One of my favorite moments as an au pair mom was the summer afternoon I came home to find my two year old in a diaper, my au pair in a bathing suit, both of them in the garden, covered in finger paint. They were having a blast.
This particular au pair, although very mature and studious, loved to play with my daughter. Finger paint, Thomas the Tank Engine, mud puddles, the whole deal. It made me so happy to see them play together.
Up until the point when my two girls got really involved in playing with each other and with their best friends- the boys next door (at around ages 5 & 7), I wanted our au pairs to get down and play with the girls. Not only is this more educational, and more fun, it is way more interesting than sitting there on the coach flipping through a magazine while they argue over who would get to use the red light saber.
The amount of time and dedication spent directly playing with the kids varied, though. Some au pairs want to play directly with the kids, while others prefer not to.
But if that’s what you as a host parent want, and what you as a host parent think is best for your kids, how do you help your au pair understand that s/he should flop down on the floor, pick up Edward, Bill, or Annie, and roll them around the track?
Here’s a question from Host Mom LL:
We have three young children – ages: almost 2, almost 4 and almost 6. We are on our third au pair and have liked all three girls reasonably well.
But, I have had one ongoing concern about our au pairs:
The girls all tend to want to sit and look on while the kids entertain themselves.
Now, – I know that would have to happen sometimes. I get tired and sit sometimes while my kids play. But ultimately of course I am looking for an au pair who will engage with them, play games with them, talk and sing with them, etc.
My husband always says, he doesn’t care what the au pair’s interests are, if she would just SHARE them with the kids. If you like to paint, paint with my kids. If you like sports, do sports with my kids.
I do not want my au pair to feel that I am spying on her, criticizing her, etc. And frankly, just criticizing someone never helps. So I am looking for more positive ways to approach this.
Should I ask her to write in a journal about what she did with the kids today? In the past this has not been as helpful as it sounds. “Played in sandbox” does not tell me whether she was actually playing with them or not. Should I take the time to make a list of activities and just ask her to do some of them each week (“Please do painting with Molly this week”) – which would be very time consuming for me but is possible?
That would also not guarantee her engagement with them, but it would at least ensure some variety of activities for my kids.
Or are my expectations too high?