How To Establish Family Norms Around Texting

by cv harquail on June 17, 2014

One of the most annoying things about adopting new technology is the way that we quickly and unconsciously sink to the lowest common denominator of interpersonal norms.  

Said another way, new technologies seem to bring out self-centeredness, thoughtlessness and rudeness in people (cell phone conversations in toilet stalls, anyone?), often without anyone really noticing, and almost always without anyone willing to put their foot down to change it.

au pair cell phone rulesIt takes far too long for people to recognize what’s going on, to decide to set their own more courteous norms, and then put those into action.

We parents and role models have to take charge and consciously set our own expectations, or like the frog in the boiling water, it gets worse and worse until it’s too late.

It’s taken me some time to realize that I have to have rules about when my kids can text. We have some rules for tech use in the car– if it’s a ride with just me, no texting. Your job is to talk to your mom.   If it’s a longer ride and both girls are in the back seat, headphones and texting are okay.

We’ve got the car part down.

Lately it’s been texting in the kitchen. My younger daughter seems to have permanently attached her smartphone to her left hand. She’ll try to text while she’s feeding the dog, emptying the dishwasher, and even eating at the kitchen table.

For too long, my response was to comment on it every time I noticed it. Time after individual time, I’d tell her to put the phone away… until it dawned on me– I needed a rule.

Okay, call it a principle, but we needed a blanket guideline for this situation, one that could be applied every. single. day. to. everyone.

Now our rule is: No phones during dinner hour.

(Dinner hour is the prep, eating, and cleaning up of dinner. This is also the time when I make the girls finish their random chores like putting laundry away. Somehow, having it confined into one hour when any family responsibility is fair game takes the onus of nagging off me.)

When it’s your own kids, the un-social tech behavior creeps up on you.  The 12 year old taking too many selfies becomes the 13 year old who hides her phone under her covers at bedtime and texts until 1 am. But if you haven’t noticed and set expectations when the kid was 11, you can look arbitrary when you try to change expectations at 14.

Au pairs give us a chance to notice technology habits before they get ingrained in the family fabric.

Au pairs are older than our own kids, so they actually have technology habits that they bring along with them, fully-formed. And noticeable.

 When an au pair joins your family and brings with him/her the technology habits of his/her own group of friends back home, this is your big chance:

  • to notice what tech-related behaviors you like/don’t like,
  • to decide what you want for your family
  • to establish some norms and expectations, and
  • to coach everyone in the family — au pairs, spouses, partners, and even friends– into a better, more social, more relationship-respecting set of habits.

Host Mom SKNY writes in a panic about her new au pair:

Tonight she spent dinner on her phone chatting with people at home.  The craziest thing is that she did it as a teenager would: hiding cell phone on her lap, and texting looking down …. Is it rude to ask her PLEASE not to text on table? AND to ask her to not even bring cell phone upstairs during work hours???

Host Mom SKNY, this is your big chance!

With every new au pair, you get the chance to re-set your expectations for how your au pair should interact with you and how your family should interact with each other.   This particular situation points out for you that it’s not ONLY the au pair’s behavior that needs to change, but also that you have to establish some clear principles for what you want as your family’s habits.

Au pairs expect to adjust to our ‘American culture’ as it is practiced in our individual homes.

If you have realized that your family’s culture should include interpersonal interaction at dinner (aka conversation), and that it should include texting only when you’re having personal time, now it the moment to set that expectation.

And it goes without saying, the adults and the children in the family should follow the same courtesies.

What have you done to establish norms around technology, so that you can have the kind of interpersonal family culture that matters to you?


Image: “Teen Texting” by Carissa Rogers


CanadaHostMom June 17, 2014 at 9:09 am

In easy change that made our lives easier…. During meal time all phones (adults’ and kids’) must stay on the desk that is in our kitchen. No touching, looking or answering phone calls. Our current au pair took the prompt without further discussion. I think it helps that my husband and I also follow the rule.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

We have a similar rule. We also do not answer the telephone during mealtimes. We try to sit together for dinner as much as possible each week. Our current AP chooses to join us for most meals.

NJ Mama June 17, 2014 at 10:45 am

I would also love to hear from people like me who use the cell phone and texting as their primary way of communicating with their au pairs while they work. We give our APs a cell and encourage them to text updates about the kids to me and my husband, because we both commute long distances. I want to know if the kids had a good morning or if they’re having a rough afternoon. I love getting silly pictures of the kids while I’m at work. And occasionally, we may need to reach the au pair right away if the school calls and one of the kids gets sick and needs to be picked up from school — it doesn’t happen often, but it still can happen.

Until the last few weeks with my last au pair, before she became Bridezilla, I didn’t have any issues with this. And I never had any issues with any of my previous au pairs. I gave the APs a cell, explained that it’s primarily to be used for them to get in touch with me and my husband, and encouraged them to give us updates (our kids will often use the phone to text us also). I didn’t mind if she used it to keep in touch with friends as long as it wasn’t over the top — I told her that most of her texting with friends should be on her non-working hours, except for brief texts about plans for that night. I realize it’s almost a mixed signal in a way, but I saw it as a nice perk that we could give them. And because my au pair drives my kids everywhere, we were able to get a $1 smart phone, so she can also use google maps. And we have found that to be very helpful.

So now that we have been burned by an au pair who became a hyper texter in her last few weeks, I’m wondering if I should approach this any differently?

Also does anyone ask about texting habits when they interview? That is something I just thought of.

Should be working June 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I have asked about texting habits and Facebook. How many times a day do you post on Facebook? How much time a day do you spend on Facebook? How many texts do send a week?

No way to know if they are honest, but it’s an attempt.

NBHostMom June 17, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Our cover it all guideline is if she’s working, she must be focused on the kids or a household task. If she’s doing anything else: playing with her phone, watching tv, aimlessly wondering around the house, she’s not doing her job. This has saved me from making specific rules about electronics. It also made the conversation easier (with previous caregiver, not current au pair) when facebook became an issue: I focused on what she needed to be doing instead of making a list of things not to do.

I asked during matching the following, which were helpful:
1. What do you think is appropriate use of your smartphone (or laptop) during working hours? (I intentionally phrased the question to assume she will be using it, I wanted to see the ‘how’ she will be using it)
2. On a normal day, how many times do you check social media? (looking for the compulsive checkers)

That said: we provide our au pair with a smart phone with unlimited texting and 1 gb of data a month. We clearly explain during matching and in our handbook that she must carry her phone with her when working as I text home frequently to coordinate schedules, meals and the like. She knows I’m serious when she’s working, she needs to be 100% on task, not distracted by a friend’s latest post. We’re not anti-electronics though.. for example, smart phone games are okay IF she is playing with the kids (ie electronic UNO) or Pintrest if she’s quickly pulling up a bubble/playdough/latest cool thing instruction. I do make it sound during matching as if we’re more up tight than we are… texting with friends while she’s waiting for the school bus to arrive is really not a big deal :)

Taking a Computer Lunch June 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I turn off my cell phone while I am at work – unless my husband is out of town (he works at one desk and spends a lot of time on the telephone at work). I move around and consider it unprofessional to text during the work day. However, the Camel often has school emergencies, so I need to be available to receive those calls.

Seattle Mom June 17, 2014 at 12:58 pm

I bring it up during matching, that we are a low-tech family and expect our au pair to limit their use of technology during working hours and when they are with us (even outside of working hours). This means no use of cell phone during dinner, when on-duty with the kids, or in our presence. During the day with the kids she can use the cell phone/computer in limited amounts for *work-related* reasons: to set up play dates with friends, look up directions to go somewhere with the children, or communicate with me or DH. I’m sure that the rules are not followed to the letter when I’m at work, but so far our APs seem to not abuse technology. I hope that text-addict APs would read this in my email and decide not to continue as a candidate for our family.

It really does help that we as parents do not use our cell phones much in front of our children or even each other. I only recently got a smart phone for work and I rarely use it when my kids are around. I have a dumb phone for personal use that I use rarely. My husband has a dumb phone he barely knows how to use and never even turns it on :). We give the AP a prepaid dumb phone (same one I have), put 1000 minutes on it, and say if she uses up the minutes the rest are on her dime. I use about 1000 minutes per year with minimal use, so it’s fair.

I’m not planning to get my kids a smart phone at any point in their lives. If they want one they will have to work to pay for it. I know they might complain that this puts them at a social disadvantage but I honestly don’t care. They are charming and funny and can find friends who like them enough in person to deal with the fact that they won’t be reachable 24/7 by email/text. I probably will get them pre-paid dumb phones at some point with a limited allowance of minutes/texts. Luckily DH is a complete luddite and will back me up on this completely :).

And I think that the whole “kids must be exposed to technology” argument is total BS. DH has graduate degrees in math, physics, and engineering, and he is totally anti-gadgetry. Playing games and texting does not a STEM major make.

Anonymous in CA June 17, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Here’s where I’d like the “like” button, but I probably wouldn’t know how to use it if there were one! Also low-tech, no TV, no video games, no computer use for child, etc. Totally agree that kids don’t need to be exposed to technology…they WILL learn all they need to know…when they’re older. Their job for now is playing outside, directly interacting with other humans…I could go on.

Where I struggle is that DH is pretty attached to his smart phone at all times, so we see him using it a LOT. It drives me crazy and I’m thinking that now as we are just welcomign a new AP is a good time to re-set the tone, not just for the AP, but for our whole family – even I could use a refresher. What I vehemently don’t want is our DS to see us all the time addicted to a device!

Great post!

Seattle Mom June 18, 2014 at 1:28 pm


I think we all have things we do in front of our kids that are bad habits we wouldn’t want our kids to get into.. for some people it’s phone use, for us it’s that my husband has a soda habit. It’s only about one a day, but I drink NO soda and have managed to keep it out of my kids’ diet. My husband agrees in theory but he really needs his fix.. I fear that when my kids get their first taste they are going to want it all the time, and it’s going to be hard to say no since we have no moral authority. For now it’s a ‘grown up drink’ and it’s not healthy for kids.. they are going to learn that we are being total hypocrites eventually. Argh.

FWIW they do have occasional sweets, and I’m ok with that, mainly because we don’t usually have them in the house- it’s going to be harder to be occasional about soda because of DH’s darned habitual use. Grr.

4th time lucky?! June 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I second!
Very pleased and affirmed that there are other low tech / playing in the mud is the kids’ job people out there! Thanks!

Here (non US), there seems to be a lot of pressure to tech up early from other parents, media and pre-school (we are currently in-between APs after a bad run) where they use reading software and computers in general for research (whatever happened to books?). We are by no means averse to technology and regularly use computers at home and for work (incl. skyping with overseas relatives) but I often feel odd and in need to justify why my child isn’t watching TV, etc.

Not really looking forward to increased peer pressure when our son is getting older…

AlwaysHopeful HM June 17, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Personally, I don’t see it as either/or. My son loves electronics and tv, but he LOVES playing outside. Nothing is better than that, and he does it as much as possible. He also loves interacting with folks around him (granted, he’s not a teen). None of that seems to be hindered by seeing mom and au pair integrate tech use into our daily lives. I know i’m straying OT a bit, but I’ve never really understood WHY it’s so upsetting to many people to see people using tech in social settings.

NJmama June 18, 2014 at 12:18 pm

I completely agree with AlwaysHopeful. Tech and gadgets supplement our lives. Both of my girls are active in sports and are avid readers. But my older daughter especially has gotten into computers over the last year. (Minecraft and garage band anyone?) Through this last snowy weather my kids would spend hours outside in the snow with neighbors – and then take a break for 30 minutes of Minecraft. Not a big deal. We’re also ok with 30 mins of TV after dinner – homework is done and they’re done with their activities, so it’s their time to decompress. Then we shut down TV and all electronics, get ready for bed – and then they both read before bed.

Last year we set up an email account for my now 10 year old so she could email our former au pairs, and she’s been emailing our incoming au pair quite a bit. It’s been a great way for them to establish a bond. Both of my girls (8 and 10) asked grandparents to give cash in lieu of gifts for birthdays and Christmas so they could save for iPods, which they did after about 2 years of saving. And as I mentioned my main form of communication with my au pairs is text. I have a long commute on a bus where no talking is allowed (bizarre bus protocol), so that’s one reason. But I definitely agree with others that texting helps with any ESL issues. And I really do like to be informed throughout the day.

I guess what’s hard for many of us is to find that balance in our lives and set parameters for our kids and au pairs. And in turn it can be hard for our au pairs to strike the right balance too. I suppose all we can do is lay out ground rules (no texting while driving, no excessive texting while working), remind them from time to time and hope for the best. And next time I will ask about text and Facebook habits while interviewing. If it’s done on their off time then that’s completely ok with me.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I am a heavy bus smart phone user- I’ve been riding transit practically my whole life and I think that is one arena where I’m happy for smart phones. Before smart phones, the cell phone gabbing was abominable. Now at least it’s not loud. And I don’t really expect/want a social scene on the bus. I spend about half the time on my phone and half the time reading a book.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I do let my kids watch videos, but we have pretty strict rules about where & when that takes place. And I’m ok with occasional ap use, though I am never the one to initiate that- it would come from the AP. We also do sometimes use skype as a family to keep in touch with old AP’s.

But I have been to gatherings where there are people constantly looking at their phones, doing who-knows-what. Adult, teenager, kid, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s unnerving to try to talk to someone who seems constantly distracted by something going on somewhere else. It really does take away from being in the moment- not only for them (which is obvious) but for me, because I’ve got this person who is only “here” for some fraction of the time, and I’m about to lose their attention at any moment. It is jarring & unnerving and really does change the dynamic, whether it’s just me and a friend or a group of friends or a party with strangers. I don’t want to be that person, and I’m going to do my best to keep my kid from being that person, at least now while I have control over the technology they have access to- I recognize that at some point I really won’t have a say in the matter. Just like anything else.

I was at a party last weekend of adults & teenagers (and a few younger kids), and no one looked at a screen or device the entire time I was there. It does happen sometimes. I didn’t know anyone there except my husband- this was his group. I met so many people there, everyone was friendly, welcoming, and engaged. I never felt like I should pull out my phone to entertain myself, even though I am not an extrovert. It’s a lot easier to be social when other people are being social.

I had a friend visit me recently from out of town and there were definitely times when her attention was divided. I would have preferred she just leave the room when she needs to text or check her email- then I wouldn’t try to talk with her when she’s not fully there.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I also want to say that I recognize that the new technology is not ENTIRELY to blame for the sad state of affairs at some supposedly social gatherings. My thanksgivings growing up revolved around the television- how sad! Now people can bring their tv with them, so they don’t even need to worry about having to figure out how to talk to people… that’s what the technology has done.

My parents come to my house to spend time with the grandchildren (from 3,000 miles away) and spend the whole time in my home plopped on the couch with their #*%&#*& phones out. It is irritating and rude beyond belief. They only put those things away for meals and when we leave the house. They have always been somewhat rude and socially awkward, but these phones are just enabling them and making their problems worse.

MommyMia June 18, 2014 at 10:33 am

Another LIKE here! Glad to learn that my minority isn’t as small as I imagined. My turning-teen next month daughter nagged for two years that all her friends had smartphones and now that we might have considered it, she states she doesn’t need (or want!) one! Eureka! I never understood the parents who give 7 year olds phones, replaced them repeatedly when they were lost or damaged, and thought that 10-year-olds needed Facebook pages and email addresses! And for the poster below who doesn’t understand the big deal over technology in social settings, my job for fifteen years is in public service, and I can see a huge difference in human behavior, not in a good way. People are more rude, impatient, distracted, unable to focus on a person they’re conversing with, and many refuse to acknowledge that their phone conversations (usually too loud) impact those around them. There is little awareness of those around them because they are so focused on the their device.

happyhostmom June 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm

NJ momma, I work out of the home three days a week, and the easiest way for my Au Pair and I to stay connected is through text or email. I have told my au pairs that I don’t expect them to be texting or using the phone for personal use all the time while watching my kids. I don’t mind if my son is napping while my other one is up if she quickly checks it. But I don’t want the focus to be on the phone. It’s hard because even though I work part time, I am always on and have to monitor my email through my smart phone. I wish I didnt, but at least I am putting it away for meals and special time when I read books or do activities with my kids.
and I HATE when people have phone calls in bathroom stalls. I know people who purposefully flush multiple times when that happnes to them.

NJ Mama June 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Yes, I have told my au pairs the same and have only been burned one time. It also helps that my kids are older — and are quick to tell me — and the AP! — when the texting/phone use gets out of hand while the AP is on duty. Maybe I’m skittish because of what happened recently. I never thought about asking about cell phone / Facebook use during the match, but I will add it for the next time. In the meantime I will make sure I cover it at length when my new AP arrives this summer!

Thanks for the tips and reassurance!

Repeataupair June 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm

As an au pair I have a dumb phone but with unlimited texts and call, I will use it for work purposes only though I did answer a friend here and there to tell them I was working and was busy and my friends know that they will have to wait for an answer. I don’t use my phone at the dinner table which I would find rude, most of the time the phone isn’t even with me if I am not working.
That being said I am a huge facebook user, I spend a ton of time on it, even have an au pair page pretty active (like updated up to a few times a day) and one that I just made for fun. I will sometime add a picture to share while my HK is in quiet time but that is it.
I use my ipad for recipes, unit convertor, translations, addresses… but it takes me a minute to do it.

AlwaysHopeful HM June 17, 2014 at 6:48 pm

I tried to post earlier, but it got eaten…aargh!

We are fairly heavy electronics users in my home. I have some minimal (but important) rules, such as no screen use while driving, watching my son closely, during significant discussions, or at the table during meals. Other than that, no problem. I actually like that AP shares info throughout the day, and I can also send quick messages, reminders, etc. as well. After my son goes to bed AP and I often chat for a while, and we each have our smart phones and/or IPads that we check periodically as we chat. It’s not a problen for either of us…I actually think it’s a nice way to wind down the day. I also think it’s a good way to get AP to open up sometimes…it’s sometimes easier to talk when looking at something else (with my son, sometimes I talk while tossing a ball back and forth– it really works!)

Bottom line is, everyone is different, so if limited texting is important to you, it definitely makes sense to have any expectations spelled out clearly in the interview process and the handbook.

exaupair June 18, 2014 at 9:30 am

I had two dumb-phones, one my own for private use, and the other was the family phone. I knew exactly that no one would ever found out if I was texting when I was supposed to be working, but this would mean I couldn’t be trusted with simplest things so i kept my private phone in my pocket or purse on a silent mode. I knew when it was buzzing so whenever my shift was over I just went through texts and missed calls.

Although quick check every now and then wouldn’t hurt anyone I think, plus if the HK is older you can simply explain that you need to make a quick phone call and be back with them in few minutes.

Tristatemom June 18, 2014 at 10:03 am

I hope you are not one of my previous APs! Did you go into rematch with a HF?

I also wonder about the logic in your argument, if you went through your texts etc. after your shift, why did you need to carry your phone in your purse on silent mode, couldn’t it just stay in your room?

MommyMia June 18, 2014 at 10:38 am

I have observed that some people need to know that they have messages coming in constantly. It’s as if they feel validated somehow. “I have friends!” “My friends care about me!” “I have plans and activities and things to do!” They are anxious when they are not in touch; I think it’s a way of being in control.

NJ Mama June 18, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Honestly I have noticed that it’s not necessarily a generational thing. I have been in work settings where 30-plus year olds are sneaking texts under the table (I know — seriously???) And I recently went out to dinner with two friends — one in her 40s and one in her 50s. Both are single, neither have kids. And the first thing they did was put their phone on the table to monitor texts. It was jarring! I don’t know if it’s about being in control or worried about missing out. Who knows? But the upshot is that it can be hard to adhere to limits.

exaupair June 18, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Haha nope, don’t worry, I’ve never been au pairing in the US :-)

Bit of OT here, but to answer Tristatemoms question I did go into rematch, however it was due to a complete different perspective on the AP role in the house and many personal differences between me and the Parents. They didn’t have rules for the AP phone use so it has never been discussed.
The second HF had rules witch I stuck to, but the rules were rather lax – I could text and call provided I would still pay attention to the child so that he wouldn’t wander off. It has been like that because the HK was 10 so even if I was on a phone for a minute he was safe as long as I had him in my sight. I understand that with active toddlers that wouldn’t work.

The silent mode was on due to the fact that despite HF rules I could have some sort of personal emergency as well, therefor I would have answered the call even on duty. So if the phone was buzzing for a longer while I knew it wasn’t a text and could check whether it’s important enough to answer or not.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I guess some people only care about safety.. I have a higher standard, which guides my technology use :)

Tristatemom June 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I am glad you responded.

With that particular AP, she sent over 1000 texts in one week during working hours watching a 1year old. When we told her that was not ok, she got, unbeknown to us, a separate cell phone. So she was probably still texting but we were none the wiser. We rematched over other reasons but they all related to lying and/or omissions. It doesn’t built trust and I don’t want share my home with someone like that.

BroAuPair June 18, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I don`t think making phone calls during work hours is fine, thats a big red flag if I were a Host Family, anything can happen to a kid while you are on a phone call, even for a few minutes, I have an iphone and a regular phone, my iphone is always in my room during work hours, and I just take phone calls if it the Host Mother and she always calls the house phone.

exaupair June 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

I would have to disagree, some things 1)are hard to predict, 2)have nothing to do with the Host Family or the kids 3)are equally important.

HRHM June 18, 2014 at 2:39 pm


I think you will find that most American HPs agree more with Bro than with you. I actually give our incoming AP “their” phone number and address prior to them leaving their home country so that they can share that info with their parents/family back home. In an emergency, (especially since most APs phones from home aren’t functioning phones in the US) I want their parents to be able to get ahold of them. But aside from something of that nature (death in the family, etc) I expect them to put their personal lives on hold while working – just as I do while I am at work. After all, if you were in my office and I was caring for you, how would you feel if I pulled out my phone to answer a text or a call in the middle of your appointment?

exaupair June 18, 2014 at 3:36 pm

@HRHM, my company’s work culture is a bit different, no one is expected to leave the rest of the life outside the office. Apart from a long lunch break, due to the nature of the work we are allowed multiple short breaks to let the eyes rest and stretch our legs. During those few minute long “cigarette breaks” ( mind you no one in my team apart from myself smokes :-) ) people normally check their phones, answer private emails, chat with spouses, pay bills online and the like.
Apart from that people keep their phones on their desks at all times, not everyone uses silent mode, however many people use headphones to listen to music or a radio so the phones aren’t distracting others at all.
As for board meetings they are not dragged for hours so for the time we meet we turn our phones off.

Hope what I’ve written explains my attitude towards call phone use during work. I understand not everyone would accept it, and its up to HPs which rules they impose, however based on my experience checking the phone every now and then is hardly a distraction.

@Tristatemom, even with my lax attitude I’m totally on your side here, 1000 texts a week it’s a lot! She not only presented a complete lack of work ethics but also abused your generosity.

AlwaysHopeful HM June 18, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Exaupair’s description sounds like my office as well (with the exception of headphones and radio). In fact, we are issued blackberries, and are expected to consult them. And, like many others in my office, I keep my personal phone with me at all times, in case there is a call or text about my son.

AussiePair June 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Another thing, a lot of places are closed on weekends or outside of the hours an au pair works, back home I would call to make appointments etc. either during my half hour lunch break, or during one of my two paid 10 minute breaks (in my job required by law for every 4 hours worked), as an au pair, I don’t have any breaks where I am not the adult responsible, so if I need to schedule an appointment when can I do that if not a quick call while children are napping or occupied and they are within my sight and hearing?

Susanna June 17, 2014 at 9:44 pm

I text frequently with my Au Pair and I set up all of our monthly schedules on email and a shared electronic calendar. I find it helps any ESL confusion issues. She can see precisely what I wrote and I know that she not infrequently uses an electronic translator or dictionary to check any words she isn’t familiar with. Also I have an easy record of whatever it was I asked her to do. It has saved us countless mistakes. Our first Au Pair had some real ESL problems and being certain she had a record of all instructions was a great bonus of smart phones and technology.

Skny June 17, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Thanks for posting! We have spoken about no phone use during work hours (iPhone stays in the basement), and no phone during meals. She did well for today.
If becomes an issue I may use the system HRHM suggested (smart wifi.. We are in need of a new router anyway).
I do use technology a lot but avoid if I am the only one around. My 4yo is calm but my 2yo is a daredevil. She can always find a way to get in trouble (has gone down the basement stairs on her tricycle, on her sister skate, and on a toy truck). She can climb inside of 10wo crib, and will lay on top of baby to reenact the scene where Anna from frozen wakes Elza to make a snowman…. So she must have supervision. You can’t afford to let her wander to read news on Facebook…

HRHM June 18, 2014 at 7:37 am

Reeneacting Frozen scenes! Love it!

Here we have duets of “Do you wanna build a snowman?” :)

PhillyMom June 18, 2014 at 8:10 am

My AU Pair does not text, I prefer her to call me if she needs something in regards to herself or something is going on with the kids. She calls and leaves a message if I cannot pick up. I chose not to have a texting option on her phone after my friends had an Au Pair who could not control texting habits during work hours and even while driving. I would not answer my cell phone while having family dinner, nore would our Au Pair. We are not against technology at all, but consciously chose not to buy c Wii or other computer games, but rather involve kids with sport and brain developing activities. But what works for us now, may drastically change when kids will grow up and turn into teenagers:))))))).

WestMom June 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

As a mom who uses texting as primary mode of communication with AP, I would freak out if AP called, thinking someone mush be at the hospital! I am always in meetings, so it’s rarely possible for me take calls during the day. Actually, I have the same MO with DH. Text to inform, call if emergency… Funny how we are all approaching communication in a different way!

WestMom June 18, 2014 at 9:10 am

Family-wise, we have some basic electronic rules: No electronics/TV before homework is done, no electronics two full days per week, never at the table or in the bedroom. Obviously I have limited control about APs use of electronics, but none of our 5 APs has ever brought a phone to the dinner table. I wonder if this is cultural perhaps. We pool from France, where meals are important family times. We also carefully pick girls who enjoy cooking and eating. Every dinner is an event in our home.

We have had one year where texting and internet access was out of control. We have wised up since then and I brief incoming APs about our rules and expectations. This year will be interesting… Our kids are getting older and I don’t see as much for AP to actively do with the children. There will definitely be down time where it would be ok for AP to use electronics. But at the same time, I want AP to spend time bonding with our children… We’ll have to figure out the right balance.

Should be working June 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

WestMom, our kids are also getting older and less likely to “play with” the AP. But I do tell her I want her to stay off her phone/texting as a matter of modeling for them what “free time” can be spent doing besides texting: reading, playing outside, baking (since all the APs from our chosen country claim to be such lovers of baking), et al.

Returning HM June 18, 2014 at 11:13 am

My 12 year old got a non-smart phone this year (her first phone), and we set up a lot of rules for her, which are the same ones that we use for AP and for us. Outside the house, phones go in pockets or bags, not out, if others are around. In the house, phones get left on the table in the entry to our house. Phones do not come to the kitchen, basement, family room, anywhere else in the house. One exception is that AP may take his cellphone to his bedroom, as we parents do, when he is off, but otherwise it is on the hallway table, where he can hear it if it rings or if I text but it won’t be a distraction.

We are a “Waldorf” family for anyone who knows what that is, so children, up until this year, have had extremely limited screens – no TV, DVDs, computers, video games, etc. We now have occasional DVD nights, and we do allow the children to go on the computer on Saturday mornings or occasionally to check the weather or sports scores, but it’s extremely controlled and limited. We talk about this extensively in matching with prospective APs, as not everyone is comfortable working in a non-media-focused household. Fortunately, it hasn’t been an issue at all (after an initial conversation in a few cases) with any of our APs over the nearly 8 years we have been hosting.

We did share the “Look Up” video (I know – ironic that we view a screen to learn why not to look at screens) with our current AP, and I plan to do so with future ones as well.

Anonymous in CA June 18, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Waldorf family too! I like the idea of having a central place where phones can be kept with ringer on so you can hear if someone’s calling, but they otherwise don’t intrude on the living space. Great idea…thanks!

exaupair June 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm

That’s a fabulous way of life in terms of making family relationships stronger, however I wouldn’t be happy in a house where the only time I can go online is an hour or so on a weekend morning.
I wonder how do APs manage skyping with their parents and friends, morning in the US might be the middle of the night for their relatives back home.

Returning HM June 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm

exaupair – I wrote, “we do allow the children to go on the computer on Saturday mornings or occasionally to check the weather or sports scores, but it’s extremely controlled and limited.” The CHILDREN in this case refers to my daughter and my son. The AP in our household is an adult. The AP can go online anytime he wants provided he is not working (which is all but about 20-25 hours/week). Our CHILDREN go online only on Saturday mornings – younger child between 6:30am and 8am, while we are sleeping, and older child when she gets home from swim practice at 9:30am for an hour or so.

Returning HM June 18, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Posted too quickly: While AP can go online whenever he wants, he just can’t do this in the public space of our household. He is welcome to do this in his room or when he is alone in a room (but not around the children and not around our family). In other words, him sitting in the kitchen texting while I cook dinner would not work in our household, and it sure wouldn’t work for someone to text at our dinner table because the phone shouldn’t be anywhere near the dinner table. We are clear about this in matching and have never had a problem with a single one of our APs about this approach.

exaupair June 22, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Sorry, indeed at first I though the rule applies to everyone in your household including the au pair :-)

CapitolHostMom June 18, 2014 at 11:18 am

These are great suggestions about talking to Au pairs and kids about phones. I wonder, is this something you say before your next Au pair arrives or should you wait until she arrives?

Also, what do you do if yor kids or Au pair isn’t following the texting rules? Because it’s a mindless habit, teens and Au pairs don’t always realize they are doing it?.

NBHostMom June 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

For us, we discuss electronics (especially phones, laptop and internet access) up front and screen for habits during the interview process. I think it leads to a better match overall. From this discussion alone, it is clear host family widely differ on this topic … we wouldn’t want our incoming au pair to have false expectations. As our kids love tech, I also love to ask prospective matches questions such as “how many screen hours do you feel a 10 year old should get per day” to see how well our expectations align. It’ll be her job to boot him off the computer and outside to play, so we look for someone with the same basic mindset as us. I think this transfers somewhat over to her own personal use as well.

We also clearly state our “tech rules during work hours” in our handbook which I feel would make it much easier to address if there was an issue. I’d treat it much the same as the au pair not performing at some other aspect of the job, have clear expectations and address the issue if it occurs.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm

I just remembered my old colleagues smart phone policy with his kids. He has 3 boys, and they were ages 13, 11, and 9 when he told me about this. They all have their own iphones. He takes them away every Sunday evening at bedtime. Every Thursday night he hides the phones and sets up a treasure hunt for them, which leads to one room of the house. The kids must clean this last room. Their mom inspects the room, and when it meets her approval she calls her husband (my colleague) at work, and he tells her where the phones are hidden. Then they get to have their phones for the weekend.

They also get to have their phones when they are on holiday from school. He used to let them have them all the time, but they were getting in the way of life & schoolwork and other things.

happyhostmom June 26, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Love this idea!!! I’m going to steal it!!!

American Host Mom in Europe June 28, 2014 at 11:02 am

My kids are much younger, but I love this too!! Have to remember this one. Mine like to play games on the iPad on the weekends…maybe we’ll try this approach so they stop asking other times!

Taking a Computer Lunch June 19, 2014 at 3:43 pm

My family uses electronics heavily, except The Camel who’s slightly hard of hearing so she likes her musical toys loud! I work hard to limit the teenager’s media access, but he’s good at sneaking it, complaining that I’m like the NSA by barging into his room (occasionally I catch him reading – but often he’s got his cell in his hands). DH thinks I should give up now, but I figure if I don’t push back now, where will the give be when he’s 16? He has a long carpool ride to and from school, and he and his carpool buddies share YouTube videos, etc., the whole way there (if you keep your mouth shut while driving the carpool you can learn a lot about what your kids know) and back. We stopped trying to control content when he read Homer’s Odyssey for pleasure at 10. He imposes some self-limits – he hates horror.

DH watches 3-4 hours of TV a day. It annoys me, but I’m capable of being on the computer for a couple of hours each night.

That being said, we do play board games together, hike and go the theater – all things the Camel can’t do. Make-A-Wish gave the Camel an above-ground pool, which we all share. My idea of a great summer vacation is to head somewhere without wifi and bring a pile of books, swimsuits, and hiking boots.

Most of the APs haven’t bothered to contact us during the day, unless there is an emergency. DH is the default contact for phone calls, because he works at a desk. I prefer to receive emails, because about 70% of the time I’m in front of one computer or another (the rest of the time I’m completely inaccessible – because I’m handling appointments). One AP did ask how she was going to communicate with me if I didn’t have my cell phone on during the day. When I told her that I usually respond to emails fairly quickly, she responded, “You mean I have to wait for a reply?” (Mind you this was about her personal stuff while the kids were in school – not while she was working!!)

Bottom line – have a conversation with your AP in her first week about communication. Repeat it a month later when her English is better. If she still hasn’t absorbed it, then you have a problem – put it in writing in an email to her and copy your LCC!

CADinAUS June 20, 2014 at 4:42 pm

I’m probably a heavy media user. Some of it was time difference keeping up with friends and family back home, some messaging back and forth with my host family, or sharing with the kids. My host child (age2) would easily navigate my iPod for games she was allowed to play, or ask for videos/songs. She would also join me for Skype conversations back home, my family loved talking her and vice versa. I would usually send pictures/videos/messages about host kids to my host parents. My host Mom was lucky that she worked in a very slow paced office so she quite regularly communicated via text, Facebook or email. We used to even send funny pictures or things found on the internet to one another. I’m now switching to another family in another country but that was one of the things I asked about was media and communication.

Host Mom in the City June 22, 2014 at 10:10 am

So this is a topic that I’ve actually evolved on in my time as a host parent (three years now!). If you asked me how I felt about texting while on-duty a year ago, I would have said absolutely no, that I wanted my au pair’s attention on the kids. Last year we had an au pair who was clearly not interested in her job nearly as much as she was her social life.

She was very immature for her age, and pretty much obsessed with her friends and with all manners of texting and facebook and whatever else. She would literally walk around the house with her phone in her hand and look at it every two seconds. She did the texting under the table at dinner thing, which was partially hilarious (seriously you don’t think I know what you’re doing when you’re three feet across the table from me, looking down with both hands moving???), and partially really insulting (how rude! And also – you think I’m that stupid?). The kids complained that she was ignoring them because she was on the phone, that she would be sitting on the couch for ages saying “just give me a minute.” Indeed, her internet usage and texting usage demonstrated she was on it pretty much all day (which she denied when I asked her about her phone use). Obviously all this was very distressing and I took the “no phone use AT ALL” approach when matching with our third.

Our third is excellent and I truly believe she has the kid’s best interest in mind. The kids never complain that she’s ignoring them, always have a great time, she’s always engaged with them when I come home or the few times I’ve come home early, etc. I have on occasion checked her phone records because of my previous experience, and she sends about 50 texts a day, mostly to her American boyfriend that she met when she first arrived. At first I wasn’t ok with it, but the more I thought about it, I don’t think it’s a big deal since the kids are really happy. They’re also older now, so they will play independently for part of the day.

Would I prefer an au pair who could completely turn off the phone use during the day, or at least keep it to a few texts a day? ABSOLUTELY. Au pairs reading this – keeping off the phone during worktime will go a LONG way in the happiness of your host family and demonstrating that you are committed to your job. Even if your kids are playing independently, you’re still a role model for them and spending every unengaged second in the phone is not the role model I would want for my children. Kids are also more willing to approach you for help or just chatting or whatever if you’re not clearly engaged in something else.

Also agree that it’s probably something to talk to the host family about when matching as everyone is going to have a different philosophy.

skny June 28, 2014 at 7:13 am

OP back with different pressing question… How would you react?
So au pair wanted to download some of our paid games and music. I gave her my cloud password. 2 days later my teen comes with her ipad and some message from au pairs phone talking about us (not sure how it happened and was even possible, but have now deleted messages and explained to teen it is really not acceptable to snoop around).
Anyway… Content was for her mom about how I was a slob pig and did not clean house daily (even though I am on maternity leave) waiting for housecleaner to come once a week instead – and even that was a terrible cleaning), my kids were only allowed to take 1 shower a day and smelled and were dirty and unkept, and how I sent my 2yo with chickenpox to doctor without showering first (and how bad she felt for doctor). She also wrote that she sometimes asked God why she was going to such probation… that my BEDROOM and bathroom were not clean either and I did not make my bed daily and there was mess there (she occasionally gets kids there in the morning) and she should take picture to proof she was not lying. Also that the night before the kids were throwing a FIT (miserable, feeverish, with chicken pox!!!!!) all night, and she couldnt sleep all night, and at that time, 730am, she was the only one awake (her work time) while me and the kids were asleep (I was up all night with sick kids), and it was not right.
So… I am extremely upset. I wanted her out. husband says what my teen did was unacceptable, I should also not have read, and perhaps she was just having a bad day (i did not read the rest as he did not allow, so no idea if there was anything worse than that or anything nicer. That he doesnt think it is that bad.
Finally because I was home on vacation during portion of maternity leave, I met her whole family for a day, they are all on my facebook (added, felt ackward decline), so it feels weird to fire her.

skny June 28, 2014 at 7:19 am

PS we are at end of week 2 of work. adaptation has been very hard for her. Extremely picky eater, from very small area, never left home… AND if I was to confront her, Id have to say that 17yo snooped and I read. Husband thinks it is worse

WarmStateMomma June 28, 2014 at 7:37 am

Whoa. She sounds awful to me. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you found out that she hates living with your family. And she’s going to take secret photos of your bedroom to prove to her mother that you don’t make the bed?!?! And she monitors and shares intimate details (of your family’s bathing habits) with others. She also complains that sick children kept her awake at night and slept during her working hours. She sounds immature and unkind at best.

I understand your husband’s reaction about the snooping, but you can’t “un-know” what you’ve learned about her.

AlwaysHopeful HM June 28, 2014 at 7:50 am

Skny, if I recall correctly, this is just the last of a series of problems with this au pair. It’s possible that some of it is just a bad case of culture shock and adjustment difficulty, but it really sounds like it’s just not a good fit. I think you should let her go. Not because of the emails alone, but because it’s just not working. Wasn’t she also mean to your kids?;As for the family on facebook, I agree that makes it awkward, but think of how much more uncomfortable it will be to have them viewing your life through fb on an ongoing basis, knowing they are scrutinizing and judging you all the time. And if you rematch later, it will just be all more awkward.

Host Mom in the City June 28, 2014 at 8:04 am

Skny, I’m so sorry you had to read that. Probably good to think back on all the venting everyone does. If my boss/husband/kids/anyone I loved heard some of the things I said sometimes, they’d be upset too. I hope you don’t take what she said as the truth or be personally hurt by it. Sometimes people in tough situations just need to vent.

All that said, I think you should rematch ASAP. Not due to the phone issue, but definitely due to all the other things you’ve brought up that have happened in a short span of time since she arrived. In all my experiences, au pairs are giving their best during the first month or two. This is her best – and she’s using it to text constantly, be rude to your kids, and be judgmental of your family in ways she doesn’t even have any experience with. Rematch now and don’t think twice about it.

hOstCDmom June 28, 2014 at 9:35 am

Rematch. You don’t even have to explain that you saw all the texts. You have reason enough outside of that to state that it isn’t working. Just a straightforward reason that it isn’t working for X, Y and Z and you are initiating rematch. You are not obligated to tell the Agency/LCC all the reasons/information that went into informing your decision! You need a basis for rematch, but you don’t need to share everything!

And try (hard as it is!) to separate the parenting issue of your 17yo from the au pair/rematch. You want to stress that she shouldn’t snoop (although it sounds like your teen accidentally got these messages on her own (teen’s) ipad? Or was she on au pair’s iPad? I didn’t quite understand whose iPad it was. If the former, much less of a parenting issue, IMO!). The two issues are not related, and you don’t need to “mix them”, as that only makes each one more complicated!

Should be working June 28, 2014 at 1:43 pm

The messages showed up on the TEEN HOST CHILD’s iPad–that’s not snooping! It also shows that the AP is not tech-savvy enough to know what “discreet” means.

Don’t try and fix your feelings, fix the situation, which means rematch. Some things are irreparable, and you don’t have enough invested in this relationship to try.

DC Metro Mom June 29, 2014 at 7:03 am

I have to agree with Should be working here. I don’t see this as snooping at all. Obviously, I don’t know, but I would guess that she didn’t think to turn the iMessage off of her settings. My husband and I had that same issue when we updated our operating systems. We didn’t turn off the iMessage option and we kept getting each other text conversations with other people. Thank goodness when I vent, I do it, in an actual conversation, with one person over a glass of wine!

It definitely sounds as though you should rematch. This seems to be one of a host of issues with this au pair. I also question whether you could really trust her with your private information and, really, your children, after everything that has gone on. There are only so many times to try rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Time to call the LCC and initiate rematch. And, I would be honest about your concerns with any of her prospective new HFs. I firmly believe in being honest with what others may be getting into, and I would want that same respect from other prior HFs in the same situation.

hOstCDmom June 29, 2014 at 10:30 am

SBW and DCMM –I agree! (i.e. getting AP’s texts on Teen’s iPad does NOT equal “snooping” ) — I just wasn’t clear from SKNY’s story if that is what happened, particularly since she, and her DH, seemed to think that Teen was “snooping.”

But even if Teen were using/looking at AP’s iPad, and thus was “snooping,” I would still advise separating the issues, namely the parenting of your teen/teen’s error, and the newfound and troubling knowledge you have re AP. Re the AP IMO you can’t unring the bell, and I wouldn’t be able to mentally disregard the knowledge of AP that I got through teen’s “snooping” — to put it in legal terms, for me, in this case the rules of evidence wouldn’t apply and I would NOT follow the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine” and I would NOT throw out a “bad search”/disregard the evidence from an “unlawful search”..!!

Dorsi June 29, 2014 at 4:54 pm

The showering thing is funny — all of my South American APs have been shocked at how little my kids bathe (never more than once a day, and sometimes less!). However, I never felt it was a big deal — they have always been on board with my parenting (or at least seemed to be), and so I never felt that it was particularly judgmental, just culture shocked. However, if I thought they didn’t like living in our home and doing their job, that would be the end of things. My point is that many of these things (She doesn’t make her bed everyday! The house is not clean enough!!), can be culture shock issues, but taken with the general disdain, are deal breakers.

Repeat after me: “My number one child care priority is to make a warm, safe and loving environment for my children.” Unfriend the family members now. Do you check your friend lists daily? Do you know when people unfriend you? They likely won’t notice and if they do, it doesn’t matter, because….your number one priority is…

Same thing with the Au Pair. If she can’t contribute to the warm and loving environment, she needs to go home.

In terms of the snooping, I consider it a non-issue, especially if it was your son’s iPad. The lesson to your son should be about understanding what happens when you use someone else’s device (computer, tablet, etc.) without deleting or erasing your logins, browser history, downloaded files, etc. People lose jobs over this (not just APs). And also understanding why we don’t write things down that we don’t want to other people to see or to be taken out of context. Had the AP skyped with her mom and said those things, you would be none the wiser. The internet never forgets.

German Au-Pair June 29, 2014 at 6:34 pm

If there are other reasons for Rematch and if you really feel terrible about this situation, you are going to rematch anyway.
However, I feel like I should point out that the cultural issues can be huge in the beginning. I have friends who LOVE the US and their HF but still complain about them being untidy. I didn’t have this issue because everyone in the house had their private bathroom so I know whose dirt I was dealing with (plus I can use a bathroom without actually creating dirt) but honestly I would be grossed out if I had to share a bathroom with males (especially teens) who are likely to stand while peeing and that bathroom was only cleaned once a week. Also, people lose hair and it’s just disgusting to me to only have that cleaned once. For some people things like not making your bed, not keeping everything tidy is a huge deal and it will take them a while to get used it. And while they do they might complain to others.
Add being grumpy and sleepy, overstimulated by that new experience and you will vent. You’ll overreact. I have vented to friends -and because of the time difference I have done so through messenger -it’s not like she did it publicly on FB. I have said terrible things about people I love when I was upset to people who know that I don’t actually mean them. When someone keeps me from sleeping, I passionately hate them for a bit and need to communicate that to friends who know me well enough to not take it seriously. It helps me like screaming and cursing helps you get over pain. Might not be the most mature thing to do but it was her mom and she didn’t know her private texts would be private (I also didn’t know you could share them ober cloud…).
Again, if there are other issues you might see this story in a totaly different light but as someone who hasn’t read about any of those other issues I thought I might share a more neutral POV.

Skny June 29, 2014 at 6:56 pm

So… Against my better intuition we are NOT rematching, YET. My husband (mr things have to be right all the time – at least no one can say we are an unfair family) and I had a loooooong day long discussion about it.
His points:
– it was a private conversation that we should not have read. It was not posted in public. Therefore, I should not know about it.
– people have a right to call anyone they want a pig or slob, or whatever. And good managers don’t care about what their employees are saying behind their back. Only that they do their job efficiently.
– I argued that she wasn’t… And his back was that she has only worked the job 2 weeks and might need time to grow to the job. And if I was not ready to rematch before messages, I shouldn’t now.
therefore we decided (meaning he convinced me) to give her 2 weeks to show she can succeed on this job. Last night at the beginning of her working hr we had a talk about our expectations, how we want things to do. We also pointed that we MUST see excitement, engagement, and care for the kids, and that we understand sometimes things don’t work out, and if she realizes we are a bad match, we will understand and initiate rematch.
2hs later I got a Facebook message from her mom thanking me for all the care, attention, and patience I am showing her daughter (uhn???).
Teen was home and said she really worked hard that evening… This morning for the first time she volunteer to assist with cleaning up after a meal (usually puts plate in sink and disappears.
Anyway… I am skeptical but promised my husband to wait those 2 weeks, and we shall see…

WarmStateMomma June 30, 2014 at 10:33 am

Good luck! If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll know that you’ve made every reasonable effort (and then some). I completely agree with this from Dorsi above:

“My number one child care priority is to make a warm, safe and loving environment for my children.”

HRHM June 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm


I have been waiting to chime in on this one, but honestly, I think maybe you should hear my story before trying to make this work…

Our first AP was a rematch from a family in another state that she had been with for 3 months. I spoke with her LCC who said that the HF violated her privacy and that’s why she was rematching. I took that on face value and never spoke with the HF (rookie mistake). Once she arrived in July, she seemed great and was very engaged from the get go. I had an infant (3mos at that time) and a preschooler and she had peds nursing experience as well as 3 mos with the other family under her belt. What could go wrong?

I started seeing signs that things were weird. She was always trying to make the kids eat and I kept telling her to not worry, they would self regulate, but it seemed she kept at it as long as she didn’t think I was looking. She also cleaned the whole house, despite the fact that I told her “thanks, but don’t” , including going in my room and taking my laundry to do. At the time, although I felt bad she was doing it, I also must admit, I loved having the extra help. Then I noticed that she was occasionally wearing one of my hair clips or a t-shirt of mine. I would make casual mention and she would just smile and say something offhanded, and I felt ungenerous asking her to not touch my stuff, so I let it slide.

About 3 months into the year, DH was home for a week and decided to use that time to update the computer software. He went to do so and her email or FB or something was up on the screen. He asked her if she was done and if she wanted to close it but she said no, she didn’t need to do anything, he could have the computer. When he went to close whatever was open, there on the desktop was a long string of messages impuning our family, saying how we treated her like a slave (the kids were in daycare during the day to keep her hours down) , kept her prisoner in our home (she had a third car and was driving to DC on the weekends from PA to visit her cousins) and were so terrible to her (we had already scheduled a vacation with her to Disney, all expenses paid!) He shouldn’t have seen it and when he did he should have closed it but he didn’t. He read it all and then looked for more and then found more and printed it all out, for me to read…

Needless to say, I was at first horrified. Then I took a cleansing breath and decided that she was just venting, maybe trying to prove to her family back home how hard she was working or to give them the impression that her life her wasn’t so wonderful because she felt guilty. She came from a poor family in a war torn country with an alcoholic unemployed father and an overworked mother so I figured she wouldn’t want them to know how posh her American life was.

As the year progressed, there were signs along the way that she wasn’t all she seemed to be. She had an eating disorder for sure, I ignored it as it didn’t effect her work. She lied about where she was going on the weekends, but I figured she was just trying to be independant. She lied about using our house in DC when it was empty (she lived with me in PA) and when I confronted her, continued to lie until DH pulled up the internet history, showing she used the computer to access her email on that date.

Fast forward to one month prior to her year end – long story short, we discovered that she was stealing from us, A LOT. Taking cash, stole our video camera, unopened toys from the kids, my clothes with tags still on them, kids jewelry – all packed in her suitcase to go home as presents for her family. When caught, the whole excuse was that she was testing us to see if we were snooping in her things (this was February and the video camera went missing after a vacation in November…) Even after the LCC removed her from our house, she continued to assert her innocence and blame us for the whole incident.

Rematch now, it’s all I can say. Consider the messages the canary in the coalmine, I wish I had.

Skny June 29, 2014 at 7:00 pm

One thing though, my husband says that I worry too much about Au pair’s happiness, changing my plans to accommodate, trying I help so they can have an awesome time, etc. and that this is not my job. My job is to be fair. And for the first time since hosting I had an assertive: this is the deal, this is what I expect, etc conversation with Au pair. Usually it is a run around the circle of maybe you could, I would like you to because… It will be interesting to see if this more business approach works

AlwaysHopeful HM June 29, 2014 at 11:33 pm

It sounds like your talk really shook her to her senses. Maybe she’s even overheard you and your DH discussing the situation, or maybe she realized, to her horror, that her messages escaped through the cloud. Whatever happens, at least she’s making a visible effort to improve. Fingers crossed!

Skny July 12, 2014 at 6:24 am

So, things are still not working and we will indeed rematch.
I tried a lot of things: direct feedback, talking, giving her a book in Her home language and free time from schedule to read first 2 chapters…. She is just way over her head.
Now I have a few questions on how to go about it.
1.Has anyone gone into rematch and experienced retaliation with the kids?
She is not very patient with my girls. I can see a lot of times she is getting phased and has to hold herself.
There is no option for her to stay elsewhere during rematch. And I do need at least 20hs a week of care. My 17yo daughter is at a camp this next week…. Can I trust she will not yell/mistreat the girls while in rematch (and working)? Should I wait until next week when DD is back from camp (so between her and my DH being home on and off during the day there is always someone around)
2. How do you deal with the guilt of her maybe not finding a family and returning home?
I know that her family had real hopes for her year here, and went through great lengths to pay for her program (loaning money that was a huge amount for them, and will be paying off for the next 9 months).
At the same time the agency is not sure that she can get a new family, 1. Because her English is terrible (I do indeed tend to recruit the worst English speakers available – as I want them to use their home language). 2. Some of the situations that happened with us may worry other families, such as letting 4yp and 2yo alone in a pool (way above waist deep for 2yo) and watching from outside, when taking them to a pool (in a camp ground, but still with traffic… Was a street) walking about 10-20 feet in FRONT of 2 and 4yo and not even turning her back to see if they were still following her, if they had crossed street ok, if new cars were coming (I had to ask to please give hands to kids when walking them to places, or keep them in front of you), leaving the 2 girls eating lunch alone and going to her room on the basement and closing the door for about 5 min or more (I called, my teen answered, found sisters eating lunch, and no au pair around. Took about 5-6 min to find her)… And finally, my favorite: not knowing she had the baby for 3.5hs.
She took girls to gymnastics. I was still home. I kept baby. I then went to work and gave baby to husband. Au pair returned when baby was already sleeping for an hr or so. Au pair arrived, husband said baby sleeping and left. She did not understand. She thought I had the baby. 3.5hs later I call and ask if baby ate, and she didn’t even know baby was home. They rode bike outside, playground… And baby in her crib… (I do realize though that this could be avoided with more communication, and I do have a very content baby who will lay AWAKE and quiet for hrs, but still…)

I guess the point is that agency feels it will be very hard for her to find a family, will likely return home, and it became personal when I met her family and saw the sacrifice they were making to get her here, and the hopes they had it would change her life/future. So I feel guilty.

Should be working July 12, 2014 at 8:22 am

SKNY, whatever guilt you have, you need to exorcise it. Whatever it takes. Put it onto a voodoo figure and burn it. Or better yet, look at some photos of random children and imagine how one of them could DIE if this AP came to them and cared for them the way she “cared for” your kids. She’s not safe. She’s not a good AP. She doesn’t deserve another family. This does not mean she is a bad person. Sad for the money lost by her family, but NOT YOUR PROBLEM. It’s time to switch to “manager-mode” and drop the family/friend thing entirely. Save all that loving energy for your kids and the next AP.

If she wants to try and find a family, have the LCC tell her that how she handles your kids this week will be key. And tell her the same. And tell her that any behavior that moves toward abuse or unsafeness means she will stay with the LCC and not with you. Be cheerful and businesslike, the consummate manager. Lock any guilt or other feelings in a safe and throw it out the window.

Should be working July 12, 2014 at 8:25 am

Also I would call for rematch NOW and start that clock ticking immediately, if not yesterday. And hire a babysitter from an agency if need be if you are worried she will be unkind. You will rest better and work better knowing she is not in charge of your kids.

Honestly the pool story and the other stories sound like grounds for immediate rematch, and even for having her housed elsewhere. She is not a safe caregiver.

WarmStateMomma July 12, 2014 at 8:55 am

Agreed with the others. A child could have died and it’s unfair to inflict her negligence on another family’s innocent children. Whatever her family borrowed and whatever their hopes for her, it’s not worth the life of a child.

hOstCDmom July 12, 2014 at 9:40 am

I agree with SBW and WSMama – A thought –could you have her on duty during rematch, while your 17 yo DD is at camp, and hire one of your husband’s students to ALSO be a babysitter? to be eyes and ears and ensure kids are safe? And have her do kids laundry, make meals, (maybe make and freeze meals!), tidy playroom, wash kids sheets and other AP permitted, useful, but not childcare tasks?

DC Metro Mom July 12, 2014 at 9:42 am

I am so sorry that you are going through this, and I know that this is going to be way easier for me to say than for you to do, but here goes….

Let any guilt that you may have go. This person is negligent in the care of your children. I agree with all of the sentiments encouraging you to find a babysitting service. You will have greater peace of mind, and your children will, likely, be safer. With our most recent rematch, we called my mom out to watch DD for the two weeks. AP wasn’t vindictive toward DD, per se, but she was more blatant about being “checked out” and even less responsible. So, we felt better with my paying my mom’s plane ticket with the rematch.

Tell her NOW, get the clock going. I am telling you this for a couple of reasons:

1. You don’t want this lady with your children one second longer than you have to and
2. There are some amazing APs in rematch, but their clocks are ticking, too. Our latest AP, who is nothing short of a rock star, we found in rematch and, when we matched with her, she was a few hours, literally, from buying her ticket home due to agency time restrictions to find a new family.

Incidentally, you might want to think about what you are going to tell the agency about reviews, references, etc. I was asked to provide a reference for the outgoing AP. I said that I would be honest and tell people both the good and the bad. In the end, she rematched with a family that never contacted us.

TexasHM July 12, 2014 at 9:54 am

We got our rockstar rematch AP at the 11th hour as well. Her family was kicked out of the program and the LC loved her so she fought hard to house her longer so we contacted her when she was already 3 weeks in rematch and HQ had given her 5 days until she was to be on a plane home. We matched in 3 and there was another amazing candidate that also had 5 days to go home and I felt horrible but she found a great family as well so they are out there praying for a nice family like yours right now!

NoVA Twin Mom July 12, 2014 at 8:26 am

Ugh – nothing but sympathy for you from me.

In your case, I don’t think I’d leave her alone with the kids at this point. Frankly, even without your fears about retaliation, I don’t think you can leave her alone with the kids at this point. What does that mean for this week? I think I’d wait until next week to call rematch to not add that distraction this week, but I’d be nervous all week. We had one rematch where the kids were basically safe (though not necessarily happy) with the au pair, and one where they were not safe. In the case where they were not safe, I moved my kids to Grandma’s instead of leaving them with the au pair. I realize that your parents are out of the country, but what about your inlaws? My parents couldn’t uproot their lives to come to us (12 hours away) but were happy to meet us halfway to pick up the kids and keep them through the transition at their house.

As for your guilt, how much greater would your guilt be if something tragic happened, knowing that this girl has already left your kids unattended (sometimes in unsafe situations) four times that you’ve mentioned in – maybe – six weeks? You have to protect you. I know you have a relationship with this family, but you had their daughter come here to care for your kids, and she held herself out as capable of doing so. She is showing you that she is not capable of doing so. And 4, 2, and an newborn are too young to play on their own.

Going into rematch, you’re going to have to be honest. If that means she goes home, it’s sad, but you can’t trust her to watch your kids, and that’s the whole point of the program. You don’t even have a language barrier to contend with, and she still didn’t know that she had the baby (did it not occur to her, if both of you were out of the house/unavailable, and she didn’t see the baby leave with your husband, to wonder where the baby might be, and to go ahead and check her crib to see if she was there? Did she not have a monitor on? I realize your baby can miraculously entertain herself, but she’s SILENT while she does this? Why didn’t she hear something?)

Your kids are not safe with her. You need to make them safe. Since counseling her is clearly not improving the safety of the situation, you need to make a change. That means rematch. Maybe there’s someone out there that has just the right situation for her – and maybe the agency will “gloss over” the troubles you’re having and not give out your phone number (which is what happened when our unsafe au pair rematched) and she’ll wind up with a new family. (Which is why you should never take a rematch au pair without talking to the old host parents, no matter what the agency says about them. For reference, I recently found out from our LCC that unsafe au pair did NOT complete her year with her new family, and our LCC implied it was the family’s choice, not hers. This is not just me being bitter, I promise :))

In fact, the agency might be using your guilt, actively making you feel guilty about the idea of rematch, to keep you from rematching. Rematch is a lot of work for them!

Keep your family safe. Before you do, you may want to “unfriend” her relatives so you don’t see their reactions, but go forward knowing that you’re keeping your kids safe.

TexasHM July 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

I am so sorry you are dealing with all this! We had a very similar situation with AP1 but never had a safety issue she was amazing with my babies, problems were English level (we typed on an iPad to communicate it was so bad!) and driving. I think the only thing that kept us from rematching on her was the guilt because she was a great caregiver, you don’t have that thread to hang onto here. Any guilt you have should be obliterated by reading the multiple threads on here where you said it wasn’t working and asked for help. I know particularly the last round almost everyone (myself included) said cut her loose and you gave her another opportunity and coaching so you have been unbelievably patience and gracious to this AP.
I get it about the family but heres the deal – if it were you and your family was in that position, wouldn’t you give 400% to your job because you knew your family paid all that and was counting on you? I would! I haven’t seen any mention in any of your posts about her working hard and having a great attitude. I’m telling you, if my parents had put me in that position I would be a heli-AP and you’d have to tell me to chill out because I would want to make sure there was no risk of rematch or going home and that I did my parents proud. I’d be spoon feeding your 4 year old and down on the floor checking for choking hazards in my off time! ;)
As far as timing is concerned I agree I would get the clock started immediately. Only exception would be if the agency would allow you to start interviewing for a week before notifying the existing AP but I highly doubt that. As others have mentioned the minute I feared my kids safety or retaliation from my AP she would be done working that minute. As others have also mentioned, you’ve had several notable safety issues so the fact that you would allow her to stay the two weeks is generous of you, especially if she wouldn’t be working. Also, if she isn’t working you do not have to pay her. Take that money and get a part time sitter or family or babysitter or even a service for the peace of mind.
As far as whether or not she goes home you can’t even be thinking about that. As of this moment you have zero bearing on that. The time to worry about that is if a family calls you for a reference about her and then I would be honest. To steal the motto here – a lid for every pot and I think you would be surprised there could be several types of host families that would take her. Off the top of my head (this is for your sanity and to kill that guilt some more) – a HF with preteens/teens that needs a driver, a HF with one kid (maybe she’s overwhelmed), a HF that needs more child chore help/upkeep than direct childcare (again older kids), a HF with less hours (maybe she’s exhausted – 3 age 4 and under is rough – we had the same!), I could go on and on.
ALSO – you never know, she may be crazy homesick or overwhelmed and might actually be relieved to go home or into rematch. I know, sounds crazy but I’ve actually seen that happen more often than not.
IF you feel like you can trust her to watch your kids this week I would do exactly as said above and say you want to be able to give positive feedback about her (hopefully she has some strengths) but that will be impossible if she gives anything less than 200% this week. I’d ask her if she feels like she can do it – give 200% and not be bitter or upset with the kids. If she says no, you’re done. Like I said, I wouldn’t do this but if I did thats how I would do it and make sure the LC is monitoring everyday.
The LC when she takes the job has to agree to house rematch APs for up to two weeks so its not that she has no options, she can stay with the LC. Again, not your problem that the AP is unsafe and unable to watch your children. You hired her for a very very important job and she has gloriously failed to perform for quite some time now. I think after this passes you will wish you had done it sooner – keep that in mind too – the solution is near! Focus on that. Best of luck! Ping me if I can help you in any way!

TexasHM July 12, 2014 at 9:13 am

I just read back on this thread and was reminded of the messages she wrote about you all – I would really give her the boot. I mean really, sounds like she was looking for sympathy from her parents (maybe because she knew she wasn’t doing a good job and wasn’t going to make it the full year so she wanted documentation of what a horrible situation it was so her parents couldn’t blame her for the money lost). The one thing I read in every message you have written is immaturity. And with an immature AP you’ve got to cut ties right away I think and get this done yesterday. I don’t know that an immature AP can keep her feelings in check during rematch or give 200% when she knows she has 2 weeks and then is done with your family and could be likely to lash out in other ways (spreading rumors about you, blaming everything on you to potential new HFs, telling the other APs in the cluster what a nightmare you are, etc etc). Immaturity lends to not owning up to ones failings and blaming everything on everyone else and with the iPad messages it was already going that direction. Deep breath, cut ties and get excited about the new AP you are going to get that is going to make all this a distant memory.

caring hp July 12, 2014 at 10:00 am

No no no do not let her stay with you. As you have evidence of safety issues the agency will, even if you have to talk to management, house her with the LCC. Retaliation often happens from what we hear from hf friends and a friend who was a long term LCC and sometimes, the AP doesnt even consciously do it. We only rematched 1 ap over the years and unfortunately let her stay a few weeks. Big mistake. She did passive agressive stuff on our child that was so hard to prove and only came to light after. We had no bad relationship issues with her when we decided on rematch. There were 2 specific clearcut reasons she was an incorrect match and we, and she felt rematch was right on day 2 or 4. There was no bad tension at that point. The bad tension and truly harrowing upsetting stuff happened in the following 2 weeks as she was on the rematch interviewing roller coaster and needed to create and/or make herself believe things to be all our fault. Suddenly if the sky was blue, water was wet our hf suffered. I, like you and in this case our LCC figured she would give us help with driving needs (she was a good driver) for 2 -3 weeks or so to buy herself time to find a very specific kind of HF. I honestly wanted to help her. Silly me. That specific kind of hf she wanted was hard to find so she was nervous tense and a nightmare. I so regret not accepting the offer the lcc had made to house her….. in retrospect I would have even paid for an efficiency hotel, the kind with free breakfast and an in room kitchenette and stocked it with food for her and made sure she had cell and wifi to interview just to have been a better mom and saved my kids and family the hell. And remember we started rematch with basically no tension…..
I know some rematches where the 2 week was transition was fine as everyone had a great relationship. I dont mean to generalize but your case has basically every warning sign warning u to get her out yesterday. LcC should take her at agency expense due to safety issues and lack of good faith in her performance. Be tough with them. Make sure they know you know lots of HFs (your buddies here included). Reward them with referrals and good words if they do right by you.
For the sake of your innocent kids dont be like me. Get her out.

One tip though … be beyond reproach and as one hm commented on this blog “take the high road” as regards paying for taxis, making sure you absolutely pay her all stipend and vacation pay the Lcc says she is due AND Get the lcc to be at the exit meeting where you get her to confirm and sign a receipt confirming this. Her new Lcc and yours should be pushed to take a copy of this because it then eliminates the high risk an outgoing AP will claim u didn’t pay correctly. Check your pay per view and cell bills and any credit card she may have used belonging to you before you pay her too. Then pay her get the receipt and deduct thereafter, not before, the amounts she owes you in the same meeting.
Keep conversation at this point to a courteous professional level. With language barriers etc she will be looking for reasons to complain about you.

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