When a Host Family Takes Advantage of ‘Pitching In’

by cv harquail on July 17, 2014

Readers- Here’s the email that prompted my earlier post about defining what it means to “pitch in”. Clearly, someone in this Host Family has a different interpretation of what that means.


Hi AuPairMom,

I need your help in forming an opinion for my self regarding dishwashing.

I am working with a family of 2 parents, 2 grandparents and 2 host kids.

I came in February and within a week time I picked up some family chores. I helped my hostmom cleaning up the dinner table and whiping clean the counters, box up leftovers and sweep the floor. Second week, I started to help cleaning the dishes by hand for breakfast and lunch.

I am working for an Asian-American family and they cook their noodles and rice every meal a day so pots and pans are used for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Their dishwasher never worked since I am working for this family and they only use it to stock up their chopsticks and china.

Soon enough my hostdad stopped cleaning the morning and afternoon dishwashing altogether and left it for me to clean by hand. My hostdad works from home and usually takes a nap while I clean the dishes.  

Then in my 4th week my hostmom asked me if I could take over the dinner dishwashing so she could have time to play with her girls in the evening. I told her we could see if that would work out. I didn’t say yes since I was not happy by the thought that now cleaning the dishwashing was made my full responsibility. So, over the day I spend about
45 minutes or more to clean up their dishes.

Let me be clear by saying I am not afraid to participate in this family, since I see them as my family. But I work 9-10 hours a day with a 4 year old and 1,5 year old. I notice I work more then 45 hours each week since my hostparents are really busy.

I never made a big deal out of this above. But now it is summertime, the grand parents are over which means more dishwashing to clean and a 4 year old to watch constantly the whole day. This week I went with the 4 year old a day out. I had late lunch and by dinner time I had made my 10 hours. I sat with the family for dinner, while not eating with them. And before dinner could been cleaned from the table, I walked up to my room completely exhausted. Half an hour later my hostmom came knocking on the door. She told me to go upstairs and clean up the table and dishes.

I was surprised and told her I already made my 10 hours. Then she said that doing the dishwashing is a family related duty and she never saw that as working hours.

She saw me being upset about it and she asked me if I would like to talk with her about it. I said another day. Now we scheduled a conversation together to sort it out.

But am I right to refuse doing the dishwashing of 6 people for a meal which didn’t include me? Especially while I work my 10 hours a day and even sometimes work up to 50 hours a week without any compromise?


NBHostMom July 17, 2014 at 11:32 am

To cut to the chase, yes, you’re right to refuse doing the dishwashing of 6 people for a meal which didn’t include you! Especially as you worked 10 hours already that day. You should not be working 50 hours a week, no discussion about that one.

Please let us know how the conversation goes! Based on your description, this does appear to be trending in the wrong direction. I’d recommend asking your LC to join to conversation as well.

There is the grey area of helping out / pitching in and how to count these hours. But IMHO this clearly crosses the difficult to define line.

As a gentle reminder, if you’re “on-duty”, try not to fixate on items such as HD taking a nap. Focus on your tasks, doing the best you can during these work hours.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 17, 2014 at 11:33 am

There’s a fine line between treating an AP like a member of the family, and treating her like a servant. IMO this family has crossed that line. I think this AP should decide whether she can have a meaningful conversation with the HM or HP alone, or if she needs her LCC there to reinforce the rules. (50 hours without extra pay is bad enough, but then to be expected to always do the dishes, yikes!)

When my kids were little and my AP worked 45 hours a week, I did not expect her to do “family chores.” I wanted her active and engaged with the kids. She did the breakfast and lunch dishes, but definitely not the dinner ones.

ILHostMom July 17, 2014 at 11:50 am

I can see why you may feel a little taken advantage of, but can I ask if you are doing any other household chores? Who cooks the meals? You or someone from the host family? If you are not doing any other household chores and are not expected to do the cooking, then this doesn’t sound completely unreasonable. If your host family is like our family, the reason they have an Au Pair vs. using day care is because they want to have more quality time with the children. Being expected to help clean up after 2 additional adults is a bit much, though. Is there a reason they cannot chip in? I just want to caution you on being hung up on this one infraction, because this can lead to a downward spiral of frustration. Every situation requires a level of give and take. We had an Au Pair that complained about every small schedule infraction, meanwhile she didn’t acknowledge all of the little extras we allotted her (extra time off, great vacations with the family, we paid for whatever she wanted for snacks, could have visitors stay from her host country, etc).

WestMom July 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Doing the dishes when you eat at home is a normal chore for any family member (hopefully the grandparents are chipping in?).

Doing the dishes when you did not eat at home is similar to doing the parents’ laundry. It’s not your job.

WarmStateMomma July 17, 2014 at 1:47 pm


Host Mom X July 17, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Except that it seems like this “normal” chore has become only the AP’s chore for every meal, every day per week, and now there are two additional adult family members in the house. If the whole family eats the meal, then the whole family should help to clean it (except the one who cooked the meal, if she did that all on her own!). But it does not seem like a “part of the family”-type duty that the AP is expected to hand wash all dishes for all three meals every single day, all by herself. Even if the AP isn’t expected to do any other family chores, this one chore seems a bit much. For instance, our AP’s one “part of the family” regular chore is emptying the dishwasher on days she works. That happens once a day/5 days per week. By contrast, hand-washing dishes 3x/day every day for 5 adults and two kids seems too much.

Seattle Mom July 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Agreed. It sounds borderline abusive. Especially the HM knocking on APs door to get her to do it when she’s off-duty and worked 10 hours that day. That is just so wrong on so many levels.

NJ Mama July 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm

This sounds like it’s crossing the line and I would definitely involve your LC when you talk to your Host Mom.

Yes I love it when au pairs pitch in. I love it when they’re off duty and they take time out to play or hang out with us or the kids just because. I love it when I’m cooking a holiday meal and the au pair is off but she still comes down to help set the table. That’s pitching in. What you’re describing is beyond that.

I think the rules are clear in that au pairs are supposed to do kid-related things and not ALL the family/house-related things. My au pair is responsible for cleaning the kids’ dishes when she is on duty and when she prepares the meals for the kids (typically breakfast and dinner, because my husband and I leave too early and get home too late to eat with the kids). I would never expect the au pair to clean up after me or my husband when we ate our breakfast or dinner, just like I’d be a little resentful if the au pair always left her own dishes for me to do. To me what “pitching in” means is cleaning up after yourself, helping to clean up after the kids, emptying the dishwasher when you see that the dishes are clean, taking out the trash when the can is full, and if you’re sharing a family meal, helping with the clean up. I don’t think that should mean doing the entire clean up on your own. That should not mean cleaning up after a family when you’re either off duty or when you didn’t take part in the meal. You should not have been expected to do that, and you were right to refuse.

Also, 50-hour weeks should not be a routine thing. Definitely talk to your area director!

Mimi July 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I agree that this seems like too much and I would never ask this of my AP. It’s good you have a conversation scheduled about this. I know it can be hard, but communication is important in a good HF/AP relationship. When you talk to your HM about this, be honest about how you were taken by surprise to be asked to clear a meal you did not eat.

Dish washing might be seen as a family related duty, but so are many other things you do as part of your scheduled hours and they add up fast. With extra guests in the house, it’s also taking longer and impacting your overall work hours. She needs to be clearer about what she considers your actual work vs family related duties and you both need to decide where those fall according to your agency’s policies. If you feel your HM isn’t hearing you or is dismissing what you’re saying, definitely involve your local manager (assuming you have one).

I wonder if your family is a first or second generation American family? Is there anyone here who can give us any insight into whether or not this might be a cultural thing?

WarmStateMomma July 17, 2014 at 4:12 pm

My Vietnamese exchange student and my Chinese APs have talked about the daughter-in-law being expected to “serve” the husband’s parents. Well off daughters-in-law benefit from shifting the work to household help – which the grandparents may see as the AP’s role. I’d get the LCC to intervene regardless of the cause.

exaupair July 17, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Dear OP, if I were you I’d just tell them that my duty is doing dishes after the kids have eaten and that’s it. If they continue leaving dirty dishes after 6 people for you to wash you should just leave them, and keep leaving them after few meals in the row. They will eventually run out of dishes and it will force them to have another conversation with you.

Boys Mama July 17, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Yikes! Actually I’d suggest doing exactly the opposite, exaupair. Passive Aggressive behavior is the worst answer to any problem between an AP and HF. I’m so glad you asked for a meeting, I agree with the posters here who suggest you get the LCC in on that meeting. Just skip right to the end of the problem by having someone on your side back up the rules rather than go around touchy issues for a few more weeks and then end up in a heated rematch meeting with the LCC who never understood the problem from your perspective.

I totally understand you are exhausted and are afraid of the confrontation but these people are taking advantage of you, pure and simple. Don’t let them. Clean up after the kids after you feed them and clean up after yourself when you eat and in general be helpful around the house where you have a direct impact on it’s cleanliness. Maybe suggest that you could take over a specific household chore that is more reasonable than cleaning up the kitchen three times a day for 7 people. Start the conversation when you are well rested, off duty and willing to discuss the problem openly. We always tell our APs right from the start that honest communication is the only way to have a successful year together. Bite the Bullet and talk to them about it before it’s too late. And please do involve the LCC… your host parents will be more reasonable if the LCC is there and you are more likely to get a good outcome.

exaupair July 17, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Suggesting that the AP would take over yet another chore would make things even worse I guess, or maybe I’m wrong……
I’m saying from my ow experience. Well, no-one made me clean up after 7 people, but my first HPs thought that doing my job for living in their house was not enough and figured in my off-hours I had plenty of time to do things around the house, I gently told them few times that I won’t go beyond my actual duties but it didn’t work. Obviously no-one treated me like the OP is being treated but the little things were really annoying, like for example host father kept leaving his plate and mug after breakfast for me to wash. I told him probably 3 or 4 times that he might as well wash it before going to work but it was like hitting a brick wall. One day he told me that yet again he found his mug dirty with the rest of morning coffe in it, so that time instead of telling him again that I’m not washing up after him I dumped his mug into the garbage and left a note explaining why I did that. He got himself a new mug and never left it for me to wash again.

AussiePair July 17, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Honestly I would just wash the cup and plate, does it really add that much stress to throw two more items into the sink with the other things?

Peachtree Mom July 19, 2014 at 8:44 am

I agree, how much extra work to wash a mug and plate. In our house, it seems HD is always at the bottom for extra attention, etc. because everything revolves around the host kid and then our au pair after her. Sometimes people just want to feel included and appreciated esp if they are heading off to work everyday. Washing his mug and plate is small work for the return of HD feeling like everyone cares about him also. I remember growing up I used to make Dad’s lunch every morning…he loved it. The situation above needs to be addressed with the help of the LCC

anon for this one July 17, 2014 at 8:03 pm


I’ve seen and read a lot of your responses on this forum, many of which have left me scratching my head as to why you even became an AP. Although I know you were not in the US, your attitude toward the program, here or abroad, is really disheartening and I certainly hope that I don’t ever get an AP who shares your attitude (endorsing passive aggressive behavior, throwing out HP property etc) It’s truly dissapointing and sad…

NoVA Twin Mom July 17, 2014 at 8:08 pm

I’d advise being very careful following exaupair’s lead in throwing HF possessions in the garbage to make an unrelated point. While this seems to have worked out in the end for exaupair, if this occurred in my house, it would be grounds for a rematch discussion (not necessarily rematch, but definitely a discussion).

Even if my au pair had “had it up to HERE” with anything that occurred in my house, I would be furious if she threw something away in this manner, especially as it seems it was damaged enough that HD had to replace his mug rather than just retrieve it and wash it himself. While exaupair is right that her previous actions were not getting her point across, this act would also not get her point across appropriately.

So I don’t come across as a monster, of course if something breaks accidentally, that’s a completely different story. And I do expect that my au pair will dispose of broken, too-old-to-use-anymore, dangerous, or used up items. But consciously destroying/disposing of something that still has value to make a point is not something I tolerate with my three year olds, so I certainly would not tolerate it from someone that (rightly) expects to be treated as an adult in my household.

Seattle Mom July 24, 2014 at 6:18 pm

ditto. That is immature and rude behavior that I wouldn’t put up with from an AP, my husband, or anyone. I would much rather a direct discussion.

NoVA Twin Mom July 17, 2014 at 9:46 pm

And I believe BoysMama was recommending that the OP suggest being assigned a *different* “chore”, not an additional one. Something more consistent and can always be done during work time rather than something that grows as the number of people at home increase. Maybe putting the dishes away would be comparable in this situation to everyone’s favorite “unload the dishwasher” job?

Repeataupair July 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I’m not sure how old you were when you did this but this seems so immature. I wash my host dads coffee mug a few times a week, I put away my host mom dishes in the dishwasher after I empty it if she ate when it was full, it takes 3 seconds and that’s not a big deal, throwing away something that does not belong to you just because you want to make a point is so childish….

exaupair July 18, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Ok flame out if you wish, but I didn’t really feel like explaining yet again why I do not wish to wash his mug off duty, while he’s home getting ready for work. Quite frankly he was lazy beyond belief and he would happily leave his underwear for me to iron if let that happen. He used to have APs before me who happily agreed to do absolutely in the house without batting an eye, however that was not what I wanted. I wanted to try my best working with kids, not nursing a forty-something year old life cripple, whose only duty (in his opinion) apart from his job was sitting on the sofa watching tv – not with the family, he did that on his own locking himself in the tv room.

Even his wife (worn out, sad woman in a very unfortunate marriage she couldn’t get out of by the way) said that he never needed an AP, what he needed was a slave. I did not like this house rule so I’ve made up my own rules and enforced them until I found a match that was really good for me.
At the very end of this horrid relationship the person I was sorry for the most was the HM, unlike me she couldn’t just pack her suitcase and leave.

And please don’t think I’m a terrible person, and I certainly wasn’t a terrible AP, I’m just not a pushover who will keep quiet and be grateful for such an outstanding opportunity, which was exactly what my first Host Family needed. Plus I didn’t go with an agency so I had to find another HF on my own, which combined with living with the crazies was really really exhausting.

German Au-Pair July 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Not saying expair is right here (though I do see her point) bút there is a difference between putting away a dirty dish because the HP ate while the dishwasher was full and clean and putting away sth they just dumbed on the counter instead of putting it away.
My HP were great HP in many ways but it was my biggest pet peeve that I would empty the dishwasher and clean the kitchen in the morning and they’d dumb their plates and mugs ON the empty dishwasher and expect the counter to be empty when coming home. Like you said, takes 3 seconds, so why can’t they just do it? It’s matter of respect somehow.
To be fair, they did that over the weekend, too. They’d dumb it there and put it away later so it wasn’t an intentional thing directed against me. But it wasn’t just annoying, it was also a bit counterproductive for my efforts to teach the children to put their stuff in the dishwasher after using it.

JamieH July 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I’m guessing this is partly cultural. I live in a community with a large Asian (mostly Chinese) population. In the few Chinese American families that I know here, the grandparents would never be expected to help with the dishes. The expectations of these host parents seem in line with what the parents I know would expect of a live in nanny or an older daughter. I do think that they are crossing the line for the au pair program, but I’m not sure what is fair if they are treating the au pair as they would treat a member of their family (dad and grandparents not expected to pitch in, for example).

Seattle Mom July 24, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Yeah I was kind of thinking that some of my Asian friends probably are treated like that in their own homes.. so it is sort of like being a member of the family, but not really a good AP situation.

WorkingMomX July 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I think 45 minutes a day cleaning up dishes for the whole family is too much to ask, particularly since you’re the only one doing it. If it’s a shared responsibility, it would be OK, but it sounds like that’s not the case. I would recommend speaking with your family about sharing the load here. I think it’s wonderful that you’re pitching in but I do think you’re being taken advantage of at this point.

Boys Mama July 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm

That’s so crazy. It’s always disheartening to read about APs being treated as maids! That said… I’d also like to suggest that throwing Host Family’s belongings into the garbage to prove a point could be construed as passive aggressive and not the best advice an AP could receive.

AussiePair July 17, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I think washing by hand is not a big deal, neither is washing up after maybe two meals a day (on days an AP works) and helping to clear up after dinner (say taking the plates etc. to the sink while another family member washes), I definitely think the HM crossed the line by going and telling the AP she needed to wash the dishes which weren’t made by her while she was off duty. The meeting is a start, but I doubt anything much will change unless and LCC is involved. I feel this may be a cultural thing too, I lived with a family who sounds similar to this and I was definitely treated like “the help”

CA-TXmom July 18, 2014 at 8:19 am

Wow. This situation sounds extreme. When I was young I lived in two households (divorsed patents) and at my dad & stepmother’s place they used to do that to me. They would save me all of the dishes to do by hand for 5-7 people even on days that I was at mom’s. I was pissed and couldn’t do anything about it. I feel for the Au pair on this. Currently, I cook and my Au pair sets the table or helps out. Then after dinner we both put dishes in the dishwasher and I wash the pans. If she isn’t here for dinner she doesn’t need to help. Seems fair.

TexasHM July 18, 2014 at 10:46 am

So I will be honest, we often put the dishes in the sink (AP inc) and take off because we are an active family and while I try to get to them in the am sometimes they do get left for the AP. My previous AP liked doing dishes so told me to leave them, current we haven’t talked about it. She does them, never complains and I don’t do it intentionally – there are still days where I do all of them before she comes out in the am and this past week we had family visit and they did all the dishes because we cooked so she had none but I still feel bad on the days where she comes out and its dinner dishes from all 6 of us from the night before. BUT – I would never dream of knocking on her door after a 10 hour workday and telling her to get downstairs and do them. I also tend to think that asking AP to hand wash dishes with a 4 yr old and 1 yr old all day might be too much to ask but looks like I might be the outlier there.
The addition of the grandparents and expectation that she does dishes for all meals are both over the line for me. Not that I condone APs drawing the line over this persons dish or that persons but did you get an AP to provide childcare or do dishes? I can see asking an AP to do the dishes from meal prep if you have her start work an hour before kids get home but asking her to take her personal time is nuts. This again is why when our kiddos were really little we only really asked the AP to do laundry (and we were flexible about when it got done) and kids dishes as they went along.
I guess we are lucky that we’ve never had an AP count dishes or get particular about anything like this but it goes both ways – like I said we try to treat AP as equal so if I know she’s running out the door to a class I grab her dishes and shoo her out the door. Or grab her a travel mag from a city I think she might be interested in when I am traveling on business, or get her a little something that might make her more comfortable/happy, or occasionally do her laundry (it gets mixed in with kids). I could never handle a situation where I felt like the AP was keeping score. Current AP bags up the trash – without being asked its never been mentioned! I made sure to thank her and make sure she knew I noticed her efforts.

NBHostMom July 18, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I think the difference between your situation (or possibly most of our situations) and the OP au pair’s situation is balance. Yes, sometimes our au pair gets stuck with my family’s dishes being left in the sink for her to load into the dishwasher (usually because the dishwasher was full/running at the time the dishes were created) BUT we also wash up after our au pair as she will leave dirty dishes in the sink due to the same situation. The key is balance; we’re all pitching in to help out and not keeping score as we do so. In the post, I very much read it as the au pair is expected to tidy up after the family multiple times a day without the reciprocal taking place. She’s hand scrubbing dishes after working a full day’s work, host family is happy to relax while she does so on an ongoing basis. The balance is missing.

Also, on a personal level, to empathize with the OP, I would find it frustrating if there was a dishwasher sitting right there, broken, as I hand scrubbed a sink full after sink full of dirty dishes that I didn’t create. It would get on my nerves on principal alone, especially after a long day chasing children.

NoVA Twin Mom July 18, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I’d just caution the OP here – if they’re using the dishwasher for storage at this point (she mentions that “Their dishwasher never worked since I am working for this family and they only use it to stock up their chopsticks and china”) there may be no intention of fixing the dishwasher. Some people just don’t like dishwashers. They feel that the dishes don’t get as clean in the dishwasher as if they’re hand scrubbed. And if they don’t like dishwashers, they turn the one they have into an extra cabinet – like it sounds like this family may have.

(Let me make clear that I am NOT one of these people. I love my dishwasher. But I have known people with this attitude.)

So I wouldn’t count in your calculations that the dishwasher situation will improve. Definitely talk to your host family with your LCC, but you may want to start adjusting your expectations – that the end result of this discussion and others like it might not be that the family “improves” – but rather that you find a new host family.

Seattle Mom July 24, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Well said!

WarmStateMomma July 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I would only think it’s realistic to get dishes done with a 1yo and a 4yo when they nap. So I’d expect to see post-nap dishes in the sink (assuming they cannot go in the dishwasher) at the end of the AP’s shift.

Host Mom X July 18, 2014 at 4:25 pm

We do that too, because we don’t have time in the morning before work and school to unload the dishwasher from the night before and reload with any extra dishes from the night before and with breakfast dishes. But we have told our APs explicitly that they don’t need to bother with any dishes on the counter or in the sink that are mine and HD’s (since that’s not her job); her one household “chore” is to unload the clean dishes, and part of her AP job is to wash or load in the kids’ dishes. Past APs have thrown in an extra dish or two from me or HD when they are loading in the kids’ stuff (just as we do for APs’ dishes when we are doing general kitchen cleaning up at the end of the day, or folding her sheets when we find them in the dryer, etc.). Current AP, as I posted in the next thread, never throws in a dish that isn’t clearly dirtied by a child and a child only. It irks me and HD that she never “rounds up” – but it isn’t an irk I feel I can say anything about, because this is not part of her job. (We “round up” when it comes to her, so we had just hoped she’d pick up on the dynamic and maybe do the same every once in a while. It’s not the extra ten minutes doing dishes that we care about; it’s the attitude behind it. Then again, it’s not a HUGE deal; she is otherwise a pretty good AP, and she will occasionally take out the garbage when it’s full, which is something none of our other APs have ever done! One past AP would empty her bathroom garbage when it got full INTO THE KITCHEN GARBAGE rather than taking the extra few steps out the back door and to the outside trash can! Another AP was home alone for a weekend when we went away to visit family, and when we returned home the house smelled like death because she hadn’t bothered to empty the trash can which had rotting raw meat in it from something she had cooked. She claimed she didn’t notice the smell.)

Seattle Mom July 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Oh lordy I had an AP who unloaded her bedroom garbage into the kitchen garbage and then left it there all full and it drove me CRAZY- I do think she just didn’t know any better… since then I have put it in our household manual that she must empty her garbage into the outdoor garbage, and also help by putting out the kitchen garbage if she notices that it is full (but usually DH or I do this).

Dorsi July 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm

I throw away the APs trash from the kitchen and carry her juice from the car to the house and put it in the fridge (and take the bottle out to the recycling.) I absolutely think she can put my coffee cup in with the breakfast dishes. The idea that APs shouldn’t be expected to ever touch HP dishes doesn’t hold water for me — that is part of the family work. Unless everything in the house is rigidly divided, it can be part of a balanced family relationship. I think it is just as pathologic for an AP to refuse to toss a coffee cup in the dishwasher as it is for a HF to expect an AP to do dinner dishes for a meal she didn’t participate in.

To be fair, I can’t imagine ever going to my AP after hours and expecting her to do some chores (even if they were child related). As the story was presented, the pendulum has swung way too far in one direction and the AP is right to talk this out and involve the LCC.

HRHM July 18, 2014 at 8:03 pm

I will say, I have asked my AP, “after hours” to finish a job she was supposed to do during her shift but neglected or failed to complete. (laundry left in the machines, beds still without sheets at 7pm) I’m in the position to almost always have hours left and I don’t feel bad doing this when I know that she has spent part of her “on duty” time texting or surfing while my kids play independently. With the sheets, when I asked her why she didn’t just make the beds with the ones in the closet, she exclaimed “Then I’d have to fold the ones in the dryer!” Um, yeah, I don’t feel bad asking her, at all. That was a long year. :-(

Peachtree Mom July 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

I agree esp when they are using other perks that have nothing to do with the children. Our present au pair pitches in with everything, and she puts about twice the amount of miles on her car than I put on mine. The bus picks our daughter up in front of the house.

Returning HM July 19, 2014 at 10:32 am

We had one AP who was like this, back in 2007. If I ever left a knife in the sink in the morning, it would be there waiting for me when I got home at the end of the day. She did exactly what was needed and not one thing more. It was very difficult for us, because we are extremely generous, and her stinginess (compounded by the fact that she NEVER said thank you for ANYTHING) made us less willing to give, which wasn’t a comfortable way of living. We were glad when she decided to leave early (after hosting her mom and sister for two weeks in our house, she announced that she was going home with them). I learned a lot from this experience and now call an AP on it if I see this stance of “I take care of mine and only mine” starting to happen. We had an AP last year who started out like this, and I sat her down in maybe week two and explained how things have to work….I wash her sheets when I do the laundry and she washes my knife on the occasion I leave it. I put her dishes in the dishwasher after dinner one night, and she washes my blender after I make a smoothie in the morning and then run out to work. She quickly got my point and turned out to be a very giving, generous AP who fit in nicely with us. And her generosity of spirit made me work a lot harder with her than I would have, to help her become a better AP even when she showed herself to be far less experienced with children than she had maybe represented.

I think in this AP’s case, she just didn’t understand at first what kind of give-and-take is needed because she was used to being a child, not an adult, in her own household and others looked after her but she wasn’t used to looking after others. I am very glad to have learned (especially from this site) the value of very forthright, even if uncomfortable, conversations early on before habits get set.

WestMom July 19, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Great point Returning HM. I have never had this situation happen to us yet, but new AP is arriving in a month and I’ll keep that in mind!

Host Mom X July 21, 2014 at 10:35 am

I think that this is the situation with our current AP. I do not think she is stingy of spirit; I think she is just used to Mommy taking care of EVERYTHING household related (e.g. cooking, cleaning). Also – we may have gone overboard in emphasizing that we don’t EXPECT her to clean up after us because that is not part of her job (since we had been hearing some horror stories from friends of prior AP about basically being a maid; I think we wanted to make sure our new AP understood that we did not expect that).

But current AP also has a much younger brother, and it is clear that while Mommy may have taken care of everything cleaning/cooking related, this AP was expected to step in a lot with her younger brother, since she does pitch in/”round up” when it comes to the kids, e.g. she is off-duty and I am surrounded by three screaming kids and trying to get something else done, she’ll take the baby for a bit or try to distract the older kids.

Eastcoastmom July 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Our current AP (who only has a month to go) will sneak down and eat the dinner I made after I take the kids upstairs for bed. She never takes the kitchen trash out, never makes dinner for the whole family and never cleans up the cooking dishes when my husband or I cook a meal for all of us. I’m so over it. Because of all of this we never took her on vacation with us (first time ever we haven’t taken an AP somewhere, and she’s our 7th) and none of us are all that sad she’s leaving. I plan to have an upfront discussion about all of this with our incoming AP before it goes bad again.
To the OP, I agree with all the responses that you should bring the LCC with you to the meeting. If she’s anything like ours she will set the HF straight about what they can and can’t ask of you. And right now it’s sounds like they’re asking too much.

AnotherSeattleHostMom July 20, 2014 at 8:55 pm

I actually think perfectly reasonable to have dishes be the APs “job” if that’s really her only chipping in job. AP#1 literally couldn’t boil water and expected to be fed at every meal. In that scenario….absolutely she should do all the dishes. I work 10 hour days too. I am Not making dinner AND cleaning up after while she relaxes. But…if she didn’t eat with us I wouldn’t expect her to do the dishes.

Host Mom X July 21, 2014 at 10:49 am

With the “family chores” that an AP gets, though, I wonder about proportionality.

Because if I (okay, let’s be honest, HD!) cook a meal for 6, 3 of whom (the small children) can’t help clean up in a meaningful manner, why should 1 person (the AP) always be cleaning up in total for so many more people if she joins us for a meal? I have seen APs post things to the effect of “if I’m expected to do that as ‘part of the family,’ then I’d prefer not to eat most meals with the family.” Because if she eats on her own, she just has one set of dishes to clean up. We don’t kid ourselves that our cooking is so spectacular that it isn’t easier for our AP to just cook and clean up for herself than it is to clean up ALL of our dinner dishes in exchange for the “privilege” of eating with us while our kids are screaming, making dinner unpleasant, etc…..I don’t know, I guess I am just down on family meals these days anyway because our kids are not yet at an age where they are pleasant at meal times (they are more like horrors), but we are trying to make a habit of the concept a few times a week to get them used to the tradition and etiquette of a family meal. Like I’ve posted about our family vacations – I don’t really consider these “family meals” we have much of a privilege/benefit for our AP, so I can’t think that if she joins us, cleaning up the whole meal (without any help from us) is a reasonable “part of the family” job for her. I think she can help set the table, help bus dishes, wash a pot or too, etc. – which to me is the definition of “pitching in.” But truth is – if she helps us get through these trying “family meals” by getting the 4 year old to eat her veggies, or taking the baby for a few minutes so I can shovel some food into my mouth – I am happy to tell her “please, go relax now!” when we are through.

It’s more the line-drawing of not putting in a couple of plates or forks from the sink that HD or I used for breakfast in the morning while she is doing her actual job of taking care of the kids and cleaning up their dishes during the day while I am at work that is a bit more troubling to me.

But anyway – I think that family dynamic and ages of the kids do a lot to color what we expect of our APs/what is okay to expect of our APs in terms of family chores and that sort of pitching in. It sounds like a lot of the host families on this site have a lot more traditional, typical-sounding schedules and meal customs than our family (e.g. everyone home for dinner; mom cooks dinner for everyone every night, etc.). If that were the case in my home (where I’m not home for dinner with the kids during the week, where HD cooks for the “grown-ups” some nights, but not all, etc.), I’m sure I’d have a different idea of how I’d want our AP to fit into all of that.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm

I’m in agreement with you on the dishwashing as an AP chore – although now that I have teenagers who have chores they’re expected to do around the house as members of the family, I’d be much more willing to tell the AP I expect her to pitch in as needed to (which most of them have done over the years – and quite willingly). When my APs were working 45 hours a week with a child who has special needs and requires complete care (The Camel still wears diapers and is a teenager), and an infant/toddler/preschooler – I did not expect them to pitch in after work – I expected them to bolt out the door and seek entertainment and relief as soon as possible. We were always happy to have them at the table (which almost never includes The Camel – we eat as she starts nodding off, even now), but scraping her plate and putting it in the dishwasher was enough after a full day with our little kids. Now, I think we’ll ask for more pitching in after dinner – not necessarily washing, but scraping plates, loading the dishwasher, help putting away the food – becuase we expect child #2, who is a teenager, to do more than walk away from the table.

One way to get pitch-in, for families with younger children, is to ask the AP to help train the child on the simple tasks – after all my 3 year-old could lay silverware on a table IF they are sticking around for dinner.

Host Mom X July 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I think that is a good idea for AP pitching in at meal times with small children, and that is basically what happens with our current AP, sort of organically. We’ll ask the kids to, e.g., set the table, and she’ll supervise that and really end up doing most of it, or correcting. Same with little ones bussing their dishes.

And I feel as you described when you needed 45 hours of childcare for high needs and small children – our AP works the full 45 hours nearly every week, caring for an infant all day and for two other small children after school or camp. My assumption is that she probably would prefer not to even see us at meal times after that! She probably just needs to decompress! Luckily, we don’t usually attempt family meals during the work week, so if we do eat “together,” it’ll be just us grown-ups and the AP. If we’re cooking, we let her know and ask if she’ll want some. If she’s cooking, she will sometimes do the same. Other times, we subtly let each other know that we each just want to eat in front of the tv with as little fuss as possible, and not actually have dinner together.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 21, 2014 at 9:06 pm

In our house we call those nights “Fend for yourself.” We usually drag leftovers out of the fridge, but people are free to cook for themselves, too (no one ever does).

Host Mom X July 22, 2014 at 9:45 am

We’re not even as advanced as having leftovers on those nights. Cereal and milk or peanut butter and jelly, more like it!

WarmStateMomma July 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm

My toddler has become a handful at dinnertime. Our meals are either carefully planned and pretty good, or haphazardly thrown together. Taking her chances on the food we’re eating and the toddler’s mood after a long day probably isn’t all that enticing to our AP. We wouldn’t be offended if she just wanted to do her own thing, so long as she lets us know whether to include her for dinner before we start cooking. A lot of nights, we’re only making dinner because she’s there and we feel duty-bound to offer real meals… but we’d rather just make pancakes or eat a bowl of cereal because we’re wiped out.

I generally feel the same about family vacations/outings not being great fun for an AP (especially to a crowded theme park!), but we’re headed to Hawaii in a few months with our AP and it’s the kind of destination young children and 20-somethings can both enjoy. I view it as a mix of work and play for the AP. Watching our toddler on the beach is way more fun than doing it at home, but it’s still work.

Emerald City HM July 24, 2014 at 6:18 pm

We try to be really upfront about the fact that if she wants a weeknight dinner, she’s probably going to have to cook it herself. But that’s because we can’t really predict our toddlers and I’m just not in the mood to meal plan or figure it out. Of course if we do happen to go out to eat (pretty rare, especially with two toddlers) we will invite her.

didis July 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

I would love to add up on this topic my experience.
I read many HP wrote here about duties and being part of the family and pitching in. Also HP attacking/disagreeing with some of au pairs who did stuff that were not in spirit of whole -we are happy family who shares chores- deal.

It’s respect. That is the thing that every au pair wants.
To be clear, we all know rules, and we all bend them based on our needs. Either you are parent who really needs your au pair to work few hours extra, or you are au pair who just can;t stop texting during work hours.
and it is easy to start saying how it is ok what to expect and it is ok for your au pair to pitch in in situations, because she lives there. But just because you think you give back enough for her to respect you and be willing to go extra mile, doesnt mean you do. and vice versa.

I am saying this because for two years, my HF were claiming and bragging and were absolute perfect to me. In their eyes. And they were amazing.
But all the mess they were leaving for me, dinners I made for their parties and extended family, dirty diapers they threw on floor on Friday evening that was waiting for me on Monday, it shows disrespect.
and it seems to me that many, many HP take this program as some kind of charity for au pairs. It seems to me that to many of you, we should be showing our gratitude for being accepted and matched with you?
and all we want is being treated with respect, like adult, like equal.

I want to point out and make sure that i hope no one is offended, that I am not trying to start argument nor I am bitter, childish girly.
I had great family and I was (not to be egoistic) pretty good au pair who went all the way in educating, teaching, entertaining and loving kids I took care of.

I just wish I wasn’t pushover just because I didn;t want to create problem or seem like ungrateful.
I believe this specific case is pretty clear that is wrong what’s happening. but there is so many grey areas and situations where hosts stop appreciating things au pair do out of kindness and not because it is their job, and it that moment au pair starts hating au pair thing and the only ones who are suffering here are your kids.
I wish I could explain with better English and less confusion where all this is coming from, but seeing all my friends au pairs and things they go through on daily basis ( and i am not saying hosts are not, this is just my perspective), I wish I could do more than just say to chose your au pair wisely and respect her. Not just first month while you are trying to impress her, but all time. Because if she feels like a person, not help, you have better chance at having person who genuinely cares for your kids.

Angie host mom July 22, 2014 at 2:45 am

I know there is a negative connotation to the word “help” but I really don’t know where it came from, it’s a shame. I wish more au pairs would see there role as a family helper!! Not there to do some prescribed list at prescribed hours, but to make the family run smoother for everyone.

And HFs are there to Help the AP too – fix the internet, phone, car, washing machine, computer, — pick them up when their ride has been drinking — help them navigate the medical system — help them learn to survive in a foreign country in little ways and big – try to schedule things so AP can make the baseball game she really wants to see — lots of ways to help the AP get the most out of her stay. Speak English to her so she can practice! Make sure she can travel and see the US!

I think every one of our 7 APs could have focused on stuff we did and say we were a bad HF. I know I could say all 7 were awful and get folks to believe me by telling true stories for each of what they did. BUT, all 7 of our APs have been great, and I think we are great too. We want to make it work. And we let it roll off our back when we’re irritated. Hopefully, APs do too – all signs say they do.

Here’s the thing I realized a LONG time ago. I do not want anyone around my kids who doesn’t want to be there. Nope, no way, no how. If AP is acting put upon by household requests – fine, don’t do them, but don’t expect me to clean your toilet when we’re having guests over, you’ll be doing it yourself if you want to count who does what. And I won’t be ticked off by that. But if AP is acting put upon about being with kids, time for AP to go.

OpinionatedHM July 22, 2014 at 4:11 pm

The fact that your Host Mom asked if you want to talk about it is a positive thing to me. It seems she is interested in hearing your thoughts about the dish washing and wants to know why you are upset. I hope we get a follow-up to hear how the conversation went. I’d also like to suggest to you and every other AP, don’t wait until you are so upset you can’t talk about something. If you are unhappy with how things are going, say something right away! It’s always better to talk before you are tired and emotional.
You say your HP’s are really busy. It’s possible your HM is completely unaware of how much you have been doing. I imagine that while you are cleaning the dinner dishes, she is probably putting the kids to bed or some other household chore. We are all human, and sometimes when we get busy we appreciate the clean kitchen, but don’t put much thought into how it got that way. Hopefully, you and your HM can come up with a solution that works for both of you.
As far as the general theme of being taken advantage of, in this situation, I’d only consider the AP as being taken advantage of if the HM was uninterested in the AP’s point of view and just made it a “my way or the highway” situation. It does sound like a habit has been formed where the AP is the one who is always stuck with the dishes. The AP is unhappy, the HM asked if she wanted to talk about it, this is what I call communication. Where things have broken down is that the AP waited until she was exhausted and unhappy before talking about the dishwashing rather than saying something as soon as it became a concern.
Here are some missed opportunities to discuss the topic:
1. when the HD started napping and leaving the dishes to you: maybe he thought “great, AP is doing the dishes, I can go take a nap!” and it has never occurred to him that you aren’t happy to do this; you could have spoken to the HM or HD and said that while you are happy to help with the family dishes on occasion, you would appreciate doing the dishes as a team or on alternating days, rather than being expected to do them by yourself all the time
2. when the HM asked you to clean the dishes in the evening so she could spend time with the kids: that was a great chance for you to say “right now I’m doing the breakfast and lunch dishes so HD can take a nap, if he would do the lunch dishes, I’d be happy to help with the dinner dishes so you can have more time with the kids”
3. when the grandparents showed up and you were stuck with extra dishes: after the first night, you could have asked to talk with your HM, you could have said to her that the extra guests are making the dinner dishes too big a job for one person and asked for help while they have visitors in town
Part of the AP experience is learning how to navigate life with people you don’t know well. You have an opportunity to develop great communication skills that will help you at work and in your personal life. If you think talking about difficult topics with your HP’s is tough, just wait until you have in-laws, or a demanding boss, or a manipulative co-worker. Your HP’s are not mind readers. There is no way for them to know what you are feeling unless you tell them. You also don’t know what your HP’s are thinking unless you ask!
Please let us know how this is resolved. You sound like a very conscientious person who has been very helpful and is now feeling unappreciated. I hope your HM reassures you and that the two of you find a way to make it better.

APJ July 26, 2014 at 8:20 am

I’ve got to say, for folks engaged in a cultural exchange program, y’all are flooring me with your lack of cultural sensitivity. Let’s talk about where the Au pair is from (undetermined) and what type of family she is living with (Asian American). What are the values of each with regard to family dynamics? Treating elders? What are the customs associated with meal time, independence, fairness/equity, respect, etc., in each culture? How do those differ? Where might expectations differ? How could they be resolved IN THIS SITUATION?

The fact that everyone here is weighing in on what “the rule” should be is way off base. This is not about the Au pair’s formal duties as much as it is about finding cultural compromise within the home.

As a HM from a multicultural family living in a diverse community, I would strongly recommend that OP start asking some important questions. And enter this conversation with an open mind about cultural clash, rather than some expectation that there is ONE universal rule about dish washing in America

WarmStateMomma July 26, 2014 at 5:31 pm

I disagree that the HF’s different cultural values/expectations mean they get to treat the AP like a servant.

Frankly, I’d feel put out as an AP if the grandparents moved in after the AP matched with a nuclear family. There is a reason APs hesitate to match with families who have a work-at-home parent. Having two grandparents sitting around watching you work doesn’t sound like a great situation and doesn’t sound like the situation the AP agreed to.

Chris Sherman August 12, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Hi ~ as a counselor for an au pair agency, I suggest you speak with your LCC. Many times counselors will send general emails outlining regulations that clarifies chores and hours. If that doesn’t work, your LCC can address the situation with your host family in a diplomatic manner. If they continue to break the rules, they could be asked to leave the au pair program.

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