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.
The 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?
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