CDC has a website with up to date info on removal. There’s a federal taskforce looking at best practices. Good news is they don’t transmit disease; bad news is exterminators are using WAY too much pesticides. Yes resistance is common. Worse is that these pesticides are neurotoxins and VERY BAD for children and babies. Like head lice, best bet is “mechanical” removal. Vacuuming. Obsessive barrier protection. And freezing can work. (seriously, when you get the head lice letter from school, the school nurse does NOT know what she’s talking about. Those shampoos only sometimes work and are, after all, pesticides. Get a good metal comb and a strong light, pop in a dvd and remove everything by hand. First time we dealt with this I used the shampoo according to label. Because I’m a total healthcare nerd I popped the *treated* critters I found into a ziplock. They crawled around happily for days. Found harvard school of public health website which had studies showing mechanical removal is the only way to go. School nurse could not change advice letter or school district requirements. Probably still thinks I’m nuts. Of course a 10 min shampoo sounds more pleasant than an hour combing methodically through a kid’s head. But it doesn’t work and has made the problem worse.)

Back to bedbugs: I love the idea of having her become the expert and her own advocate. I understand the fallback position of offering to pay for the BF’s apartment cleaning, but boy that just feels wrong, though it is entirely rational. I would research how far they travel–if they mive between apartments it is futile.

A small chest freezer for the garage would be relatively cheap. But how humiliating all this is for her!

You MUST thank her for telling you. I think that shows she knows this is a big deal and she needs your help figuring out what to do about it.

Keep us posted! This is such a sticky thicket, from every angle. Bottom line: it would be a diff story if her BF was a respectable young man. This isn’t how she wanted to end the affair, I’m sure.

MommyMia January 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Though it digresses from the original topic, I just had to let CalifMom know that I’m totally on her team RE the head lice! At least once a month we get the outdated “fact sheets” from school as classmate after classmate is infested. I get so angry at the parents who are too lazy or dumb to do the mechanical treatment, or who think that mayonnaise or chrysanthemum oil will kill the lice, the school nurse and district who keep advocating for using the OTC shampoos which all DON’T WORK! There are new products in development (alcohol based) and a prescription shampoo that our pediatrician recommended which really did work and didn’t smell as nasty and toxic as the stuff we’d used before, but somehow the word just doesn’t get out, and the lice get more and more resistant! Stepping down off my soapbox now – sigh! Oh, and I can attest to the grossness of bedbugs and the fact that they really don’t transmit anything other than itchiness at the site of their bites – my grandmother once had them in a mattress my sister and I slept on. She was outraged that we would even mention them, but I looked them up in an encyclopedia (this was before the Internet) and showed her the photo and evidence.

Should be working January 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Ok, now you HAVE to spill the name of the shampoo that truly worked. Forget the au pair question–we may have a lice cure here!

And yes, the mechanical method is required. We have preferred to shell out big bucks for a professional nitpicker who makes housecalls to come do it for us. She is not middle-aged-farsighted, has great specialized gear, and most of all, it is her responsibility to get each one of those suckers, so I can sit back and relax. And she checks all of us, and comes back a week later to check again.

Worth every penny.

MommyMia January 16, 2012 at 9:56 pm

It’s Ovide (and it does contain malathion, which isn’t exactly something you *want* to put on children, but we’ve never had another outbreak, knock wood). I’ve seen ads in the past two years for another product whose name I can’t remember) but haven’t had to ask my doctor, luckily! If you Google new lice treatment alcohol, it should pop up. And I totally agree on the value of the professional nitpickers, after having had to go through treatment for two kids, an pair and myself a couple of years ago. (yeah, those flyers from school also say that adults rarely get head lice!) I’d love it if some researcher would devote his/her energy to genetically mutating the little suckers so they’d wipe themselves out naturally!

anonamomma January 17, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Just on the lice issue – here’s a tip.

If you dip the lice comb into a saucer of cider vinegar and then comb it through the hair root to tip it will help break down the “glue” that attaches the eggs to the hair the eggs slide down teh hair strand.

I promise it works but be careful to only dip the tip of the comb in the saucer because children’s scalps get sensitive during the combing process and the cider vinegar will sting especially if there are any scrapes or scratches on the scalp.

It really doesn’t smell nice at all but works a treat and leaves the hair lovely and shiny.

MommyMia January 18, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Good tip! And I’ve found that the best comb is a cat flea comb that we’ve had for years – the ones in the kits and the ones the school lends out have teeth that are too widely spaced to catch all the nits anyway. BTW, strange coincidence – we just got notice from out school that the nurse is going to do a “Facts of Lice” talk next week one day after school. Should be interesting to hear what she says. I almost feel like making copies of reports I’ve seen online (Harvard Medical Newsletter, etc) but I’m sure my enthusiasm will die down if I wait a bit! Notice that it’s not being held, say, in the evening, when working parents could attend and who might greatly benefit from information, since I’m guessing they’re more likely to want a quick and “easy” treatment so as not to have to miss more work/school time.

German ex Au Pair January 17, 2012 at 6:24 am

I read your lice discussion here and thought I’d mention something my mom used with me and my 5 siblings…
We had a lice breakout when I was in elementary school (many years ago) and my mom used the poison-shampoo and also the comb and it worked pretty well.
Now my youngest siblings are in elementary school and the same shampoos that worked for us older kids years ago do NOT work anymore…so I guess the lice really got immune to it. It was hard work to get rid of them but the combing really worked.
Now my mom (a pharmacist) got a new shampoo for her that prevents lice from even going into her hair. It is birch shampoo, made of the birch tree. Herbal has it and some other brands, too. They use that shampoo now every time they wash their hair and so far they didn’t get lice again, even when there was another breakout at school. I heard from a lot of familys that it really works…apparently the little suckers don’t like the smell of birches although it really doesn’t smell bad… :)
Good luck!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

We’ve not had the bedbug problem, but we have had the immature boyfriend/girlfriend issue on a couple of occasions (two we never met because he (and one she) refused to come to our home – even when invited – and another we loved and adored but he was not going to get his act together in the year our AP lived with us). Once we know an AP is in a relationship we do our best to invite the signficant other to sit at our table – a couple of flings ended quickly when the boyfriend came up short at the dinner table.

The bottom line is – there is nothing you can do about love, and an AP is good practice for the coming years ahead with your own children. Support her without snarking about his inadequacies (no matter how tempting and obvious), but I would agree with others – do what you need to do to protect your family.

I would also advise, having had one inspection of your home that cleared you of bedbugs, that you not continue to make a big deal about it (yes, sure, there’s always a chance – but if you have children, something’s always going to come into your home, whether it is a virus, bacterial infection, lice, impetigo, etc. etc.)

Don’t let this be the issue the brings the downfall of your relationship with your AP. Does that mean she gets to do anything she wants? No. But keep the negative tone out of your voice while you encourage her to be the adult in the situation (since her boyfriend obviously isn’t) and to come up with a useful solution with which she and you can live. (And no, meeting the BF in a hotel is not the solution – since bedbugs can be an issue there, too.)

My guess is that if you don’t set up the BF as the bad guy, it might not take her long to see he isn’t worth the effort to maintain the relationship. After all, she already knows he isn’t worth a commitment to a life in the US…

Emma March 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I think Taking a Computer Lunch’s advice is wonderful.

belljoyce April 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Well, this was my original email back in January and the reason I haven’t been back is I have been dealing with bed bugs for 3 months. The apartment building that the boyfriend lives in was done professionally and my aupair claims that it was taken care of within the first month. She did stay away from him for a month and she has been extremely wonderful in helping us deal with this mess. We have had about 10 treatments and not one of them fixed the problem yet. We’ve spent about $3000 and might end up in a dispute w/ this current pest company and have to go w/ alternative treatments. Every time we have a treatment we have to bag up all the clothes, clear clutter (we are mainly living in suitcases anyway). We had a POD in our driveway for 2 months, and we have to wash all of our clothes and linens at the laundry mat. The treatments are very toxic and disruptive…We’ve had to keep the animals out of the house but luckily have been able to do the treatment most times when the kids were in school. This has most definately damaged our relationship with our aupair. Mostly, she just wants to go home (she’s scheduled to leave in 3 months anyway) and she stays out of the house (sometimes talking on the phone in her car). We asked her to pay part of the treatment (about $1500 of which she will have out of pocket expenses of about $500) and interestingly enough the aupair agency has insurance that covers about $1000 of it! (She researched this one) She has taken the burden of washing the clothes and has apologized for this but now I think blames me because the boyfriend’s place was “resolved”. (I still wonder…)

JJ Host Mom April 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Ugh, that’s terrible. Really sorry to hear about it. What an awful situation.

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