Our au pair has been with us for less than 24 hours and we already have a problem.
We have our au pair use a phone card attached to our phone to make long distance calls. Since she’d just arrived, when she wanted to call home I dialed her dad’s number for her. Right after that call, I heard a pause and went to check with her. She had dialed directly another phone call… it was 12 minutes long, at $3.99 a minute.
Unfortunately, she was using my husband’s WORK cell phone.
This happened first thing this morning — she slept all day yesterday so we hadn’t asked her to read our family handbook yet. Needless to say I’ll be having her finish reading it today…
PS, DH isn’t home so I haven’t even told him yet, and I”m sure he’ll be super happy to have to tell his boss!
Ugh. What the heck do I do?? — Off On The Wrong Foot
What a way to start out your au pair year!
An awkward situation, a not-insignificant amount of money, and enough embarrassment for everyone.
How can you turn this one around?
Off On The Wrong Foot, I recommend that you think about handling this issue as an opportunity.
How you handle this situation can set a positive tone for the rest of the year. You can show your au pair how you and your DH will approach future mistakes, concerns and problems by treating this situation in a kind, forgiving way. Plus, you and your DH can use the situation to clarify with each other how you together will approach au pair-related challenges. And, you can learn from this experience how to improve your phone systems so that you can avoid this particular problem in the future.
1. Think about the ‘big picture’ of your Au Pair – Host Parent relationship
You want your au pair relationship to be strong, positive, respectful and a learning experience for your au pair and for you as a host parent. Each of the several steps you should consider need to move you and your au pair towards these goals. Take a little time to put yourself in a kind, empathic and forgiving mindset. Imagine how you’d like your au pair to feel when you’re done resolving this problem.
Also, consider the balance you want to strike between being firm and being laid back. Our general advice is to start firm and get flexible later, so you might not want to be completely forgiving and tell her you’ll cover the cost of this.
2. Consider what resolution(s) you need, from your Au Pair
- How much money do you want her to pay you back (Half? All? None?)
- What do you want her to understand about phone costs? (All hers? Some budget from you?)
- What does she need to learn about US phone technology? (cards, pre-paid phones, land-line long distance charges, Skype)
- What does she need to learn about your family’s phones? (Never use DH’s cell phone, but Host Mom’s cell is okay. Don’t use the phone in Host Mom’s office even on the family line, etc.)
3. Think ahead about the process that you want to model for problem solving.
What does she need to learn about how you like to discuss problems? Do you like to talking things out directly and candidly, or indirectly with a written note? Are you flexible about considering options or are you firm about how things need to be resolved? Can you take time to consider options or are you more comfortable deciding by the end of the conversation?
4. Think ahead about what to take into account about your au pair before and during your conversation.
Consider her English fluency, cultural background, personality (as much as you now so far), and interaction with you so far.
5. Reconsider your Au Pair phone systems
Think about whether the phone systems that you thought would work (or that worked with previous au pairs) needs to be adjusted. It may be time to switch to a prepaid phone for your au pair, and/or to make sure that you have a long-distance carrier with the lowest possible rates to her home country.
With every au pair challenge, there are three sets of outcomes:
- The specific resolution
- The change in your systems & approach (aka “the learning”)
- The influence on your host family-au pair relationship
Keep all of these in mind.
Readers, what else?
Pay Phone DSC01636 from JazzCannibal on Flickr
Life Up Close: Pay Phone from 5150photo