How do we know when it’s time to give up?

by cv harquail on September 9, 2009

200909092043.jpgOur first 2 Au Pairs were fantastic … but we are having a hard time bonding with #3.

She initially had difficulty keeping our 2 boys (age 5), and focused on activities rather than wrestling but seems to be improving in that area (very slowly)…

However, getting her to talk to us or the kids is painful and slow. She seems content making lunches and getting them organized, but doesn’t engage them to any significant degree. The boys don’t DISLIKE her, but I am extremely disappointed by her distance and lack of engagement. The boys had very engaging relationships with #1 and #2 even though #2 had terrible English when she arrived.

I am terrified about a potential rematch for many of the reasons (talked about on this blog) and wonder: How long I should give her to change or evolve? Should I just give up and try a new AP?
Or should I wait for some specific incident? OB Mom


PA au pair mom September 9, 2009 at 9:08 pm

I just finished suffering through a year with a “so-so”, aloof au pair because I thought it was easier than rematching. If I had it to do again, I definitely would have pursued the rematch.

She left last Thursday and from the moment she was dropped off at the airport it felt as if a HUGE weight had been lifted. My boys were happier, I was happier, and we didn’t have to walk on eggshells.

Our new au pair joined our family Friday and so far is everything we had hoped for. She plays with the boys instead of just watching them while they play. She takes a genuine interest in them and tries to encourage them. Just today she began teaching our youngest to ride his bike without training wheels. We have been trying to talk him into trying it for almost a month, but she succeeded on her second attempt.

If you have a “gut instinct” about her, then rematch may just be the way to go. Don’t wait for a big incident before you make a decision.

Darthastewart September 9, 2009 at 9:10 pm

I think you need to follow your gut instinct. If it is saying rematch, then by all means do so. In my area, there are other options for backup care, and it’s worth pursuing those.

NoVA Host Mom September 9, 2009 at 11:27 pm

I agree with the others. You do not say how long it has been, but if you have reached the 1 month mark, then it is time to consider a rematch, finding a better fit for your family and for her, for that matter. You have already had 2 great APs. You know how it can work. You know that this time does not seem to really be working. Time to try again.

NewAP Mom September 9, 2009 at 11:39 pm

In retrospect, here’s what I wish I’d have done with our current au pair when things started to feel “not quite right.”

When I was trying to figure this out, I only thought about the present. Was it okay now? I always came up with “yes, I guess I can live with this.” But what I never thought about was the long-term effect, and the possibility that things could get worse. And how much worse.

Imagine if it got 5 times worse. Could you live with that? And that’s conservative. How about 10 times worse? For how long? Until her program year is up?

If that’s not do-able, just rematch now. Because based on my experience, the beginning is the “honeymoon.” It just gets worse and worse. If the beginning ain’t good, ain’t no way it’s gonna get better. And it also gets harder and harder to justify a rematch. A year is a long, long time to be spending with someone who doesn’t make you and your kids 100% happy.

Mary September 10, 2009 at 1:30 am

I just went through this myself. Our 5th au pair clearly wasn’t interested in my children. She was the only one not to bring small gifts for them, she didn’t acknowledge the big glittery Welcome sign, nor the gift basket in her room and didn’t ask them any questions about what they like to do. I finally asked a friend from church to come over with her kids to give me a second opinion after watching them all together for a while. She really made her point when she asked me “Don’t you think your kids deserve better?” Since my husband is deployed to Afghanistan for a year, I think they especially deserve a caring and attentive au pair right now. So I made a clean break and had a few weeks of child care chaos, when I found out that many people were willing help me get through this. So I’ll ask you the same question–don’t you think your kids deserve better?

Emma September 10, 2009 at 5:09 am

One of my mom’s friends once told me that if a relationship doesn’t make me happy *at least* 80% of the time, to break up and find someone new. I think that applies with APs too. This is clearly a personality difference. You could spend a couple weeks trying to force her to engage more with the kids and it could work, but chances are it won’t. In rematch you are taking a leap of faith that there is someone better out there, and how much better would it be for everyone involved if there is?

Soon to be au pair September 10, 2009 at 5:30 am

I am hoping to go/come to the USA in January, am about to enter the matching process ( I am 18, and Australian), and it is things like this that I wish I could tell potential host families I won’t do!

Obviously if she is your child’s au pair, she should be engaging with them. I personally think, depending on how long it’s been, she should have adjusted by now. I would consider a rematch, after reading past posts on this board, it seems like they usually do not improve.

I cannot believe some of the things other au pairs have done! I read about au pairs plotting to get married, partying, drinking and expecting guests to stay.
And to think I have been worried about mentioning to a potential host family that I would like to spend my allocated 2 week vacation travelling the US with my family who will visit from Australia.

I wonder if anyone has advice on how to assure potential families that I will definately not stay out late, or party and drink?
I don’t know how to say it. I also want to be incorporated into the family (rather than viewed as an ’employee’ only) and don’t know how to mention this.
Eg, although I would like my own time occasionally, to rest, take longer showers, visit friends, sight see etc, I would really like to spend time with the family, help them cook, attend outings etc, but from what I have read, some families encourage this more than others.

So if anyone has any advice, thank you very much!

This is a great board, very insightful, sometimes it makes me more nervous, sometimes it does the opposite!

great aussie mum September 10, 2009 at 7:42 am

Just on the subject of AP’s getting worse. I actually experienced the opposite with my first AP when she arrived from Germany. She had already been booted out of her first family just after one week!. I felt sorry for her and thought I could give her a chance. The first few weeks were a nightmare….she broke every rule in the book. When HF and I were first driving her around our city, she was sitting in the back seat next to my daughter. Instead of talking and engaging with my daughter, she was busy texting her friends!!!. However, what I did was to nip it in the bud-talk openly but gently to your AP and explain that it concerns you that….she doesnt actively get involved with your kids etc. It worked for me. She ended up becoming a very mature and in fact a superb AP but it took tough love to make it happen. She also appreciated the fact that I was teaching her and she had it good at our place so she didnt want to jeopordise that situation. To AP from Australia, my advise is that you state honestly what you can in fact contribute to the potential host family. When you are placed, just live by your words and demonstrate to your family that you are not going to go out partying every night and that you take your role of AP seriously. Good luck!

Anna September 10, 2009 at 8:04 am

great aussie mom,
I had a not great au pair, and I was direct with her about areas of improvement etc – in fact we talked about it every week during our weekly meeting. She didn’t improve. Some au pairs are not cut out for working with kids, and not only don’t know how to engage them, but don’t want to, and don’t want to learn. They want us to accept them “as they are”. So I think it depends on how long the original poster gave her au pair already… it seems to me that she is direct with her already, like you advised.

Happy Host Mom September 10, 2009 at 8:18 am

Our first aupair was competent, but didn’t engage or bond with the kids. She came along on all of our family events (including vacation) but didn’t seem happy and never said “thanks”. I was troubled by this, but as the kids were safe, we endured the year. Our second aupair has joined in as part of the family and bonded with the kids. She is also competent, and there is laughter and joy in our house again.

Looking back, I wish we hadn’t had an entire year with an emotionally distant aupair and we probably should have rematched. There are great aupair candidates who want to be part of your family and have a great time with your children!

My 2 cents September 10, 2009 at 8:54 am

I generally agree that rematch is probably in order. However, if she’s been with you a short while (less than 2 months) and you have not had a direct conversation with her about your concerns and expectations, then I’d try that first. Be as concrete and constructive with your observations and suggestions, giving her specific examples of what you have observed and what she needs to do differently. If you’ve done this or have the sense she cannot or will not improve or change, then rematch.

Marina September 10, 2009 at 9:13 am

I am basically just reiterating what other AP moms have said before me – go with your gut. I have 2 experiences with distant, semi-rude au pairs that had no interest or kindness for our 2 girls. They lasted 10 and 5 weeks respectively, also because I have no patience for a ‘take all / give nothing’ attitude. But mostly – it hurts the kids, even when older.

Kids need to feel liked and loved like everybody else and if they spend time all day with an indifferent person – they will be hurting because of it. They might not tell you, because they don’t want to disapoint you. Both times our girls told us some things while the AP was still there, but the real truth only came out after she had left and this even considering us talking to them every night about their day and asking direct questions.

So my advise is – rematch now, don’t wait and don’t give too many 2nd chances. It sounds hard, but frankly the AP needs to give something themselves, it is not only the family that have to adjust, also the AP and if this does not come naturally, then in my experience there is not much to do.

OBMom September 10, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Thanks so much for all the input! I had a heart to heart talk with the AP last night (the 3rd time actually) where I told her where she has improved, but laid it on the line that she NEEDS to engage with them more if she wants it to work with our family. I told her she needs to do it even if it makes her uncomfortable if she wants to stay. She seemed to understand and put in some effort both last night and this morning. Regarding the timing, its only been 3 weeks and she also had a cold some of the time. I have my friend/parent-spies watching her behavior today and we’ll see.

But my gut is still suspicious and further confirmed by the fact that my 5 year old told me last night that he wishes the “AP was more fun” (and asked me to tell her that). When I asked what he meant, he said “Sometimes when I ask her to play a game with me she says no and then goes in her room and does something on the computer”. The 8 year old didn’t agree, but it is still very concerning that that is his perception. My husband and I decided to give her 1 more week (so that alternate care during the rematch process can be arranged).

Anonymous September 10, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I think that many of us would have a completely different attitude toward life if we had a Plan B for childcare. Alas !
You say you are terrified of rematch. Is it fear of a gap in childcare coverage ? Or is it the expense involved as sometimes happens.
I suggest that you think about what you would do if you could get alternative childcare tomorrow with no additional outlay of cash.
Then, figure out the best way to make that happen. A backup plan is not easy to come by for many people. But another advantage of it is that you will not have to rematch in a hurry.

Midwest Mom September 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Soon to be Au Pair,

I would just say exactly what you wrote here to your potential host family. I would love a potential au pair to say those things to me during the interview process (and I now plan to ask these types of questions in our next interview to get a sense of how she will fit in with our family).

Good luck!

Darthastewart September 10, 2009 at 4:04 pm

As far as backup care goes, I have the following options (in order of preference)
1. My friend will watch the little guy. (I shift my hours so that other kids are covered @ school)
2. drop in childcare through Bright Horizons (they have a backup care option… maybe that’s available to you?)
3. Drop in daycares
4. Babysitter list through Meredith College can help with temporary care.
5. Various Nanny Agencies.

Calif Mom September 11, 2009 at 11:42 am

Soon To Be AP — just put it in your letter! Directness is so rare!

And OB mom — ditto. almost a month, 3 “the talks” already? This isn’t about management, it’s about basic personality mis-match. Line up that backup care and don’t be terrified of rematch. Rip that bandaid fast.

Yes, college job boards are a GREAT source for backup care. You may have to line up a couple of students, but we have been very happy with them. And language/culture isn’t an issue at all. Good stopgap.

good luck!

TX Mom September 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm

I wasn’t going to chime in but I wanted to add that I found great short term childcare on for rematch needs. The candidates were mostly college students and older women. I paid a nominal fee to post my job but made a lot of contacts for future sitting needs. :)

FWIW, OBMom, a mismatch is just as painful for the AP; we had to initiate a “personality” rematch with one AP. We got a lot of unsolicited feedback from friends, teachers, etc. that confirmed our gut feel, and I felt like a dope for waiting 3 months. The AP was disappointed about leaving the things she liked at our house but in rematch she got a HF that was a better personality match for her and everybody lived happily ever after.

CoCa September 11, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Just out of curiosity, a question for those of you who have had to make this kind of difficult but necessary transition: How have you gone about telling the AP that you want a rematch?

(I should probably stress that I’m asking purely out of interest – my first AP arrived a week ago and we haven’t had any problems so far)

Calif Mom September 11, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Either directly (“we’ve decided we would like to rematch. We think it would be better for all of us, you included.”) This works best if you are sick and tired and DONE with the whole thing, and a little po’d.


If you are beside yourself with anger and want this person gone, gone, gone yesterday, have the LCC do it. Chicken, perhaps, but sometimes necessary.

It gets sticky after this point, but you can endure because you have an end in sight.

Anonymous September 12, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I see no problem with having the LCC deliver the bad news. She has probably done it before and can do it in an objective way.
Maybe she’ll offer a little TLC that is beyond your psychic means at this point. Maybe she can tell the aupair that she will find a family more in tune with her personality. After all, don’t most aupairs go to the LCC first and say they want a rematch ? The LCC can also give the aupair tips on how to make the transition process non-confrontational. I think it is always painful for a family who tried very hard to see and hear an aupair gloating about her wonderful new family and my guess is that it is just as hard for aupairs.

CoCa September 12, 2009 at 3:31 pm

I see – I hadn’t thought about the LCC but now I can see that it makes sense!

anon September 12, 2009 at 9:17 pm

We went through transition recently. In our case, I was pretty sure from the beginning it was a problem; we had a 3-point meeting (that means the LCC comes over to help both sides discuss a problem) after she was here for a week. Our program commits us to 1 month before asking for a rematch; we knew at that point it was time to rematch. It was hard for us, because we were sure she would try to retaliate, and that she would do even less work/engaging the kids then she was already doing. Our LCC refused to talk to her at all– she insisted that we tell the AP before she had a conversation with all of us.

It was a VERY tough 3 wks of transition for us, a nightmare nightmare. But it’s over now, and we have a wonderful AP now, and hopefully life will continue to calm down :)

Calif Mom September 13, 2009 at 12:25 pm

I wouldn’t accept that behavior from an LCC — at the time of course you were stuck with it, but I would seriously consider reporting that back up to corporate HQ. And I would seriously look at switching agencies when you can make a switch. There are lots of incentive programs for switching! The LCC is there to support BOTH families and au pairs, and if they can’t handle the heat when things are not going well, they are in the wrong job. Our LCCs have never had hesitation about having those tough conversations with APs. And usually it seems the AP has already reached out to them privately when they are unhappy, as well.

I do think that emphasizing to the AP that “they aren’t happy either, and there are many families who would fit you better” is a nice way to help them save face and make the transition as neutral as possible. Depending on your kids’ ages, you need to think of them as a big ‘audience’ for how you talk about the transition. Older kids (especially the eldest child, it seems to me) need to have honest conversations about rematches — not unlike their experience of divorce, they may feel guilty. Good opportunity to talk about listening to your instincts about people, and that while someone might not turn out to be a great friend, or even someone you like very much, just like in school, they are not a bad person, just not the right fit for your family. And that that’s okay, that we wish them well.

Momof2Girls September 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Thanks, Calif Mom, I am going to quote your wise words when talking to our kids, as we are in the process of rematch right now. So true, about the AP not being happy either, despite her repeatedly telling us “everything is fine” when it so obviously isn’t, as evidenced by her behavior toward the family, her job performance, and her lack of comprehension or ungratefulness for the many privileges and experiences she was fortunate to have.

TX Mom September 14, 2009 at 10:26 am

Maybe a lesson from anon mom, if you know things aren’t right, speak with the AP prior to the LCC engagement. In my experience if the LCC has to break the news to the AP then the mis-match lasted too long and the 2 weeks of rematch will be horrible – for everyone involved.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 3:36 pm

I cannot for the life of me, understand why an LCC would tell the host family to break the news to the AP first. I would like to know on what basis the LCC took that postion. Was it a case of
” If that’s what you want, then you tell her ” ? If so, it seems that the LCC had already made up her mind that the aupair was the wronged party. I think a good LCC can talk an aupair or a family down from the roof and help everybody get through what can be a very painful time.

Angela Slaton September 16, 2009 at 5:00 am

Have you thought of a male au pair. I only get male au pairs especially since my one female au pair was all drama. Males are less drama, work hard, and in all honest never really complain much. I have three kids two oldest boys with ADHD and they are great, helping in their therapies and improving their lives with their disease. I have been lucky to say the least. Rematch is not fun but sometimes necessary.

OB Mom September 21, 2009 at 11:44 am

OK, so I’ve finally decided that the we really do need to rematch. It is a personality thing more than anything and I just can’t live a year with a ghost in my house. But, I have another question that I hope you all can help with.

What do I tell the kids?

While trying to coach the AP over the last month on needing to interact with the kids more, she actually has made an effort and has started to bond with my younger son. However, it just isn’t quite “enough” and I need someone that is more communicative all around. I need someone that will tell me about their day and will participate in conversations rather than just listen. My husband and our friends all agree that this is just who she is and will not change in this regard.

We have talked with the kids about whether they would be happier with another AP. The older son (9) says that the new AP just needs more time; that our previous AP’s got to go on summer vacations with us and got to know us there. He thinks we should give her a chance. The younger son (6) (who has bonded better), thinks a more fun AP would be better, but I don’t think he understands the whole thing.

Questions: What do you tell the kids? When do you tell them, relative to when you tell the AP and enter into the 2 week transition? If it is just a personality mismatch, do you still trust the transition AP to do all the right things with your kids? How much of the “regular routine” do you stick with?


Jennifer March 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm

OB Mom,

Your situation sounds just like ours. I told our AP last night that it wasn’t going to work. She has been here almost 4 months and this was the 4th conversation with her. She had a hard time with my oldest, he is 13. I know it’s a difficult age but I continually offered her support and encouragment. Unfortunatley usually taking her side instead of his. It got to the point they didn’t speak. She would text him when it was time to leave in the morning. She told me last night she just gave up but never bothered to try and talk to me about it anymore.

She’s not fulfilling her two weeks and has decided to not be an au pair anymore. Both my boys are happy she’s leaving. I just have to make it to Thursday night and I’m sure there will be relief. We’ll have to really try and work around the schedule as we can’t rematch until May 10th but I know it’s the right thing to do. It’s YOUR house and YOUR family.

E2 September 21, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Unfortunately we’ve had two rematches…with the first one, we told the kids she was homesick and going home…she was ok with this too (and she was really homesick). With the second one, we told the kids that it just sometimes doesn’t work out and that she was doing things that she shouldn’t be doing as a babysitter. We told them right away, and didn’t have her work for the two weeks (put us in quite a bind, but had the kids out of the house instead of with the grumpy/untrustworthy au pair). I had them help me with a little gift for her and present it to her. She stayed with us for two weeks even though she had no intention of rematching (she had already bought her ticket home) and it was really awkward…if I had it to do over again, I’d send her to the LLC’s or a hotel.

MommyMia September 21, 2009 at 11:21 pm

It’s hard, having been through 2 rematches, as well as taking in one AP in rematch. Usually the older kids have kind of figured out that things aren’t hunky-dory by the time you start the “official” two-week period. We just tell them that AP will be leaving soon, possibly that she’s homesick (often true, even if that’s not the main reason)and sometimes if you know that they’ll find another family, “she’s going to help another family who needs her now.” It can be a very awkward period, but the feeling of relief and trusting yourself to know that you’ve done the right thing for everyone involved will get you through it. Of course, if there are serious safety/neglect/illegal activities involved, then they should leave immediately.

sentimental heart November 1, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I arrived a month ago to be an au pair and i’m already counting the days to going home. Im desperately unhappy here – the family isn’t abusive or terrible, its not so tangible – i just feel like i have no independence in the job i was hired for, i’m here with a stay at home mom and an extremely difficult child who screams at me and always has to have his way!
I come from an educational background and have over 4 years professional teaching experience (qualified) back home as well as au pairing so im used to tantrums and children dont get me wrong but, the mom never seems to take offense to her child treating me this way – and when i bring it up she seems to brush it off with an air of ‘grow up’ and yes i shouldn’t let a 2 year old dictate me emotions and validate me as a person but, when you live in their house and are around them 24/7 and the parents don’t think it a problem it starts to wear a person down … with out being pompass i come very highly recommnded from previous families and lecturers –
my problem is i work 9 am to 6pm all the time, the mom doesn’t seem to enjoy having her child nap and all three of us are together every day, i go every where with them – I get the feeling i’m not trusted or she not ready to relenquish control of her son – I really feel like im a collosal waste of time here, i do nothing but watch the child play with mom or i i play with him for an hour a day or so … i feel like a re match in order but really need some clarity about how real my concerns are.
I have discussed with HM my ‘issues’ and her response to me wanting more responsiblity was more house hold chores(sweeping, laundry dishwasher …etc). i recently stopped working (back home) for a widower who worked terribly long hours and it was my duty to be a mom to that little girl and run the house – basically do all the shopping cleaning, child care, driving, paying bills …. so i am quite prepared to do all that but my experience and capabilities don’t seem to ease her into giving me more ‘freedom’ with the child or letting us have more ‘bonding time’.
This little boy is so confused as to who in charge and i fear that why he doesnt listen to me or respect me. We also dont go out much unless its the mom who decides we ned to get out. im new to this country and havent seen much except for the market. when i asked about maybe going to a popular monument i was told it was too expensive … (i would’ve paid for myself) i don’t feel they are so eager to show me their city/country! that is also hurtful as i come from a very hospitable family where we would organise all the touristy things for you to do and see – no questions asked (for free!) thing for me is im very easily guilted into situations and feel so much for other people that im scared to completely voice my feelings in case i upset some one else …
any advice would be so welcome especialy from HMs!

NewAP Mom November 1, 2009 at 6:02 pm

sentimental heart, it’s hard to know what to tell you. You do sound unhappy and it’s really up to you to decide if you want to stay. But I would offer the following alternate viewpoints…

First, there’s a reason that the age of 2 is referred to as the “terrible twos.” Even the most angelic of children are difficult. You sound like you have a lot of experience with children, but consider that most teachers are better with some age groups than others. Consider that 2 is not your ideal age group. You can either try to rematch into a family with differently-aged children, or you can take the opportunity to learn about child development and parenting techniques for that age.

You might be a better fit for a family where both parents work, and you have more autonomy and less supervision. There’s a recent post that might be helpful, when another au pair was having similar issues: But, this economy isn’t great, and even if you tried to rematch, another position might not be available. So it’s a risk you take.

Finally I would submit that it is not your host family’s responsibility to take you sightseeing. Presumably you work a max of 45 hours a week, which leaves you plenty of time to sightsee on your own or with other au pairs. Personally as a host mom, I have literally zero free time to use for stuff like that – all of my time revolves around household tasks (like your host mom going to the market) or taking care of my own children. Remember that you are not a guest in your household. You are an adult family member with responsibilities. But unlike your host parents, you at least get scheduled time off when you can do whatever you want.

And finally, at least for me, one month in has been the worst of the culture shock and unhappiness for me, and things have gotten better from there on. So maybe time would help a little.

Good luck to you.

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