When Host Parents Reserve Treats For Themselves

by cv harquail on May 19, 2014

How do you communicate to your au pair that something in your home is ‘off limits’ to them, even though you host parents enjoy it liberally?

knivesThings like hot tubs, wine, the ‘nice’ car, the expensive balsamic vinegar, or a favorite coffee mug can become a source of tension, when these things are purchased or reserved for the host parents as a treat to themselves.

Au pairs may look at these items and assume that they are available for any adult’s use, and host parents may have trouble explaining why an item is only for the parents themselves.

3txmom brought up the specific example of the Keurig coffee maker in her home.

“We see the Keurig as a convenience luxury, and we don’t offer it the the Au pairs to use. We do have a regular coffee pot and coffee they are welcome to use.”

The Keurig might be an easier one, since you could suggest that the Au Pair buy his or her own pods/cups and let them use the machine itself. But with other items, you actually have to explain not only the ‘rule’ but also the principle behind it.

That’s meant I’ve found myself saying:

“Don’t use the two sharp knives with red dots on the handle. They are the fancy knives I bought for myself so that I always have a super-sharp knife for paring and carving. Most people find that the regular chef’s knives we have work fine, so use those when you cook.”

Honestly, sometimes I’ve felt uncomfortable having to sort out what’s ‘good enough’ for an au pair, or child, or other person in my house, versus what’s a luxury that I don’t want to share.

How about you?
What do you say, and how do you feel, about reserving luxuries just for yourselves?



See also:

Au Pair Advice: She’s using *my* coffee mug!


Repeataupair May 19, 2014 at 10:22 am

As an au pair I don’t see the big deal, if you were to tell me I bought this to use myself, please use something else. I mean this also happens this other way, if I bought some food and left some in the fridge or on the shelf they will not touch it usually although I would be fine with it, I just tell them usually, I have this in the fridge, if you want to try some you can…

My previous host family the mom loved chocolate and had some nice one and she told me that the things in that drawer were for her to use. I don’t take it personnaly, I understand, that’s not really a big deal.

NoVA Twin Mom May 19, 2014 at 10:25 am

We don’t have “luxuries” that we hold back from our au pairs, but I like the suggestions from a couple of other places around this site. First, showing the “special” item off in the initial house tour and joking about how “crazy” HD goes when someone else uses it, like in the linked “mug” thread. My husband and I do have a few quirks, and this is how I “train” our au pairs to handle them.

But honestly, if there’s something I really don’t want an au pair to use, I keep it in our bedroom. Which means there might be some strange things stored there, but I figure it’s easier not to have something I don’t want to share – or have used yet – in plain sight. The only example of this I can come up with at the moment is the one “emergency” can of Coke I have stashed there, but it doesn’t seem fair to “tease” anyone with something they shouldn’t use. (Let me clarify after some of the reaction to our last discussion – our au pairs are welcome to eat/drink anything in our house. My only request is that they not take the LAST Coke without letting me know so I can get more. This came about after one afternoon when I had just stocked the fridge with Coke, so I knew we had most of a 12 pack left – then our au pair went to class for the evening. I knew she took snacks to class, which was great, but unless she drank 8 cokes in two hours, she must have brought some for her friends. Which also would have been fine… had she told me. My frustration was waking up the next morning to NO morning Coke! Hence the “emergency” Coke can stashed in my sock drawer.)

But I think the flip side is that if you’re going to have certain items in plain sight but off limits, you have to give the au pair the opportunity to do the same. Some people talk about a “special shelf” in the kitchen/pantry where everyone can keep their own food, for example. As long as the reasoning is explained and the au pair also gets her own shelf that is equally respected, this seems reasonable.

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

We don’t usually love the same treats as our APs, so they aren’t interested in my wine, chocolates, coffee, etc. I may start writing the AP’s name on my cookies so HD stops scarfing them down, though!

We don’t let them drive the newer car because they don’t drive like we do and they don’t fully realize the ramifications of an accident.

HRHM May 19, 2014 at 1:44 pm

This actually brings a good point to the fore, that I will soon have to deal with for the first time. Historically, we have had under-21 APs except for AP1 who was Muslim. I’m not a big drinker but there is always wine, beer and spirits in the house. I don’t feel that they should be community property. New AP coming in July is 26. How do most HPs deal with alcohol? My inclination is to tell her that if she wants to drink, she needs to buy her own. Although, certainly if we open a bottle at dinner (a rare-ish event) I would probably offer her a glass.


WestMom May 19, 2014 at 1:55 pm

We have this in our family guide, since DH is a bit of a mixologist and I maintain a small but interesting cellar. We will offer AP a glass of wine if we open a bottle at dinner, but if she wants something at another time, or to bring to an event, she buys it herself.

But honestly, our APs seldom accept a glass of wine or a beer, and I have never seen any buying their own.

Returning HM May 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm

We offer our AP (21) wine with dinner when we’re drinking it, and occasionally he will drink a glass. We have also offered him a beer or two when we have friends over and he is hanging out with us, and again, he has accepted on occasion. It never occurred to me to spell out to this AP or any other not to help themselves to our beer or wine or other spirits; I am sure no one ever has and would be surprised if anyone even thought of doing so. When our AP had a bunch of friends visiting last weekend, they bought their own (cheap) beer and stored it in our wine fridge and drank that, with nothing of ours touched. Likewise for previous APs (though I will say that the female APs didn’t seem to drink at home the way the guys do).

Host Mom in the City May 19, 2014 at 3:29 pm

We have this in our handbook. Alcohol is on our au pairs. We do actually have a glass of wine fairly often and have offered some to our au pairs if we have one during a family dinner, but they have never accepted. I would advise au pairs to assume that alcohol was off-limits, even if the host parents drink it frequently, unless they explicitly offer at that particular time.

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Our APs are over 21. They almost always turns us down when we offer a drink, but we’d offer it to any adult dining with us. Part of the family and all.

Host Mom in the City May 19, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Yes, like I said, we offer it when we’re dining together (just as we would any adult), but otherwise would expect our au pair to pay for her own alcohol.

NJ Mama May 19, 2014 at 3:48 pm

I think this is the kind of thing you address after you’ve had a bad experience. My first au pair was quite a partier, and she would often be too hungover to wake up on time. Before we rematched — but after her first bad hangover — she asked if she could keep beer in the house. I said no — by then I didn’t have a whole lot of faith that she would be able to keep herself from drinking when she was on duty, and my kids were quite young at the time.

After that experience I added a “no drinking in the house” rule. Although I like to drink wine on occasion my H doesn’t drink at all, so there’s not a ton of alcohol in our house anyway. I have offered wine to au pairs on occasion, but I think the only time they have accepted is when we were all out to dinner. I guess I have learned to steer clear of the big drinkers after that first one — I have prospective au pairs read our hand book before we match, so if there were ever any issues with it I would (hopefully) know ahead of time. But none have ever questioned the rule.

exaupair May 21, 2014 at 3:30 am

That’s a reasonable rule, but on the other hand within this rule you actually “force” the AP to spend more – beer bought in a bulk in the local shop will always be at least half the price of a pint down the pub.
I think I’m one of the big drinkers most HPs would avoid :-)

anonforthisone May 21, 2014 at 10:46 am

That is actually by design in many cases. I would rather alcohol be more expensive so that she’s less inclined to overindulge. Just as my AP car is a gas-guzzler so that she is less inclined to be the AP taxi or put tons of miles on it in her free time… Sorry if the APs think that its wrong to manipulate that way, but as stated above, once you have a BAD experience with one AP, it colors how you handle all your future ones. If you don’t like your HPs methods/rules, chances are you can blame it on a past AP who ruined it for you.

BroAuPair May 20, 2014 at 10:24 pm

My Host mother is always offering me drinks, like almost every day during dinner but I don`t drink at all hahaha but she said I should starting drinking because I am a man hahaha, that`s kinda funny.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 20, 2014 at 9:37 am

Most of our au pairs have been tee-totalers. Those who drank rarely chose to do so with us, and I get that. They didn’t want to stay at home, relax and have a drink. They wanted to socialize with friends. I don’t drink and drive and make it clear to my APs that I expect that drunk-driviing will not be an issue. I do tell them that bartenders will serve free non-alcoholic drinks to people who identify themselves as designated drivers – and several have taken advantage of that.

A few more extroverted au pairs who drank have sometimes hosted parties – the empties that were in the recycling bins were sweet drink that I wouldn’t chose to consume. Only one AP ever caused me to draw a line on the liquor – the rest could have polished it off and I wouldn’t have cared (not that they did). It turned out to be a non-issue. There was no alcohol involved in the one major accident an AP caused. We’ve never had to worry about vomit in the carpet, or any atricious stains. Only three of our APs have been under-age while they were living with us – one took advantage of the fact that the dates in her German driver’s license were reversed to Americans, another bought a fake ID (I assume), and I assume the 3rd drank in the homes of friends.

American Host Mom in Europe May 20, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Drinking age is lower where we live (18), and all my au pairs have been over that. Some didn’t drink, so no issue. HD and I drink wine (or similar) with dinner at the weekends, and always offer our APs to join us when they are dining with us — and assuming they won’t be going out with the car that evening. Most of them have a glass of wine with us at dinner. We have a well-stocked (and locked) wine cellar, but don’t keep much else in the house (sometimes a bottle of whisky), and I can’t even envision a scenario where one of our APs would take any of our alcohol. I just looked, and I don’t even mention it in our employment agreement or Handbook. So far, if they’ve wanted wine or beer, they’ve bought it themselves, and occasionally I’ve seen a bottle in the laundry room fridge (closer to the AP’s room), but never been an issue. I guess I’ll hope it stays that way!

hOstCDmom May 19, 2014 at 11:27 am

My bedroom or my office are good places for treats I don’t want to share (with kids or AP!). Then I can easily say “everything in the kitchen, fridge, freezer and cabinets is available for you AP”. If I mark something for dinner for an upcoming night (and fwiw that dinner includes AP!) I think that is fair, and in any case it is frequently probably not a food an AP would just help herself to (raw ckn breasts, makings of a sauce; collection if items to make specified dish etc.)

Emerald City HM May 19, 2014 at 11:38 am

We have a few things that HD (mostly) doesn’t want to get broken. He’s more attached to some items than I am. Sometimes I wonder how museum-esque his house was growing up. We mostly keep these things out of easy reach, so that it’s also not an easy grab for company or children.

His car is also “his car”. Not that it’s really anything special anymore, but I frankly don’t like to drive it, it has a terrible turning radius and huge blind spots. My car is the only one appropriate for the car seats, which means I’m the one that has to give up my car nearly every weekday. Which addmittedly is causing me to become a touch resentful over time, but I am aware I need to keep that in check.

As far as other things go. I do get really annoyed when the au pairs take the last of something and don’t tell me (a brand of granola bars I like comes to mind for the most recent item). We have a shelf for our au pairs, and we have a shelf for the girls, but we don’t typically have shelves for the parents, so I accept that most everything is up for grabs, but I would like to know. I think it’s the mindset that I thought I had something that I really wanted and then it’s not there for me to eat.

If we had a Keurig, I would say that she can buy her own cups, or at the very least buy one of those refillable ones.

Emerald City HM May 27, 2014 at 6:48 pm

I now have another to add to my list. My nice, fluffy, white bathroom towels. We buy each of our au pairs two towels of their very own at the beginning of the year and have an abundance of old towels (colored) that can be used by guests and au pairs alike.

I have some white towels that I like to use after I take a bath and I noticed that our au pair was using one. I didn’t really think it was a big deal, but now one of them is blue/gray… Sigh.

Does anyone know how to get color bleed on something that has already been through a dryer cycle out?

Taking a Computer Lunch May 27, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Time. And bleach. I had an AP who washed brand new dark blue jeans with The Camel’s bright yellow towels because a) she just couldn’t wait to wear them and b) she had never done a load of laundry at home so she didn’t know the consequences. Over time the towels have become less grungy green, but they’re not going to be bright yellow again. (No, I didn’t have her buy news ones – but I made it clear she couldn’t afford to replace them.) After that my interview questions have included “What chores do you do at home?” Not looking for another princess!

NoVA Twin Mom May 28, 2014 at 8:31 am

Not sure if you were serious, but when I’ve had this problem in the past I used a Rit or Carbona (both make it) color run remover. The Rit is available on Amazon as an add on item, otherwise in a craft store by the tie dye stuff. Both smell AWFUL but I managed to get “bled” tie dye off a favorite shirt once, and since the towels were white to begin with it might be worth a try. :)

exaupair May 28, 2014 at 8:46 am

How about coloring the towels? Unless you only want white, you could buy a fabric dye, they come in variety of colors and in form of a powder, put the dye and your towels in a pot, boil the water and stir, you kind of would have to “cook” the towels. When you’re done they would look pretty good and would have new nice color.

Emerald City HM May 28, 2014 at 9:48 am

I’ve dyed items before for my girls halloween costumes. It’s a pain in the rear, takes a lot of time, and has the potential to make a huge mess in my kitchen. While this is an out of the box idea, I don’t have the bandwith or desire to do this.

Emerald City HM May 28, 2014 at 9:46 am

I was actually serious, depending on the trouble/cost. I might look into that. I can probably do an add on for our next subscribe and save order.

Old China Hand May 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm

We hide the special dark chocolate that my husband and I eat for dessert sometimes. Our AP will eat chocolate or fancy packaged things if left in plain sight. We have never asked her not to, we just assumed (incorrectly) that if it was something really unusual, it could be a present. So we hide things we want to keep for ourselves. We have twice had instances where she ate a lot or all of something that was special to the owner but neither was that big a deal (once was a soy and dairy free energy bar for me when my son was nursing and had (has) milk soy protein intolerance, the other was chocolate my mother in law gave my husband for a present). Generally she doesn’t eat packaged food, though, other than desserts, and so our expensive energy food is safe. That is important to us since we are both endurance athletes and kind of need the stuff around for races. Our AP runs long distances too (21 miles by accident on Saturday, for example), but she doesn’t take food/drink with her. We help her with recovery when things like Saturday’s adventure happen. Normally she does things that take under 2 hours, so she isn’t really needing to take energy food with her.

In short – I hide things basically in plain sight in the pantry when I need to, but pretty much the only things off limits to our AP are some special food things. We teach her the rules of using other things (like don’t cook with the wooden salad tongs or use the wooden salad bowl as a mixing bowl) but don’t restrict her use beyond what we ourselves are restricted to.

WestMom May 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Ah, energy bars! I keep mine in my room with my workout stuff, so it hasn’t been a problem yet. But I have had a problem with water bottles of all things! I always include a nice re-fillable water bottle in our welcome basket (think Sigg or Clean Kanteen). My thinking is that AP can bring it on her day trips to the city, or to the gym. I am a distance athlete too (albeit very amateur…), so I have many bottles for many purposes (soft for biking, large metal to bring ice to the track, etc.). A few years ago, AP started dieting and working out every day and started using my bottles which really irked me. (She had left the nice bottle I gave her in the backseat of a friend’s car and didn’t bother to claim it back for months…) Sometimes she would even lend my bottles to her friends. As I would get ready to leave for training, I would open the cabinet and find that bottles were missing, or I wouldn’t be sure if they were properly cleaned (she would only rinse the top). I gave her a couple of weeks leeway on that one (‘Will you be seeing Jane tonight? Can you ask her to bring your bottle?’), and at some point I just had to tell her she could not use my bottles anymore…

The minivan is not used by AP anymore. Although we have only had experienced drivers, they all need some time to get used the size of the minivan. 2 APs had minor fender benders before we realized that the cost of repairs was a lot greater than denting our little compact car. So since then, AP drives ‘my’ cute little car and I go to work with the silly minivan…

Most everything in our house is up for grabs though, although I expect basic common sense and ask that if you are not sure if you can use something, just ask…

Old China Hand May 20, 2014 at 9:50 am

We don’t have a water bottle disappearing issue… the bike bottles are too weird (although my son loves them). We have had to chase down our favorite travel coffee mugs that she was using for tea. After she burned herself fairly badly with a thermos mixup a month ago (I gave her a nice thermos to use with the wrong lid and she tried to drink straight out of it not realizing it was much better than thermoses in China and ended up with boiling water down her front and a trip to the ER), she has been using, with my permission, my Chinese tea thermos. It is exactly what she expects for a water bottle, so it works well. She did admit to me that she lost like 10 of them when in college, so I kind of wish I had let her use the one that didn’t have the awesome dragon design on the lid. Hopefully she can hang on to it for the month she has left with us. Future APs will get the other tea thermos (more generic) as their go-to water bottle to take their boiled water everywhere.

I did have to ask what happened to my running watch one day and she admitted that she had been wearing it running when she was worried about getting back for work on time. That doesn’t bother me so much as long as it is there when I need it. She generally asks now to borrow it. I have also had to loan her a bunch of exercise gear since she doesn’t own appropriate stuff. At least it is giving her a sense of why it matters to have the right clothes. The sports bra was the first break through for her and at $50, probably the most expensive single clothing item she had ever bought when she bought one.

WestMom May 20, 2014 at 10:00 am

Funny you should mention gym clothes… All but 1 AP did not bring sneakers for their year (nor buy them here). Current AP had the funniest response for this: ‘Why would I use precious space in my suitcase for sports shoes when I can bring another pair of nicer shoes instead?’ Meanwhile they use converse for running and playing tennis. It hurts me to watch!

LondonMum May 20, 2014 at 10:39 am

Funny, exactly the same experience, my first 2 APs didn’t bring trainers and wanted to go to the gym, we had the same size feet so I ended up giving both of them an “old” pair of mine! So weird when they say they love exercising and ask about gym membership?!

Old China Hand May 20, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Our AP played varsity basketball in college but showed up with no exercise clothes or sneakers! My mom took her to buy sneakers and she refused to buy proper running ones. She said people in China don’t have specialized clothes like that. I suspect I may not get back the clothes I lent her until she finishes out her year. Since I am 34 weeks pregnant, it’s not like I fit in them anyway. :) I have offered her my old running shoes since we have the same size feet, but she doesn’t want them. She is borrowing my hiking boots for her backpacking trip, but that is because I insisted.

WarmStateMomma May 21, 2014 at 10:39 am

LOL! AP#2 jogs in converse high-tops and gingham plaid shorts. The neighbors are always interested in what the APs wear because it’s such a different look.

We all had a long laugh one cold day when AP#1 showed us pix she took of the baby dressed like a bag lady, pushing her toy grocery cart down the sidewalk. AP#1 didn’t think anything was wrong with the outfit – but laughed too when we showed her google images search results for “bag lady.”

Host Mom in the City May 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm

We don’t have anything off-limits either. But I have no problem at all with someone purchasing special things for themselves (au pairs included of course). I think everyone probably has little luxuries that they allow themselves, but that they think shouldn’t be eaten in mass quantities or that they want to be absolutely sure to have whenever needed. Soda comes to mind or in my case, really nice chocolate.

I could buy myself giant $1.00 chocolate bars and keep tons of them to share freely, but I don’t like that chocolate. I buy myself $4.00 chocolate bars, and I thoroughly savor one piece or so a day. If my wonderful au pair truly found the same joy in this expensive chocolate and similarly enjoyed a piece or so a day, she would be more than welcome to it. It’s when someone (my kids and husband included!!!) comes in and plows through a $4.00 bar of chocolate with the same enjoyment in which they would have had in a cheap chocolate bar and leaves none for me the next time I go to get some, that’s when I would get irritated.

I imagine it’s the same with something like Diet Coke. It’s something you know you shouldn’t really buy, and it’s money “wasted” essentially because it has no nutritional value, but it’s a little luxury that you treat yourself to to get you through the day. When someone comes in and drinks eight of them in a day, and all of a sudden you’re not sure one will be there when you want it and you’re spending $5.00 a day just on soda, it gets to be not so enjoyable a luxury habit.

It also admittedly bugs me when someone will happily consume large amounts of something that someone else has purchased, but that they would never spend money on themselves. Sort of like the type of person where if you’re treating them to dinner, they’ll order specialty drinks, an appetizer, and the steak, but you know they would never get that stuff if they were paying for it themselves. Similarly, if you wouldn’t buy a box of diet Cokes to share with your friends yourself, then taking them from your host parents stash is probably not appropriate either.

And finally, I think since I’m the “food manager” at home, it is really difficult to not know what you’re going to have left when you get home. Our second au pair would finish off basic things like milk during the day frequently and then I would get home thinking I was going to make a quiche for dinner and find that I had no milk. Or that she’d had friends over for lunch and served them the chicken breasts I had purchased and planned to use for dinner that night. That was pretty irritating. Not because anything was special, per se, but just because it makes meal planning really difficult. With that situation, I just communicated with her more and it seemed to be solved, but I can absolutely see putting “these for dinner!” on a sticky on the chicken for example.

CAMomtoTwins May 19, 2014 at 12:49 pm

We leave everything out and our AP is welcome to them. However, we don’t eat stuff she purchased without her explicitly saying ok. Once in awhile, HD and I get something special and not easily replaceable (like treats from another country), we would keep it in our bedroom.

German Au-Pair May 19, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Just tell them. Conversation is probably much more awkward in your head than it really is. “Hey, this is my special thing to make me feel good on a horrible day, please don’t use/ take it.” I would not have touched my HMs special diet granola bars and stuff like that because it was obviously special food. I would also not have touched special chocolate they got as a gift. But if they had asked me, I would not have felt offended.
In the kitchen, it was actually me to tried to reserve a special salad spoon -for no good reason, I just liked it- for myself and it was somewhat of a running gag -“Where’s my spoon?” :D It was THEIR spoon of course.

Angie host mom May 19, 2014 at 4:50 pm

The only rule is don’t eat the kids breakfast as a bedtime snack. :-)

exaupair May 19, 2014 at 5:03 pm

It’s ok to label some stuff. If one of the HPs wants anything just for themselves, they should just make it clear that the food is off limits to everyone else.
I don’t like to keep food and snacks in the bedroom, and see no point hiding biscuits etc. in my drawers or under the bed. It’s easier to put sticky notes on.

I wouldn’t touch anything that’s reserved for the host mum or any other family member even if it’s left in the plain view, but same time I wouldn’t let anyone help themselves to fancy stuff I buy. On the other hand if the rule was “everyone is welcome to everything” I wouldn’t be irritated if someone ate my whole box of chocolates (even if I didn’t have any) or drunk my bottle of wine. That said, within this rule, I would help myself to everything that can be consumed. Yes, including alcohol. It’s either one way or the other.

Mind you, a mate of mine (an AP who was incredibly mistreated) upon her departure to another family, left the terrible HF a good-bye-gift of 2 empty bottles of 20yr old scotch belonging to the HD, which she downed nibbling on some very expensive gourmet chocolates. tut tut.

Mimi May 19, 2014 at 6:48 pm

I label food that we plan on having for lunch or leftovers with a skull & crossbones, but rarely ever leave other items off limits. (I did have a rare moment last week with a small package of gummy bears and a five y/o. Not a proud moment for me, but I’m an irrational pregnant lady these days when it comes to the craving du jour…)

Our rule is to put something on the grocery list if you finish it so I can usually see when a treat items is gone before I go looking for one. We did have one AP who would have friends over regularly and raid the cupboards, leaving us bare of snacks, so after the second time, I let her know that she needed to feed her friends herself and they all started rotating who brought snacks.

Seattle Mom May 19, 2014 at 7:51 pm

I’m glad to read this, because now I can go and buy my fancy tea again.. but this time I will hide it or maybe just label it “use sparingly.”

I like to keep a particular brand of expensive tea in the house. I don’t drink it regularly, but when I want it I like that it is there. I guess my fancy tea is about $20 for 18 tea bags. I can make it last 2 months, because I am not a big tea drinker. And I don’t keep it on hand all the time, partly because the kind that I like is not available in most grocery stores. Anyway I bought this tea on a lark for the first time in a while maybe two months ago. I didn’t have any at all, and then 2 weeks later went to the cupboard to get a bag- and there were only TWO TEABAGS LEFT. I asked my husband. It wasn’t him. Grrrr. I was kind of seething, but couldn’t say anything because we do have an open kitchen policy. Next time I was in the store I bought one of those huge boxes of Lipton- I don’t mind buying tea for my au pair, but if she’s just going to blow through it I’ll buy Lipton. FWIW she also goes through a LOT of coffee and I buy it and almost never drink it at home (I drink coffee at work).

So anyway now I have some great ideas. I will probably continue to buy Lipton but next time I’m in the fancy store I’ll buy the fancy tea (which comes in an awesome tin box- it’s clearly not regular tea) and just put a sticky note on it that says something like “please enjoy this when you need a special treat, but it is not for every day.” Because I want to share, but I don’t want to spend $10 a week on my au pair’s tea when it was supposed to be MY SPECIAL TEA.

exaupair May 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm

As I come to think about it, I think instead of labeling I’d just keep the open kitchen policy, maybe not to make the AP feel slightly unwelcome. I’m used to labeling food, but probably in some cultures it’s not that common?
I’d just made sure the AP keeps in mind there are few adults in the house and when she sees a 6 pack of juices, beers or anything else it’s ok if she has two or three but maybe someone else would like one as well :-)

WestMom May 19, 2014 at 10:38 pm

If I have to remind AP to be considerate of other people in the household, I think there would be problems outside of the fridge/pantry… Drinking half of a six pack s/he did not buy?

exaupair May 20, 2014 at 6:45 am

I don’t eat a lot and I’m not really an adventurous eater, but I like to “feed” my friends and family when they pop by. Food can easily be replaced and I would be happy to see it being eaten, rather than I would have to throw away stuff.

anonforthisone May 21, 2014 at 10:54 am

“food can easily be replaced” – not all HFs live close by a shop where they can just pop by and pick up an needed replacement at the last minute. If my AP uses something up and replaces it before I notice/need it then that would be fine. If it is a staple (bread, milk, eggs, routine cheeses, butter) then I’m even happy to pay for it. BUT, if she uses the chicken breasts I was thawing to make lunch for her friends, and then I come home at 6 and there is nothing to make for dinner, that’s unacceptable. I work many hours each week (hence the need for an AP in the first place) and running out to replace essentials at 6pm is not on my to-do list.

exaupair May 21, 2014 at 4:15 pm

By saying that food can be easily replaced I meant I don’t consider it a luxury, something very expensive, or hard to get. If it’s gone you can easily go and buy more or order some, either way no big deal.
I generally think no AP should feed a bunch of her friends with your food. It’s ok when she offers them coffe, soda, a sandwich ect. but if she plans to invite the whole cluster for lunch she should pay for the food.

Returning HM May 20, 2014 at 11:01 am

I had the same reaction. Any AP who saw six of something and thought this meant she were entitled to take three would not be a good fit for our share-everything-with-everyone-but-be-considerate-while-doing-it household.

Alliinny May 19, 2014 at 8:43 pm

We have 3 cars in our home but only 1 is available to our AP. It’s our biggest, safest car and it’s the one she drives our kids in. One other is my husband’s super high end luxury car that he drives to work and the 3rd is my little fun convertible. No reason an AP drive either. She works for us – what’s ours for our entertainment doesn’t belong to her. That said we almost always let her drive the truck when she needs a car. My point is that AP’s, which in some ways “part of the family” are actually employees. We set the rules and I really feel no guilt about it!

LookingForwardToBeAP(made it!) May 19, 2014 at 9:04 pm

I used to think that I would de ok with something like this, but now that I see how my Hfamily is and how comfortable that makes me I know the opposite wouldn’t be ok with me.
One of the first things my HD said to me was “we want you to be at home here, come in open drawers, eat whatever you want”. I truly feel at home here, and I know I can eat/use everything. On the other hand I think I am respectful of the liberty they give me. I would never finish something without asking first if someone else would like some. I rarely (maybe twice, in my 6 months) use the expresso machine, It doesn’t take much to realize it is not an every day thing. I never eat the obviously special chocolates (the ones in fancy boxes) unless they are offered to me, even though I am sure my HM would be ok with it. I do drink beer every now and then, most times with them and their friends, and this is because in the beginning they would insist so much that they finally convinced me that it is actually ok with them.

Bottom line is I set my own limits out of respect and common sense, same as I did when I lived with my mom, or when I go visit a close friend. Could I live in a house where there were “forbidden” items? Sure. Would I feel at home there? absolutely NO.

AussiePair May 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Anything that is not everyday food (such as chocolates, ice cream and alcohol) I only eat sometimes and when host parents offer it to me. Sometimes I buy these things for myself and would be slightly miffed if someone helped themselves without asking or being offered so I extend this same courtesy to my HPs. In saying that, my dad and I lived by the same code, if he brought home soda, chocolate, alcohol or ice cream it was his (occasionally I would have some, but with permission) and likewise if I brought home those things. If they were bought in the weekly shop, then it was free for all. My dad did have some weird rule in his head that if anything of mine was left in plain sight for 3 or more days it would then become a “community” item though, so I developed a tendency to hide snacks I didn’t want to share in my room, and I tend to do this now if there’s something that I really want to keep to myself.

exaupair May 19, 2014 at 9:16 pm

In my home my parents always kept away from snacks I bought with my own pocket money or salary from my few first jobs. This didn’t work both ways so I always went through the cupboards in search for their special treats.

AussiePair May 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm

I have much more of a peer relationship with my dad, and often we could be confused for roommates rather than father-daughter, so this worked for us and I respected that anything he bought was for him unless offered. If I wanted stuff but didn’t want to pay for it I could buy it when I did the grocery shopping (my dad would pay, but he loathes shopping, so it was one of my jobs) but if that was the case then I was expected to share if it was something he also liked.

HRHM May 20, 2014 at 12:05 am


Your experience at home seems to be much more in sync with what my APs have exhibited here in my home. If they buy something, it’s theirs and they keep it mainly to themselves. But if there is a goody anywhere else in the house, they feel free to finish it off.

I get the “part of the family” approach, but am not particularly fond of it when the “part” played by my AP is “indulged spoiled brat”. It needs to go both ways. And FWIW, I would never in a million years eat the last of anything my AP bought or brought home or recieved as a gift without being offerred it. Most of my APs have no compunction about doing so with no regard for who it belongs to…

exaupair May 20, 2014 at 6:41 am

I guess I wouldn’t mind if anyone in the house ate the last of anything I bought for myself, partly because the only treat I really love and can’t live without is coffe, which I always have plenty of stocked up. In fact I stock up way in advance, and the amounts I buy could last for months, so there’s no way anyomeone would finish all the coffe in the house. Plus not everyone likes the same type of coffe so I always have grains, green coffe, instant coffe, decaf etc. and even if I run out of one there’s always plenty of other types left.
If the AP finished anything else I would just go and buy some more, I’d much rather see food and treats being eaten than wasted.

AussiePair May 19, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Forgot to add that I would be completely fine with my HPs telling me that something was off limits of squirreling it away, because I would do the same thing.

I also know/try not to eat any leftovers in the fridge for lunch unless there is only one portion left and these are often reserved for dinners.

JenNC May 19, 2014 at 11:04 pm

If I had company over I wouldn’t tell them they couldn’t use my keurig, I wouldn’t tell them they have to use the regular coffe pot, I just thnk if I use the keurig daily, then if my aupair wants a cup of coffe from the keurig daily, then it’s not a big deal…… I mean one pod ends up being a little over 50 cents I think! really not a big deal in my opinion, if she is a member of the household and is an adult then I am going to offer her the same things I would offer any other adult who came to my home . I understand some things, like for example, I had leftovers from Bonefish the other night, so I put them in my lunch box , in our outside fridge so that they wouldn’t mistakenly get eaten when my aupair arrived home late from school, not because I didn’t want to share but because I wanted it for my lunch at work the next day. Otherwise really nothing is off limits in my house at all. When we have been on vacation , for example, a recent cruise I offered her some drinks and she did partake, and it was fine….at home, I think because she is usually coming and going she never drinks…. My aupair is 24 and a very thoughtful wonderful person. I treat her like family not an employee, she drives my expensive car because it is easier for her to drive , more manageable with kids, I get the SUV, which is big and scarier for her. The only thing In Our house we have ever put a limit on is sodas, my husband loves his coke, he doesn’t mind sharing 1-2 a day, but he gets pissy if he comes home and they are all gone…. So it’s in the hand book, the aupair is welcome to drink 1-2 a day but not more. Haha. I think it’s be cause my brother who used to live with us would drink them all, and he has flash backs. Jen

German Au-Pair May 20, 2014 at 5:07 pm

I drank more soda during my stay than during my entire life I guess. I would drink as many as I wanted and when my HM went shopping I’d tell her that we needed more. On the other hand when I went shopping (I had a credit card with a monthly budget for food and kids stuff) I would also carry several boxes of cans so it was okay.
For us it was actually the other way round. I always drank special soda (not more expensive but diet cherry coke instead of normal diet coke and stuff like that) and I was the one who got it from the store. My HM would only ever buy the regular stuff but prefer drinking my stuff. So I often ended up hiding the last two cans because I HATE setting my mind on drinking something and finding that it’s empty. Drove me nuts. She paid for it, but I had to get it and carry it and was bummed when it was gone.

SwissAuPair May 20, 2014 at 1:23 am

Me and my hostfamily label the food with this small colour stickers. Every familymember got a colour. It is an easy system, and the HC aged 3-5 can understand that too.

With another family I’ve had a box in the fridge for my stuff. It was about half of a shelf. I think that this is a good solution too, because a whole shelf is just too much space to reserve for Aupair, but you can give your AP a box, as big as you want, so it’s mor flexible. And I got a box too for the kitchen shelf too.

And with a third family, I had my own little fridge in my room.

Aussiemum May 20, 2014 at 4:06 am

We had a problem with an aupair drinking huge amounts of the expensive A2 milk I buy for my asthmatic kids. t was the selfishness that annoyed me, as she wouldn’t even take more out of the freezer when empty. I bought her cheap UHT milk and said please drink this instead.

It seems to have done the trick, she has reduced her consumption a lot! I did feel very resentful that she assumed everything was hers to use with no concern as to cost or who would go shopping to replace once we ran out. It is just immaturity on her part I think , to assume our family culture was the same as hers.

LondonMum May 20, 2014 at 8:07 am

I think labelling food in the fridge is quite a horrible thing to do, but then that seems to be a cultural thing. In UK, it would be quite shocking for someone to do that, its like saying “this is the good stuff – not for YOU!” I do a weekly online shop that gets delivered, I ask the AP if there is anything she wants or something we have run out of. Any extras we need in the week she takes from the money pot in the kitchen – I put about £10-£15 each week in there just for stuff we run out of like milk, bread, cheese etc.

I can see that if you run out of things for the kids lunch box it can be annoying, but we always have more than one option, so if the AP has eaten the last of the sliced meat, our kids have cheese sandwiches, or tuna etc. They know that sometimes things run out so they just have something else – they know it will be delivered in the next week’s delivery anyway.

The only thing that would really drive me mad is that the coffee ran out and I couldn’t have some in the morning – the AP also loves coffee though – so we never run out!! I guess its a bit easier for us as we have local shops really nearby so AP can just walk and get anything we/she needs when the kids are at school.

As for luxuries – we have a box of wine in the fridge and AP is welcome to help herself. Of course I would not expect her to drink half in one sitting (or falling down!) but I would not consider it “ours”. I think this is mainly due to culture as well though, in UK we have a very “pub culture” which I love and it is common to have a drink in the evening after work – not every day but most days. When I read the posts about alcohol above, I didn’t understand that people kept putting the age of the AP “(21)” but I thought this just applied to drinking in a bar. If you are at home surely an AP could have a glass of wine with you at dinner if you offered?

I do agree that the AP, whilst being part of the family, is also an employee but I guess I just treat employees well too! We had builders working at our house for several weeks and I made them lunch every day I was home – also I would expect them to make themselves tea or coffee – maybe this is a cultural thing too! I think if you treat someone well – they are more likely to do a good job for you and I would not want an unhappy or resentful AP taking it out on my children.

Our AP mainly eats with the children when she makes their dinner at 5pm, they are too little to wait for dinner with us as we eat at about 7.30pm. If she has not eaten I will ask her if she wants to eat with us, she will sometimes say yes but often she has her own plans and eats out a lot, in London it is quite cheap so most APs do this at least 2-3 times a week.

Mimi May 20, 2014 at 10:57 am

“If you are at home surely an AP could have a glass of wine with you at dinner if you offered?”

This depends on what state you live in here in the US. Underage drinking is paid careful scrutiny by most AP agencies and law enforcement. Most states have set their own exceptions to allow underage consumption/possession of alcohol under certain circumstances:

-On alcohol-selling premises with parental consent
-On private non-alcohol-selling premises with parental consent
-On private non-alcohol-selling premises without need of parental consent
-For religious purposes
-For medical purposes
-For educational purposes
-For governmental purposes
-For good Samaritan purposes (reporting alcohol-related medical emergencies of other persons)

But 5 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and West Virginia) have no exceptions in their underage alcohol consumption laws. In some states, towns and cities have adopted ordinances that prohibit someone under age 21 from possessing open or closed containers of alcohol on private property, regardless of the state law allowances.

The real issue is liability. Most legislation and recent court cases have made a social host criminally liable for delivering alcohol to a minor in cases of accident or problems. If I allow my AP to consume alcohol and she then leaves the house and causes a car accident, even if she isn’t legally drunk, I am liable for damages done and can be sued to the moon and back. Even if she takes alcohol from me without my consent, I am still liable unless I press charges against her for theft. (Even then, I could lose a civil case if she sued me, based on a number of reasons.

hOstCDmom May 20, 2014 at 10:58 am

London Mom –Re 21 – no, legally, AP cannot have a glass at home with you if you offer. The drinking age of 21 is not just for pubs — it is for everyone, everywhere, all the time. HP could be liable for procuring and providing alcohol if under 21yrs AP had a glass of wine at dinner from HP, and then, for example, AP went an hour or two later out a drove and got stopped for speeding, officer smells alcohol on her breath or otherwise thinks she is impaired and does sobriety test etc. Even worse if AP caused a traffic accident and injured/killed someone.

Only exceptions are that parents may give their own children (not AP) in their own home small alcohol for religious or family occasions. but same liability issues apply to what your kids (teens) then do. Parents may not give to their children’s/teens’ friends.

LondonMum May 20, 2014 at 11:55 am

Wow, it seems harsh that you could be liable for another adult making a decision for themselves! Of course we have strict rules about drinking and driving too (very strict, quite rightly) but that is a separate issue, it would be a really stupid thing for anyone to do! Luckily, our APs don’t need to drive and don’t have access to a car! I know that I have often been asked for ID in supermarkets in US when buying alcohol but I thought that drinking at home was a private issue.

In France for example, it is perfectly normal for children to begin having watered down wine with a meal at quite a young age. I checked the age here, just out of interest, and surprisingly, you can allow a very young child to have alcohol at a family home for a celebration meal or something like that. Not that I would consider it a good idea! However, I do think that telling children that certain things are “bad” will make them want it more later. If things are just part of daily life and not a big deal, they are likely to make more balanced choices for themselves as they grow up rather than seeking out the previously “forbidden fruit”. It drives me crazy that at my son’s school they constantly go on about “healthy eating” (we eat very healthily and I cook most meals from scratch). He is a skinny, lanky boy who eats loads of veg and fruit but he now thinks that any type of fat at all is “bad”, like it will poison him! I spend so much time trying to explain to him that some fats are good and his body needs them!! There should be balance in everything!

anonforthisone May 21, 2014 at 10:59 am

In the US, you can marry at 18 and join the military at 18, but you must be 21 to buy and consume alcohol (without a PARENT’s consent). They can make a decision – to follow or break the law. I won’t break it for them (by supplying alcohol or turning a blind eye while they drink in my home) We both have a security clearance to preserve and also studies show that earlier drinkers have higher rates of alcoholism. And in general, while I don’t actually agree with the law, I follow it because it is the law…

LondonMum May 20, 2014 at 11:59 am

I see where my confusion lay – in UK the law states that you cannot “sell” alcohol to underage people in a public place, but at a private home the family can make the choice for themselves.

WarmStateMomma May 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

@LondonMum: In the US no one knocks on your door to see who is having a glass of wine in the home so this varies widely by family culture. Some families feel strongly that alcohol is bad in general or that it should never be provided to anyone under 21. My family is fine with anyone 18+ enjoying alcohol in moderation if they aren’t driving afterward. There is a lot of concern about assuming liability for people who you served alcohol, but this varies by state and generally depends on whether the person was under 18.

Christina May 20, 2014 at 11:23 am

We don’t label things or put things off limits. Our au pairs have all shown very good common sense and good judgment. If something is meant for a meal I intend to prepare that week, I just let her know. Occassionally, our APs have purchased a food item and left it in the pantry. Our family has always asked before using that item — but for the most part, I think it is safe to assume that if it is in the pantry, it is intended for general consumption. I know our APs have kept some food upstairs in the bedroom, which is obviously for their own consumption.

Host Mom X May 20, 2014 at 12:36 pm

It’s funny how food issues – while seemingly a small thing – can cause so much irritation and resentment. We definitely notice this during the “getting used to each other” period with any au pair. And even though we know it is irrational and not generous-spirited to feel irritation and resentment over these kinds of small things, we just do. I think because food and eating is just so fundamental to “home,” “comfort,” etc.

In the Keurig situation, I think I’d just chalk it up to part of the expense of having an AP (extra $5/week for AP’s coffee consumption, e.g.), rather than suggest that the AP buy her own Keurigs. That just seems awkward to me, and an easy way to breed unnecessary resentment.

We have realized, as others here have, that communication is the key to all of this – even though saying some of these things out loud seems super-awkward at first. But it is far less awkward than blowing up one day at your AP because she has eaten the special piece of fish you had planned to cook for dinner for guests, assuming that she would somehow intuit that the fish was not for general consumption when other fish HAS been available to her in the past. Now we just say “our friends are coming over tonight and we put this piece of fish in the fridge to defrost so that we can cook it for dinner, so please don’t use it, but let us know if you want/need anything.”

Most of our APs have seemed to be able to tell when something is a “special treat” rather than an everyday item. But we also have realized that this isn’t always obvious – reading packaging can be hard, someone from another country doesn’t know our brand names, and sometimes an AP may not be able to tell a fancy chocolate bar from Hersheys. What we try to do is point out the special treats to the APs and offer them some, e.g. “we got this DELICIOUS gellato; you HAVE to try some!” That way it is clear to them that (a) we do want to share nice things with them, but (b) we have offered it to them specially, which indicates that it is something that is not there on a regular basis, and we are offering it because our assumption is that she wouldn’t take it unless we offered it. This method is all about understanding social cues, etc., so if you have an AP who doesn’t pick up on that kind of thing, it wouldn’t work. And of course, since we are not spelling it out – we can’t be miffed if the AP then gobbles up the rest of the special treat later that night without asking.

We had one AP with whom we thought this worked, but then right before a holiday she gobbled up a special cheese that we had been saving to put out for guests before the holiday meal (and we didn’t realize it till it was time to put out the appetizers, so then we had none). That seemed really weird because it was not a common cheese item in our house AND she knew we were having this holiday meal (which she, her friend and some of her family were going to be joining!). Ah, well.

Au Pair Report author May 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm

As a former au pair counselor, I think it’s important to be aware that actions always impact relationships. Thus, if you label treats and Keurig cups as being for host parents’ use only, that message may create a certain distance. It’s fine if you want that sort of distance, which may come along with some tension or awkwardness. If you want a more relaxed relationship, then you set that tone by minimizing boundaries and being generous. Hosting an au pair is an expensive undertaking, and families should make sure providing room and board is not too much of a strain for them, as families who can’t quite afford au pairs typically end up resenting the financial burden. Although it may feel silly to hide away chocolate bars and other items in your bedroom, I think that is a better strategy in terms of maintaining goodwill between host families and au pairs than having lots of rules about who can eat/drink what. Of course, alcohol is in its own category, and minors shouldn’t have any while au pairs over 21 should be entitled to drink some with dinner if the host parents are having some. If an au pair uses any food or drink immoderately, I think it makes more sense to sit down and discuss that rather than leaving notes. For example, you could point out that a bag of chips costs $4 and it’s unreasonable to eat a whole bag all at once. However, I also believe sometimes au pairs eat too many snacks because they don’t have enough of the food they really want. This is why it’s a good idea to make sure you have on hand food that appeals to the au pair. The au pair’s first weekend in your home should always include a trip to the grocery store with her, and it’s not a bad idea to invite her along at other times. That way, she will see firsthand how much items cost.

Angie host mom May 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm

It so depends on the au pair – we had one who claimed specialized tastes so we bought very expensive food for her, which then went bad in the fridge because she never touched it. I have never minded having food the au pairs like around – but I hate spending money for specialty items which are wasted.

American Host Mom in Europe May 20, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Like many of the previous posters, we’ve never really had issues with this, and when we have, we’ve discussed it. I had several au pairs who could easily eat an entire carton of ice cream in a weekend; I asked them to please stop eating my Ben & Jerry’s like that, and if they wanted to consume a lot of ice cream, to buy a cheaper brand (our au pairs do the majority of the grocery shopping). Years ago I hid a B&J ice cream behind frozen veges, and to this day my au pair still laughs about it (she figured out what I was doing and thought it was a riot, and left it alone. But we had a great relationship, which helped.) One au pair used an enormous amount of jam, so I switched to a cheaper brand while she was here as almost no one else in the house used jam.

We pretty much tell our au pairs that this is their home, and they should treat it as such. So if I buy something for a specific meal, I say so, just like my mom would have done with me as a kid; if I’m planning something for my lunch the next day, I say so, or I make something else if it is gone. We address up front the running out of things problem by discussing what items are “always must have”, and doing the grocery shopping together a few times to review. After that, the au pairs maintain the grocery list, add things to it when they take the last or next to last, and do the shopping to ensure things are replenished in time.

We sometimes keep boxes of candy to offer guests (or as gifts we’ve received), and we don’t keep them in the kitchen; I’m not even sure if our au pairs notice where we keep them. I don’t think I’d be fussed if someone took something (we frequently throw them out as they go bad without getting eaten!), but it has never happened; they will accept if offered (sometimes), but I think recognise that this isn’t a “regular kitchen item”.

I include in the employment agreement that APs buy their own toiletries. Because my kids also use the AP bathroom toilet and to wash their hands, I often tell the AP to just put the hand soap on the grocery list. But this way I avoid my APs using up our supply of Molton Brown products, which is what we use in the rest of the house.

Rosy June 6, 2014 at 4:49 pm

If you use Molton Brown products in the rest of the house, why not in the AP bathroom? Just curious.

caring hp May 20, 2014 at 6:44 pm

If you have a diabetic or allergy sufferer in the family you know their special foods can be hard to find or expensive. It is reasonable to tell the AP and others they should not use these foods. If you have someone on a special diet and there are casseroles or other foods prepared according to their needs, again I see no shame in saying no to others eating them.
Some families have different foods for Grandpa, kids, moms low carb diet, dads vegan diet or someone’s allergy diet.

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