Explaining a Rematch to Host Children

by cv harquail on October 22, 2010

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

if there is one time we want an au pair to appear somewhat self-focused, it’s when he or she is explaining to host kids that they are going into rematch.

When an au pair says goodbye to host children, the AP should offer an explanation that puts responsibility solely on the Au Pair and/or some unchanging/unchangeable feature of the situation.

For example, “The drivers in this part of the US are too crazy, and I need to move to a family that doesn’t need their au pair to drive.”

No matter what the “real” truth is, the explanation to the host child should be something like:2988602407_8610908f60_o.jpg

“AP is going to be leaving for another family/another location/going home because s/he needs to find a different adventure. This adventure isn’t quite working out for her/him. The hard part about going to another family/place/home will be saying goodbye to you children, so let’s focus on what we enjoyed about AP and wish her/him well.”

You don’t want to ever set it up that a rematch is “the child’s fault”, unless the child is old enough to understand and the child is indeed responsible (such as when a child is willfully cruel and parents need to hold the child accountable).

Even though you might not want to explain the whole truth to your children, you do want to offer something. This is because when children aren’t given a compelling reason for why something might be happening in their lives, they tend to turn to themselves as the cause. If you offer no explanation, and they are sad at all, they might blame themselves when they shouldn’t. You want to create as a healthy a dynamic as possible, which means presenting the departure as a ‘no fault’ situation.

If the host kids are old enough to understand, and there are life lessons to be learned, sure go ahead and offer something closer to the truth. You might say:

“AP seems more interested in socializing at night, so she isn’t able to give us the kind of energy we need.” Or, “It turns out that he didn’t understand what it meant to live in a city, and he made the wrong choice of location. He’s learning about himself, and we should encourage him to grow as a person.”

I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes (just like you did when I insisted upon good phone manners), but I’ve really found that taking the high road here is *always* the right choice.

When an au pair and host family go into rematch, it’s the chance for you as a parent to offer an important life lesson:
We all make mistakes, we try to correct them, and if we can’t we cut our losses and move on to the next options with optimism.

Here’s a specific example of an awkward rematch situation, from Angry in California. What advice can we offer her?

I am currently undergoing my first rematch situation- something I should have initiated three months ago. (I’m embarrassed to say she’s been with us six months.) After three months of issues with an au pair who is condescending, sometimes rude and has an inflated sense of entitlement, we finally pulled the plug. The actual conversation went smoothly enough with all of us in agreement that it just wasn’t working out.

Three days after that conversation, she took the car without permission while we were at a family outing. (The typical rule is to ask to use a car that only she generally uses.) Our rule is really just a matter of safety as we like know 1) where the car will be and 2) would like to know when we may expect her back for her own safety. I would have let her use the car, I just think she should ask first via a quick text or phone call.

In any case, my unhappiness that she unilaterally took the car (yet another symptom of her sense of entitlement) was met with remarkable sarcasm and attitude.

We were planning on having her work for the next two weeks until she matched. However, I guess my not so gentle reminder of the house rules re: car use sent her into a tailspin and she now wants to leave immediately. Mind you, this was never communicated to me, rather she contacted the LCC and told her she wants out. (I suppose yet another indicator of the sense of entitlement).

I am so angry and disappointed (partly at myself). But, most importantly, I am concerned about how to explain this quick dash out the door to my kids, who genuinely seem to like her.

This is our second au pair, our first stayed with us nearly two years, and my older child still asks where she went-even though we parted on good terms. It seems too hard to help them understand that her departure is not something they did.  We are basically left in a lurch but I don’t want someone who is brooding and upset around my kids either. So, despite the unexpected hardship, I am inclined to show her the door ASAP in the interest of household harmony.

Any suggestions on how these really icky transitions can be explained to really sensitive kids?

See also:
Her Next Adventure”: Telling your kids that your Au Pair is leaving
Image: It’s not you… Copyright All rights reserved by tad carpenter Buy his prints on Flickr


Angry in California October 22, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Actually, the “sense of entitlement” was well supported by facts over several months- hence the need for rematch in the first place. However in this post, I chose to focus on my kids’ needs in the interest of moving on instead of focusing on the negative/ dead weight. Hopefully, others will do the same.

[quick note: I deleted the angry comment to which these replies refer. Still, you can get the gist of the issues. cv 10.23.10]

Dales October 22, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Nobody’s talking about slavery! Your comment is a little off. An aupair is entitled to room and board in addition to their stipend. Not taking the car without permission. Anything extra – like use of the car, cell phone, etc, is a bonus to the au pair – they are not entitled to that.

Dorsi October 23, 2010 at 12:16 am

I am guessing from your comment that English is not your first language. I think you may misunderstand the term “entitled” or what it means to have an “inflated sense of entitlement.” While people are often entitled to certain things, it is negative to act with a sense of entitlement. At my work, I am entitled to a clean workspace (that I share with others), a comfortable environment, and my salary (among other things). If I were to find spilled soda at my work station and I was rude or disrespectful, screamed that a cleaning person needed to fix my problem IMMEDIATELY, refused to work, etc., that would show that I have an inflated sense of entitlement. If I asked for speakers for the computer because I like to listen to music (and is completely unrelated to my job) that would reflect an entitled attitude. If I asked for my paycheck that got lost in the department mail, that does not reflect a sense of entitlement, but is simply a request for something that should be guaranteed.

Taking a car (that is not yours) without permission, working above or around your direct supervisor (without good cause), all show an inflated sense of entitlement.

Most of us appreciate AP comments on this blog; you should, however, be careful of misunderstanding terms.

HRHM October 23, 2010 at 1:31 am

OP, you don’t say how old your kids are, but this does come into play when choosing what to tell them. Let’s face it, if you have been struggling for 6 months with a difficult match, then unless your kids are really little, they are going to know there’s been tension. I think “neutral honesty” is the best policy with school aged kids. You don’t want to bash her (or her to bash you) but there are learning opportunities for your kids here as well. If the Au Pair is not doing her job, or not following the rules, then I think it’s ok to let older kids know that is why she’s leaving. If it’s a skill-set thing, then again, as long as you are kind in your phrasing, there should be no reason to withold that.

If our kids are very little, it won’t make a difference. DD was just turning 2 when AP2 left after a year and hasn’t asked about her once. I’d say between 3 and 5 is the area where just saying she “needed to go home to her family” or “another family needs her” is probably the best. After all, it’s a conversation you’re going to have to have whether it’s now or at the end of her year.

Most of all, try not to worry. Kids are super-resilient and they will not be traumitized long-term by her departure. If you replace her with a fun Au Pair, she’ll be forgotten about before her chair’s even cold.

Melissa October 23, 2010 at 1:48 am

I agree with Dorsi – possibly you misunderstood the meaning of ‘sense of entitlement.’ Similarly, the term ‘slavery’ is a word with serious historical and negative connotations and should not be used lightly. Comparing au pairing to slavery seems a bit melodramatic and unnecessary.

Regarding how to share the rematch with the kids, I think it all depends on their age. We had one rematch, but our kids were very young (2 & 4), and something along the lines of “AP needs to go home, because her mommy and daddy miss her very much” was all that was needed. Also, she was only with us two months, so the kids weren’t super attached to her. Kids seem to bounce back much easier than we anticipate, so I wouldn’t make too big a deal about it. Decide on a single explaination that you can all agree upon and keep it simple. Based on your situation, it seems like things are deteriorating quickly, so I would try to have her move on to another family as quickly as possible, so that you reduce the possibility of having a toxic atmosphere invading your household.

franzi October 23, 2010 at 6:12 am

when i rematched after 6 months the kids (7 and 9 at that time but the 9yr old is autistic) were told my year was up. that explanation worked for the kids and myself. the only problem was that i rematched in the area and ran into the kids several times after the rematch with my new kids.

Jeana October 23, 2010 at 7:55 am

My children were aware that there were issues of concern when aupairs left our home. They were not offered rematch, and were removed from the program, by our agency, due to safety concerns, and told to return to their home country. With one situation, I needed to discuss issues related to alcohol, excessive partying, and our aupair being unable to get out of bed when she was scheduled to work. My kids had seen this, and I had to address the issue. With both aupairs, I focused on the consequences of making poor decisions. With one aupair, when my children were younger, I explained that she wasn’t ready for the responsibilities that came with being an aupair and living in our home. She still needed to live with her mom and dad, and it was best to return to her family.

Gianna October 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I really like the idea of ” her mom and dad miss her ” or ” she misses her mom and dad ” . Or, as Franzi said, ” her time here is finished. ” Children are very astute and it is not so easy to fool them. They are fully conscious, in my opinion , with the daily issues that come up: food issues, partying, driving , internet abuse. I am trying to imagine how humiliating it would be to have the children you take care of know that you were ” let go “. Treating people decently who work with us/ for us is a very important lesson to teach children , in my book. Children who have a strong connection with their parents are very resiliant.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 25, 2010 at 8:11 am

Having missed the contentious comments, I want to say in my experience, younger children have greater difficulty letting go than older children. With loving APs, they form extremely intense attachments.

We only had one AP leave under difficult terms, and this after 3 1/2 years of living with us (we had tried to sponsor her as an employer and she she decided that she was done with in-home childcare before the Dept. of Labor even reviewed her application to go forward to Homeland Security – we had arranged for her to get a student visa –so she could legally leave and return — and paid 100% of her tuition while she lived with us).

Life was very heated and difficult in the two months before she left (so much so that my sister-in-law, a lawyer, attempted mediation while DH was hospitalized with a ruptured appendix). She had already given notice, but ended up leaving late in the evening three weeks before the next AP was scheduled to arrive. I made the interim work, since most of her anger was directed at me.

I did my best to make it clear to my son, who was just 4 and called her “my Portuguese Mommy,” that she didn’t leave because of him, that she still loved him, and did not speak ill of her in his presence. My husband arranged visits when I would not be around. In the end, however, she played emotional games with my son, and he no longer has a strong attachment to her.

My son was very angry at our 2nd AP who arrived shortly after his 4th birthday, whom he believed sent our first AP away. She weathered it far better than anyone ought to have, and today they have a fantastic bond. Since then, we have involved our son in the decision-making process of matching with the next AP. He is permitted to ask them questions directly in the telephone interview, or have us pose additional questions on his behalf. While the ultimate decision rests with DH and I, we do let him have his say and really listen (after all, he spends more time with the AP than we).

After the first AP I learned my lesson, that both HF and APs go through a pre-separation period that starts somewhere between 6-10 weeks before departure. It makes everyone’s life easier if you, as the HP, keep the APs on track, help the kids to understand that they are getting ready to leave. By the time my son was 8, he was used to APs coming and going, and it wasn’t so hard for him to say goodbye. The last two APs he has come to think as caring for The Camel and not for him, even though he is only 10 now. I wouldn’t dream of lying to him now if an AP went into rematch, but he can understand more now than he did when he was 4.

Should be working October 25, 2010 at 8:37 am

TaCL: I have thought about letting our 9 yr old daughter ‘interview’, i.e. talk to, AP candidates. The problem is that someone might make a better impression on her but not necessarily on me, and then I would have to talk her into the one I like. (For instance, a ‘bubbly’ AP candidate would appeal to her, but my conversations with the candidate might reveal that she is not responsible enough.) Likewise my 5-yr-old might arbitrarily decide he doesn’t like a candidate and stubbornly stick to that no matter what.

I am thinking I might let the kids talk/Skype with my #1 choice, and then they would be enthusiastic about her (ideally) and then I would tell them they helped me decide. Which would even be true: someone who flunks the Skype test with kids might have trouble bonding, since my kids tend to get excited about a new relationship and then only later decide it’s not that interesting anymore.

DarthaStewart October 25, 2010 at 9:33 am

I’ve started having the oldest 2 talk during the matching process once we’re just about to offer a match. That either seals the deal or nixes it. It’s interesting just how perceptive the kids can be.

Incidentally, when we let the last au-pair go, they were telling me all sorts of stuff that I wish they had told me before. _sigh_ Lesson learned- ask questions, and listen carefully to what the kids are saying.

Calif Mom October 25, 2010 at 10:24 am

Yes, I’ve been in that position where the kids told me stuff AFTER the AP left.

But how do you ask questions of your kids without undermining your AP and setting off a cycle that you can’t undo? It’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: the act of observing a phenomenon changes its outcome.

My child has already shared her annoyance at certain AP behaviors (the same ones which are annoying me, not so shockingly) but I hesitate to do much more digging into the depth of what else I suspect may be going on, because I don’t want to tip off my kid (a very social heirarchically aware upper elementary student) and suddenly have a crisis on our hands.

(Reminding myself that it’s better to have a nice, unwaveringly adoring AP who lets balls drop occasionally than one who gets more stuff done around the house, but is a nag.)

Should be working October 25, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Got the same issues here with posing questions to kids. The older will IMMEDIATELY know that I’m checking up on the au pair, and will feel either conflicting loyalties or feel like she has ‘power’ in the situation that I don’t want her to feel she has; the younger one will tell me stories that might not be true and will certainly be distorted in perspective.

franzi October 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm

that pre-separation period is very true! my then 5-yr old was almost unbearable about 6 weeks before i was to leave and none of us understood why until i sat him down in a quiet moment and asked what was really wrong – and that’s when he said that he doesn’t want me to leave. his behavior still was a rollercoaster but it helped all of us to know where his anger came from and how we can treat it (group hug!).

calif mom October 25, 2010 at 10:37 am

With sensitive kids, you are better off with as much of the truth as possible. And always give them enough space in the conversation so they can ask follow up questions — they may be thinking something totally different than you would expect.

And with sensitive kids, you must must must must acknowledge their current emotional state and wait until they are ready to hear the next part. I wish I could tell you that sensitive little ones outgrow it, but these skills will continue to serve you well as they get older!

We had a Princess depart–I had tried to make it work for months longer than I should have–and I did tell my then first grader that the AP wanted an easier job and a fancier house. It’s true! She did, and she found that fancier house and easier job. Our kids didn’t miss her because let’s face it, she wasn’t happy. And an unhappy princess isn’t going to take the high road herself, being nice to your kids while you’re not around. Sorry, but it’s just not my experience with this type of entitled baby. Really, what the world failed to provide them (in their eyes) was a free, year-long vacation in the states, so they’re rolling their eyes and putting up with au pairing. But don’t ask them to like it!

Angry in California October 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Thanks so much for your (and everyone’s) comments. My kids are 2 and 4 and the 4 y.o. was told that AP missed her parents very much. We just found out she’s rematched with a family that will have one child in school and will likely be able to cater to her princess whims. While it has been a little sad for my kids (and for us as well due to feeling a bit angry), the atmosphere @ our house is. MUCH healthier and cohesive. It just confirms that we we’re 100% vindicated in getting rid of her, despite the unexpected scheduling issues. I have been very careful not to speak negatively of the AP, as I know my children miss her. Frankly, however, many of you were right- kids are resiliant and mine will be much better off without her and her bad attitude. Thanks again!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Your kids are very young and so they’ve only seen two APs depart. I will tell you that in my experience, my typical child has become much less emotionally attached as he has gotten older. I have encouraged my last AP and my current AP to try to draw him out by engaging him in activities in which he expresses interest. My last AP finally “got it” around month 8, my current AP (now completing month 2) isn’t quite there yet.

It takes about a month for The Camel to warm up to a new AP. The two of them spend a lot of time together (even though she’s nearly 12, the AP must bathe, diaper, dress, and feed her – she’s a big baby who’s been around the block a few times and knows what she likes). The Camel usually loses a little weight at the beginning of the AP relationship – they don’t know how to feed her, so she doesn’t eat. The APs tend to bond with her intensely, because she doesn’t quibble. DH and I model the behavior we want to see – physically engaging with her, cuddling, playing, working on self-help skills, and we let the APs go at it on their own terms. The Camel doesn’t talk, so there are no tales to be told out of school, but believe me her bus driver and all our neighbors watch out for her. We’ve never had any issues of mistreatment, and certainly none of our APs have been princesses (I think our introductory email separates the wheat from the chaff).

We did stick it out with one AP whose skills were not fantastic, because she was so good with The Camel (but we didn’t invite her to stay a second year).

My son, even if he finds the APs irrelevant, tends to side with them. And, quite frankly, the AP is only alone with him for 45-60 minutes a day usually.

EurAuPair in Atlanta November 16, 2010 at 12:49 am

As an LCC in Atlanta, I’ve experienced similar situations when having the girls who go into rematch stay with us while they’re interviewing. My children (20 months and almost 5 years) formed such deep relationships with the most recent one during her short two weeks with us, that I feel their pining for her still a month later. For us the explanations are a bit easier, and it helps that we can still see her, but I feel for these HF children in their times of transition. It’s tough.

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