Glass half full, or empty?
We are approaching the time to decide whether to extend with current AP. Because she may have seen me reading this blog on my computer, I want to stay vague but give enough info to generate discussion.
We’ve had several APs, and a few rematches. Two kids, one in kindergarten, one still in elementary. She shares bathroom with kids. We have had problems with ‘princesses’, as Calif Mom puts it, because we have a modest home and we are not neat freaks. We have a regular house cleaner, so it’s not dirty, just not overly-organized. Both parents work out of the home. Current AP has been with us since last summer. She drives kids in a great car.
AP is 23, goes to church most Sundays (we don’t!), very calm and reliable. Great relationship with kids, handles bickering siblings without getting rattled, and stays fair. She is a serious introvert, though, in a family of extroverts. She is not unhappy, but retreats to her room when host comes home and isn’t seen again until the next morning. I am pretty sure she just needs the down time. We took her on a family vacation last year and things went very well.
There are a lot of food issues, from my perspective: We are a family where we sit down to dinner together to eat and talk about our days, but she does not join us. It is not the food, though, because leftovers disappear and she says I cook just like her mom. She says she prefers to keep her big meal during the middle of the day (she is from Latin America). She cannot cook and sad to me, has shown no interest in learning how though I have not given up trying to inspire that in her (we are very good cooks and care a lot about food both nutritionally and politically). I have taught previous APs to cook, so I know I’m not overly intimidating.
I am back to packing my kids’ lunches because she does not put together an adequate amount or balance of food to get them happily through the school day and we’ve had some real problems, though there is ample food on hand. She seems to not know which foods have protein, for example, and attempts to teach haven’t helped with that. I am concerned about her as a role model for my kids on food. Much junk consumed in her room, and erratic consumption (several bananas one day then, half a casserole the next). She is all about convenience food. And white bread! (what is it about APs and white bread? we’ve had this issue with almost all of our APs… I’ve given up and just buy the blasted stuff and make sure my kids get real bread when I’m feeding them.)
On a trip a few months into her stay with us, I took her to the grocery store without kids, I tried to show her what we buy and offered to stock up on what she likes, but she instead asked to go sit in the car — was very amiable — and said she was fine with me buying whatever. In retrospect this reads like a subtle attempt to keep from being tasked with grocery shopping, something which she has plenty of time to do and which would make my life much easier since both parents are under job pressure these days (aren’t we all?). Was this similar to me being consciously incompetent when it comes to fixing the photocopier at work? : )
She is not a great driver. Had an accident on her own time, in our car, which was expensive.
She will only rarely take the dog outside, even if whimpering, and she hasn’t said so, but I can tell she doesn’t really like the dog. She’s pleasant to the dog, but not friendly. We have someone come tend the dog when we go away for a weekend, even if AP stays home.
I’m looking ahead to the summer schedule, and remembering that while she is willing to take the kids to the neighborhood pool and stand in the shallow end, (hot southern summers!) she doesn’t like to swim, so my kids were disappointed that she is not very much “fun” at the pool.
Other issues are more minor, and I think I could improve her performance on these things. Host dad thinks she has it pretty easy and is doing just enough to get by. When she first came to us, for example, she did the dishes every night. I always thanked her profusely for this, trying to cement the behavior, but it has faded. She does the girls’ laundry regularly, and unloads the dishwasher, like cvh’s AP, but doesn’t oversee homework or even get the kids bathed regularly before I get home from work, so all that falls to me while I’m trying to get dinner ready.
I am quite sure that she is intending to extend a second year, since she has said this since the beginning of our time together and because the economy is in the tank in her home country and there aren’t many opportunities for young women there. Because she is an introvert, because she has found friends and a church she really likes here and knows her way around, I don’t think she will want to switch families. Again, she always says she is very happy. Her English is excellent, and she’s getting a lot out of her college classes.
My question for all y’all is whether the above issues are sufficient for thinking about finding a new AP, or should we just stick with ‘good enough’ because she is stable, pleasant, reliable, the kids love her, she knows the routines, there is always a chance that we will end up in rematch with a new AP, and all those transitions really suck, frankly. Should I just get busy “managing her performance” as the HR people say, or is it time to think about switching? Do I risk alienating her if I start tasking her with shopping, or start managing her more clearly, using schedules and checklists, for example?
I suppose the only way to know for sure is to start “actively managing” her now, and see what happens, and then I’ll have my answer. but I’d sure appreciate any advice from you wise women! Pitfalls to avoid, approaches that work — all are welcome!
From Anna: I think if you start the selection process for next year early enough, do it very thoroughly, and trust your gut you will find somebody who matches your family better. We are also a family who cares about food and nutrition, and you can really find a kindred soul; for example I came across many au pair candidates who are into healthy lifestyles, or a vegetarians..
You can gave a GREAT year with an au pair, in fact this is how it should be, instead of “scraping by” another year with this one. Ask yourself – if you knew a great au pair was coming for sure, would you be really impatient for your year with the current girl to end? I know I would be , and if you can give the same answer, there is your answer.
You can also register at a different agency, that has a matching process giving more freedom to families, that let you see a lot of candidate dossiers at once, so you can find hopefully exactly what you are looking for in a shorter time.
Besides, an au pair’s job is to make your life easier – she makes yours harder – shifting her responsibilities to you (packing lunches, cooking for kids, bathing kids). Also it doesn’t seem like the kids are in love with her either, or are they?
From Kathy: I have had 7 au pairs. In the beginning, I made myself sick worrying about my AP and spent far too much time trying to make them happy. It never worked.
Then one day I woke up and said that I either needed to find another option or make this work. I really took charge and was very specific about what I wanted done and when. I had the same problem with kids lunches. I wrote instructions for how to make a sandwich – how much meat, cheese, type of bread, mayo, etc. What snacks, fruit, drink, etc. I would then check the first couple of times. If the kids didn’t complain (they are very good at that) then I figured she “got it”.
I have given up with tasks like grocery shopping unless I need one or two items. I found that no matter what I did, they bought the wrong thing and spent far too much money on junk. It was just easier to do my own shopping and get what my family wants to eat. I haven’t found any AP that could cook. Reheat – yes. So when she feeds my kids they can make a salad, chicken nuggest, pizza, hamburger, hot dog, etc. They can also breakfast – cereal, toast, eggs, waffles, etc. Most of the AP can handle that and like to eat it themselves.
I use the communication log daily. I write down what needs to be done each day and have her check it off. Getting homework done, kids bathed, chores, etc are on the list. If it is not done, we talk about it right away or she writes the reason in the book. Sometimes she has a good reason, and then it is fine.
On Friday’s I ask her to write down any groceries she would like or that we need. I have made it clear that I do not buy candy, chips, soda, etc unless it is a special occasion. If they want white bread, fruit, cheese, etc. that is fine. I do buy Nutella for the German au pairs. White bread is cheap. I was tired of waking up all night wondering if she was home. I now have a curfew of 11 p.m. on nights when she works the next day and always an 11 p.m. curfew with the car. If she wants to stay out late over the weekend, it is fine, just not with my car. Since I started taking control, everything has been much better for everyone. The AuPair understands what needs to be done and how and when to do it. Most were never in a rush to do anything. Now they have a timeline. AP knows she can ask for an exception if needed.
From Franzi: Like the other commentors, i also think the AP is not quite doing her job. SHE should pack the lunches (according to your guidelines) and SHE should bath the kids if this is what you want and it is within her working hours. i absolutely don’t understand this.
About the lunches, did you tell her “3 slices of apple, one p-j sandwich, 5 crackers and a cheese stick” (something to that extend) or did you leave it all up to her what to pack and that went completely wrong?
My first host family did not allow me to pack the kids lunches (go figure) whereas the second family showed me what the kids liked and then i packed accordingly. and you learn what they don’t like when it comes back uneaten….again, i don’t understand your au pair. it’s not like this is rocket science. and even if she doesn’t know what are carbs and what is protein, she should have seen one of those food pyramid things that explain what’s good and what not. Usually, these charts are shown during orientation to make sure the APs understand the “servings” idea.
About the dog, i am with your AP. i don’t like dogs but rematched into a family who had a dog because i LOVED the family (apart from the dog). it was ok for me to pet it, and i did take it for a walk sometimes. but it is not an AP responsibility to take care of the dog! most families who are used to dog-lovers never run into a problem like that. but as soon as you have a “not-so-much-dog-lover”, you run into misunderstandings like the one you mentioned. this should be something you should ask during your next matching process
Regarding the matching, i think one year with her is ok, but you should not stick with “getting by” any longer than necessary.
From name withheld just in case : Half full or half empty — I was in a similar position to you when it came time to decide whether to extend with our last AP. Things were “good enough” with her, but there were definitely things that I wished were better/different. (Similar to your situation, she was fine with the childcare aspect of the job, which is obviously the main concern, but there were shortcomings in other areas.)
DH and I basically decided to leave it up to “fate” as to whether we’d extend — if she brought it up and asked to extend, we would agree, but if she didn’t say anything, we wouldn’t ask her to extend. Well, she did end up extending for 6 more months, and it was “fine” the whole time.
But if I had it to do over again, I would NOT choose to extend (although that would be an uncomfortable conversation if the AP said she wanted to stay!). The reason I say this is because now with our new AP, I can see the difference between “good enough” (last AP) and FANTASTIC (new AP).
Now that I know how much a “fantastic” AP can not only make your life easier but actually be a wonderful addition (as opposed to a “neutral extra member”) to the family, I will never again settle for “good enough”!!
From Calif mom:
I can see where you are torn. We’ve had 6 APs, one of them fabulous (adored us and our kids, loved swimming, cooked, and drove like a native) and one really great (missing some of those value-adds but fit in well with our family). And then we’ve had the two princesses (rematched at 2 weeks and 3 months, respectively) and a depressive sour puss who left after 4 months or so (we were her third family, and yes, they sent her to another host instead of home). Our favorite two came from rematch. (coincidence?) So I can identify with being worried about ending up in rematch by going back to the AP pool!
We’ve never tasked an AP with grocery duties, but had one who was happy to help when I was crazy at work. She would also cook dinner, unbidden, which was a lovely surprise, again, when things were crazy at work. She felt like family, and still does, and embodied for us more of what the AP experience is marketed as. Since then we’ve gotten a bit more jaded, but still think it’s the best option out there for us, at this stage of parenthood.
My instinct is that you would be better off with a really good match; my heart says that it would be a terribly difficult conversation to tell her you didn’t want to extend.
Maybe the best idea really is to start ‘managing’ the situation and see what happens. A little pressure may cement things one way or the other. That selection process is so nerve-wracking, I’d be inclined eerything in your power to avoid going through it sooner than later, but agree that “settling” isn’t a good solution here. You’re clearly disappointed, and when mama aint’ happy….