It’s not you, it’s her. Let her go, move on.

by cv harquail on June 5, 2009

Hi AuPair Mom and other other host moms (and dads),

Our situation is confounding us! Please help us understand…

We have had an absolutely bright, lovely, and energetic 20-year-old Swedish au pair for two months. We had a great first month with her and couldn’t imagine getting along better with anyone! We had a great relationship with her as host parents and she with us.

She struggled the first month developing the relationship with our boys, ages 2 and nearly 4. The four-year-old was “testing” and he took a bit of patience and work. The younger boy was the challenge for her, as she had lots of changes she wished to make with his behavior (help him become more self-reliant, independent, use a fork when he eats, etc.). After month one, things really started sailing smoothly between them and his behavior improved dramatically.


Then, two weeks ago, she sits me down during one of our weekly talks to tell me that even things have improved with the boys, she just isn’t feeling “comfortable”. The only thing she can specify is that in Sweden she is used to a “higher standard of living”, “spoiled”, and used to more privacy and space. She has a 12×12 room downstairs with her own bathroom and off hours certainly hears the kids during the day, although they nap in the afternoon and are in bed by 8pm. She says she has too much time on her hands, as she works three full days and two half-days/week. The two half-days are in the afternoon when the boys are napping or resting.

She says she wants to busier and perhaps would enjoy being with older children who she can take to sports games, etc. in the afternoon. She says that she can’t imagine staying a year and in fact, within the next few days she makes a formal decision to “transition” to a new family. She doesn’t know if the au pair program is right for her, but she wants to try one additional family before deciding against it.

We are so incredibly disappointed, as the children have really bonded to her now and we are so trusting of her competence and caregiving.

We are of course respecting her decision, but I do remind her that one of the key things to a good year is the host-parent/au pair relationship!! And, she will interview a family in our town in two days -a family with five children and a stay-at-home mom, so a very different experience for sure! We wish she could tell us more specifically so that we could really understand why she is leaving. Others I’ve talked to think it’s because many of her au pair friends are from a wealthy neighborhood a bit further south where they have their own granny units, wings of houses, BMW’s to drive, etc. She just seems so much more down to earth than that!

Anyways, we have been lucky and found another au pair (Brazilian) in transition who will come next week.

We know that we have been flexible, supportive, and interested in her well-being and happiness, so at least feel we’ve done all we can for her. We are left with a feeling, though, of just not understanding the situation, which is upsetting. We are also not sure of what to tell the kids about her impending and abrupt departure, especially as they may see her in the neighborhood with other children!

Any advice would be awesome. I look forward to having this site on my bookmarks!! Thanks, Stacey

Oh Stacy, where to begin? First, let me tell you– many of us have ‘been there’. Things seem good, and the out of the blue, she wants to rematch. Sure, she may have good reasons (or not). And you may be disappointed (or even angry, which would be fair). I must be feeling a bit grouchy, b/c my own thoughts are:

1. Even though you might want to work it out, don’t bother. She has shut the door already.

2. Even though you you might want to figure it out, don’t bother to try. She won’t be able to give you accurate information, since everything gets adjusted once she decided she wanted to leave– post-hoc rationalization, it’s called. Anyway, would she be able to give you reasons that felt okay? Would that really help?

3. I’d be pretty irked that your agency would let her be re-matched so soon, without a long enough adjustment time (6 weeks is really short unless the situation is completely dire– which yours is not).

4. I’d be pretty irked that your agency& LCC didn’t intervene and help you try to work it out. Just because she thinks she might ‘prefer’ something different does not mean that, after matching with you and agreeing with your situation, she can just decide it’s not good enough.girl doorstep.jpg

5. I’d be pretty irked that your LCC would allow her to be re-matched in the same community. (Our LCC would not allow that, for good reason.) It is not really fair to the kids for her to be around… what are they supposed to think, that they weren’t good enough? Kids often/always think things like this are their fault (or at least the 4 yr old might). Plus, it’s not kind to you and your spouse to have to see her and be reminded of the effort that you put in that has gone to waste.

6. We had several Swedish APs in our cluster, and my sister did also in her cluster, and most of them (like, 8 out of 10) left early. Is it a Swedish thing? Was it a bad agency liaison in Sweden who didn’t tell them accurately what to expect? I don’t known the cause, but I do know the outcome– lots of girls with an insufficient commitment to making it work.

7. You are probably a nicer person than me… but in this situation, grumpy, pissed off, tired, overworked and under-appreciated me would be pretty resentful. Actually, when I think about when something similar to this happened to me, I really struggled with resisting the temptation to hope that her new situation sucked so badly that she rued the day she said my house wasn’t good enough!) (ooh, getting steamed now).

8. As long as you know that you and your partner were kind, fair, welcoming, supportive, and generous where it matters— burn a little sage, swish it around the AP room, and then open the windows. It’s nothing you did, nothing you can do. It’s her. Chalk it up to immaturity, or lack of self-understanding, or lack of whatever, recognize that you liked a lot about her but that when it came right down to it, she was not committed to your family or your kids. Thus, you don’t want her. She is wrong for you.

I will leave it to other parents to offer ideas re: telling the kids. I need to go off in a huff and be mad on your behalf. < she stomps off to the laundry room >


Franzi June 6, 2009 at 5:07 am

uhm…i don’t get her problem. your schedule for her seems very ok (time off? hello!), her living quarters are more than many APs have (i always had to share a bathroom with the kids, in both families), your kids seem to have accepted her and listen to her…

i agree with cvh that you can’t make her stay. she made up her mind and unfortunately did not include you in that decision making process.

don’t think too much about the whys and ifs, channel your energy towards the new AP! i hope she will better appreciate what she has in your family.

i never had a swedish AP friend so i don’t know if swedes are less likely to finish her year. maybe your AP is the kind who wants a real challenge (5 kids sound like that) but you know, she could be very active with your kids, too. whatever – no need to analyze, she’ll leave you.

regarding what to tell your kids, you could tell them that her time was over and she now has to move to a new family (works at that age because they have no feeling for time yet). or you tell them that the kids in the new family need her help more. you know, keep it positive, so that your new AP doesn’t entice a “she will leave as well” attitude with the kids.

vanessa June 6, 2009 at 10:16 pm

well. i can’t really imagine how you can get away from something without trying to work things out first, but everyone’s different!
durint training in ny, my teacher told us that swedish girls are the ones that go back home earlier… just because they think they don’t need to go through all the hard things the program may bring them. back home they have everything they need/want and even more. so, that makes some sense.
i just don’t see how accepting a family with 5 kids fits in this information…
i’m from brasil, too. and i just love my family! and of course things are pretty difficult, in all possible ways… but once you’re willing to make a good job, your whole year gets much better – and that includes your relationship with your hostfamily.
i like franzi’s idea about telling the kids her time was done or she was needed elsewhere. i think it’s really important that the kids are concious that the au pair will leave sooner or later. my kids are really good about that; they get pretty sad for some days, bet then the focus is again on the new au pair. it helps them a lot.
i hope you have a better luck with the new au pair! ^_~

Swedish Au Pair June 7, 2009 at 3:50 am

I am a Swedish au pair currently in a great host family (extended 12 months).

I must say that it feels wrong to just assume swedish girls are one way, brazilian, german, thai another. Yes, we have similar quirks because of our background, but we’re not identical.

(Hang on – not done, hear me out please). I do see where you’re coming from. During my time in here in the US, I’ve seen a lot of swedish girls leave their host families (both “good” ones and “bad”). I’ve seen partygirls who weren’t informed of what au pairing actually entails and I’ve seen girls who put their hearts and souls into their work go before their time was up. It happens with all nationalities.

Myself? I am so glad I met my host family, so proud to hear my host mom call me her friend and personal assistant, so grateful I was given this opportunity to be their au pair (thank you!). I wouldn’t want it any other way. There are good days and bad days… and you make it work. I am sure that when the day comes when I have to leave this household, I’m going to bawl my eyes out and wish it could go on just… a… little… bit… longer (prettyplease?).

Above mentioned Swedish au pair has already made her decision to go. Sorry, but don’t waste your time on her. There are other au pairs who would love to be your au pair and really thrive, but she doesn’t… and won’t. You can do better, hang in there!

Thanks for reading
Your friendly neighborhood Swedish au pair

Anonymous June 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

I like the idea of telling the kids she was needed elsewhere – especially if she goes to this family with 5 kids, maybe saying “Well, they need her more than we do because she knows how to take care of that many kids at once and a lot of other au pairs don’t”.

Awful situation for you…I’d be angry, too. At this point, though, all you can do is move forward.

Hula Gal June 7, 2009 at 3:35 pm

We are on our second German au pair and while it is tempting to assume that the behavior has something to do with their nationality I remind myself when I start thinking that way that there are immature girls in every country. I’ve had similar situations with both of our au pairs. The first one, German also, lasted three days, quit the program and went home. I like how CV says to burn the sage and move on. My husband and I still find ourselves mulling over all of the possible reasons she had to decide that our family was not right for her. But then we remind ourselves we will never know and we drop the subject. Our second au pair panicked after being with us for 8 weeks and said she was considering rematch. Our LCC supported us and encouraged her to really think about it before she decides to initiate rematch. We made it clear that while we were not happy that she wanted to rematch we did not want the same and would be happy if she stayed. Well she decided to stay and things have been better since. What I can say to you is that you will have to accept a few things that come with the territory of hosting an au pair. Au Pairs are young, they have very specific ideas of how their experience will be here that is very far from reality, they can be very impulsive and emotional and some are quite immature. It takes a lot of patience to work through this but we are still happy with our choice to host an au pair and I hope you will feel that way again soon too. I cannot speak to how to handle the kids because we have a baby. Good luck with the next one – hope it is better!

Stacey June 7, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Thanks for all of your supportive and wise comments – we really appreciate it! And, yes, we are at the point of putting this au pair behind us and focusing on the excitement of our new arrival (and holding our breath and crossing our fingers that this one will stay)! We have also understood from some of our friends who are more familiar with Sweden that this is a quiet and well-behaved country – and with a two and nearly four-year-old, ours is not a quiet and well-behaved household. There is whining, crying, screaming, and multiple tantrums a day and I think we need an individual who can tolerate that better. Anyways, this is a great site – thanks again!

alice December 28, 2009 at 9:21 pm

similar situation. we have a french AP who has been with us for 4 monthes. she has a brother our daughter’s age and so we thought she would know what to expect from a 2 1/2 y.o. I have to tell her to do EVERYTHING except feed my daughter–laundry, changing soiled linens, picking up toys in the common area. . . .I am going to try to take the ‘sage’ advice and move on. shouldn’t take some 21 y.o.’s decision so personally.

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