Gossip Girls: When your AP tells stories, what can you do?

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by cv harquail on August 18, 2009

u said what about me cartoon.png Researchers in my field of organizational behavior&theory have found that gossip in organizations provides some useful functions, like lubricating relationships, creating interpersonal bonds, allowing people to express their fears, and perhaps most important, offering people an informal way to make sense of what’s going on around them.

While it may be that gossip at work can be useful, gossip between Au Pairs can be very damaging.

[Yes, gossip between host parents can be bad too. We’ll talk about that in the next post, okay? Here, let’s focus on APs.]

There’s a fine line between gossip and telling your side of the story. And, there’s a fine line between wanting to damage the reputation of someone else and simply wanting to talk about a problem to get a better handle on it. But people are notoriously inconsistent in their abilities to rise above the drama and emotion of a tough situation– like a rematch, for example — and stay on the right side of these lines.

Personally, I’m a little concerned that some au pair will tell all of my friends all of my really crappy habits, like that I kiss the dog on her face, leave laundry in the washer for days on end, and swear like a pirate when trying to turn left at Watchung plaza. (There, my friends. Now you know my worst.)

But also, I was seriously stung by mean AP gossip, when our flameout au pair told everyone in town that we were mean (we aren’t) and that my husband “kicked her out of the house” when we wanted her to leave before her 2 weeks were up rather than have her in our house all alone while we were away on vacation. Lucky for me our LCC stood up for me and resisted the APs version of these events.

I have tried hard to be proactive regarding my concerns about Au Pair gossip.

First of all, I play by the rules. I try really hard not to give my APs a legitimate reason to be disgruntled.

Also, I cut them some slack. They need to gripe to their girlfriends too.

Here are two things you can try to prevent gossip:

1. Put some guidelines in your Au Pair handbook about privacy

Explicitly ask your AP not to talk about your family’s business with other APs. Explicitly promise that you will not talk about her personal business with other people, either.

2. Demonstrate and model discretion in your own conversations.

  • Don’t gossip about others to your au pair.
  • Explicitly show your own limits, by pointing right to that fine line between sensemaking and gossip.
    When a gossip-inviting topic comes us, say things like “yes, there is more to the story, but I need to respect X’s privacy. I’m sure she doesn’t want folks talking about her car accident, so I’ll leave it at that”.
  • Adjust/correct/ shape your kids’ behavior when they venture into gossipy territory.
    Say things like “Well, I’m sure there are many sides to the story, and that X was doing her best. I think that’s all we should say about it.”

These behaviors do make me a little bit treacly– maybe verging on sanctimonious — because I can actually be a real bitch act bitchily too. But, I think of this gossip vs. discretion thing as yet another way that being a good Host Mom helps me be a better person overall.

But, that’s all about preventing problems.

So, what can you do when you discover that your AP has gossiped about you?

Anybody come up with a good strategy?

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{ 29 comments }

Darthastewart August 18, 2009 at 2:27 pm

One of the things I’m always leary about is blogs online, as well as other social media. While they can be useful tools, I’m not really wanting an au-pair who is just venting to blow my personal life all over kingdom-come. – In some ways I think that can be more damaging that “just” gossip. Anything you post online is basically permanent.

MTR August 18, 2009 at 4:36 pm

My new AP told me that our LCC has a ban on family gossip during AP meetings and recomends for APs not to share too much info about families with each other. She reiterates to them that every family is different and should be respected. On the other hand LCC encourages APs sharing info about playdates, places to take kids in our area, fun things and events to do with families and kids, etc.

I have changed agency this year and this is my first time dealing with this LCC. I think this is a great policy that she established.

anonymous August 18, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I think that most AP’s are ok about gossip. They are going to vent with friends about their “bosses” (HF’s), just as we do. What can be difficult is when there is a disagreement between a HF and AP, the “AP side of the story” will almost always paint a pretty bad picture of the HF. It will be lopsided. But I believe that HF’s in general know and understand this fact; as my child’s nursery school teacher says at the start of the year – if you believe half of what they tell you, we’ll believe half of what they tell us!

I really like the LCC’s policy in the comment above

A August 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Our LCC has the same policy as MTR’s–no complaining about your host family during the meetings!

Anonymous August 18, 2009 at 5:45 pm

If aupairs do not complain about their families at meetings, they are going to complain to each other , anyway.
They are going to meet each other in the park, and when they pick up your kids from school. They are going to talk. They are also going to ” meet ” your old aupair on the internet and in aupair chatrooms. Her friends are going to tell her whatever they are going to tell her. In some towns, there are meetings sponsored by churches without any host parents or counselors present to
say anything to temper the discussion.
I think that most of the stuff aupairs complain about is old news, anyway. Most aupairs with complaints have the same story:
unfair hours, difficult kids , not getting paid on time, etc.
Really, I don’t think anybody really cares too much what aupairs say about you. I especially don’t worry about what gets said at meetings where a counselor is present. I would be more concerned about nosy host parents who fish for gossip everytime friends come over to visit.
A good defense against that sort of thing is to cultivate a nice relationship with your own counselor. Then, if something unkind is said , she will either come to you directly , enocurage the aupair to talk to you directly , or dismiss the whole situation as gibberish.
Really, what is so terrible that can be said. I think housekeepers gossip alot , too. That is one reason that I go for an
impersonal cleaning service. They come, they work , and they go home. Sometimes, it is different people every time.

Anonymous August 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Better your aupair complains at a meeting than on Facebook or another social networking tool. That way, the LCC can tell her nicely to stop gossiping. I cannot imagine that any aupair has her LCC listed as a friend on Facebook. Maybe. So if an aupair is saying how mean you are on Facebook, the LCC is not going to know about it and cannot even try to stop it.
On the other hand, I think some aupairs do have their host mothers as friends on Facebook. This could mean that your mutual friends could hear the complaints.
The LCC has an ethical obligation to keep on top of the aupair’s and she and her agency have an interest in keeping you happy, too. It seems like lots of visitors to this site don’t like their LCCs which is sad. And some people say they have even changed agencies because of this. But has anyone ever been dropped from a program or declined for repeat business ? That , to me, would be a very big concern… Has this happened to anyone ?

t August 19, 2009 at 5:17 am

I’d like to know where all these “au pair chat rooms” are. As a new au pair, this is really my only source for info. I haven’t found any au pair manual type websites besides a couple kind of boring ones that are updated once a month at most.

As far as this post goes, I have nothing to offer because so far I really like my host family. While I do discuss the family I’m staying with to my friends and family, I have yet to say anything bad about any of them. (Maybe it’s because the family I nannied for this past year was probably the worst family I’ve ever encountered in my life, so anyone is going to seem amazing compared to them)…I have to say that I would never complain about a family via facebook unless it was in a PRIVATE message- If you have an au pair that does this, I’m sorry but she’s most likely an idiot.

Elle Au PAir August 19, 2009 at 8:31 am

I have many friends that complains about their host families. I do too sometimes but NEVER do “mean gossip”. all I have ever heard from au pairs is the daily complaining about working stufff and not how the family is, their behavior between each other. If an au pair says the family is mean thats because she feels that way. Maybe a conversation would be needed there to explain that family was not trying to be mean to her.
Au pairs talks about their days, how hard it is sometimes to deal with the children, or how host parents sometimes really are mean, but we just “gossip” abvout dayli problems like EVERYBODY does about their boss. Sometimes we better look at purselves and think: why is she sayiong that, will that be true? Maybe I should talk to her and see what’s going on, make things clear” instead of assume the au pair is a mean gossiper.

Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 8:50 am

Personally, I find that building a good relationship with your aupair limits this kind of behavior. My 2 au pairs have told me that they are the only ones who don’t complain about their family but part of that is that I do a lot to make them feel like they are part of the family and not a slave. If your au pair feels part of your family, the odds are she won’t go “bitch” about her family. I remember when my first au pair when to a meeting and came back saying “when the au pairs complained about their family, I said I love my family!” That felt so good! Gossip is going to happen, best thing you can do is limit what they have to gossip about…

PA Mom August 19, 2009 at 10:21 am

We all complain, but mean gossip in a small town is another thing. And all towns are small when it comes down to it. I like the LCCs rule about not gossiping at meetings – probably more to keep the girls happy than they realize – I mean a real complaining session is no fun to attend and aren’t the meetings supposed to be time to connect and have fun as a group?!

Someone who really gossips (especially when it’s untrue) will be found out over time. It usually taints all they do. But it’s a risk of having someone in the house – they are “part of the family” but not all the way – so they don’t feel colored by what they say. Perhaps letting the AP know that it’s not polite and that it reflects on her more than you is a good place to start. I hear a lot of AP stories and also take them with a grain of salt.

But it helps me have perspective about my own actions – how to they appear to the APs. Often HMs treat their APs like kids (after all aren’t they just North of teenagers) when they want to be treated with respect and like the adults they are (or see themselves as). If nothing else, having an AP is a great way to practice those teenage parenting skills that perhaps haven’t developed yet. I certainly have gained more perspective and insight – so handling mean gossip comes with the territory. When your kids are older, how would you handle one of their friends who turns out to be less than a friend. While it’s different because she (or he) lives with you, they also have some incentive to improve (because they DO live with you). It’s either going to work out after a heart to heart or it’s time to move on.

My 2 cents August 19, 2009 at 10:34 am

In my small experience, the gossip and complaining is really just like what goes on here! I really don’t see that as any different from what I do with my girlfriends when I’m out. The AP may use it to tell a funny story, vent to a community who understand her situation, to seek out advice or comraderie, or to offer advice based on her experiences.

On the other hand, I think there’s a big difference between this “general” gossip and complaining and the kind designed to hurt and malign. If I learned my AP said some hurtful or untrue things about my family, I’d handle it the way I’ve handled it in an office environment: I’d confront her as calmly as possible, restating what I’d heard, and ask her about it. Gossipers hate confrontation and tend to stop if they know you have the guts to shine light on their actions. Since we are talking about a personal relationship, I’d also let her know how it hurt and disappoints me and let that sink in.

And, of course, if it was that bad I’d really have to reconsider our entire relationship with this person. If the AP insists what you heard was wrong, I’d be so bold as to ask her to go back to whoever told you all this and correct them. If it’s an outgoing AP doing it, I may not even confront since at that point I’m focused more on damage control and fixing my AP. I’d ask my LCC to step in and disabuse my new AP of any rumors she has, or may, hear. I’d also ask the same of any the other APs I know if I got the chance to see them before the new girl arrives.

All in all, I’m pretty certain that reasonable people take you for what you are and not for what someelse thinks. I’m not too worried about what other APs or HFs think.

lidi August 20, 2009 at 8:45 am

We had major problems with our old au pair and our LCC was very unsupportive and tried laying a lot of the blame at my feet which was very frustrating. We wanted to change agencies because of her, but we found our new AP through the same agency and will stay on another year.

One of the problems we had was that our old AP would badmouth me on facebook. We had many mutual friends, mainly my friends that she friended, and it was embarrasing. Our AP wouldn’t say my name, but her entries were pretty obvious. When I tried talking to her about it she denied there was a problem. I told our LCC who talked to the AP about it, but it just backfired and the AP just thought it was a joke. Finally, after our AP left, she “defriended” me.

It was a frustrating situation and there was no direction from our LCC or the agency. In any case I’m glad we were FB friends because I realized what a disturbed girl she was and had we been “friends” before she arrived I would have had a better idea of what she was like.

I friended our new AP before she came and it was useful to gain a sense of her personality and now to keep abreast of what she’s feeling.

The whole situation just illustrated that our LLC isn’t there for the HF, but really only to try to keep the APs as long as possible. I highly doubt our LLC advices the APs from gossiping, because had she the FB issue would have been taken more seriously.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I think that it is probably a bad idea to friend an aupair and expose her to many details of your personal/social life. I think that this is just a problem with FB so I would not make my aupair a friend. I know many people do it. It is a nice idea. I would not friend my boss either, at least not on a private website.
I hope that all of your friends defriended this AP as soon as they read the unkind things she said about you.

Momof2girls August 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Someone above said that they didn’t think that APs and LCCs would “friend” each other on FB, but I know that in our cluster, the LCC has many of her current and former APs as friends. Personally, I was shocked to read some of the APs’ profiles, where they describe their party lives and illegal activities they participate in, as well as using much profane language. Some write parts of it in their native languages – I guess they’re not smart enough to figure out that some of us host parents are fluent in other languages as well! I was not thrilled to see photos of one of my daughters on a former APs page (she befriended me than blocked me when one of her other friends said I was “stalking” her! I thought it was a good way to keep in touch as she continued her extension year in the US) I think this is discussed in another area of this website under Internet Use/Privacy. Nor did I like seeing photos of another former AP at numerous parties, drinking alcoholic beverages (she was underage)–I just hope she never drove our car when she’d been drinking, and she should be very happy that I didn’t know about this during her time with us, or she would not have been here as long as she was. If I were an LCC, I’d be checking the girls’ FB pages frequently – it can tell you a lot about them-and I’d certainly advise them to be careful what they post!

TX Mom August 20, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I guess I haven’t had a problem with my AP’s gossiping in a negative way; I don’t think I would continue to host someone in my home if that happened. We’ve had 2 rematches so… For us a good AP is mature and is happy with our family – so won’t be a negative gossiper.

FB probably deserves its own post… My experience is that it’s a great way to “scope out” girls during the application process, BUT, it’s one data point. My favorite AP did some crazy things on her personal time; it never affected her time with us or how she interacted with my kids, but she would not have been my favorite AP if I had seen her FB! (We are “friends” on FB now that she is in her home country. ) I’ve decided that while an AP is working for me, I really don’t want my AP to be a friend on FB. (I have enough to get me excited and stressed.) But I also don’t “friend” my colleagues on FB. I use LinkedIn for professional uses and FB for social uses.

CoCa August 20, 2009 at 3:32 pm

TX mom, that is an interesting comment about Facebook!

I have a new AP coming in a couple of weeks, and a little while ago I agreed to be FB friends with her. I had second thoughts the moment I had said it, but figured I couldn’t really take it back :-)

It’s not really a big deal, because I do have a wide range of FB friends including mine and my husband’s professional contacts, other moms at school, underage relatives etc., so I don’t really put anything on there that I am not comfortable for the WHOLE world to see. But still – for the au pair and me both, it might have been a good idea to keep FB private in case we ever need to vent on there in the future.

On the other hand I am encouraged that she added me without a moment’s hesitation, and what I can see so far suggests she is quite the same person on FB as on her application :-)

I wonder what other people’s thoughts and policies are on social networking with your AP?

CoCa August 20, 2009 at 3:34 pm

PS. Scrolling up through this topic, I can see several of you have said some interesting things about FB-friending your AP, before, during and after her stay. Keep ’em coming – I’d love to hear from others, too!

NewAP Mom August 20, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I friended my current au pair and I think it was a mistake. It means she can’t really “vent” to her friends, or post anything that she thinks might offend me. I’d really rather she had that outlet because this whole experience can be stressful, you know? Better to blow off steam in an innocent way like Facebook.

I don’t actually mind the gossip that much. I’m pretty much resigned to it happening no matter what I do. I think it’s pretty common for girls this age. They’re subject to a lot of stress. If they need some way (again) to blow off steam, and I’m the target, better that than my kids. Of course, I live in a big city and don’t actually know any other host parents. If I lived in a small town, I might feel differently.

Also, my au pair is not the type of person that would say something with the sole intent of publicly humiliating me. I’d probably feel different if she were.

StephinBoston August 21, 2009 at 8:58 am

I’ve had all my APs on Facebook and I really like it. I don’t think they’ve been the kind of women who would say bad things about me in a public forum so I don’t feel like I’m “intruding”.
I love to see who they are socially since its not a side we see a lot around the house. My current AP is traveling for the week and its great to see her post once in a while and see how much fun she’s having and I know she’s safe. I hope to keep my APs as friends even when they go home, I truly miss them when they leave so its a great way to keep up with them.

My 2 cents August 21, 2009 at 10:40 am

I’m with TX Mom on the FB question. The only reason I would “friend” is while interviewing to get that insider’s look, and that for me is not a good enough reason to want to allow access to me and my friends the entire year out (I’m uncomfortable defriending). Also, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had APs that are very interested in interviewing and helping me pick the new one, and use them to get inside information to the extent it can be had this way. They seem confident in their ability to feel out a girl in a way only a peer can and I put trust (some, not all, I still ask loads of my own questions and rely on my instincts!)

I don’t want my AP as my friend on there probably for the same reasons she deep down would not want me as her friend on there. I sense that with my APs its really a private place for them and I respect that (and I am NOT saying that it is disrespectful if you are friends on FB in any way!).

Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I think Facebook is a fine way to learn about people. I also do not want to share my entire life with the entire world – I am a pretty private person and enjoy the journey of getting to know people.
More and more businesses are using Facebook to promote themselves. I guess those web pages are pretty heavily edited. I just don’t know.

E2 August 21, 2009 at 12:50 pm

The FB issue was a really big one for me. I guess many of the girls don’t realize that when they join a FB network, the security automatically changes, and their FB is open to everyone on the network. So thousands of people can see what they are writing when they think it is only open to friends. And when I saw our APs facebook comments about our family and life here…it was just so disrespectful and immature. We already knew there was a problem and this reinforced the decision to rematch. I don’t know…if I had an American nanny/babysitter that called my kids “little sh%$#*s” on FB, would I continue to employ her? No way! I sometimes feel like we give APs a break on things that wouldn’t be acceptable for an American babysitter and wonder when my values on what I want for childcare for my kids got compromised.

CoCa August 21, 2009 at 1:52 pm

E2 – I think this is an interesting discussion, because I do think that it is inherent in the AP system that you will have to accept, even welcome, the fact that s/he is from a different culture and will have different values, yet at the same time you need to set limits around yourself and your children at a point where you can be comfortable.

Having moved from Europe to the United States a few years ago, I have to say I find young adults in America (babysitters and others) VERY different from their European counterparts. This was particularly noticeable for me when I (pre-AP) took an extended trip to my home country and actually employed a young relative there as a nanny for my kids.

For years, we had been used to American babysitters/nannies/day-care staff/camp counsellors, who all shared the same upbeat, positive attitude, what seemed like a genuine love of kids and the same work ethic and service mindedness that is typical throughout American society. If these people had bad days – as I’m sure they did – they were very good at hiding it!

When I enlisted my young, European relative, I had a big shock! Now, this is a girl whom I am actually related to, whom I love dearly and who has a relationship with my kids outside of her job as a nanny. Even so, I couldn’t believe the difference. Some of this was no doubt just to do with her personality, but having been a teenager in that same country myself, I could see that a lot of it was cultural, too.

Just a few examples: She would use bad language in front of the kids and didn’t seem to understand that she couldn’t talk to them the way she would her own friends, she would throw major hissy fits and act like a baby about everything from missing a bus to stubbing her toe, she would be consistently late for work, she would yell at them when they did something wrong and call them ‘stupid’, she would use sarcastic and sometimes hurful humor that was completely unsuitable for their ages, she would eat candy in front of them because “that rule only applies to you, not to me”, and so on. I dread to think what she was telling her friends about them, and me…

Please be clear that I am in NO way saying that this is typical of all au pairs or other young people from other countries. What I am saying is that American teenagers are to my mind in many cases a whole different species, and that we simply can’t expect that someone coming from a different country is going to behave in the same way.

So in essence, we HAVE to give APs breaks on things that wouldn’t be acceptable for an American babysitter, just as APs have to give US breaks on things that perhaps wouldn’t be acceptable in their home country. It has to work both ways.

BUT, as E2 points out, we still have values for our kids and owe it to them to draw a line on how much to compromise these.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Calif Mom August 22, 2009 at 10:08 am

That’s why we have handbooks! ;-) Seriously, spelling out this approach in your family letter is crucial, and then reinforcing it with your family handbook is not negotiable.

Calif Mom August 22, 2009 at 10:12 am

As for FB, I’m creeped out that it keeps suggesting I ‘friend’ a former AP whom we sent into rematch last year. I don’t want to see her popping up amongst my real friends!

I wouldn’t FB friend an AP. I don’t post about them, but it just seems too personal. We each need our separate support networks, and as more of my true friends coast to coast join FB, I need it to be ‘mine’.

Of course, I keep it more personal than business — business contacts are on linked in. Only a couple true friends from my workplace are on my list, too, not just everyone in my dept who has figured out i’m on FB.

Security filters are your friends!

anon September 8, 2009 at 4:00 pm

This is a great topic! Of course, I think so after a really bad match that ended up in too much gossip all around (on my behalf, it was “venting my side of the story to friends”; I have heard reported back to me specific things the AP said to other host families in the cluster that were blatantly false, but it’s all the same). Basically, I think we were both so angry and frustrated and hurt that we were venting all over the place and trying to establish that “it wasn’t *US* that did anything wrong!”.

One thing I want to add as a host mother who went into transition: For whatever reason, the au pair was a bad match for us. When I started looking for a replacement au pair, I spoke to many LCs. And I felt it important to share with them why she was the bad part of the match, and how any reasonable HM would be unable to match with this AP. I did this to make sure to paint the picture that I was reasonable, and would be a good HM to a new AP.

Unfortunately, I later realized, it also meant that many LCs had heard horror stories about my AP from me, which meant that no one really wanted to re-match with her. And the fact of the matter is that I can and did imagine a family that she would be a fine au pair for, just that it wasn’t working for *our* family. I really regret trying to make it so clear to so many people affiliated with the agency that I had “proof” that she was “bad”. It was such an emotional time, however, it became seemingly imp0ssible for me to draw that line.

PA au pair mom October 18, 2009 at 9:53 am

BNS:

I have NEVER abused or taken advantage of ANY AU PAIR that I have had.

That being said, if my husband and I have problems or my kid gets in trouble at school then I don’t want my au pair spreading that all over our cluster. That’s personal family business.

I didn’t tell anyone when my last AP’s boyfriend dumped her, when she got arrested for underage drinking or when she had 3 accidents in our car. I dealt with it with her privately.

It’s just common courtesy.

Lidi October 19, 2009 at 10:20 am

I think that being FB friends with a potential au pair is a good idea as part of the vetting process and you can “de-friend” them at any time. There are also privacy filters so you can control what people can see. I personally don’t post anything I wouldn’t be comfortable anyone seeing. I think people who “vent” on FB are not being very smart or mature, because despite privacy filters, you don’t really know who will end up hearing about it.

Once in a while I’ll check out our au pair’s wall just to see how she’s doing that she may not be sharing with us. She’s very sweet and open, I think, but I would want to know if in fact she’s homesick or thinking of going home! At least to be prepared for that conversation, if she broaches the topic. FB is basically how I confirmed that our previous AP was extremely unhappy in general and especially catty about me. I wouldn’t vent about anyone on FB, let alone my boss.

Also our current AP has not “friended” any of my friends (or even my husband) so it’s been more of an arm’s length “friendship”.

Social networking can be a useful tool to gauge someone’s personality, but only if you’re prepared to have someone gauge yours!

aussiegirl October 20, 2009 at 12:06 am

My Host Mom from Canada actually introduced me to the World of FB!! I become her “friend” and was able to see photos of were I would be living and photos of the kids and she was able to see photos of where I was from and my friends and family. During my year with them we often used it as a way of communticating if i was way for the weekend and now back home. Its a great way of keeping in contact see updated photos and seeing what they are up to day to day.

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