How to Fix It When Your Au Pair Starts Out On The Wrong Foot

by cv harquail on June 29, 2015

Four weeks in, and your Au Pair still isn’t doing what you’d expected. Worse, s/he’s not doing what you need.  

You’ve finished up her formal orientation and in-home training, but your Au Pair hasn’t stepped up to fill the role. Is there anything you can do?

5947460698_b35c698d8a_mThere are two kinds of early performance problems.

The first one is caused by a lack of skills or knowledge — where the Au Pair simply can’t figure out how to get the kids fed, clothed and off to school.  Or she can’t get from dance class to the YMCA, even though they are a block away from each other.

The other problem is caused by the Au Pair not having an attitude that fits the family’s situation. S/he might be too strict for a casual family, too lackadaisical for a safety conscious family whose kids need an eagle eye on them at all times, or too much of a couch potato for a family of high energy types.

An appropriate response to the first problem is to identify the skills that are missing, map out a training/learning plan, and work with the au pair to learn what s/h needs to learn by a certain set time. You should only give up after training someone and being there to coach them as they learn. You need to let them prove to you and to themselves whether they are or are not ‘capable’.

The second kind of performance problem, the kind cause by an attitude that doesn’t fit, is harder to address.   

In these situations, you should:

  1.  Start by clarifying for yourself what specific behaviors are missing that you want to see from your au pair. You need to have in mind the kinds of behaviors you’re seeking, so that you can give you au pair some specific suggestions.
  2.  Have a candid conversation, where you tell you’re au pair what’s missing, explain again what you need, and ask if s/he is up to the task of changing.Be sure to discuss both attitudes and actions– a “can do” spirit combined with high energy interactions with the kids, or a focus on building rapport combined with a set of questions and topics to discuss with the Host Kids so that the au pair can deepen their relationship.
  3.  Call in your LCC, and ask her or him to go over expectations with your Au Pair.
  4.  Look for chances to ‘catch her doing things right’ and guide your au pair affirmatively.

Steps 2 and 3 can be part of the normal conversations you’d have about your au pair settling in.  During the first four to six weeks of your Au Pair’s year with you, you should be having regular (as in, daily) conversations to help him or her manage the learning curve.  In this ‘settling in’ period, there’s no shame in needing to have these conversations– being an Au Pair is a challenging job and it takes a while and some effort to learn to do it well.

The Disappointed New Host Mom who shared this dilemma in the email, below, seems to be pretty aware of what she wanted and what her au pair wasn’t offering yet.

Hold at bay any comments about “What are you doing taking her on vacation her second week with you!” She clearly thought about this and did her best to consider what the Au Pair might need. She was generous, too.

Disappointed New Host Mom is also giving her au pair the benefit of the doubt.To me, it seems like the only thing this mom *might* have missed was being more explicit about her expectations (e.g., Did she say the kids needed to be asleep by 9:30?  Did she tell the AP to ‘whisk the kids away’  or did she hope that the Au Pair would think of this on her own?.

So this is a tough one, readers.  What do you advise?

This blog has given us a lot of insight to hosting APs. I feel like we approached this process the right way, embracing the idea of having another family member in the home.

We recently took our new Au pair on vacation with us. I was relatively clear about her helping on mornings when my husband was golfing (we have 2 children, ages 2.5 and 6), as well as watching our children 2 nights. She was given 2 full days off during the 6 full days we were at the resort and I paid for her excursions on these days. I understand that a “working vacation” still requires down time, privacy, etc.

I’m not sure exactly what the issue was during the trip. She took a very hands off approach while I was around the children & I had to ask specifically for simple tasks such as getting children dressed, sunscreen etc be done. Every one of her working days she was given free time in the afternoon as well.

Both times she watched the children at night, they were still awake by the time we got home. I was extremely disappointed in her lack of initiative, and worst of all, I feel like I bent over backwards to give our Au pair a vacation and I had only a few hours of downtime the whole trip.

The other side to this is that she is new, having just arrived a few weeks ago. Children are always off their schedule on vacation and this adds to the chaos and craze that we all experience during family vacation. I think I was not as clear in my expectations and she may have felt intimidated to take charge of the children with both HPs present. I always try and consider their point of view as well, but I still feel very upset and taken advantage of.

Is this an issue that you would address with your AP? The single word I would use to describe the situation would be disappointment.

My expectations of her whisking the kids away for an hour or having them both asleep by 9:30 were never met. I don’t want to hurt feeling or make the next 11 months awkward, but I hope that this does not set a precedent for her future with us.

I will certainly be more clear and cautious about vacations in the future. Any advice would be great!   –  Disappointed New Host Mom


Image by Catherine/ Iron Photographer 130 on Flickr


AuPair Paris June 29, 2015 at 1:51 pm

I guess when it comes to the second week, just… You have to be explicit, explicit, explicit. Everything is strange, so it *isn’t* always just “common sense” to have kids in bed by 9:30, or serve meals at a particular time, because nothing is common! As for initiative… Well, I’d say I have a *ton* now. I understand how my fam works and I fit in! But if you are new it can be *very* hard to know when you’re stepping up and being an extra pair of hands, or when you’re disrupting an already smoothly running machine. This fear can cause paralysis…

If you were explicit about all of this, and told the AP what she needed to do… I don’t know! Maybe you could talk to the au pair in a “I noticed you were struggling with all our requirements. Was there something in particular that made it difficult?” Perhaps the kids could be rebelling against AP’s authority in a difficult to handle way, or she needs more support in understanding your instructions? Or if she struggles to remember the times she must get kids to bed, or when she’s supposed to be in their room getting them ready, maybe lists? You can’t know without asking, but it does sound rough.

NoVA Twin Mom June 29, 2015 at 2:00 pm

I think you’re going to have to let go of what happened on vacation (hard, I know) and focus on what’s happening at home. How is she doing during her regular work weeks? Are expectations more clear then? Is she handling those weeks well?

If the “regular” weeks since the vacation have been going well, as hard as it is, I’d write off the vacation time as a bad week for everyone, and reconsider how to handle vacations in the future (as in, be very clear with expectations, give very clear suggestions about where the kids should be “whisked away” TO and for how long – maybe she wasn’t comfortable taking two small kids to a pool/ocean by herself?).

If the regular weeks since haven’t been going well, then reset expectations at home too, since it sounds like she’s been there about a month total. That’s about the time for a “reset” conversation if things aren’t going well overall.

NoVA Twin Mom June 29, 2015 at 2:52 pm

I’m rereading what I wrote, and I just want to emphasize that I realize how hard my own advice would be to follow. I know that CV says to not emphasize how early in her year the vacation was, but I find myself wondering where the resort was and what kind of activities would have been available – perhaps the kind where it would be hard for a new caregiver to watch two small kids that might not listen well when excited (like mine)? – and asking myself how well my *own* kids would have separated from me with someone they barely knew (the new au pair) while on vacation, when they usually get to spend the majority of their time with me.

So I guess I’m seeing both sides here :) I’m not sure that trying to address your disappointment will improve things with your au pair, though. I think venting HERE is the right thing to do, and setting up the rest of your year to go well is the right thing to do. I don’t see a way for a conversation about the things your au pair did wrong over the vacation to go well at this point. If you really want to have a conversation about vacations, I think the time to have it would be in advance of your next vacation, when you help your au pair brainstorm activity ideas that she can do with your kids at specific times that you set up with her. Just expecting her to “pitch in as needed” is usually a recipe for disaster.

cv harquail June 29, 2015 at 4:50 pm

NoVA Host Mom— I mostly wanted to make sure that folks didn’t stick on the vacation as the only thing to talk about… since it’s water under the bridge by now.

You remind me, though, that it might help for DNHM to print out the post and conversation: “Pitching In”: What does that mean in your host family?”

This might help DNHM to put some specifics behind the request to ‘take more initiative’.

ECLondon June 29, 2015 at 2:18 pm

As a second time around aupair, different country, different family and childcare being my career, I honestly think it was just the vacation.

I did several working holidays last year and it’s weird being on vacation with a family. I felt like I was intruding the entire time. Mostly because it’s your holiday with your family why wouldn’t you want the children with you.

On the flip side downtime on your own is appreciated. I totally agree with above posters that being even more explicit than normal is needed. She needs to know exactly what you want and need, her trying to guess while on your holiday just is going to end in disappointment.

Seattle Mom June 29, 2015 at 3:20 pm

My au pairs have all had a hard time being proactive in caring for the kids when I’m around. Even the rockstars. It’s just hard for them- either the kids would rather have mom/dad do it, or they are afraid of taking a wrong step in front of the boss. Whenever I’m working side by side with my AP I have to be really explicit about what needs to be done and when.

I also agree with the comments above, though.

Mimi June 29, 2015 at 4:26 pm

It’s very important to have clear expectations regularly repeated in the beginning of every AP-HM relationship. We bring them into our home knowing that they have experience, but they are not trained in the ways of our individual families. We match with them for the skills we can grow and ultimately how they can adapt to our families. What we perceive as lack of initiative could easily be a host of other things – nervousness, uncertainty, or even panic. It’s sometimes hard to remember that what we as HMs consider reasonable, regular, and rational aren’t always any of those things to a younger foreigner.

I agree that you should write off the vacation and a convergence of problematic factors; being new, the excitement of vacation, schedule outside the norm, etc. If things have been good since then, stay on top of it and make sure that you are being very explicit with instructions and expectations, especially when they vary outside the norm. Before school starts/summer ends, it will be a good idea to have a countdown talk about how the schedule will change and the impact it will have on your AP and how she can expect that her routine will need to change. If things have only been so-so since the trip, as NoVA Twin Mom suggests, have a reset conversation. It’s still early enough for this to be a great year, but only if you can both reset and that means not letting the vacation occupy your thoughts moving forward.

TexasHM June 29, 2015 at 5:24 pm

This said it all for me: “I was relatively clear” and “I think I was not as clear in my expectations”. I feel for you DNHM, I very much empathize with this as we had a somewhat similar situation. Ours was slightly different as our AP accompanied us on a family vacation (she did not work) but it was our first AP and about 5-6 months into that first year and during the trip she required a lot of my attention. I found myself catering to the AP and ended up exhausted and frustrated. A couple of days before the end of our trip my husband pulled me aside and told me to stop. I asked him what I was supposed to do? Just let her sit around and be miserable and not do anything? He said YES! Smart guy. :) He said “you told her this was a family vacation and she was welcome to make her own plans and she wasn’t working and is free to tag along with anything we do or not. That does not mean you are her travel agent and tour guide.” We veered from that because I was like you – worrying about her experience so when we didn’t have plans and she seemed disappointed and asked what she could do all day I ended up dropping everything to try and help her make plans or take her places. I came home pretty resentful because I never got so much as a thank you for all my extra efforts and in hindsight I bet she felt like those efforts were normal and necessary and that we were lucky to have her on the trip!

Like you, I talked to another host mom (hadn’t found my saving grace here yet) and she told me I had to let it go and that in the future I needed to be painfully explicit in the future on trips. She went as far as to say that I literally needed to say things like “while this is a family vacation I am not your travel agent. You need to do your own research and make your own plans if you do not want to spend the entire week in a beach house doing nothing.” She also said (she takes APs on working trips) that she goes as far as to say “this is your role this trip – you are responsible for waking the kids and going through the morning routine every day at Xam. If we are getting ready to walk out the door and you see that the diaper bag needs to be packed or sippy cups filled up please do that, do not wait for me to check. There will be time for you to do activities and have fun but during the following hours I really need your help and need you to drive things and be responsible for the kids (attach detailed schedule).”

You know one of the complaints I hear the most from other APs is that they went on a vacation or working trip with the family and didn’t get a schedule so they were in a constant state of limbo. They weren’t sure if they should get the kids stuff ready or if the HM had other plans or if they were supposed to get after the kids even though the parent was standing right there, etc. That plus their host families often don’t follow the rules and get them their own room so they end up feeling like they are working 24/7. (If your AP is working on your trip then they are supposed to have their own room)

As has been said, if she is good at home then chalk this up to first time trip with an AP in tow and try to brush it off as lessons learned. I will assume you didn’t bring any of this up on the trip (why aren’t the kids in bed? Can you please take charge in helping to get them ready in the morning, etc) correct? It is amazing how far off expectations can get on trips and how two sides can see things so differently. I have heard from APs and their HFs about the same trips and you would think they went to completely different places with different people! HF will say their AP got a dream vacation in Hawaii and didn’t thank them, then AP comes to my house in tears that she worked 24/7 and they didn’t even thank her! Disney seems to be the worst. SO many APs come over upset about going on a Disney trip with the family and hardly seeing/doing anything. Being left in the hotel with the babies or toddlers and working 12 hour days while the rest of the family or parents go out. Don’t lose me here – I am not judging, I am saying the communication and expectation is off. The AP hears “we are taking you to Disney World!” and it’s often hyped and then they are naturally disappointed when they work full time and miss it.

You have to be SUPER clear with expectations and schedule. Explain it to me like I am a kindergartner clear. I now do this on all trips (APs don’t work) and we haven’t had the issue since. I have literally said things like “you will probably be bored as my parents live in a retirement community” and “on Thanksgiving we will eat crazy amounts of food around lunch time, someone will likely get into an argument about something from years ago and then most will nap and watch football and then eat more of that same food for dinner and never leave the house”. The APs raise an eyebrow but then tell me later I was dead on. I’d rather put it all out there and answer all questions before we are mid trip and exhausted or frustrated and stressed.

NJmama June 29, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Love the Thanksgiving description. You described my family holiday dinner to a T!

Didi June 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm

I agree with everything above. I remember my first few weeks in US, I didn’t understand anything. My English was excellent, but there has been some many new things, rules, advices and I had hard time remembering it all.

I told my hosts I feel overwhelmed and I fear I will forget something important and together we created of list of expectations. Something like a handbook, but for day to day basis.
What is important, what happens on each day and what should I do.
I know it’s lots of work, but maybe sitting with your au pair and repeating what you need and writing it together might help her be aware of what her role is.

She could have just been overwhelmed. Also, respectfully, she needs to know what is ok and what not, especially in beginning, and if she comes from family where she has more freedom and gets to be more relaxed, she will need you to guide her and be more open with your needs

Good luck

NJmama June 29, 2015 at 6:40 pm

I was going to suggest the same thing.

When we were in a bad stretch of rematch – followed by an au pair whose English was not great – I started typing out very explicit schedules. I mean I have the weekly schedule of hours and activities, but then I added a clip board of detailed notes and checklists. So I would list everything that had to be done in the morning before school or camp and everything that had to be done in the afternoon through bed time. It felt silly at first but I found the au pairs (and interim baby sitters) appreciated it – especially the first week of summer camp or first week of school, when the schedule changes. My kids also really liked seeing what needed to be done that day and what was coming up that week. This way the au pair knows exactly what child A needs when she goes to swim and what child B needs when she goes to ballet (and as kids got older and became more responsible for their own stuff they also could refer to it too)

I have an English au pair so I didn’t feel the need to do one this time but she has so many questions last night before and this morning I kind of regretted not doing it! I think you can never do too much in this regard.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 29, 2015 at 8:46 pm

Rule #1 of taking an AP on a family trip (because it’s not a vacation if you’re taking the kids!) is “This is our vacation, not yours. You will have days off to hang out with your friends separately from us later in the year. When you are with us, we expect you to work. Ask us questions if you don’t understand your role.”

Second, I agree with TexasHM. Make out a schedule and stick to it. That means foregoing a last minute opportunity if the AP isn’t scheduled to work! Don’t jerk her chain!

Be grateful. Everyone says, “My AP didn’t thank me!” But have you thanked her? If she did a reasonable or even a good job at doing what you asked, then thank her for making the trip easier for you (you need not thank someone who hasn’t made the trip easier). Just because she’s doing her job doesn’t mean she doesn’t need to be thanked. It is hard on everyone to be out of the routine (especially new APs who haven’t quite mastered the everyday routine!)

Make it clear that she is responsible for her own free time, because you’ll have enough on your hands caring for the kids when she is not working. Remember, her first family trip with you might well be the first time she hasn’t traveled with parents who have done all the planning for her – so you need to set expectations up front. Do encourage her to ask her LCC to reach out to a local LCC in your destination city (assuming you’re in the US), to find local APs to meet. Do not see if she follows through. You are not her tour guide. If she chooses to sit in her room and sulk or sleep because she couldn’t bother to google some activities or engage local APs, then it’s on her. It’s not her vacation – it’s a family trip!

Do gently correct mistakes – when the kids are out of earshot. So you return to the hotel and the kids are still awake at 9:30. Then say, “I’m going to put the kids to bed. Please wait, I need to talk to you.” Be gentle and ask if she understood what her role was. If her receptive English isn’t great, then she may not have understood you (so putting tasks in writing might help a newly arrived AP). If she didn’t feel like she could control the kids, then remind her that she’s the adult in charge when you’re not around (admitting that everyone is out of their routine on the trip).

And regardless of whether you’re out of sync with a new AP on a trip or at home – communicate, communicate, communicate. She can’t read your mind any better than you can read hers!

NoVA Twin Mom July 17, 2015 at 8:20 am

I was thinking of your vacation/trip distinction today when I saw this linked on another message board and had to share it –

Maybe to be shared with au pairs AFTER the first trip. Warn them about the distinction first, then share the article after. Otherwise we’re NEVER going to get them to go on a trip with us ever again!

Beena Miller June 29, 2015 at 11:56 pm

I love this post and have learned so much from all of you wonderful HM’s on this site. I am finishing up month 2 with our very first au pair and man it has been tough and what a learning curve!

I couldn’t agree more in the comments around communicating very clear expectations, we learned this the hard way and we also have to type everything up to make sure she understands what we expect.

Our au pair sort of has an attitude where she only will do what is expected and doesn’t tend to take any initiative or go the extra mile unless she is asked to do so. I think that nearing the end of this second month (we are first time HP’s) I’m realizing that it may just be a personality type. She is also not very appreciative of any of the extra’s we do for her so I am scaling back on gifts and being incredibly over communicative now with our expectations.

I have come to the realization that she is not a ‘fabulous’ au pair nor a ‘great’ au pair, but just a good one. And mainly she is doing well with my 18 month old twins so the other issues we have encountered are things we have worked through with her.

This post also makes me realize that we will generally have to work on this type of stuff with every au pair, no matter how amazing they are. A part of it is everyone learning how to work and live with each other.

Love this post and love reading all the comments here.

HRHM June 30, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I think many if not all of us have experienced this with our first AP to some degree. We enter into it with guns blazing, trying to make a great impression, make her feel welcome, make her happy. If we’re really lucky, the AP we selected (and it is luck) is great, sweet, kind, mature and generous of spirit and makes us feel like our treatment of her is deserved. For the rest (majority) of us, this overactive beneficence leads to an AP who feels that she is a guest in our home and is put out by any actual work we impose on her. (I don’t sound bitter do I?)

I’ve learned the hard way that gifts, flexibility and leeway are EARNED, not given until I see performance to warrant it. Since implementing this mentality, I’m much happier and my APs seem to “get it” more.

SKNY June 30, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Why don’t I learned it? Every au pair I say I will start like this (hold one to flexibility, make them earn it…) and then I feel like she is better than the last, seems more mature, etc… And let all rules out, just to have to add new rules later on. Ugh…

Beena Miller June 30, 2015 at 10:01 pm

I literally just wrote this down word-for-word in my notes for my search for my next au pair so that I will remember and try not to do this next time!

Host Mom in the City June 30, 2015 at 8:19 am

Been there, done that. We had one au pair who was off to a terrible start from the very first day – she was absolutely paralyzed, spent every minute clutching her phone texting with people back home, just didn’t get her role in our family even a little bit even after trying to explain. She decided after a month that being an au pair wasn’t for her and returned home. I was relieved – we also had an au pair that stayed for a year that needed similar constant direction and it was utterly exhausting and never got any better. Honestly if I had another au pair that still wasn’t fitting in after the first month, I’d do us both a favor and go into rematch.

My other three were excellent right from the beginning, and I’ve learned that I want confidence and the willingness to get in there and do what they think is best even at the risk of being “wrong.” I get that it’s tough at the beginning, but you can tell if it’s tough but they want to succeed, versus it’s tough so I’m just going to sit back and not try. Which is it?

But that said, this is really entangled with the vacation, so it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if the vacation hadn’t happened. I’ve taken every one of my au pairs on vacation and consistently, the way they are at home is simply magnified on vacation. If they are a confident go-getter, they confidently fit into our vacation and help out with the kids while on duty. If they sit back and wait to be told exactly what to do and even then act like they don’t know how to be helpful – it’s even worse on vacation. But with any au pair I take on vacation, I’ve had to be explicit about what I’m expecting from the time we invited them – here is the schedule, here is what I expect while you’re working, here is what I expect when you’re not working, here is what we’ll pay for, her is what you’ll pay for (whatever all that is to your family, just be clear).

And all that said, based on my experience both with vacations and with those first few weeks, it bears repeating that if it can be avoided, I would really really strongly avoid going on vacation for at least a couple months. That period is so stressful for everyone and you really don’t know each other at all yet, so it could be way too easy to have mismatched expectations and be paralyzed with nervousness (for both sides!).

Hope it works out!

WarmStateMomma June 30, 2015 at 11:31 am

This: the way they are at home is simply magnified on vacation

Yes! We brought out current amazing AP on a weekend trip to a nearby city (a worthwhile but not terribly exciting destination) one month into her year and she pitched in like a champ. We also invited her on a weekend primitive camping trip. She said yes and participated like any other adult in the family. We were so impressed that HD said we’d pay for her to go on one of those AP vacations TaCL mentioned if we end up going on vacation somewhere that she can’t go.

Our first AP didn’t lift a finger on vacation in Cozumel and pouted if she didn’t like the restaurant, so she did not receive an invite for the family ski trip. We even postponed plans for a bigger vacation until after she left.

In hindsight, all three of our APs’ home behavior was a clear predictor of their travel behavior. I do think we will try to use the weekend “test trip” again before inviting APs on an expensive trip.

Emerald City HM June 30, 2015 at 11:50 am

I find that when each new au pair arrives to our house (we are on #5 now) it takes at least a month, if not more for them to start becoming a family member (at least in our house) and really start picking up on some of the things that need to get done when we go on a family outing. Our girls take some adjustment time, as do we, and of course the au pair does too.

While our girls have liked all of our new au pairs, when DH or I are around, they want our full attention, it seems particularly even more so when we go through the transition of welcoming a new au pair.

I do also feel that there is a sense of hesitancy on the au pair’s part because he or she doesn’t want to do something wrong, particularly when the host parents are right there.

For us it ends up being something that comes more naturally with time as they get used to each other when the au pair is working, they start to bond and then the girls start thinking of the au pair as a big brother / sister.

I would look at how things go in general when the au pair is on duty without you around and determine if that level of care meets your expectations. As an aside note, I can’t get my DH to put sunscreen on the girls or pack up the diaper bag without telling him exactly how what to put in it. His brain just doesn’t hold the same lists that mine does so in going on this journey of parenthood with him, I have realized that if my DH and I aren’t on the same page with what needs to get done and when, I certainly can’t expect that our au pairs know my checklist either.

Returning HM June 30, 2015 at 9:47 pm

We had a similar not-so-stellar start with our current AP. He arrived just before Labor Day weekend last year, and we chose to go away – as we always do – to our summer house that weekend. It wasn’t a great place to start his training, and after eight years of doing this and having our “orientation” to our family pretty down pat, I completely messed it up by just thinking we’d spend the weekend hanging out and getting to know each other. Things definitely did not go as smoothly as planned, and our hopes that he would just pitch in and join us in activities, in meals, and in the small tasks needed for a casual beach weekend did not pan out. We came home very disappointed and fearful that we had not made a good match for the year.

As people above have suggested OP do, we decided not to address what had happened over the weekend and what we perceived as a reticence to help or be involved much, and instead added a paragraph to our handbook about what it means to us to help, as a member of our family, when doing fun activities that AP was joining us on when not officially working (dinners out, beach outings, amusement park trips, etc). We actually defined what it means to be “all for one and one for all” in our family, and how we follow this motto rather than “everyone for him or herself.” I then added some examples to the handbook about what “all for one and one for all” would look like (filling five water bottles, not just one for oneself, getting five towels together, not just one for oneself, but at the same time knowing that the lunchmaker would be making everyone lunch and the ticket buyer would be getting tickets for everyone, etc). It turned out, when we discussed this with AP, that his family at home is very “everyone for him or herself” (something we saw firsthand when family visited), so he simply was not used to helping or thinking about others. He was used to putting his plate, his cup, and his fork into the dishwasher but not helping with the general clean-up after a meal. He was used to taking his own towel and getting himself ready for the beach, but not to thinking about what a FAMILY would need for a beach outing. It was a new learning experience for him to think this way, and I am glad we identitied this early on or it would have turned into a huge issue as the year went on.

Anyway – the fact that we had a not-so-great start did not mean that the year went poorly; on the contrary, we have had a great year with this AP. I actually think that seeing a major difference in expectations right from the start prompted a clearer conversation than we otherwise would have had about what we need from our AP. And I think the fact that the first weekend was so difficult made me much more clear and explicit about the rest of his training. Finally – I learned my lesson and will never allow an AP to arrive so close to Labor Day weekend again. You’d think that going on nine years of hosting, I would know all these things cold, but there are still lessons I learn the hard way! Fortunately, this blog has taught me the value of very forthright communications, proactively addressing all issues, and giving clear examples of the actions and behaviors I need to see, so I am now much better able to set things right, if/when I allow things to start off wrong. I definitely suggest OP use all three of these strategies (clear communications, proactive addressing of the issues, and clear examples of actions and behaviors she needs to see), and hopefully get the relationship reset on a better foot. Good luck!

Should be working July 1, 2015 at 2:00 am

New AP arriving in 4 weeks–and your comment, ReturningHM, reminds me to ACTIVELY manage him. If he doesn’t do something I want, this time I WILL speak up and not worry about his feelings. This time I will not let things slide….may my resolve stay firm. Active management must be my watchword.

I must also remember that one reason we are trying a bro-pair is that I think I’ll be less self-conscious about being direct and telling him what to do than I have been with girl APs. Not sure this is true but I think for whatever reason I will be more comfortable in my boss role.

Cvh July 1, 2015 at 7:45 am

SBW, I’m really looking forward to hearing about your experiences with a bropair– especially if it does help you feel comfortable asking for what you need. It’s your turn for a great ap! Keep us posted !

momo4 July 2, 2015 at 10:50 am

I’ve definitely had both types of early problems mentioned and I agree with all the comments about the importance of early identification of areas of concern and active management. I’ve learned a lot by doing it wrong!

Wanting an AP who sees what needs to be done and willingly just steps in and does it is one of the traits that makes for an ideal AP, but I think that it often takes training both for the AP to see what needs to be done, and for them to have the confidence and know-how to do it appropriately.

That said, it has also been my experience that sometimes there are personality issues that simply cannot be overcome even with a lot of training and management.

I had one AP who was super sweet, but utterly incapable of doing even the most basic household chores. It was like she moved in slow motion so even the simplest activities took her literally 10 times as long as they took me (It took her 20 minutes to chop an onion, no exaggeration.) Initially I spent a lot of time trying to teach her how to do things that she didn’t know how to do, then I tried to teach her how to do things efficiently, but eventually I realized that she just wasn’t able to do things any faster. She was just totally dreamy, unfocused, and simply not “present” enough to do what I wanted her to do. It wasn’t an issue of laziness, she genuinely seemed incapable.

Another AP was in some ways the opposite. She was so “hands on” with the kids that ended up just wanting her to leave them alone and stop trying to control everything! In general I would say that she meant well, but she was constantly telling the kids what to do (even when I was there), and it was always “NO”, even about the stupidest most irrelevant little things that I would never have bothered with. She would enforce all kinds of rules for the kids that she made up but that made no sense to me (You can’t have more broccoli until you’ve eaten more pasta) and she never deferred to me when I was there which put me in a very difficult position since I hate to contradict the AP since it undermines their authority with kids. As a result of all this she generated huge amounts of unnecessary conflict, tears and noise since she was yelling at the kids all the time. Unfortunately, she was only hands on when it came to yelling at the kids, not when it came to distracting them while I made dinner, doing laundry, etc. I had to tell her to do these other things every single time. She always wanted to talk with me when I was working (long boring stories about people she knew from home), but never offered to help in any way, she would actually yell at the kids to leave so she could talk when she was supposed to be taking care of them. It was a total personality mismatch since I am a fairly introverted, lenient parent whose default answer is “yes” and whose hands are always busy doing something.

So what I’ve learned? Train early and extensively and be super explicit about every detail of your expectations even if you worry that you may be insulting their intelligence. But also keep in mind that some APs may just not be a good fit for your family’s needs and personality, and the earlier it is in the relationship, the easier it will be (not that it is ever easy) to rematch. In both of the above cases I wish I had rematched within the first month, especially in the case of the yelling AP. I stuck out the year with both of them for different reasons and because of other issues I had to deal at the time, but I won’t do that again.

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