Riffing on the post Do Au Pairs need a bill of rights? about Au Pairs and a domestic workers bill of rights, Dawn mentioned that
A clear listing as to what kind of treatment is reasonable to expect would be very helpful in such circumstances.
As one example, in a program where the AP expects to be “part of the family,” is it okay for the family to literally LOCK their “family” refrigerator, and have their AP eat completely different food than the rest of the family eats — food of a lesser quality than the family purchases for themselves? I don’t think so, but my AP’s friend who is in this situation is afraid to rock the boat by talking to her LCC about it.
Expectations & interpretations
The program requirements do set out a framework of expectations, but unfortunately ‘bad’ host families interpret both the rules and the principles behind those rules in ways that serve themselves rather than serving their au pair and / or the whole family-au pair system.
There are many, many (too many) ways that unscrupulous host families can interpret the program requirements in ways that end up feeling like ‘mistreatment’ to au pairs. These ‘bendings of the rules’ or distortion of the intent behind the rules, are different from actually breaking the rules. When a family (or au pair) breaks the rules, the violation is clear: s/he either did or didn’t get two weeks of paid vacation. When program guidelines are enacted in a way that distorts them, whether or not it’s “mistreatment” is up for grabs… and generates ongoing conflict and distress.
Can we establish a list of appropriate expectations for how regulations should be enacted? If we could, then host families and au pairs would have a better sense of what good treatment is, and isn’t
I like Dawn’s idea of a list of positive expectations… but it’s a hard one to execute. Still, let’s try it.
There are two ways to go about this. One way is to start to generate a list of how au pairs can and should expect the guidelines to be interpreted. We have already discussed what behaviors ‘show’ that an au pair is being treated as part of the family, and it never hurts to revisit this topic. It’s just too important.
I’ve set up a second post where people can generate more ideas about “What an Au Pair can expect from a Host Family”.
A second way to get a sense of what au pairs should be able to expect is to list examples of ‘bad treatment’. This would not be examples of where host families broke the results themselves, but rather ways in which the host family “interpreted” program requirements in ways that end up feeling like mistreatment.
Dawn’s example of the locked refrigerator suggests that this host family was willing to provide ‘board’ for their au pair, but just not at the same level as the rest of the family. They are perhaps fulfilling the letter of the regulation, but not the spirit. And, separating out the ‘family food’ from the ‘au pair food’ so that the au pair gets lesser quality meals is a true violation of the spirit of the term ‘au pair’– and au pair is supposed to be treated ‘at parity’ or at a status equal to a family member.
Personally as the blog moderator, i get a little anxious when I set up a post where we list things that people (host families, agencies, LCCs, au pairs) do wrong. I don’t like gripe fests, and neither do most of you readers. That said, we can handle this one well if:
1. We note not only the ‘mistreatment’ but the reason why it felt like/ looked like ‘mistreatment’.
2. We respect the viewpoint of the person suggesting the ‘mistreatment’. The goal here is to understand what’s behind both the behavior and the bad feeling, so we need to listen first before we move to offer a correction, or a suggested action step.
Ready to try it?
Do Au Pairs need a bill of rights?
Advice Wanted: How to set the right tone from Week 1
Host Family Advice: Resist the Amenities Arms Race
The 3rd Car: Avoiding a sense of entitlement
Part of the Family: What does that mean to you?
Part of the Family: The Au Pairs’ Perspective
Image: a midnight snack from Little Dragon