Host Mom Advice Wanted: Allow Au Pair to use personal computer while on duty?

by cv harquail on October 22, 2008

Hi Host Moms- feet up on couch pretty pillows

We’ve gotten a request for advice, from KT_VA:

We have an au pair, who takes care of our 6 month old. Today I came home to find my daughter sleep upstairs, and the au pair on the computer instant messaging her friends, with the baby monitor off.

20 minutes later, I heard my daughter wake up and start crying. I waited to see if the au pair would react and when she did not, went and told her to never sit with the baby monitor off.

I’m thinking about banning her computer usage during work hours, but is that going too far? My daughter sleeps a fair amount during the day, leaving the au pair without any real duties per se…

But then again, she is on duty…

KT_Va, I think that you have two issues going on here…

(1) Your au pair was not putting your daughter’s needs (and her own responsibilities) ahead of her own personal things, and

(2) she was engaged in instant messaging, etc. on the computer.

IMHO, the real issue is #1– not only was your au pair not paying attention to the baby, but also she had the baby monitor off– so there was no way she would have known if/ when your daughter needed attention.

I think that you were smart to wait and see whether the au pair would hear the baby (without the monitor) or whether she would get up and go to the room to check on the baby directly. By waiting, you were able to confirm that she was missing your baby’s cries and possibly the baby’s needs. Also, you were able to give your au pair some quick, accurate feedback to show her that she was indeed missing something important. And, you were able to show her exactly what was wrong (monitor was off) and tell her what was needed (monitor on). As far as giving her the important message and giving her direct and actionable feedback, your ‘wait and listen’ strategy was effective.   

Some might think that you were sneaky and ‘waiting for her to fail’ or to ‘catch her in the act’. However, it is more effective to correct someone right after something like this has gone wrong, when all the evidence is there. If you were to bring it up more abstractly in a weekly meeting, it might feel just another correction, when in fact it’s about your au pair’s primary role– watching the baby!

Now, your au pair could have been doing any number of personal things – showering, napping, reading or painting her toenails – with the monitor off and with her attention on her own stuff and not on  the baby. So it’s not as though the computer itself is the problem. It’s the symptom.

The "problem" is– what’s sensible to ask an au pair to do when the child is asleep (or occupied in a play date, or having her piano lesson) or doing anything else where direct, constant au pair attention is too much. I have gone back and forth on this– especially as my girls have gotten old enough to entertain themselves, they don’t need an au pair sitting in the playroom watching them and their American Girl dolls. But at the same time, I don’t want the au pair in her room on the 3rd floor, either.

So, often I try to find some kind of ‘kid work’ that she can do that is easy to interrupt when she needs to check the girls, and that is not so mentally absorbing that she forgets all about the girls. Sometimes I ask our au pair to do the laundry and bring it into the playroom where the girls are when it’s time to fold clothes. I’ve also suggested that she do some ironing (hers or theirs) in the laundry room next to the playroom– within earshot. Or, if she’s upstairs in the kitchen cooking their supper, I ask her just to listen from the top of the stairs every fgew minutes and maybe go downstairs every 20 mins or so (just often enough that she can norive and intervene if they are squabbling). [[ But who knows if she actually does this– since, truth be told, i don’t always pay that close attention when I’m ‘on duty’. Then again, it’s her job to mind them first, while it’s my job to run the whole world our home, etc. ]]

I have also asked our au pairs to do the girls laundry when the girls are sleeping or napping and the au pair is on duty, to read parenting/childcare articles and chapters in books, and to reorganize the art supplies too.

But, there is still time when she has nothing pressing to do for the girls– and then what? How much do you have to remind any childcare provider that there job #1 is keeping an eye on the child/ren?

Your Thoughts, Moms?


CV October 23, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Moms- Here is an exchange of advice on the same topic, found on a bulletin board:

we have our 1st au pair. We are in month one so still trying to set boundaries, figure out how fast and loose this one is, if you KWIM. Anyway, she works essentially PT because my tots go to preschool a few days a week. So, we expect her to work every other weekend on Sunday, which I can already tell she’s not happy about but that’s our deal. Well, she will disappear during their naps and other times when DH or I may be playing with them. I mean disappear for hours. I feel like she shouldn’t be doing this, and am starting to resent her not thinking about the fact that maybe she should be sticking around on paid time to help say, clean up after kids, maybe do a load of their laundry. Am I wrong? Have you had this? How do you deal with it? I feel really weird going to her room and saying “hey kids are up, get your a$$ down here!” or “hey, I know kids are asleep, but we could use some help picking up toys, unloading dishwasher”.

Have you had a talk with her about her responsibilities? Many au pairs think that when the kids are in their care, they’re “on” but when kids are away/asleep then they have downtime too. Maybe she doesn’t know you want her to clean up/do laundry, etc. You need to tell her.
Okay, thanks. It just seems so obvious to me that you don’t just go disappearing into your room while on the clock, but you’re right, it looks like I need to be direct which I hate doing because it can seem so rude.
o Just talk with her nicely about it. When I was a live-in nanny for a few months when dc’s were napping I was allowed to rest- usually ate my lunch at this time – but I also cleaned up a bit first – i.e., cleaned up dcs lunch, any toys that were out, etc.

+Yeah, that’s our rule too, so I probably created part of the problem. I’ll have to remind her that nap time is also the time I expect kiddie chores to get done if they need doing. If not, go do what you want within earshot. Sound reasonable?
Yes, absolutely. Just be nice about it – remember she is new, young and in a foreign country – if you’re the type, offer to be there if she needs a friend to talk to.

np: this sounds like good advice. Could you come up with a a basic list of what you would like to see done before she absents herself?

# That’s an idea — of course the list is ever changing! It’s just so icky to have to “manage” the au pair so early in our relationship with stuff that seems to me so obvious.

*Of course it’s obvious to you, but she’s young and from a different culture

np again: keep it basic but not specific. “1. Make sure kids stuff is clean and organized.” leaves room for toys and crafts and all the rest. Make the list, read it really critically, then give it to a few others to poke holes. Then next time she has an issue, ask her if a list will help. She’ll say yes and BAM!
*NP: No live in but FT nanny and I made a list of responsibilites when hiring her. It is important so you both are clear on what is expected. Write down things you want done daily/weekly, then sit down with au pair.

# Where is she from? My au pair doesn’t clean, or do laundry it is in her contract, my last one helped a bit more, but this one follows the rules to a T. She gets weekends off and no she doesn’t disappear. I would doc that from her weekend time off if so.

Angie October 31, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Our au pair has been with us for 2 1/2 months now and I find that giving her a “weekly duties” list along with her weekly schedule (in basically a “see spot run” format) works better than me trying to continually verbalize my needs. I am a stay-at-home mother of 4 under 4, but two attend preschool three days a week, so with my 4 month old twins sleeping a lot during the day, I tend to try to run all my errands and book outside appointments while my boys are at school.
I give our au pair a list of M/W/F duties to occupy her “on the clock” time while the girls are napping throughout the day. I find this makes her more productive and doesn’t tempt her to go in her room and IM on the computer or Skype w/friends & family, or sit and watch t.v. all day. Having her do the children’s laundry, clean the playroom and the children’s bedrooms seem to keep her busy.
It’s a little more work for me to put together each week, but I find it helps make the week run a bit smoother!

Tiff November 2, 2008 at 6:38 am

I am having the same problem here. My aupair ( just been here for 4 weeks) does not or could not differentiate the differnce between aupair and babysitter.
I have a list of duty for her daily but she does not care much from the list. She does not call and ask if she does not understand the task. Her response to my list is “I don’t know” –
Speaking of computer use, I built a laptop for my aupair to use exclusively. However, I set the access time that allows her to access internet in off hours only. That seems fair.

Dawn November 5, 2008 at 8:23 pm

I guess I have a bit of a different “philosophy” when it comes to our au pair and her additional (non-childcare) duties. She has a list of the additional duties that are expected of her (kids’ laundry, cleaning playroom, etc.), and as long as those things are done on a regular basis, I don’t really care if she does them during her “on duty” time or her “off duty” time. She happens to prefer to do those things in the evenings when she is NOT on kid-duty. So when my 2-year-old naps, she often spends time on the computer or on the phone with friends. That’s fine with me — as I said, I don’t care when she does her additional tasks as long as she does them. (And on weekends when I’m “on duty” I often use my daughter’s naptime as a chance to catch up on email, etc., so why shouldn’t the au pair?)

I do think that as the main blog post suggests, the bigger issue is if the au pair doesn’t have the monitor on and/or doesn’t drop what she’s doing when the baby wakes up.

Comments on this entry are closed.