If Host Parents Can’t Respect Au Pair Contract Rules, Nothing Else Matters

by cv harquail on September 16, 2015

For international Au Pairs/ Host Families Outside the USA

There’s a hierarchy of requirements for a good Au Pair & Host Parent relationship.

Much like Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, you can’t achieve the higher levels of a good relationship without the basics being there first.

Au Pairs and Host Parents ultimately have different hierarchies, but both of them have the same foundation:amy gaines

Following the Au Pair Contract & Rules

If a family doesn’t follow the rules of the Au Pair contract, there’s no amount of negotiating, discussion of parenting styles, or ‘pitching in’ that can fix the situation.

Parents who don’t respect the rules — by definition — don’t respect the Au Pair’s position.

Without this basic respect of the person involved and the job that needs to be done, we can’t expect teamwork in approaching discipline, warm & supportive child-minding, or cultural exchange. It just can’t happen, because the foundation of the relationship is too exploitative.

No Au Pair can fix this by herself or himself.

For Au Pairs Outside the USA

When I hear from Au Pairs outside the USA, their number one complaint is that their Host Family has changed the terms of their Au Pairing job– without the agreement of the Au Pair.  The Host Family has changed working hours, changed pay, shifted tasks from “teaching English” to “cleaning the house”, and worse.

When this happens, Au Pairs write and wonder what they should do.

Can they talk with the family and get things to change?

Even though I always* advise Au Pairs to have a serious conversation with their Host Parents before they do anything else **, I know that if the basic rules are already being broken, there’s little hope for a change in the Host Parents’ approach.  The Au Pair should start preparing to leave.

Au Pair regulations vary from country to country, with the US having the strongest regulations and the clearest line of oversight & responsibility. Every other country has fewer rules and less oversight, and consequently more stories of difficult Au Pair situations.  But across all countries, one thing is true:

If Host Parents are breaking the rules consistently and asking an Au Pair to work more hours, with the ‘wrong’ pay, and without a safe, clean and private room for her/himself, the chances of an Au Pair being able to change that situation are virtually nil.

I applaud the Au Pairs who, once they discover that the Host Family they’ve joined is not willing to keep to the rules, decide to take themselves out of the situation. These Au Pairs realize that the situation is wrong, that they need to demonstrate respect for themselves, and they need to address the issue with their host parents.  These Au Pairs think about the conversation they need to have, recognize that chances of change are low, and put plans in motion to rematch or return home. These Au Pairs expect stay another week, two weeks, three weeks so that the Host Parents can find other childcare. They kindly say goodbye to the children, and they leave.

The Au Pair experience is supposed to be an adventure of sorts– life in another culture, life in another family, a job that’s difficult but also rewarding, and enough money & support that you feel your work is respected and your social life is wide open.

But the “Au Pair Adventure” idea is further up the pyramid. It depends on a strong foundation of both parties following the rules. It depends on everyone involved making a commitment to be caring, & open to learning.

For Au Pairs who discover their situation doesn’t have this foundation, the adventure challenge they face is different.

The challenge then is to learn how to stick up for yourself, to take care of yourself, and to do this in a way that rises above the behavior of the adults aiming to take advantage of the Au Pair program.

Am I being harsh here? Too much of a fatalist? 

Read the email that prompted this post, below the jump.  If you have more to say to the AuPair, please share in the comments.   

Hello Au Pair Mom, 

I am writing this as someone feeling frustrated and taken advantage of. I have been with my Host family for almost a month now. I am American, and they are Italian living in London. The Mother has proficient English while the father does not understand me a majority of the time. I was hired as an English tutor for the children who are 3.5 and 5.
Before I arrived my hours were listed as 25-30 a week with my hours being :45 to 8:30/8:45 in the morning and then 3:30 to 6:00/6:30 in the evening. The day of my arrival both parents went to work leaving me with two children who’s English abilities were far below what I was previously informed.  The second week I began with a 12 hours shift due to the father going out of the country for work. This trend continued until I had worked 41 hours by the end of the week. I confronted the mother whom shut me up by giving me more money and telling me she doesn’t want a relationship where I feel the need to keep my hours. This week mother left town, so a similar trend has ensued again where I am not relieved until 7:15 at the earliest. 
About the children; due to the language barrier and lack of an immersion phase, their trust in me wavers. Now that I am asserting myself as their caregiver, I have been facing backlash. Around the parents, the children constantly cry, whine, and back talk in Italian. In almost all cases the children win and are given whatever they request. I would not care if this did not impact my responsibilities. I cannot get the 5 year old to do her homework or eat her vegetable (yes singular) . She will protest until a parent comes home and “frees” her. As for the 3 year old, he will run away from me if I look away for a moment to search for his parents. 
I have discussed this with the father, who told me that he doesn’t get very much time with his kids, so he hates to spend that time fighting over every little thing. Despite what he says, all the parents do with the kids is fight since the kids have realized that by doing so they can get anything. 
Despite my education in Psychology, I don’t think the parents care to listen to me when I say that them allowing the children to back talk the way they do is causing more harm than help. The same goes for the constant rewards despite the children never fulfilling their part of the deal.
My final issue is that my role is to teach the children English, but I cannot get any support from the parents to reinforce it. They choose to only speak to the kids in Italian which leaves me not wanting to be around the family. This is suppose to be an educational experience and a cultural exchange, but I feel more like an underpaid employee, I find myself leaving the house the minute the parents get home because of a lack of communication towards myself .( they only speak Italian) 
I need to know how much of this I can actually share with the parents, and if there is hope for my experience to turn around. I really want to plan activities with the children and help them excel in life, but I cannot trust them to be able to go anywhere nor do I have the energy to do more when it is a battle to the simple things. 
Please provide me some advice.  Many thanks. 



* I always advise a conversation first, unless the Au Pair is being abused emotionally.

** Even when a conversation is unlikely to change things, the process of planning and holding the conversation is an important action — for learning to address problems in a mature way and for taking responsibility for yourself.

amy gainesImage:  Amigurumi Pattern Crochet Animal Toys for Baby Digital Download by Amy Gaines, available for purchase on Etsy.


NBHostMom September 16, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Bottom line is the job description given to the au pair and the reality of the work are very different. Although she could try some additional talks with the parents, my gut feeling is she should start looking for a new host family.

I think host parent in general need to be very careful not to sell the job by glossing over realities, it’s a trap that even well meaning host parents can fall in to. These host parents my not have intentionally pulled a “bait and switch”, but it does appear they didn’t convey they reality of the au pair’s role.

QuirkyMom September 16, 2015 at 1:57 pm

I am really sorry. It sounds like it could have been a grand adventure — but I would believe your host family when they have told you (through their actions, not in so many words) that they have begun as they mean to go on. They are not going to abide by the limits on working hours they agreed to. They are not going to back you up when the kids are not cooperating. I think your best and only option is to have a conversation with them where you lay out clearly *why* you are leaving. I think it would be decent of you to give several weeks’ notice, but I would bet money that even if you have a conversation that results in them promising to change, you will be in the exact same situation in a month. All you can do is cut your losses.

I have no idea how you would have found this family — through an agency? Independently? If you were an AP in the US, I’d be advising you to go into rematch immediately. I do not know if there are any options for you to find another host family either through an agency or independently. If you can’t find another host family or find another legal way to stay in the country and work, then it’s time to come home.

WarmStateMomma September 16, 2015 at 2:44 pm

The parents are teaching the kids to act bratty and they aren’t going to make any drastic changes because a young person with an education in psychology advises it. The family dynamic is just not going to change if the parents don’t want it to change. You can try better tactics with the kids but I wouldn’t expect more than marginal improvement without parental buy-in.

Maybe they weren’t thinking carefully or realistically about their needs when they matched, but the deal is certainly different from what you accepted. You signed up to be a part-time tutor and instead you’re a full-time caregiver whose complaints are dismissed. It’s time to move on.

New to This September 16, 2015 at 4:21 pm

I’m with CV. There’s a very basic level of respect that’s missing here, and without that, it seems implausible that any kind of good faith mutual effort to work things out is an option.

As an aside, I will say that whatever an AP’s child psychology credentials, I wouldn’t be bringing them into my home as an adviser, and I would expect them to support and assist me in my parenting choices, rather than to provide feedback on what I should be doing differently. I’d also be mightily annoyed if they made my rebuffing their criticism an issue of respect for their expertise — no matter how much of an expert they might be, that doesn’t entitle them to disrespect my authority over my household. This doesn’t mean I’d never solicit or accept criticism from an AP, if we ended up having the right sort of relationship, but one who believed her credentials entitled her to impose that input on me would not fare well in my household.

That is obviously not the core issue here (as CV says, honoring the contract comes first), but if another placement is a possibility, it might be something to keep in mind that time around.

WarmStateMomma September 16, 2015 at 4:26 pm

An interesting topic for another post might be how an AP can provide suggestions in a respectful manner. My APs have had helpful observations and suggestions that we welcomed, but they didn’t act as if they were criticizing our authority or judgment. That would be unwelcome in my home.

Mimi September 18, 2015 at 11:45 am

Another piece of this is that psychology is highly affected by culture and Western psychology laboratory findings have not been repeated in non-Western settings. We represent very differently in logical reasoning and social values to many other countries, including many European ones. This is often cause for rematch in situations where an AP’s strategies for discipline (not punishment but rather the structure/behavior in accord with rules of conduct) or bonding and socialization don’t work for a particular family.

Nordic auparair September 16, 2015 at 6:11 pm

My advice is to share everything, BUT beforehand find a place to go and know how to survive in case you find yourself in front of doors.

Speak up as soon as possible otherwise it is only going to be worse.

I myself worked from family where from 35 h a week and one and half days off was 5 hour off on Sunday and 4 in between shifts Monday to Friday and all Saturday work, but I was still expected to do dishes in this 4 hours.

It is only my fault I didn’t speak up at that time. I took the lesson, sucked it u,p and since then haven’t made same mistake. PLEASE don’t do the same mistake as many of us, especially here in Europe, where protection is far from USA program– do not let the bad host family use you.

FirstTimeHM September 17, 2015 at 5:54 am

Ok, this au pair is in a situation she doesn’t want or need to be in.
Hours should be kept as much as possible and deviations should be discussed up front. So working 12 hours without knowing that before you start that day (apart from the fact that it is way too much) is absolutely not done.

You started out this adventure as an English tutor to these kids, and they need someone to teach them English otherwise they’ll fail horribly at school. The mother speaks adequate English, but the father doesn’t. It’s quite normal that they would talk mainly in Italian at home.
If you want to turn things around, learn some Italian or better, have the kids teach you! You can point out all the things in the house and have them name it in Italian, you name it in English and you both need to remember.
However weird it may seem to you, it’s better for you to have the parents talk to the kids in Italian instead of in English. It gives them a solid footing in at least one language and that makes learning another language far easier.
As a volunteer I’ve had children that needed to learn my language and boy, it was so difficult when the parents talked my language at home most of the time while being totally not fluent in it. I’ve begged them to revert to their mothertongue when at home and both parents and children learned my language far easier afterwards.

At the moment you leave the house as soon as the parents get back, because you can’t understand them. Communication is a two way street and if the parents are not fluent enough in English, that means you all will have to find another way and adjust to communicating with hand/feet/google translate.
I don’t know your host parents and in my house you would have a schedule and that would be kept, but communication has been an issue with our American AP. She simply wasn’t used to someone having reasonable English without getting all the subtilities and fine detail.

Right now you don’t fit in the family yet, you don’t see yourself as a family member and your relationship with your host family is rocky at best. At this time you can’t make suggestions about how to raise the kids no matter your education or experience. The only time you can do that is when you have a good relationship with your host parents and even then only when you bring it respectfully. A degree won’t entitle you to order the parents around because that’s how they will see it if you don’t go at this very respectfully.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to try to make this work. I’d focus on getting a clear schedule first and take it from there. But if you want to make this work, change your attitude to their language as well and do your best to be a good family member.
If you don’t think this will work and you’re not able to put in the effort, please give them enough notice to get other child care in place. You may want to find another family, perhaps in a more regulated country. There are European countries where a schedule needs to be signed by both parties and the agencies actually enforce that it’s kept.

hOstCDmom September 17, 2015 at 8:02 am

+1, on all points – re schedule issues and unacceptability of the schedule situation AP is in, relationship issues with HP, best practices for language learning with bilingual children/using native language with parents, pitfalls of being Amero-centric in expectations about others speaking English, and not telling HP how to parent based on your degree

BAHM September 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm

pack your bags, AP! this level of disregard and disrespect for you a month in is grounds for immediate removal from the home. i’m so sorry this happened.

LuckyHM#3 September 17, 2015 at 2:28 pm

I do think that its important for you to decouple the issues here. The most pressing IMHO is the scheduling. The HF cannot just totally disregard the agreed upon schedule willy nilly. You need to speak to them asap and tell them that this isnt working for you and dont take the extra money offered. If they cannot agree, then i suggest you quit. I’m not sure how the AP program works in the UK but assuming you can find another family, then perhaps consider doing that especially since you really dont seem to like them that much. Also, are you very sure that there was no miscommunication in terms of your duties with regards to just being an English tutor to the kids… not sure why this HF would bother getting an AP all the way from the US to teach English to their kids when they live in England. Why bother. At the ages that the children are, they will be fluent in English in less than a year by just going to school in England and dont see why they would need you. If they wanted an English tutor, then they could easily get one their in the UK without needing to get an AP.

With respect to your psychology degree, that has no basis on anything. I cannot have some random person even with a PHD coming into my house and judgingly telling me how to bring up my kids. You may be right, but you dont get to tell parents how to bring up their kids especially when it doesnt seem like the relationship between you and the HF is great.

On the speaking Italian to their kids and not English, i fully support that. Like FTHM said above, its actually better for the parents to keep on with that. Also, i can see the importance of keeping up with their 1st language so the kids dont lose that language while learning English. My siblings and I grew up completely bilingual because our parents were immigrants who although were fluent in English wanted us to be able to speak the native language. So we grew up speaking only the native language at home and speaking English with outsiders including other kids in the neighborhood. That way, we were all fluent in that language and English as far back as I can remember.

FirstTimeHM September 17, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Personally I can understand that the host family would hire an English tutor for their 5 year old. In the UK that’s the age everyone starts to learn to read and write and reading is done by phonics. If you hardly know the language it’s practically undoable for a kid to get through first grade.
That English tutor could be an AP, but then the AP would have other things to do as well like minding the kids while the parents are away or even some housework. I think there may have been some miscommunication from the start.

LuckyHM#3 September 17, 2015 at 5:05 pm

The point i was making is that they are already in the UK surrounded by English speaking people, i can’t fathom hiring an American AP. I am very familiar with education both in the UK and in US, thing children who are not native English speakers are offered extra lessons in English language in schools. Just as i can’t fathom a non American HF living in the US going through the headache of getting an English AP to teach their children living in the US English. For HF interested in another language, it would be a language different from the language where they live in my opinion. Makes no sense to me but to each their own.

FirstTimeHM September 18, 2015 at 3:56 am

Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either.
The only thing I can think of is that this host family already knew their busy and irregular schedule and wanted an au pair mainly because of that and stressed the ‘helping the kids with English’ more during matching.
I don’t know if it’s done deliberately, but the reality of the AP’s job is totally different than she thought it would be, and the schedule that’s been agreed upon hasn’t been kept at all.
Only the AP can decide if she wants to give it another try, but this time with a realistic job description and a schedule that actually can be kept. I wouldn’t blame her if she tries to find another family.

exaupair September 19, 2015 at 8:44 am

”I confronted the mother whom shut me up by giving me more money and telling me she doesn’t want a relationship where I feel the need to keep my hours.” says it all. Run girl, do not bother ‘negotiating’ anything it isn’t worth a minute of your time.

On a serious note, have you start looking for other families at this point? Have you got anything else lined up? It would be better to quit knowing you have somewhere else to go. I think it is easier to find new host family in Europe, so I would suggest sucking it up for another week or 2 before you tell your host parents.

AuPair Paris September 19, 2015 at 2:45 pm

I do find it reassuring that most host parents here think that APs in abusove situations should leave. Of course that’s what I think too. And I would also say that, although I think usually offering notice is a good idea, to anyone who is outside of the US and sans agency, you should have a backup plan. When I gave my abusive family notice, they kicked me out the same day. Same with their au pair after me – we had a mutual friend in the village and when my replacement was kicked out, our mutual friend got us in touch, and she ended up staying with me.

Basically, when you are far away from home, and no one is taking care of you, taking care of yourself is the responsible, adult thing to do.

AuPair Paris September 19, 2015 at 2:49 pm

I am an idiot and didn’t read this post properly. Or else I’m mixing up two posts or something. Sorry, and do ignore my previous post I think I’ll bow out of this until my reading comprehension is back up to scratch…

WarmStateMomma September 21, 2015 at 11:22 am

I completely agree with you, AP Paris! I would encourage my daughter to be an AP but I’d never let her leave home without an emergency plan. Kudos to you for having the courage and maturity to recognize and leave an abusive situation.

There’s a huge difference between bailing on an abusive HF (or AP) as quickly and safely as possible, and amicably parting ways when you just aren’t in a good match.

momo4 September 20, 2015 at 11:28 am

I have to agree with the other posters who do not think that talking with the parents is likely to change the situation in the way you would like. These parents sound stressed out and doubtless feel they are only just barely holding it all together, so any criticism, no matter how well meaning, is not going to be welcome.

Whether there was a bait and switch, or just some miscommunication is hard to say, but I’m not sure it matters at this point. Clearly, this is not what you thought you signed up for, so the question is, what are you willing to put up with?

Once you clarify in your own mind what your limits are, you have 2 choices: You can sit down and explain to your HP what the conditions are under which you are willing to stay, and see how they react. I suspect they will either agree (but you will find yourself in the same situation within a short period of time), or they will kick you out. Another option is to plan your exit, and then sit them down and explain that you do not think you can provide what they need and are looking for, and give them notice. In either case, be sure you have your next step planned.

I would also add that I do not think there is anything to be gained by telling them everything you think is wrong with their children, their child raising methods, their lifestyle, etc. If you must unburden yourself, share your feelings with your friends and family. It is their life, and even if it is a red hot mess, it is the way they are choosing to live it. Your negative opinions will only make them angry and defensive, will make any time you have remaining with them utterly miserable, and will not help anyone. So be gracious, polite, and firm. Don’t focus on their shortcomings, focus on the facts of the situation: You came with one set of expectations, and now that you are there you have realized that the situation is different from what you expected, and you cannot provide what they want. Try not to make it personal, that’s how things get ugly.

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