Exploited in Italy: What’s the best way to leave my host family?

by cv harquail on October 5, 2010

Dear Moms,

I’ve found your website infinitely helpful to get a look at “the other side” of the au pair experience, and now I’m hoping that you can help me.

The Situation

I am an American girl who moved to Europe to be an au pair last month. My host family consists of a single parent and three teenage children, which I thought would be great (the kids would be old enough to be responsible for themselves, and the mom and I could get to know each other. Also, I was raised by a single mom, so I have a certain amount of sympathy for the situation). Z

What I agreed to

However, it has turned into a miserable situation. I agreed to work 30 to 35 hours a week, doing light housekeeping and occasional cooking, but instead I’m working more like 50-60 hours a week, and I spend at least 2 hours each morning doing laundry, making beds, scrubbing floors, tidying up after children, etc. She’s yet to give me a firm schedule, and instead just tells me everyday what time the kids are going to be home, meaning that I cannot possibly make plans more than a day in advance.

I agreed to learn to drive a stick shift and drive the kids to school in the neighborhood, but apparently my host mom thinks that “the neighborhood” includes places that are 30 minutes or more away (in a major Italian city!!). She has also been less than supportive about me attending my language class, even though it is 3 days a week and I am paying for it out of my own pocket (and it is legally required, given my visa situation!).

What I’ve tried so far

I’ve attempted at least twice to talk to her about this with no result (often she dismisses me or speaks to me the same way she speaks to the children, ordering them around and so on). So my question is this – how do I frame my concerns without sounding like a spoiled American brat, while also making it clear that I didn’t JUST come to Europe to be her on-call maid service.

And if that does not work out (and I’m thinking it won’t) does anyone have any suggestions for how I should tell her that I’m either A) leaving or B) looking for a new family?

(I didn’t come through an agency, so I can’t just rematch). Seeing as I bought my own plane ticket and am paying for my own language course, health insurance, cell phone, bus pass, etc, I feel as though I have far too much invested in this year to just suffer and never get to see the city.

I’m hesitant to give her a week’s notice, because I’m certain THAT would be the worst week of my life.  Has anyone ever just left their family before?

Thanks so much!


cleo October 5, 2010 at 9:48 pm


I don’t know much about Italy ,but a lot of girls I know who are au pairing in the UK and Ireland have rematched on their own because they were not satisfied with their current HF.

I suggest you put up your profile on sites like greataupair, aupair-world.net, etc. It’s free and a lot of families are looking for au pairs immediately.

Viktoria October 6, 2010 at 3:58 am


This doesn’t sound fun at all. I was going through something similar when I was an au pair in the UK. As Cleo says; put a profile up on the free sites on the internet findaupair.com, aupair-world.net, greataupair and so on. If you’ll put on your profile that you are in town and can personally meet them I think more would give it a try.

I’m more concern about what would happen when you’ll tell your hostmom that you want to find another family. You should be aware that she might want to kick you out. I hope that this doesn’t happen. But since you aren’t with an agency, do you have any weeks you need to give notice before you leave? If not. I would actually be kinda selfish and look for another family without she knowing about it and when you find one that you like, I would just pack up every bit of my things and leave the house to go to the other family.

When I left my family, I did it straight away, i came back from Holiday a wednesday and packed my things, talked to my hostmom the next day and told her I would leave the next day, I didn’t have any notice, I just needed to give them back the money for the plane ticket the bought for me to come to them. But since you paid for yours yourself, there shouldn’t be anything you need to do for this family. But it’s all up to you. I do hope it will turn out alright for you.

HoBath October 6, 2010 at 6:31 am

I have a friend that was in a similar situation, though I guess it was easier for her as a Brit in France and she could just go home if needed. Firstly what are the restrictions on your visa? Do you need to be working as an au pair for it to be legal or is it ok for you to be doing nothing whilst you’re looking? Hopefully you have enough money to keep yourself for a small time. Likewise if you have friends in the city with contacts then get them to start asking around for another family you could move to – they could arrange to meet with you before making any arrangements and a family that takes you on knowing that you have been exploited is much less likely to exploit you. If you can’t find one then get onto aupair-world.net and you’ll be sorted. Do you have a contracted date that you are meant to be with the family until? If you are already treated like that then I don’t think it will get any worse if you hand in your notice and make a point of saying that you thought it would be helpful if you gave them time to find a new au pair. With teenagers though it’s not like you’re leaving them in the lurch. Just take the plunge, you’ve given the mother plenty of chances to turn things around but I think it would be curteous to give some warning and not just leave in the middle of the night!

Sandra October 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I can understand your worries and frustration.
My advice is to first make sure you have enough money and a back-up plan. You never know what your hostmum might do, considering she doesn’t have the sweetest behaviour.
I doubt she will change. I think she sees you as a child, as any of her children not really as an adult. I don’t know what is worst in your situation : the fact that you have to work so much, the lack of your personal free time, or the way she treates you.
I left my first host family, in belgium, on the same premises. I’ve told them that I have to urgently go home, but the truth is that I moved at another family, in another town. Maybe I should have told them how selfish and arrogant they were, and so on, but then I felt that somewhere it was my fault too since I seemed to be ok with everything from the very begining and I have never spoke up.
I also understand that you might feel weird living in house with them until the end of your notice,so think about a ‘reason’ and make your escape plan.
Good luck and hope you’ll find a better place. :)

Amanda October 25, 2010 at 6:09 pm

This comment is about 20 days late, and I hope you’ve gotten out by now! I had the exact same situation happen to me last year (literally, I think you may be in my old host family) and after sitting down and telling her my issues with the job vs what I had thought it was going to be prior to arrival, she told me that this was the way she did things and I would have to get used to it. I then told her that I was unhappy there and my unhappiness wouldn’t help her family and that I was leaving. I packed my bags and went to a hotel the next morning. I did feel bad about leaving her in the lurch like that but the situation was horrible for both of us. Once I left I immediately felt better and soon found another host family that I was able to interview with in person. Good luck! And if this was in Rome, email me. I’d love to talk :)

Kiera November 8, 2010 at 10:43 am

I’m also an au pair in Italy in very much the same situation. I’m supposed to stay with the family for another eight months (until the children finish school for the year), but am struggling to make it through each day.

In some ways the family is very nice (I have almost every second weekend free, I’m able to take a language class in my free time, I don’t do laundry or excessive housecleaning as they have a maid, and they encouraged me to find a part-time job as long as it was during the day while the children were in school). However, the things which make day-to-day life unpleasant for me are starting to far outweigh the good. The children don’t listen to me and are very disrespectful (they often berate me, calling me stupid and saying things which aren’t my fault are). They children also act as though I am their slave or a belonging of theirs, that I shouldn’t have any life outside of theirs. Also telling me to my face that I shouldn’t get paid for the week because a month ago I went to visit family for a weekend, or that a friend came to visit me and I had to take a day off during the week (both of which I informed the parents of in advance). The children are also constantly fighting and when they don’t get their way, throw fits that reach the point of hysteria. The host mother’s way of dealing with the children’s frequent fits and tantrums is to scream at them or spank them.

I have found that lately I not only feel stressed but both physically and emotionally exhausted. I have plans to visit family over Christmas while they go on vacation, and would like to use that time as my opportunity to leave. However, I am afraid of how and when to tell the family. I am an honest person and leaving the family without giving them much notice is not something I would feel right about doing. I do worry how I will be treated by the host parents and especially by the children when I do tell them.

Does any one have any experience with leaving a family like this? Is this a better way to go about this conversation? I have tried speaking with the parents about feeling frustrated and unhappy before, but they prefer to be in denial and don’t see anything as wrong. Their last au pair left them without any notice and I’ve noticed that they harbor some bitterness toward her. If possible I’d like to avoid an unpleasant situation for myself and for the family. Any advice is greatly appreciated!

Aupairgal November 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

It sounds like the children are the biggest issue here. In my first month I had to sit down with the HM and tell her I may not be able to deal with her children(age 1.5 and 3.75) if they are always this stressful. She actually wasn’t that big of a help except that she gave me some emotional encouragement and said she stood behind me. She also employed the technique of screaming at the children (but not spanking) which never worked. I honestly had to figure out my own technique. I did a lot of research and watched lots of Super Nanny and also applied my extensive experience with horses. I eventually employed the naughty corner. That was the most effective method of discipline that I found(for younger children). It wasn’t used often…honestly mostly in the first few weeks. I also made clear what the main rules where (the house rules from the parents and a few that I felt were important like absolutely no hitting). I also always tried to find fun stuff that we could do together when the boys didn’t want to just play with their toys in order to keep them stimulated.
I’m not sure how old your host kids are, which might be more difficult if they are older. I would suggest if you do decide to leave to very directly but nicely tell them what the issue is. If they are smart and this is a trend with their aupairs they might start to get the idea.

DarthaStewart November 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

If you have any authority at all for discipline, all may not be lost. If you don’t, I’d say to go ahead and let them know you’ll be leaving. You may want to have a back-up plan in your pocket in case they don’t take it well.

As far as discipline goes, it really depends on your bent. You can ignore the lies, or you can make them do jumping jacks, push-ups, situps, etc when they need punishment. Sitting in the corner with no interaction is also good. (My kids also get a drop of tabasco sauce on their tongue when they are verbally nasty to someone) You can also take away privileges.

You can also employ methods to get them to cooperate- praise them for any little thing they do that’s good. Let them earn tickets or favors. They can turn those in for a special project, craft, etc. Also, if you can keep them busy- really busy, that will help a LOT. My kids tend to be the worst behaved when there’s not much to do.

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