Feeling Squished by Our Au Pair

by cv harquail on June 23, 2009

What do you do when your au pair wants so much to be with you and your family that you never get any personal space?

And, what happens when, in your efforts to be kind and generous, you continue to cede important personal space, events, and rituals to incorporate her, making your personal space smaller and smaller?_3232_3036065117_747a45be4b.jpg

For me, this whole question of personal space has been the reason for keeping my relationships with au pairs slightly more like employer-employee relationships than my natural friendliness might suggest. I have a high need for privacy and autonomy; so does my husband. We know this and have learned to create formal and informal systems to get our personal space, even with another lovely adult sharing out family space.

Jane, the mom with the situation, has written a long and complete description of her challenge. With Jane’s permission to edit, I’ve tried to separate things into different pieces of the issue, and so the numbered headings are my effort to paraphrase her issue(s).   Here we go:

Dear Au Pair Mom — This is my family’s third year in the au pair program, and we have been richly rewarded every year with a great cultural exchange and high-quality child care for our two toddlers, aged two and three. We have gone out of our way to ensure our au pairs feel comfortable in our home, treating them as true family members, and this has paid off tremendously with our au pairs being great participants and contributors to our family life. So what’s the problem, you ask?

1. The Basic Problem

Our current au pair, a 20-year-old girl from Europe, is smothering us to the point where I need to schedule breaks from her company. I feel like I can’t relax in my own home or have any down time with just my husband or the kids. It’s like the scene in Ghostbusters when Dana Barrett tiptoes past her neighbor Louis’s door to avoid interactions, only to have him hear and pounce on her the moment she gets home.

I knew from the interview process that Amy was going to need extra family time with us, as she is an only child and has a very close relationship with her parents. In fact, I was impressed that she was brave enough to leave her home for a whole year. I like having family-oriented au pairs, though, so I figured we’d still have a good balance between her time with us and her time with her friends.

While she has made a good deal of friends during her time with us, she has again and again chosen to spend the bulk of her free time with us rather than with her friends, to the point that I really need some space.

I don’t know how to get some space without seeming rude and ungrateful.

2. On Weekends, the demands on me become too high

Previous au pairs would sleep late on weekends and I would have a lot of quiet time with just our family in the mornings. Amy is up and at ’em at 6:30 a.m. with us, eager to chat with me and hang out with the kids. She goes out with her friends while the kids are taking a nap or we’re doing chores like grocery shopping, and then she’s back for dinner with us every weekend. I like that our au pairs eat a family meal with us every night, but I’m used to them being out with their friends on the weekend while I enjoy a less scheduled day (our work week is extremely scheduled and our au pairs don’t work weekends).

3. She seems very invested in having all our family meals with us.

Before Amy goes out with friends, she always asks when she should be back for dinner. I emphasize that food will always be available to her; she doesn’t need to be home at a set time—but she really wants that sit-down meal with us, even if she has the option of eating out with friends. Saving money isn’t the issue either—she spends pretty freely.

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4. Even when we go out to dinner…

It becomes hard on the weekends when I just want to go out with Hubbie and the kids and then have to worry about being back to have dinner on the table or feel conflicted as to whether we should call and invite Amy to join us for dinner out—which gets to be expensive on a frequent basis.

5. When I have friends over

We invite Amy to all our major family gatherings, but when I have friends over for some much needed “adult time,” I feel awkward that she makes a point of staying around to hang out with us, as our conversations are much more generic while we’re in her company.

I’ve tried to make my invitations clear so that she would pick up on the times when we want our friends to ourselves, and I’ve even come out and directly said I need some one-on-one time with my friends/husband/kids before, but nothing really works.

6. She seems to sense that I want to be alone…

If she senses I want to be alone, she just finds other reasons to be around, picking up stuff and offering to do household things that I would do myself. I’m a very conscientious housekeeper, so while in some ways I appreciate the help, in others it drives me a little crazy that she helps me so much, unprompted, just to have a reason to socialize with me.
I have to go to my room and close the door for any privacy.

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7. I feel awful complaining abut her, and yet …

When I shared some of my frustrations with my parents they made me feel like a horrible person for being so exclusive. She’s very attentive with the kids, helps out around the house unprompted, and is very thoughtful—but to such an extreme level. I know many host moms would kill to have this problem so I feel even guiltier for feeling so stressed.
I feel awful even saying this–My au pair wants to be around me too much—for who knows what reason, I wonder, as I am so tired after a full day of work and active time with the kids that all I want to do is sleep.

Amy has lots of people back home that she Skypes with, but she does this while I’m putting the boys to bed so that she can come back and talk to me as soon as I’m done.

8. She imposes her preferences and/or we let her influence what we do… too much

She is very opinionated about what we should and shouldn’t do. I guess the biggest problem about having her around so much is that she is so opinionated—from what music we should listen to (we have to skip the kids songs she doesn’t like) to what the kids are doing (the two-year-old better stop eating with his fingers).

9. She corrects kids when she is not on duty and before I do, sometimes even when I would not correct them.

I need an au pair that’s more like an older sibling to the kids when we’re around, not a third parent. I don’t like how inferior she makes me feel by correcting the kids on little things I would let slide.

Even the kids are expressing a need to have a break from her as they want one-on-one Mom and Dad time. Any tips? I know I’m the mature adult here and I do think about how tough it is to be here on your own, but I think we’ve gone above and beyond with being inclusive.

How can I get some of my personal space back?

Squished by ianDavid on Flickr

Squish by Nirazilla on Flickr

{ 45 comments }

NewAPMom June 24, 2009 at 11:17 am

Our au pair is similar. The thing that is working is having frequent (difficult) conversations about boundaries. For instance, after the kids go to bed, I want to quickly eat and get to bed myself since I get up really early for work, so after trying to have dinner with the whole family and just being exhausted by it, I finally had to say that she’s on her own for dinner (but welcome to put anything she wants on the shopping list, and she has a generous gift card for the grocery store if she wants to go herself.) We always eat together as a family on Sundays, which gives us some together time and also is a good opportunity to talk about how the last week went and any changes we want to make for the next week.

I also saw an idea about establishing time limits – like, after 9:00 pm (or, in your case, before 9:00 am) is time for you and your husband to spend alone together, or just with the kids. I think that’s understandable. I’ve explained it to my au pair as “marriage is hard work, especially marriage after kids, and my husband and I need time alone together to connect.”

We have similar issues as the rest you cite too and I haven’t found a magic bullet, other than to learn my lesson and get a more independent au pair the next time. I’m already starting to put together interview questions…

NewAPMom June 24, 2009 at 11:20 am

I meant to ask –
@CV – What specific things do you do to accomplish this?:
For me, this whole question of personal space has been the reason for keeping my relationships with au pairs slightly more like employer-employee relationships than my natural friendliness might suggest.

Holly June 24, 2009 at 1:36 pm

We’ve not had this kind of issue with our APs but I can certainly see how difficult it would be. I like the idea of setting time boundaries. Maybe you could approach it at the next family meeting in a way that’s more, “HD and I know we’ve been working a lot and the kids have been asking about having special time with us so *for them* we’re going to set up a new family schedule.” Then you could say before 9am is just parents and kids time, etc. Then maybe suggest things she could do during this time, go to the gym or out for a walk, head to a café for a coffee, go to the library and rent movies for herself (which is free and she can watch the movies by herself), maybe even join a club like local hikers or a book club. It’s probably going to be an uncomfortable conversation no matter how it’s approached. But you’re not being unreasonable in saying you need personal space! She’s a young adult who made the decision to come to the US for a year, part of that is being able to be fairly self-sufficient. You’ve made her a part of the family but that doesn’t mean you need to spend every waking moment with her. Maybe you can schedule HM and AP time like every Wednesday evening you watch a special TV show together. I hope these suggestions are a bit useful, good luck!

Franzi June 24, 2009 at 2:09 pm

i like the schedule idea. and even though you are planning ahead, you can announce some spontaneous “mommy-daddy” time every now and then.

also, i think you should use her long weekend a month off to have family time. be careful that she does not invite herself for whatever weekend activity you have planned.

and finally, do not be too shy to say that you need time for yourself. say you had a long day, that you need to be with your kids to unwind, that you and your hubby want to watch tv just by yourself tonight etc.
use “i hope you understand” or anything else that does not leave her any other reply than “yes, sure”

regarding how to create a certain distance, i believe it can only be done from the start, not when you are in the middle of things as distancing yourself during the year will always come across as “i did something wrong” (AP view) – and i don’t think that’s what you want to portray, you don’t want her to question your overall relationship.

when talking to prospects and during her first week when you talk about her schedule and what your family is like i would mention that you have weekend outings where you just want to be together as a family. you want her to join you for major holidays or family vacations but that you need this time as family to connect. you can sell this by mentioning that the AP has time on her own, can meet friends, travel etc.

don’t mention explicitly that the AP is not invited to join but describe it as a positive event for your family to connect and re-connect and just be with each other.

CV June 24, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Hi NewAPMom–
Some of the things that I’ve done include being really explicit (like others) around when I want to be alone…saying things like “I just need some time to myself now” (really, that direct), telling our au pair that I need to spend some time with the kids or hubby alone, and so on. But in addition to telling/explaining, I also have set up that two places in our house are off limits to our ap…
one is my bedroom, which is kind of big and next to the kids’ rooms, so often the kids come in and talk with me, and the ap can’t/won’t join b/c my room is private. Seriously, it’s like there is an electric fence on the threshold!
The second place is our family/tv room, which is on the second floor next to my bedroom. Our AP knows that if hubby and I are in there in the evenings with the door half closed, it’s for our alone time. Sure, he and I are watching the Colbert Report or reading the newspaper, but she knows that this is our time and our place unless there is an emergency. Since we have a tv in the kids playroom, and also in the AP room, her not having access to the family/tv room on the 2nd floor isn’t that much of a loss. {When she and the kids have movie night, that’s in the playroom.)
Also, quite frankly, I think that it becomes easy for an au pair to tell when I just want to talk with my hubby, b/c I stop paying attention to her or talking with her. This change is pretty clear b/c I am fairly chatty the rest of the time, or at least smile and make a lot of eye contact. And, I don’t mean it to be mean, but …
I’ll have to ask my hubby what else we do… it’s become so instinctual….

Anna June 24, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I haven’t had this issue with my au pairs, but do you really have to set your bedroom aside as a no au-pair zone? My au pairs never dreamt of hanging out in my bedroom, or freely entering it; they treat it as a private space automatically. I guess I have been lucky so far with girls who respect boundaries.

Kate June 24, 2009 at 7:21 pm

We had similiar issues with our 3rd au pair but it wasn’t as bad as Jane’s situation. We weren’t expecting this either so we did not know how to deal with it, but just dealt with it, if you know what I mean. The 1st two allowed that balance to be a family w/o them. I think/hope the 3rd experience was just a fluke.
I do have one suggestion to alleviate some time as a family. Our LCC suggested that we have a weekend night out with one of our kids and the au pair have one-on-one time with the other child. The switch off another night with our second child. We haven’t actually tried it yet but I can see how this would allow you to give full attention with your child w/o the au pair.

chithu June 24, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Here’s from an Au Pair’s POV – I wouldn’t dream of entering my HM’s bedroom.

One, because it would be intruding her privace space. Bedrooms are such private spaces that I would never enter some one’s unless there is an emergency. If I need to get something clarified, I always knock, call her name before entering or slide note under the door (if she’s not in the room).

Two, because it would mean that she can also enter my room whenever she wants. And I am not comfy with that!

Chithu

P.S.: I do enter my HM’s bedroom during the day when she’s at work, to switch on the modem.

CV June 24, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Anna,

actually we did have to get explicit about bedroom privacy — and it was because the babies often came in to snuggle with me or were already sleeping with me, and our au pair(s) needed or wanted to get the kids to take them off to wherever. Also, we have a bathroom connected to our bedroom, and the girls will often go in there because it is closer to their room than the main bathroom and it’s filled with my very interesting stuff. So I had to learn to bring the girls out of my bed, bedroom and bathroom rather than expect my ap to do it if she was on duty, and put up with the mess they’d leave in my bathroom….

For a while I also had a desktop computer in my room, and since again it was closer to the kids’ room than the kitchen computer, an au pair might have thought about using it while they waited for the kids to finish getting dressed etc.

I think in general our au pairs have respected the bedroom privacy thing, especially after I showed them that having that privacy was important to me, by not getting upset if the au pair didn’t follow my toddler-who-wanted-to-hug-me into my room while I was getting dressed.

And here is a difference between an au pair and a nuclear family member… I can get dressed in front of my daughter or sister without feeling uncomfortable, but not in front of my au pairs (even the very greatest ones). One of the moms who comments a lot on this blog mentioned going shopping for bikini bathing suits with her au pair. As if!!!!!! I can barely even take myself to do that!!!!!

Jane June 25, 2009 at 7:59 am

Hi there! This is the host mom Jane with the question. Thanks so much for your advice–it helps a lot knowing it’s okay to just be direct when I need to be, even though it is uncomfortable. Franzi, you’re right that I need to set up these boundaries better and schedule nuclear family time from the start next time, though I think this particular au pair is just an extreme case because I’m pretty clear usually about boundaries. My first au pairs never entered my bedroom, but this one will, even when I’ve indicated that it’s not okay. She’ll knock and then enter if I don’t answer. A few times she has woken me up! Other than repeating myself over and over, I don’t know what to do. Everyone’s advice is giving me the courage to speak up more when I need my space. Thank you!

new HM June 25, 2009 at 8:00 am

We are now one month into our adventure of being first time host parents and I have to say our AP is wonderful. I have found also that she too likes to spend the majority of her time with us and sometimes not even leaving the house for an entire off-duty weekend (despite her own car and many prompts to do so). I realized quickly that I needed just to go about my daily routine like I would if she wasn’t there. If I want to be quiet, I’m quiet. If I want to speak only with my husband I don’t make eye contact with her. If I want to eat scary leftovers, I do without any apologies. If I want to go out alone with the children I say, “We’re going out and we’ll be back at…” Period. It would be a very long year if I tried to maintain that high level of cheerfulness and inclusiveness all of the time. She is a sweetheart though!

Anonymous June 25, 2009 at 11:13 am

Jane – does your bedroom door lock? You may need to do that to get the message across a few times

katie June 25, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I loved reading your post and I completely understand. As a first time host parent who has worked for an au pair agency for nearly ten years, you can imagine my excitement at getting my first au pair for my first baby. I was thrilled to actually get an au pair of my own! She has been with us for almost four months and since I know that these things take some time, I was prepared for the first few months of adjustment.

Our au pair was a transition who left her last family due to a personality conflict and I felt a bit sorry for her because I knew she was hurt that it had not worked out with her previous family. After two weeks with our family, I realized why it had not worked out with the other one…..she is emotionally needy, can be irritating (to my husband) in a way that I can’t begin to describe, and has some immature tendancies.

You might be asking why I would not transition with her..well, the main reason is that she is WONDERFUL with my baby, accomodating to my needs to a fault and that when I finally bit the bullet and gave her the tough feedback I had been dreading…..she started to grow and improve.

Being bluntly honest with au pairs is one of the toughest things to do. I dreaded it, I beat around the bush, I asked politely, I thought I insinuated things enough that it was SO clear to me that I could not understand why she did not get it. And finally, with the urging and support of my wonderful coordinator, I just laid it out there. I told her that although I had been telling her that she should go out to take advantage of what is out there for her for her experience, that if she didn’t, she would be jeopardizing her chance to stay with us.

I told her that I enjoy spending time with her (which is true, I really have grown to care for her–it is just that my non-confrontational husband doesn’t too much) and that when I could, we would spend time together. I also stopped planning meals together. Before we had her, we rarely cooked a meal and ate together with our busy full time jobs, but suddenly dinner became this point of stress and I thought to myself, why am I doing this to myself.

Basically, I was shocked at her response when I finally laid it all out on the table. She said, “oh, I get it now….you want more time alone and want me to go out more….okay, I will. And ever since then, she is out all the time. I helped her get a life by introducing her to meetup.com and a few other sites and then requiring her to go and make friends. It worked and she now sees what is out there.

Of course, now she wants to extend with us and I don’t think we are going to…I think that another year with her will be too long with any au pair that you or your spouse don’t both love like a daughter.

I think as host moms we put so much pressure on ourselves to give everything to everyone so that everything can be as perfect as possible, but I have to say that I am going to keep talking to myself about the fact that I need to be reasonable with myself and my expectations of myself with the au pair…they are there to help me….and in helping me, I will also help them….it is reciprocal.

I will also push myself to lay it out in our expectations and always be more strict in the beginning so that I can let up where I need to…and although it is really hard to keep up communication, I am commited to weekly touching base with my au pair so that no feedback comes as a surprise. Although it is tough to be blunt, everyone wins when you are.

To the mom above, if you have laid it out and she still doesn’t get it…time to transition. Although I really have grown a soft spot for my au pair, I realize that if my husband doesn’t love her, it will never work long-term because I will always be playing the go-between…which is adding unnecessary stress to a life already filled with too much….and let’s remember, the au pair is really there to help me be less stressed so that I can really enjoy my kids as they grow up…right?

The one thing that I can say in parting about being a host mom is that I am amazed at how much au pairs grow in their experience. I have watched my au pair grow tremendously in a brief four months and I am proud of her….I hope that when she leaves, she will feel like she was able to take advantage of what we had to offer her and that she will be more prepared for the world out there. I will always be grateful for the loving care she took of my daughter and the fact that she enabled me to go back to work and and make a smooth transition into the world of being a corporate mom.

CV June 26, 2009 at 8:48 am

Katie, thanks for sharing your story and especially for unfolding the steps you took to recognize, address and adjust to the challenges…all the while appreciating what your au pair was offering your family. That’s pretty much the host parent experience, right? grin

Hula Gal June 25, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Am I the only one who finds what is described in this post as a little disturbing? Sounds a little stalkerish to me. Particularly the last two points would be concerning to me. Bottom line – don’t allow guilt or other people’s opinions of your situation cloud what your instincts are telling you. If you are uncomfortable and it doesn’t get fixed you may want to consider rematch. No one should feel uncomfortable and displaced in their own home!

NewAPMom June 25, 2009 at 10:51 pm

OK – sample situation. How do I handle this?

Next weekend is the 4th of July. We’re having friends over for a BBQ. I’d like to not invite our AP. I’d like her to go out and see fireworks. I’ve asked her what she’s doing for the holiday – she said “I dunno.” I’ve explained that it’s an important holiday culturally, there are fireworks and she should go see them. I got an evasive “I’ll think about it.” In the six months she’s been with us, she’s never gone out, unless another au pair has called her, even though I often tell her about events and encourage her to go. I don’t want to rematch. My kids love her. So I don’t want to threaten her with that. But what do I say, more than what I’ve already said?

Abyy June 26, 2009 at 12:31 am

can you get her tickets to a show, theatre, club or something specifically for that night? or give her prepaid tix including transportation somewhere touristy that is a “must see”, maybe even overnight (ie we are close to Vancouver but not close enough for a same day bus ride) and sell it like a “bonus”?? it sounds like you are in a tough spot.

Calif Mom June 26, 2009 at 8:59 am

I love Katie’s post, too. Great insights.

For the July 4th problem, contact your LCC, explain your problem, and get her to set up a 4th of July outing for the cluster. She could even call it her cluster meeting and touch-base for the month. I like the idea, too, of setting it up for her, but would add that you should make it easy for her to invite someone else, too. Doing that alone might be intimidating, but a group is better.

Calif Mom June 26, 2009 at 11:23 am

sorry for unclear pronoun reference. I don’t think the Host should set up the cluster meeting! I proposed that either the host mom contacts LCC for cluster meeting idea, OR sets up AP for successful outing, but making sure she has a buddy to entice her to actually GO FORTH and explore the states.

Anonymous June 26, 2009 at 1:43 pm

I , personally, would not ask my LCC to set up a meeting on Fourth of July. She , like you and me, needs some personal time and family time.
She is always available whenever I call her and never seems rushed or impatient. I appreciate all of that and like to respect her privacy, too.

TX Mom June 26, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I also wouldn’t pressure my LCC to spend the 4th with the AP’s. I’m glad my new AP is taking steps to get out and enjoy the young adult festivities – which we won’t do because of the age of our kids. However if I had to, I would collaborate with a couple of the AP’s that I know or other host moms in my area and arrange for the AP’s to go out together.

CV June 26, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Our LCC actually sponsors a picnic at the town fireworks for the cluster… the treat it as a big ‘cultural’ event. Different strokes for different counselors. but the general point is… ask for some help if & where you feel you can.
Remember, it’s perfectly okay just to say “We need to have this time alone with our friends.” Keep in mind, if you don’t have an au pair, or if you do, you might feel less comfortable with another family’s au pair around. It can put a damper on *other* people’s experience to have someone they don’t know ‘in the mix’. Plus, especially when a person is still learning English or getting to know his or her own hosts, they spend a lot of time observing vs. interacting, and even this simple and otherwise neutral behavior can make others uncomfortable…

NewAPMom June 26, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. Our LCC is actually really good about scheduling monthly events with the girls and I wouldn’t ask her to spend her 4th entertaining our AP. She has also, on numerous occasions, facilitated connections between our AP and other APs but the relationships kind of seem to fizzle out after that. I was mostly looking for something that I could do long-term to help her help herself, if that makes sense. I think I might just go with CV’s suggestion and say that we need time alone with our friends. It’s for exactly the reason CV states.

moya July 3, 2009 at 10:20 am

an AP point of view here…
As an au pair (I have au paired in two families) I always found it difficult to find the right balance between making an effort to be part of the family and invading your host parents lives…
examples:
-I usually finished up when the kids went to bed in the evening…And then ?will I go straight to my room ?(that might suggest I don’t like spending time with my host parents) or will I hang out a while for a conversation or watching tv? (That might annoy them, they might want the evening on their own)
-on days off when I’m home…will I read stories to the kids,brush their teeths and separate them if I see them fighting?will that be helpful or invasive ?If don’t do anything, won’t the host parents think that I don’t really care about the family (In my opinion,if you really intend to be the kid’s big sister and everything, you can’t really take a day off them, say (I’m only talking to you Mon-Fri 9h-12h 14h18h,that doesn’t work, they won’t understand)

-Will I sleep in every week end and let the family a chance to hang out in their grubby pyjamas :) on their own without any stranger in their hair or will that send the message “I’m lazy and I don’t really want to see you ?”

Now I agree that this au pair seems a bit extreme…is it because she feels she HAS to be friend with you?Or maybe she can’t handle being far from her family ?
It is difficult for the aupair also to find the right attitude and it’s hard to know what the family expects from you.Some families want you to be independant, some other families will be offended if you are away too much.I think it probably would be best if you told her you need space,while of course saying you do appreciate her company but feel the need of a private life…after all you probably spend much more time with her than with other members of your family!I think she should understand,au pairs do like their own space as well!
best of luck,you seem a really thoughtful host mum.
m

America10 December 28, 2011 at 5:40 am

Thank you for telling! I have been an au pair and i exactly had this thinkings… Sometimes I am still confused if i did everything right or not. As an Au Pair you got lots of pressure and you never will really know what is right and what is wrong.
Sometimes at night you even star crying, because you feel so bad.
You want to be free, hang with your friends on the other side you don`t want to give a feeling the family thinks you don`t like them, because your out all weekend.
I am back home since about 4 months and in my head are still so many questions about it. It will always be with be and I guess I will never have a right answer.
I know lots of au pairs have the same problem! I do understan all your conversations and it is your right of privacy, but maybe we all Au Pair and Family should work more together and really talk about it. It will help yourself for your privacy and it will help your Au Pair!

Ferniie July 9, 2009 at 10:52 am

NewAPMom,

I’m a Canadian, and I’m about to head to America to be an Au Pair. If my host mom hinted towards me leaving during a gathering at the house, i’d be insulted. Personally, I would have plans, and It wouldn’t be a worry in the first place…I’m very social. I just can’t imagine being in the situation where you’re asked to leave ‘ your home ‘ for the day…the place where you are living.

Is that something Host Moms want often?

Anne July 9, 2009 at 11:45 am

A host mom here, answering Ferniie’s question: I don’t know whether most host moms want the au pairs to “leave for the day.” But it’s nice for anyone–host parents and au pairs, everyone–to have the house “to themselves” sometimes. A considerate roommate leaves on occasion, just so that the other person can be alone. On the weekends when I’m taking the kids to run errands, I let the AP know we’re leaving and when we’ll be back, so she’ll know how much peace-and-quiet time she has.

Personally, I don’t expect our au pair to leave the house (which is her home for the year) because I’m having friends over. If I want to see friends without our au pair around, I won’t invite the friends to the place where our au pair lives!

CV July 9, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Also in reply to Feniie’s question– sometimes as a host mom, when you have friends over you don’t necessarily want your aupair to disappear, you just don’t want her to be listening to and/or participating in your private conversation with your friend. Just as you might not want your host mom to sit there in the living room watching your Skype your boyfriend back home. :-) Sometimes one needs to be alone, sometimes one wants a little privacy, sometimes one wants a personal conversation with a close friend instead of a less personal conversation that includes the au pair too.

LL July 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm

I have had 2 au pairs. One wanted to spend every minute with us. The second one wants to spend every min ‘off’ with her friends. Neither way is best for us! I am now realizing how important it is to find what that girl wishes and only take girl that is more like us. Its really hard to get around the ‘I expect’ when its completely differnt. Each host family is differnt. To some this is great situation and others not so much.

Anonymous July 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I can share this … when my children were very young and I was home several days a week, I was in playgroups. Every once in a while, one mom in the playgroup was unexspectedly ” visited ” by her mother or mother in law, both of whom live in town. This never bothered me but it got on the nerves of other women in the group.
When I was home on maternity leave with my youngest child, we were in a playgroup with other second and third time moms. Once, one of the women brought her 6 year old daughter who sat and listened to every word we said. It really did put a damper on the converstation although the little girl was very well behaved and LOVED listening to the gossip.
And another time, the husband of the hostess for that week plopped himself on the couch and injected himself right into the conversation. What a drag that was !

talk

NewAPMom July 10, 2009 at 11:16 pm

@ moya, I really appreciate what you wrote because it really helps me understand the AP point of view and you’re right, it’s a tough one! You made me realize that the only way to work this out is to talk about it during the interview, and then keep talking about it throughout the year(s.)

@fernie, in answer to your question… I have twins under a year old. Because of nap schedules, feeding schedules, bottles, diapers, etc, it is a huge production to take them anywhere. We have a limited amount of time to do anything between naps, that’s usually taken up with feeding, diapers, and entertaining, and it doesn’t leave us much time to talk to friends, or enjoy where we’re going. So when we want to talk to friends, we try to just have them over to our house. It’s nice to have some privacy with friends sometimes, because yeah, conversation between intimate friends is different than conversation with someone who doesn’t know everyone as well. Think of it this way – would you want your HM to invite herself along to the mall with you and your friends?

HD and I also expected that our AP would be more like you, and would just automatically have plans. But unfortunately she rarely does. Now we know that we need to ask those questions and set better expectations during the interview for our next au pair.

Jane July 15, 2009 at 9:26 am

Hi All,

This has been a very helpful discussion–I’m learning a lot for my next au pair, who arrives in a month! (We didn’t transition–our current au pair’s year is up and she is ready to go home.) The first thing I did was review and revise my family handbook. I did find wording in my book about family meals and family events that might have given my au pair the impression that we wanted her with us all the time. Maybe our current au pair thought she was being rude if she wasn’t around us all the time. Now I know to have these talks from the beginning about family time versus private time, and I even explain some of it in the handbook.

I never think you should make your au pair feel like she must leave the house–her home–because you need space, but I like how people explained that au pairs wouldn’t want host moms listening in on private au pair conversations or inviting themselves to the mall with their friends. With our schedule and young kids, we can only really entertain at home right now. Some of that entertaining needs to be just for me. (Example–what to do when you want to invite a close couple over for an expensive meal and not have to make an extra porion for your au pair?) It’s a difficult balance between including someone and doing more than you would do for a regular family member (no, I’m not buying my kids a lobster tail each when the couple comes over).

My 2 cents July 15, 2009 at 10:16 am

Personally, I don’t think this is something that goes in the handbook. To me, it would read like you just want an AP to work for you and not be a part of anything, even if that’s not at all how you want to come across. And while you can, and should, try to gauge her social norms through the interviews, those never paint the full picture.

Rather, IMHO, you need to set those boundaries at the beginning if you sense that your AP is someone who does not “get” your family’s social norms, or norms you would think are common to any family. Many APs do implicitly “get” the notion of personal space and won’t ever need your assistance. For the one that doesn’t, treat your AP as an adult and with respect and kindly but unequivocally tell her when you need or expect space. So, for example, tell your AP if you really aren’t in the mood to watch TV with her tonight because you are just too tired. Or tell her that you are going to be having some friends over this weekend and that while you want to absolutely introduce her (and perhaps have her enjoy a drink or appetizer with them), your friends and you want to have private conversations and so she will not be eating dinner with you and that she will need to make plans for her meal in advance (adding that she is welcome to prepare whatever for herself). If you have the hours, maybe schedule her to work watching the kids? If you sense that your AP is the type that is super sensitive when she’s not included in something or you indicate you can’t be her friend that night, then make up a white lie. “A needs some private time with me to talk about something sensitive.” “The kids really want some quality Mommy and Me time so you won’t be joining us at the park.” “I’d love to chat with you tonight, but I’m on deadline for something.”

Our current AP is more family oriented than our former, which I kind of like because we are getting to know her on a deeper level and getting the reward from that, but I know I’ve felt I’ve had to say on several occasions that I’m just not in the mood to hang out with her. Usually, there is something I need to do that she won’t be interested in, so I can refer to that, and say something to the effect that: “you are more than welcome to come watch me as I string paperclips together, but I would imagine you would rather read your book or watch TV.” And, I have to say, of late she’s following my direction in that now she is telling me on occasion that she’s really tired and that while she would just love to watch my favorite TV show with me, she’s going to bed !

Just my 2 cents.

Leslie Balzer March 8, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Hello – As a new host mom-to-be (our AP is arrving in 3 weeks) – I hadn’t given much thought to personal space once the AP arrives. Once we made the decision to move forward, I just accepted the situation will be what it will be. When I voiced privace as a concern with other HM, I was told that the AP really find their way and make many friends. Many different opinions – and I’m one who needs my time and space. As I work on our Family handbook, I’m realziing I should address this topic in some way. Thanks for everyone’s advice and comments, I will indeed apply what I’ve read!

sad au pair December 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm

hey all!
i love this blog and i really need to ask you something.
i’ve been in the US since almost 16 months ( same family) i love them and they seem to love me too. they always tell me that i’m like their older daughter. i’m included in every family activity. sometimes i go with somethimes i don’t. I really feel a member of this family. often they tell me how much they love me and don’t know how it will be when i’m gone…but 2 weeks agoo something really strange happened. we were at the grandparents house taking pictures. i had to be in the pic with grandparents my hf sister etc. but then my hm wanted a pic just of our family. i assumed to be in there too but then i heard her say just the four of us. that means hm,hd and the 2 kids… that really hurt my feelings…i understand that she wants to have a pic just of the four of them, but she seemed very rude while she was excluding me… she didn’t even think about to take a pic with the 5 of us…i really wanted to have one to send to my mom and dad at home and just to have a nice picture to remember them… i felt really sad afterwards and i’m still feeling not very confy in their house right now… maybe i’m beeing to sensitiv but i won’t go out of my mind that i wasn’t included after all this: you are like our oldest daughter….

anonamomma December 25, 2011 at 10:04 am

Oh please stop being so sensitive – maybe the right thing to do would have been to have taken a pic of the five of you together and then just one of the HF but honestly do you have to be in every single picture they take – after all they are allowed to have a family pic without you.

You seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill and if I were you I would get over it sooner rather than later – if my AP came to me with this sort of silly reaction (after I had done everything possible to make her feel important and cherished which you say they do) I would be extremely disappointed in her – that she wasn’t mature enough to realise that its not all about her.

It’s not all about you – the family have a right to have a life (and every now and then a picture/dinner/vacation/night out/conversation/etc etc etc including a family photo) without their AP right in the middle of it.

Grow up

sad au pair December 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm

i think you don’t get it! its not that i think it wasn’t ok that she wants to take a pic with them alone!!! no it’s how she treatet me! like i don’t know what! i’m not in every picture they take and thats totally ok! but you have no idea how she said that! so before you say something like grow up and stuff like that i would be quiet for a minute and try to think how you would have felt! by the way, i did not tell her that i thought it wasn’t right even if i think it was totally inappropriate . you hostmoms really sometimes think you are the greatest people in the world and no watching left or right! but we are caring for YOUR kids! the hopefully most importent things in your life! so anonamomma : i’m glad i’m not your au pair! because you seem to not like to have another member in your family! probably i’m not the one who should grow up! oh yeah and my hostdad saw later the pics and told my hostmom he thinks it wasn’t a good pic because i wasn’t in it:DDDD merry christmas!:)

anonamomma December 25, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I think its you who doesn’t get it – here’s how I read the situation.

You were taken to Grandma’s house and family pictures were being taken – you were included in some but not in others (which is perfectly normal, fine and appropriate).

I think what happens was that you missed the hint from your host mom to skip one or two pictures and then finally she had to come right out and be blunt about it and tell you that you were not wanted in that particular picture (which is also perfectly normal, fine and appropriate).

I think that she was probably frustrated with you at that moment in time because of the situation and that is why she was short/blunt with you. It does not mean that she loves you any less or that you are valued any less. HD’s comment was designed to make you feel better not validate your feelings. If he had wanted you in the pic he would have insisted on you being there – he didn’t so you weren’t wanted.

And by the way – you get well paid for caring for OUR children (when you count everything in) – so please do not play that card..

Me thinks you have a bit of a martyr complex going on and I would not like you to be my au pair either – I like strong independent young women who can pick up on a hint or express their wishes/needs in a mature manner and no I don’t treat them like members of my family – if you mean treating them like a daughter – they are not my daughter – they are there to care for my daughter. I treat my AP’s like adults. I care for them but I don’t take care of them, I don’t baby them – and guess what all my AP’s have adored me (as do all their friends). I have an excellent track record and if I don’t want my AP to be in a pic or come out with me I tell her – she is an adult not my child and she is free to make her own plans / live her own life /take her own pictures

And another thing my APs do not whinge, pout, or sulk or they won’t be my AP for long.

You just sound needy and immature to me.

sad au pair December 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm

i loved your post my dear:)) and just so you know: i wasn’t even moving to be IN the picture! (because i thought they want one just the 4 of them so like you call it, i got the hint:)) i was BEHEIND the camara and than she came and gave me all the stuff to hold on to (jacket etc) so i wasn’t even at that spot where the pic was taken:) but you also sound to me that you don’t get the point of the au pair program ( and please well paid?? yeah sure, count in everything? like what? we pay our gas for every mile? if we are on vacation we drive there and i WORK full time so i can’t find YOUR everything:)) if we would be so expensive you would get a nanny or put your kids in daycare. but the thing people have au pairs are because it’s easier and if you have more than one child, cheaper! and yes, thats what my hostmom told me. she said, daycare or nanny for more than one child is too expensiv! thats why they got an au pair! i’m not sure, do you have a daughter? just imagine she wants to become an au pair in an other country and calls you one day craying telling you that her hm is treating her like sh… i’m sure you would not say, oh yeah honey thats how it is, you don’t get treated nice but thats ok get over it grow up! no i’m sure you would act diffrent and feel with her and figure out by that point that you would like your daughter to be treated as you would treat her! ( i’m not speaking of kuddeling and wathever you do with your OWN daughter) but respect her and her feelings! i hope your daughter wants to do that someday and hopefully you get it then:) i’m sure there are au pairs who are more than happy not to be a part of the family and if you got those your lucky. but maybe one day you get one who wants to be a part and just is not wanted. then i already feel sorry for her, and maybe than you should get the nanny:)) and how should we get cultural exchange when we are not allowed to be part of the family? making friends at the grocery store?:)

anonamomma December 26, 2011 at 7:18 am

My daughter would not be whining because she wasn’t allowed in a picture – or that I /future host mom snapped at her on one occasion – despite treating her well the rest of the time – nor would she allow herself to be treated like **** – if she felt she was in that position she would leave. She’s quite like me in that way and takes no craps – nor does she dish it.

And you are not in that position – you said yourself they treat you very well – you even extended with them – you just got snapped at – get over it – maybe it hurt your feelings so much because of its rarity – which is all the more reason to get over it.

And yes – in the AP programme you are well paid – take in room, board, heating, phone, water, food, insurance (car & health) etc and lets not forget experience – no other programme would enable you to travel and stay in another country with guaranteed room, board, safety and a guaranteed wage at the end of the week – some girls even get their own car (so boo hoo you having to pay for gas – you don’t pay insurance, maintenance, car loans etc ). So yes you are well paid – not saying you don’t work for it or deserve it – you all do – but you are well paid. It doesn’t matter if its cheaper than a nanny or daycare. That is not the issue – you get the experience – we get flexible childcare – I put cultural exchange on the side.

It is up to each AP to explore for themselves (both with and without their HF). I tell my APs where everything is – how to get there (I leave a book of leaflets/vouchers in her room on her arrival to spark interest). I help her organise her bookings and encourage her to take friends along – and each one had risen to her own challenges and loved it. You go out and seek culture – it does not come to you and it is not up to your HM to provide it for you either.

And you are not her daughter – I’m sorry but you’re not – and maybe you are looking for too much in this women if this is the way you expect to be treated. I treat my APs like an adult member of my family and they respond in kind. They do not treat me like their mom – nor do they seek that sort of emotional attachment to me – which is quite frankly inappropriate IMO.

Look it takes different strokes for different folks and maybe after speaking to me – you might realise how lucky you are to have someone who can accommodate you – don’t think that we’d work out at all :). I would find you needy and you would find me unloving. Perhaps neither are true so if nothing else maybe this post has made you realise what you have – and not to get upset over something so silly.

au pair in the US December 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm

oh i forgot so say: i have ONE picture with them! and that was after my 3th month! all the other ones are just the 4 of them and that does not bother me at all! again it was just how she said it to me! like i’m sh…! i think you are totally right about giving our hf some space, and thats what i do! when my hp are home, i’m gone until she starts cooking dinner that they can have family time with their kids! when she starts cooking i take the kids down to my room ( off duty) and watch them until she calls for dinner! she tells me every singel time how greatful she is for a quiet cooking time just for her:) and there are lots of other stuff i do off duty to give them some time together ( i volunteer to work in the evening so that they can go out for dinner even when i already worked my h that week! and i have every week 45 h! but i think it is importent that she and her husband spend some alone time together! i hope you understand me now a little better.:)

AFHostMom December 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Part of being a member of a family is letting go of the guise that everyone always gets along and no one always has a bad moment. I’m SURE I’ve sounded snappy to my au pair before, who is a saint and who I truly adore, just because it’s stressful being a mom and I am running in a million directions. According to your post:
you were at the grandparents house, during the holidays
your HM has 2 kids
you’ve been with them 16 months
So, let’s add it up. The holidays are very stressful for some people, especially parents, especially at extended family events. HM was likely worried about taking a nice picture with her kids and husband and was comfortable enough to tell you she didn’t want you in it, which is a fair comfort level as you’ve been with them 16 months. In that moment she probably didn’t even think about sounding rude, and honestly if they like you enough to have extended with you, she’s forgotten about it. So I agree that you are making too big a deal out of this. Forget about it.
If you want a picture with the family for your parents, by all means–TELL THEM. I am sure they will oblige. As for the bit about being “not allowed to be part of the family,” it certainly doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you.
Oh and finally, I DO have daughters and by all means….if they choose to do an exchange program, I will tell them to put on their big girl pants and be prepared to work through some stuff on their own. I’ve lived abroad a lot and it’s not easy, but as they say, nothing worth doing is.

MommyMia December 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Hear, hear, AFHoseMom! You said it best – I hope my daughters also would get the same advice from me if they were in this situation. Living abroad IS a great experience, most of the time, and everyone should appreciate having this opportunity.

MommyMia December 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

sorry, -hosTmom-

sad au pair December 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

thanks to you all! i think it really was the stress over christmas etc…even for us AP…we are just very homesick and i think i took it to serious…i’m sorry if i came over snappy or whatever:) actually i’m pretty nice:) so well holidays are almost over and normal days can start again.:)

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