The help we need is the help we need. Depending on your situation as a host parent, you might need driving, or cooking help, or child-minding on weekends, or flexibility when a child is sick. We each ask our au pairs to help us with different childcare tasks. As long as the tasks are within the set of approved activities for au pairs, we imagine that we’re okay in asking for this help.
This new host mom needs help, she thinks her expectations are reasonable, and yet her Au Pair is balking.
This particular au pair already seems like she won’t work out, since she has not demonstrated a ‘can do, will do, want to’ attitude about her schedule and her responsibilities. But the question here isn’t whether the au pair has the right attitude (indeed, she may not). The question is, rather: Is this request fair?
Hi Au Pair Mom,
I have had my au pair for only 2 weeks and already there are a lot of problems. She is 21, from Brazil and her English is very poor. I am a single mother who owns a business and thus I have a lot of responsibilities, and I had hoped that getting an au pair could help me manage everything better.
My only son is 10 months old and goes to daycare from 9-4 every day, leaving my AP to have time to herself. Her schedule is to watch him 5-9, help out for 2 hours each morning (7-9) to help get him dressed and fed, and then work occasionally on weekends. She already has two whole weekends off a month when my baby is at his father’s house.
(Her first weekend I had set a curfew of 2 am (very generous, I thought!) but she didn’t get home until 3:40 am! Her first week!)
My son still needs a bottle a middle of the night bottle. Because my AP does not use all of her hours each week, I’ve asked her to sleep with the baby monitor and get up with him, three nights during the week. She is only responsible for getting up from 2 am to 4 am, so that adds just another 2 hours, most of which she is asleep. Even with this extra 6 hours, she still is not reaching her full amount of hours, and she has more time off than any of the other APs I’ve ever heard of.
She was extremely rude when I asked her to do the late night feedings, and told me that she refused to do so. She can be very passive aggressive most of the time and impolite. I really resent the fact that she can stay out until 3:40 am, yet she refuses to listen for a baby from 2-4am 3 nights a week.
I wonder, am I out of line asking her to do these hours? I am a single mother and I don’t think I’ve had a full night’s sleep in 10 months. I’m exhausted and need to get enough rest to run my business. I’m at my wit’s end.
1st Time HM
Dear 1st Time HM –
In the grand scheme of things, I’d suggest you start looking for a new au pair. A passive-aggressive, unpleasant au pair who is more dedicated to going out that to caring for your child just won’t work out in the long run. You will find it hard to get from her any positive, kind, and helpful assistance with your child. You probably don’t want your child to spend his time with an au pair who is a sourpuss. And, who needs that at home? With just yourself as the head of household, it’s you against her in setting the tone in your family, and you are already playing defense. So keep this in mind as we address the scheduling issue.
Is it fair to ask her to feed the baby in the middle of the night, 3 times a week, for the next few months?
In my opinion, it’s right on the edge of reasonable.
Au pairs don’t necessarily have the same sense of selfless devotion to a child as a parent might– which is appropriate, really, since the AP isn’t the parent. A parent has no choice but to go the extra mile. But for an au pair, the personal sleep sacrifice of being ‘on call’ for a night feeding is a hard sell. Still, as you mention, it’s only 3 times a week, she still has time in her weekly schedule, and you really need the help.
Emotionally, while I understand that you see her partying late at night as an indication that she can be awakened for other things, these aren’t equivalent. We all make different choices when it’s a “want to” rather than a “have to”. Plus, it seems that you might be resenting your au pair’s freedom and energy, because right now you have neither. Each of us hose parents knows how hard it is to be pinned in at home, every night, knowing you won’t be able to stay asleep until morning.
Technically, though, the way you have the schedule set up, you are breaking the rules. While not every au pair agency has an explicit limit on the number of times you can ‘break up’ an au pair’s work day, three chunks of work time is pushing the limit. If the chunks of time were separated by an hour for dinner or two hours for the gym or some kind of break that your au pair really wanted, that would be one thing. But between 9 and 2am is just a five hour break. Between 4 and 7 is a three hour break, and between 9 and 4 is just 7 hours.
There is no span of time where your au pair can have 8 hours of sleep — and it’s unfair to expect that she will sleep during the day. (She didn’t come to your house with the clear agreement to be on the night shift and to sleep during the day, did she?)
- You could try to eliminate the 7-9 am shift, three days a week, so that she could do the night feeding those three days and still get the chance to sleep in from 4 am to whenever…. This is still a rough schedule, but within the lines of reasonable.
- You could also try shifting your son’s bottle schedule– maybe give him a bottle at midnight and then have your au pair (or you) get up at 5:00 for another bottle, and asking your son to manage a 5 hour span between feedings (Of course, this may not be appropriate for him — but this may change as he grows).
So, in my opinion I think you need to reconsider what kind of schedule is appropriate, considering not just the sheer number of hours but also the ways that they are arranged and the quality of the break/sleep time in between.