Driven to the edge because my Au Pair can’t drive

by cv harquail on June 28, 2010

What happens when your au pair candidate says she can, but then it turns out she can’t? And, what if you said she didn’t really need to, but then you realized she did?

When we consider the characteristics and skills we want our au pair to have, we usually think about what we or our children need from an au pair. — We have to find an au pair that can swim if we have a pool for our kids, or one who likes dogs if we have dogs. If we don’t have a pool, or a dog, we don’t look for a swimmer or a dog-lover.

Sometimes, especially when we are new to au pairs, the scope of our criteria is too narrow. You au pair arrives, and something you thought s/he didn’t need to have/be, s/he actually does need to have/be.

We need to consider criteria not only from our own perspective, but also from the perspective of our potential au pairs.

Nowhere is this more true than with our criteria around driving.

Usually, we consider whether or not our kids need to be driven places, and if the answer is “yes” we look for a candidate with great driving skills. But a candidate also needs to be able to drive if you live in an area where there is nothing within walking distance and/or no easy public transportation.

If your family doesn’t live in a city or a well-developed town, your au pair needs to be able to drive well enough to use a car for his or her own purposes.

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Dear Au Pair Mom,

We just welcomed our first Au Pair this Friday, and I am starting to regret the whole thing.

I am a stay at home mom with 10 month old twins and 6 months pregnant with the 3rd (due in October). I am in desperate need of help, not only as my pregnancy moves forward but also after the arrival of the baby, when we’ll have three children under 14 months old. I was sick after the birth of the twins so I need to be able to take things more easily with this pregnancy and beyond.

When the twins first arrived, I had a full time nanny that lived with us Mon-Friday for the 1st 3 months the babies were born. For the last 4 months I’ve had a mother’s helper in the mornings. Once I found out I was pregnant again I knew I’d need full time help again.I really needed full-time help and this seemed like the most economical way compared to what people charge in our area. Some people where we live pay up to 3000 a month for full-time help which we cannot afford. So the au pair idea seemed like a good one.

Our Au Pair selection criteria didn’t include “good driving”.

When we were looking at candidates, we did not require good driving skills since my husband and I are the only ones we trust to drive our daughters anywhere. And, neither of our other caregivers ever had to drive the twins anywhere, so we did not make driving skill a priority.

Our AP is 25 and from Latin America. In terms of her personality, we like this young woman. She seems like a nice person and she seems fine with the babies (very loving, etc.)

Our Au Pair told us she could drive, but she can’t.

When we interviewed her, she said she could drive. I told her via skype conversations and e-mail several times that we would give her driving privileges if she could drive well. The first day here she said she never drove an automatic car. Then she told us she actually doesn’t drive very well, either.

Once she arrived here, it became clear that she didn’t understand that we live very far from the train and there is really no bus system in our area.

Now I am feeling guilty as she will be stuck in our house 24-7. That is, unless she learns to drive better or I drive her around.

I can’t be my Au Pair’s chauffeur.

We want her to get out and have a life, but she seems very afraid to mention to us that she needs a ride. We had said we could drive her where she needs to go within reason. The 2nd day here she wanted to go to the church. It is 30 minutes away so I stupidly said yes, brought her there, had to find a place to kill time and do some shopping and pick her up 2 hours later. This one experience made me realize that, even if I “want” to drive her when she needs it, I really can’t do that. I can’t spend 2-3 hours each weekend driving her to church.

If she could drive competently she would be able to used the car herself.

Am I being selfish? I didn’t get an AP so I can chauffeur her around.

Options

We are toying with the idea of getting her driving instructions but who is to say she’ll be able to drive well enough or even pass the test.

I wonder if we should cut our losses ASAP and request someone that can get themselves around better or should we hold out. I hate to put more money out for the lessons and then still ask for another AP.

What should we do? The first three days with her have been exhausting our whole schedule is off. Plus, this issue is causing me more stress, when what I really need is an Au Pair who can reduce my stress.

I have no idea what to do.Driven Close to the Edge

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Dear Driven,

Actually, Driven, you’re a bit further than you think.  You’ve identified your two viable options. Short of getting your au pair a nice bike, you can either
1) Try to get her driving skills up to par, or
(2) Go go into rematch.

Here’ what I’d recommend:

1. Let your community counselor know that the driving thing is a problem.

2. Assess whether your au pair has the will, the interest, the determination, to learn to drive. THis is actually more important than whether she has the ability to learn to drive in the US.

3. If she has the will, go on to step 4. If she doesn’t have the will, go directly to rematch.

4. If you think she’s determined to learn to drive, assess her current level of skill. Have Host Dad take her out for two or three sessions in a parking lot. If it looks hopeless, go directly to rematch.

5. If it looks like she just needs to get comfy with an automatic, etc. arrange for driving lessons. *Ask your Counselor if the Agency will pay for them. Be especially firm with your counselor in asking for reimbursement if you feel your au pair misrepresented her driving skill.

6. After the first professional lesson (of 1.5 or 2 hours) ask the instructor for her/his evaluation. If the professional instructor thinks your au pair is hopeless as a driver, go to rematch. if not, keep on with the lessons.

7. Consider spending up to $300 on lessons, but no more.
(Wonder ow I came up with this number? In my town, $300 would be about 4.5 to 5 hours of lessons. And, that’s about what it would cost to get a babysitter to help you for 20 hours during the week you’d go into rematch… so it’s commensurate with the rematch cost you hope to avoid.)

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8. Give your au pair an ultimatum: either she learns to drive “well enough” or you must rematch. Then, watch your au pair rise to the challenge, study online videos and practice up and down your street, and voila!

If you go directly to rematch:

10. Take some of the blame. Even though she misrepresented her skills, she did this thinking that driving ability really wasn’t important.

11. Continue to be kind and helpful during rematch. Be sure to write a short letter to the Counselor and to potential rematch families clarifying that driving is the issue, and mentioning anything positive you can about the candidate. Give her a copy of this letter so she knows that you’re supporting her in finding a better placement.

12. Scour the advice on this blog for finding a rematch candidate. (Just type the word “rematch” into the search box, and there’s a wealth of wisdom and ‘how to’s”.)  There may well be a candidate out there who has realized she likes babies better than tweens…. and who doesn’t want to chauffeur kids but can drive herself to the mall. There are great candidates out there.

13. Move quickly. It may take more than two weeks to find someone… the sooner you start, the better.

14. Consider your criteria… Is there anything else you’ve realized that you need, or don’t need, in an au pair? Adjust now.

15. Remember that this can be a learning experience. Use it to practice being direct, kind and unafraid in your approach to resolving issues with a caregiver.

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16. Finally, don’t feel guilty or selfish. You simply can’t be 6+ months pregnant and a chauffeur. It just can’t be done.

[[ Note: I am assuming that you live too far away for her to bike to places she wants to go. ]]

Did I miss anything? What else should Driven try?


See Also:
How to Assess an Au Pair Candidate’s Driving Experience
The Best $98 You Can Spend on Your New Au Pair
f the Au Pair Agency failed in their “due diligence”, what can Host Parent do?

Images:
Make call, drive thru from _cheryl
Drive Pink! from Farruska
Driving to my confessor from
M needs a doctor

{ 57 comments }

clairetheaupair June 28, 2010 at 9:48 am

This happened to me.
I never misrepresented by driving ability – I provided copies of my licence, explained the licencing system from my home and how that made me a (in my opinion) a great driver. outlined what kinds of roads I had experience on etc etc.

However, not once was driving a manual car mentioned, by either party. whoops! Its just not part of the culture that I come from, so it never occured to me to ask, and same back again of my host family.

Luckily we found out before I left the country, so I forked out for 4 driving lessons before I left, and then he paid for another 2 when I arrived. (The kids did have to suffer through me stalling in the snow 16 times on one car trip – yes they counted!) In about a month though, my driving was fine which is good, becuase I live very rurally

I think, if Driven didn’t realise the importance of driving experience, whilst is sounds like the au pair misrepresented purposely perhaps as all things seem good, giving this young woman a chance to learn is appropriate? I really like both the idea of sussing out whether or not she is willing to try and giving her a go in a parking lot before going forward. Becuase I was thrown by the roads, and the snow and the different speed limits, I was terrified the first time i went out with my HD but he was calm, patient and caring, and suddenly my driving wasn’t quite so bad.

Anyways, a long anecedotal way of saying… give her a chance first – her driving might be better than you think!

HRHM June 28, 2010 at 10:45 am

I agree with the above advice – all very sound. My advice relates to future matches and sussing out who is going to be an adequate and/or trainable driver. When you communicate with candidates, even if you don’t need a driver, I think everyone who doesn’t live within walking distance to a subway/bus line needs a look for one anyway. Unfortunately, most people ARE looking for a driver and so even APs with marginal driving skills seem to bill themselves as “daily drivers” (I speak from experience) So the way I’ve gotten around this is 1) tell the candidates that if they are not good drivers by my assessment, THEY will have to pay the $400 for driving lessons AND 2) they must take and pass the state DL test and if they can’t (I set a 60 day time limit) then they will not be allowed to use the car for personal use. This seems to do the trick in getting the not-so-daily-drivers weeded out.

JBLV June 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I may be niave in this regard, but should home country be a consideration in future au pair matching? Germans, and many other Euros, have to pass a very rigorous driving test. Is it preferable to get a Euro au pair if s/he will need to drive?

JBLV June 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm

“naive,” rather

Chev June 29, 2010 at 1:20 am

Home country should be a bit of a consideration but i wouldn’t look by country based on the stereotypes about their driving. Even though germany has supposedly super hard and long extensive tests to get your license, i’ve had two german friends during my au pair years that were two of the worst drivers i’ve ever been in a car with. And Thai girls are stereotypically bad drivers but i’ve known Thai girls who are good drivers, as well as ones i’ve never gotten in a car with again :)

Used to be an AP June 29, 2010 at 5:23 am

The driving test in Germany is super hard compared to most other coutries, You havto take at least 22 lessons with a qualified instructor, 4 (?) of them have to be on a highway (autobahn), and 4 have to be at night time (when it’s dark, really exhausting if you are getting your license during the summer and your lessons start at 10pm). Also, you have to take at least 12 90 min “theoretical sessions” where you learn about rules, what to do if you get into an accident etc. Also, before you can even register with a driving school, you have to get a CPR certificate. The actual theoretical test consitsts of around 30 questions, the pratical one takes about one hour and you have to drive on the highway as well as in a city. It usually takes between 3-6 months to get the licsense (most driving schools don’t allow the driving lessons to start before a certain number of theoretical lessons taken) and it usually costs more than 1000 Euros. And all driving lessons have to be in a car with a manual, driving lessons using an automatic car are not allowed (as far as I know). Also, you have to be 18 to get a dl for a car (you are allowed to get one for scooters and small motorcycles at 16).
In general, I’d say that Germans are pretty good drivers, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t Germans who are horrible drivers (I know there are, I see them on the road every day).

Anna June 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm

I think it might be a consideration, but not the only consideration in regards to driving, and supported by more substantial knowledge about country’s culture, to decide whether to trust the veracity of au pair’s driving and even her license. For example, I had excellent Brazilian drivers, they have been from Sao Paulo and suburbs, and anybody who could drive in Sao Paulo can drive anywhere in the USA.
In some countries, it is very uncommon for young women to drive (culture, prevalence of public transportation) so even somebody with a long-held driver’s license from such a country would not automatically assumed to be an experienced driver by me. I also know that in some countries it is almost impossible to pass the test without a bribe, and sometimes the license can be had for a bribe without any driving skills in reality.
I do think that asking the right questions (owning or having regular access to the car, frequency of driving etc.) is a necessary component along with country of origin consideration.

anaonmom June 29, 2010 at 9:44 am

OK, call me prejudice or whatever you like! I will NOT take an au pair from any latin american country, or a few other countries for that matter simply because driving and the ability to drive well in all types of weather is HUGE for me. There is a web site, I will try and find that has all the driving requirements in each country. The other issue, is that some countries it is easy to ‘buy’ your license! I have had au pairs from Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and they can all drive better than most people around here. It is also important for my au pair to be used to driving in the snow.

As an aside, in the future, you need to emphasize that you do not live near transportation and that you need someone who is able to drive well. As I tell my au pairs, it is not their driving I am worried about, it is most of the idiots on the road in NY that you have to watch out for, since about half of them near us don’t have a license anyway.

Anonymous June 29, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Well, I don’t think you’re prejudiced but i think you’re losing out on a big chunk of the au pair pool who are great drivers. We have had two fantastic drivers, both Brazilian, but not from Rio (where there is public transport). One was from Bahia, one from Sao Paolo. And I high pretty high standards because I learned to drive in LA, where on the first day of driver’s education, Coach took us sophomores onto the freeway. Merge or die!

Victoria August 14, 2010 at 5:23 am

It is prejudice. I’m from latin america and I took a reasonable practical and theorical test to get my licence – I didn’t “buy” it. I also had to undergo physical test – they checked the health of my ears and my eyes because they are vital for driving. I was an au pair for year and a half and I drove 4 kids (2 infants!) around on a daily basis and I never had any accident of any kind.
It is also very ignorant to say something like that because even if we have our driving licences from our home countries (however “easy” you may think it is to get one in latin america), we also have to apply for an american drivers licence – and just like anyone in the US we have to undergo all tests to get it as you’re not allowed to drive with a foreign drivers licence for over 60 days.
Also, any reputable agency will make sure you’re true to your word when it comes to first aid training and driving skills. In my case, the agency required me to take a first aid course (despite having my certificate already) and they also required me to apply for an international drivers licence which required me to undergo (again!) all test – practical and theorical. They also provided me with the driving laws of the state I was headed to in preparation to obtaning my american drivers licence, and I had to study them for the theorical test before my arrival. I took the test 3 weeks after I arrived and was given my american drivers licence.
So you’re either not familiar with your own country’s laws (when it comes to 60 day limited use of foreign drivers licence) or you don’t trust your own country’s driving tests because believe me – they don’t make a special one for au pairs that is “easier” or that can be “bought”.
So my recommendation to Driven and to any other host family is… find a reputable agency that will make sure that your au pair is speaking honestly about the extent of her skills. And also, brush up on your law knowledge, I have no doubts there are au pairs out there driving illegally just because neither them nor their host families are familiar with the US driving laws.
As an additional note – international driver licences are not admisible in court, so if your au pair gets a ticket or into an accident and has to go to court, they will dismiss the international drivers licence and they will be charged with driving with an invalid drivers licence – my au pair friend Carla (who is btw German!) got a speeding ticket just outside my cul de sac and when she was given an additional ticket because she didn’t have a state licence and she had been there for 6 months already.
Be careful people, get all of the information you need before doing anything or speaking too much.

Victoria August 14, 2010 at 5:30 am

I forgot to mention – insurance companies won’t take anything other than a state licence, so that too is an important fact to be aware of. When I arrived, my host parents called their car insurance people and they were told that in order to add me to their car insurance I would have to have a state licence. So it is not only about the law perspective, if your au pair gets into an accident and she doesn’t have a state licence… your insurance won’t cover anything. Another side note… again, I will advice you anaonmom and any other host family to go through all of these details beforehand so there are no surprises. And to be honest, bad drivers can be found in all countries.
Good luck!

HRHM August 14, 2010 at 6:16 am

The requirement to get a US state license varies from state to state. In VA, if you are going to be here for one year or less, your international driver license is acceptable. There are many states where this is the case. Also, most insurance companies, including USAA and Geico, do not require your AP to get a US license. Often it IS cheaper to insure her if she has one, but still not required. I do know some HPs that tell their APs that it’s required, to force her to study for and take the test. :) Or to rematch when they realize they’ve gotten a terrible driver.

Anna August 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Victoria, HRHM is right, the rule about how long one can drive with international license depends on the state. In NY for example au pairs can drive with an international license forever.
In VA, it is a 60-day rule (HRHM, I don’t know why you are not aware of that since you are speaking of VA; I live there and this rule is clearly spelled out, all my au pairs had to get the state license before 60 days in the state)

MommyMia August 14, 2010 at 10:02 pm

HRHM is correct that different auto insurance agencies differ in their policies. We have had APs with both Intl. licenses on our policy, and some who were required to get a state license (by us) because the rates would be too high because their home country licenses couldn’t be “verified” or authenticated. Most have desired to get a state license anyway, because it’s a cool souvenir (even though it’s only good for one year if obtained with an intl. license, at least in our state) and some because it’s a requirement of our agency if the AP decides to extend for a 2nd year.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 14, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Even though our state (MD) has a 60-day rule, it is not enforced (my neighbor has had California plates on her car since at least February – when I first noticed it when she dug her car out during a major snowstorm). However, our state changed its rules, so that the driver’s license expires when the Visa expires, forcing extension APs to reapply (I don’t think they have to retake the written & driving tests, but of course money is involved).

For DH and I, failure to get a driver’s license (we offer to reimburse, but we don’t book a thing), is an indication that the AP is not serious about extending with us. We make our decision at the 8-month mark, so it’s easy enough for APs to have had the license by then — if they can drive. Our last AP wasn’t cleared by DH to drive alone until the 7-month mark, but I had already stopped asking when she was going to take the required drug & alcohol class (required in MD before submitted documentation for review). She probably was relieved because I was backing off, little did she know that my LCC had given me advice to stop asking to see if she were serious about getting her license (and to make that the pinpoint factor when we decided not to extend).

Still – I call all of it the “best foot forward syndrome.” And, if we all take a moment and think back to job applications that we filled out that exaggerated, even if slightly, our abilities in order to get a second look in the interview process. We understand that APs are not “lying” about their abilities (and in some cases they may truly believe they are not exaggerating — call it the bravado of youth). The difference, to us, as HP, is that when an AP exaggerates about driving ability, it may have a huge impact on some very real and — to us — important people — our children.

I must admit, I take it for granted that European APs can really drive (based on my experience in living there), and I understand from this list, that that is not always the case. I had one Brazilian AP who was a fantastic driver from day 1, and one who had slipped money across the seat to buy a license — even though she had owned a car for two years (she was a confident person and learned to drive quickly). However, it was the Chinese AP who took the cake. She seemed to have absolutely no clue how to maneuver a vehicle — even our subcompact — despite having a license. It took many of DH’s hours, plus some money for lessons (we split the cost with her, and then forced APIA’s hand successfully — and with the backing of our LCC, who didn’t think our AP could rematch, and bargained on our behalf as a long-term family).

Victoria August 15, 2010 at 7:41 am

Yeah, Anna is right because I was an au pair in VA therefore I was required to get the license within 2 months of my arrival – thankfully I had been studying the theorical material for the test before I even arrived and was able to get it within 3 weeks of my arrival.

During my time in VA 2 of my au pair friends had license issues because one of them (Carla – Germany) got a speeding ticket and only had her international license which was not admissible and she got in a lot of trouble. Also another one of my friends (Ang – Bosnia) got into a fender bender, was nothing serious, minor damage to the car and no injuries, however it became serious when she also only had her international license and her home country license to hand over – given that she had been in the country for a little over 4 months, having no state license was not acceptable for police and she also had to go to court and got into a lot of trouble. In this last accident the insurance also refused to cover the expenses due to the driver not having a valid license and her HP were furious, they even tried to go into rematch thankfully our counselor was able to interfere and eventually things got resolved.

While I completely agree that laws vary from state to state, my point with the post was to contradict the deluded perception that latin american au pairs “buy” their licenses or are not capable of being good drivers – and despite laws varying from state to state, I stand by my statement when I say that if you go to a REPUTABLE agency, you shouldn’t have any issues as they do verify (extensibly) that au pairs are being honest about their skill levels.

Like I said, in my case my agency was very professional – they not only did the standard criminal record checks for me and the family, but they also make all of their potential au pairs take 2 different first aid courses to get certified, they require you to take a physical to make sure you’re healthy, they check your driving skills by making you take the appropriate steps to obtain your international drivers license and provide the theorical material for the driving tests of the state you’re heading to.

However I do recommend any potential HF to check laws in their state, talk to their insurance company and inform their potential au pair of all the requirements she will need to meet in order to make use of the car. It really isn’t that complicated and it can potentially save you the trouble and the money.

Host Mommy Dearest August 15, 2010 at 7:09 pm

My au pairs did not take any tests to get their internat’l driver’s license. It is merely a translation of their country’s driver’s license.

My 2 cents June 28, 2010 at 10:52 am

If my math is right your au pair has only been with you maybe one week?? If so, it’s entirely too early IMHO for you to jump to conclusions, especially since you are brand new to this whole au pair thing plus you are 6 months pregnant with all the stress and drama that entails.

Give this au pair another week of hanging out at your place 24/7 and I’m guessing she will be ready to start practicing driving with zeal. At some point, in my experience, the fear and lack of experience starts to become outweighed by the sheer isolation and need for social interaction. All au pairs come terrified to drive at first and question their own abilities, even the ones with solid experience (not that common, no matter where they are from, I’ve learned). And who wouldn’t be? New country, new rules, they want to please you in every way.

If she’s plainly motivated, I do think you should make solid attempts at teaching her. If she’s not motiviated, and you will need to sort out whether it’s fear or whether it’s somethign else, then let her go. Easiest way in my mind is to not drive her places and see how the tide turns.

PA AP mom June 28, 2010 at 11:04 am

Neither of our APs had ever driven an automatic transmission. We went with them for the first week or so to make sure they felt comfortable and didn’t have any trouble after that. Could you, or host dad, take AP out to a non-traffic location and actually “assess” her skills before making any further decisions? It’s worth a try.

We NEED a strong driver as we are very rural. We don’t take any candidate who has had a license for less than 3 years. We also ask about where they drive, how often, in what type of car, with whom in the car, and on what types of roads.

Our AP must drive for work with our children and to her cluster meetings (1 hour away) so her driving has to be good.

Host Mommy Dearest June 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm

hmmmmmm, we were burned by this exact scenario, and the AP in question had a burning desire to learn to drive and be set free from confinement. We spent about $400 in lessons and a considerable amount of our own time in empty parking lot driving playing “try to smash the paper cup with your tire,” but she still totaled our car. I really did like that car too. Anyway, some people just don’t have it in them to be safe drivers. cv gave really good advice – as always – but I might cut my losses sooner this time around because of my past experience. I regret not acting on it sooner in my case. If you are not sure, at least map out what you need to do if you are cutting losses so you can shorten the cycle to regaining coverage if you can.

SotaGal June 28, 2010 at 12:27 pm

All of the advice is very sound, CV has great steps for a plan of action. I also like HRHM’s suggestions to help assess drivers if you do go into rematch. As a mom of twins plus 1 myself, you just cannot commit the time to shuttling your au pair about. It will only get worse as she makes friends and will lead to resentment on both ends. She’ll be upset that she can’t go out with her friends because you have 3 young children to feed/bathe/put to bed and you’ll be resentful about driving her places or having her sulk around because she has no ride. In our experience the AP’s do a pretty good job of taking turns driving but if there is one girl that needs to be picked up all the time, they’ll start to exclude her.

This is something I still struggle with too. Our last AP had her own car, was a good driver by her own account yet she couldn’t get comfortable on the roads here. She said she was used to driving on city roads as well as highways to the large city an hour from her home yet she was so nervous driving here that she couldn’t bring herself to drive more than 35 mph. We too need a driver, not so much for the kids though it helps, but living in the suburbs the closest fast food restaurants and drug stores are 2 miles from home. Everything fun is even farther away.

BBBG June 28, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I was in the exact situation. It’s total agony, isn’t it?! Well, we kept the au pair, paid $$$ on lessons we hadn’t budgeted, and her driving did not improve, and she crashed our car causing damage and then more obligation than she really could afford (even if it was only the deductible). Then I decided to let her drive the kids anyway (praying that she did not crash). A month into this, I received by mail a red light ticket (automatic ticket sent to the owner of a vehicle when it runs a red light) from when the au pair was driving my 3 babies to the school to drop off the eldest. YIKES!

Rematch! I know, it will be a burden to do so, but do you really want her driving your car and crashing it, or driving with your children?

Dorsi June 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I agree with the posters who said you need to give her time. The social isolation may get toher (or not). Some people crave interaction, some people are happy with daily Skype chats.

I also think that we may need to adjust our expectations of what “really isolated” means. I don’t think it is crazy to have to bike 2 miles to get to shops and restaurants. There are more public transportation options than most people realize.

My APs don’t drive. I give them rides when it suits me, but am very clear that it is on my terms. (I am going to Shopko, I can drop you off at the mall or someplace else, if you want. I’ll be out for 2 hours, then I will get you or you can find your own way home.)

Let her sit at home and deal with the 50 other things that you have to orient her to. Believe in her ability to be a good AP. Then tackle driving in a week or two.

Calif Mom June 28, 2010 at 5:21 pm

CV’s action plan is excellent.

other random thoughts:

Church folks tend to be awfully generous in offering rides, if she were to ask. They always want to grow their membership!

I’m on the fence about whether to force the driving issue now or get her better settled in and then tackle driving. On the one hand, if you’re going to end up in rematch, better to just rip that bandaid off, do it quickly and don’t invest any more of your pregnant brain in worrying about 1) training her well or 2) the quality of her driving for *the entire next year*.

If you *do* end up keeping her, know that we keep $1500 in mind as the amount per au pair we’re going to need to spend on fixing minor body damage.

As I write this, I realize that even with our extension au pair–whom we adore!–I am still very nervous every time she takes the car. We paid for several lessons when she first arrived to get her up to snuff. And yes, we asked the instructor to evaluate whether she was safe enough to cart kids around or not. He said she was, so I took a deep breath and went with it, but it’s still a bit nerve wracking to know she’s out with the car, even when she doesn’t have the kids with her.

Jan June 28, 2010 at 7:27 pm

I think it’s unreasonable to expect your au pair to be a good driver as soon as she has arrived. I’d give her a little more time to get used to driving. I figure it takes about 3 to 4 weeks for DH and me to feel okay with the au pair’s driving skills no matter how much they’ve driven or where they’ve gotten their license. Remember, driving in the US is probably much different than she is accustomed. She is also probably nervous and may not understand your verbal instructions.

I think it’s a great idea to sign up for driving lessons because it takes a large time commitment to do it yourself, and you probably don’t have enough hours in the day for your normal life let alone helping someone to drive.

Here’s an outline of how we get our au pair up to driving speed:

First we review basic traffic signs. We make sure the AP understands spoken commands like stop, right, left, and slow down. We take the au pair for her first driving trip 2 – 3 days after she arrives to determine her skill level and to take the edge off of her nervousness. The first trip is only 15 to 30 minutes long and on back roads. We then take her driving in the evenings for several hours a night (1 to 3 hours). We drive in a large variety of settings. We try to let her drive when we are running errands. We also use the state’s driver training manual to reinforce what we are showing her and often play with Match Box cars to illustrate various driving situations.

The common problems we see include left turns, the question of right away, and turns where more than one lane of traffic is turning (for some reason the au pair’s want to change lanes mid-way in the turn).

Host Mommy Dearest June 28, 2010 at 11:17 pm

It’s good to hear what other HFs do to get their APs up to driving speed. We have a professional driving lesson lined up for the day after arrival and the day after that. We get a rundown from the instructor, then we have her drive just me or DH around for ourselves, both during the day and at night. Why such an aggressive timeframe when they are just getting settled? Well, if it turns out she is a horrible driver, as I mentioned before, we would consider rematch sooner rather than later this time around. Also, I think an instructor will likely set her at ease more than DH or I would in our own car for her first few trips out. Less emotional. Last but not least, it takes us a week or two to get the lessons in and enough trips out with DH or me to feel comfortable tossing her the keys, and after 2 weeks here, our AP is usually itching to go do her thing at least here & there. We try to quickly take the driving slow – if that makes sense.

StephinBoston June 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Same thing happened to me with a South American AP. We paid for lessons (Agency covered $240 I believe), she failed the test 5 times and finally got her license. First time out with the car, she totaled it… It had been since months since she arrived by the time this happened and she was such a fantastic au pair, loving and responsible, we decided to keep her. In her case, she had a huge network of friends (non aps) who drove her everywhere so it only required us to drop her off places once in a while. She ended up extending with us and we still miss her today :)

Now in your case, you really do need to figure out if she can in fact improve as a driver and if you can spend time with her (you or your husband) to practice, unfortunately being a good driver usually doesn’t come without practice… If not, then cut your losses quickly but keep in mind that you seem to have a very good AP and sometimes that can be hard to find.

Pa Host mom of two Au-pairs June 28, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I haven’t even read the above comments in which I ALWAYS do before posting! I highly recommend a rematch right away! WHY??? My first au-pair was with me for almost two years, even though she stated she could drive, I BEG to differ, we spend two- three months teaching her how to drive two days a week + weekends, Plus had the added stress to our workload to drive her to and from monthly meetings, classes, friends etc. She had 2 minor fender benders/ scratches on the car and 1 hit and run…. Since we knew she was not a good driver, we never left her take the smaller children in the car. Once she took our older teens out, a ran the stop sign..After the hit and run, we didn’t allow her to drive for a period of time.

I had to beg HD to give her the car back so WE the HP didn’t have to take her to class, meeting, etc for the rest of her stay. Even though she obtain a PA License I couldn’t let me guard down to allow her to even go to the park with my babies. Even though I love this AP dearly, I would never do this again for another AP. So that was strike 1 on the auto insurance..

UP next the 3rd au-pair on her first day to class, totaled the CAR and the other drivers car almost killing herself…( German ) Strike 2 on the auto insurance policy, plus increase cost for the next 3 years due to the accidents, and into a rematch 6 months into her stay, and not because of the accident.
( yes, we took this au-pair out for almost a month before handing over the keys)

If she is not a good driver now, you will never feel comfortable with her driving your babies around! I don’t care how many lessons she takes… My babies are more important to me than having a unskilled driving in my home. I thought to myself OMG what if my kids were in the car with her.

Best of luck to you… I recently had an au-pair tell me that her AP friend arrived her the same time she did and backed in the mailbox, the next day the HP were on the phone asking for a rematch. It was stated that hey, we need someone that can drive…….

Pa Host mom of two au-pairs June 28, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Ok.. now that I am done being to excited about the topic, and adding my feedback :)
I will read everyone posts! I am sorry this is serious stuff ” Driving”

Taking a Computer Lunch June 28, 2010 at 9:33 pm

My advice is to start driving sooner or later, and to set benchmarks for progress that must be met.

When we discussed interview questions, those of us with experience in dealing with poor drivers gave tips on how to weed out those who skills are unacceptable. Our first AP owned a car for two years — before she had a driver’s license (which she purchased). Nevertheless, she is a confident person and she quickly gained both driving and navigational skills that permitted her to succeed. But we know better than to ask if an AP owns a car – it’s irrelevant.

We were warned about the driving skills from our 5th AP’s country and yet we took her on. Unfortunately she’s a timid person, and so it took her a long time to be able to drive the kids anywhere (and then the snow came and wiped out her skills). I think it was almost 7 1/2 months before we permitted her to use the “au pair car” for personal use, and even now, she is not permitted to take it on overnight trips (previous APs had driven the car to Ocean City, Long Island, Baltimore, Philadelphia – without a hitch). We anticipate our next AP driving it on overnight trips.

Our current AP did $1,100 worth of damage to a car – backing out of a pull-in parking place. Because we did not claim damage on our car (it’s just not worth it – HD wrapped it around a stanchion near a gas pump once), she did not have to pay the deductible. However, we did require her to pay 50% of the cost of driving lessons until it was acceptable to us, or be faced with rematch. She ended up paying for 14 lessons. The first 3 were 2-hour lessons with an off-duty police officer, who said she could pass the road test, but would fail on everything else (e.g. parking, 3-point turns).

Personally, I would not let the driving thing “lay” while your AP gets accustomed to the country. First, you and your husband need to assess how much “free time” you have to drive with the AP. When our kids were babies we had more free time now that they’re school age and have after-school activities many nights of the week and on weekends. If you don’t have much free time, then ask your LCC for advice on driving schools.

Once you decide on driving school vs. HP, then you need to sit down with the AP. I would set benchmarks for progress, especially if you need a driver. “We need X progress by this date,” or I’m afraid we’ll have to go into rematch. The AP got caught in by overselling her skills. This is what the weekly meetings — or monthly meetings are for. One of you gets to reassess her skills just before your benchmark, and make a decision – has she made sufficient progress, before establishing the next benchmark.

By the way, to make them pay or not to pay. I have no qualms about taking 50% of the cost of driving lessons out of salary. When my current AP started to complain that she “needed” a computer and couldn’t have the money deducted from her salary, I responded, “I want a new computer too, and I’m paying 50% of your driving instruction fee, because I need a driver. Go email at the public library, or go into rematch. It’s your choice right now.” She waited for the laptop. I sound hard-hearted, but 10 months later I’m still using an 8-year-old computer and she has a new laptop. I also copied her on every email message when I had to jump through hoops or cancel an event because I didn’t have someone to drive the kids there.

I got fed up with my current APs lack of motivation about getting a driver’s license – she made a half-hearted attempt to take the 3-hour drug & alcohol class that our state requires before proceeding to licensing. My LCC’s advice was to tell me to stop reminding her. If she was sufficiently motivated she would do it. She wasn’t and that and other issues helped us to decide not to extend with her.

Seriously, you want the driving thing resolved before you give birth, because when the new baby arrives neither you nor your husband will have time for driving lessons.

JJ host mom June 29, 2010 at 1:18 am

Crikey, I can’t imagine how you are even sane at this point. My twins are almost two and I still shudder every time I think about having another baby. Good luck to you, my dear. If I could wrap up some extra sleep and hand it to you on a silver platter, I would.

That said, back to topic. I would cut your losses now and move on. She has almost a year left and should be able to find another host family that really does not need a driver. I went through trying to teach my first AP to drive. She was unmotivated and not very smart – failed the written exam the maximum times and never even got to the driving exam. Of course there were other problems too, this was just part of a theme. But you, my dear, are not in a position to mess around right now. You need someone to help you, not to be driving her to church. Ask yourself, even if she learns to drive, if you want a brand-new driver driving around your babies. I did not.

If you do decide to keep her, no more driving her around. But then keep in mind that she may become depressed and withdrawn (as my first AP did) and that will affect her work.

FWIW our current AP is a great driver. She got her license first try, and drives the kids around every day, and drives the third (beater) car all the time on her days off.

Host Mommy Dearest June 29, 2010 at 8:58 am

JJHM makes a very good point. Her driving might improve with lessons, but the lessons do not make someone an experienced driver – that takes time behind the wheel. Inexperienced drivers are more likely to get in an accident. Do you really want her gaining that critical experience with your car during her au pair year? Rematch is stressful & painful, but dealing with a bad driver and all that comes with over months to a year is worse.

maleaupairmommy June 29, 2010 at 2:27 am

So this happened to me. Mine couldn’t even get down our long driveway. I was like OMG!! He was our 3rd au pair. I didn’t have a choice I had to pretty much keep him. WE spent too many dollars but there is a great ending here. He got lessons like 8. Took the written 8 times and drive twice. He ended up staying with us for two years. Guess what no accidents or tickets and our car was still beautiful intacted. It was a growing experience for us all. He always helps me find my new au pairs now. This time he knows the person and he stated, ” No, …. he really drives not like pretend drive like me.” I just had to laugh and glad it was worth the time, money, and yes tears on both sides. Lessons learned but luckily didn’t get burned. I’m grateful for the small things. He was a super duper au pair too!!! My german au pairs drove perfectly and here in WA state don’t even have to take the driving test they just paid the money and show their international driving license and it’s done.

DC Mom of 3 June 29, 2010 at 9:18 am

I agree with the posters who’ve said you can’t expect her to be a great driver after 1 week here. Some girls are very nervous about everything when they arrive. They need a serious adjustment period. It should give you peace of mind to know that she is loving with the babies and will be staying close to home a lot (where you need her) until she can start driving herself places.
I would also add that even in small towns in Latin America, there are many, many more options for public transport than there are in the U.S. Mini-buses and taxis are all over the place. In my mother-in-law’s section of Lima, Peru, in addition to the official taxis, there are literally dozens of people willing to drive you anywhere for very little money – grateful for the extra gas money as they go where they need to go anyway. So, maybe your au pair just assumed that she would have more options for getting around than actually exist in much of the U.S.
Finally, I agree with the comment about the church people being willing to drive – perhaps you could help to get someone from the church to pick her up on Sundays. Once she is more into the church network, they will probably take her to more places with them. Finally, there are usually some au pairs in the cluster who drive who will be willing to cart the non-driving au pairs around.
I would not give up on her right now – you need someone to help you with the babies and to be with you in the house. It sounds like she is doing well at that task, so maybe you should just push forward with her.

DarthaStewart June 29, 2010 at 9:52 am

Ditto on her being able to get a ride. She DOES need to offer gas money to them for picking her up. (She should also reimburse you for gas money too!)

Aria June 29, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Thought I agree that it would be a nice gesture and I would probably offer, I don’t think it’s fair to expect the AP to reimburse the HM for gas money- at least not in the posted situation.

“We want her to get out and have a life, but she seems very afraid to mention to us that she needs a ride. We had said we could drive her where she needs to go within reason. The 2nd day here she wanted to go to the church. It is 30 minutes away so I stupidly said yes…”

The HM offered; I think for rides like that, even if she regrets it later, reimbursement shouldn’t be expected. It doesn’t sound like the AP is taking advantage either- if she does, then I would definitely agree she should pay.

Calif mom June 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm

totally agree. That seems like insult to injury and not the way you want to start off your relationship, if ;you plan to keep her.

NewAPMama June 29, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I agree. Especially since the HF said in the match that they didn’t need a driver. They really should have stressed the lack of public transportation.

DarthaStewart June 29, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here- where does the host family’s responsibility end, and the au-pair’s responsibility to do some research on the area where her prospective HF lives begin? Honestly, if I were going to go spend a year living somewhere, I’d at least spend an hour or two googling the place and see what I could find, before signing up for the year.
Also, isn’t it somewhat the au-pair’s fault for essentially lying about her driving abilities? I don’t think that the HF should ask her for gas money every time, but they should either bring it up, and make it a bit more equitable, or go ahead and break the match with this au-pair.

CS Nanny June 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm

That’s great, except I have been an aupair and the HF completley lied regarding where they lived in relation to everything else. I was told they lived in a city with about 60,000 inhabitants. The town I attended college in had 40,000, and I really enjoyed it. Well, when I moved to Switzerland, I found the not only had they lied about the size of the town, they also lied about living within the city. They lived in the country about 30 minutes away. My nearest neighbor was a cow. So, yes, I did do the responsible thing before matching and I researched the area that THEY said they lived in. And what was worse was they wouldn’t let me use one of their cars, and the public transportation was crappy, which they also lied about.

So, in this situation, the HF really should have thought ahead before finding the AP. And the AP shouldn’t have lied. But I think it’s ridiculous to expect the AP to pay gas money to the family, especially since she has been there a week. As she gets to know the area and more people, chances are she won’t need rides from her HF.

aria June 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I think you make a very good point. In my case *blush*, it was my mom who spent hours and hours googling the area I would be moving to. I pooh-poohed her research until I actually arrived, and THEN I finally looked through the pages and pages of information she had printed out and sent with me (with a twinge of regret; if I had listened to my mom, I probably wouldn’t have picked HF#1).

And it IS the AP’s fault for lying about her skills. The HF said driving wouldn’t be extremely necessary to the job, not her social life. I do agree that if her social life lacks because she can’t drive, that’s a situation she got herself into (unless they misrepresented the public transportation? but it doesn’t seem like it).

My point was more about the immediate situation of the HM offering the ride to the AP, who seemed reluctant to ask. It seemed a little tricky (and tight) to offer someone who’s not asking and then expect reimbursement.

aria June 29, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Eek- CS Nannym while you make an excellent point as well, that reply was meant for DarthaStewart! :)

DarthaStewart June 29, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Well, the AP thing is based on trust. The AP has to be able to trust that the HF says they are what they say they are (what they are like, what their situation is, where they live, etc), and the HF should be able to trust what the AP says. I guess, trust but verify. But how do you verify that someone really drives? Vs. where the HF lives? I mean, you can easily ask for the address, and google map it, no?
I this case- I agree that you guys are right, I probably wouldn’t charge her for gas for the occasional trip. But she does need to offer to reimburse the others who come and pick her up for stuff.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 30, 2010 at 7:03 am

Our current AP promised that a) she would practice driving more in her native country (it turns out she couldn’t afford the fees and didn’t have access to a car without a “driving coach”) and b) she was a good driver. Turned out she was not.

I made it clear from the start that I did not have time to be her chauffeur. I was happy to take her with me when we went shopping, but I was not going to drive her to her temple (30 minutes by car, but would have added an extra 60 minutes to our Sunday trek to Hebrew school), so she took Metro and several buses for 2 1/2 hours. Our community college ID serves as a free pass pass, so no worries there. (I remember one early Saturday she asked me to take her to buy a laptop as I was packing up the kids to go to a funeral. I don’t think she understood what a funeral was, but she never again asked me for a lift.)

She was really not motivated to learn to drive, until one March day I warned her that my son did a series of summer camps, and that she would have to drive him there. If she didn’t learn to drive, then she would be stuck with him at home all summer. That did it, she made the effort.

Now, I’m in countdown mode…5 1/2 weeks to go… (it’s not the driving though, it’s the unwillingness to communicate).

AP July 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I have a question about driving…

How can you manage an au pair who drives well but she didn’t have any kind of support from the HF about where to go with the children?

I was AP in a family that just didn’t have patience to show me the way to where I have to drive the kids… I had to be guided by the kid who didn’t know any traffic rules and I didn’t have any chance to say NO (because in my opinion, it was very dangerous for the kid and for me)…

Thank you

JJ Host Mom July 28, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Is this question about getting driving directions, or is it about finding activities to do with the children?

If you’re wondering how to get driving directions, your best bet is indeed a GPS. But if you don’t have a GPS, you can look up point-to-point driving directions on maps.google.com and print them out, and take them with you.

If you’re wondering about finding activities to do with the kids, in our house, that’s the au pair’s responsibility. I give her some suggestions, but I’m too busy with my own job to plan out everything for her. She has a book about local activities to do with the kids, and she has access to the internet, as well as a network of local au pairs who are also tasked with keeping their kids busy all day, and that’s all she needs.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Each AP is given a stack of books when she arrives (I go through the stack and refresh them as the outgoing AP departs). There is usually a general Let’s Go (inexpensive travel) book, but specifically a guide to activities to do with children in our city – one that is marked by the book’s creators, by age level.

We do a general assessment of driving skills of our AP, and that session (or those sessions) include trips to the children’s school, the grocery store, the next city, and the location of most of the cluster meetings. Our minivan has came with a GPS and we have entered personal addresses for the most important places – the doctor’s office, the hospital to which we prefer The Camel be taken in an emergency, schools, etc.

The AP car does not have a GPS system, but we have placed a $40 book of maps of our greater metro area, a state map, and a U.S. road atlas in it.

I agree with the other posters – there’s nothing like Google maps or Mapquest if you need specific instructions to a particular location. We only have so much free time in our week, so APs who are cleared to drive are expected to practice in their free time (and most have, quite willingly).

If your host kids are old enough to guide you around, then they’re also old enough to have input on where they would like to go. However, if you feel like you need more practice, then politely ask your HF to provide it.

darthastewart July 28, 2010 at 11:40 pm

If you’re looking for stuff to do with the kids, then ask the kids. Look up the local libraries, museums, parks and the like- then type in a search in google. Then you can use google maps to figure out where to go. This really isn’t too hard, but you do have to put a bit of effort into it. (Consider it a test)

MommyMia July 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I agree with all your great suggestions, but be aware that many “young” people today do not know how to read a map! We have the map books in our car without GPS, also, but find that we need to ask or have the new APs show us that they know how to look up an address or point of interest and figure out where they are and how to get to that point – seems like second nature to many of us, but in the age of Mapquest and GPS “telling” us how to get somewhere, map reading is becoming a lost art, sadly!

Mom23 July 29, 2010 at 5:50 am

At the back of my au pair manual I have printed directions to ten or so places the au pair drives the children — doctor, pool, zoo, etc. We usually show our au pairs how to get to the more difficult places, but it is pretty easy to find the other places. Could you or you host family do something similiar?

Gianna July 28, 2010 at 6:16 pm

If the parents do not have time to show you places to go, maybe they would buy a GPS. Many parents are overwhelmed time wise but generous money wise. Then you would not have to rely on the kids ( a dangerous idea at best ). Google the town you live in for some ideas about fun , safe places to go. Ask you local librarian for some ideas as well. Either these people reallyl do not want you to travel too far with the kids ( not unusual ) or they are giving you on extraordinary amount of freedom.

AP July 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Thanks for all answers…

The question was about the “routes directions” not how to find places where we can have some fun with the kids ( I understand that it is the basic for an au pair, because we don’t like to stay at home all day long)…

I lived with a family that didn´t explain or drive me to the places and they didn’t borrow me a GPS neither… I tried to talk (in a polite way) about these difficults (it was my first week there) and they just called me “lazy” in a very rude tone…

That family also blocked my Internet access and didn’t give me any maps too… It was a strange situation…

I really felt the frustation knocking on my door… But now I am feeling fine, because I know that there are more families that do not mistreat the person who cames from other country to help them and with the true intention of learning something different…

Driven to the edge because my Au Pair can’t drive August 5, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Thanks for all the advice. I should have gone with my gut and gone into rematch that first week. My husband made me give the AP a chance as she was a sweet girl, but it just wasn’t the right fit all around. On top of not being able to drive (though we paid for a few lessons) the language wasn’t there as well (even after we skyped 5-6 times while she was still in her home country) and I don’t think she ever bothered even reading our application (and handbook once she got here). It appears the reason she is here in the US is to go to church and to take a class (I thought it was to be an au pair). She said the most important things in her exit interview is that she doesn’t want to work or take classes on Saturday (even though on her application she said it wouldn’t be a problem) as she goes to church most of the day, she doesn’t like the schedule I set up (even though I was honest and clear about it up front being pregnant and needing help most of the day), and she would rather work where both parents work (again honest about me being a stay-at-home mom). I guess if she had been honest about this upfront we never would have picked her and she would NOT be in the US right now. All of our e-mails and skyping led me to believe that she was okay with this and that she could drive well on top of it. I just wish I had found this blog sooner (my friend e-mailed it to me the day before the AP arrived) because she wouldn’t even be with us now if I had known about it. I never would have chosen her and I would have used even more scrutiny in my decision. I think maybe we would have made a better match with all the advice I’ve gotten here. I just hope it helps us in the rematch process.

Dorsi August 5, 2010 at 6:56 pm

I hope this works out for you. I am pregnant now and will be transitioning a few weeks before the babe is due and I am terrified of having a bad match and a new baby at the same time. So, in your case, better now than later? I have had good APs and they can make such a difference — so I hope the next match works well for you. Thanks for the update and let us know how it works out.

calif mom August 5, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Edge and Dorsi,

You really *can* do a better job picking a new AP. I did–we just broke the 3-time curse with in-country APs! woo hoo! All of which I attribute to my/our being willing to learn and change what I was doing, and the generosity of fellow host moms here.

Thanks CV! Thanks HPs!

Anonymous November 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm

DO NOT LET YOUR AU PAIR DRIVE YOUR CAR! When they get into an accident (three out of four of my Au Pairs have crashed one or two cars) you will pay the cost through higher insurance premiums and the insurance company will revoke your ability to have an Au Pair on your policy. Also, good luck trying to get the deductible from your cash strapped Au Pair. If they get into a serious accident the costs go way beyond your policy premiums – million dollar lawsuit, legal defense, etc. Young Au Pairs like to party and drive – ie. DUI and cause serious injury or death to the other driver. They may well spend time in jail and be deported but as the owner of the car you will be next in line to pay for a HUGE payout that exceeds your policy premiums.

Va au pair August 31, 2011 at 11:31 am

Latin americans can drive …OF COURSE I am latina and I have been driving since I am 15 my dad taught me how. Then, at 16 I got my under-age license and at 18 I got my own car as a birthday present. Now I am 23 and au pair the only latin american au pair my family has had (all the previous ones were europeans) And my HF always tells me you r the best driver we had have here…I am at the end of my second year and I am the only au pair in my family who never crashed the car!!! am I AM SOUTH AMERICAN!!!

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