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