Help Your Au Pair Evaluate Potential Playdates

by cv harquail on April 8, 2010

I firmly believe that working on your au pair relationship makes you a better parent, directly and indirectly. Any time you have to stop and reflect on your parenting principles and your priorities for your kid(s), you have the opportunity to become more mindful about what you’re up to with your family.

Here’s one of those questions that’s as much about parenting as it is about working with an au pair.

How much responsibility/freedom should we give to the AP’s for arranging playdates?


In general, I have given the option to coordinating schedules to the kids and my (great) AP, because they know what needs to be done during the week and all seems to have worked out.

My 2 kids have been having playdates with the same kids all the time. My older son (9) has a balance of playdates at our house as well as those at his established group of friends. My younger son (age 6) is more of a homebody and prefers to have his friends come to our house. Today though, a parent of a child that has come to our house a few times invited my son over to his house. The AP said “sure” and dropped my son at their house and returned home with my older son.

Reports from the playdate are very mixed … Dad (divorced) is a heavy smoker and was smoking around my son (I am an avid-anti-smoker) … my son exclaimed how smoke comes out of his nose when he breathes! My son also commented on the fact that Dad “Has his own Bar!” as if that was something super cool. When I asked what they did, he said they played a game where Dad tried to hit them with a stick while they ran away.

Perhaps I’m too protective, but I think I’ll be telling the AP that playdates with that child will be at our house in the future.

Other Moms around here suggested that I might have asked the AP to stay at the house for the first playdate. I don’t know that I would have done that myself (by 6 that seems like overkill), so feel it’s a bit of a double standard.

I’m thinking that I will discuss with the AP and not place any blame on her (she did text me about the arrangement as I had asked). I’m thinking, however, that in the future, I should be the one making arrangements for playdates with any “new” kids and “new” locations.

Activities at our house and “well established friends” are fine to continue as usual.

What does everyone else think? Thanks! OB Mom

Here’s what I think, as a place to start:

Playdates are a deceptively complex part of your Au Pair & kids’ world.

What looks like just a chance for you child to have some fun company comes with questions like:

  • Is their house safe?
  • Am I comfortable with the other family’s caregiver/ caregiver situation?
  • Do they lock their handguns in a gun safe?
  • Does my child actually enjoy the company of this child?
  • Whose turn is it to host?
  • Can I leave my child alone with these people?
  • How might I discipline/feed/comfort the other kid if that seems warranted?
  • Is anyone taking advantage of playdates to get some free baby sitting?
  • Are the playdates being scheduled for the kids’ advantage or for someone else’s?

With all these questions, I think it’s important to come up with some explicit guidelines to help your au pair make playdates that work for your child and your family. When I say guidelines, I’m not talking about rules (e.g., no playdates at the pool) so much as I’m talking about principles.

For example, you might want to give your au pair something she can say as an “easy way out” when she feels like she’s being taken advantage of my some parent who wants to dump a kid with her. ….(“My host parents think that Sam needs more downtime, so I’m scheduling fewer playdates. May I call you when he’s ready?”

Here’s what we’ve got in the sample Guidelines about playdates:

  • Take charge of arranging playdates. You can be the authority with regard to planning activities.
  • Put all playdates on the calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts.
  • Only agree to have someone come over if it makes sense and feels comfortable to you and to the children.
  • Also, only schedule playdates for days in the children don’t have other activities, and make sure that the children do their homework and their music practicing before the play begins.

What else do you recommended? How can you help your au pair make playdates that work for everyone?

When you comment, if you are an au pair please let us know so that we can appreciate your perspective.

See also: Scheduling your kid(s) week: Can the AP be in charge?
IBoy With Stick 2 from jemsweb


Anonymous April 8, 2010 at 6:31 am

This sounds unacceptable and I dont think at all that your are being over protective. Two things that sent alarms off in my head were the fact that the dad was chasing the kids around with a stick and the smoking in the house. I would say have the au pair stay with the kid on the first play date and ask her how it went/ does she have any concerns or you yourself could address your problems with the parents or visit with your child and use your own opinion.

HRHM April 8, 2010 at 8:42 am

It’s funny, because, you say yourself that you probably wouldn’t have stayed if you had been the one to take him, so you wouldn’t have found out about the stick game and the smoking until he’d gotten home either. So, I’m not sure how “that in the future, I should be the one making arrangements for playdates with any “new” kids and “new” locations.” would have helped.???

It seems to me that no matter who is making the playdates, you need to know the parents (at least the one who will be home during the playdate) and what their home is like. I’ve never had a playmates’ parents ask me before hand if we have unlocked guns or curse, or watch inappropriate TV/movies in front of our kids (unfortunately lot of parents do!)

OB Mom April 8, 2010 at 8:16 pm

I’m the original poster … Not placing that responsibility on the AP would have prevented her guilt for arranging a sub-optimal situation. I place no blame on her and don’t want her to feel like she did something wrong. (She did feel really bad when I explained the situation and immediately said “no more playdates at Johnny’s house). My guilt is that I might have sensed something was amiss and would have arranged for a short visit.

We have met the parents multiple times through cub scouts and the dad, while odd, seems reasonable. (Although, I cant’ imagine though how he would react if I asked him about guns or TV watching … he’s in his mid-late 50’s and definitely has a different parenting style than we do).

Live and learn …

Anonymous April 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

I’m actually an au pair..

Anonymous April 8, 2010 at 9:03 am

woops dont think that was directed at me sorry! :)

Anna April 8, 2010 at 10:23 am

Granted my kids are younger (6 and 4), but neither me nor my husband are OK with leaving our child alone in a playmate’s house (i.e. without an au pair present). Playdates in our world are usually occasions when au pairs get together with their kids or another parent and their kids, and no adult leaves. They are not opportunities to drop the kid off for a few hours and use the time for something else. I would not let another parent or au pair do this to my au pair either, she cannot be responsible for another family’s children.

I am not saying what happened was the fault of the au pair – she had host mom’s knowledge and consent, kids were older, and this was part of the usual routine. I am just saying that with kids, being extra conscious of safety never hurts.

OB Mom April 8, 2010 at 8:25 pm

I suspect that as your kids will age you will loosen the criteria of staying there the whole time. It’s basically what happens with birthday parties and sleep overs too. As the kids get older, fewer and fewer parents stay for B-days … and fewer and fewer parents stay for playdates. Nothing bad, just growing up.

Luckily I know that the other parents that we DO know well, never seem to treat the playdate at our house as free babysitting. Usually they WANT to reciprocate so it isn’t perceived like that. On the rare occasion where a playdate was “needed” but another parent to help them out in a scheduling crunch, they usually offer to give our AP’s extra $ as babysitting (not really allowed, I know, and usually the AP’s have refused, but it is meant as a gesture so they show that they appreciate the help).

MommyMia April 9, 2010 at 6:25 pm

I agree with you, and find the parents who do insist on staying for every birthday party when kids are older than 6 or 7 a little too overprotective. If you feel like you don’t know them well enough to leave your kids there for a couple of hours, then I would just decline the invitation! I am an older parent myself, but I really find it scary that so many kids nowdays have the “helicopter parents” hovering over them every minute, because these kids are not learning some of the life skills that will make them successful adults. (See the posting about the German-Kurdish au pair whose family wants to control her even from abroad.) Of course, I’m safety-conscious, but when kids are old enough to tell you how a playdate went, as this one did, then you listen and decide that maybe that’s a family where their child will play at your house, as someone said previously. It’s not fair to penalize the child or the friendship because of the dad’s bad choices. And I’m jealous, OB Mom, that your kids’ friends’ parents aren’t treating the playdates as free babysitting as many of our seem to do! Our au pair is so great that all the kids want to come to our house and play (I know, this is a good thing!) which seems skewed whenever I’m “on duty” and would like my kids to play at someone else’s house for a change.

Taking a computer lunch April 8, 2010 at 10:58 am

When my kids were little, our APs made playdates with AP friends who were caring for children of similar ages. I encouraged the APs in these relationships, as I think it is healthy for young children to play with other kids and not just the AP. Of course the APs were always present, because the visit served a dual purpose.

Now that we have a swimming pool (gift from Make-A-Wish for DD who has 2 potentially fatal health conditions), many APs like to bring their host children during the summer months, so our home tends to be the meeting point. Our rules state that someone has to sit on the deck next to the kids (no going into the screened-in porch and ignoring them).

My son, who is 9, has been going over to friend’s homes after school on the bus for a few years. I don’t feel a need to supervise, and generally his friends’ parents are like-minded people. He usually rides home on a schoolbus, and then his Dad or I retrieve him before dinner. We host pool parties for several of his classmates and their families from time-to-time, so we have come to know several parents. (We explicitly do this as an exercise in community-building.) I don’t feel a need to go sit in their homes while my son plays and they don’t in mine.

As kids become increasingly independent it can be hard to “let go” and say they can be unattended by a family member while they play in a friend’s house, but it’s part of the natural progression of childhood development. Unsavory as this experience might have been for you (it sounds like your son had a great time–or a least a very different time than on other playdates), at least your son is open enough to talk about it. Don’t react too harshly to his experience, or he might clam up in the future. Praise him for telling you about it. And now that you know the house is inappropriate for him, encourage your AP to host the child in your home.

Calif Mom April 11, 2010 at 2:26 pm

The non-firstborns do tend to have these playdate adventures at other peoples’ houses much younger than the firstborns do!

Our kindergartener recently rode the bus home with a friend and then we picked her up. I have never been to their house, but I’m very comfortable with these parents because I’ve had several lengthy conversations with them. I’m definitely not a helicopter parent, but you do have to sort of get your “parenting legs” under you with your first kid before you will feel comfortable with these adventures!

And you have to be ready for the kid to come home with eyes opened to how other families do things.

For us, it’s good with some families but definitely not with others. You HAVE to go to those school auctions as a working parent, because otherwise you won’t have enough casual exposure to other parents to figure out whom you’re sympatico with. It’s not like those days when you were on maternity leave and could luxuriate at the park and figure out who was crazy! ;-)

As for the original point, of whether the au pair should set these up or not, OH BOY. This is one of my most challenging issues through the years.

It depends on the au pair. At first we were very liberal in letting our super-social AP set up playdates on her own, because I did trust her to stay there the whole time (that was the rule at that age, and a totally reasonable one). But after I met one of our AP’s local friends (a nanny from the same country) and listened to her berating our AP about being super-fat (she was not!) in front of my daughter, my heart stopped. By then our kid had formed a great relationship with the friend’s charge. We tamped down those exposure a bit by having them meet at the library, but I’m sure there was a lot more going on than I knew about. Was my kid safe? Of course. Was it my ‘environment of choice’? Not so much.

Then that friend befriended our later au pairs from the same country! And our children of course are still good pals. Very sticky situation.

Nowadays, with my youngest in kindergarten, I have asked our AP to ask me before doing playdates and this is working much better for us, even though I hate logistics.

Here’s why I, a proud delegator, am happier with this:
1) It allows me to limit their exposure to kids who run amok. Whether they boss their parents or au pair around or are mean to their siblings, I pretty much know who they are and can set up activities with those kids on our turf, on our timetable.
2) It ensures that the au pair isn’t setting up playdates on afternoons when the kids are supposed to be doing something else, like working on a longer-term homeowrk project or practicing piano. And they are often just plain tired after school and need to decompress.
3) Saying no to playdates is really hard! The kids are pleading, the other mom or caregiver is assuring you that it’s just fine with them. Having this policy gives our AP a graceful ‘out’ for when she herself isn’t sure about the kids or family. Later, she and I will talk about what she has observed and we will strategize how a future playdate might be successful (we pretty much agree on which kids are obnoxious). We can arrange for it to be at the playground, for a limited time, etc. Then everyone’s needs are met, the kids don’t feel totally neglected or controlled, and the other parents aren’t offended.

I did try to have playdate arrangements be a job for our au pairs, but it has never worked out well. Our current AP specifically asked that I do it instead of her. I think it was too stressful, because she’s very conscientious and didn’t want to make a bad decision or have the kids suffer at someone else’s house.

And yes, when in doubt, have the other kid come to your house!

Anonymous April 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm

A neighbor once complained to me that my aupair who accompanied kids on a playdate to the neighbor’s house sat in a chair and read a book the whole time. I had no issue with this.
I felt it was the responsibility of my aupair to be a presence in case
my ( her ) kids wanted to come home early, had issues , etc.
It was not my intention that my aupair entertain the neighbor’s children for a couple of hours at the neighbor’s house. I was the only one who ever set up playdates for my kids. If my kids wanted to have a playdate, they asked me or called me on the spot and then I made a decision as to whether the other children and/or their parents were people we were compatible with. The neighbor who called to complain was furious with me but I did not care what she thought. I always encouraged new kids to come and play on the weekend when I was at home to supervise. I have heard stories about guns, beer, gambling on the internet, parents sleeping, the housekeeper watching televsion, the aupair talking on the phone and so forth. Not too many but they are deal breakers for me. I also feel that my aupairs should have a social life but that playdates should not be arranged to accomodate the aupair and her friends. Playdates should be with my childrens’ friends rather than the children of the aupairs’ friends.

franzi April 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

i was not allowed to arrange playdates (be they inhouse or at the other kids’ place) with kids whose parents my host parents did not know.

this is a good way to make sure you or the AP leave your kids in an environment you feel comfortable with. the smoking or drinking issue would not have been happening in this case.

Aupairgal April 8, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Ok, the smoking thing is really disgusting. I don’t understand this smoking in the house thing and I feel that if a parent feels that they must smoke, the least they could do is hide it. Anyways…….
What my HM does is if her son(he is 4) expresses interest in playing with a certain new child, than she is initially the one to call the parents. Also, if the parents by chance first ask me, I ask them to call when HM is there and discuss it with her. She is also very responsible in saying what we do at our house, and what we do not do. For example, we don’t really watch T.V. That actually tends to bring out a lot of information from the opposite host parent. After the play date was a success, then I have the liberty to set up play dates with that child and parents.

PA au pair mom April 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm

We have a list of families with whom the au pair can make play dates. If a child off the list asks for a playdate, I encourage it to be in our home or I call and speak to the parents before they are added to the list.

JJ host mom April 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm

We have a rule in our handbook for this very situation:

We hope you’ll get in touch with the community – find events that are happening that you could take them to, and meet other au pairs and nannies and arrange playdates. We’d like to meet the au pairs or adults that you’re arranging playdates with, please.

MommyMia April 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Love this solution – hope you don’t mind if we incorporate into our handbook!

JJ host mom April 10, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Go for it!

TX Mom April 13, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Does anyone have problems with their AP’s not wanting to “host” playdates? My kids are 4.5 years apart in age so I enjoy having a playdate over for one of them when I’m in charge; it reduces the sibling fights and allows each of them to do something age appropriate with me or with their friend. However, 3 of my 5 AP’s won’t “host” playdates at our house. They get overwhelmed and do not want to “be in charge” of other children (which technically, I don’t think they are supposed to be.) I can understand a sassy neighbor girl not being welcome after disrespecting the AP, but I have a hard time arranging playdates when I tell other parents, “My AP will chaperone my child, but the playdate will have to be at the park or your house…” I think most parents expect some quid pro quo with drop-off playdates and that hasn’t been the case for most of my AP’s. Curious if others have been in my shoes or if you avoid playdates with parents like me! :)

Busy Mom April 16, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Supervising playdates has always been part of our job description, as has participating in our band carpool. Neither of my au pairs (and none of my nannies) has had a problem with this, but we dscuss this up front during the interview process.

I’m shocked at the descriptions on this thread about other parents taking advantage of au pairs. Fortunately, I’ve never had that happen.

I arrange all the playdates in our house. My 2nd nanny was on the quiet side and she would not have felt comfortable calling people to ask…so it became a habit. At this point, since I’m the master scheduler, it makes much more sense for me to do it. I always ask m caregiver’s opinion of any new child we have over. Plus, my au pairs see the kids going over to other people’s houses, so should not feel taken advantage of.

Anonymous April 13, 2010 at 4:50 pm

My experience has been very similiar to yours in that most of my neighbors and the parents of my children’s classmates really think of playdates as an opportunity to free childcare. That is not to say that they do not reciprocate – they invite kids to play at their houses with a nanny or housekeeper present. I think that since so many 3/5 aupairs have taken the position of refusing to have kids over that perhaps your neighbors are taking advantage and you may not be aware of it. It seems unlikely that ALL of those friends are badly behaved, so I am wondering if the adults do things like come back later that they promised or maybe ” hit ” on your aupairs to work for them on a random or regular evening ? I am only guessing at this because I was a mother at home for a while and people did that kind of thing to me all the time. I did not want to get into arguments with my children’s friends parents but if I had been an aupair I would have tried to avoid getting into the trap. People were very tricky… they would stop me at religious services with the childen beside them and say ” Oh, Janie would like a playdate ” . Then , they would promise to return at 3 and show up at five or six with no good reason or apology. Or , I would pick kids up after school and bring them back to my house with the understanding that the parents would pick them up after work and the parents wouldn’t show up until after dinner. Or, they’d call and say ” You don’t mind, right “.
I did mind, especially if I had plans. Your children need a social life.
I would have a serious talk with the aupair and explore her reservations about playdates. Encourage her to be completely honest.
You may be shocked by what you learn. You may need to set very clear boundaries with your neighbors and parents of classmates but it is in the long term best interest of your kids. Good luck. This is tough.

TX Mom April 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

I’ve been really protective of our AP’s so they don’t get used and I don’t think that’s the issue.

There are alot of variables with the AP’s personalities, the kids’ ages/stages, friends, parents of friends, etc. but after consideration of the input from this site, there is one main difference between the the 3 AP’s who didn’t like to host the playdates and the 2 AP’s who hosted playdates. The 2 who hosted playdates have excellent command of English; the other 3 have poor English skills. I think it’s the root of the problem; not understanding me and our handbook (completely,) not understanding other parents expectations, being at a disadvantage with non-host children (because the host kids are used to the AP’s English,) limited capability to communicate with other parents to make new playdates…
Does this resonate with others?

Anonymous April 15, 2010 at 12:11 pm

This is an interesting idea worth considering but I have known German aupairs with excellent English skills who have been outraged by the poor behavior of ” friends ” and the parents of those friends. So it is a pretty complicated matter , I think, this whole business of playdates.

Taking a computer lunch April 16, 2010 at 6:50 am

Absolutely. In fact I would add, that my current AP, whose spoken English is still fairly basic although her receptive has improved enormously, talks to my son and not with him (one of our reasons for not extending with her). Even though I have told her on several occasions that if she wanted to permit my son to have a play date (he gets home at 3:15), I would pick up all responsibility for the friend when I get home at 4:00. Unlike previous APs, she has not offered. (Of course, this AP responds better to being told what to do than being offered choices.)

Because I get home from work at 4:00, I usually arrange playdates, and if I need her to provide supervision for 45 minutes I ask her if she would mind. She rarely does.

OB Mom April 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Wow, that seems weird. Isn’t arranging playdates part of the job of the AP (is it in your handbook)? That’s what a mom would do, so why not the AP? Like Tx mom, my kids actually play together better when their friends are over. Although sometimes 3 can become a “crowd”. What sometimes ends up happening is that the 2-some hang out and then the AP and the other child get some 1-on-1 time. Which they all seem to enjoy.

I do think it is important that the AP doesn’t feel like she is being taken advantage of (reciprocity is key for that). Have a conversation with her and find out where the root cause is. Do you kids act worse when they have friends over (if yes, then try different friends, somehow my kids seem to have different personalities with different kids)? Do they feel disrespected by the parents? Are they being “hit on” for outside work? Do you express your appreciation for encouraging their social network? there must be something in your situation. If there is another parent causing the discomfort, it is your responsibility to communicate with them about it, not hers.

For the times when my friends do need “emergency kid care” (e.g. can you pick Joey up after school for me b/c my meeting is running late) … my friends usually call me first to make sure it is OK and then I ask them to call the AP and ask her personally. My friends have always been very generous and actually pay them for those situations (although I don’t think the AP’s accept the $ unless it is longer than a “normal” playdate, or requires some unusual organization). My current AP always immediately follows up with questions about the other siblings that don’t even go to the same schools as ours! She’s very conscious about the concept that we all depend on each other for so many things to keep our “village” running.

KittyGirl April 13, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Wow… with the original post I think everything was correct. Kid wanted to go to playdate, went, reported on happenings, everyone realized not the best sutation. solved! Having the aupair there or mom WOULD be helicopter parenting.

I tried to arrange playdates but honestly it was too much hastle for my kids and I am thankful that my kids and aupair do it now for themselves. If something seems really odd … maybe I’ll stop it. But the worst so far is they get extra food that I dont agree with. I’m picky w/ food that my kids eat. In my neighborhood so many moms have their kids in daycare or they have like 100 activities that scheduling a playdate is like a act of god. I can’t keep up w/ the kids they like x this week and this is their schedule. Also some moms just dont want to leave their kids w/ an aupair. Because of all these constraints .. I let my aupair and kids make the decision. Also all the aupairs I know seem to say thats the way it is with their aupair friends too… Aupairs can choose.. I do see that we have more playdates w/ certain kids (that she likes) but such is life … if I were scheduling I’d do the same thing – I schedule w/ cool moms and not the ‘boring loser’ ones.

KittyGirl April 13, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Emrergency childcare. No way. My aupair is not emergency childcare for anyone, ever! That is a complete no no in my book ..

Taking a computer lunch April 14, 2010 at 8:43 am

Mine too. We have a swimming pool in our backyard, and you wouldn’t believe the people who sent their kids over to swim, supervised by my AP. I put my foot down, emailed all the neighbors and said they were welcome to supervise their children for a swim as long as they were supervised by someone 16 or older, and that our AP was not to be asked to do it. Several children stopped coming. My AP is not the neighborhood babysitter – especially when I’m paying her to watch my kids! On the other hand, having a playdate relieves some of the burden of watching my typical child, and if she wants to permit my son to have one friend over, I’m quite pleased — and usually willing to drive the child home when I get home from work.

OB Mom April 14, 2010 at 12:55 am

OK, I see that sounds really bad. There is really only 2 friends that have ever ever asked and the are truly like our family (we’ve known them for >20 years). They are the people that I tell the AP to call in case of an emergency where you can’t get in touch with me or my hubby. They have both helped her in her own “emergencies” helped her change a flat tire, jump start the car, rescue when she lost her keys, etc. It’s much more reciprocal than is sounded.

Mom23 April 14, 2010 at 9:43 am

Playdates can be a tricky issue.

We sometimes arrange play dates and sometimes our au pair arranges them. We have had situations where the au pair has told us that there is a particular child that she does not like having over and we have respected her wishes not to have to manage that child. It makes it more difficult since we have to load up those playdates on the weekend, but I absolutely feel that the au pair should not take on a diffult child.

We had an incident one time where school was canceled for the day due to a building issue. At the time my oldest and my au pair were not in a happy place so I invited a friend of his over for a playdate. The other mother was supposed to pick both boys up at 2 and take them swimming. Evidently, the other mother never did. The au pair was very upset, and felt she had been used (and rightly so) but never told me that she was upset until she left. I think au pairs really need to communicate their concerns about playdates to their host families. Had I known about it at the time, I would have addressed it with the other mom.

Anonymous April 14, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I like the idea of having a list of people my aupair can call on if she has
an emergency and needs some help. I would , of course, think that an aupair would reciprocate and help out in an emergency , too, as part of the family. But I am very protective about the other people who ask
if my aupair can ” help them out”. No, she cannot.

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