How much cleaning do you ask your Au Pair to do?

by cv harquail on January 6, 2009

Housework. The contested terrain.

victoria chan Housework hero on Flickr

Just what housework tasks are appropriate to ask your au pair to do?

"The rules" say that your au pair is in charge of things related to the kids. BUT since the kids shared the house with at least one adult, there is always some overlap as well as jointly-created mess. So where do you draw the line between what’s part of your au pair’s job, and what is not?

Maya writes:

Are my APs the only APs that are not required to do any cleaning other then clean kids rooms one a week?

How much cleaning do you require your APs to do? Does the amount of cleaning/chores depend on the total amount of time they work (out of their 45 allotted hours) or does that not play into it? I am curious now.

Here are the lines we draw in my house. Your mileage may vary…so don’t get mad at me, okay?

Her stuff:
– Clean her room, do her laundry, clean her bathroom (if she has her own).
– Wash any dishes & pots that she alone uses in the kitchen
– Pick up after herself in kitchen and rest of house.

Kids’ Stuff:
– Tidy kids’ bedrooms (daily).
– Change kids’ sheets.
– Wash kids’ sheets.
– Wash kids’ laundry.
– Leave laundry room as tidy as she found it (which is not asking that much, in my house).
– Tidy up after kids in the bathroom (e.g., put away towels).
– Clean up any mess made during the preparation and enjoyment of kids’ meals.
– Keep designated "kid areas" tidy. (Kids areas in my house include worktable in kitchen, kids’ CD collection, "art room" (corner of laundry room), kids’ toy closet, kids’ coat closet, back seat of car.) Tidy means: neat and organized enough so that the kids are able to put things away themselves. (Remember, my kids are 8 & 10, so they do some of their own stuff. Often, the au pair supervises or helps them with their chores rather than cleaning herself).

Picture 060 Shared territory:

– Sweep the kitchen floor after preparing kids’ meal.
– Occasionally clean the sink, after preparing kids’ meal.

As far as ‘pitching in’, we ask our au pair to empty the dishwasher and dish drainer as her family chore. I don’t expect her to do any other kind of house stuff beyond that and helping to clear the table, etc. after a family meal.

Host parent stuff:
– None. And I mean *none*.

I personally don’t think it’s fair to have your au pair:
Clean the bathroom that only the kids use (the big, weekly cleaning).
– Vacuum the playroom (unless there has been a glitter-spreading event).

Other stuff?
We all know that it’s "against the rules" to pay an au pair to do extra housework.
Still, I know that some families try this– so
let’s save that as a topic for another day. In the meantime:

What do you ask your au pair to do?

What’s the rationale behind where you draw the line?

{ 72 comments }

Angie January 6, 2009 at 4:52 pm

I keep the cleaning duties limited to her stuff & the kids stuff.

My children are very small (3 1/2, 2 & twin 7 month olds), so we have constant activity in our house. The dynamics and duties may be a bit different than with older children. We are constantly engaged with art projects, imaginary play, toys and games.

Basically, I ask that she do her own laundry, keep her room clean (to include dusting & vaccuming it once a week) and keep her bathroom clean (she shares this with the children).

For the kids: she does their laundry, keeps their rooms clean (making their beds daily & tidying up; vacuuming, dusting & changing sheets weekly), sweeps & mops the playroom weekly, cleaning up messes after preparing thier meals, and cleaning up after doing anything with the kids (i.e. art projects, games, etc.)

I don’t ask her do any “family” chores since she is constantly helping with two or more children each day. Just having her help to keep up with them and their messes is a blessing to me! :)

Dawn January 6, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Our au pair’s household duties are also pretty limited to those that are “child-related.” We expect her to do the kids’ laundry and help keep the kids’ rooms and the playroom clean. The level of responsibility varies with the ages of the kids — i.e. she washes and folds our 10-year-old’s laudry, but he puts it away and is responsible for cleaning his own room; our six-year-old needs some help/supervision, and the au pair is responsible for the cleaning of the 2-year-old’s room.

We also expect the au pair to clean up after herself (and the kids) in the kitchen, and to help with the after dinner dishes (as all family members do) on the nights when she joins us for family dinner. We also ask her to empty the dishwasher on an as-needed basis — this task basically ends up rotating between the three adults in the house depending on what time of day we happen to run the dishwasher.

We don’t have any particular rules or schedule for keeping her own room and bathroom clean, but I may put some guidelines in place when our next au pair arrives in February. My theory in not having any rules/schedule was that she is an adult and can keep her room however clean or messy she wants it, but the point someone raised in another comment about the potential wear-and-tear on the carpet if it’s not cleaned made me think that we should at least require a weekly vacuuming.

CVH, I’m curious as to why you don’t think it’s fair to expect the au pair to vacuum the playroom? We don’t currently require our au pair to do any vacuuming, but I was actually thinking of adding “vacuum the basement weekly” to the list of responsibilities for our next au pair. (The basement includes the au pair’s room, the kids’ playroom, and the rec room.) That seems like a pretty kid-related chore, not to mention something that I think would be reasonable to expect of a teenaged daughter — why not an au pair?

Also, this is sort of tangentially related to Maya’s question about how the cleaning responsibilities relate to the number of hours the au pair works — we don’t specify *when* the au pair needs to do her household chores. She has plenty of time to complete them during her “working hours” (i.e. when the 2-year-old is napping or at preschool), but if she chooses to use that time to relax, talk on the phone, etc., that’s fine — as long as it gets done at some point. (i.e. she can’t use being “off the clock” as a reason to not do the kids laundry).

On a slightly different note, what do people think about pet care? For example, is it fair to expect an au pair to walk the dog during the day? What about caring for the dog while the family is out of town on a trip she chose not to join?

Anna January 6, 2009 at 5:38 pm

The only things I ask my au pair to do, are to clean up after the kids (together with them), do their laundry (together with them). I also ask her to wash and change kids’ sheets and towels once a week, and keep their rooms neat.
Her room, her half-bathroom, and her clothes are up to her, and also up to her is how often she cleans it. I don’t ask her to clean the full bathroom that she shares with the kids.
I ask her to clean up after herself and kids in the kitchen. She never though sweeps the kitchen floor, and sometimes leaves some dirty dishes at the end of the day after their supper. She does wash her plate and fork after eating meals with us.

Maya January 6, 2009 at 5:42 pm

OMG, I had to laugh at this.

Anna wrote: “She does wash her plate and fork after eating meals with us.”

I am just picturing this. 5 people had dinner, AP get up takes her plate and fork, washes them and leaves. LOL

I wonder if I can do that for myself after dinner. Will make my life so much easier. :)

cynthia January 6, 2009 at 5:49 pm

My au pair is expected to clean up after herself and to leave the house in an orderly manner at the end of the day. I have only asked her to do laundry once, becuase I ran out of clean sleepers and bibs but she does not do this on a regular basis. She’s pretty clean and actually offers to clean our dishes which we “yell” at her about cleaning our things, but she’s pretty good about chipping in after I make dinner. She must empty the trash and diaper genie and leave by the door for my hubby to take out if she fills it up. I feel her main job is for her to take care of the kids during the day and I do not want her distracted by any chores she feels she has to get done. I let her keep her room clean or as messy as she wants. I work and travel a lot, have 8 mo old twins, and my hubby is the worst house keeper ever. I would be the biggest hypocrite if I tried to enforce her cleaning her bedroom when I can’t even keep my own clean. I ask her to let the dog in/out during the day, but this requires her to open the door and let the dog out in the fenced in yard and he’ll bug her on his own when he wants to. She offers to walk the dog when she wants to go for a walk at night, but we in no way ask her to do this. We went on vacation over the Xmas break and she stayed at home. We asked her to take care of the dog and we gave her money for her trip to New York for New Years in exchange – she didn’t ask to be paid and initially refused, but we figured it was the least we coud do and we would have certainly paid a couple hundred more to have kenneled him.

cvh January 6, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Hi Dawn –
A quick reply to the very specific question about why not vacuum the playroom… In truth, I’m not sure I have an au pair-related reason …

I guess b/c it’s all the way downstairs, kind of big, blah blah but I think it’s really that vacuuming the playroom is something I want the cleaning ladies to do (to fill out their hours).

It might actually be better if I did make that part of the ap’s responsibility — she’d then be more focused on the challenge of getting (the girls to put) all of the stuff into the closet and onto the shelves. But also, I probably am picking my battles too — I’d rather have her keep the station wagon clean, and I feel like I can have only so much on her plate.I am rethinking this….

Rayann January 6, 2009 at 8:47 pm

What we ask her to do and what she does in reality are quite different. Our au pair handbook outlines that she is expected to help the older kids (8 and 10) with their chores, rotate with them on weeks cleaning the bathroom (the three of them share it), and help them do dishes. But they are expected to keep their own rooms clean, pick up after themselves, do their laundry, etc…. The 2 year old is a different story, of course. We ask her to pick up his toys at the end of her work day and to be responsible for his laundry.

That’s what we ask her to do…in reality, though, she’s a clean freak (I’m definitely not complaining). She says she enjoys cleaning and when the baby naps during the day, she often cleans. We tell her not to, but she does anyway. She doesn’t clean at all in our room or bathroom, but she will clean the common areas of the home.

As for pet care – she pitches in and feeds the cats if she sees they need to be fed. We haven’t asked her to scoop litter boxes (she has gone with us every time we’ve traveled), but I wouldn’t have a problem asking her if we were gone and she was home. After all, she’s part of the family, right?

mimi January 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm

hello! I am an au pair, and I love this site. I like to read what people think about the situations.
About the cleaning, I think that the au pair must do the after kids chores, and also some contribuition about the house, once she lives there.
To Dawn: talk to your au pair first. If she choose not to join you on a trip, maybe she wants to do some litle trip with friends (once a friend of mine had to stay home alone in a holiday couse she had to feed the dog, and stuff, while her family was on a trip to canada). But if the au pair is going to stay home, I think its fair if she helps with the dogs.

Deb January 7, 2009 at 12:17 am

I am in Australia so the au pair thing is relatively new here. There are no rules or regulations to abide by so our au pair basically does whatever we agree on before she arrives. There are many household duties/chores that need to be done daily so between myself and our au pair, everything gets done. I have a list that we tick off when something is completed (so it isn’t done twice) and this works well. If she is playing with the kids and the laundry needs folding then I will do it. If I am playing with the kids and the dishwasher needs unpacking, then she will do it. She is totally responsible for her room/bathroom, and partially responsible for the rest of the house. There are standard duties that she does everyday regardless, so she gets them out of the way early. We also offer her extra duties to earn more pocket money. She always jumps at the chance because she plans to travel after leaving us. I don’t understand why this is ‘against the rules’?? Isn’t a private agreement with someone who lives with you allowed? We treat our au pair very much like a daughter which I find helps with her ‘pulling her weight’. I have had 4 au pairs now and this system has worked well.

CV January 7, 2009 at 3:17 am

Hi Deb-

Extra work for pay, and basic housework, are against the *American* rules. Here in the USofA, we are bound by a set of legal requirements related to an au pair’s visa (and other stuff, not the least of which is to protect the au pair from being exploited, which happens sometimes even in spite of the regulations).

I wasn’t aware that host moms outside the USA & Canada were reading the blog! You all don’t show up on the nifty google analytics map– probably not enough of you. I’ll make a distinction from here on it and be clear when something is a US regulation or just au pair momming ‘best practice”. Thanks for the heads up!

But that also raises the question of cultural differences across countries… hmmm.

Talya January 7, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Hi –

As a former au pair, I come at this one from a slightly different angle. First, I agree wholeheartedly that as an ‘unofficial’ member of the family, asking your au pair to help out with household chores is fine. Helping with watering plants, feeding animals, and keeping common areas clean is par for the course in any home. There’s nothing wrong with au pairs doing their part.

As far as the au pair bedroom, I loved that my host family did not have any set standards for how clean or messy I kept my room. My room was nowhere near atrocious, but it was not exactly neat, either. My host dad did make the occasional joke about my piles of clothes, but he did this good naturedly and did not expect me to live up to their uber-neat standards.

I do have a couple of thoughts on chores beyond those directly related to taking care of the kids and keeping the house clean as a family member. First, I’m convinced that au pairs do a better job when their primary focus is on children, not housekeeping. Secondly, the number of total hours the au pair works must be factored into the equation. If the au pair is working all of her allotted hours with children, then additional lengthy duties (laundry, deep cleaning, etc.,) that push her hours into overtime should be avoided.

Talya

Greg January 7, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I guess I’m a bit of an outcast here since I’m not a mom. This is my first post and my first au pair is arriving next week, so I have more of a question than input.

I am a widower – my wife died last summer – with a 13, 10 and 8 year old to raise. Since I have no small kids, the Au Pair is there more to manage my kids lives than to sit and play with them. While she will have some house cleaning duties (kids areas and common areas where she and the kids largely reside), part of her responsibilities will be to make sure the kids are doing their chores too – which may include things that are outside of US limitations. For example, the kids may have to clean the downstairs bathrooms, including mine.

So the question is, is it OK for an Au Pair to oversee the work of the kids, even though that work may be outside of her responsiblities?

As far as the work hours, our au pair will rarely work the 45 hrs the US allows. My kids are in school ’til 4 each day, and get themselves off to school by themselves in the morning. So she will work most evenings and some hours on the weekends. I’m actually trying to find stuff for her to do so I can get more hours. If you are wondering why I hired an au pair if I have older kids and don’t need the hours, I have to travel, I like to have a social life, am training for an Ironman triathlon and I work 60 hrs a week (including my 1 hr commute) so the flexibility of someone living at the house is important to me. My kids aren’t quite old enough to stay alone, yet are beyond the babysitter stage.

Input/advice is greatly appreciated. I suck at being a mom. ;-)

Anna January 7, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Greg,
you should be aware that you are not allowed to leave your kids with an au pair alone overnight (it is in the US au pair program regulations), since you mentioned that you like to travel.
You can take your whole family with you, including an au pair, on a trip.

C January 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Someone once told me that the word au pair means “mother’s helper,” and should help with anything that fall’s as the mother’s responsiblity. I think this is a bit much. However, in all honesty each family needs to look at what their individual needs are to feel supported. There are times in the year when I need less help with childcare and more with supporting our household.

On a daily basis we ask our au pair to unload the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, sweep the floor after the children have eaten a meal, straigthen their children’s rooms, pick up the toy room several times a week and vacuum once a week. She also does the children’s laundry. These are all factored into the 40-45 hours per week she is on duty. On occassion when I need less offical “childcare” I have asked her to step up a little more, like helping to vacuum and mop the common areas. I do this too, so its not like I am asking her to serve us, its just pitching in.

Sometimes I do want to spend time with my children. Sometimes I do ask my au pair to help me with chores that might otherwise take me away from them. This includes straightening rooms that my children have messed up and sometimes folding clean family laundry.

As many au pairs compare notes. I know another au pair who works only 25 hours per week with the children but is then responsible for walking their dog, cleaning out the family refrigerator weekly and washing the kitchen floor once a week.

Rayann January 7, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Greg,

I think it’s absolutely okay to have your au pair oversee the kids’ responsibilities. At least in our household, that’s common. Our kids have chores and homework that must be completed after school before they can play with their friends – and our au pair is in charge of that after school time which includes making sure jobs are done and okayed by her before they can do anything else.

I think that also includes basic responsibilities of everyone in the household such as rinsing dirty dishes after a meal and loading the dishwasher. We expect the kids to do that every time, and we expect her to make sure they are following household rules.

Welcome to the world of au pair hosting – it’s a whole new journey, but also a lot of fun!

cvh January 7, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Hi Greg-

You’re not an outcast! You’re just an anomoly! (how is that spelled??)

Not meaning to exclude Dads per se. Every now and then I generalize to “parents” or include Dads outright, but the gendered divisions of domestic labor usually assign the au pair mgmt to the ‘mom’ (or in cases of 2 mom families, one of the moms). …
Also, there are gender differences in how host parents and au pairs relate to one another — and I can only speak from the mom side.

It will be an interesting challenge for you, managing both the ‘single parent’ and the less conventional gender dynamic, — what sorts of advice will translate easily to your situation, and what will need to be customized?

That said, I will soon put out a call for ideas & posts by host DADS! Keep us posted, and shout out whenever you want– you are indeed welcome!

I think that it’s perfectly fine to have the au pair supervise the kids chores, regardless of whether their chores benefit the kids themselves, the family in general, or you the parent in particular. It can be very hard to have the ap stick to supervising, since sometimes it’s more expedient to DIY. Your ap will be able to tell the kids “This is your chore, not mine, b/c it’s illegal for me to clean up after your dad (said jokingly).”

cvh January 7, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I almost missed Tayla’s point– and it is critical! We probably do need to be careful to keep the childcare the top priority – both in terms of how much time your ap spends on this, and in terms of what we pay attention to. Given a choice, I’d rather have an ap spend the afternoon with the kids in a spontaneous art project or playdate, than to forfeit these chances so the laundry gets done (as long as eventually the laundry gets done).

Calif mom January 7, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Greg,

I know it’s different for you, and I am sorry for your family’s loss. But I also think sometimes we all feel we suck at being a mom! I spent a quality hour this afternoon with a schedule/planner trying to figure out which days which kid will be where and who can do what and who will pick up whom, when. It’s not my natural talent. I hate it, in fact.

I also think you’ll find an au pair provides just the kind of flexibility you are looking for. It’s definitely a huge help to have a grown-up in charge around in those evening hours. YMMV, but I would also like to suggest, especially after she has been here for awhile and starts to build friendships with other au pairs and folks in your area, that you keep an eye on how many ‘going out’ evenings you ask her to work. Try to be sure she gets at least Friday or Saturday night off each week. (Of course, my current AP doesn’t really go out on those nights, but she’s the only one like this that I have had so far, and we’ve had 5 APs.)

I also think you’re smart to want to fill her daytime hours or she will get absurdly bored. Make sure she takes her college class in the daytime, and maybe she will find some pals at college. I have heard of this being a challenge for other families with older kids. The AP gets bored during the day and then has to deal with hungry/grouchy people as a reward. Maybe a gym membership? My AP actually likes to hang at the public library, too.

I think you’ll find this blog a font of wisdom from the trenches! I’m hooked….

cvh January 8, 2009 at 4:27 am

CalifMom- what a sweet and kind reply.

Greg January 8, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Thank you for the encouragement and great input. The past 5 years has been a blur – a constant learning curve – between cancer and now being an only parent. This site has been awesome in preparing me. Thanks!

Greg

Calif mom January 11, 2009 at 2:52 am

One more thought —

It might help to have your counselor give you the names of some other au pairs or host families who have teens. Then your au pair could try to meet some other APs who have a similar schedule, family life, and challenges. I know that with our school-age kids, it has been difficult for our AP to make friends with APs whose charges are still in the world of toddler or baby schedules and activities. The stages are a lot different, no matter whether the AP is from the same country or not. We actually lost out to a rematch AP candidate because her friend was with a family who had teens, and she wanted to have that schedule along with her friend.

Best of luck!

david February 19, 2009 at 7:20 am

Anna
Our aupair does the same thing after dinner. No help with prep during the day, no table set up, we call her upstairs for dinner, she eats, puts her plate and utensils in the dishwasher (no doesn’t even rinse), heads back downstairs. No cleanup. Nothing.

We’ve stopped cooking for her.

MomLulu February 25, 2009 at 9:46 pm

I think it depends a lot on how many children and how old they are. If AP has 3 kids under 4 and works 8 hours a day it might be difficult to get some housework done, unless they all nap at the same time. And even then, wouldn’t you need a break in the day with such a scenario? :)
Anyway, as a former au pair I found it much easier to pitch in with duties when I didn’t have to. But if I stayed for dinner of course I helped with cleaning. Someone also pointed out that since they cannot keep their bedroom in order it would be hypocritical to ask that of the au pair. Thank you for that note very much. It is so true.
Families are examples and role models not only to their kids but their au pairs too.

daria April 8, 2009 at 12:26 pm

I get really irritated at times when an au pair is just lazy. I am a very disorganized person and so if I get the house straight, I really need help keeping it that way…which means everybody should pick up after themselves. We currently have an au pair who is not offended by any kind of mess. She constantly cooks for herself and leaves the dishes in the sink…to the point that they pile up and stink. When she does decided to put them in the dishwasher, she doesn’t prep them…so when they come out, they are still dirty with baked on food. I have to redo so many dishes I wish I could ban her from cooking altogether. It is really disgusting to pull a pan out of the pantry with food all over it. I have tried to show her the problem..offer to let her have a drink out of one of the crusty glasses she puts away…but she still doesn’t get it…or doesn’t want to get it . We don’t cook elaborate meals and we use paper plates for almost everything…and I never ask her to clean up after me….but I just think she shouldn’t leave a mess like that. I comment on it, but she just continues to do things the same way. The upside is, she is great with my special needs son….so I put up with a lot of crap in appreciation of that.

a-Mom-ymous April 8, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Role model: our problem was the car had turned into a pig sty. We started being absolutely diligent about cleaning out the car after every trip we were responsible for, and I reinforced this new world order by leaving a note “for myself” — a sticky note on the dashboard reminds “me” to clean out the car when we arrive back home. AP is now much better about having kids clean their trash out and pick up dropped food. (I also remind myself we are looking for progress, not perfection!)

Another tactic — when things really start to slip, my husband plays Bad Cop. He will start yelling about “who left this mess in the kitchen? This is disgusting!” etc.

CoCa April 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

For what it’s worth, I just thought I would point out that “au pair” does not mean “mother’s helper” but “equal to”, or “on par with”. I believe this term came about because the idea behind the au pair arrangement was that the au pair was supposed to be an equal member of the family, a sort of “older sister” if you will.

Of course, the whole concept was invented long ago when times where different, and families had very different needs in terms of childcare, but that was the general idea.

On the topic of housework, I was an au pair myself in a different lifetime :-), working in several different families, and I know I was not alone in actually prefering families where the children were older and there was a fairly high housework-to-childcare ratio. This was in the UK, where it was and is acceptable for au pairs to do up to 2 hours of ANY light housework per day, not just that related to the children.

I am not about to argue with the US law – it is what it is. But I do think it is a shame that there isn’t more flexibility with regards to the housework. I am presently trying to decide whether to get an au pair for my two school age children, and if the US system was more like the UK, I wouldn’t hesitate. Then, I could have someone who would be happy to do 2 hours per day of light cleaning (vacuuming, doing bathrooms and kitchen, laundry etc.), 1 hour of childcare before school and 2 hours after, plus 2 evenings of babysitting per week.

That is exactly what I used to do as an au pair, and as I greatly enjoyed it and didn’t feel in the least bit “put upon” by the family, I don’t see why there wouldn’t be someone out there today who would be happy with it too.

These kinds of levels of childcare and housework are precisely what we need – I only work part time so I don’t need someone to care for the children (or do anything else for that matter) for 45 hours a week. And it definitely doesn’t mean we are just looking for an underpaid housekeeper – we would definitely welcome the au pair as a full member of the household.

Anyway, enough ranting – I am very interested to read what others have said about what they ask their au pairs to do. It seems to vary quite a bit, and might help me along in trying to decide whether an au pair in America is right for us or not.

cvh April 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm

CoCa, your perspective is kindof intriguing to me, since it never occurred to me that an au pair might actually prefer to do a little more housekeeping in exchange to a little less childminding. I have often assumed that this rule existed to prevent thoughtless host parents from exploiting au pairs…housekeeping work can be like bottomless pit….how much is enough? Didi she really do a good enough job, etc.
But I’m with you on what I would prefer as a host mom with kids in school… what I really need is someone who could do 25 hrs of childcare and 10-12 hours of vacuuming, grown-up laundry (not just kids’) and crazy errands like dry cleaning, taking the car to the shop, and buying poster board at Office Depot.

CoCa April 17, 2009 at 7:23 am

Well, since I have been known to the odd spot of cleaning while my own kids were at daycare, I guess I still occassionally prefer housework over childminding – BAD mommy ;-)

Somehow I feel that if “au pair” is supposed to mean “equal to”, then the chores you mention here like vacuuming and errands should be possible. Since that is what I do, she would only be equal to me by sharing those tasks. Or is she supposed to be equal to the children? No, that won’t work.

I totally agree that one must make sure au pairs are not exploited, and I am sure sadly some are even under the current rules. But as long as they are not, and their stay still fulfils the requirement of being a mutually beneficial cultural exchange, I don’t see why au pairs who are willing to do more housework couldn’t be matched with families who require it…

Anyway, I think I will probably end up getting an au pair after all which will still free up more time for me so I can do the chores myself. What a vision: the au pair at the kitchen table doing puzzles with the kids, and me asking them all to lift their feet so I can vacuum under them ;-)))

CoCa April 17, 2009 at 7:24 am

Buying poster board at Office Depot, he he – been there, done that :-)

Anonymous April 17, 2009 at 7:14 pm

APs have been known to suggest to hosts that they would be happy to do things like mopping and laundry for a little extra cash that the host family would otherwise be giving to a housecleaner.

Parent-anon April 17, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Regarding paying AP’s extra for cleaning, I would have no problem with that, but before I would consider something like that I would need to live with AP for a while and access her personal level of cleanliness. Because, if you have a generally messy AP, her ‘clean’ will not be anywhere near what you consider ‘clean’ and what you would like to see for the price.

Also, with generally messy people, you cannot really tell them to clean better or do a better job. Messy people just do see messes. I know, because I am one of them, and thus pay a good penny for a cleaning service. I don’t see small messes but do see when everything is nice and clean and sparkles.

Dawn April 17, 2009 at 7:46 pm

(Just thought I should point out that it’s not actually legal to pay your AP for extra cleaning, extra hours, etc.)

Calif Mom April 17, 2009 at 8:25 pm

“Au pair” does not = equality. Hosts still carry around the list of unending tasks that the family needs done. APs get to take care of kids and do small tasks without the relentless chatter in the mental inboxes. It’s just the miracle of modern motherhood!

CoCa April 19, 2009 at 7:29 am

Dawn – you are absolutely right, it is not legal to pay an au pair extra to do extra work of any kind.

Calif Mom: I hear you! Who could possibly ever be “equal” to Mom, or Dad for that matter? But then, no one could possibly ever get the equal benefits either, right? But it is a fact that the TERM au pair means “on par with” which does say something about how this program was once intended to operate. I would say that maybe the law needs to be updated to keep pace with reality. Most people these days cannot afford to keep governess-style helpers as an extra pair of hands, as might have been the case 30 or 40 years ago.

Parent-anon and others: I hear you, too, but the question is, if we have differing standards as to what constitutes “clean”, surely we may also have different standards as to what constitutes “good childcare”? Isn’t it funny how cleaning is considered a potential bottomless pit of failure since it never ends and never can be done well enough, whereas with childcare it is assumed that just about anyone can do it?

Parent-anon April 19, 2009 at 7:54 am

CoCa,

I have never said that that with childcare it is assumed that just about anyone can do it. And believe me, I know that not everybody can do it. You just have to read the other comment I posted on “Need Advice” to realize that.

The reason I said that before asking AP to do cleaning (as part of her chores or for extra pay) you need to asses her understanding of clean. My AP for example, does not understand what ‘clean’ means. And I can tell you, I am not a need person, and my house is not very neat either. But compared to my AP’s standards we are neat freaks. I would never ever ask my AP to clean for me even if it was legal of me to do that. It would result in a waste of money and extra stress for me.

CoCa April 20, 2009 at 8:38 am

Of course, Parent-anon, I hope you didnt feel I was being critical of your comment, because that was not the intention! All I meant was that generally, the law AND some people seem to feel that cleaning is a touchy subject whereas childcare isnt.

I will admit readily that I am a neat freak by anyones definition, and I know that I will never get anyone – cleaning help, au pair or even family member – to comply with my standards of clean. Im not sure if that adds anything to the discussion, but it is nevertheless true.

A funny story is that one of the families I worked for when I was au pairing was undersold to me prior to me accepting the job with the words ‘I don’t know if you want to work for so-and-so, she is extremely particular’, and in the end I took the job and loved it because my host mother and I were equal clean freaks and so on the exact same page!

Lola April 22, 2009 at 2:29 pm

I am not sure what situation I am in if it’s normal or not but I was hired to work 40 hrs a week and paid 300EUR. I am an au pair in Germany, and I find myself doing pretty much all the cleaning around the house. My schedule is pertained to cleaning a cleaning a whole floor, cleaning the kitchen entirely, doing another small cleaning which means wiping the host parents and children’s bathroom and vacumming, sweeping and moping the terrace and street, without including the children tasks (waking them up in the morning, getting them dressed, breakfast, homework, etc)

Calif Mom April 22, 2009 at 7:52 pm

When I was a SAHM, my ideal support staff would have been more like an executive assistant stereotypical of the 1950s, who would also be a business manager and track all that blasted household paperwork and kids’ schedules and forms and evil playdate arrangements. I am a great mom, but can’t do that WELL when I am stressed about all the other stuff that I’m not as good at. Endless errands, paperwork, blech.

I’m actually a much better mom to my kids when I am working. My kid told me yesterday “Mom, you hire the BEST babysitters! thank you thank you!” because I added a college student to help get homework done a couple days a week while AP is staffing other kids. This comment gave me pause, and I started thinking why in the world am I even working?! If I added up all the services I hire, I wonder how much I even bring in… but I think it’s okay. Because when I think about me doing all of that stuff (even though it’s not really an option from an income perspective) I realize that I would be crabby and yelling at them on a daily basis, not really engaging with the kids. The idyllic vision of SAHM does not live out in reality, at least for me.

A housecleaner is a necessity, no apologies. For us, the au pairs we have met who are neat freaks are not as flexible or relaxed with the kids. We do better with flexible and relaxed personalities, which means there’s a certain amount of “not ready for Martha” at our house. I’m getting more okay with that. Pick your battles and priorities. For example, I re-load the dishwasher every night before running it. I’m not sure why, but the people who unload it every morning don’t notice how things are loaded when they put them in during the day. It does make a difference on how clean things get. Is this one I’m going to address? Nope. At first it bothered me, but after several months it amuses me, and the reloading has become part of my decompression at the end of the day. Like doing a puzzle, it’s the most finite task I accomplish in a day, as well, and that can be rewarding!

Calif Mom April 22, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Lola — host families here are most familiar with U.S. regulations and laws and can’t really speak to contracts in Germany. Personally, if something seems unfair, it’s my belief that you should try to talk about it, negotiate, and if it doesn’t get fixed to your satisfaction, then move on. That’s how I approach my ‘regular’ jobs! : )

Franzi April 22, 2009 at 11:43 pm

@ lola, where in germany are you? get in touch with me, if you feel like it. i think because you are new, your HP are trying to squeeze as much out of you as possible – because if you do it in the beginning, you are likely expected to do it all the time.

is there some local agency support you can ask about your issues? i am not familiar with the rules of APing in germany so i can’t provide any rulebook advice

Anonymous May 7, 2009 at 2:08 am

Hi!!! This site has helped me a lot to the see the perspectives of host parents.

At first, I came here angry (and still are a little) ’cause my host mom asked me to do more household stuff. Currently I do all family members’ laundry, dust and vacuum all the house one time per week, keep thd children’s rooms clean, clean the kitchen’s counters, swipe the kitchen and do the dishes (mainly the children’s and mine, but sometines my HPs also). Ans clean any mess the children do where ever they are. Now she asks me to take the trash bags out (which is what usually the husband does) and help her in the “heavy duty” cleaning. I am allergic to dust ( stated that in my app) and in my own house back in my country I just swipe and mop occasionally if my real mom asks me to, we have a housekeeper back home.
What bothers me is that my host mom deliberatedly sets me traps to see if do pick that up. For example, if my host dad is in charge of the garbage thing and today my host mom left the bag by the back door. What I’m thinking is, if I wasn’t told to take that bag back and left it there, was that a wrongdoing?

OR, the other day I was OFF, and she left a dish and a fork in the sink on purpose to see if I was to wash it. But that day I never even got near the kitchen, so how would I know? And the she scolds me (yeah, I got yelled at) why didn’t I clean it.

I usually try to step up whenever I can, and even do some marriage counseling (they loudly fight frequently, empahize frequently) when I’m the shoulder to cry on, if you know what I mean. Both parents being full time workers, come late when the children are sleeping so they basically see them on the weekends and like 10 min in the mornings and really spoil them (the 4 1/2 y. old has her teeth so rotten they are breaking and 1 just dropped out of her mouth). Usually my host mom arrives at nights and focuses on how clean is the house is and then eats dinner and then she goes and checks on her children (personally I would do that the other way around); I like to think that’s due to this heavy schedule and couple tensions. I’m not saying they aren’t good parents, but sometimes they seem to drift into their too much grown up world and are missing so much of their children’s growth. Everything in the weekend is a rush, and don’t do that ’cause I’ll have to clean it later, that’s what they say. And they are always freaking someone wants to break into the house (pretty weird to me)
Please moms help me, give me some advice how should I handle the situation, please.
And thank you soo much for reading this.

P.S. As a background, maybe it will help you understand me, if I tell you that I’m 19 y. old. I’m Mexican, but not the Mexicans most Americans know, most of my life we’ve had a cleaning lady and live in a condo? (there’s and entrance house where we have to give permission to visitors to get in). Gone to private schools all my life, speak four languages (spanish, english, french and german) and am an International Baccalaureate graduate. So being the helper its a little hard for me, because I’m not used to it. But I try really hard to “grab the ball” (?) and be less laid back.

counselor May 7, 2009 at 5:30 am

Anonymuos

Without going into detail. Here are the usual general guidelines that I give my host parents.
Up to 1 hour of housework per day is acceptable. Everything related to children is OK, including kids’ laundry (not parents laundry). Your own room and bathroom that you use. You can also “participated” in keeping the common areas of the house clean. That means all the rooms and places in the house that you spend time during the day. Most likely the kitchen, the breakfast/dining area, the family room, the bathroom on that level of the house, the kids’ playroom, the kids’ bedrooms. But you only need ‘to share’ the common areas of the home.
That means that the host mom and/or host dad should also do some cleaning of those areas. The trash should be also shared.

You should have a talk with the host mom about this and refer to what I told you {ed. note: better to refer to agency guidelines}. But start the meeting positive. Tell her that you are happy with the kids, the house, the host parents and then go into that you feel that you are doing too much housekeeping. That you are happy to SHARE with them, and to HELP keeping up the kitchen, but that the kitchen is not your sole responsibility. Again, start the meeting positive – very, very important. So that the host mom understands that you are not ‘comming down’ on her. That way you can bring up a little bit of criticism.
In general, I understand that you come from a privileged home in Mexico. But again, 45 minutes a day or so, is OK. Since the program is for childcare and some light housekeeping.
But it is important that you talk about it now. Otherwise, you will become more and more unhappy and the relationship will turn bad and could result in a break-up if you don’t address this issue now. Good luck!!!
Let us here about the outcome.
MV

CV May 7, 2009 at 6:48 am

Dear Anonymous-
The amount and type of housework that your host family is expecting you to do is too much. Assuming that you are with an actual agency, and assuming that you did not explicitly agree when you matched that you’d trade childcare hours for cleaning hours (not legal, but sometimes done), your host parents are violating not just the guidelines but the actual “rules”.

If it’s not the children’s mess, and it’s not your mess, it’s not your job to clean it up. Sure, you can ‘help’, but doing the HP laundry, cleaning the whole house, etc. is wrong.

The idea of talking with your HM/HD about responsibilities, using the list of what’s allowed and not allowed (print it out from your agency) is a good one. Also, contact your counselor and ask her for help. Maybe your counselor can suggest to the HM/HD that they get a cleaning service for 4 hrs a week if they can’t do their own laundry & vacuuming.

Regarding the “traps” that your Host Mom has set— every time you notice one, recognize that it gives you an opening for negotiating what is fair for you to do. For example: “I notice that HD didn’t get the garbage out. I’m happy to do it occasionally, even though it is outside my responsibilities.” Or, if she asks why you didn’t clean on your day off “On my day off, I understand that I’m entirely off duty and responsible only for my own mess. Otherwise I’m on duty. Do you want me to be on duty today, or off duty?”

Also, stop being the ‘shoulder to cry on’ about marriage troubles. This is not only inappropriate, but it messes up your relationship with your host parents. More on that later, but let it suffice to say that you should not be a confidant for either host parent when it comes to their relationship.

Anonymous– look at the big picture here. You are being taken advantage of by host parents that can’t get their act together. You can either accept this, push back to get their expectations adjusted, or consider a rematch. I think you should experiment with pushing back and trying to work this out– it will give you experience for similar situations later in life. And, contact your LCC and get her help.

meme May 26, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Wow this site is great! I really enjoyed reading all of your comments. I found this site while looking at ways to motivate my new au pair around the house.
She has only been here a few days and already leaves her shoes where ever she takes them off. I have also noticed that she leaves her dishes in the sink dirty.
Let me begin by saying that my last Au pair, who was with us for 2 yrs., was a clean freak and even so I don’t expect perfection from my new one. However usually when you start a job you want to show your best performance.
I know I need to be firm about my expectations but do not want to seem over bearing.
I’ll tell you what I ask my au pairs to do for us. I have had 6. You think I would be a pro right? Wrong. Each girl is different and I just get the feeling I’ll need to be very specific about what my current Au pairs job entails.

In the past my Au pairs have had to:
do boys (3) laundry, keep their bedrooms & bath tidy (no hard cleaning), make beds daily and now begin to get them to help her on weekends. She also should empty dishwasher as needed and fill as needed. Clean table and floor after her meals and kids meals. Overall the areas that the boys play in should be tidy at the end of her day. It won’t kill me if she doesn’t vacuum the toy room. I’m okay with that. I have told her that her room was up to her. I asked that she take her trash out once a week and keep her shower clean. I’m thinking that I might need to set a better schedule? As she told me I would not want to see her room at home. I guess I am just nervous after having the system for 2 yrs.
I have house guidelines typed for her as a reference guide. Should I just be as specific as possible when updating them?

meme May 26, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Hi,
I am looking the best approach to get my new Au pair to pick up after herself? Should I just be straight forward in her house guidelines? She has only been here a week and does not do her own dishes or put her shoes away? What would you do?

meme May 26, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Okay I’m obviously having browser problems…. I did not think my first post went through. Oops. Thanks for tolerating the double input from me :)

Anonymous May 26, 2009 at 11:17 pm

CV & MV, hii I’m Anonymous :) Thank you for your advice. I talked to my LCC and she reassured me on the extra work I had been doing, but also pointed me to always be proactive. As for the traps, I followed CV advised and now when I’m off duty is off. Regardless if I see something out of place I just fix. I talked to my host mom, and explained her I’m here for the kids, to make her life easier helping her with the kids, not the housekeeping and couple issues. She resented it at first, but at last i think she understood.
However, it feels like walking on….I don’t know how to say this, unkwon lands, or more like false floor (‘?) coz I really dont know how she’ll act, it all depends on how her day at work was. So i just try to help and smile.
Now my concern is that the couple is undoubtedly falling apart and the kids and me are in the middle, but that’s for another topic…
Anyway, THANK YOU so much for your advice, it really helped me.

As for Meme, your guidelines are just fine, and if you already have them in paper that’s better. You’re fine, just be firm,, kind but not bossy. hope it helps.

Calif Mom May 28, 2009 at 10:25 am

Anonymous — Thank you for letting us know it helped! This is very gratifying. The idiom you are looking for to describe how you feel around your host mom is “walking on eggshells”. It’s no fun! I feel bad for your situation. Please keep us advised if we can help. You should think about letting your counselor know that the family is nearing crisis, just in case you need help in an emergency.

Meme — yes, red alert on the new AP who said you would hate to see her room back home. Had one of these myself, and while I truly don’t care what her room looks like, I had big problems with keeping the play areas tidied up at the end of the day. Maybe post a (laminated) checklist on the fridge. If you have had 6 APs, I’m assuming your kids are old enough to benefit from this checklist, too. I really want my AP to be teaching my kids how to pick up, not just getting that task done herself (even though that’s easier) so maybe design a checklist that can engage the kids, too. Then you look like you’re not just a big nag to the AP, but you’re serious about that task getting done.

I was a chronic shoe-leaver growing up. My mom would put them inside the door to my room, where I tripped on them when I went in. I could put them away or not, but she no longer had to see them. Or you could do the shoes by the front door thing, and get a container for them. That’s what we do now and even though we have a tiny house, it’s much easier than staging the great shoe hunt on a daily basis. I confess to still being a relapsing-remitting shoe-leaver myself, though. Have no idea why.

meme May 29, 2009 at 9:14 am

Calif Mom & Anonymous,
Thanks for your response. Things are already getting better. Gave her updated guidelines last and noticed she returned down stairs to help tidy up after boys fell asleep. Wish me luck! She is a sweet girl….

IJC June 14, 2009 at 11:25 am

So many host parents all over the world expect the au pair to do all of the chores. I was an au pair and the host family expected me to spring clean the house every week, do all the laundry and ironing for the whole family, walk the dog for 2 hours per day, and keep the house spotless at all times (all while trying to keep 9 naughty kids under control, 6 of whom didn’t even belong to the host parents.) It’s not fair to treat the AP like a maid, that is not what she’s there for. I also think it’s good that the rules say you can’t pay the AP to do extra. Many APs would rather have their free time than extra money and will feel pressured into agreeing to do the extra work for the family even if they don’t want to. I also think it’s very bad and unsafe that APs in the US can be made to work for 45 hours a week and 10 hours per day. In Europe you can work the AP for a maximum of 25-30 hours per week (depending on which country you’re in) and a maximum of 5 hours per day. After all, the AP is not a professional nanny, she is a young girl who’s just meant to be helping out. In my experience and from what I’ve heard from friends, many host families totally take advantage of their APs, and abuse them in such ways as screaming at them and calling them stupid (a very common occurrence.) My host father and teenage host brothers would frequently burst in on me when I was in the shower or undressing. They were constantly disturbing me during my free time. That’s another thing, if your AP wants to be left alone during her fre time, please leave her be! She is probably very tired. How would you like it if your employer was constantly disturbing you during your free time? Please veryone remember that your AP is not a maid or a slave and think about how you’d like your own daughter to be treated if she was an AP.

Anna June 14, 2009 at 11:38 am

IJC,
I am very sorry you were treated so unfairly while being an au pair.

However 30-35 hrs work requirement here in America is just going to kill the program. The program here is for a full-time caregiver, and only those girls capable of it, and who really love kids, should get in. If I wanted a mother’s helper I would hire a teenage high school student for $5/hr. Much cheaper. Unfortunately I don’t need a mother’s helper, I need an adult (a mature young adult) caregiver while I am at work.

Theresa June 14, 2009 at 12:05 pm

IJC – Well, if you decide to become an au pair, you know that you will live together with a hostfamily, and are not treated as an employe, and some au pairs don’t want to be left alone, but included into the family life.
I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but I’ve never heard of hostparents calling their au pair names. Of course, most au pairs need some down-time sometimes, but I don’t think that you can really generalize an au pair-hostfamily relationship, as every one is really unique. Yes, there are au pairs who want to be left alone and who feel disturbed by their host family in their freetime, but there are also au pairs who enjoy spending time with their hostfamily, even in their freetime.
I guess the reason why au pairs in the USA are allowed to work for up to 45 hours is that that’s what hostfamilies need. If my hostfamily could only make the au pair work for 30 hours a week, they wouldn’t get an au pair, because both parents work way more than that. I think in Europe people work less in general, or at least one of the parents does. And another big difference to the au pair programm in the US is, that there is no restriction what kind of housework au pairs can do, as it is not limited to child-related chores.
In the US, the program regulations allow the au pair to only do child-related chores, so what your hostfamily asked you to do was way too much (that’s one reason why there are LCCs you can talk to). So the regulations in Europe are worse in my opinion.
Sorry about the off-topic

IJC June 14, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Theresa, I understand what you’re saying about the au pair being part of the family and being included in the family’s life. That’s great, but many host families (as an au pair I also met other au pairs and so heard alot from other people) seem to resent the au pair having any time alone at all. I’m sure that not all host parents are this way, but the fact is that many are. For example, in my case, I would usually want to spend a few evenings a week hanging out in the house with the kids & host parents, but that wasn’t good enough for them. If I went into my bedroom and closed the door for a moment, the family would come in and start demanding that I do things for them. I couldn’t get a moment of peace at any time of the day until they went to bed. They always expected me to give up my evenings and weekends (which they had promised would be free, and when I had already worked over the maximum allowed time) to babysit, take the kids to sports classes, and every weekend they expected me to go and stay in their country cottage with them, even if I had already made plans. I just couldn’t get a moment’s peace, and from what I’ve heard from other au pairs, that is not uncommon. Some, not all, but some host families simply do not respect the au pair’s right to free time at all. Also, I get what you are saying about the host family not being treated solely like an employee, but still, the fact is that your host family is your employer and so you’ve always got to act in a way that they will like, there’s no break from it unless you can go out somewhere. The au pair has always got to think of what the host family think of her actions. It’s not like living with your real family where you don’t have to try and impress them all the time.

Theresa June 14, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Okay, I misunderstood that. I can see what you are saying. It is wrong to demand that you do things for them in your time off. It is just not being nice. Sorry you had that kind of experience. I haven’t heard of that at all in my cluster, not sure if it happens a whole lot. Just as there are au pairs who have to realize that they come to the US to work, there are families who have to realize that their au pair is not available to them 24/7.

IJC June 14, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Well this wasn’t actually in the US, so I didn’t have a LCC to help me. I just met the family on a website.

Ann (host mom from New England) June 15, 2009 at 9:12 am

Hi IJC.
As a full-time working parent in the U.S., I need full-time childcare. In order to work a “full” 8-hour day at my company, I need 10 hours of childcare per day, to cover the driving time to/from work, including traffic, and a small break for lunch. (Please remember that many Americans live a 60-minute drive from work, and that in the US corporate culture, working an 8-hour day is looked upon as the bare minimum; if you really want to succeed and get a management position, companies really expect you to work longer hours). So my choices for childcare are a professional nanny that costs twice as much as an au pair; a daycare center; or an au pair. My daughter used to go to a daycare center that was open from 7:30am-5:30pm, so those are the same hours that I expect from my AP (on the days she works a full day).
I consider that her job is easier than that of the childcare workers at the daycare, because she can just roll out of bed and come upstairs, I care much less what she wears, she can and eat breakfast during her working hours, she has only one child to watch, and I don’t expect the same professional standards of her as I did at the childcare center. Most professional childcare providers in the US (nannies, childcare centers) work or are open 50 to 60 hours a week, so I consider 45 hours a week for an AP reasonable.

I think the rules of the US AP program are clear and fair, they guarantee an AP a clear number of evenings, weekends, etc time off per week/month and limit of hours per day and a clear “on-duty/off-duty” schedule. So both the AP and host family can plan their lives. And I think the study/travel component also adds a nice cultural dimension so it’s not just a day job.

I have heard that APs in the UK have much less clarity about when their on-duty/off-duty hours are and can end up “tied” to the house and not being able to go out except on weekends.

Both of my APs have been university graduates who have worked before and before they came over I clearly explained to them that this is a difficult job, but that they would be rewarded with the love of my daughter, the gratitude of my family, and the experience of living in the United States.

IJC June 15, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Maybe the au pair agencies should be a bit more choosy about which girls they recruit? Alot of au pairs in the US do seem to quit and go home early because they can’t cope with the demands on them. Or maybe they should raise the age at which girls can become au pairs? If cutting the hours isn’t an option, some tweaks to the system should be made to prevent so many dropouts. I’m sure that some agencies don’t explain to the girls how tough being an au pair is, alot of girls seem to go into it with rose-tinted glasses. Also, some (not all but definitely some) host parents, not just in the US but all over the world, really don’t appreciate the hours the girls put in and don’t consider their job hard when it really can be.

PNW-Mom January 3, 2010 at 12:57 am

We recently had to ask for a rematch, because our au pair thought she was coming to America to teach her culture, go to American University, and be part of American family, not to work. She was under the impression she was coming to be part of a family on a paid vacation and even stated in the end “you said I was to be like family and family NO WORK”
I urge everyone to make sure the au pairs know they coming for a job. Hopefully they enjoy it.

AFhostmom February 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Since we’re transitioning now, I just read this one again. Housework, and not interacting with our children, were what ruined our relationship with the outgoing AP. She wanted all the benefits of being “on par” without the responsibility. We asked her to unload the dishes three days a week, and she almost never hit this benchmark. We asked her to cook dinner 1 day a week, and she did it about every other week and would never tell me in advance (we have a calendar and she and my husband were each supposed to choose one day at the beginning of the week) so I was always worried about what everyone would eat, then occasionally would come home to a dinner I wasn’t expecting at all. We asked her to vacuum the play area weekly and sweep under the kids’ table every day, and I know she never vacuumed and IDK how often she swept–but not enough to matter.
I have heard, and read, from SO many HM’s “I’d much rather have my AP interacting with my kids than cleaning up!” Yeah, so would I have. But she wasn’t doing that either–they were watching 3-5 hours of TV a day, which as someone pointed out to me here, was the bulk of their waking time during her work day. She did work a 45 hour week but 8 or more of those hours, she was sleeping (when we left the house early in the morning), and 8-10 more the little kids were napping (big kid is in school all day). So there was PLENTY of down time. She didn’t have homework, because she never took a single class in 6 months.

Dorsi February 22, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I am with you — I think that my AP can find plenty of time to interact with my children and do the basic chores that I set out for her (kid laundry, once weekly kid room cleaning, 1/3 of adult household responsibilities.)

The one dinner a week — that seems a bit more tricky. Of 3 APs, I have only had one that would have been able to pull that off. If this is important to you, assign a night per week (every Tuesday), a day when she has to give you a grocery list, and anticipate a lot of guidance. Be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t go that way.

AFhostmom February 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Thanks for the feedback–I’m really trying to figure out if I’m being unreasonable. And I should clarify–when I say cook dinner, I by no means expect something elaborate. DiGiorno pizzas, canned soup and sandwiches (or leftover soup, etc), frozen lasagna, or soups or casseroles I’ve prepared and frozen. In other words, convenience foods that I don’t cook but I do buy for the days when I am not home before 6:30 or 7. I’m fine doing all of the more elaborate cooking.

Dorsi February 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm

If that is what you mean by cook dinner, I think that is fully reasonable. Some APs might still need some guidance (“Pizza in oven at 5:30, serve with salad mix and sliced bread”), but I don’t think you are out of bound in expecting that (at least) one night per week.

AFhostmom February 22, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Yeah, I don’t think it’s expecting a lot. This frees me up to cook one or two nice meals a week, maybe have dinner out once a week, and the other2 nights are covered by AP or husband. My husband, God love him, has ONE go-to recipe and I will happily eat chicken enchiladas with bagged salad once a week in trade for the sense of relief I feel at getting home to a warm meal. :)

Taking a Computer Lunch February 22, 2011 at 11:38 pm

When asked if they like to cook, almost all APs will answer yes (who doesn’t want to please a potential employer). When pressed what they like to cook, almost all will answer “Pasta.”

Since I cook from scratch 4-5 days a week (I do work 6:30 am – 3:00 pm), I personally don’t consider warming food cooking. It’s warming food.

However, I’m with Dorsi. Most APs have absolutely zero experience in food preparation. I find that you have to be explicit. What are you making? Is there a vegetable accompanying this dish? (No, potatoes are not a vegetable.) I have found that when DH and I go out, many of the APs we have had over the years have expected that 1) we will prepare something for them and the kids before we go – even if it is just heating up leftovers, 2) if we expect them to cook, we need to be explicit about it in advance, and 3) if we want a vegetable that is green, red, or yellow, we have to demand its presence on the table.

Out of 6 APs, we had two that grew up cooking for family members and enjoyed cooking food from their country. We had two that could prepare elaborate meals from their country and would occasionally do so to spoil the kids, but we’re otherwise happy not to think about dinner. And, we’ve had two non-cooking APs. (They were excellent at what they did do, but cooking wasn’t one of their skills.)

With the exception of our first AP, who had The Camel as a handicapped “toddler” (she wasn’t walking so she was like an infant) and my son as an infant – who worked her butt off everyday keeping both kids therapy appts., feeding schedules, and found time to read and play with both (and liked housework as little as DH and I), every AP has been tidier than we. Now that our AP works 5 1/2 hours or less a day, we ask her to clean The Camel’s bedroom and bathroom (which does get done) and help the boy pick up his room (which rarely does).

Should be working February 23, 2011 at 5:56 am

Both APs we have had so far THOUGHT they could cook but were absolutely terrible. I have to learn to not hold back when explaining EXACTLY how light-brown a frozen pizza should be when finished, and to tell them to wait 5 min before slicing (as per directions) so that it doesn’t turn into a sloppy mess. They were both so careless with such easy things, like Krusteaz pancake mix. On the other hand, our American babysitters haven’t been great either, and the American babysitters in my experience NEVER wash the dishes. Usually they leave them on the table, and leave all the food out. Even when they have been watching tv since the kids went to bed at 8pm, and we get home at midnight.

azmom February 23, 2011 at 1:06 am

We’ve had success with the cooking food thing – only 2/2 so far but we did make it explicit in matching. We have set days for them. We changed recently so that once she starts classes she doesn’t have to “home” so much. However, I’m going to start charting the other chores. 6 weeks in and she hasn’t yet vacuumed the kids’ area and she didn’t pick an “assigned” duty. She washes their clothes but only if it is in the book, etc. I hate micromanaging, but I’d rather write something for her to check off than have to do it myself I think we’ll do a “let’s go over the hand book thing” and then add it into the schedule, which she follows well.

Busy Mom February 23, 2011 at 9:16 am

We’ve had very good luck on the cooking front. Like azmom, we make the cooking expectations clear during matching. We make clear in our family letter that our AP will be expected to cook for herself and the kids around 3 times/week and that we have simple recipes that can be followed. Yes, that means that our APs are cooking from scratch! Nothing fancy – pasta with meat sauce, baked mac & cheese, tacos, soup, chicken, etc. During the first two weeks, we go over basics like making favorite recipes together, browning meat, US measurement s, etc. It’s worked so far, but might be luck. With our American nannies, I took for granted that they’d be able to pick up a recipe and prepare it – and they all could.

Regarding housework, our 3 APs have been expected to wash the kids’ laundry, change their beds weekly, vacuum the kitchen floor daily, clean up after meals they prepare, load the dishwasher (or get the kids to do it), and empty the dishwasher once a week (kids do it most of the time). Haven’t had too much of an issue with these basics. Our nannies were better at general toy & kids’ room cleanup, but I think that this was also a function of having younger kids and our house overall being less of a disaster clutter zone. I also expect my kids to be doing more of this now.

Marina(ex-AP) May 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Someone mentioned that maybe an Aupair might actually quite like doing some extra housework instead of extra childminding hours.

When I was an Aupair I wasn’t expected to clean as my hostmum said she preferred me playing with the kids. But obviously I still did the kids laundry, changed sheets and cleaned and vaccumed their rooms.
I unloaded the dsihwasher every day and after I left it became the official aupair ‘chore’ to do so :)

From time to time I vaccumed the kitchen, living room and playroom, mopped the floors and even washed the dog beds. One day I even hosed down the window screens as they were covered in pollen :)
I don’t think my hostmum even realised I did so half the time, so she never thanked me but I still didn’t mind doing it, it was just part of me living under their roof and sharing their house with them.

Niksmtn August 16, 2011 at 12:28 am

With our first au pair I was hopeful that maybe she would want to cook a meal one night a week for the family. Her profile said she liked to cook. Once she arrived I realized she had never even been in the kitchen to cook anything. I had to teach her how to make Mac and Cheese and she burned that probably 5 times. I tried modeling behavior in the kitchen and tried showing her how to cut a melon in half. She was in tears. For me it as not worth the time and energy in had to put forth to teach her. I just did it myself. Not to forget to mention she was a vegetarian. I knew this before eher arrival, but she said no worries she could prepare her own food. Her idea of preparing a meal was eating granola and yogurt. In the end I ended up preparing her separate veg dinners because I did not want my au pair to become iron deficient and starve. Obviously her own mother and family did not prepare this girl to fend for herself. She was not better with laundry or basic kids chores. She never could figure out the washer…I taught her, brought over my German speaking friend, posted directions, but the laundry would still be sitting in the washer unwashed at the end of the day. When I asked her what happened ahe would cry and say I don’t know. I asked her to vacuum her room twice monthly as the housekeepers cleaned her room the other two weeks. She never did, even when I. Showed her how to plug it in and turn it on. I even showed her how to use the swifter. She never used it either. I would come home to crumbs on the floor and no vacuuming ever, burnt Mac and cheese and piles of laundry never done. She would just say “her mommy always did it for her at home” and she could just not find the time, or she was too tired. I felt like a nag asking her to check off her chore very minimal chore list that was posted on the refrigerator. She never checked off the list either. My one 2 year old son naps for 3-4 hours. Many days I would pop in at home for an early lunch she was skyping with friends in Europe. I guess I’m wondering when do you just give it up or when do you demand that they take responsibility? I need the help. I never ever asked her to do anything that did not revolve around children, except for hoping she might make dinner for our family…which never happened.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Since you’re referring to this AP in the past tense, is she still in your home? It sounds as though you may have been this young woman’s first employer and found yourself playing the role of second mommy to her. Most APs rise to the occasion in their first working experience, but some do not. In several places on this blog, HMs have posted the need for a regular, if not weekly, check-in meeting. When things are not going well, and you find yourself doing your job as provider, parent and then the work you anticipated the AP would do (e.g. tidying, kids’ laundry), then it’s time to have a meeting and set a baseline. After a week, when the job still isn’t done, it’s time to invoke the “r” word, and reaffirm that she understands the baseline (including putting it in writing). And then, at week 3, if she hasn’t met the baseline, you’re done (especially if she’s whiny and teary – come own you don’t need a teenage or young adult child – you need another adult in the house). Before you invoke the “r” word, have a plan of action.

The bottom line – it’s a buyers’ market right now – which means there are more young women who want to be APs than willing HFs. Don’t dilly dally over someone who’s not worth your time and energy because she can’t do a load of laundry, prepare herself a nutritious meal, or tidy up after the children. You want that good time to be with your own children, not to wait hand and food and a young woman who’d rather Skype than work.

(I know my APs work hard – I have a special needs child – and I am more than willing to reward hard work. I have taken time off from work so my APs can go to concerts — and don’t charge it against their vacation. I give extra days off when I am able. And I reward a year of hard work with a box to ship heavy belongings home at my expense. But I am also clear up front – they are the 3rd adult in my house – I don’t hire children to look after my kids. Sure, I’ll cook a favorite dinner, but I don’t have time to cook a second dinner for anyone but my special needs child!)

While it’s perfectly acceptable to treat an AP well, don’t wait on your AP!

Penn AP Mom August 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

sounds like you should be in transition yesterday! the idea of an au pair is to make life easier for you and to give them a chance to experience another culture/country/travel and have adventures in their non-work time. if she is not living up to her end of the bargain (ie. completing the reasonable household chores related to childcare) you should be looking for someone who will, not housing and feeding a second child!

azmom August 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm

agreed, you need to call your LC today and advise that you are ready for transition. they will push 2 weeks trial, then another 2 weeks, meaning at least a 6 week transition. don’t put up with that – instead, advise that you’ve tried multiple things but she’s not an adult.

in the meantime cut off internet during working hours and let her know that you are not her mother and she is an adult in a household with young children. someone needs to let her know she’s no longer a kid!

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