Is it reasonable to stop trusting my Au Pair after this?

by cv harquail on December 5, 2010

When we share a bond of trust with another person, we can can handle almost any kind of conflict or difference of opinion.

For most of us, we begin our relationships with our au pairs with a foundation of ‘swift trust’, and then build on this foundation as each party meets their obligations, treats the other with fairness and kindness, and operates with honesty and integrity. Like me, you’d probably give a lot more to an au pair whom you felt you could trust 100%.

201012051756.jpgWhen an au pair does something that challenges or breaks our trust in them, all bets are off. We reconsider what we are willing to give and how far we are willing to go beyond the basics. And, we also reconsider how we’ve operated in the past. We wonder, is this the first breach in trust, or have their been earlier deceptions that I’ve somehow overlooked? Have I been duped?

Trust is hard to recoup. It takes a good ‘clearing of the air’, a clear sense of future expectations, and a demonstration over time that expectations are being met.

One of my most trusted au pairs surprised me, when my DH noticed that she’d been driving the au pair car hundreds of miles a week. We hadn’t noticed before, since we rarely used that car ourselves, and it was the “change oil” light that tipped him off that the mileage on the car had soared. keep in mind, we have a ‘5-mile radius, no driving on highways or to the City’ policy. We talked to our au pair and discovered that she’d been driving all over northern NJ to see her new boyfriend’s band. (Yes, on highways, late at night, coming home from bars. Not a good scene.)

We talked, reasserted our policy, got her agreement, moved forward, and I do believe she didn’t flout the car rules again. Of course, this was not a situation related to our children and her care of them, so it was easier to deal with and to repair. Even after just a few weeks, things seemed back to normal.

Not so for this DupedHostMom, below:

We are in our 19.5th month with a 24 year old au pair from Thailand. She has never been amazing, but has been mostly fine. She loves our twin toddlers (22 month), and they love her. (We also have 50% custody of a teenage, but AP has no responsibility for her) I work full time, odd hours out of the home, HD works full time, 60% out of the home. AP’s schedule is fairly regular, 40 hrs/week, 9-5, then avg. of 2 weekend days a month, with a corresponding weekday off. She is my first AP, but HD had several with his previous marriage.

A few months ago we had a mtg with the LCC and AP because she was not meting expectations: hiding in her room (or the bathroom) on the computer during nap time, rather than duties, one day left babies in cribs awake for an extra hour. Just sort of phoning it in. She vowed to improve, and made some modest improvements.

This week, the teenager was sick monday (fever/vomiting), one baby up sick all night last night (so one mama also up all night). HD is away on business. This morning, AP came down, said she felt sick and had a fever. I cancelled my day and sent her back to bed. When I spoke to HD late morning, he said AP was faking it. I went to bat for her. At 7, she said a friend (another thai AP) was stopping by to drop off some food for her, which I thought was sweet. At 7:30, AP is miraculously healed, dressed up, wearing makeup, and going out “for soup.” It is now 3 hrs later, and still not home.

I am so hurt/angry/disappointed. I’m completely fed up, and not sure how I can look her in the eye, let alone trust her anymore. I’m thinking about rematching, but at almost 20 months, is it really worth it?

Mostly I am just mad and feel like I got played.

I plan on having a talk tomorrow with her about how disappointed I was, and that I have problems trusting her. Thoughts?

Image: The joy of swinging by Brit


Olga December 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm

From my experience, if an AP tells you or your child that she is sick, but then goes out with friends the same day….you have to wonder why they are au pairing. I had one that did many, many bad things and bottom line was that she was truly only here to party. She came straight out and told me that she didn’t even like kids :(

Host Mom in VA December 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm

You have my sympathy! I do expect my APs to push through minor illnesses, and in more than 3 years I’ve never had to cover for an AP due to her illness. It does sound like you have been taken advantage of, and I would tell the AP that you are disappointed in her dishonesty and thoughtlessness. I would likely begin my match process for your next AP now in the event that she has short-timer syndrome and the sick days or dishonesty continue. I would likely not move quickly to rematch over this one event given you have been together for 20 months.

azmom December 6, 2010 at 1:44 am

Oh wow, that’s horrible. Is she having au pair version of senioritis? I would take the advice of HMinVA – start looking for next au pair now and be sure thai au pair knows this. I mean, if you worked a contract position, and did the same, what would your boss say to you? And in the family aspect, if your husband did the same on a weekend, said he couldn’t make it to say a family event on “your side” so you all decided to stay home and then he went and “relaxed” with a few guy friends in the evening… would you have a few words with him?

HMinNL December 6, 2010 at 6:45 am

Umm… the thing that stood out at me was the problems you were having prior to the sick thing (which is IMO lame and disrespectful to your family). But leaving your babies in their cribs for an extra hour presumably to extend her naptime break??? This would be a dealbreaker. That, plus the other points on top of that, reads to me that she has lost interest in your family.

I really feel for you being 20 months into it already…but I will say that I can’t imagine continuing to have someone in my house taking care of my kids who does not have their best interests in mind.

If you start looking for another AP and make sure she knows about it – won’t that just augment her disinterest in the family and make her care less? I am thinking that if I were in a job and my boss already made it clear they were hiring someone else, my mind would not be on trying to keep that employer happy, but probably on other things.

To me it sounds like she is getting warnings about specific behaviors that she should not repeat so she will be like “ok fine I won’t do that” – but then she just goes and does something else. It sounds like she needs a good stern talk about her role within your family, the trust issue, and her priorities.

I think I would talk to her about being at the last point before rematch or dissolving the situation, and that you need to have her fully restore your trust in order for this situation to continue. I’d probably have my DH involved too for the stronger effect, and make it clear once again that she is in your house to take care of your kids as a top priority and that you feel your trust has been broken. The sick day is a hard one to outright dispute because she can always contend that she was sick all day and then just started feeling better in the evening, so I would not concentrate so heavily on it, just try to make it understood that you know what was really going on.

Should be working #2 December 6, 2010 at 11:18 am

I totally agree with all you said!

Taking a Computer Lunch December 6, 2010 at 8:12 am

20 months is not quite lame duck status – presumably you haven’t started the process of looking for her successor, but I would call her on it. I have had a couple of APs that claimed illness (mind you, I don’t work out of the house, so when the kids were babies I had to take the day off) and a couple that were truly ill.

My bottom line – if an AP is sick then she stays home. She certainly shouldn’t go out with a friend, especially if that friend is another AP. She certainly shouldn’t go to the home of another AP (goodness knows the other HF doesn’t want to be exposed to her illness).

My recommendation is – call her on it. Tell her the next time she does it, you’ll expect her to make up the hours. And ask her what you would do in her place, given that you couldn’t work and take care of your children while she was out “having soup.” I would sit down and outline some expectations for her last 4.5 months – no surfing the Web while the kids are napping, because she has ignored them in the past. Discuss the changing needs of your toddlers (since she has cared for them since they were infants), and your changing expectations of their care. Have this discussion when the little ones are in bed and make sure the teenager is not around.

Watch this AP for signs of lame duck status as you start to interview her successor.

Calif Mom December 6, 2010 at 10:57 am

Whether it’s short timer syndrome or just slacking off or just being LAME, 4 and a half months is way too long for the host mom to have to endure. Agree that you need to sit her down (again) and address this, preferably with the counselor in attendance to reinforce you, and try to manage her current performance as best you can. Focus on the performance issues.

Check with your agency for specifics, as long as you have your counselor on the phone, but I think that in an extension year she would not have the option of finding a rematch family. If I’m right, that information might get her attention. In this conversation you need to be clear that she has to earn back your trust or get ready to go home.

And ALSO start looking for your next au pair. After this experience, you’re going to want to take your time with that process anyway and be extremely confident in your next choice, so I would say it’s not at all too early to start.

Anonamomma December 6, 2010 at 9:49 am

Am I the only HM who wouldn’t take time off work if AP was ill?

My AP looks after one toddler and can basically sit on the couch for the day if she has to (if ill) but even if my child were older (especially school going) then my AP would have to suck it up and push through (unless it was a very serious illness which required a trip to a doctor or hospital) but for anything less than that (a cold or stomach upset) I can not see myself being telling my boss that I cannot come to work because AP is ill!

And if my AP made a miraculous recovery during the day after I put myself out for her, there is no way she would be going for soup without knowing the full cost of her “day off” and I mean financially as well as emotionally.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 6, 2010 at 11:58 am

If my AP tells us she is too sick to work, then HD and I cover (I have been known to hide the keys to the cars). The Camel has one life-threatening medical condition that makes her vulnerable to illness, so if she didn’t give it to the AP, then she is at risk. About 50% of the time one child or another has given an illness to an AP. We pay for doctor’s visits if the child has made the AP seriously ill (twice it has been strep throat), but not for colds or if the AP has made herself ill.

My DH’s least favorite day off – AP partied so hard on her vacation that she came back seriously ill and wiped out. (He often has to pick up the slack, as I’m out the door before anyone wakes up.)

The bottom line – DH and I go to work when we’re logey but not seriously ill, and expect the same of our AP (after all she has 6 1/2 hours to nap between her morning shift and her evening shift).

AP for a toddler December 6, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I am an AP for a two year old and whenever ive been feeling sick ive told my hostmom and then me and toddler will have a nice Elmo day in bed together, some days when my hostmom gets home early i can get of a couple of hours early to. But i think that as long as your not hanging over the toilet puking there is no need for hostmom to stay at home.

Anna December 6, 2010 at 10:23 am

It depends how ill. Sniffles and such – we all work through it.

But twice I did take a day off work for an ill au pair (different girl each time). It was a kind of a cold or a flu that makes it hard to get up. Fever, weakness, really bad.
When my first au pair had it I sent her to bed myself, because I saw she could barely move – she attempted to start her day as usual. It was the same in the second case I had to do it.

But it was only for one day, because on the second day usually this kind of illness subsides enough for one to function close to normal – still taking it easy though.

my 2 cents December 6, 2010 at 10:25 am

I’d ask her to put in some extra hours later this or maybe overnight since she was bviously better. Let her suck up some of the hardship. I would also start lookind for the next au pair, we sTart at least this early every year and many au pairs are flexible about arrivsl dates so if this one is let go early it’s little trouble to you.

Mom23 December 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

I once had an au pair who claimed to be sick when she wasn’t. I said, “of course you can have today off. I will rearrange my schedule and go into the office on the weekend to make up my hours but I will need you to cover that day.” Miraculous recovery. (I really would have had to make up the hours since I was on a project at the time).

The au pair was young and I think she didn’t really think through how it impacted the rest of the family. For other reasons, but mostly due to her immaturity, she did not last long.

I am not sure a faked illness would be the issue on which I would initiate a rematch, but as part of the bigger picture, which seems to be the casehere, I would. And, initiating a rematch does not necessarily mean that you need to follow through with it, but it does send a strong signal.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 6, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I did have an Asian AP try to take a sick day for her Period. It didn’t take long to realize that I’d use up a lot of holiday time myself if that were to occur, so I said pointedly, “Here in the United States women are expected to function when they have their period.” I gave her a list of potential over-the-counter medications that could help ease her discomfort. I think one time she complained happened to be a day I had gotten my period, too, so I said, “That’s funny, my period came today, too.” (And I had been to work, done a bunch of things with the kids and made dinner.) She never complained again.

Aupairgal December 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Lucky for me, when I was sick it was because the kids got me sick, so we all stayed home together. Generally just colds, but it was nice cause those where the only days were allowed to just all lounge on the sofa and watch DVDs all day. I honestly felt bad for the parents cause they still had to leave the house and go to work when they were sick.

HRHM December 6, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Our HFHB states that in order for me to give her the day off, she has to be sick enough to go to the doctor. The reality is that if she looks like death warmed over, I would likely offer to take over (DDs are in school all day anyway). But if I thought she was faking or over-dramatizing, I would make her go to the Doctor – I’m pretty sure the $65 copay would put a damper on any malingering. I would also make it crystal clear that there would be no going out – if she had a miraculous recovery then she should be resting to be sure there’s no recurrence the following day, not out spreading her disease.

As far as the OPs overall issues, this just reinforces for me the earlier posts about not extending with a so-so AP. I would have already given her the boot after the “extended nap” incident. To me, that’s neglect and akin to child abuse.

host mom December 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Our handbook says that if she takes time off due to illness, she’s expected to make up the hours later in the week. If she were truly sick, I wouldn’t enforce it, but it’s enough to make her think twice about taking time off.

Only you can decide whether you can still trust your au pair or not, given everything that’s happened. Whether she has four months or 14 left doesn’t matter. If you can’t trust her, it’s time to move on.

Deb Schwarz December 6, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I’d have a serious discussion with her – and if you don’t like her response – call the LCC out for a mediation/exit. I think it might be time to move up your date for the next one.

Gianna December 6, 2010 at 5:32 pm

This is interesting. It is also something I did not read much about on the thread about the fine print in contracts. What do agencies say about sick days ? I know someone who individually offers a number of sick day and then pays the aupair a bonus ( not too big ) at year end for every sick day she doesn’t use.

Notitleforme December 6, 2010 at 6:02 pm

As an au pair I always worked when I was “sick” always some cold or stomach things. But once me and my two kids got sick, after Saint-Nicholas (big party in Europe) and I was really really bad! 40°C of fever, coughing, with a lot of secretion, they called the doctor twice and during x-mas day they took me to the emergency room because I had fever non-stopping, and finally they found out that I had a lung infection! Hopefully my family gave me a break because they also had a break from work, but I had everything planned for new year’s eve, and I went sick, I was better but not healed! But my family never told me that I was faking, it was something that could happen and I was not happy to loose my money with all the reservations, trains etc. I spent like a month really sick and then I never got sick again and everything went great for us! I so miss my family, they are great!!!!

PA AP mom December 6, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Luckily, I have never had an issue with the “sick days”. Maybe it’s because I am a Nurse Practitioner, they don’t try to “fool” me….haha.

If our AP isn’t feeling well, I generally delay going to work, if I can, until after the boys get on the bus for school. Then she has all day to rest until 4pm when she has to meet the boys at the bus stop. I am home from work by 530 at the latest, so the most she has to work is about 1.5 hours which hasn’t been an issue.

Janicke December 7, 2010 at 3:38 am

I’m sometimes shocked about cultural differences between the US and Europe.

And no, I’m not an AP (anymore), way older than 19. :) I’ve been living in 4 different European countries (for my studies) and worked as a nanny in 3 of them. (also as an AP). When I was sick, I stayed home (in my room whilst being an AP), and no, it never occured to me to cover up for my days. In generally, you can take 2 days off, after that you’ll need a sick leave from the doctor.

Once the grandmother complained that I wasn’t taking my job seriously since I was staying at home when I was ill. (I was quite often ill that autumn, but that was because of the child I cared for – he was ill, two days later it was me). Well – for me, it’s exactly the difference between being a mother and a nanny: parents are caring for their children even though they are ill. As a nanny I expect to be entitled to social rights and if my doctor writes me a sick leave, then I’m certainly not coming to work.

On the other side – I would never come to late for work, surf on the internet whilst working, making privat phone calls etc. And definitely NOT leaving the baby awake in this bed because I’d like to have more time off (don’t actually neither understand why she should do it from an egoistic point of view: why off?? If the baby is napping, she should do some stuff in the kitchen, laundry or what-so-ever?)

I’m still babysitting besides my studies and I expect a professional relationship with the parents – based on trust. If you can’t trust your AP, you can neither have a professional nor personal working relationship with her. ;)

Gianna December 8, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I think this post makes some good points. Faking a sick day is something that many of us have done in our lifetimes but the boss wasn’t around to see/know it for sure. I remember when I started one job, it was suggested to the women staff that we NEVER call and say that we would be out because our kids were sick. We were advised to say that we were sick. Goofing off while caring for children is a whole different matter and that is something that I think should be addressed at once. Kids crying unheeded or stuck in their cribs while someone surfs the internet or talks to her boyfriend is just heartbreaking.

AnonHM Europe December 7, 2010 at 4:02 am

In Europe (as far as I know) the HF is supposed to pay for the Health insurance of the AP. So whenenver my AP is sick, I send her to the doctor right away. Miraculous recoveries the first time the girls realize this. If they are sick, they are not expected to work hard – just be at home, so the kids (5 & 7) are not alone. Max. 2 hours/day – they may watch TV etc. If the AP was really, really sick, I would take days off. In my contract with the girls, I’m entiteld to make a paycut of 50 % in case of sickness – but only with the first girl I should have taken this into consideration. The rest of the girls knew exactly that we needed them and therefore helped the best they could. One girl had a bad accident and could hardly walk, but she managed the kids from her sofa for a short time, so I could go to work ;-) Considerate APs will help!

BrAP December 7, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Well, it seems that your AP biggest issue is not lack of responsability… she might have character problems, and I believe that’s something you can’t change from night to day. If she’s done that, means she’s prone to lying and deceiving. This time, it was about being sick and then going out, but next time (or times before) it could be about something that compromises your kids. Rematch!

As an AP, I believe the thin line that separates good APs from bad, is the way she faces the program: is it just a job that will help her get the things she wants, or is it about being really involved with a family and mature as a person and exchange student.

And even though there are lots of differences between cultures, one thing is certain: a good character is a good character anywhere.

JJ host mom December 8, 2010 at 2:04 am

Well said.

Eurogirl December 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I am usually a very healthy person but whilst working as an au pair I found that being in a different country and being around kids all day meant I picked up a lot more cold/flu/stomach virus type things but those were mostly things I could work through – except on one occasion when I had been vomitting heavily and took off two days. I had to work hard to make up the rest of the week but I was grateful for the sympathy and the fact that the mother of the family got me medication at the pharmacy and the father made me cups of tea. Things like that make you feel a part of the family and supported which I think is important for a close working relationship – and when they were ill I would have cared for them in the same way as they had shown me such kindness.

When with another family I unfortunately broke my arm in an accident. The thing that shocked me was the host family were angry with me for taking up their time because I could not make it home by myself and the hospital phoned them to come pick me up. They were angry because I had to pick up their kids on foot instead of by bike – even though this was more work for me and no difference to them or the kids. They were angry that I had some trouble cooking dinners one-handed.

I understand that it is frustrating that an au pair is ill or injured – but a sympathetic attitude will make for a better working relationship. A young woman (or man) far from home and hurt or sick is a miserable thing to be. A friendly face rather than an angry boss is so nice.

That said, faking illness would also ruin the working relationship. I would think you should tell her that you know she was faking it and that since she is better so fast she should make up the hours for you. A discussion about honesty might be awkward but necessary….

Taking a Computer Lunch December 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I want to add to this thread. My AP recently became really ill and attempted to “work through it”. DH, who is often home in the mornings, saw that she looked a little green around the gills, but she insisted she could work. He was covering half her shift for her, because she had an interview with a college counselor about the results of her ESOL test, to which she went. When it became clear that she was truly ill, DH, who was working from home, ordered her to bed.

We told her that the default for today was that she was ill, and if she felt well enough to work, to let us know. She slept through the morning and then emailed me at work and said that she felt better and would take the afternoon shift.

And here’s the sad kicker. One of her friends commented, “My host parents would never even ask if I was well enough to work.” My bottom line – if my AP is truly ill, I want her resting, drinking liquids, and trying to get well – I do not want her exposing my children to illness (even if one of them gave it to her – and especially if she picked it up from somewhere else). DH and I come out ahead, but that’s not the goal here. The goal is to treat non-shirkers fairly (personally I feel bad, especially for the APs who have never lived away from home, because I’m not their Mom and I’m not going to take care of them they way she does — on the other hand – we all leave home sometime).

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