Evaluating Progress As Your Au Pair Aims to Improve

by cv harquail on January 8, 2015

How much improvement is ‘enough’ to shift an au pair out of  “on the way to rematch”?

au pair performance, au pair rematch, host parent adviceWhen there are performance issues with an Au Pair and we ask for an improvement, we expect that:

(1) The au pair’s performance will improve,

(2) Performance will improve enough to satisfy the Host Parent’s original concerns,

(3) The mediation & improvement process won’t have damaged the Au Pair’s and Host Parents’ feelings of goodwill towards each other, and

(4) We’ll avoid rematch.

Ultimately, we expect to enjoy the rest of the Au Pair’s year, with good performance and a reasonably good relationship all around.

But that’s not always what happens.

AlwaysHopeful HM is living up to her screen name, asking how she might evaluate her au pair’s efforts to improve.  

We are currently in the 2nd week of mediation with our AP of a few months.

The first week of mediation was rather meh. AP got some things done, but not all (for example, AP left for an extended trip with a load of wet clothes in the washer…). Today, AP redoubled  work efforts and got everything done. AP’s relationship with my son has become somewhat strained, but things seemed okay today.

We’ll see how the rest of the week goes, but my question is: how much is enough to stave off rematch?

I don’t expect perfection, but so far, I’ve been underwhelmed. I’m pretty confident that rematch is our best bet, but it seems harder to justify when there’s been SOME improvement.

Anyone been in this situation?
Did you go ahead and rematch, or plod through an improved but not great year?

Whichever you chose, would you do it again?



Image: Cornet 2 by Piers Nye 


Taking a Computer Lunch January 8, 2015 at 8:40 am

I have hosted 3 APs were not a good fit for our house. AP #5 was fantastic and loving with The Camel, so we overlooked her struggles to drive and her issues with English. She worked hard, but I had a feeling she was one of those people who had been a B- student – all of her efforts were never going to make her a stellar performer. We stuck it out, but did not extend with her.

AP #8 said “I didn’t come here to be a housemaid” almost immediately after she got off the plane. Even after she had her 2nd distracted driving incident – the one that earned a curfew for the car (the only AP to receive it in 14 1/2 years of hosting), DH didn’t want to go into rematch. She was mediocre all year and needed constant job coaching. She lacked common sense, and as my LCC warned, didn’t acquire it in a year. She constantly invited people to stay in our home, even when I told her that week would not work for us – and pushed our generosity to its limits (we’re a host family that generally doesn’t mind family members visiting). I did most of the job coaching and really resented it – afterwards DH said if it happened again, then we would go into rematch.

We called AP #10 “Debby Downer” behind her back – she never had a positive thing to say, constantly pushed back at her hours (mostly 35 hours a week), complained about The Camel (our severely retarded and medically fragile teenager – and the only reason we continue to host APs). We started having weekly conversations pretty soon after her arrival, and in week 5, she mentioned she was considering rematch, and was shocked when I responded “I’ll give you two weeks to make a decision – I would want your successor to arrive at least a month before Christmas.” (I think she intended to let it limp along until after Christmas, because she had already negotiated time off.) After an incident with our typically developing teenager during week 6, we initiated the rematch. It was the best decision we could have made. (We knew it wasn’t us – because we had already had 7 fantastic matches and 2 meh matches by that point.)

Host Mom in the City January 8, 2015 at 8:48 am

We plodded through a not-great, but not totally miserable year and will NEVER do it again. It was bad for our kids, bad for our marriage, bad for my sanity, bad for my career. AP started off mediocre, and got worse and worse through the year slowly enough that I didn’t really realize how bad it had gotten until she left. We were at the point where I had the kids in summer camp full days all summer because I didn’t trust her and the kids didn’t want to be with her.

Never again. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I felt comfortable precipitating and immediately ok-ing our fourth AP’s return home after 6 weeks. She was mediocre from day one and I could tell she wasn’t going to be trainable. She mentioned possibly considering going home and I all but told her that was a good idea.

I’m sorry, Always Hopeful. It doesn’t sound like something I would stick with based on my experience.

AlwaysHopeful HM January 8, 2015 at 10:50 am

Thanks TACL and HMitC. I think that’s right, I need to just move forward (I’ve already been working on updating my handbook). Part of my reluctance has been that we just went through a rematch, so this would mean 2 of our 3 matches ended in rematch. I worry a little that prospective au pairs will think we’re just an impossible family…and that maybe that’s true! That’s part of why I wonder if improvement should be enough, or if I should be requiring him to fully and consistently meet what I really see as minimum standards. It’s really hard in the moment to not second guess yourself, and to look objectively at what really makes most sense.

Interestingly, after our last AP left, I appreciated even more just how good he was at a lot of things. I thought he was pretty great while he was here, but I had interim help while we waited for our new AP, and I realized there were a lot of this that old AP just made look easy! That rematch really took a lot out of us, because as great as he was, he did some immature, boneheaded things that left us with no option other than rematch. My son was crushed, and still misses AP2 terribly. Not worried about that with AP3, because they don’t have a similar connection, but the whole process was grueling and to be honest, a little embarrassing.

Host Mom in the City January 8, 2015 at 11:18 am

I completely understand the second-guessing and being embarrassed. It was really embarrassing to tell people that our au pair was unhappy (with us I guess, but also just not a good fit for the program, I think she realized quickly) and more than one person made a joke that it must be us. It’s really hurtful to let someone into your home and into your life and then have them think you’re not nearly as great as you think you are after getting such a personal view of who you live and who you are.

I also get having to go through finding a match with a track record of a rematched AP in your history. Rightfully, candidates will be suspicious, and probably even more so if you have two rematches. From our experience, we were nice and generous and followed the rules to a T to the very end with the rematching AP. She has nothing that she could say to make us sound like a bad host family. I would assume candidates can and will find your previous au pairs on social media and do everything in your power to give them no ammunition, even when it means swallowing your anger or frustrations hard for a couple weeks.

I would also be totally upfront and honest with candidates. “We had a great first year with our first au pair. We loved x, y, and z” about her and enjoy a continued excellent relationship. We are happy to give you her contact info so you can hear about our family. Unfortunately, since then we’ve had trouble recreating our success and had two au pairs that we’re not a good fit for our family. Although we really liked X about our second, he unfortunately made a couple of safety mistakes and we were heartbroken that due to those mistakes, we had to let him go. We also realy liked Y about our most recent au pair, but ultimately we had different expectations on Z and mutually decided it was best to find a different fit for both of us. Here is the contact info for all three of our precious APs. We welcome you to contact any of them, but since our first AP was with us the longest and was a great fit for our family, we think you will get the best perspective from her. Please let us know if there are any questions raised by your conversations.”

Something like that will show that you are honest, you’ve had on every happy AP, and that perhaps you just haven’t had the best of luck.

Totally get how you’re feeling though. Btdt. It sucks.

cv harquail January 8, 2015 at 12:48 pm


This ‘script’ is really lovely (and useful), so I’m repasting it so it’s easy to see:

“We had a great first year with our first au pair. We loved x, y, and z” about her and enjoy a continued excellent relationship. We are happy to give you her contact info so you can hear about our family.

Unfortunately, since then we’ve had trouble recreating our success and had two au pairs that we’re not a good fit for our family. Although we really liked X about our second, he unfortunately made a couple of safety mistakes and we were heartbroken that due to those mistakes, we had to let him go. We also really liked Y about our most recent au pair, but ultimately we had different expectations on Z and mutually decided it was best to find a different fit for both of us.

Here is the contact info for all three of our precious APs. We welcome you to contact any of them, but since our first AP was with us the longest and was a great fit for our family, we think you will get the best perspective from her. Please let us know if there are any questions raised by your conversations.”

Host Mom in the City January 8, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Thanks, cv! Grammar mistakes and all ;) I need to work on my smart phone typing skills!

4th time lucky?! January 8, 2015 at 5:06 pm

I’m with you too. The self-doubt, is it us?, the embarrassment, experiencing it as personal failure… I also totally get your point about in retrospect seeing the good sides and positive aspects of past APs. Not because your current one is worse and you look at the past with rose-tinted glasses but because you have distance and perspective to evaluate the person and the situation without being too hung up in the moment.

I’ve always dreaded the moment any candidate wanted to talk to our previous APs as none of our 4 matches ended particularly positive and I wasn’t sure how mature they would be and what they might say about us. We had one ok to good match with our first AP (great with kids but turned out to be a princess and ended up emailing agency from back home to complain about us not having paid her what she was owed [btw, we are not in US]); 2nd was too problematic on the flatmate level (too messy plus inflexible, untrainable and argumentative); #3 and #4 decided to leave us as they were unhappy and said they felt uncomfortable and not like being part of a family – since they used almost exactly the same phrase I’m sure #4 got the idea of #3.

Since then we don’t give out previous APs contacts anymore – in the name of protecting their privacy. It obviously looks dodgy when you say no you can’t talk to our previous APs, so if a candidate asks about it we say we are happy for them to talk to any previous APs but that for various reasons things hadn’t ended well (and explain why similar to HMitC’s “script”) and that we didn’t keep in touch. We would be happy to put them in touch if previous AP agrees after being contacted by us because we don’t just want to give out their contact details randomly and that we assume current candidate wouldn’t want that to happen either once she is a previous AP.

As for the original question: I would want to see proper improvement, definitely not meh or some changes. If AP has been given the ‘this needs changing or else’ talking to and given help to achieve the change and they still don’t get their act together, it probably means they just don’t get ‘it’. They might be great for someone else who has different rules/ standards/ priorities but not for you. I’ve had sleepless nights and lengthy discussions with my husband: did we do everything right, could we have done things differently or done more? And in some (early) cases certainly yes, but with experience, and the introduction of lists and written instructions, you get to the point of really wondering what else you could have done: nothing. It’s not you (mostly), it’s not them (mostly) – you just don’t fit.

AlwaysHopeful HM January 8, 2015 at 3:39 pm

I agree– great script. I will be using it! ????

Mimi January 8, 2015 at 6:39 pm

I’m also currently in remediation with AP #6 after rematching with AP #5. We limped along because I was pregnant and sick but waited too long to pull the plug on AP #5 and don’t want to make the same mistake twice because what HMitC said is true…”it was bad for our kids, bad for our marriage, bad for my sanity, bad for my career.” Those are all more important than my pride. If we end up rematching with AP #6, it will be even harder to attract other potential APs, but it’s a chance worth taking IMO.

Set goals for the remediation process and decide what the threshold is going to be and if you don’t meet it, pull the plug. Rematch is not easy and is even harder if, like me, you need an IQ AP, have a large family, and don’t live in a highly desirable area, or are a ‘repeat offender’ but the right AP will see that there are two sides to issues and understand that a good match isn’t always guaranteed.

After our recent rematch, we gave our current AP all contact info for only our previous APs (with their permission) for talking to them about what it was like to be our AP. We did not give the rematched AP’s info and explained that she left by mutual decision and we felt that she wasn’t with us long enough to be able to convey an accurate reference but our LCC would be happy to answer any questions about the situation.

If you’re concerned about your percentage for successful matching, talk to your placement coordinator (if you have one?) or LCC for advice on how you might evaluate candidates differently. Look at your criteria and also think about your interviewing process. Could some of the issues that surfaced be sussed out in a differently structured interview? Somewhere on here we talked about the DISC profiles that CCAP offers, which I’ve found to be very helpful, too.

Should be working January 8, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Mimi, can I ask what the disc profiles were on your failed and successful APs?

Mimi January 9, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Now, I knew there were similarities among my APs, but I hadn’t noticed that the girls we’ve had success with are practically identical in their profiles! Three out of four were identical and one had differences in Influence (likes to persuade people) and Compliance (better at managing general tasks than minute details). All were Eastern European, under 21, and came from families with 3 or more children.

This is what has worked for us:

(D)ominance – prefer to let others set the direction; are inclined to be quite conservative; usually lean towards a more cautious approach; are easy-going and congenial; are not an aggressive ‘pushy’ type
(I)nfluence – are comfortable working alone; tend to take little at face value; are systematic and analytical; easily exercise your social skills when prompted by others
(S)teadiness – are usually calm and controlled; have a willingness to help others; have the ability to deal with the task in hand and to do routine work with patience and care
(C)ompliance – tend to have a ‘laid-back’ approach; act in a tactful, diplomatic way; quite like stability; are comfortable following procedures in both work and at play; tend to avoid risk-taking

If I remember correctly, I’m a C/SD which jives with my household management style of facts/rules/correctness and results/problem-solving/the bottom line. That these girls did well for us makes sense to me. My household is very structured and I find they are able to follow directions, yet communicate well when approached about issues (on either side).

The rematch (AP #5) and might rematch (AP #6) have some of the above traits, but here is where they differ from their predecessors:

(D)ominance – tend to want peace and harmony; are goal-oriented and motivated to achieve those goals through cooperation with others; are self-sufficient and individualistic
(I)nfluence – have a high need for acceptance by others – you want people to like you; are interested in meeting people and being with people, social skills are unlikely to be a problem for you; enjoy interacting with people – either face-to-face or on the phone
(S)teadiness – need change and variety to remain motivated in your role;
(C)ompliance – better at managing general tasks than minute details; are independent and take the initiative; are willing to try/challenged by the untried; prefer to work in a less structured environment

The need for social interaction was also an issue because both girls felt socially isolated because of our location and the need to drive. Both were not motivated to go out and meet people or experience new social opportunities and had poorer language skills. They are from Mediterranean/Hispanic cultures and are also older than our other APs have been.

The compliance is the real issue area. I was willing to let the minute details slide because I’m more about the bottom line and like to give the APs room for their own ways of doing things. I call it a bull’s eye approach…some things you do my way (center bull’s eye) and others I don’t care how you do it as long as it gets done (outer bull’s eye). Preferring to work in a less structured environment set off bells for me but I thought a change from here might be something my older kids would be okay with. When you’re desperate with a small pool of IQ APs…well you make mistakes.

We were debating on pulling the plug with AP #5 for a variety of reasons; she just beat us to it. She never intended to stay with us and was dishonest in her application and interviews. We eventually found out that she took our offer to get to the states at the same time as her friends and started looking for a new family (in CA/FL) by week 6. She matched with a family (on a non-agency website) and was going to bolt until she found out that they were with a different agency and it would invalidate her visa.

AP #6 came at a rough time of year and has had a rough time with the change in routine around the holidays and being away from home. Food has been an issue because she eats a very different (cultural) diet. We also didn’t know that her parents separated last spring and this is the first holiday since then. She is also having trouble with the mess that my kids generate which she feels she should not have to clean up after, but she won’t make the boys pick up after themselves. (FTR, my APs do very little housework- dry/fold laundry, empty/load dishwasher.)

If we rematch, we will go back to Eastern European girls who are younger. I think that it’s easier for them to come into a household with some familiarities (our ethnic heritage) and acclimate to the outside culture instead of both.

Should be working January 10, 2015 at 2:27 am

Interesting. We find that high S and C makes for calm reliability too. There is a lack of passion, but that might not matter to some HFs. High I and low everything else has for us meant neediness and a bit of narcissism.

SKNY January 10, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Just curious: what agency gives this psychological profile

AlwaysHopeful HM January 10, 2015 at 2:36 pm

CCAP and APC both use disc profiles.

Mimi January 12, 2015 at 12:29 pm

I agree. We also find that the passion has equaled drama. I think the difference in how passion manifests itself is tied to cultural differences and it’s hard not to let it reinforce the stereotyping that can go along with that– the staid Germans, the passionate Italians, etc.

Seattle Mom January 8, 2015 at 7:17 pm

For me, it’s not about how much improvement there is, but if the improvement shown is enough to move this AP from “she’s driving me crazy,” or “she’s not getting it done” to “Ok, now we’re talking.” That will mean different things to different people.

If the resentments have already built up to a point where no amount of improvement will help, you need to dig deep within your soul and decide if it’s fair to keep trying. Can you get rid of the feelings of resentment? If the answer is no, rematch is necessary.

What I find kind of hard is when you talk to an AP about what needs to change, they obviously work hard at it for a week or two, and then it starts sliding again. This kind of happened to us. In our case, the problems were not so egregious that we felt rematch was necessary, and we ran out of steam to try to keep managing the au pair. It was also obvious that this was not really about any malicious intentions or even laziness necessarily- just that this woman lacks awareness and common sense in a lot of areas (never safety, thankfully). So we accepted some stuff we didn’t want to accept- mostly related to cleanliness and taking care of our property. No really expensive things were lost/broken, but there was a general sense that she just wasn’t trustworthy with anything, and she had a certain lack of common sense. For example, she never got into a car accident but she would leave the windows open during the rainy season. She also piled too much junk up in the car, never threw a single paper away. Her idea of cleaning up the kids’ stuff was to throw it all haphazardly into a toy box- no organizing, no keeping stuff together. The worst was when she let the kids play with play dough all over the house and we were finding bits of it everywhere- in the couch, the carpet, etc. What was she thinking?

But she was sweet, the kids loved her, she never complained, and she has redeemed herself a thousand times in this way. For example, when we said we were going out new year’s eve but we would come home in time for her to get to the late-night parties she said not to worry about it, we could stay out as late as we wanted- she goes out almost every weekend and this was our night. She is leaving next week after a year, and we’re not really sad to see her go. If I could do it all over again, I’d still have a hard time deciding whether to keep her or to rematch.

Seattle Mom January 8, 2015 at 7:21 pm

I want to clarify that the kids are sad to see her go, and I am acting appropriately. I don’t dislike her, and I enjoy talking to her when I see her around our house (that’s another saving grace- she is a very pleasant person to be around). I just think she was a less-than-mediocre au pair.

imabusybee January 9, 2015 at 2:03 pm

We have been going through this. At this point we have decided to stick with our AP. For us the biggest adjustment has been her attitude. She was very hum-glum stay in her room all the time and it wasn’t working for us. Since meeting with our LCC her attitude has definitely gotten better and we can overlook a lot if the person is at least cheerful to be around. She is still mediocre at best when it comes to getting things done but at least now there is hope they’ll be clothes for the kids on her days off. She definitely doesn’t look for things that need to be done and we usually need to ask a few times which is annoying but my kids like her so we’re gonna stick with it. Next go round we will be interviewing very differently and looking for a very different type of person.

Peachtree Mom January 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Honestly I have not been able to accomplish the improvement road without going down the rematch highway…..actually back to their home country. We have been hosting almost 4 years. We had two fabulous matches (one extended an extra year with us) and two who were with us for approximately 4 weeks who returned home. When this happened in the September timeframe our agency was fabulous and had a list of rematch au pairs readily available and we had a replacement within 2 weeks. She is wonderful and a pleasure to have in our lives. With the two who returned to their home countries after 4 weeks, I tried weekly meetings, a meeting with the LCC, detailed lists, coaching…the improvement was minimal and with one 6 year old who is in school during the day and takes the bus….how hard can it be???? Like someone mentioned, when my frustration level reached eruption level and I hated living in my own home….it was time for them to go. I guess mine were just bad picks on my part as these gals did not even go into rematch…they just went home. How did I miss those clues in the matching process esp after having great matches in the past?

AlwaysHopeful HM January 14, 2015 at 8:39 pm

OP here. So, this is a surprise, at least for me. I think we’re going to stick with our au pair. He’s still not hitting 100%, but the improvement in effort has been really noticeable. Most importantly to me, his relationship with my son seems much less strained, which i think factors a great deal into my willingness to be satisfied with his effort. I hadn’t realized just how much his inability to handle my son without getting stressed out, judgmental and annoyed had exacerbated everything and made me feel resentful, until it changed. I can see him working on the relationship, and i see my son responding in kind. I still worry some that things could reverse down the line, but if they do…we’ll deal with that then!

cv harquail January 8, 2015 at 1:43 pm

grammar mistakes? I missed ’em. ;-)

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