In Loco Parentis? Your Parental Responsibilities when your AP’s behavior challenges your values

by cv harquail on June 1, 2010

As Host Parents, we have an odd role in our Au Pair’s lives. We are responsible for keeping them safe, housed, fed, and supported in their work with our children. And we also often play a role that I call Pseudo In Loco Parentis.

Pseudo In Loco Parentis

Like the fancy Latin?

Years ago, women’s colleges were expected to take the role of “in loco parentis” — being the “local” parent of the student. This meant that the college was expected to protect the student’s health and safety, by forbidding men in the dorms, requiring curfews, limiting date nights, and even screening phone calls. Whatever it took to keep these young women and their reputations “safe” was sensible and expected.

201006011251.jpgThe idea behind this was that the local “adults” would care for the student on behalf of that student’s parents, enacting the same rules and expectations that s/he’d experience at home under her or his own parent’s roof. This expectation — that at some times you’ll act like your au pair’s own parents — is also part of the role of Host Parent.

One easy way that this in loco parentis role plays out is in the promise that I make to my au pair’s parents about how I’ll treat them in an emergency — I will care for our au pair as though she were our own child, in a personal,  natural or political disaster. If the nuclear reactor at Indian Point melts down, that au pair will be in the back seat with my kids and the dog as we speed west on Route 80.

Other situations are less clear. Some of our families’ values and moral codes are pretty common. We can feel comfortable expecting our au pairs to live up to certain expectations for honesty, reliability, self-control and cleanliness. S/he may or may not share our religion, or attend services, and we’re usually fine with this.  But, when au pairs start to socialize (and by this I mean drinking, partying, staying out late, meeting people on-line, and doing all kinds of young adult social behaviors), they can often cross lines we didn’t even know we had.

From “anything goes” to “not under my roof!”

We’ve talked here on AuPairMom about our concerns regarding Au Pairs’ and their social lives.

Many of us simply do not care what our au pairs do socially, as long as they are safe and back to work rested and on-time. Others of us take more of an in loco parentis approach, and seek to guide our au pair’s behavior to stay within (or at least close to) our family’s moral values and moral code(s).

Every host parent-au pair partnership finds a different place on this spectrum,  from “anything goes” to “not under my roof!”

Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you need to know what your limits are and how you’ll handle it if and when your au pair steps out of your moral and ethical comfort zone.

An active reader emailed with a question about her au pair’s social life… and how she as host parent should respond:


We have a 20 year old au pair. She is terrific and we are extending with her and couldn’t be more happy in general. She is very responsible and puts me to shame sometimes !

My question is that I’ve just learned she’s now telling people she is in a relationship with a gentleman (mid 20’s) who previously was described as “only a friend.” I fully expect she’s going to ask us pretty shortly about things such as spending the night at his house and driving our car over to where he is and that area. That area is not close to mine and not in an area I am familiar with. It’s about 35 minutes away and you need to travel on some four lane highways to get there. My husband did allow her to drive there one time, but made clear it was only a special occasion.

On the one hand, she is mature and responsible, including in her driving (as far as I know, but we trust her). She deserves to be treated as an adult and make adult choices which I personally think she is fully capable of doing and with sense. I’ve met the boyfriend and he strikes me as also very mature and responsible (but who really ever knows?).

On the other hand, I would not let my own daughter stay the night at a boyfriend’s (patriarchal and naïve as that may be, but it’s the truth).   I have no idea if her own parents feel like I do or not. I have met them, am very comfortable with them, and can get a hold of them to ask, but I’m really worried if I do that or require that our relationship will be worse off than if I had just said no, and let her suggest she connect us on this issue.

Also, I really don’t want our car that far from home. It has nothing to do with her or her freedom, but more do with our property and where we want it and what risks we are willing to take with it.

Both the overnight stays and the driving far distances are no’s in our handbook, but of course, that is written more for training a new au pair and for reminding an existing au pair of our house rules if need be. I’m leaning towards allowing the overnight stays on nights when she is not working the next morning, but not the car. He will have to pick her up. That’s the price of connecting with someone far away by choice.

What should I do? What have you done and did it work?

Dear Host Mom,

I really appreciate how carefully you’re thinking through this situation!

I think it’s the right thing to do to have limits on the car’s whereabouts… for the reasons you state. And I’d go with you on being okay with overnights if I knew not to expect her to come home and she wasn’t working the next day.

The hard part is separating those two things when you discuss this with your au pair, so that she doesn’t see the restrictions on the car as a backhanded effort to control her social life. While in truth the expectation that her boyfriend must pick her up and drop her off may cut down on the number of nights she gets to stay over at his house, that’s not the point behind the restriction. You’ll need to find a caring way to make this distinction– maybe even by acknowledging how the car restriction might feel.

I’d anticipate that she might want to stay over on some work nights, and may eventually ask for that. And, since she’s already ‘proven’ she can drive their safely, she may also ask you to loosen this restriction too.

You should think in advance about whether you’re ever going to be willing to loosen up, and what you might do if she broke one or both expectations either behind your back or ‘by accident’. Even the most responsible au pairs can get their heads turned around by romantic dynamics. You don’t have to expect that she’d cross your line, but it’s happened before with even great au pairs.

With regard to talking with her parents… I don’t think I’d do this. My sense is that, once an au pair is in the program, she is an adult who makes her own decisions. I’d only call parents in the case of a health or safety emergency.

  • Other parents and au pairs, what do you think about this host mom’s plan? Anything else she should consider before talking with her au pair?

  • Have you found yourself in other kinds of situations where you questioned the “parent” part of your host parent role?

See also:
Awkward: It’s not a walk of shame if we know you are safe
A Good Au Pair Relationship Requires Your Emotional Investment
How to Handle Under-Age Drinking
Using Your Car is a Privilege, not an Entitlement: Best practices

Images: a few red chairs late at night from shioshvili Late at night on the bus from wonderferret


Should be working June 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I would stick to the car rules you have printed in your handbook; even if you are thinking of softening those rules, don’t tell the AP that now. With our first AP (eventually transitioned out) I softened the rules because I wanted to ‘be nice’–and I liked the boyfriend–but ended up mad at myself and her that the car rules essentially fell away. The car got many more miles than we had wanted; she started staying out 3+ nights/wk and coming home 5 minutes before 7am worktime with smeared makeup, still wearing her going-out clothes, and so forth. Then we ended up with a ‘compromise’ that she could take the car to the boyfriend’s (far) twice a week, but I was resentful because I felt like the privilege was not really freely granted on my part.

So now, with a new AP, the rules are strict, and I would not indicate ANY inclination to modify them–‘for the sake of the car’ is a good reason AND a good excuse; ‘for the sake of my feeling like my rules are respected’ is thereby built in.

The question of whether you allow her to stay over at all is very different. In my view a 20-yr-old should be able to stay at a boyfriend’s house if she is not working the next day, and it is not the HPs’ job to be SUCH the parents that they try to reproduce rules that reflect what her parents would allow or not allow. But you could also let her know that she can stay ‘at a friend’s’ house and indicate that you don’t want to hear the details of who that is or precisely what the relationship is. Maybe she won’t even tell you that the ‘friend’ is a boyfriend.

I made another mistake with first AP: I didn’t in advance ask her not to talk about ‘her boyfriend’ with the kids, who then knew she was ‘sleeping at her boyfriend’s’. In future cases I would tell the AP that kids do not need to know where she is sleeping, nor whether there even is a boyfriend at all; instead she can tell them (if they ask) that she ‘stayed with friends’. And honestly that’s all I want to know as well, e.g. a text msg stating “I’m staying over at a friend’s house tonight, be back tomorrow evening!”

cv harquail June 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm

That’s a great reminder– have something “appropriate” to tell your kids about where your ap is! Just in case. cv

NJMom June 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I agree, I would *never* allow for her to be out before a shift. One of the great reasons to have in-home childcare is that you don’t need to worry about her getting back on time, a car breaking down far away, a snow or rainstorm that delays her, etc. I also wouldn’t allow my car to be out overnight either because that is in my handbook. However, if she wants to be gone on the weekends and can get a ride there good for her. My second AP left Friday nights and returned in time for curfew (usually 11 p.m.) Sunday nights in order to be with her boyfriend. It was fine but she never took my car. He always picked her up and brought her home. She never complained because it was clear from my handbook that was the deal. Also, she never had her “own” car. It’s a second car that we all use so she knew it wasn’t feasible to take it the whole weekend.

CS Nanny June 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I agree with the above poster. It comes down to the fact that while she is a “member” of your family, this is a job for her. You are her boss, not her mother. You can say she needs to be home at X time the night before her shift, and that she may not drive there (or have it overnight), but you cannot tell her what she can or cannot do on her day(s) off. So long as it is not illegal, she is able to make her own choices at 20 years old.

former au pair June 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Also keep in mind that attitudes towards sleeping over at a boy/girlfriend’s house varies from culture to culture. For instance, in moste western and middle European countries it is completely normal for 16 year olds to sleep over at boy/girlfriend’s and in the same bed with that boy/girlfriend. So a 20 year old might be very surprised if you tell her that she cannot sleep at her boyfriend’s house. However, I think that having a a rule that says “no spending the night at yous boyfriend’s if you have to work the next day” is perfectly fine. If you let said boyfriend stay at your house is of course a totally different matter.

Aupairgal June 1, 2010 at 4:50 pm

As an aupair, I would be totally fine with my host parent saying that I couldn’t stay out the night before a shift. I am also personally very lazy when it comes to mornings and actually currently relish the ability to roll out of bed at 7, be downstairs at 7:10, and be considered early for work, which I am pretty sure I will never have that luxury again when I am no longer an aupair. : (
I would also understand the car thing.
But…..I would very offended if I was not allowed to stay over at a boyfriends house. Personally, I find it very very important not just to visit my boyfriend, but also to go somewhere where I feel perfectly comfortable and can do certain things that I can’t do at my host families home(nothing strange, but like I don’t have to be as clean, and don’t have to watch what I say).
I also think that responsibility should be rewarded.

Having a Computer Lunch June 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I realize that DH are extremely liberal on this point – and maybe the fact that we lived together for 6 years before we got married (been together almost 24 years and married almost 18) has something to do with it. My HM in Ireland put us up together, but request that we not be obvious in front of her kids (as if they couldn’t figure it out!), and his Russian friends kicked their kids out of their bedroom for a week so we could be together for the first time in 3 months.

Our house guidelines say that our car has no curfew and our AP has no curfew as long as the AP is on time, bright-eyed and bushytailed (as my father would say) and ready to start her shift. Make us late for work, and we’ll have a talk. In 9 1/2 years only once did an AP make us late for work, and she found herself taking a vacation day she hadn’t anticipated. (She tried to leave Long Island at 10 pm at night to miss traffic, only to end up pulling into a NJ hotel at 4 am, exhausted – worst was she didn’t call to say she had tried and wasn’t going to make it until DH was pacing at the door.) Our guidelines also say that the AP may have friends over (we just want to know that someone else is in the house, not all the details) – and that no guests may disturb the kids’ routine during working hours.

My feeling about in loco parentis is that I’m here to give advice but not to be the parent – the AP already has parents. I hate having to tell an AP what to do. Some of our APs have done some pretty risky things, and I just say, “I know that man seemed trustworthy, but what would you have done if he had done X.” I listen and try not to be too judgmental – remembering how much I used to chafe when my mother told me what to do (usually she just offered her opinion).

Rather than treating my AP as I would my own children, I try to harken back to the Dark Ages when I was in my early 20s and treat my AP as I was treated or as I had wanted to be treated. That, in my own opinion, is a better model than the naturally protective instinct parents have about their children.

I must say, I’ve never felt that my liberalism was abused in 9 1/2 years. All of my APs have been responsible women (I don’t call them girls because I would never hire a child to look after The Camel). I can see that it would be tempting to throw the rulebook at an AP and loosen it as time went by, but I would have chafed like an adolescent under such restrictions myself, and could personally never impose them.

So, in my house, the AP would be permitted to drive to her boyfriend’s house, with a negotiated time for return prior to her shift (most of my APs returned more than one hour before their shifts) and, if the HP needed the car that morning, the gas tank could not be near “E”. If she was staring at a 9-hour shift before her return, I might gently probe what she intended to so with the kids that day, so that no child took a nap to help her make up for lost time the night before.

Jan June 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Sounds like our house rules with the single exception of I don’t really want a male friend to spend the night, but I might be okay with this if the au pair bedroom was not so close to the rest of our rooms. Female friends / lesbian friends are fine with me – I have no idea why, but I guess maybe that’s my women’s college background coming out or maybe I am more suspicious of a strange man in my house.

I figure the au pair’s are here to have a great time which includes meeting that special someone and of course spending as much physical time as possible with that person. I know that’s what I wanted at that age.

After 5 au pair’s I have never had a problem with our au pair’s being on time to watch the kids, but then all of them have been super responsible young women. I did have one au pair who went out on a couple of dates with a guy just out of jail who appeared to be hitting on all of the au pair’s in our cluster. It didn’t take long for the au pair’s to catch on to him!

I also have in writing where the au pair can go for birth control and disease treatment since they might feel funny asking me.

Dorsi June 1, 2010 at 10:06 pm

This is pretty far off-topic (sorry!) but I just felt like I needed to reply. This thread (especially the OP and ComputerLunch) really illustrate why APs need to think about the situations they want to be in when they get to the US, not take any family that wants them, and realize it is not all about the nicest house, the most travel, etc.

On the surface, being ComputerLunch’s AP seems difficult — a special needs child to manage, a HM who doesn’t seem easily pushed around, and a busy boy on top of things. However, the philosophical differences in how she works with her AP (compared to me, compared to any one else) will give the AP the opportunity to have a very different year — and possibly a much better year. Like the discussion that is going on in another thread right now, curfews, car rules, etc. may matter more than the things that the au pairs (and agencies) often focus on.

End of off-topic observation/public service announcement.

CO Host Mom June 2, 2010 at 9:06 am

My “rules” are that AP cannot be out overnight on a work night, but can be gone on nights where she does not work the next morning. I do not allow the car to be out overnight (with rare exceptions), and I do not allow her to have her boyfriend spend the night at our house (again, with rare exceptions such as if I’m traveling with the kids, and she is staying home). I also require that if she is not going to come home, she let me know, and that she let me know where she’s staying. I don’t need advance notice of this – I’m totally fine with a midnight text message saying that she’s decided to spend the night at someone’s house and won’t be coming home – I just want to know (so I don’t worry), and I want to know where she is (in case something should happen). This has worked fine for the nearly two years my current AP has been with me.

California Cowgirl June 2, 2010 at 11:23 am

I think it depends on the au pair. We actually had one of our au pairs move in with her boyfriend during her extension period. We had gotten to know the boyfriend and his friends well. To me it was ideal… we had an au pair but also had our personal space (and guest room) back for a while. She took her work seriously and it was never an issue. However, we did discuss all of this before hand – i.e. being on time for work, etc.

Our handbook does state that there is an 11pm curfew the night before work and that she may stay overnight on other occassions but must send a text informing us so that we don’t worry.

StephinBoston June 3, 2010 at 9:03 am

For me, being a host mom is like being a parent without the real control that a mom has over her children, it can be tricky at times. I always try to help my au pairs as much as I can for everything from getting settled when they come to their travel plans during the year and activities they want to do. I offer advise and opinions when I think appropriate but I do try to let them be what they are “young women who are here to experience something different”. All 3 of my au pairs have been so different, some I’ve gotten closer to than others but I can say I’ve done everything I can to make them have a good year with us. I do get emotionally invested and it’s been hard when I’ve felt betrayed when an au pair disregarded the rules and safety of our children.

Noelle June 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I’m looking at this role of being a HM as preparation for how to respectfully parent my own children when they are young adults (and this isn’t far down the road, my oldest DD is 15).

I can have house rules, employment rules and create boundaries for myself and my family that are reasonably in my purview. If AP really wants to make ill-thought or immature decisions, she’ll have to do so while factoring in all that is involved with being a member of my household. I can’t control everything she does. But I’m not going to make it easy for her to make poor decisions (car curfew, for example, and sending a text message if plans change, etc). The way i see it, au pair or not, if you have another adult living in your house and they have access to your children, property, cars…it’s not unreasonable to expect respect for house rules (whatever they are) and honest communication. Hopefully I get better at this myself by the time DD is finished high school. :-)

On a related note, I think I’d have a real problem if AP wanted to stay at boyfriend’s house during the week.

TX Mom June 4, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I think this is a great topic with little guidance for the HP’s from the agencies.

Our experience has been that when the AP’s parents speak a common language with us we have had better experiences as HP’s. The APs’ families have become extended family and although we may be more liberal or more strict than their parents, we always have a mutual respect between the AP’s parents and us. When we do not have the ability to communicate with the AP’s parents (other than through the AP) we have not grown together as an extended family. I know that those APs’ parents have trusted us like the other parents have, but it feels like we are in total isolation dealing with their daughter. At times when you need to behave in loco parentis the AP is usually in some gray area of behavior and shouldn’t be the translator between HP’s and parents as s/he will manipulate things to fit the grey lense s/he is wearing at the time.
We don’t change the rules in our household based upon the rules of the AP’s family, BUT, I always ask, “What does your mother think?” because ultimately the AP has to learn to think for herself. I HOPE that by the time my children are 18 – 26 years old they already know what I think and I have been able to mold them to think more like me. :) Because if my kids do some of the things we have dealt with as HP’s, I’ll have an anuerism. I’m not talking about the “bang up the car” or the “walk of shame” rites of passage. I mean doing anything to get a green card or not pursing a skill or education…

Taking a Computer Lunch June 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm

One evening, after I had been in an intense discussion with my son, my parting words were, “You think I’m always wrong now, but just wait until your 19 and living on your own, and then you’ll discover how right I was.” My AP, who was present, laughed and nodded. She had been going head-to-head with her mother, and the physical distance had helped them grow closer. By the time her mother came for a visit nine months later, they had a great time together. This AP had done a lot of risky things, but not many more than I had done myself when I had been her age and living away from home for the first time (and when I realized my mother knew more than I had thought she had!).

While I do my best to play neutral with my au pairs, as long as they are doing what I ask of them and what the AP program demands of them, I do push them toward keeping an open mind and being flexible about the future. I have had two European APs who came saying no university, no way, never, and one is 2/3 of the way through her university program and another is about to start. Two other APs have completed university programs that had begun before they had arrived. My current AP came having completed her BA.

I must say, because I have a PhD, a couple of Master’s degrees, and have been studying foreign languages part-time for the last 5 years, that I am prejudiced when it comes to education, so I am always pleased when my APs the education component seriously. Most of mine have, even when their friends had not.

TX Mom June 7, 2010 at 10:04 am

My mom and mother-in-law became very wise when I had my first child. :)

DarthaStewart June 7, 2010 at 10:15 am

I too love it when they take the education component seriously. I don’t have quite as many degrees as you do, but am looking at going back to school in the 2011 school year for an MBA. I like it when they like to learn, and it helps with the kids.

NoVA Host Mom June 9, 2010 at 9:52 am

In response to the OP, I would say it is important to determine your comfort level.

You have already stated that you are just not comfortable with the car going to X location (boyfriend’s house or not). So, that is settled. The car cannot go.

As for the AP, I think you need to pull back maybe a tad. Certainly requiring no overnights the night before she works is very reasonable (we are of the “curfew before work” breed ourselves), but allowing her to spend the night with friends, any friends she chooses, on her weekends off is very reasonable. A 35min drive to pick up your girlfriend is not unreasonable at all (and very common where we live, where a 9 mile drive can take 20 to 30 minutes), and frankly (at least to me) shows a level of respect to the girlfriend, your AP.

It’s a hard line to walk as the “Host Parents”. Your are parents, but your aren’t. You are there for guidance, sort of, and then again you are employers. We really are a breed of our own in this. Personally, we are not trying to have the AP follow our personal morals and inner rules, but certainly as a parent I feel a certain level of responsiblity for making sure I send AP home to her family in one piece and breathing. After that, there is some level of learning through experience that every young lady needs to do. At 20, it’s time to let her learn. Hang in there!

(oh, and the comment about establishing what the kids are told is GREAT!)

NewAPMama June 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Our curfew rules apply even if she didn’t work that day. So she doesn’t spend the night anywhere else. I would allow another AP to sleep at our house if necessary. We do make an exception on sleeping elsewhere when she is traveling, of course. But it is our home, and we know what standards and morals we want kept.

Dosi June 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm

That doesn’t seem fair. Nor does it seem an issue of “morals and standards” — it seems more like a control issue. Children love sleepovers. While APs are not children, they are still in the age range where they enjoy all-night movie marathons, junk food and giggling. (I am still in that age range, too — I just have to fly across country, or go to Vegas, to have those kinds of nights with my friends).

Having said this, it is your house, they are your rules. I hope your current AP is okay with this. I hope in the future you make this very clear prior to matching.

Az. June 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

With all due respect for your morals, that’s ridiculous and frankly I’m amazed you managed to match with an au pair who knew that in advance.

NewAPMama June 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Well, as someone else said, while we are strict, we are also very flexible. Our aupair doesn’t have to work the full 45 hours a week, and has other priviledges. Our home is always welcome to her aupair friends, and there are constantly other girls here hanging out. So, obviously it can’t be that bad. Our aupair knows we care about her. I saw that many other mom’s on here have a curfew as well. The only thing we do different is she sleeps here. But from what I gathered, that is preferred by other host families rather than have someone who is never home. We had quite a few girls to choose from. Many didn’t want to come to the U.S. to party, and truly wanted to be part of a family that cared about them, and included them as a family member.

NewAPMama June 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Well, I’m sorry if it doesn’t seem fair to you. And yes, of course I am very clear about things when matching. I do not want someone coming to our family and expecting one thing to only find out it is not. That is not fair to anyone. Our current aupair is wonderful, and happy. She has many priviledges that her friends do not have. And having heard some of the stories that she has told me regarding the other aupairs, I am okay with our rules. And I’m also sorry you feel that that is controlling. I can assure you that is not the case.

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