Give As Much As You’ve Gotten Before You Quit Your Au Pair Job

by cv harquail on March 1, 2016

At the mailbox, I regularly receive emails from Au Pairs who are unhappy and want to leave their positions.

6a00e54fdb9f7e883301bb07eef2bd970d-450wiAu Pairs present a slate of concerns, each one legitimate in its own right, although some of them are too small, really, to be dealbreakers on their own.

These emails usually roam all over the place, describing one concern after another until I’m ready to say “Okay then, just quit already!”

Many times, the “litany of woes” is the Au Pairs’ chance to think out loud about their situation, and convince themselves that leaving early is the only remaining thing to do.

So it is with this email, until you get down to the bottom and see a piece of information that makes all the difference:

They have recently taken me to the French alps for skiing. I dislocated my knee and they were so helpful and kind with that and I feel terrible that I want to go home so badly.

What’s different here is that the Au Pair’s host family has definitely gone out of their way to treat the Au Pair and to take care of her.

In my opinion, this means that the Au Pair should stay working for the family until she’s “paid back” their extra effort.

This means that the Au Pair should give the family a chance to help her change her situation and make some of the features better (e.g., getting paid more, having a lighter schedule, help with kid discipline).

Nobody’s saying this is a great situation for the Au Pair. She has certainly done her best to make the situation better. And, she still needs help with how to start a conversation with her host family.   But she’s also been taken on a vacation, had some time off due to her knee, and even hosted her parents. These extra efforts by her Host Family need to be acknowledged with more than words.

Here’s the takeaway, for all au pairs thinking of leaving their situations before the end of their contracts:

Think about how much your Host Family has tried to help you. Then, pay them back with your good will, your willingness to try to work things out if possible, and your time table.  

Make sure you stay long enough that you don’t disrupt their lives any more than they have to be as they go into rematch and find alternative childcare.

Even in rematch or early departure, the Au Pair – Host Parent relationship is a two way street.

When your do your best to give as much as you get, you can take pride in knowing you were fair and considerate to others.

Also, you can feel comfortable knowing that you’ve acted in a mature way yourself.

Dear Au Pair Mom– 

I am 18 years old and currently and au pair in the EU. I got here in late December, and I am absolutely struggling with it! I know it’s sounds crazy, struggling to live in this beautiful country, but I need to go home. Anyways, let’s start off with the list of reasons why I am not quite enjoying it.

So I live in a beautiful town, historically it has a lot of value However it’s away from everything and there is NO opportunity to meet people the same age as me. I have tried and tried for the last few months (including talking to people on the street) and it seems almost impossible. I am so lonely. I have searched on Facebook for au pair meet ups and they are in big cities which are too far away from me.

Which brings me to problem #2. I can barely afford to do anything and I feel so trapped. When I decided to become an aupair, I knew I wouldn’t be making big bucks, that’s a given. But I am getting paid less than average, and for the hours I do as well. I do around 45-50 hours a week and get paid 70 euros. I’ve tried to get into contact with AuPairWorld, the agency I went through but I got absolutely no reply. They are not helping me one bit!

Also, I’m terribly homesick, and have been since I got here. And I know you overcome homesickness, but I am so upset all the time and all I can think about is home.

I’m not sure if this has anything to do with my homesickness, but I have pretty much been had the flu for my whole stay and recently I’ve started getting nose bleeds (which are from stress I suppose).

Another thing is that the kids are awful kids, the worst I’ve ever had to deal with, but I won’t go into that because I don’t want to speak ill of anyone.

I’ve spoken to my parents, as they have come to visit me and my mum thinks I need to come home. Anyways,

What I need help with is how do I tell my Host Parents?

They are so nice to me and are really helpful. But it’s just not working out.

They have recently taken me to the French alps for skiing. I dislocated my knee and they were so helpful and kind with that and I feel terrible that I want to go home so badly. 

I feel as though I am being ungrateful for everything they have done for me, and I have no idea how to tell them I am going home. I even get nervous asking if I can run to the store quickly.

Please, can you help me? I don’t know how to bring it up, what to say etc. without offending/upsetting anyone.


Missing the US March 1, 2016 at 4:22 pm

I think getting paid only 70 euros a week is absolutely wrong. You can barely buy some groceries with it. On the other hand I think communication is really important and you should have communicated about your concerns and not being happy a long time ago with your host family. I would find it disrespectful to just leave without trying to resolve the situation first. Maybe they know some people your age to connect you with, maybe they don’t know you don’t have enough money to do fun stuff. Communication really is the key in any relationship.

AuPair Paris March 1, 2016 at 4:52 pm

45 – 50 hours a week is very unusually heavy for Europe (with its lower rates of compensation). 70E a week is not sufficient to recompense that. I agree that there is a great deal of give and take with a host family, and I certainly did double take at the twisted knee kindness – but that rate of pay equates to about E1.50/hour or about $1.60/hour American. I know you’ve got rent and board, but this isn’t enough, and I would argue that the amount of extra labour the host parents have got in this situation has probably already paid them back the time they took while you had a twisted knee. I got about double that amount, relative to my hours working in Europe. I know – APs are responsible for negotiating their contracts, and you may have agreed to this. You’ll know better in the future, I guess. But yeah… You are either underpaid or overworked depending on how you look at it.

For the rest, I think there are solutions. For “awful” kids (?!!) you need parental input. You need support. But with parental support, you can cope with almost any behaviours (I don’t buy into “kids being “bad” at all… But I know how hard it can be to look after kids with challenging behaviours.) so the question is, are you getting the support you need from the HPs to deal with that?

Honestly, I have a lot to say about your other issues and how you might cope with them if you wanted to, but I think a workload of 50 hours/week with difficult kids and almost no compensation for the seemingly really difficult work you have to put in would make my decision for me. I know 45 hour weeks is the norm in the US, but compensation is MUCH higher too… More than double, I think. And your salary is the norm for Europe of course – but your workload absolutely isn’t. I don’t think “owing” the family for taking you on holiday is sufficient for you to overlook that issue.


Drawing a line under that, which is the key issue for me, but which doesn’t answer the original question: if that *weren’t* the case, then yes, I’d expect extra effort from an AP with a family that put in extra effort. Whether that meant an extra-long notice period, help with finding a replacement, an attempt to make the situation livable above and beyond what would be usual… Definitely. But I don’t think an AP “owes” it to a family to stay out the contract when her physical and mental health are at risk (nose bleeds from stress isn’t a great sign). Just to make it easier on the family if possible, when ducking out.

FirstTimeHM March 2, 2016 at 7:24 am

We’ve met an AP that said she worked at least 12 hours a day every day, we’re in Europe so that’s definately way over what’s allowed. It turned out that the family had breakfast and dinner together as a family, she sat next to one of the kids at the table and sometimes the kid would ask her to pass her the bread or something like that. She considered that as working, her family considered it as being part of the family since both parents were there and took care of putting food on the table and fed the baby. The fact that someone could ask her something as ‘could you please pass me the bread’ was being on duty to her.
She was in rematch and had a hard time finding a new family.

Since this story I’m a bit carefull when an AP claims to be on duty more than 20 hours over what’s allowed.

AuPair Paris March 2, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Definitely a fair point. Asking an AP to pass the bread to a child (or cut up food for a child etc etc) is not the same as having that AP working. At the same time I did have a situation with my abusive family (I mention them so much here, I should just write MAF), where I worked from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed (school-aged children – but so much cleaning and housework that I spent the whole day doing it, plus lunches at home). Some of that *was* family dinners, and so I suppose “off” but I can see how you would count it if, as I did, you spent the dinner being lectured about your work in a second language, and then had to jump up right after and do all the clearing up, before taking the children to bed (at 10pm! Just enough time to shower and collapse into bed myself!)

My situation was obviously not normal; extremes certainly do happen, but probably the average is somewhere between the two. Still, I can see why you would count mealtimes in your work hours if your situation is so extreme that you haven’t stopped by that point, and you won’t be stopping afterwards either. You’re still in work mode then.

NZ HM March 2, 2016 at 5:27 pm

I’m kind of sitting in between. I think if presence at dinner and helping out during dinner is requested so the aupair doesn’t have a choice it would count those as working hours (and incorporate in the schedule if possible); if the family expects the AP to clean up after dinner, by themselves and always: work! If shared chore and taking turns: family involvement! If AP decides to join family for dinner as part of the family I would expect her to help out kids if needed, help clear the table etc. and not consider her to be on duty.

FirstTimeHM March 3, 2016 at 6:34 am

Having meals together is a large part of most European cultures, it’s the time and place when everyone discusses his/her plans for the day or tells about what they’ve been up to that day.

We talked to this AP when we were looking for a replacement for our burnout princess and she ranted about having to actually pass a slice of bread to the 7 yo at breakfast when the kid couldn’t reach it and politely asked for that, since she wasn’t on duty. In my opinion that’s common curtesy. She also resented having to take her own plate to the kitchen and putting it in the dishwasher, just as her 7 yo host kid had to do. To her that wasn’t normal, she had a maid for that at home.
She was in rematch within the first month, I don’t know if she’s found a new family but we didn’t match with her.

AP Paris’s situation was totally different, that was an abusive family and I agree with her that she was working the entire day. Sitting down for a meal is work if you’re on duty both before and after, it isn’t when you start afterwards because of the parents leaving for work, or when you stop because the parents are home and take over.
I’m not saying the AP is off the minute the parents arrive, but she’s off when the parents take over and she can do whatever she pleases or simply have dinner with the rest.
Please remember that having dinner together is something that is valued a lot in our culture. Even when there are older kids with sport practices etc dinner is eaten together at home whenever even remotely possible and parents will adjust their working schedule to be there. Having to be home for dinner is a very accepted reason to skip a meeting at work in the late afternoon.

FirstTimeHM March 1, 2016 at 5:27 pm

It’s really not nice to be alone and homesick and feeling physically sick for two months now. Apart from that you’re working too long, that’s not allowed in any European country. The plus side is you’ve got lovely host parents, that’s a good thing.

There were a few things about your email that stood out for me.
You mentioned there were no people your age in the town you’re living in. There must be some… Have you asked your host parents if they know some girls your age? We as host parents in the EU know plenty of girls that sometimes babysit for us you wouldn’t easily meet on the street because they are in college. Perhaps your host parents could introduce you to someone.

AuPairWorld is not an agency, they can’t do anything for you. You probably haven’t got an agency in the country you’re in right now but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any protection. You’ve got a visa that was issued by the immigration service and they are there to protect you as well. The host family can’t let you make way more hours than allowed in your country, nor can they pay you less than the mandatory minimum stipend. You can contact them and they will advise you on what your rights are and what you can do.

You’ve had a flu for two months now and recently started to have nose bleeds. I wonder if that really is a flu, could it be that you are allergic to something in the house?
Could it be that the kids feel that you feel horrible and take advantage of that? Some kids can behave really bad if they sense weakness.

If you haven’t fully given up yet, please try to talk to your host parents to see if there’s something to be done about your loneliness, perhaps that will make you feel a lot better. If you feel better the kids will react to that, and I do hope things will improve.
Could you also try to visit a doctor, just to rule out that it’s something else than the flu? In the EU it’s mandatory that you’re insured against medical costs. The system works differently, but your host parents can help you with that.

On how to breach your decision, if it’s a decision already, I can only advise you to give them enough time to find a replacement and do your best in the time you’ve got left.

WarmStateMomma March 1, 2016 at 5:50 pm

In the US, APs work up to 45 hours a week and are paid around $200/week ($10k/yr). However, some APs pay $6k to come to the US so they’re netting about $4k/year (or $75/week). Your pay is pretty consistent with the net pay many APs receive in the US.

I don’t really understand being homesick after such a short time, but no family wants the AP to be miserable. From a HP’s perspective, you’ve only been there for two months. In that short time, the family has hosted your parents, taken you on vacation and cared for you when you were injured. Now that all the initial excitement has worn off, you’re ready to go home. I would feel used but I interact with teens on cultural exchange programs enough to guess that wasn’t your intent. You probably just weren’t ready for this and you’ve reached your limit.

You owe the HPs a conversation about how homesick you are and you owe it to them to collaborate on a plan of action. That plan might be helping you make friends, helping you identify things to do on a budget, increasing your pay, and/or working on the kids’ behavior. Or it might be you giving the HPs time to locate other child care before you return home. Challenge yourself to handle the situation with maturity and integrity – people rarely regret doing the right thing.

LuckyHM#3 March 1, 2016 at 9:04 pm

To be fair though, not many APs outside of those from some Asian countries pay $6K to come to the US so not really fair to compare. Its not apples to apples. I have had APs from 3 countries who in turn have friends from probably more than 10 countries and not one of them have paid $6K to get here. However much a small fraction of the AP population pay to get here is really immaterial in this case as we dont know what this particular AP paid to get to the country in Europe and beside they are located in Europe with different set of laws and rules. APs in the US certainly dont get $70 for 50 hours of work and they certainly have protection. Imagine the situation and what would happen if a HF paid an AP $70 for a week, how much trouble they would be in.

Having said all that, OP, if the laws in your country are being broken by the HFs, then I’m sure that they are not ignorant of that fact. My understanding of most European countries is that APs typically work 20-30 hours a week for that kind of stipend, you are clearly working double that for the same stipend and IMHO, your HFs kindness doesnt excuse that they are taking advantage of you. My question is – did you agree to all this?

Even if you did, doesnt mean that you have to stay given that it seems to be impacting your health. My question to you though is this, would any change in say the hours or the pay make you want to stay? It doesnt seem like that from reading through your OP so I would say, sit down with the HPs, tell them as honestly as you can that things are not working for you and you are sick for the last 2 months and you are unhappy – believe me no HF wants an unhappy AP. Thank them for their kindness and then put on your big girl panties and share your decision with them – either you want a reduction in hours/ increase in pay scenario or you want to go home.

If its the 2nd option, then offer to stay for the # of weeks, it will realistically take for them to find someone else. In Europe, it seems it takes way shorter time than it does in US to find a new AP. and dont let guilt make you stay for the rest of your contract.

Thats just my 2 cents and I’m a HM!

New to This March 1, 2016 at 10:30 pm

Agree that the agency fees for US au pairs aren’t a great comparison here. The US au pairs who pay those fees are also supposed to get a lot for them — including help matching with a family in the first place, counseling/mediation support during the year, regular organized events where they can make contact with peers, and help finding another placement if things aren’t working out. Sounds like a lot of those services would have been valuable here, and are lacking, so the au pair really is not getting a similar deal to what someone in the US would. I largely agree with AP Paris that while the family has gone above and beyond in some ways, they’ve already gotten an exceptional return on that (whether or not hours/salary were negotiated this way — they’ve had two months of someone willing to work very hard for very little, lucky them!), and so I don’t think the AP is in their debt to nearly the degree CV seems to suggest. Add in the fact that the AP isn’t crazy about the kids, and I probably wouldn’t advise jumping through a lot of hoops to try to salvage the situation; it sounds like all involved would be better off moving on.

WarmStateMomma March 2, 2016 at 11:17 am

I’m sure it’s only the APs from the least developed countries who are paying high fees to get to the US. There’s no way they’d find enough Europeans if they charged $6k! I don’t know what CCAP charges Europeans, but they charge Chinese APs $3-4k and they have their own office in each country rather than contracting out to other local agencies. I don’t think anyone does these experiences for the money or that the OP’s pay is the biggest problem here.

AuPair Paris March 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm

I agree that pay isn’t the biggest problem, but feeling overworked and underpaid can cause everything else to look much worse. It’s also the first thing mentioned, often, by those who feel like their other complaints are hard to verbalise or come across as so much nothing. It’s easily quantifiable, which might be why so many of us have jumped on it in the comments. When it comes to the rest of the situation, it’s so hard to know if it’s truly unlivable without being there. But looking at the pay/work-time it’s easy to see that it’s not ok/allowed, and that it would cause a great deal of frustration and upset for an AP.

I also think this is different from agency fees, because there is a direct correlation to the value placed on the AP’s work. Au pairs in the US might have to pay a lot for agency fees up front (which is harsh – no denying!) but they know their work is valued at a certain price; their salary is separate from their fees and flights and so they must feel much less Cinderella. What AP’s in the US get for their extra work is not a fortune, but it’s something, and presumably it’s enough that most APs don’t feel taken advantage of? If I were the OP, I’d feel like all that work (hard work, if the children have very challenging behaviours) was valued at almost nothing, which would make the job very difficult.

massmom March 1, 2016 at 5:59 pm

It’s not clear to me if the au pair has breached any of these issues with her host parents yet. I’m guessing by the fact that she’s nervous just to ask to go to the store, probably not. As I always tell my au pairs and employees, “I can’t fix a problem I don’t know about”.

If the host parents are indeed kind people, I would think they would be open to working with the au pair to make things better. I would have no problem with an au pair asking to meet with me and saying “I really enjoy your family, but I find I’m having a tough time and feeling very homesick. Is there anything you could do to help me meet some people my age? Also, I’m having some trouble gaining the respect of the kids. What would you suggest I do? Can we work together to reinforce the fact that they need to respect me?”

And by all means, show your host parents the aupairworld site with the pay guidelines. You should not be working more than 30 hours a week at that salary. Did you agree to 50 hours at the outset of the relationship, or has it crept up to that over time? Are you officially on duty all of those hours, or are you helping out around the house because you don’t have outside plans?

If you’ve spoken to the parents and still can’t get anywhere, then you can go home knowing you’ve done your best. But I would be very disappointed if an au pair went home without giving me a chance to help make her experience better or address the problems she’s experiencing. And I would hope she would give me enough lead time to find her replacement if the match couldn’t be saved.

Mimi March 1, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Well said.

Seattle Mom March 9, 2016 at 7:09 pm

Yes. This is exactly what I was thinking. It sort of reminds me of when my au pair got sick and she went around telling everyone that we “wouldn’t” take her to the doctor. She never even asked us, and we didn’t know she was feeling that sick! Since then communication has gotten better- the LCC told her that she needs to speak up if something’s bothering her, and we found that she’s less shy about asking for things by email/text than in person.

The OPs host family probably knows they are not in compliance with labor laws, but they might think they have this nice docile 18 year old who doesn’t really mind. After all, she never goes out, so what would she need money for? They might be in complete denial, but if they are confronted with their au pair’s true feelings they might be willing to make a change.

It’s really hard without a friend or an LCC.. I can’t imagine being an 18 year old au pair in a foreign country with no support system, and having to confront a host family about my basic rights in a language I don’t speak well. It would be very difficult. But OP, it sounds like these are decent people, so you really have nothing to lose!

Meg March 1, 2016 at 10:50 pm

I guess I see it differently from CV. As a HM, if my AP sees my kids as “awful” I want her out of their lives yesterday.

cv harquail March 2, 2016 at 9:05 am

99 out of 100 emails I get from AuPairs who want to leave say that the kids are awful/ ill behaved/ rude etc. So I don’t put a *whole* lot of credence into that claim. YMMV Not saying someone should stay if the kids are awful, but if they spent 2000 euros taking you skiing, gave you two weeks off to heal, and hosted your parents? All in 2 months? You owe them.

WarmStateMomma March 2, 2016 at 2:18 pm

I’m with you on this CV, but I also think the OP isn’t ready enough for this kind of experience yet. Teen maturity levels have a broad range and one 18 yo might be ready to be a stellar AP while another would be better off finding a job or volunteer position in her home country to build up her life skills. Saying the kids are awful and she’s afraid to ask to go to the store sounds like she is just not up for this yet.

AuPair Paris March 2, 2016 at 2:47 pm

It could be a language thing, I guess, but a see a big difference between saying kids are “ill-behaved” or “rude” or “difficult”, and saying they are “awful”. The latter is a value judgement, while the former are behavioural descriptions. I wouldn’t say it means an AP can’t ever learn or improve but I would be worried that the kids might be treated as though they were irredeemable, or told they were bad, rather than the AP understanding that (s)he needs consistent techniques to address their behaviour…

Then again, I am aware that this has to be much more difficult in a second language, and “bad” or “awful” might be the easiest words to reach for in that situation. But this OP writes like a native English speaker. If the frustration with the kids’ behaviour, or exhaustion of the job has got so bad she feels like the kids are really “awful”, that could be a sign that it isn’t going to work. It probably wouldn’t be good for the kids that she stay in that case?

Seattle Mom March 9, 2016 at 7:16 pm

I think the point Meg is making is that if an AP sees the kids as awful then whether they are awful or not, and whether the host family has done a lot for her or not, she should not be their au pair. There are probably people out there who would see my spirited children as awful. Our au pairs have all loved them, and seen them for the intelligent, active, creative kids they are. My kids do have empathy and self control and play independently and have a lot of awesome qualities, but they are not quiet and deferential- I guess some people might think they are awful, and if they do I hope they would tell me that they need to rematch.

I did have one au pair who did not seem to appreciate my children, and that was not the only reason but we did rematch with her ASAP. If the love isn’t there, then it’s not worth it at all.

Former AP Now HM March 2, 2016 at 2:01 pm

She doesn’t say where she is in Europe, but it’s perfectly possible for her to love the children and still think that they’re awful. My first family, I thought the parents were useless and the boy was really badly behaved. In fact, I was imposing my cultural norms on their culture- I thought he was awful, but for his culture he was an absolute angel.

I try to make it very clear to my APs that behaviour in children is cultural and they might find us stricter or more permissive than they’re used to. I know that they might always be happy with how my children behave and I also know that that won’t stop them being brilliant au pairs

FirstTimeHM March 3, 2016 at 6:49 am

I think that you’re touching a very important point here. We’ve been to Spain recently to visit a friend and compared to the kids there my kids are extremely well behaved. The culture there is so different.
As an AP you bring your own culture and your own set of expectations with you, even when you don’t realise. Of course it’s not normal for a kid to shout and scream in public (it’s considered a lot more acceptable in Spain, as we experienced). Of course you eat when you’re hungry, family meals are optional (it’s considered the other way around in our culture, even for young adults).
As an AP you’re confronted with your own set of expectations, with everything you considered normal and never questioned since you couldn’t believe other people would differ. To me that’s the most valuable thing you can take away from this experience.

German Au-Pair March 5, 2016 at 8:47 pm

I agree with cultural issues but sometimes kids actually are awful. That’s not to say there are no reasons for their behavior (it’s usually the parents behavior) but I absolutely understand that someone might experience some children as aweful. Not knowing how old they are, they may actually demonstrate aggressive behavior that is the result of a life with no boundaries. Living with this daily and not having any chance to effectively change it…I absolutely believe there are situation where the term awful accurately describes the current state. I always wonder why people are always so shocked when someone describes a child with a bad term when the same term would be totally acceptable for an adult. Awful adults were children once, too…and depending on the situation and age of the kids, they may actually be awful. When I hear my sibling talk about the other teenage classmates (who smoke their electronic shisha in class…8th grade -the same age my host child was!) I absolutely would describe some of them as awful.

Seattle Mom March 9, 2016 at 7:35 pm

I do agree with this- that it’s possible to love children and see their behavior as awful. I used to babysit a lot of spirited kids when I was 18-19, who were more difficult than my own kids now. They were exhausting, and their parents did not draw effective boundaries so there were real discipline issues. But I also saw their good qualities and enjoyed the challenge of working with them. I don’t know if I could have survived a whole year of working full-time with them, but I did survive a couple of summers of 40 hour weeks (both in home and camp settings).

Au Pair in NZ March 1, 2016 at 11:57 pm

Firstly, I just want to give you a big hug. I know exactly how you feel and it’s so incredibly hard. I really think you should try writing a letter if you’re too nervous to talk to them. It also gives you time to think about exactly what you want to say versus things spilling out (on both sides) when you’re feeling emotional. I’ve been in my family for almost nine months now and it has been really difficult to make friends, too (and I’m in a relatively big city with lots of other au pairs! I’ve never had an issue making friends before but for some reason it has been really hard here). It’s hard when you don’t have anyone really to vent (like au pairs who really get it) when things are difficult with your host family. I really think you need to talk about it with your host parents. It sounds like they really care about you and would probably help you come up with a solution. Out of curiosity, are you the first au pair?

Taking a Computer Lunch March 2, 2016 at 9:56 pm

I just want to say here, as a HP, that the last thing I want to receive from an AP is a note or an email. If you want to write a letter to practice what you want to say, that’s one thing, but part of the AP experience is learning to fend for yourself as an adult on your own terms. Communication is part of being an adult. If you want to leave without completing your contract, then in my opinion, it has to be done face-to-face (and especially when HP have gone out of their way – it can be hard to acknowledge when one is homesick, but really before getting on the next plane home, do weigh the pros and cons).

NZ HM March 2, 2016 at 10:58 pm

I totally agree.

I support the idea of a letter in a post further below because I think it’s a great way to gather your thoughts and get over the initial hurdle. I would be happy to receive a letter from our aupair if she gives it to me in person, explains why a letter, and sticks around to discuss what’s in the letter after I’ve read it.

I would not recommend using a letter as the only form of communication and esp. not as way to give notice and leave.

Reluctant grownup March 2, 2016 at 1:27 am

I feel for your situation. It’s very draining to be in a new place, and to feel isolated and out of your element.

When you say that the kids are the worst you’ve ever dealt with, do you mind specifying the longest (hours in a row, days in a row, weeks in a row), you’ve been in sole charge of children? Kids do like to test their boundaries, and if you’ve been feeling ill since you’ve arrived, they may sense this and act out accordingly. If you’ve dealt with children who are in a structured school or camp setting, being at home is very different. Plus the love and trust you experience with family members’ children is not there in the beginning with host kids.

If you do end up renegotiating your hours or pay you could frame it as a concerned caregiver wanting to be refreshed enough (with actual rest, and time away with friends) to connect with their children. Ask for assistance connecting with people your age, and discipline techniques for their kids. *Most * Parents want to know when their children are being impossible. We want to raise respectful, responsible people. If we didn’t care, we’d have them in front of the television with a barely older sitter. (Not to say that tv or neighborhood babysitting are bad, but people who get Au pairs tend to want to impart good lessons to their children, in general.)

These people seem to care about you. That is no small thing. I’m not saying that you should feel beholden to them, but it’s hard to find a family that cares. It makes me more likely to advise you to try and alter your situation, because the basic respect and a desire for communication seem to be present.

They hosted your parents, took you on a trip, and took care of you (or at least made allowances), while you were injured. They may not be aware how out of the norm (high hours, low pay), your arrangement is.

See what you can change. It never hurts to ask.

Reluctant grownup March 2, 2016 at 1:31 am

Also, a small point.

There may be a miscommunication about the actual hours you’re working. Are you actually scheduled for 50? Or does your lack of pocket money keep you at home?

In future families, you could find a way (walk, bike, etc.) to physically leave the house once off duty so people don’t get used to having you available.

Former AP Now HM March 2, 2016 at 2:05 pm

OP, I used to be an au pair. At that time, I could have written a post exactly like yours. Honestly. Low pay (lower than you!), tricky children, very isolated… And a lovely host family.

While I was au pairing I emailed home regularly telling them how homesick I was and how unhappy I was. Now, the family I au paired for are my surrogate family. We see each other several times a year and they’re still just as lovely as they always were.

I would advise you to stick at it. If you do decide that you really need to leave, give them at least a month’s notice and do everything you can to help them find someone else.

Frankfurt AP Boy March 2, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I wonder if the 45 to 50 hours is an example of a particularly heavy week. It is very clear on AuPairWorld that this is too much. I will occasionally work that but I am compensated by having more time off and generally working fewer hours than most.

From my point of view it was a mistake having your parents visit if you are already feeling homesick. That will have you made you feel worse and just delayed the process of settling in. My advice would be that if this is a major factor in leaving then you should stick it out and see how you feel after a couple more months.

As for the issue with the kids being awful… as Paris pointed out, behaviour issues can usually be resolved. It tends to be the case that children behave better with the au pair the more time the more used to them they get. In some cases, you have to be tough though and not allow yourself to be a victim.

The idea of such a young au pair owing that much to a family they are not happy with is difficult to me. To become an au pair there is an agreement between two parties but its not exactly on equal terms. The au pair is often a inexperienced young girl that has a limited knowledge of the country they are going to and without any support there. They are the vulnerable. In this case, I don’t think it is realistic to expect this au pair, who a few months ago was an child herself, to stick with a family she is uncomfortable with.

If she were a more mature au pair / nanny, I’d see things differently. If that were the case, I would be saying that the only real reason to leave without a very reasonable notice period would be if the hours are really as bad as she says. Everything else would just be a matter of time, effort and better communication.

NZ HM March 2, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Some really great advice here already! We’ve been in a situation with a very unhappy aupair (not related to hours or pay or lack of friends like here I might add) who discussed all her problems with her friends and family back home but didn’t talk to us until she’s made up her mind. We believe she suffered badly from culture shock rather than homesickness and got caught out by her own (unrealistic?) expectations. Though she did a great job, she was just not cut out to be an aupair and to be overseas, so far from family and friends, something she thought she really desired. But being young (18), she was still learning about herself…

Anyway, my HM point of view:
I didn’t mind her leaving, since that was she wanted and thought what was right for her! She gave us the required notice and we were ok to cover with other childcare arrangements.
I DID might (and am still holding this against her today) that she never talked to us about her concerns before making her decision, that she didn’t put in any effort to make this work, that she didn’t show maturity and responsibility and acted rather selfish by just informing us that she wanted to go. I didn’t feel she owed us in terms of time but I think she owed us respect and the opportunity to be her (Host) family and help her out.

Things turned sour when she started saying mean things about our kids and blamed them for not being able to bond with them.

So I’d say:
Really try to make this work before you bail, put in some effort – which doesn’t mean try harder to accept and live with the current situation but try to change it! Talk to your host family; yes, write a letter if you feel nervous about speaking in person. Make some suggestions how you think your situation could be improved.
Give your host family a chance to help you; see if they want to help you! If not, you know that leaving is the right thing to do.
Ask them where to meet people and for other suggestions of things to do in your spare time.
Don’t talk to your family at home too much. Of course they want the best for you but they will also be biased in their advice (as a mum you’re only ever as happy as your unhappiest child: she might just want you to come home!)
Give yourself and your host family a chance! 2 to 3 months in is usually the hardest period, with honey moon phase over and routine, mundane life setting in, esp. if so far you’ve had your parents visit and a skiing holiday. Everyday life might just be catching up with you. You just haven’t been there long to really feel at home (we find it takes our aupairs at least 4 months).
Be realistic about your situation: it might be bad externally but you might also not be suitable for the aupair gig. This is not a criticism or something to be ashamed about, but it might give you a way to explain your feelings to your host family without blaming them or the kids for anything. (the working hours/ pay issue it’s huge and I appreciate that! I just don’t want to get into that here, there has been good advice already).

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