Helping our au pairs in the grey space between what we say we’ll do and what we get done

by cv harquail on June 23, 2011

It will come as no surprise to most au pairs that most of us host parents have high expectations for ourselves that we often can’t meet.

We want to be good drivers, calm parents, regular exercisers, and people who pick up after ourselves. And we are– just not all the time (not most of us, anyway).

There are too many things that I’ve told our au pairs to do, or not to do, based on how I expect I’ll behave.201106231607.jpg

“Oh sure,” I’ll say, “Go ahead and leave my damp clothes on top of the dryer, if you need to leapfrog me in the laundry. Just let me know.” And then I’m irked when she tells me my damp clothes are on top of the dryer.

“I’ll leave pizza money on the counter,” I’ll shout as I rush to catch the train. Then, I feel guilty when she tells me she spent her own money on pizza, could I please add $15 to her pocket money?

“No, no, you don’t have to clear up my breakfast dishes, I’ll get to them.” And then I’m grumpy when I come home to a full sink.

What is our poor, well-intentioned au pair to do? Count on me to reach my own high standards, or cut me some slack? What else is s/he supposed to do — should she actually do the stuff I’ve said I’d do, but that I didn’t get to?

Sarita has the same question, from the other direction:

I have been an aupair with a French family for one month now, and really enjoy living in France and get along with the children etc. The parents are also quite caring towards me (they constantly worry if I am eating enough!) but the problem that I have at the moment is that they are very messy and don’t clean up after themselves in the kitchen. It is my responsibility to cook for the children each night (the parents eat after the children have gone to bed) and so I of course clean the kitchen and wash the dishes or load them into the dishwasher after cooking, and always leave the kitchen spotless.

However I am not ‘on duty’ in the morning, but when I get up after they have all left for work, or return after language classes when I leave before them, their dirty dishes are all still either on the table or heaped on the kitchen benches, with the dishwasher full of clean dishes. I then of course have to clean up after them, often unloading the dishwasher twice during the day so that their will be room for the dinner dishes. I don’t know if I am being petty or lazy but I honestly wouldn’t mind this if they had just said to me ‘We are rushed in the morning, so if you could clean up that would be great’ but nothing has ever been said… like an unspoken expectation and I am never thanked for doing so.

I guess the reason it bothers me is that during the interview my host mum specifically told me not to worry about being used as a house cleaner and that I would only be taking care of the childrens needs (their clothes, cleaning their rooms etc). Often in addition to breakfast dishes are the dishes from the parent’s meal the night before (saucepans and plates) still sitting on the bench.

Am I being petty and lazy? I feel like I have no choice but to clean up after them since they specifically asked me to leave the kitchen clean after I cook for the children…

any advice you can give me would be fantastic! Thanks so much, Sarita


In this specific situation, how would you advise Sarita?

More generally:

  • What happens in your house when you don’t meet your own expectations?
  • How do you guide your au pair’s response to the grey area between what you say you’ll do and what you get done?

See also:
Your Au Pair is Not A Maid

Lola and Dishe
s from thehoneybunny

DISH ETIQUETTE from passiveaggressivenotes


ScandiAuPair June 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I had a pretty similar situation (and we didn’t even have a dishwasher) and yes – sometimes it annoyed me to wash and dry dishes from last night in the morning to make room for new ones. However, I was the one being home all day so I kind of felt obligated to do the dishes even though I hadn’t been told to. For me it was just a way of being part of the family, doing stuff that wasn’t in my job description because who would want to come home to a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and dust bunnies hopping about under the sofa? ;)

My HF always remembered to say thanks and since I “went the extra mile” so did they, and I had an amazing time. My suggestion would be to talk with you HP and try to come up with a compromise of some kind (maybe wait for them to finish eating and have them run the washer with the kids’ dishes and theirs at the same time and thenyou would unload it the next morning?), or you could just let this one go since it’s not that big of a deal putting dirty dishes in and taking the clean out.

franzi June 23, 2011 at 5:53 pm

oh the ever returning issues of dinner dishes in the morning. this is an au pair life classic!
sarita, really, you are not alone with this – it happens to so many au pairs!

question is how you want to deal with it. you can quietly continue to clean up after the parents or you can bring up the issue in a professional manner. i suggest you bring up the topic because you have just started with the family and everyone is still in the process of getting adjusted to the situation. if you do not bring up the issue now it will remain this way until the end of your stay.

when you talk to them you should know if it is ok for you to do this work but would like to have some recognition (eg a thank you) or if you want to refuse to do it.

i was in the same situation. however, in my first family the emptying out of the dishwasher in the morning was specifically my task and as such i knew that this was my share of household duties. in the second family it was never discussed but the dirty dishes remained on the table/in the sink until the evening unless i moved them. eventually i decided that it is not worth being frustrated over this issue and asked the parents to at least rinse their dishes before they leave the house. this way they did half and i did the other half.

generally, i am all for the au pair doing some household chores as the grown up living in a household but i am not ok if this general help is being taken for granted. we all need a little thank you sometimes.

Pia aupair June 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I know how that feels as well.
My HF just moved into a new house a month before I arrived. I dont really know how it came to it but I ended up being the one to be cleaning/scrubbing the fridge. My HP never did but never realized either that I was the one doing it. The fridge was always clean so no need for them to take some action (I sometimes wonder how fast they realized, after I left after two years, that it is not a self cleaning fridge^^)
So what I would do is just let their stuff sit there till they come home and work around it. maybe then they see what you ve been doing and start changing it themselves. If that doesnt work please talk to them. this is just going to make you resentful and angry even though they didnt mean any harm

Calif Mom June 24, 2011 at 11:43 am

I think the “passive-aggressive” approach of leaving the dishes out on the counter is tempting, because clearly the OP is reluctant to talk to her hosts about this issue, but it’s also dangerous.

Leaving them out without an explanation is kind of a snotty thing to do; much better to discuss the problem casually before it becomes a big ugly mess (like the sinkful of dishes).

And hosts — let this be a reminder to just say THANKS! for all those little things that add up to making your life easier.

I’ve noticed that many au pairs start out eager to help in the kitchen, washing dinner dishes, etc, but as they settle in for a few weeks/months they really just want to run to their rooms and hop on skype. :-)

Any ideas how to keep that eagerness to pitch in alive without making it MANDATORY?

Taking a Computer Lunch June 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I have found that it’s not merely saying “Thanks,” but also qualifying it. “Thanks for pitching in, it made it easier for me to do…” or “The kitchen is so clean, it makes cooking dinner so much easier for me,” or “I appreciate your doing x, because…”

When APs really go the extra mile, then I add in something they enjoy eating or a small gift card for gas or Starbucks.

If my AP does little things for me (like washing the dirty tupperware lunch container I find in my backpack in the morning when I put the new one in), then I am completely willing to do them for her. It’s when I come home to my dirty dishes that I don’t want to be in charge of washing her dirty dishes too!

Former AP June 24, 2011 at 5:32 am

I find it to be a pretty common problem with the whole cleaning thing in general, I’m sure some hostparents think that “Oh but the AP is home all day she has plenty of time to unload the dishwasher, clean up the kitchen, tidy up the living room etc.
What I think eludes a lot of them is that (especially with younger children) the chore takes three times as long because you keep getting interrupted, you have to go get something, baby is climbing INTO the dishwasher.
It’s a big job to run a house, but come on we’re on the clock to take care of your kids not pick up your slack!

NOVAMom June 24, 2011 at 7:07 am

I have to say as a HM, this is rarely an issue in my house. We clean up everything after dinner and I’ve told our au pair that sometimes there may be small items that don’t get cleaned i.e. wine glass, icecream bowls, that are dirtied after we do the main wash after dinner and expect her to clean them if they are there. Likewise, if she eats dinner with us and has to run out to class, we take care of it. So we expect the same in return if/when we are in a rush. As a HP, I think you should say something to your HPs in the hopes that they will cleanup after themselves. It is obvious from your description that this is a reoccuring issue. You are not their maid and your job is to clean up after the children. Doing your HP’s dishes EVERY night is in my opinion, abusing the system for which it is not intended.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 24, 2011 at 7:12 am

While I know that American HF require their APs to do some light house cleaning, the OP is working in Europe, where it seems more common for APs to do the entire family’s house cleaning in addition to childcare duties.

However, in both cases it doesn’t matter – if you feel that your HP are taking advantage of you, you need to stand up for yourself. I wouldn’t want to come into a kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes if I were an AP, but as a HM I don’t want to come home in the evening to one either. (I do try to remember to thank my APs for cleaning up odds & ends that I do leave about.)

If you are overwhelmed by the work, then you need to work with your HP to develop a plan that is reasonable (like emptying the dishwasher and doing the dishes during the baby’s nap). I do recall several times that my AP cooked lunch for herself, friends, and all the HK – and I came home to a filthy kitchen full of pots & pans. While I encouraged my APs to be with their friends — and I believe food is meant to be eaten, I wasn’t happy to be left to clean up before I cooked dinner. Most of my APs have been fastidious, much more than I (to the point that they clean up and hide a pile of papers I intended to sort).

Remember, in general your HP are not asking you to do something they wouldn’t do themselves (and if you’re an AP in the US and working 45 hours in a 5-day week, then most likely your HP are cramming childcare, food shopping, and house cleaning into their weekends – I remember when my kids were infants, toddlers and preschoolers that 48 hours never seemed like enough).

Former Au Pair June 24, 2011 at 10:18 am

I feel sorry for you! But that’s a situation where you started doing, so now they just assume you will do it, and that’s it! I wish I knew if you’ve tried to talk to them. Have you? Although some hostparents can be very stupid, there are good chances they could understand you and start to help. Is there a risk they will be mad at you, thinking that “that’s a simple dutie, how come you mind doing it?”. Yes, there is! You have to think if it is worth it, if you are feeling diminished or is a matter of just telling them how you feel and hearing from them that they appreciate or not. (always expect the worst, unfortunatelly).
Anyway, give it a try to talk to them. I think it will show maturity, especially if you are calm and honest. I know it is hard and scary! I really do! But most of the times we thing later “wow, I should have done this before!”.

Hula Gal June 24, 2011 at 10:55 am

Former Au Pair – while I agree that not all host parents are ideal I think you could have made your point perfectly without calling some host parents “very stupid”. Please remember that this is a forum for host parents and you are a guest. You should be a little more respectful when you characterize host parents in general.

Noelle June 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Hula, thank you for reminding “Former Au Pair” of her manners. While I won’t fan the flames with namecalling girls like her, I’ll just say that this is a clear example of a au pair that never should have been an au pair.

Hula Gal June 24, 2011 at 10:51 am

My husband is in charge of cleaning the kitchen and it never gets done on a daily basis so we have dishes collecting on the countertops all the time. It annoys me but it’s his job therefore if he wants to poorly manage it than that is his choice. We just ignore them as they pile up. Our au pairs have never been compelled to clean up the dishes and we have never asked them to. If you were never explicitly told to clean the kitchen everyday than you should ask your host family for clarification. Maybe they never intended for you to do it and would have happily tolerated the mess but when you started cleaning up the dirty dishes they were thrilled and allowed you to keep doing it.

aria June 24, 2011 at 11:12 am

If they leave a pile of dirty dishes overnight and she’s left with a mess in the morning, it might hinder her work during the day, don’t you think? Maybe they use all of the pots and pans for their dinner and she’s forced to clean them to cook the kids dinner. I think that was a bit of a silly justification. :/

Calif Mom June 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Sorry, aria, but it sounds like you’re not yet a working mom! Perfection is no longer possible when you’re juggling your own needs, your husband’s, your kids’ and probably some pets, too. Last night our dishes had to sit a bit because I spent the time after dinner researching what on earth to do with the tadpoles my kids had brought home from the creek.

(Answer: it’s okay to put them in the fishtank with our tetras. Thank goodness! Or else they’d be going back to the creek today. Instead, when I left the house this morning, both kids and our au pair were jazzed up about setting up a log to track their growth over the summer. They were going to make a ruler to tape onto the tank for easy measuring (in cm and in inches! :-) ) Sometimes good parenting is about more than just keeping the dishes at bay. Sorry!)

BoysMama June 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

This stream is really stressing me out, and I think the reason is all the name calling (Host families are both “stupid” and “silly” thinkers) by Au Pairs who truly don’t understand what it’s like to raise small children, run a home and work. While I like the idea of the Au Pair programs in general, please understand that it isn’t easy to host a young woman in your home. When you have a family of your own, you won’t necessarily be totally comfortable with having someone always around to see you at your worst, and notice that you often leave a messy house behind… let alone know that she will then go out and complain about it online and to her friends. It’s a vulnerable position to put yourself in, and we do it because we want help with the madness, not judgment and attacks. I wish my home were tidier (it’s toys and laundry in my house, not so much kitchen mess) but we are doing the best we can. Please recognize that we all need to work as a team in our households, and that at night, all I can do is load and run the dishwasher, and in the morning I simply don’t have time to unload it, and my Au Pair does. It’s teamwork. We put up with annoyances in both directions, it’s something approaching “family”. I just hope to convey here to Au Pairs that the program requires give and take, and a general willingness to work together for common household goals. I am absolutely not expecting APs to be maids, but to recognize that inevitably, your host family is putting up with your imperfections as well.

aria June 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Yikes, I’m kind of surprised at the minor backlash in response to (I think) my comment. I wasn’t really talking about how easy it is to host or imperfections and being a working mom- I was just responding to Hula Gal when she said “If you were never explicitly told to clean the kitchen everyday than you should ask your host family for clarification. Maybe they never intended for you to do it and would have happily tolerated the mess[.]”

But just look at what the OP said: “…their dirty dishes are all still either on the table or heaped on the kitchen benches, with the dishwasher full of clean dishes. I then of course have to clean up after them, often unloading the dishwasher twice during the day so that their will be room for the dinner dishes.”

aria June 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm

My keyboard just went NUTS and I didn’t finish my thought. Anyway, I wasn’t trying to attack host families. I have nooo illusions of knowing what it’s like to be a working mom. I just didn’t think Hula Gal’s response was a very fair and reasonable response to the AP’s post. That’s all.

boysmama June 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm

What you are missing is that occasionally, people would rather go to sleep than do the dishes, and that doesn’t mean we are expecting the AP to do it for us. And seriously, not everyone cleans the refrigerator on a regular basis, nor expects their AP to do so.

Seasoned Host Mom June 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I admit to being that HM who intends to clean up the kitchen but doesn’t always get to it, despite feeling like I am running from 6:30 am until 10:00 pm. My current AP cleans the kitchen, and I do appreciate it, though I don’t always get a chance to tell her since I usually hit the door and am bombarded by kids immediately. Our other APs have either cleaned up our dirty stuff sometimes or not at all, which was fine with me as long as they cleaned up after themselves and the kids.

However, as the one who does most of the cooking, I don’t feel particularly guilty when I don’t get to the clean-up, as our house rule (mostly followed) is that the cook doesn’t have to clean. Additionally, I don’t think our dirty dishes hinder our AP’s ability to make lunches for the kids, as lunch is usually either sandwiches or leftovers (again from food that I cooked).

I guess the bottom line is that, if this is a problem for that AP, she shouldn’t do it. The HPs haven’t asked her to. If her NOT doing it is a problem for them, then they’ll say something. I think Hula Gal summed it up. They may not have expected it, but I am sure they are happy it’s getting done.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 24, 2011 at 8:27 pm

While in general I agree with you, I think the HP owe the AP who goes the extra mile a thank-you. Personally, I don’t think they’re treating her nicely (although we’re only getting her side of the story) and she’s chafing under their assumption that she’ll clean up.

If you can’t thank your AP in person, a text or email should suffice. There are rare days that I don’t see my AP (I’m on the bus at 5:30 am and occasionally not back before 8:00 pm). When that happens, we email each other (I rarely sit at my desk either).

Gianna June 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm

This thread causes me to realize that I really do appreciate the fact that my husband always takes out the garbage. I never tell him that I appreciate it but I do.

Newhostmom June 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I have an issue that is driving me insane with my otherwise wonderful au pair. I have posted about this before and had decided to get over it, but it’s gotten significantly worse and I don’t feel like I can last four more months without saying something. I’m posting it here because it’s one of those “expecting AP to read your mind” issues – shockingly, she has not and I think my not saying anything from the beginning has let her think nothing of it.

Anyway, we are very liberal with guests and have had lots of out of town visitors and friends. Our AP’s friend, who we like very much, frequently spends the weekend with us and our AP has friends over maybe twice a week during weekdays. Truly don’t mind.

Buti so mind that they eat our food every single time they come over now and no one ever says thank you. AP offers them anything and they act like she’s offering them food she’s paid for – they just eat whatever and don’t ever say thank you. In the beginning we encouraged our AP to have friends join us for dinner or breakfast. I think I don’t mind when guests are joining US, but now they come and make themselves dinner after we’ve already eaten. They eat our dinner leftovers or make themselves smoothies with our expensive frozen berries or finish our yogurt. And then just leave. Sometimes they drop in just to eat and then leave again.

Definitely feel taken advantage of in this regard. I know my AP isn’t being rude – she probably just thinks this is the norm and since I haven’t said anything in the two plus months this has been happening, I can’t really blame her. And really she’s great otherwise and I don’t imagine it’s costing us a ton of money.

But still – it’s one of those seemingly minor things that gets stuck in your head and drives you crazy. Can someone tell me again to just drop it or tell me if this is normal or suggest to me how I bring this up with our AP without hurting her feelings and making her think no one can ever eat a speck of food in our house again?

Taking a Computer Lunch June 28, 2011 at 6:45 am

If it’s bothering you, it will only get worse in the weeks or months before her time ends with you. Take her aside, when neither her friends or the kids are around, tell her how wonderful you think she is and how much you enjoy having her around. Then, explain that while food is meant to be eaten, but it is rude of her friends not to thank you for your hospitality. You might also point out to her, that if she finishes off something, she should let you know. You might have her shop for it, for example, if she finishes the yogurt on a Wednesday and you weren’t planning to go to the store again until Saturday. (Give her the money. If she runs out of food feeding her friends, then I would ask her to shop on her time, whereas if she runs out of food feeding the kids, I would make it part of work time.)

My 2 cents June 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm

This doesn’t sound minor to me at all. It sounds like your refrigerator and kitchen are the local diner only no one pays for anything.

I know you like your au pair and want to continue having things go smoothly, but in all seriousness, she’s aiding and abetting the abuse by continually allowing friends over and letting them raid the kitchen. There’s no reason your relationship with her should suffer because you put an end to an unreasonable situation in your own home.

Establish the ground rules you want and then communicate them to her directly. This would drive me crazy, so I’d probably tell her that her friends are no longer welcome to eat anything from your kitchen. Nothing. I wouldn’t trust your au pair or any of her friends to be able to make a distinction between what is fair game and what is not given the total lack of judgment that’s been happening here. I think it invites more problems to leave anything open for interpretation. It’s not as if your au pair friends will abandon her if you don’t pony up free access to your kitchen. They are either her friends or they are not. They can bring food in if need be.

There’s really no good reason for what’s been going on. Put an end to it today and get it off your busy plate.

Newhostmom June 28, 2011 at 7:46 am

Is buying food for all an AP’s guests and out-of-town visitors normal? I feel like the other HMs who have responded all say that it is and that I should be giving her money to shop for the items they have eaten. So maybe I’m wrong to be bothered at all? Honestly – please tell me that I’m being ridiculous if I am! :)

azmom June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

On a one-off, yes. But if it is constant, you might let her know that there are certain foods that generally you keep for the family, reminding her she is a member of the family. Something like “Yesterday when X was here, I wasn’t able to make a smoothie after I went to the gym. It really had me frustrated. I don’t mind your friends eating with us, but when they come, please make sure they stear clear of family food, like the berries, imported chocolate, etc. You’re welcome to share in it, as you’re a family member, but some food we just aren’t into sharing.” Something like this is better said face to face, but if you’re relationship isn’t like that, you might text or email it to her and then follow up in person on the weekend with something like, “I sent that email and I wanted to let you know we really do like when you have friends over, (laughing) sometimes when we look forward to certain foods and they’re not there, we get frustrated. Did you have any questions about the message I sent? I want to make sure you know you’re welcome to eat the foods, just try to keep your friends to the regular food (and give examples, cereal, toast with her special nutella you buy, etc). It opens it for discussion and since you sent the first email she’s had time to think about it so neither of you have to feel/get defensive.

newhostmom June 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Thanks azmom. It sounds like I do need to get over it a bit, so I’ll try, I really will. We don’t have that much longer anyway. I think the food expense with an AP really caught me by surprise. Our AP eats a lot more than I expected and since we eat tons of fruits and vegetables (mostly organic), it is really quite a bit of money. For example, I’ve started buying three containers of blueberries at a time because she eats an entire one for breakfast every day. In fact, I feel kind of guilty about this, but I’ve passed up buying some of the more expensive fruits lately because I know my kids and I won’t get to eat any of it.

So I think I’m already a little stressed by the food costs and then when we add in 3-5 extra meals each week that her friends are consuming (plus I’ve fed all her out-of-town visitors three meals a day for a total of four weeks this year), it is adding up. I think it bothers me mostly because it’s not eating WITH us (I am always always happy to have extra people over for dinner) and because no one ever says thank you – they just help themselves to whatever.

So I’ll come down in the morning and find two containers of Greek yogurt, two bags of frozen berries and all my bananas gone because they all made smoothies – and I’m like jeez, that was $12 right there!

Seasoned Host Mom June 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm

You should absolutely NOT feel that you have to do all of this, not even with your own AP. I agree with My 2 cents, above, that you put a stop to the friends’ eating immediately. It’s like the cluster taxi situation, in which one family’s relaxed rules on access to a car effectively means that that family’s AP becomes the driver for everyone else. You have been identified as the cluster grocery store, and everyone’s going shopping in your refrigerator.

As for your AP eating so much of your fresh fruits and veggies, I think I would say something about that too. In our house, it would be considered extremely rude for one person (me, my spouse, my kids, my AP) to eat an entire container of blueberries, for example, at one sitting. Our CC said it best to me once (when I was worried about leaving the AP without enough in the frig before a family vacation): “Do you have readily available food in your house? Yes? Well, OK, then, you are fulfilling your requirement to provide board.” In other words, you don’t have to supply culturally appropriate specialty foods, organic fruits and vegetables, or anything of the sort. I am not advocating buying separate foods for your AP, mind you, but I am saying that you would not be happy if anyone else in your house ate an entire container of blueberries by themselves for one meal. You don’t have to put up with such self-centered behavior from your AP either. Say something to her.

I feel like a bit of a spitfire this afternoon, I must say. ;-)

Melissa June 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I don’t think you need to get over it at all! It sounds to me like you are trying to somehow convince yourself that you are overreacting, and you are NOT. I think you are making it into a bigger deal and stressing over it more than you should because you are putting off addressing it with her. I myself try to avoid confrontation and often wonder if I’m overreacting, so I honestly feel your frustration, and have had several situations with our APs that I look back on and wonder why I just didn’t speak up earlier.
She is showing very poor judgment, and is probably just clueless. But you need to tell her very clearly that while you enjoy that she brings friends over (and it sounds like you are also very generous in this regard – some HFs are not, so you might want to gently point that out), she needs to be mindful that the food in the household is meant for the family. An occasional meal here and there with friends is fine, but it should not be a regular thing. I would give her a limit, like 2x/week is ok for her she and her friends to make a meal, but outside of that they need to stop at the grocery store first to pick up what they want to eat. And if she brings more than 1 or 2 friends over, then maybe only 1x/week. I know it feels very formal and strict to set a limit, but obviously she can’t do this for herself. And eating a whole carton of anything, be it blueberries, yogurt, whatever, is extremely rude, in my opinion. She’s clearly a nice person and great AP, so she is not doing it purposely, but she needs to be told. Otherwise, it will absolutely drive you crazy and probably taint how you view and deal with this issue with future APs. Just do it. You will feel so much better!

Busy Mom June 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm

I agree with what everyone has said – you don’t need to feed all your AP’s friends and you should not feel obligated to provide her her own container of blueberries. We had a similar issue with our first AP – she had out of town guests for 31 days in a 3 month period (which is another issue altogether as we felt like Grand Central Station) – and fed them while they were here. The 3rd one even told me that she really liked a particular packaged snack food, probably assuming that I’d offer her a few packages to take with her. I didn’t. I didn’t say anything and should have. The guests came during her last months with us, so I felt that it was too late to say something. By the departure of the 3rd guest, I was terrifically resentful and felt totally taken advantage of. It’s a difficult balance to be generous without getting/feeling taken advantag of.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. You say you have 2 months to go, which means you’re all in wind-down mode. She’s counting down the days she returns to her old/new life, you’re counting down the days until the new AP arrives. She’s trying to squeeze in a lot of goodbyes, and “last times” in the United States. You’re all under a lot of stress.

Want to keep it on an even keel. Figure out what you want the outcome to be. You tell her that her friends are suddenly not welcome to eat in your home and she’ll be in a snit. Honestly.

I do think to say, “We really enjoy having your friends sit our table and join us for dinner at our table. However, we’ve noticed lately that you come with your friends and eat separately from us. We don’t really want to be a place where everyone saves a few bucks on a restaurant by descending on our house when we’re not at the table. If you’d all like to join us for dinner that’s fine, please let us know in advance. Otherwise, you are free to eat what food you would like in the home, but you seem to have misunderstood my invitation to join us. Please don’t ask your friends to join you when we’re not at the table, unless you purchase the food.” That way you control what’s available to the crowd to consume.

And now, it’s time to re-write your rule book and think about how you’re going to approach the issue with AP #2, with whom you get to start fresh.

Personally, and I know I’m different from many HF (but no wealthier), I don’t begrudge nutritious food. I try to let my AP know what’s far game, what’s for everyone’s consumption, and what is for meals (I menu plan, and as a ‘vegetarian’ who occasionally eats seafood & fish, cook an enormous quantity of vegetables every week — especially in summer.

But, my advice – keep it light. You only have two months to go. She’s a wonderful AP, you don’t want to ruin a good relationship – just make her freeloading friends go away.

Newhostmom June 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Totally agree – and that’s why I haven’t said anything yet. I am not at the point where I want to totally restrict all food consumption for guests. Really, I want to say what you said here (but am afraid of how she’ll understand it in real life).

And actually, we decided against getting a second AP. Although we’ve had a model AP/HP year, the stress of keeping up our relationship was just way too much. I am not a person who does difficult situations and there were a few times this year when I watched myself say yes to something that really didn’t work for me because I was avoiding having the tough conversations. And really, this AP has been amazing in all respects, so I shudder to think how stressed I would be if I got a mediocre or even bad AP. That combined with the fact that this year was a LOT more expensive than I thought it would be (cheap child care this is not!) made us decide to go back to day are this fall.

southern HM June 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm

my jaw Dropped when I read that she eats a container of organic blueberries at one sitting. Greek yogurt, organic fruits, all being used up for smoothies for all of her friends is totally taking advantage of your generosity. She may not realize the expense, but my guess is that she and her friends know you are ‘too nice’ to say anything. I am really bad about direct confrontation, which is probably what you should do. If it were me though I would probably feel uncomfortable confronting and would just stop buying a lot of that stuff for a while and if she asks about it just make a general comment about buying what’s on sale or seasonal.

Seasoned Host Mom June 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I totally get the confrontation problem. I have a job that requires me to be confrontational, at least some of the time, so I don’t like having to do it at home. I let things slide all the time at home with our AP because I just don’t want to deal with them or realize that the thing I’m frustrated about isn’t such a big deal. Also, I’m Southern, too, maybe that explains it. :)

However, I think an indirect approach, when she is being so clearly taken advantage of, is just not sufficient. Plus, I don’t think she ought to alter her family’s eating habits because of selfishness on the part of the AP. I suspect that, if it’s not blueberries and Greek yogurt, it will be some other expensive food the HM brings home.

MommyMia June 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Agree with southern HM. And I bet they’re well aware of the cost of smoothies at local franchises – that’s why they’re indulging themselves at your expense! Along with all the other posters on this topic, it also gets to me when we’re all out together and stop for a coffee, smoothie, fro-yo, etc. and the AP always lets me treat her (yeah, she’s part of the family, but she also has more “disposable” income than I actually do, truth be told!) I just wish occasionally one of the APs would step up and say, “Oh, I’d like to treat YOU this time!” or even treat my kids occasionally without listing every single thing in the petty cash fund. I realize they don’t make a lot, but for 51 weeks we round up the weekly stipend (that’s over $200 annually) and she gets all kinds of extra perks, unofficial vacation days or blocks of time off, etc. I feel nit-picky at times, too, but money is tight and it really does all add up!

azmom June 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm

i stopped rounding up because she was being knit picky about 10 minutes extra that we asked because we both had a teleconference before her regular time. if you can’t “give” me 10 minutes when my kids are likely sleeping at the beginning of your shift, I can’t “give” you an extra $4.25 each week.

we did end up discussing the fact that since then (and one other small thing) I would be scheduling all 45 hours each week and even if I take a vacation day, it does NOT mean she’s off. She assumed one day I was taking a half day that she got it as well and gave me a big ol’ “I was going to do my homework” – um… Since that conversation she’s been a lot better about doing the small things – cleaing up their dishes from the day, laundry, etc. Soimetimes those hard conversations have to happen, even if it is hard. Ugh.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 28, 2011 at 9:53 pm

All I can say, is what until your own kids are ‘tweens. I don’t even have a teenager yet and I feel like I’m feed a one-man eating machine. Food is meant to be eaten. Personally, I feel like it’s better that nutritious food is consumed than junk food! My son just made a box of The Camel’s cereal bars (enough for 2 weeks) disappear in 3 days. My house is now denuded of chocolate thanks to him – a serious problem for me! (And organic food largely left our house years ago – thanks to him, not my AP.)

If your AP is between 18 and 21, the fact is she really IS hungry. However, you can pick and choose what nutritious foods are in your house (and chances are, she’ll eat what’s available).

Newhostmom June 28, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Thanks TACL – I really want to try to adopt your attitude about food. I don’t have a major problem with what our AP eats and I don’t plan to do anything about her massive fruit consumption. I did sign up to feed her afterall and I like her so much that I enjoy sharing delicious things with her. It’s the friends that I didn’t sign up for. I’m glad that they’re comfortable in my house and it’s wonderful to meet them all, I just wish they’d be more respectful of family food and the expense of food in general. It’s the attitude that they are entitled to come in and eat whatever that bothers me. Just as I’m about to say something, my AP does something wonderful and I am reminded that this really isn’t SUCH a big deal in the scheme of things…. Sigh…

Newhostmom June 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Just to clarify – I wish I hadn’t even said anything about what my AP eats bc seriously that is not something I’m upset about. I am not looking to restrict HER food in anyway. I get that she’s a young adult and I signed up knowing that I was feeding her for the year. Yes, she eats a lot and yes, we eat expensively anyway and I that will continue through the end of her time with us. No problem there. It’s the “freeloading friends” that are my issue. And now TACL has me back to just thinking I’ll suck it up.

Should be working June 29, 2011 at 4:34 am

NHM, please note that TaCL did not suggest you suck it up, rather she suggested a friendly-toned, limit-setting conversation that is focused around the outcome you want, i.e. no more freeloading friends, dinner guests fine, eating healthy food for yourself fine.

This is where it helps to be more of a manager and less of a family-member, because if you think of yourself as a manager on the job you (anyone) might be better able to formulate a tactful conversation rather than tying yourself/oneself up in knots as to whether to even discuss the issue.

newhostmom June 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Which is obviously what I’m doing and actually I’m kind of embarassed that I’ve made so many posts about this now rather than just talking about. She’s so great otherwise, really. I think that’s what makes this so hard. This is really a minor issue in the scheme of things, so I don’t want to bring it up and ruin everything. But I feel very taken advantage of. If just one of them would say “thanks for dinner!” or anything, I think this wouldn’t be such a big deal. Ah…grass is always greener.

Melissa June 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Since she only has two months left and you decided you are not getting another AP, I would either just talk with her or let it go and don’t spend any more time on it. Regarding TACL’s input, I agree that food is meant to be eaten (that’s why we buy it, of course!), but it is meant to be shared. In this scenario, it doesn’t sound like a case of the food otherwise going to waste, but rather the eating habits of one person (and non-household members) are at the expense of the other members of the household.

Tristatemom June 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

Dear NewHostmom,

you sound like a very generous and good HM! It is a shame that these wonderful traits are not appreciated by your AP and her friends.

Am I correct that you posted about this a short while ago, and also on DCUrbanMom? If so, this is clearly bothering you and sucking it up will be bad for your mental health.

Just from my own perspective, we became the sleepover house for our AP’s friends. Because we didn’t manage this from the beginning, it ended up APs coming and going at all hours of the night and we didn’t even know who was staying for the night. The APs behavior also became more brazen as time went on and we felt disrespected in our own home, not to mention the safety risks. Our situation got so bad that we asked our AP to leave because we felt so betrayed that we were not interested in working things out with her.

newhostmom June 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Ha – it was me that posted on DCUrbanMom. I’m not in the DC area, but I love that Nanny board for au pair advice too. That was when this first started bothering me and I needed a reality check on it. I had concluded at that time that it wasn’t such a big deal considering that she’s a great AP otherwise and decided to let it go. Since then though, it’s gotten so considerably worse, that it’s bothering me again. I really really don’t mind having her friends come over – they go right into her area to watch TV and don’t bother me a bit. So I don’t want to restrict that. But last night was literally the sixth night in a row that a friend came over around 7pm (so after we had already eaten and cleaned up) and AP fixed her friend a snack or dinner from our basics. I feel like six nights in a row of that is not just a once-in-a-while sharing with friends. I wish I had just said something from the beginning!

HRHM June 29, 2011 at 10:32 am

My angle with our APs has always been that they are free to eat ANYTHING in the house as long as it’s not marked (have to do this occasionally with special treats or purposed ingredients). BUT, if they and there friends are going to be having a dinner party or cooking for themselves, they need to stop and pick up the majority of the ingredients before hand. I don’t care if they pop a bag of popcorn, use reasonable amounts of my spices, etc. I’m talking about not cleaning out my staples (flour, sugar, butter) while baking or using my meats and veg to make themselves an elaborate meal. After all, I buy what I need to cook for my family each week, not planning to feed additional people without notice. AND if they use up something (milk, soda etc) cooking with their friends then they should replace it on their time. I barely get to the store once a week, I really shouldn’t have to make additional trips to support their social life. LOL

FormerAuPairIreland June 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I was an Au-Pair a couple of times by now and had I been in a position like your Au-pair (maybe not food, but I am sure there were other things that bothered my HFs ;) ), I would have been more than happy if I was told. It sounds like you and your Au-pair get along really well, so I am sure the last thing she wants to do is to annoy you in any way.

Just to give you an example of what I am trying to say: When I was an Au-Pair a couple of years ago I was asked to iron the kids cloth. As the parents cloth were mixed in I ironed them as well, asuming that my hostparents would tell me that I did not have to do them. They never did though, so I kept ironing their cloth as well as I did not want to bring it up. Everything else was fine and we really got along great, so I could not see a point in making a fuss about ironing (even though it *really* annoyed me ;) ).
Now I think what happend is: I ironed their cloth, they were happy about it –> no reason to complain; I never said anything –> they didn’t think I cared about it. The next Au-Pair came, complained and never had to do it ;). Thus: it was all a “big” communication problem. Had one of us brought up the topic, I am sure we would have worked out something.

Also I was thinking: Maybe your Au-Pairs friends don’t even realise that the food is bought by you and not the Au-Pair. If I was to go to another Au-Pairs house and be offered some food I would first ask if it was really ok to eat it. If the other Au-Pair kept assuring me it was fine, I would assume that it is either her food or bought for her to use. I do not think I would double check with the hostparents if I can really eat the food if the Au-Pair told me it was fine to do so. I guess I would say thank you at some point, but again, if they think it is the Au-Pair’s food why would they thank you.. so tell her what bothers you and speak with her!

Newhostmom June 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Thank you so much for this perspective, formeraupairireland. I really appreciate it. I’m happy to have an AP’s thoughts on this and it reminds me about the importance of communication in a solid relationship.

AupairAbroad June 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm

My situation is not quite like this, but similar. My family only eats one meal together, which is dinner. I’m the only adult who eats all meals at home, probably like you. Because of this, we see more of the kitchen than anyone else as the day progresses. My host mom leaves her and the kids’ breakfast dishes, and doesn’t do dinner dishes. I end up preparing my food throughout the day, and sometimes dinner, so I clean as I go along. My host dad usually helps with dinner dishes, and since I had the meal with them, I don’t mind doing dishes. I would feel differently about this as well, if my host parents made a meal I wasn’t part of, and then I was left to clean it up the next day. If they leave a big mess with a lot of dishes, it’d be worth talking to them. You shouldn’t have to do twice the work just to prepare your own meals. If the situation were different, a couple plates here and there, for example, it might be best just to do them. For a proactive solution: try talking to the parents to reach mutual expectations of kitchen use and in what condition it should be left in.

newhostmom June 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I can certainly see how dishes and clean-up would cause problems. Here’s how it works in our house and it seems like it’s gone well. I let our au pair know up front that everyone was to do their best in terms of putting dishes away and cleaning up, but that we should have an understanding that it might mean that we clean up after each other every once in a while. We agreed that especially when one of the house adults (me, my husband, or au pair) is in charge of the kids, “doing your best” might amount to not touching the dishes at all :)

I also let her know that since we usually run the dishwasher once a day after dinner (and it’s not done before bed), that she would frequently be the one to unload it in the morning (which she usually does before the kids wake up). I think letting her know this simple fact about how our household usually runs was helpful in setting expectations.

Also, if any of the house adults has friends over, they are responsible for clean-up. I am not cleaning up after her friends and I would never ask her to clean up after we have friends over either. Not fair.

And generally, if you cook or bake (again, this goes for me, my husband – not that he ever cooks or bakes! – and au pair), you are responsible for either cleaning up or making sure someone else feels ok about doing so. No fair making cookies for fun and then expecting someone else to do the clean-up just because they ate one.

And finally, if you find yourself saying “oh I don’t feel like doing this, I’ll just leave it for another house adult,” then you need to stop and clean up yourself. No one in the house is a maid.

I feel like talking about expectations on this from the beginning really worked out. And again, this goes both ways (which I think sometimes host parents forget) – if I expect my au pair to clean up after me every once in a while, I need to clean up after her and not be upset about it. I do my best to put away dishes and clean up after cooking and I expect her to do her best. It would not be fair of me to leave dishes in the sink after dinner and just go to bed thinking the au pair will do it in the morning (even if – as I always am – I am exhausted from working all day and then having the kids all night and the last thing I feel like doing is washing dishes) and then being angry at my au pair when SHE leaves dishes in the sink.

Part of being “a member of the family” is that everyone does their best to help everyone else out. That goes for everyone – no one in the house takes advantage of anyone else.

Former NOVA au pair mum July 3, 2011 at 12:22 am

We had the problem of our last (and clueless au pair) having female friends over (which we were fine with) and clearing out our fridge of dinner left overs etc so hubby and i were spending extra money on lunch next day as no left overs!
We talked to her and finally she understood and we asked her to limit food to cereal, bread etc for breakfast next morning(no cost for this) and she started getting dinner with friends propr to coming home or ordering take out.
Dishwasher depended on who was home that day.

Alex R January 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I have a very similar problem. I was hired not only to take care of the kids, but also asked to do the floors, the bathroom and maybe sometimes some laundry. So I’m completely fine doing those things. What annoys me is also the dirty dishes situation here.
I love it when my hostmom tells me after dinner that I don’t have to clean them up, that I should just relax and sometimes I just want to tell her: “If I don’t do them now, I’ll end up doing them in the morning anyways!” And really, it’s every morning, even on days that I don’t technically work, but I can’t stop myself, I live here too!
And it’s not just that. My hostmom is really good at avoiding things that she doesn’t want to do. So I ended up throwing the week old birthday cake out, I ended up getting the kitchen plus part of the house back together after a huge birthday party. My hostdad apparently doesn’t care. Sometimes he can be bothered to do some dishes but then gets distracted by the computer.
I love my HM and my HD they are amazing people, but just the fact that I end up being the maid more often than the aupair annoys the heck out of me! I don’t tell them, b/c I don’t want to end up sounding mean and stuff, but to be honest, this whole thing has me counting the days that I’ll be going home in February.

JJ Host Mom January 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm

You should definitely tell them! They likely don’t even realize that you feel this way.

Besides, if they’re not made aware, they’ll just make the next au pair unhappy as well. Believe me, you’d be doing them a favor by telling them…

Bring in the LCC for the conversation if you’re feeling weird about doing it on your own. Or worst case scenario, just tell the LCC about it and ask her to address it with them after you’re gone.

HRHM January 24, 2012 at 6:14 am

I think part of the issue may be that they (and maybe the previous AP) have a higher tolerance for dirt/chaos than you do. It may be that the pile of dishes doesn’t bother them at all and they are fine with everyone (you included) ignoring them for extended periods of time. Have you tried NOT doing them? One tactic to figure this out might be to plan a busy weekend out of the house (when you are not scheduled to work obviously) and then on Sunday afternoon, casually mention that if they don’t do the dishes, you won’t have anything to serve breakfast to the kids on. If you are pleasant about it, they may get the hint and actually do the dishes themselves, and if not, it will provide you an opening to say “hey, I don’t mind pitching in with the dishes, but I wasn’t here all weekend and it seems really unfair that I have to wash all these.”

Alex R January 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

No LCC here… I’m in Canada, and maybe you know the situation about AuPairs here =) but yeah, I know I should talk to them about it, but the exaupair lives close by and I’ve talked with her and she apparently never had problems with it, so maybe it just me being too tidy… idk!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 23, 2012 at 9:39 pm

In general, I think the issue of having to do all the dishes (either at night or in the morning) because the HF doesn’t do any of them, occurs more frequently in countries other than the US, although I’m sure there are exceptions. (I’m not counting the odd container left behind – but all of the families dishes between shifts.)

To me, it’s too much to ask an AP to wash the dinner dishes all the time. We appreciate our AP washing the dinner dishes when we both have to go out after dinner and she’s taking care of a child, but we don’t expect it. We’ve been known to leave stray lunch containers by the sink (you know, you open your lunch bag to pack your lunch and discover you hadn’t unpacked it the day before), and appreciate but don’t expect her to wash up. Likewise, if she washes up the odd container after us, we’ll do the same for her without comment.

On the other hand, if I’ve been hosting her friends all weekend or family visiting for a week, then I really appreciate the gift of dish-washing!

Alex R, if you haven’t been told that all of the dishes are your responsibility (and I understand rules are different outside the US) then it is time to have a chat.

HRHM January 24, 2012 at 6:18 am

Do they have a dishwasher or is it all manual? One way we improved the dish situation here was to make the rule that AP emptied the dishwasher every morning, then all day long, no dishes were allowed to be left in the sink, they had to be put in the dishwasher (or hand washed as needed) immediately after use. At the end of the day, I made sure it was run when we went to bed. On weekends, HD emptied it in the am (or more often than not, me! LOL) Since the dishwasher was never full of clean dishes, no one had an excuse to leave dishes in the sink.

Sleepy time January 24, 2012 at 10:23 am

At match time we explicitly say that we need her household chore to be emptying the dishwasher in the am. We hp don’t have time to empty it in the morning, and the kitchen dishes accumulate if it isn’t. We do our absolute best to make sure that it is empty sunday night ( ap doesn’t usually work weekend nights) and if I go into work late on a weekday i empty it in the morning.
As an aside, Emptying the dishwasher in the morning is a common nanny task; if we are between Au pairs we will hire a babysitter/housekeeper and explicitly ask them before hiring to clean up any dishes we left from the morning or night before. That’s with a stopgap nanny/housekeeper, though. If we are in that situation then we are struggling to get everything done.
Our kids have reached the age where they notice family roles. Our Au pairs have usually had an evening shift from afterschool to bed time. We have had Au pairs that wanted to clean up the kitchen after dinner instead of help with bath/homework/bedtime. Now we are trying to make sure the kids really participate in afterdinner clean up, because the last thing we need is to raise children that think it’s someone else’s job to clean up their dinner (even at 4 they can sweep and clean the table)

Taking a Computer Lunch January 24, 2012 at 10:53 am

My 12-year-old just renogiated a pay raise in his allowance by adding on the following chores: wiping out the fridge once a week (something I usually do while DH does the grocery shopping), and doing the dishes once a week (I figure that’s the current limit of my patience). My goal for him is that by the time he enters high school he is capable of doing laundry, cooking a basic meal without help, and cleaning up after himself. Achieving this takes a lot of patience, and I have no problems in asking the AP to supervise some of these activities now that he’s not a small child and doesn’t need to have them done for him.

Sleepy time January 24, 2012 at 10:31 am

We hope to renovate our kitchen soon. My only design request has been that its possible for multiple people to clean up or cook without tripping over each other.

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