Experienced Host Parent is Weary: How can she regain enthusiasm for the Au Pair program?

by cv harquail on January 12, 2011

Over time, being an au pair Host Parent can start to feel tiresome.

Even though each au pair is new, with his or her own talents and challenges, the activity and responsibility of being a host parent stays the same.

Sure, with each new au pair relationship you get better and better with your handbook, your orientation, and your systems. But, some would argue (me included) that the more we know about how to be effective host parents, the higher and higher our expectations become for ourselves.

I think with each of our au pairs (even the fabulous ones) there has been a time when I have stepped back and fumed a little bit on how much work it is.

I’ve consoled myself with the knowledge that *every* kind of childcare option has work involved. With an au pair I might be frustrated with dishes left in the sink, but with a day care center I’d be racing to pick up my kids on time and avoid the late charge after a meeting that went over or a train that was delayed– and managing that is just as much work. But it’s all work, and it can get tiring.


One benefit of using au pairs is that, once a year (or after an extension) we have a concrete chance to reconsider whether an au pair is the best kind of childcare for our family at this moment.

We can look ahead at kids’ schedules, growth challenges, and social needs; we can look ahead at our own career & job changes, and we can think about what our family needs emotionally, socially, and instrumentally that an au pair can or might not be able to fit with. So, on the plus side, you get to recommit each time you decide to find a new au pair.

But what about during the year, when you just get tired of being a host parent?

When one little thing after another just gloms up to be too much?

Asks Mjd:

Although we’re having a fairly successful year with our au pair, I think I may be experiencing a little bit of ‘senioritis’ with the AP program lately. It’s worked out well for us over overall (we’ve had 5 APs, some good, some ok, 1 rematch), but as of late, I am getting a bit worn out by the ‘parenting/managing’ aspect of it.

I’m feeling irritated at having to shut unused lights off all the time (regardless of how many times my APs see me do this, they somehow never seem to remember to do it themselves!!), prodding about signing up for classes, always being the one to initiate communication, reminding to do more creative/educational/interactive activities with the kids and less coloring and trips to Walmart, more fruits and fewer prepackaged snacks, etc.

We’ve never tried the nanny or daycare route, so I don’t really have anything to compare to, but I’m feeling a little deflated lately with the management part of having a young person in my household. I’d appreciate any thoughts or wisdom out there….

Parents, how do you renew your enthusiasm for hosting an au pair and for having au pair childcare, when you start feeling weary of the whole thing?

Tired Mom by
Mike Oliverie Tired Mom by J. McPherskesen


Should be working January 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

I’m no old-timer with respect to hosting APs, but after 18 months of it, including 1 rematch, I feel your pain. For better or for worse, what got me more into the idea of having another au pair (after we’re done with this one in 6 months) was looking at the available au pairs on the agency website, and finding two that seemed fabulous (from videos–but still they seemed great). We’re likely going to match with one of them, not sure yet.

If it’s not around matching time, I’d say you could ask your partner, if you have one, to manage the AP more, or fully manage her for 2 weeks.

I also tend to ‘automate’ when I get overwhelmed by repetitive tasks: e.g. write out some emails that you will save for future use, including about WalMart, lights, etc., and then send them and set them to automatically send every 60 days.

You could also consider letting some things go for a few weeks, e.g. snacks. Or if the kids are older, or even one of them is, why not let him/her ‘supervise’ some aspect of life with AP (something nonthreatening, like the snacks) or let him/her be “boss of the lights” and make sure they are getting turned off. And you could schedule work time (even 15 min blocks) where you list in her work calendar (we have Google calendar, perfect for this) that during those blocks she has to register for classes, or come up with 3 interactive project ideas. Again, I would automate these, e.g. set them up as recurring blocks of time. It would require some up front work, but theoretically would be then self-sustaining.

MommyMia January 12, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I love the suggestion of “automated” emails saved for future use! And I think my little one is now officially the Light Boss–she’s the perfect age to love power and responsibility! And I thought I was the only AuPair HM who was constantly turning off lights in unoccupied rooms (and I counted one day, I turned off the same one seven times, plus a number of others) cursing to myself. And yes, I have explicitly told everyone in the family that this is a house rule, but the APs really are the worst at “remembering.”

AP*rola January 13, 2011 at 12:29 am

It´s the opposite in my family, I´m the one who goes around turning off lights and I´m also the one who worries about not wasting water :D

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I”m in the same emotional space. But I’ve stopped silently fuming. Now I make it a show as I walk around snapping off lights, and loudly count.

Once when we had dinner all ready and the children/au pair had done none of their tasks (cleared kid stuff off the table, gotten their own drinks) that hub and I sat and ate in the kitchen. By ourselves. THAT made an impact!

This week I was so frustrated by a recurrence of the failure to have the table and people ready to eat at dinnertime that I left the table to cool off. While in the other room I fired off an email to my au pair reminding her that dinner is a completely predictable occurrence and that I’m tired of yelling at people. We’ll see if the improvement lasts.

I’m reminded that maturity level of the au pair makes a HUGE difference in these kinds of quotidian annoyances. And I’m never going to match with an AP who has not lived away from her mother ever again. I got really lucky with breaking that guideline once, but not this time, and I’m regretting it.

Gianna January 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I think at times like this that it is good to think about childcare from the kids point of view . Would they be happier with a nanny or in daycare or afterschool care ? Trying a nanny for a while probably would not be practical but you might be able to experiment with daycare or afterschool care on a limited basis. When you mentioned snacks , I thought about a colleague of mine who came to work really upset because the daycare staff kept giving her child apple juice and my co-worker had specifically asked them to vary the types of juice. I don’t know where you are in the US, but today in the northeast is a real argument for all the aggravation of aupair management. No running around in the snow. If you are going to finish up in summer, maybe you could try daycare/camp, etc. and see how it goes and how the kids feel about getting another aupair. I also think you are very nice to allow trips to Walmart .

Eurogirl January 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm

In two out of the three au pair jobs I have had, the hosts let me (as out-bound au pair) help them to find the next au pair, looking through the websites and shortlisting candidates for them, emailing my daily schedule and view of life as the au pair to them, and then having an overlap period with them to help them settle in for the first week and helping to set up things like bank account, and helping them to find places in town like practise the route to kindergarten with them. I don’t know if this is okay in America or with various agencies that people on this site use, and of course if the previous au pair is not leaving on good terms or not that trusted it’s not an option – but you could use it to take some of the stress out of finding a new au pair, if you are tired of that aspect of it.

Also, maybe try a slightly older candidate who doesn’t want or need to be “parented”…I found it actually quite irritating to be “parented” – I was in my twenties and had already been an au pair, and lived on my own, and been to university. I had to speak to one host mother and point out that my actual mother would not have been as much in my business or trying to influence my choices in life as she was (and by choices in life, I mean things like career path after finishing being an au pair, whether or not to study for a masters, where in the world I wanted to live afterwards, what age I might consider marriage… – not the sort of teenage drinking and boys issues that some times come up on this website) I appreciated friendly advice…but there is a limit…

My 2 cents January 12, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I think this is the host parent’s version of the last several months of the au pair’s year. You are just plain burned out and all the management and stress that goes with it adds up and amplifies beyond what it ever should. You wonder if it’s “worth it” and whether anyone appreciates you and all you do for them (and, of course, the au pair is only one person with whom you reside that you feel this way about).

I’m totally with you. Why can none of our au pairs understand to close the dryer door so the light doesn’t stay on? Why can not one of them ever take the kitchen garbage out? None. Ever. Why oh why? Why can’t they be more creative with what they do with the kids? Why do I have to write lists and nag and remind? WHY?????

But I try to remember that I’ve got my flaws and I definitely had them when I was in late teens and twenties. Not sure what they are now (hah!) but I’m sure if my au pairs were told they could disclose without me ever knowing, they’d have something to say about something!

Also, I have several friends that have done the nanny thing. There are just as many issues there. Some of them of the same variety. Nannies start to slack too as they get more comfortable and you “ride” them less.

BTDT with daycare. I like the impersonalization of it, but the flexibility with the au pair program (holiday coverage alone) is unbeatable. Also, there’s more turnover there and the ratios are, of course, much higher. It’s definitely more like babysitting at times there. If you have a child with special needs or that needs additional monitoring, it’s just not any good (again, btdt).

Anyway, you have a soul mate in me. I could not be more like you in how you are feeling.

AFHostmom January 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Oh so much to comment on here. ;) I am CERTAINLY no expert nor senior in being a HM (first year, halfway through)but I started feeling this sort of resentment/wearing down just a few months after my AP arrived, which was a bad sign. She is probably better than average, and works well and the kdis love her, but yeah, it’s still having someone young who I have to parent in my house. It’s exhausting. I am about 95 percent sure we’ll be going another route next year with child care, but as others have said, challenges abound everywhere–they are just different. It is downright blissful to be able to get up in the AM, shower, and ride to the train station with my husband while the littles are still tucked into bed. But on the flip side, it is downright hair-pullingly frustrating that I can rarely sit down and watch a movie with my husband at night w/o company. We’ve had a nanny (who like MTC said, slacked big time when she wasn’t nagged all the time), done day care, which was way easier with 1 infant than it’d be with 1 school aged kid and 2 preschoolers, and now the AP thing doesn’t seem like the best fit for us. Childcare solutions are a tough balance, for so many reasons.
My AP does great with housework when we remind her, but I resent having to remind her. I would balk and feel patronized if my boss gave me a daily checklist, so I started out not doing that, but she wants it, so we have one now. She wants to talk about every issue face to face, I prefer email because I’m home far less often during the week than I am at work or in transit. She likes to hang out and chat, we prefer to have some alone time (and use all our hours for the work week which gives us no wiggle room for date nights). She hasn’t made a move to schedule vacation or register for many classes, and I resent having to remind her (and consequently usually don’t). And so on. Our ways are certainly not better than hers, and I hope not worse, just different, and it is wearisome. Anyway, not much advice from me (sorry), just wanted to commiserate. If we ever go down the AP road again, I believe we’ll try to find a caregiver who is older and hopefully has some experience in the AP program.
I will say, though, that I’ve seen tremendous growth in our AP since she arrived. I try to convey that to her, but I feel like 90 percent of the time I come off as crazy naggy host mom, and the other 10 i try to overcompensate with praise and generosity and look crazy in the other direction.

ILHM January 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm

AFHostmom – I wish I read yours before I wrote. I think I am living your life….4 months into being a HM I dream of the day it will end :-)

Seasoned Host Mom January 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I am surprised that your au pair is so social with you. I think our experience with our au pairs has probably been more the norm. All 3 of ours have spent their evenings in their rooms, emailing, Skyping, surfing, watching TV, so we have a lot of alone time in the evenings and on the weekends (when they like to sleep until at least 10 am). I bet that your next au pair, if you get one, would provide you with a lot more privacy, so I wouldn’t give up because of that.

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I’ll chime in here to validate this. We’ve had several APs, and only this recent one is soooooo chummy that she wants to hang out with us all the time. Even. On. Weekends. She thinks we’re great, and really funny, and she loves being the center of attention. She is wearing the goodwill out of me. Hub and I even stopped watching TV (we only own one set) in the evenings because she ALWAYS joined us and then went on and on about how she didn’t like our shows. We basically now disappear into our room as soon as the kids are in bed in order to avoid having to deal with her stuff all the time.

BUT this is not the norm. Our other au pairs have been great about letting us have space in the evenings. I would say that they swung too far on the other end of spectrum when it came to doing the fun stuff with us, but they were ALWAYS there for the kids’ birthdays and anything really big, like religious holidays, so now I am seeing the flip side. There is definitely such a thing as too much togetherness. But again, I see this as really a maturity issue. She doesn’t recognize other peoples’ needs very well.

StephinBoston January 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm

i agree with others, what you have is not the norm. We are hosting our 4th au pair and none of them have ever hung out to watch TV with us. All but one ate dinner with us every night and I must say I really hated the experience with the one who didn’t. Felt like i had a boarder in my house and felt like she really didn’t like us much. I think you need to ask those questions when you interview, ask what a typical night at home is for her, dig deep. I’ve had nannies and au pairs, never did the daycare route (more expensive here than AP to out 2 in daycare) and I’m pretty sure we will keep it up until my oldest is 12 and youngest is 11. So we’ve got another 6 years to go, some days it seems like a lot but the positives do outweigh the negatives for us.

ILHM January 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I’m with you on this one, but I only have 6 months of being a HM and 10 years of having kids in daycare. Daycare worked really well for 2 of my 3 children. Good daycare can be very very good – schedules and late fees and all. Some kids just aren’t cut out for the educational chaos that can go with daycare though, and we found that out with our 3rd.

My suggestion is that you look at it two ways – from your perspective (pros/cons, cost, headaches and aggrevation) and from that of your children. There has to be a balance between what is good for them and what is good for you. We found with daycare that when the teachers started to complain about our youngests behavior and we had to constantly go meet with the director, daycare quickly started losing in the pro/con balance. On the other hand, my kids still miss their friends in daycare and I’m going to be sending all three to summer camp so they can be with them. That means the cost of having an AP isn’t as affordable as I thought it would be and that dings the AP choice in the pro/con list. Could I say no? Certainly, but that would make for cranky kids, a crankier AP and lots of Cheetos consumed and Wii games played.

I have never had a nanny (though I think that may be the answer for next year) but they have been known to quit with little or no notice so that is rather worrisome but they have many of the same benefits of an AP without needing to be part of the family.

We are finishing up our first AP year. It started great and then has been rocky on and off since then for a myriad of reasons, but never bad enough (yet?) to rematch. What I realized is that I’m tired at the end of a day because I have a job where I have to please a lot of people all of the time. I don’t want to feel like I have a guest in my house that needs to be pleased as well and I don’t really want to live with an employee who needs to be appreciated and coddled and I don’t feel like she is my daughter because the pleasing part would be easier to do. I do know that I am not ready yet to mother a 20 something and she lacks some fundamental moral behaviors that I hate to see influencing my ‘tween daughter.

So, to paraphrase cv, there are pros and cons to all childcare choices. You have to make the gut call about what works best for you. The good news is that you can always change your mind! Best of luck.

Tamara January 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I think that having an au pair is a childcare choice that may work better some years than other years, as your family’s needs evolve. We have had two au pairs, both stayed for a year, and both times it was just after I had a new baby. We have done daycare and had babysitters before and after the years of having au pairs. I think it was really important to have that flexibility of an AP during those years with a new baby. I also felt more comfortable having the baby at home than sending her to day care. But there were negatives too; I realize in retrospect that while tending to the needs of a new baby I was probably not tending to the emotional needs of my AP as much as I might have; I was just overwhelmed. The experience would have probably been more successful if I would have had more to give to the AP. My main point though is that having an AP may be the best choice some years and not others; maybe step back and think about whether a different option would work better for your family in the future.

JBLV January 13, 2011 at 3:10 am

I am with you Tamara. I didn’t want to send my baby to daycare after my maternity leave, and my husband’s paternity leave. We’ve had AP’s for the last 18 months, and it’s worked out well for the most part, including one rematch, one princess who was actually quite responsible, and now we have an amazing AP. We will probably get one more AP. That AP will be with us until just before my newborn is ready for preschool – she will be skipping daycare entirely. I don’t like the impersonalization of daycare – one-on-one care and affection are the most important things to me.

What I usually do is work on the family handbook throughout the year, and give any potential matches the handbook before matching (no tv., no texting, no facebook, etc, when ‘on duty’. No misc. driving expeditions with the kids, etc). I also give them the course catalogue for classes at the local community college, and explain exactly when we will be taking her to sign up for classes. My current AP will probably overlap with the next AP for a week, so the second week the next AP arrives we will be signing her up for classes, getting her social security card and getting her a bank account. My husband will take a couple of days off to help her do these things, and I will take a couple of days off when she first arrives to explain when I expect from her for childcare. My current AP can fill in any gaps I miss, and also introduce her to other AP’s, shopping and the local nightlife. I’m hoping all this gets her settled quickly, focused mostly on her work, and I’m only left with the job of getting her acclimated to a new country/family. If we’ve picked the right person, I don’t mind the last part. In fact, it’s nice having another adult in the house. But that only works if she is more of an adult and less of a teenager.

Other things I will do when matching:

1. Start early
2. Explain to the agency matchmaker that I will *not* consider anyone under 21, and prefer someone 23, 24, 25, or 26.
3. Explain that we prefer Europeans, and that we’ve had good luck with German au pairs. They tend to be good drivers, have pretty good English skills, and have similar child care philosophies as we do.

JBLV January 13, 2011 at 3:25 am

4. Oh, and she must be a *frequent* driver!

europhile January 12, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I second what has been said. The weariness has been there with all my four APs, least so with my best one, though (who left us earlier this year). Since it’s a pretty flexible program, why don’t you take a break after this one is done and see how it works for your family? If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to it. There are many different options available, and none of them is perfect.

PA AP mom January 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm

I agree with europhile. After our last AP returned home, we took 6 weeks off from the program. It was during that hiatus that I realized that the au pair program is the right choice for us right now.

There is no penalty for trying another option and then coming back to the AP program if you want to.

Mjd January 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Thanks for all of the input and co-commiserating! It is a good reminder for me that any type of childcare has its issues and that there are frustrations and challenges with daycare and nannies too. I guess I needed a bit of ‘the grass is not always greener’ perspective. Lately though I have felt that tolerating some of the little frustrations with a nanny would be easier to overlook because she didn’t live with us. Like I wouldn’t have to watch a nanny put her own dinner plate, knife and fork in the dishwasher and then disappear (because the pots and pans and countertops all miraculously clean themselves!). A nanny would either go back to her own home and not be having dinner with us or she would be a thirty-something year old adult (‘real’ adult, not ‘young adult’) and would know better. I had to laugh at My 2 Cents’ kitchen trash example. I have actually had to add that one to our handbook and still I’m lucky if the bag gets taken to the back door, but not, gasp… taken outside and put in the trash can! On numerous occasions I’ve thought to myself ‘Do they just NOT SEE IT!!??’ Or worse, ‘Do they think it’s always MY JOB to take it out?’. It also gets under my skin when our APs have sat on the sofa watching TV while our housekeeper cleans their room or vacuums around them. Even I make myself busy doing some ‘productive’ if I’m home when our housekeeper is here! It’s things like this that make me feel a tad insane sometimes and wonder, ‘Is it just me???’ Our one super stellar AP actually brought the trash cans back in from the curb on a few occasions. That wasn’t what made her an awesome AP of course, but that just exemplified who she was.

I am really not good at having to nag and provide feedback on a regular basis— I resent doing it and it just drags me down. So I think I just need to rev myself back up, and approach this as an opportunity to regroup with my AP and reemphasize and refine how we do things and how we would like things done. It’s just time-consuming and time is something I don’t have a lot of right now, which is why I’ve been putting it off. At this point in our lives I think an AP is still the best option for us, at least for another year, so I think I need to muster up some enthusiasm and put my manager hat back on.

JBLV January 13, 2011 at 3:13 am

Ha! I guess it helps to not have those expectations. I wouldn’t expect a nanny or AP to wash pots or take out the garbage. I’m pretty happy if the AP distracts our little ones while we make dinner or do the dishes ourselves.

AFHostmom January 13, 2011 at 8:51 am

If the AP fills up the trash during her shift, or generates dishes during the day, then yes, in our house they are her responsibilities. ANd since she eats probably about 25-30 percent of the food cooked in my house, if she is “on par” and “part of the family” then, again, yeah, she bears some responsibility for that. Luckily our AP is good (with reminders) about carrying her burden in these 2 areas. But I absolutely don’t think it’s unusual to be frustrated by an AP who isn’t.
Oh and the heat and air–it’s tough cause many APs are from areas that just don’t have central heat or air, so it never even occurs to them that hey, opening this window with the AC on may let fresh air in, but it also dumps a ton of money out. Luckily our AP caught onto that pretty quickly.

JBLV January 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Yes, definitely. If she makes the trash an the pots dirty, then she should be responsible for her activities. I assumed you meant the family trash, pots, etc.

Melissa January 16, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Trash and pots that are generated by the family are all included, in my opinion. If our APs generate trash or make meals on their own (such as the wastebasket in the AP bathroom or making a grilled cheese or something), then of course I would expect them to clean up after themselves. But if our APs are throwing out their trash and the kids trash during the day in our main kitchen trash can, and they are eating the meals that HD and I prepare, then yes, I also certainly expect that they help clean up afterwards. If they eat out on their own, then I don’t care. But I feel that if they choose to eat with us, they help. Not necessarily to the same degree — I can live with HD and I scrubbing the pots most nights while our APs wrap up the leftover food or wipe off the counter, but I am bugged by the ones that put their plate in the dishwasher and retire to their rooms without any offer to help. And at first, I was grateful when they’d entertain the kids while I cleaned up after dinner (better than nothing, right?). But night after night of this, I felt like this is sending the wrong message to my kids. That mom is the one who does all the cleaning, while AP is the one who plays with them. While this is a fairly minor issue, it has been one of the most consistently frustrating ones for me.

Eurogirl January 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I actually had a similar feeling with one family I worked for as an au pair – the father would take his coffee cup and set it on top of the dishwasher, rather than putting it in the dishwasher, NO ONE else would ever empty the dustbins or dishwasher or hang out laundry, even on the weekend when I was not working (mostly not even there) it would be left til Monday if I didn’t do it – I had this feeling that they had hired someone to do this stuff and there was no way they were doing any of it themselves… I didn’t mind doing my fair share as the third adult living in the house, but to expect someone else, anyone else, to put your coffee cup in the dishwasher for you…or to leave your wet laundry lying in the basket for two days rather than peg it out yourself… I felt a little taken for granted and to be honest, appalled at how lazy some parents can be – NOT a good example for the kids when we are trying to teach them to be independent and helpful…

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm


You sound like me not so long ago! I HATE having to micromanage. Hate it hate it hate it hate it! Not ten minutes ago I just complained to my hub–we’re both home sick, so I shouldn’t be griping because just try coping with two sick parents and two kids with different pick up times without an au pair!–that instead of giving the child who needed pain meds a quick snack and getting the meds on board right away she made her an egg and watched while she ate it. Slowly. Is this a reason to leave the program? Of course not, but I absolutely resent that I have to make every little decision, deliver ridiculously detailed instructions with granular specificity, and smile about it. It annoys me that the girl who took the car to go to the bank then came home and looked in the fridge and said “I have no milk” after driving past the store on her way home, when did I mention that both parents are home sick?

So I recognize that I am a bit burned out these days. But when we had our much more laissez-faire au pair–which had a whole other raft of frustrations, including utter lack of oversight of homework–I decided that to make this work I needed to change how I saw my role and began to look at au pair hosting as a kick in my pants to learn how to actively manage people. It has come in handy at work.

I still don’t enjoy it.

MAHM January 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm

about the trash…..listen to this one….we went away for the weekend and left the AP home (her choice). When we returned home there was trash piled up on top of our kitchen counter above the trash can because…gasp…the trash can was full!!!! The audacity.

Calif Mom January 15, 2011 at 10:43 pm

MAHM, that’s the best one I’ve heard yet! What is it about trash? They can wipe dirty bottoms but not carry a plastic bag to an outdoor can?

I came home Friday to a full bag sitting right in front of the kitchen can. AP had the ability to pull the full one out and put a new plastic bag in–which I do appreciate, because usually she just crams it so full that it’s impossible to pull the bag out without it tearing–but she still does not have class enough to take the full bag outside. Prima donnas!

I LOVED the post from the former au pair who is now dealing with being the grown up in her shared living with housemates. Think karma, I guess! Modeling appropriate behavior hasn’t worked: ie, I took the trash bag out to the can in my suit and heels. Reading this, I realize she probably had no clue how annoying that behavior was, especially since she has no duties in the middle of the day, and had managed to fail to get my youngest ready to leave the house in time for school. I mean, she doesn’t HAVE to do that much, really. Why is it so hard?

Taking a Computer Lunch January 15, 2011 at 11:34 pm

AP #3 consistently failed to get my son to school on time. I solved it by making participation in a karate class contingent on no tardies for four months. Problem solved – child was reminded not to tarry by the word “Karate,” and no AP wants the loss of a privilege on her head.

Anonmom January 12, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I totally understand the malaise that comes with the au pair program. As you said, no matter how great the au pair, the usual tasks, such as turning off lights, closing open windows when the heat or air conditioning is on, or leaving open cans of soda in the fridge, only to spill out onto the floor at the worst possible time. I also grew weary of the whole ‘orientation’ period for each au pair- going to the social security office, banks, driving practice, etc. Anyway- I try to remember that this is the au pair’s first time for everything, even though it grew old for me. One way you can change the situtaion is, if possible, take a break from the au pair program. We opted to have an old au pair return for the summer on her own, then used a babysitter for a month before the next au pair arrived. This gave us a break from someone living in our house that period of time. It also gives you the understanding of the things you needed the au pair for, or whether you can get by without the au pair.

We now are without an au pair again, as we had another old au pair come for a few months (on her own- no agency- I

anonmom January 12, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Oops- new computer, and I hit the wrong button before finishing! If the AP comes for under 3 months, they don’t need an agency as it was just under a tourist visa. We were very lucky. But now, we are faced with the task of getting babysitters, and realizing the cost of summer camp! It is not easy, but it also helps us evaluate what exactly we need, since they are all in school now. We have used daycare prior to hosting 7 au pairs, and I recall how nice it was that first week when I didn’t have to rush to drop off and pick up the kids. I also recall the first time the school called me to tell me my eldest was sick- I was able to go to the school, pick her up, and return to work while the au pair took care of her, and I didn’t need to miss work. Flash to the present- my daughter was sick the other day and my husband had to take off from work to care for her, whereas if we had the au pair, that would not have happened.

Try and take a mental break from it. Don’t fret over the light switches, don’t remind the au pair about classes- when they miss registration, oh well. I had one who did not listen to me before she came about classes, etc, and she lost out. Hard way to learn. Good luck in whatever direction you choose. I found that if I placed myself in the perspective of the au pair, someone of her age, it helped me remember and get past the dolldrums!

HRHM January 14, 2011 at 2:19 am

Just a quick comment on the AP working on a tourist visa, lest anyone get the wrong idea. Yes, girls from other countries can come to the US on a tourist visa anytime they can get one and for as long as they can get one for. However, it is in no way, shape or form legal for them to work while here on a tourist visa. So, while you may get away with having her as a guest and giving her “pocket money” while she “gives you a hand” with your kids, it’s not actually legal. FYI

honeywhite January 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm

We have had nine au pairs in seven years, including two rematches (one left early due to family emergency and the other was an unmitigated disaster). They have run the gamut was okay to great, and we are still in touch with many of them. We’ve learned ALOT of lessons over the years about what our daughter needs in au pair (essentially a big sister), what we need in an au pair (a mature, reliable caregiver who loves our daughter–but not someone who seeks to be our daughter) and what questions we need to ask for a successful match. Despite our relatively high success rate, though, we dread the start of each new year and the adjustments they bring–explaining the rules, getting everything set up, establishing boundaries, watching the interactions with our daughter to ensure the right chemistry, and building trust.

We had a nanny for the frusta few years of our daughter’s life and there were definitely advantages and disadvantages; at this point with our daughter in 4th grade, we don’t come close to using all of our au pair’s hours (with the exception of the tricky days of summer) and the last 2 years we really debated going back to having a nanny instead of an au pair, as we are over having an extra person in the house, and I’m not sure it is cost-effective for us anymore.

But then I wake up on a Tuesday (say, yesterday!) morning and school has been cancelled because of snow. And I realize I don’t have to stress it because our childcare provider, who we trust, lives right here. And I realize that at least for another year, we need the flexibility and piece of mind that having an au pair provides, aggravations (and there are many!) and all.

JBL January 13, 2011 at 3:17 am

“what we need in an au pair (a mature, reliable caregiver who loves our daughter–but not someone who seeks to be our daughter) and what questions we need to ask for a successful match”

Yes! Exactly! More like an aunt/sister rather than another daughter. That’s what works for us too. What kind of questions do you ask when matching to get this kind of result?

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Next time, I’m thinking of consulting a ouija board during interviews.

JBLV January 13, 2011 at 10:53 pm

ha! too funny.

honeywhite January 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm

To weed out the surrogate daughters, it’s mostly questions about their relationships with their families; if they seem extremely or overly attached to Mom or Dad, have never spent time away from home or spend every spare moment with their parents, that’s a red flag. We also ask about what they like to do with their friends (to ensure that they HAVE friends), and how easy/hard they find it to meet people – extreme introverts, the very shy, or the anti-social are also red-flags!

Busy Mom January 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm

My first 2 AP’s said during their interviews that they wanted to be “big sisters” and I explained that we need an “aunt.” They definitely were softer on DD3 than my current AP, who understood from the start that we needed her to reinforce our rules. She did so from day 1 – I still don’t know how you interview for this quality!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 14, 2011 at 7:55 am

I’m not sure you can weed out for this quality – I think it’s something that APs pick up quickly or they don’t. I had one AP who bought my son junky toys every time they went into the store because she didn’t want to put up with his tantrums – until she went with me, I put my foot down, and the tantrum never got started. Kids need boundaries, and so my subsequent APs have read the line, “You are part of the team of raising my kids. We expect you to enforce our rules and in turn we will enforce your rules and the punishments you give.”

My current AP has a rule that my son may not do X before breakfast because he doesn’t come promptly when she tells him it’s ready. Her rule and it gets enforced when we’re around and she’s on duty. If she takes away television for bad behavior. We enforce it.

For me, the best APs are those who are both strict and generous – the ones who make the boundaries clear but actually play with the kids. The ones who talk with them and not just “at” them. But for all the APs, it’s a huge leap to go from babysitting, or working in a group home, or as a teacher to actually living with children and helping parents raise them.

MilitaryHM January 12, 2011 at 11:17 pm

I can completely relate! I’ve had 5 au pairs in a row and recently left the program in mid-Oct because I didn’t feel like I had the energy for the language barriers, driving evaluations, explaining why American elementary schools have this or that rule, making sure my au pair has friends and a social life and so on. Plus, we’re moving back to the DC area in Apr and the type of au pair who would enjoy Colorado is not necessarily the same one who would thrive in an urban environment. I was very,very naive in thinking it would be an easy transition to different child care arrangements. Here’s some examples of how life has been with a college student providing before/after school care for my 10 and 7 yr old (older student using her GI Bill benefits after serving in the Army for 3 years):

–On Monday, my kids had a snow day and she still had her college classes so she called at 6 and said she wasn’t going to make it. I still had to go to work at 7.
–She missed two days before Christmas when her husband was sick.
–She doesn’t do laundry, clean anything, pick up milk at the grocery store, etc

On the other hand:
–My daughter is getting A+’s on her book reports and my son is getting 100’s on his spelling tests as she supervises their homework.
–She enforces the small chores I give to my kids (put their laundry away, walk our dog).
–She uses her own car to safely drive the kids and doesn’t charge mileage and has her own cell phone.

Now I have to decide whether to return to the au pair program or hire a nanny when we move. I’ll probably need live-in care because of the demands of my new job and my husband’s commute. I’ve been half heartedly trying to hire an American live-in nanny to start in April for 3 weeks through many sources–both on my own and through respected placement agencies. Most are scared away when I tell them I’m prepared to pay the appropriate taxes and expect them to declare their salary as income. A huge number want to bring their own infants or toddlers to live with us. Others expect a separate attached apartment and other amenities that a military family could never afford. Finding a nanny, both here in Colorado and for my upcoming move, seems to have turned into a second part time job. I’m starting to get the impression that, even in this economy, American nannies are not going to be a viable option for us and maybe we’d be better off back in the au pair program.

AFHostmom January 13, 2011 at 8:56 am

Yikes, as a military spouse in the DC area, this all scares me. Our situation is very similar to yours, and in my nanny research I have realized that although there is no shortage of available caregivers, most of them seem to charge exorbitant rates.
Why did I think I could have a career AND kids again? Scratching my head….

Taking a Computer Lunch January 12, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Don’t be exhausted by your AP!

Many of you have read that I lived without an AP for one year – the year we gutted our house to put a handicapped accessible bed & bath in for The Camel (and an au pair suite underneath). We went through 25 nurses in 9 months. 5 failed to show up for shift (the bus driver left her with neighbors). I wasn’t paying a penny for the service (The Camel is on Medicaid because keeping her alive exceeds what is reasonable and customary for a family to pay), but it wasn’t free. It was incredibly hard work – because the nurses were only going to do what was necessary to keep The Camel alive (few picked her up when she cried or cuddled her in their laps). For me, the AP model of care-giving is worth its weight in gold. The Camel thrives when she is loved, she smiles, she squeals, she shouts. She is healthier. (And unlike the nurses, the AP drives her one-way to drs. appts so I don’t have to take 1/2 day off.)

Personally, I decided from day one to treat my APs as adults (I wouldn’t have children look after The Camel). I find that if I feel I must micro-manage my AP’s life, then I only get heartburn (and I’ve learned that it’s time to move on). If they don’t take the required course, then they won’t get their bonus – her problem, not yours. Remind her once and move on. If they aren’t doing the housework you want done, call an adult meeting after the kids go to bed – tell them what they’re doing right and then tell them what they need to do. If they still can’t manage to get the work done, call another meeting and ask what would help. Do they need a list? A daily activity planner? Have them put it together with your list of things that need doing. Keep in mind, especially if you have very young kids, that you may be requiring too much housework when your AP is trying to keep up with your active kids. Try to maintain a polite and neutral tone when you make requests, even if you’re seething inside.

Reward them with flexibility when they do their jobs well (I have no problem giving a weekend off to an AP who does what is asked of her and more – I’m even willing to take time off on a weekday to honor the request of a great AP).

At the end of the day, you pay good money to have an AP so your life is easier. If it’s not easier, then it’s not a good match (and believe me, I’ve been there). For me, the flexibility of an AP is worth every penny (and I have 2 school-age kids) – but when it’s not going well, my LCC and my husband have to put up with a lot of complaining on my part.

And every time we have a new AP my husband sighs and steels himself to endure the start-up time. But I have found that a good first month sets the stage for the rest of the year. Every ounce of effort on my part pays off.

If you’re on AP 5 or about to start the process for AP 6, then re-read and re-think your documentation. As your kids get older, your needs change rapidly. Involve your kids – what do they want in AP? In my household, The Camel will always be #1, but having an AP that connects with my typical child is also essential (after all, he’s younger than he thinks he is).

HMinWI January 12, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Oh WOW! This post could not be any more timely for me! I was literally just having a conversation with HD about how I am weary of the “parenting” part of hosting APs. I have had 5 very different APs who each needed very different things. Currently, my AP needs quite a bit of reassurance that she’s doing things right. To me, this becomes about as wearisome as having to remind someone how to do things on a daily basis. I am just not good at micromanaging. I expect people (in all parts of my life) to do their work/job/chores/etc and do them right. If something isn’t right, they will know. I’m really hands off in every way. I’m sure this is aggravating to my APs who want/need the reassurance. I think I just need to reasses…take a deep breath…and enjoy the flexibility that I’ve got. This AP is our last, and I’m really wanting to finish with a great year.

HRHM January 13, 2011 at 12:59 am

Wow, what great timing. We are actually leaving the program in March when our current AP is done. I have had five matches of variable success and have been looking for a new AP since November. The applicant pool this time of year is thin and not impressive. And I have just had it. I’m tired of dealing with the entitled attitudes, teenage drama and weak work ethic that I keep finding. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I keep hearing about other peoples’ GREAT APs and I want a great one too! LOL. It’s just been too much work to get the bare minimum.
DD6 has actually been asking for over a year to get rid of the AP – she says she wants us to “live like every body else”. When I asked who would watch her, she said she would go to aftercare at school. (This request has crossed over 2 APs so not specific to poor chemistry with the AP)
So, come March we are going to rearrange our schedules, sell the third car and take back our house. Will I miss the flexibility? Absolutely. But I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing I’ll miss.

Dorsi January 13, 2011 at 2:26 am

I am glad to know that others find the pool “thin” this type of year — I have felt lately that I am part of a different AP Universe than a lot of the posters. We match in the winter because we started when I went back to work after the birth of my first child. I would love to get on a more “normal” match cycle — hoping the next AP is awesome and wants to extend for 6 months.

However, when I read through the expectations and standards that other people have of the matching process (“We only choose girls who __” We expect __ during our email/Skype exchanges) I worry that I am doing everything terribly. I think there are gems out there to be discovered, but I don’t think I would have an Au Pair if I had the expectations for the process that others do. I have worked with multiple agencies, so I don’t think this is a specific pool issue.

During the last round, we looked at getting an “Extraordinaire” from APIA — there were a total of 4 to choose from (because we require an infant qualified, it does limit our choices, somewhat.) Not 4 to review and move on, 4 total in the system. We expanded our search to include non-Extraordinaire applicants. I emailed 8 people our “Dear AP letter” — 2 told me they were in the process of matching, 5 never responded and 1 we matched with. Our letter tries to be honest (you will work 45 hours week, you will no have a car), but I don’t think it approaches the “Dare to Match with Us” letters that other people refer to.

HRHM January 13, 2011 at 7:32 am

We got stuck in this “match month” because our first AP was a transition and no one explained to me that even though she came to us in July and we paid for a whole year of care, that’s not what we would be getting. We are registered with 3 agencies (for search purposes) and as you said, it’s not specific to one agency. We considered covering the 3-4 months and then matching when the pool was better, but thought, if we can make it work for 4 months, why not just make it work, period. So that’s what we’re doing. With the 32K we’ll save this year I can afford to pay a babysitter every other Saturday, pay for aftercare at school and still be WAY ahead.

Should be working January 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

Can i ask if the 32k savings have anything to do with your childcare choices, or are you just doing well in general terms?

HRHM January 13, 2011 at 10:49 am

That’s what it costs us in to have an AP. Agency fees, stipend, tuition, room & board (as estimated by the SD), cell phone, car insurance, – all the stuff you all probably pay for. Plus the 650 a month in car payments for the third car we’ll no longer need.

Should be working January 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm

That’s an impressive number. I figured it was more like 24K, all said and done. But I suppose ‘room & board’ also includes the cost of having a large enough house to give the AP a separate room.

ILHM January 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I did a quick, back of the envelope price estimate and came up with $32,092 assuming she had a $650/mo car payment for #3 car. It was:
$7800 car payments
$7000 Agency fee
$10,192 for AP weekly stipend
$600 for annual car insurance increase
$600 for increased utilities
$3000 for food
$300 for cell phone
$2600 for gas

HRHM January 13, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Yep, it’s a pretty steep figure that I tried not to think about in making the decision. If you don’t have a third car (or it’s paid off or it’s a beater) then that brings it down to 24K, which is still a lot of money. I think that more APs need to see this because they only know that we pay their stipend. They don’t actually know about the agency fee unless you tell them. And of course, they don’t think about the cell, the insurance, the tuition, the extra utilities (TURN OFF THE LIGHTS ALREADY! LOL) and the food. They just think we choose Au Pairs because they are cheap – for us they are definitely not the cheapest option.

My calculation didn’t have gas but did have tuition, airfare supplement (aka ripoff by APC!) room and board was based on the fact that the AP recieves minimum wage (7.25×45) which is 326.25 which we then keep about 126 per week for room and board (this is how the actual stipend is arrived at) which is 6786 in room and board. I think that’s probably a conservative estimate for many of us.

Dorsi January 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

CV — I have lots to say on the cost issue (and I know it has been covered before) — but it might nice to revisit this — maybe under the banner of “Does leaving the AP save you money?” or “How to minimize AP costs?”. I am pretty sure we don’t spend anywhere near 32k on our AP, but I don’t want to clog up this mostly unrelated topic.

hOstCDmom January 14, 2011 at 9:19 am

I’ve found that a useful segue into a discussion with the AP about the “hidden” costs + agency costs that a HF has is to *ask the AP what HER hidden costs were* — what did she pay the local agency office/local agent to apply? Did she have to pay for training? What did she have to pay for health insurance or the health insurance supplement? Did she have to pay to get the health certificate? (either over or under the table), Did she pay a deposit with the agency? (some do, some don’t, some are small/token, others are HUGE!) and did she have to pay a bond or surety to her own government to be permitted to apply for the visa. We had a Chinese AP who had to pay a $7000 surety to the Chinese government (which she borrowed from a number of family members and extended relatives) as a guarantee that she would return upon completion of the program. This surety was IN ADDITION to various of the other, aforementioned fees/deposits and her domestic airfaire to get her to her gateway city of Beijing.

Asking about this achieves two things: (1) we get information about what our AP has at stake and it acknowledges what they had to do and pay to become part of the program; (2) it is a natural opportunity to explain what the HF’s costs are, especially the costs that are likely not obvious to the AP (agency fee – the big one, car insurance (many don’t know that we have to pay extra to put them on the insurance), domestic air fare, cell phone/internet/cable etc.).

Of course, not all AP’s situations will be as I described re our Chinese AP — many Europeans pay no deposit (local agents often run “specials” in which the deposit is waived) and only pay a de minimus application fee. But asking about these things serves the same purpose — it opens a two way conversation that lets us share our financial perspective on the program in a way that doesn’t sound like “poor me, I had to pay so much to have an AP”, and in that respect I think our perspective is better received and better appreciated….

Taking a Computer Lunch January 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I wonder, for APs that do not have to pay huge up-front fees (such as those from Europe), if they take the year less seriously than those who had to borrow money to come (and are expected to repay it from their stipend during the course of the year).

All of my APs have come from working class families. Some have comfortable lifestyles and have traveled much more than an equivalent family here, but the issue of money is still a big deal.

While I don’t worry about every nickel I spend on my AP (food is meant to be eaten), I don’t really think she increases household expenses extraordinarily. She does hear me discuss family expenses, especially when my son requests items for which I don’t have the money. My guess that APs who think their families are loaded are less cautious about what they do than APs who see that their families are careful with money to pay all their bills. APs who hear their HP call back children to turn off lights, are perhaps more careful themselves? One would hope…

JJ Host Mom January 13, 2011 at 1:44 am

It sounds like the biggest problem is that you’re tired of nagging. I wonder if there’s a way you can get around that? Like, if she forgets to turn the lights off, she has to work extra hours to pay for part of the electric bill. She doesn’t sign up for classes? Like others have said, that’s her problem. She doesn’t initiate communication? Have a mandatory meeting one night a week, but otherwise just be friendly, but don’t go overboard trying to draw her out. Doesn’t do the activities you want with the kids, or feed them the snacks you want? Ask her to create a detailed schedule for every week, including activities and snacks, and run it by you. And/or ask her to write summaries at the end of the day, like daycares do. Put the onus on her to do the right thing. Don’t take that on yourself.

In general this is the “Love and Logic” approach. If you want inspiration you could Google that.

I’m a manager at work and I don’t do well if I have to come home and micro-manage, too. Out of 3 au pairs so far, two have needed to be micro-managed. They didn’t work out. The other acted like an adult, and we gave her the space to be an adult, and that worked out beautifully. Here’s hoping the next au pair is great, too.

We’re between au pairs and have the kids in daycare right now, and boy do I miss au pairs. I had to go on a business trip and my husband ended up just taking time off, rather than dealing with ferrying the kids back and forth to daycare on his own. Now I’m back but my son’s sick. With an au pair it would be no problem, but we can’t take him to daycare sick, so I’ve canceled all my meetings tomorrow so I can stay home with them. Not to mention the stress of drop-off, pick-up, and them getting sick in the first place from being exposed to all those germs. This stint of daycare is sure reminding me why I like au pairs in the first place.

Deb Schwarz January 13, 2011 at 5:25 am

We’ve had 15 or 16 au pairs (lost count) over the past 11 years – for the first 5 years, we had two at a time, so I’m a definite old timer – maybe even have the world record for most au pairs. Like you, I do feel a little “long in the tooth”, but what keeps me going are the truly wonderful au pairs that we’ve had and the many fond memories that we’ve shared with our au pairs over the years. No – not one au pair turned off lights, and only a few managed to not walk past the overflowing garbage – but many became part of our family and enriched our lives beyond what any other childcare option ever could have. Now that our kids are older, and after every transition, I start getting the itch for something else (e.g. more of a housekeeper, tutor-type, maybe a local uni student?), but I keep coming back to the flexibility (schedules that can change, esp. during the summer, date nights/weekends) and the more intimate, extended family type of feeling that you get with an au pair, not to mention the cost factor. So – we trudge on….. I’ve learned that although I love the vim and vigor of a younger, enthusiastic au pair, I just don’t have the interest in going to the social security office, the bank, or go through the whole routine for the 17th time – so lately I’ve been going with 2nd year au pairs, or older, savvy world travelers that can hit the ground running with little hand holding. And, I’m happy to announce, my dear APM friends, our latest one (arrived 2 weeks ago – 2nd year Australian) seems like a keeper. No blow ups with the kids, she has common sense, and actually seems to like children and isn’t lazy – yahooooooo!!! Thank you au pair god!!

maleaupairmommy January 13, 2011 at 6:08 am

Thank you! Thank you! I really need this right now at this exact momment. My current AP he is/was the greatest and now it’s all about the girlfriend. We had two different important holiday functions to share the american traditions with but he was too busy with the girlfriend to bother to show up or seemed to even care that he missed them. Now I have a short time left and I’m super pissed feel used as I always tried to make him part of the family and felt he truly was now he is no where to be found and could care less. His work ethic is not the same still gets things done but the heart is not there anymore. Gave him extra vacation, extra things, extra time off, made sure he was off so he could go to certain events. He got mad because my husband was an hour late and sadly is the norm for husband. Never had a problem and now with not much time to go he makes a big stink about it. At first I understood but the more I thought about it really. MInd you this was the same week he was working less than 45 hours I completely changed my plans for a romantic day with hubby so he could go to event he really wanted to go and gave him another hour off early. Did I get a thank you hell no. Just feeling used and our new au pair is arriving shortly and I have no idea what to do. Want to treat him like an employee as I get the same results but I want my ap to part of the family that is why i do this. Just feeling depressed and angry about the whole situation right. Can’t believe I’m ended a great-perfect year like this. I just keep telling myself this is his way of pusing us a way so it doens’t hurt so bad and hoping it’s true.

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Oh Im sorry! He’s got short-timer syndrome badly! Just grit your teeth and focus on getting ready for your next au pair. This is not at all uncommon, especially if the au pair falls in love in the few months before they are supposed to go home. Been there! Lower your expectations, and plan for a really solid ramp up with your new au pair.

a January 13, 2011 at 7:22 am

I can’t exactly relate, and I know this question is directed at host moms, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents anyway. I was an au pair last year- for 6 weeks, I worked for a family that ended disastrously, and then for about 7 months I worked for another family where I fell in love with the kids and had a so so relationship with the parents.

In hindsight, I can actually understand some things that would irritate my “mom boss” but seemed ridiculous to me at the time. For example, I would load the dishwasher at a certain time the day before so that in the morning (when I didn’t work), dad boss would have to unload it before getting ready for work. It irritated him. Also, I never once took down the trash and had to be told to actually take the bag out when it was full and just set it by the door. I didn’t even know WHERE to take the trash when it was full. I was halfheartedly given the assignment of looking through a local magazine with activities to find things to do with the kids (museums, shows, workshops, etc) but to be honest, the kids were content with going to the park for 2 hours after school, eating dinner, bathing, and going to sleep, and so was I.

In my defense, MB DID wait until I had been working for them for about 5-6 months before approaching me on DB’s behalf about the dishwasher. She told me to figure out a way to load/unload it so that DB would never have to unload it again, but I just scratched my head and washed everything by hand for the rest of my time there. I had always seen DB take down the trash, and back home, MY dad had always taken out the trash, so I *conveniently* assumed it was a man’s job and let it be. Towards the end of my time with them, I discovered the joy and wonder of parents.com and parenting.com, and I recommend 100% giving those links to your au pairs. By the time I had found them, it was sort of too late, but even now I check the sites religiously and regret all the cool projects I could’ve done with my boys.

AND (because the post isn’t long enough already) to add an anecdote- I now live in a sort of sorority with five other girls my age and a resident advisor. Normally, our RA is in charge of everything- making sure lights get turned off, putting the trash by the door, reminding us to take it down, etc- but for one week, she went out of town and we were left alone. I felt like I was living with overgrown babies. Although we’re all the same age, I’ve been on my own for 3 years already, and they’ve all just come from home. I now understand so much of your frustrations, host moms, because no matter how many times I’d remind my *sisters* to please turn off the lights, somebody would invariably leave them on all night. One night when we had a particularly large load of trash, I asked the girls if they could take it down on their way out, and sure enough, it was still there after they left. The next morning? Trash bag was still there, only by then it had been knocked over, had trash overflowing and falling onto our floors, and the girls were obliviously enjoying coffee together in the next room. During that week, I went crazy with Post-It notes- and they’re another thing I recommend!! Post it next to each and every light switch/heater in the house- “Please turn me off before you leave the room!” Notes in the bathroom- “Please clean out your hair from the drain!” Our walls were covered, but the lights finally started getting turned off.

Anyway, I wish all the host moms on here the best of lucks, and from an au pair who probably got my family’s nerves for the same reasons you’re complaining about- I’m sorry, and yes, karma does exist. Please let that thought comfort you!

HMinWI January 13, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I love this reply! You made me laugh with your experiences with your roommates. And, your honesty about running the dishwasher so that HD would have to empty it made me laugh too…I think that’s human nature to try to figure out how we can get out of doing a task.

It’s difficult as an adult who’s been through the college and post-college roommate experience to keep reliving it with APs. Honestly, having an AP who helped me with the little things without asking what she should do, where things should go, or how they should be done was the difference between my good and great APs.

Melissa January 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Completely agree! The difference between my best APs and ok/good APs were those that went the extra mile on a regular basis. But, I think that is true in the work world as well. It’s those employees who work overtime without whining, take initiative, do what it takes to get the job done, be a team player, etc, who are generally the ones who advance. Sometimes maybe it’s a cultural difference (i.e., had a housekeeper to take out trash at home, so doesn’t expect to do it here), but sometimes —and this is where I feel as old as my grandmother by saying this — I wonder if it’s a generational/youth thing. It’s seems to me that a good work ethic is more the exception in our experience with au pairs, than the rule, and we are beyond thankful when we luck out and get that. Conversely, when I was 22, I had a full-time entry-level (read, low paying & very unglamorous) job, but I tried to work hard and go beyond what was expected of me. Without having to be nagged, reminded, or feeling like I was doing by boss any favors. Ok, I will step off my old-fashioned soapbox now…. :-)

California Cowgirl January 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Au pair #6 after two months with us just hopped on a flight back home this morning – with 24 hours notice of the departure. She was a great kid – probably our best our pair yet – and got accepted into medical school and starts classes on Monday.

It is hard not to feel jaded. I certainly lack enthusiam for a renewed search. As my husband and I culled through applications last night we joked, “oh, here’s one that loves children”…. and “oh, this one is interested in travel”…

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 7:14 pm

:-) ha! I’ve had that conversation!

OB Mom January 13, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Hey, any chance you are in Southern California? Our ex-AP wants to come back ASAP (for a boy, of course). She really was great with the kids and house stuff.

California Cowgirl January 14, 2011 at 2:37 am

Sorry, NorCal.

HRHM January 15, 2011 at 2:49 am

Just out of curiosity, were you aware that she had applied to med school? From my experience this is a months long process involving an interview and several months notice prior to the start of school. (I found out “late” in May about August start) My friends who went in Europe and Mx had similar acceptance processes to the US one. I was wondering if you had an idea this was coming or if you were completely blind-sided.

DarthaStewart January 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Is she German- on a waiting list? My APs will find out sometimes the week before that they are accepted to a program. (Current, former, etc)

OB Mom January 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I have often wondered about this from the other side … would an AP prefer to be the 1st AP for another family? or “just another AP” in a long series of AP’s? I remember that our 2nd AP was concerned about the transition and that the boys wouldn’t love her as much or listen to her as well. I thought to myself at that time, “wow, it would be hard to come fill in someone else’s shoes like that”, so made a lot of effort to let the boys know that they were different people. Because I’ve wanted each AP to have a unique impact on the kids, I’ve purposely recruited from different countries each year, to allow them to bring us new cultural traditions each time. This has worked OK, but honestly, I’m running out of Northern European countries (our preference for various reasons).

If there are any AP’s that have comments on whether they felt special or “just another one”, I think it would be an interesting perspective.

used to be an AP January 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I was AP6 out of a total of 12. I never felt special, I was really just “abother one”. But I didn’t mind because there were many positive aspects to that. My HF knew a lot about the program, the rules, how difficult being an AP is for the first 4 weeks, how hard it is to leave at the end of the year, etc.

My HF used a “hands off” approach. To get around nagging and micro managing they always looked for candidates who already spoke English well. My HM kept saying that someone who already spoke a decent English was less hesitant to ask a question when neccessary but also more likely to find out things for him/herself.

My HF told me that the two most important criteria for them always were 1) a decent level of English and 2) driving experience. They were also very interested in my grades, they said this was because good grades usually are an indicator for a good work ethic. They didn’t care about child care experience too much, but they had two typically developed school-aged children, so they needed someone who could drive the kids to their different activities, do their homework with them etc.

They always treated their APs like adults from the first day on. They never enforced a curfew, gave their APs a credit card right away, let their APs use the AP car without testing driving skills etc.. I think that this really helped the APs to feel like an adult and thus act accordingly.

Calif Mom January 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I’m not a total control freak, but I would *never* let an au pair take the car without driving with them first. A rematch candidate almost wrecked us while evaluating her– she turned left in front of oncoming cars and did not understand why my husband grabbed the steering wheel to jerk us out of harm’s way.

Maybe your host family always picked Germans and felt comfortable that their test was more difficult than ours. But then again, our friends had a German au pair crash their Volvo on her first day driving, completely totaled the car. Without kids, thank goodness!

AFhostmom January 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Yeah, no way. That’s just foolish, letting someone drive without a few test drives. No. way. In all the foreign countries we’ve lived in, we had to pass an in-country test before we could drive, and this is no different.
And, um, are HFs supposed to give APs credit cards? We didn’t/won’t/wouldn’t.

OB Mom January 13, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Now to the original posters concern … how to get rejuvinated. I like the idea of rewriting the handbook from scratch. OK to take some stuff from the old one, but try to take a different perspective. Your kids are older, so perhaps they can help you look through the applications and focus in on them.

We had a nanny for several years before going the AP way. It was outrageously expensive … especially if you chose to pay their Social Security and workman’s comp like we did. I have had multiple friends use local college students and they seem to be replacing them every quarter or so … and the reliability is much more difficult. I walked past our 6-to-6 program in my son’s middle school last week and all I could think was “I’m glad I can afford to have the more personalized care of an AP …” even with it’s limitations. If I did have to chose and not use an AP for some reasons, I would probably go with the college student approach, but realize that there are always pros and cons (you’ll spend a lot more time on Laundry and getting lunches ready). Good Luck and hope you stick around here either way.

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 7:16 pm

college kids disappear in summer, and their schedules change quarterly, too. We found they often don’t understand about the need to be on time.

Calif Mom January 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm

As for rejuvenation, we just “allowed” our AP to take a trip away from us over New Year’s. The break was wonderful, even if it sucked up some of the parents’ annual leave. Highly recommend finding a few days for a breather.

australian nanny January 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

I have been an au pair in The USA and a live out nanny at home in Australia. The relationship is much easier to manage when I go home every night. The little things don’t matter as much, and the mother gets a break from me.
And just to comment- I ALWAYS took out the trash and wiped the benches etc when I was an au pair- I felt like the host family ‘didn’t’ notice it needed to be done, or thought it was my job. I would leave it sometimes to ‘test’ this theory, and they would still wait for me to do it

used to be an AP January 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I took at the trash out as well, turned of the lights, wiped the counter, swept the kitchen floor etc. My HM wrote a list of things to do every day for the first four weeks, after that I wrote the lists myself, she only added things if there was something special going on.

returning HF January 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I understand how you feel. I had the same feeling last year and pulled out from the AP program. We started using the AP program in 2005. The first 3 years were great, but then after that were up and down (more bad than good and several rematches). We felt so burn out with the aupair stuff. In 2009, we decided to take a break from the AP program. We put the kids at a daycare.

We though daycare will be better for the kids. Daycare would have more structure and educational activity (and I don’t have to worry about their schedule), variety snacks, and (the most important thing) no drama (emotional involves). Also, daycare will give us more privacy at home. Well, it wasn’t as good as we expected. Their educational activity is not always educational ? (game day once a week when the kids can bring their game, movie times once a week, etc). We were not happy and the kids were not happy either. They were too tired going to daycare before/after school. It was too much for them. The schedule was hard for all of us (miss the AP flexibility).

After about 4 months using daycare, we re-considered going back to the AP program again. When we talked to our kids (age 7 and 5) about possibility getting a new AP again, they were so excited. They told us that they like AP better than daycare. My husband and I discussed all our issues with the APs in the past and tried to find the middle ground to make it work. We agreed to lower our expectation on household responsibilities (as long as does not affect the care for our kids, e.g. taking trash out, turn off the light, forget to clean up the kids room, etc). We don’t require her to initiate/plan education activity unless we asked her or she brings it up.

We’ve matched with an AP in November 2010 and it is going pretty well. The kids are happy, our AP is happy and we are happy too. Honestly, I feel more relax and comfortable with our AP now since I try not to be bother with little stuff. As long as she takes good care of our kids, follow our household rules, and get along with the kids, we are happy. We also have a 2nd year AP, so I think that helps too. She knows the real AP program to take care the kids & going to class instead of ‘travelling’ in the US. So, we are not worry about AP who wants to go home or disappointed with the program.

We are glad that we took a break from the AP program, though. It was hard but it’s worth it. It really gives us and the kids a different perspective of AP. From this experience we learnt that there are issues in any type of care for our kids. It really depends on which one we feel more comfortable with. For now, we feel more comfortable dealing with AP issues than daycare issues.

Calif Mom January 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Thanks for this post! Excellent reality check in the midst of a lot of January blues and w(h)ining.

Former aupair / Mom to be January 14, 2011 at 5:02 pm

This is a great post with tons of nice inputs! As Mjd said, no matter what type of childcare we get, there will always be issues to deal with.
I think it is very frustrate to deal with a aupair that don’t care about how much is the electric bill, or what time kids should be ready for dinner, but on the other hand she is a person that will be available most of the time when you need, especially if you have a crazy work schedule.
On the other hands, having a nanny for example, does not make the light issue less, and will be left empty hands when she call in sick 10 minutes before you suppose to leave.
Day care also has its issues, and you will likely get a sick kiddo more often than if you keep them at home.
I’m still pregnant and trying to figure it out which childcare would work best for me. For now, I’m thinking about daycare, because I’m really exigent with my house, and I like everything nice and clean, and I don’t think I would share this space with a 24 hours Au Pair.. Things may change…

Long Island Mom January 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Great posts – perfect timing. We are currently looking for our second Au Pair and I’m secretly dreading the whole process. Our first Au Pair extended for a second year and we realized after six months into the second year that it was a mistake. She’s done and has lost all enthusiasm for being an Au Pair. Then last week, she was not home for three hours after school. Disappeared and no one knew where she was. When she came in, she gave an explanation that had huge holes in it so we don’t believe it. My kids were left to get off the bus into an empty house and my son was left at school with no ride home. I was in a meeting and my husband was on a flight which is why we didn’t respond to our kids messages. Needless to say, I’m a bit freaked out to go ahead and get another Au Pair. I agree with no many of the pro’s (flexibility, safety net, etc…) but the micro-managing is difficult and after this situation, my trust for this Au Pair is gone. She has two months left and I’m willing to deal with her staying but the relationship has changed. I’ve picked up some great questions to ask a new potential Au Pair but truth be told, there’s no guarantee that what you interview is what you’re going to get. These posts have been helpful and if anyone has any additional advice, I’d appreciate it.

Calif Mom January 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I hate to say this, but this behavior–disappearing for 3 hours at pick up time–is totally unacceptable and you should immediately call the counselor and take action now to end your extension year early.

This au pair has short timer’s syndrome, is very unlikely to improve unless you start absolutely riding her you-know-what (which you sound too worn out to do, and frankly, which will also lead her to distance herself even more and not take her actions’ consequences seriously), and you don’t deserve to be worried every day while you’re at work that someone is going to remember to pick up your kids. YOur kids certainly don’t deserve to be worried all day during school that they are not important enough for her to remember to pick up, either.

I’d cut your losses, implement some sort of backup plan, and start looking for a second year AP or a rematch candidate who’s already in country.

HRHM January 19, 2011 at 3:00 am

I think in almost any agency, child abandonment is grounds for immediate dismissal and return home. You don’t say how old your children are, but in most states, if they are young enough (<10) they can be taken away for being left home alone.
If this was my AP, she would have been moved to the LCCs house that night.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 19, 2011 at 8:30 am

I’d say that her failure to telephone you during those three hours to say that she was stuck and couldn’t get home is a sign that your working relationship is over. If you want to make it work because it’s only two more months, then I would call the LCC and have her sit down at the table with you and your AP. Ride herd. You are paying for her to provide childcare and if she feels that she’s done, then it’s time to go home. (Personally, I would now make her shift start 1/2 hour before she is to pick up a child or meet a schoolbus – BTDT.)

And, for the record, I’ve tried it both ways – attempted to make a crumbling relationship work – it’s a lot of effort for little gain, and then when it was too stressful, wiped my hands and said goodbye (and that was also a lot of work as I scrambled with childcare before the arrival of the next AP).

I will say that nearly every AP I’ve had ended up with “short-timer’s syndrome.” They realize they’re going home and want to catch up on all the things they meant to do and haven’t done. As their term comes to a close, I sit them down and remind them that I still need them to work, to be there for the kids, and that if they are gracious and good-spirited, I will in turn be flexible and understanding.

Joyce January 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I have found it shocking to hear that your aupairs do so little “housework”. My aupair really shares in the housework. For example, it’s a shared responsiblity to take out the trash. After the weekend or sometimes when the recycle bins are full, I might pull them out and set them by the door. When she comes upstairs and already has her shoes on she will take it out. I don’t have to say anything (well they are by the door!). But more importantly, she is the one that takes the large bins to the curb on Wednesdays. We share equally in preparing dinner (though I do all the planning and shopping for the ingredients) and we share in the clean up. Whoever gets to the dishwasher first empties it etc. Just this past weekend she jumped in the bathtub with me while we washed the family dog!

This is our first aupair so maybe we just got lucky. But she’s from a divorced home (which was important to me because I’m divorced) so maybe it helps that she and her mom already handled the cooking, cleaning, and care of the entire household….plus she’s older (25). When we had a conversation about life in the US she says it’s “very easy”. Her words — with dishes, laundry, etc you just push a button and it’s done. (Our dish washer was broken for a few weeks and she did all the dishes by hand. Told me that imagine in her country she would be doing all the dishes by hand in COLD water. )

Calif Mom January 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm


You are VERY lucky, or wise to have picked well, or both. Your au pair’s attitude and actions are not anywhere near the norm. Shower her with extra appreciation tonight!

JJ host mom January 18, 2011 at 5:31 pm

But this should be the norm, right? I mean, I agree that Joyce is lucky, but I also think that we should expect that we are adding another adult to the family, and that adult will do his/her part to keep things running smoothly.

Mjd January 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more JJ host mom! And this is exactly why I am feeling weary of the whole thing…. :-0

Taking a Computer Lunch January 18, 2011 at 11:53 pm

From nearly 9 1/2 years of experience, I can say that having a third adult in your house who is a willing and active participant in the household and child rearing depends on a few things:

1) matching with an AP with previous work experience (instead of babysitting experience) [I know – this is a personal prejudice born out of my desire to provide The Camel with the best care possible.]

2) being generous in spirit with your AP (meaning – unless you have infants/toddlers/preschoolers not scheduling her to work for 45 hours per week just because you can; being willing to permit weekends off because her friends have planned an activity; and being willing to fold her into your family unit by requesting her participation in family activities). I do NOT mean “spoiling” your AP (whatever that means).

3) your AP realizing that she has a good deal and her willingness to actively participate in keeping it by going the extra mile.

And, to show your gratitude, a HM (and HD) might:

1) Thank their AP for “routine” goodness: getting up on time, taking care of a kid with a cold, doing the laundry, housecleaning, etc. as asked. This is something that AP #4 actually taught me: she thanked me for cooking dinner (which she really enjoyed and actually requested that I cook particular recipes that she had loved). In doing so, I learned not to be embarrassed but to be gracious — but I also learned to thank my APs for doing something that seemed mindless to them, but meant a lot to my kids or to me. We all want to be wanted or needed, and really — I’ve learned that making an AP feel her work is necessary goes a long way to a routine achievement of high performance. (Because it IS needed.) BTW – your APs may have to learn to be gracious themselves in response to your gratitude.

2) Don’t “spoil” an AP with high-end rewards. Learn what she really likes. If it’s cashews, buy a container of Planter’s Cashews to say thank you. If it’s chocolates, a high-end American or nice European chocolate say “Thank you” like nothing else. Steaks, then a nice cut of meat. Keep your gifts simple. Don’t instigate a gift competition among your AP and her friends. But do reward her with meaningful gifts that show you’ve been paying attention to who she is and what she likes.

3) Being a good HP is not about micro-managing everything (the household chores – okay – her attendance at class – her loss). Really. It’s about acknowledging adult responsibilities and choices. You may not always (or even rarely) appreciate your APs choices as she learns who she is and what she wants in the year she lives with you. My advice – try to remain neutral, while still passing along those values that are important to you. Two of my APs came saying “I’m not going to university ever,” and I’ll admit right now, I gave them a subtle message throughout the year that attending university gave one more choices and opportunities. I’m proud to say that four are doing (or have completed) degrees that involve public service in making the lives of the poor or ill better. (And I’ve since told all of them how proud I am.) Like it or not, you are an influence on your APs. And like it or not, some of your values will reflect back on to you through them. Choose who you are carefully. Really. Because like it or not, you’re emphasizing those values to your children, too.)

Does any of this happen overnight? No. Are all of my APs perfect in every way? No. But are all of my APs good people? Yes. Does having a good year require an emphasis on communication? Yes! (Just like ANY relationship, having a good relationship with your AP is work.) But at some point, if you’re not getting good output, and you’ve honestly examined your own behavior, then sometimes, it’s just your AP. Sigh.

Eurogirl January 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

Point one here really hits the nail on the head – In two out of the three families I worked for, they said thank you. And it made a big difference to how I felt and probably to my attitude to working. Being taken for granted is not nice. Imagine if your other adult in the house never said thank you to you. Eg, you cook dinner for your au pair and your husband and they don’t say thanks and just walk away. It’s the same feeling as an au pair if you cook dinner for host parents and they don’t say thanks and just walk away…

In particular one family; They would pick me up something nice in the groceries (usually a bar of chocolate, small bag of sweets or bottle of beer) as a treat every few weeks and say something like “I thought you’d like this, and I want to say thanks for…*something like “helping out at x’s party even though it was your day off” or “helping y with that homework, now she understands that” or “taking the kids to the museum so I could work on Saturday”*… Whatever little thing I had done. I was doing those things because they were my job, but I swear, I worked twice as hard for that family and twice as many hours – but because I really felt they appreciated it, I think I loved them twice as much!

Long Island Mom January 19, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thanks for the feedback. I agree that her disappearing and not calling was totally unacceptable. But, she was remorseful and has not pulled anymore stunts. We’ll hang in there for the next two months but again, the relationship has changed and it’s unfortunate that she chose to behave this way since we’ve been very generous and supportive. I’m interviewing a new Au Pair today from Poland. Does anyone have any great questions? I already am clear on the “have you been away from home?”,
“do you make friends easily?”, “will you help enforce our rules?”. Any others would be helpful. Thanks!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 19, 2011 at 10:39 am

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