Locking the Refrigerator, and other ways to mistreat an Au Pair

by cv harquail on May 3, 2010

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

a midnight snack.jpg

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.

Positive examples

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”.

Negative examples

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?

See also:

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


Angie May 4, 2010 at 12:55 am

Here are things other host parents have done that I wouldn’t have done or thought fair for our au pairs:

1. Au pair not welcome to eat with the family.
2. Au pair not welcome in the “family areas” of the house when off duty.
3. Au pair on shared minute cell phone plan with family, given a bill for all usage 3 months after the fact because combined the family was over the limit.
4. Au pair charged a mileage fee for driving the car well in excess of gas.
5. Au pair not allowed to buy certain foods for herself because of family diet restrictions (not communicated prior to arrival).
6. Au pair split shift around naps – work until baby naps (if baby naps at all), then off duty, then work again when baby wakes up until full 10 hours are worked. I personally don’t think this is fair because it doesn’t allow the au pair to schedule their own time.
7. Consistently late host parents, with no reduction in future hours and no thank you or I’m sorry.

Darthastewart May 4, 2010 at 10:16 am

I used to have a rule with my au-pairs that I would pay for gas/etc for the car for the first 150 miles per week. (back when my kids were babies), and if they went over, they needed to pay .50/mile. So, that was in excess of the amount that the gas would have cost, because I didn’t want them driving all over God’s creation. My first AP put about 20K miles on the car in a year, while caring for an infant who had no need of going anywhere during the day.

NannyKelly May 5, 2010 at 7:37 am

I agree that driving everywhere and anywhere is bit out of control and your choice if you want to charge overage, but saying your infant “needed to go nowhere during the day” I disagree with to an extent. As an au pair, I was locked in a house 11 hours a day with a 4 month old and it drove me to insanity and eventually I quit, mainly because I couldn’t go anywhere during the day. Sometimes to keep sanity, we need to get of the house too. I am sure you agree with this.

My 2 cents May 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

To me, all of these are obvious examples of crazy outliers. Locking refrigerators? Exclusion from common areas? Come on! There are no doubt some screwy host parents — people that fail to see that there pettiness and general failure to follow the golden rule will backfire. They either end up with a decent au pair leaving them high and dry and suffer those consquences, or end up encouraging an au pair to cut corners or intentionally abuse house rules (curfew, car, smoking) in payment in kind for all the disrespect and general nonsense.

I’d like to hear more examples from au pairs and host families in more gray areas. Areas where you made a decision and looking back perhaps you second guess it, or could see how it would be misconstrued, or could be viewed a different way. One where you may call your friend later and ask, “was I wrong?” In my experience these gray area decisions are not deal breakers, or cause for rioting, but ones where they add up and may turn the tide in a relationship so to speak. I learn — and don’t we all? — from those gray areas.

I apologize in advance if I’m changing the topic. I’m not sure I am. It’s a “gray area” to me!

cv harquail May 4, 2010 at 10:05 am

Hi M2Cents–

I appreciate your call for stuff that feels ‘really grey’, in the sense of being both reasonable and unreasonable depending on where you are standing.

At the same time, I’d bet that the host families behind the behaviors that seem objectively egregious, that we’d almost all disapprove of, were thought by the family to be perfectly reasonable. Sometimes I wish that these families would show up on this blog, so that we could investigate their motivations….

But, you make a good point– let’s see if we can find and focus on not the ‘deal breakers’ but the “tide turners”…

EUROaupair August 24, 2010 at 9:03 am

I agree! I would like to hear from both families and au pairs that are responsible for these bizarre behaviors. There could be a surprising explanation!

My experience on 1 and 2 November 10, 2010 at 12:24 am

“1. Au pair not welcome to eat with the family.
2. Au pair not welcome in the “family areas” of the house when off duty.”

My HM told me she preferred it if I found something else to do so the that they could have family time while I’m off duty. As I cook the meals every night, I refuse to eat dinner by myself – when I cook a meal for the family I expect to eat it with them whether it is at the table or in front of the tv.
For rule 2 it’s not so bad because they have given me a lot of my own space on a separate floor to the family space.

I think some cultures don’t know the meaning of the word ‘host’. How can I learn about your way of life if they only time we spend together is when I’m working. Cultural exchange should be a family experience, not just going to work then leaving when you’re done. An au pair is equal so she should be part of the family, and if you don’t want to have her part of your family then hire a nanny instead.

aria May 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I wouldn’t qualify this as “mistreatment” per se, but it’s annoying all the same, especially since I don’t think it would happen (at least not as much) with an on the books official nanny.

My HM gives me a lot of time off that she really doesn’t have to, and I really appreciate it. I hardly ever go on family vacations with them, because she knows I would prefer to do my own thing, and she’s pretty good about giving me days off if I ask for them.

BUT! She’s late ALL the time!!! My day is supposed to be over at 7:45 pm, and if I leave before 8:30, I’m lucky. Most of the time I leave somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00. I’m happy to stay an extra 15-20 minutes to chat about the kids, go over any problems, etc, but it usually goes more like this:
8:10- Mom finally gets home from work
8:15- Mom eats dinner while I continue to read to kids
8:30- Mom reads storIES to kids and asks me to wait to chat about things
8:45- Mom changes out of work clothes, gets comfortable, etc, takes her time… discusses her day, asks about mine, but nothing really productive is said…
9:00- I finally go upstairs.

I don’t work an excessive amount of hours, and most of the time, I really don’t have ‘plans’ that I’m being kept from, but it still bugs me all the same. I love it when Dad gets home first, because he’s all business and lets me go as soon as the kids are officially ready to be in bed. She takes way too much time! But I feel like I don’t really have a leg to stand on, because 1) as an au pair, it’s not like you can set your hours then get paid overtime, etc- you’re basically available when the family needs you, and since she is very considerate about giving me time off, I think I would look like a princess if I said anything. :/

Sorry about the LONG rant!!

anon HM May 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm

how many hours per week are you generally scheduled to work?

Taking a computer lunch May 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

As a HM, I would recommend — if you live in a safe area — going for a walk when HM comes home. Tell her, “I’ve had a busy day, and I just need a walk to stretch my legs and have some quiet time. I’d be happy to talk when I get back.” Then, you’re not closing out a discussion time and you’re leaving her with the kids. You’re not being rude or inconsiderate. As you’ve said, she’s been very flexible, but that’s no reason to abuse your good will and to extend your working day while she eats dinner.

As a working mother, it can be hard for me to leave the office on time, but I send out my schedule to my colleagues for the coming week every Friday. That way, they know when my departure time is firm (e.g. I must leave on time so my au pair can get to her evening class on time), and when it is flexible (e.g. I prefer to leave at 3:00, but I can stay later if needed). I work from 6:30-3:00 and my husband from 8:30-5:00 to accommodate our au pair’s schedule. This is very important in the summer when the au pair works from 7:30-4:30 5 days per week.

I do my best to get home on time, just so the AP doesn’t feel like it’s “one more time” when public transportation fails me or I absolutely have to stay late. I do build in chat time as work – but I have that luxury, since my AP rarely works more than 5 hours per day, and on the days she takes classes, she rarely works more than 3 1/2.

My 2 cents May 5, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I ditto all the above. Start scheduling stuff — no matter how unimportant — so you can extricate yourself easily and also remind your HM she needs to keep to the schedule she set. I’m willing to bet only a few instances where she’s made to feel bad or guilty because she blew a coffee or dinner date for you due to her own inability to keep to her own schedule will do the trick. It would for me. However, be forewarned that your HM can schedule you to start working longer shifts since you technically have the time.

aria May 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Another thing is, I’m an AP in Europe, where (IMO) the rules are a lot more lax, and there is no “45 hours per week rule” (at least not really enforced). I don’t work a set amount of hours a week, it’s basically whenever I’m needed, but on average, it’s 25-35 a week, which isn’t much compared to some APs in the States. I DON’T work that many hours, and the kids are an easy, sweet bunch, so it’s not like I’m being overworked.

To be honest, if she wanted me to stay until 8:30, that would be ok- but I would like to know, and I would like it to be regular. Even a phone call would be nice- “Hey, I’m tied up at the office, I’ll be late tonight,” but I never get a heads up, and it’s extremely frustrating.

Example- Today, she came home around 8:15 while I was reading stories to the kids, and announced she would be changing, then eating dinner. She didn’t say it, but the subtext was basically- “Keep them occupied until I’m through.” I just got back from visiting the States yesterday, and I am ex-haus-ted with jetlag, so I promised the kids X more stories, then told them Mommy would be in to read her story. When I got to the kitchen with my jacket and shoes on (I live in an independent appt in the same building) , Mom was there, picking on snacks, and she looked pretty TO-ed to see me obviously ready to leave, even though she had been smiling and happy minutes before. After about 2 minutes of short back and forth “the kids did X today,” she said in a loaded voice, “well, I guess I’ll go read them a story and let you go,” with a big sigh.

Sorry? Am I being unreasonable? I do not want to be the AP who waits at the door, purse in hand, but I feel like that’s the only way I can get out at a decent hour, and I still feel like a criminal leaving 30+ minutes after I’m supposed to. >.<!!!

Hula Gal May 5, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Instead of telling us what you want, why don’t you tell your host mom? It sounds like a little old-fashioned communication is in order here.

Lucky 7 HM May 5, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Aria mentioned she is only working 25-35 hrs per week, so the day likely wasn’t 10 hours long. I do think it is fair for you to be done at the end of your shift, but maybe instead of coming across as selfish to her HM and asking to be let o before HM gets to eat dinner, Aria should ask her to schedule a longer shift to account for the transition and allow Aria to make and keep plans after work?

Az. May 6, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Lucky 7 HM – Aria might ‘only’ be working 25-35 hours a week, but depending on which country in Europe she’s in, she could still be going over the maximum amount of allowed hours (normally 30, although a few countries have more/less.)

EUROaupair August 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

My HF are always about 45 mins later than scheduled. It seemed quite obvious to me to add an hour to every time they give me and that works fine. They’re busy people!

nj nanny December 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm

This is my experience ALL the time! In fact, I can’t plan to go out during the week because the parents I work for come home so late. Even when dad gets home early(ish), I’m still expected to do everything until the youngest is in bed. As a result, I don’t get off most nights before 9pm, and it’s usually closer to 9:30 or later.

Previous au pair May 4, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I think you are making the mistake of thinking chatting to your host mum is work. I agree it can be very tiring at the end of the day however you have to see that both host parents are also very tired too. Maybe your host mum is genuinely wanting to know how your day was and how you are? She is making time for you both to talk about anything important. Obviously it doesnt sound like there has been any important discussions yet but I think its there for if there is a time you or her need to say something. If you start looking at the clock all the time as an au pair and treat your host family just as an employer things can get very messy for both sides.

Az. May 4, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I don’t know…even if you discount the time Aria spends talking to her HM, with the schedule she gave that’s still an extra 45 minutes spent looking after the children which she isn’t scheduled for. 45 minutes a night, say it’s happening four nights a week = an extra three hours a week which isn’t included in her hours. It starts to add up quickly and I know from experience how irritating it can become – I was lucky if my HM was back 90 minutes after she originally told me I’d finish. By the time she came home and we finished dinner, I was desperate to have some time alone.

Aria, I’m not sure what advice to give you as my situation was somewhat similar. I do think you should say something – by the end of my stay I felt a bit like I’d been taken advantage of and I wished I had said something in the first few weeks – but I know first-hand how difficult it can be to bring it up.

Darthastewart May 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

If you know your HM is going to be consistently late, then you should mentally schedule yourself to be there until the time she normally shows up. – That way you can help control how YOU feel about it. Some people unfortunately really suck at keeping track of time and being on time.

Rola May 6, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Thats like asking a HM to ” mentally schedule herself” to accept her AP will be late for work just because she is one of those people who “really suck at keeping track of time and being on time”, oh! and that can help her control how SHE feels about it …..hum…seems to me both cases would be totally UNFAIR…

FormerSwissAupair May 6, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Host parents expect their AP to be on time everyday, with few exceptions. So I cannot understand how it is justified for host parents to be late, regularly. Of course I understand the odd time that cannot be helped, but 99% of the time, parents should respect their AP enough to be home when they are supposed to be.

Darthastewart May 6, 2010 at 10:08 pm

I… um… have had au-pairs that I’ve had to do that with.

And… I told everyone that my son’s baptism service was a half hour before it really was so everyone was on time.

Frankly, this is something you learn to cope with in life, or you go batty.
(My husband is frequently late, so I just tell him we need to leave 15-20 minutes before we actually do.

I agree that the HM should learn to manage her time better, but frankly, the HM isn’t going to change. The AP can either learn the tools to live with it, or she can leave.

Previous au pair May 7, 2010 at 1:07 am

I agree with dartha if you start calculating every minute and being precise with your hours your going to go insane

katerina June 27, 2010 at 9:28 am

i think the whole situation feels even worse because tha ap doesnt live in the same house/appt as the family. which means the ap really cant unwind until she is in her own appt. it easier to come back for a chat after dinner if you are in a next room.

FormerSwissAupair May 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm

But at the same time, having watched someone else’s children for up to 10 hours a day, sometimes with no breaks, can be exhausting. While an aupair is part of the family, it is also a job for us. Something I don’t think even the most well-meaning HF’s see, sometimes. I can understand the frustration of the AP who has put up with the whining, back talk, etc, and just wants some peace and quiet for herself. If something is that important, the mom needs to either schedule some time to talk, or multi-task because it’s not fair for an AP to be expected to just wait around until the parent is ready!

Previous au pair May 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I understand that after 10 hours your exhausted trust me I know. however if you start looking at the minutes on the clock and thinking of talking to your host parents as work then your going to have a miserable year. Its a difficult juggle I agree they are your employers and your host family. However just talking to someone about how there day went or whats been happening I think I’d like that alot more then a host family who couldnt give a stuff about what youve been doing or how youve been feeling. What are you doing when you are waiting around for them? Maybe tell your host mum your going to go up to your room and when she’s ready to talk let you know? Or if you are going out let her know in the morning or the day before that you need to leave at a certain time.

APinMD May 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm

There was this family in NJ (Thank God I went to a rematch with them and came to a great family in MD) I was working for…
In a Friday, the only day the HM was home at time (all the others she was late!) and told me: We are going out to dinner.
So, I was opening my mouth to say: ok, I’m gonna change my clothes, when she looked to me and said: There are some leftover on the fridge. You can eat them.

First: every single person in the world would assume she/he was going too, also because it would no be the first time I was going with them.
Second: The left over thing was VERY mean, let’s be honest. It was like I could only eat what they didn’t want. I felt very humiliated…

So families, ALWAYS think how and what you are saying stuff. Words can hurt.

Previous au pair May 4, 2010 at 10:44 pm

mm I have one
after a long day with the kids coming back from the girls ballet class my host mother called and said me and my husband are going out to dinner tonight what do you and the kids want to eat at home. I said okay and told her what we should eat. But she didnt even bother to ask that I had plans or anything which luckily I didnt. When we got home I was abit annoyed and she must have thought I was and she said ooh im sorry I forgot to ask if you had plans so it was okay in the end.

NannyKelly May 5, 2010 at 7:43 am

As an au pair I felt like I went through a decent amount of mistreatment. I was never invited to dinners out or when the family went to their chalet in the swiss alps. the only time I was invited it was to work and never was once invited to go skiing or given time off to go skiing, much less having them help pay for ski rental (SUPER EXPENSIVE!). I worked 10-12 hour days when I was at the chalet. They also never bought any sort of food I liked and made comments about me being fat.
BIG MISTREAMENT- I drove the children to and from school 4 days a week and picked them up for lunch 2x a week, 10 min both aways. I also drove the children once a week to a town 25 min away for kung fu lessons and various other driving- to the grandparents, or driving the grandma home who couldn’t drive, etc etc and was never given gas money. The father would also randomly take “my” car, drive to where his boat was docked, and drive back. The car would be returned on E and no money was ever given to me.

Nina November 10, 2010 at 10:43 am

See, my HF did a similar thing with food i.e. they made a shopping list for me, or text me when I was out, and never gave me any money. After them owing me 50€ of food money, I stopped, and then when they suddenly realised they had no bread for dinner, or pasta sauce when they wanted to make a bolognaise up, or whatever, and the only food they had in the house was that which was prepaid for, things got done. At the end of the day, we don’t get paid that much, and we’re not their bank. You need to tell your HF that either the kids learn to walk all those minutes, or you get gas money.

Other then that I didn’t really have any points I was annoyed at. I mean, okay, I worked an aweful lot overtime. Sometimes 7 days a week (sometimes keeping within the 30 hours, sometimes not) and I went 3 months working 50 hours a month, but then I got really ill and they realised that I couldn’t work that many hours (the limit (not only EU-legal, but we both signed my work contract before I even entered the country) is 30 hours with at least 2 days a week off). However, they were really good and always paid me overtime, or gave me something to make up for it, which I thought was really nice of them. I was lucky with my HF – yes, there were points which I didn’t like, but then after a good rant to friends, I was good. I mean, tbf, my rants were more like “I can’t believe I am not allowed to use the bathroom even though I have to clean it every week. I mean, okay, I get to use the shower room, but still…” or “So I have the weekend off, I come back and the pots from breakfast on Saturday are still there for me starting work on Monday morning!” which, is really nothing.

Previous au pair May 5, 2010 at 8:33 am

My old host mum constantly insulted america and its culture in front of me even though I made it clear to her several times that I was half american…and my host dad actually humiliated me at the dinner table by saying that the course I was doing for university was rubbish..ahah post feels like an au pair venting session lol

FormerSwissAupair May 5, 2010 at 8:41 am

My host parents went to Israel for a “buisness trip”, and told me they would be back in 3 days. They left me with no money or anything for groceries, etc. When they arrived in Tel Aviv, she called me and said that they were going to stay an exra 3 days! Talk about panicking! I had sole charge of my little girl for 6 days, 24/7. And didn’t even get a thank you when they returned.

Previous au pair May 5, 2010 at 9:03 am

omg thats insane! who does that???

AnnaAuPair May 5, 2010 at 9:56 am

I don’t get how the parents could leave their child alone just like that ^^

Az. May 5, 2010 at 9:58 am

I’m curious – did you report them?

FormerSwissAupair May 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Due to the circumstances, there was no one I could report it to. I was just thankful my boyfriends family was amazing, and constantly called and asked if I needed anything, and also invited us over for meals. I stayed with them for almost two years. I finally had to leave early, breaking my contract, because I couldn’t stand the HP anymore. And this whole thing about locking the refrigerator brings back memories. They didn’t lock the refrigerator, but they would put most of it in the lockable wine cellar when they went away. And we aren’t talking about expensive items. Just normal things like cheese, spaghetti sauces, sausages, etc. They said they were trying to help me lose weight. Because I am American, I was one of the largest people in Switzerland, and that’s at being 5’9 and 150lbs! These people were crazy. But I was in love with their little girl, and I liked where I lived, so I stuck it out for as long as I could!

Previous au pair May 5, 2010 at 6:13 pm

what were the circumstances? ooh my old host family always told how they though there old au pair was hideous…which didnt make me like them more
they didnt have many friends..

FormerSwissAupair May 5, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I didn’t go through an agency, because there were none at the time, and so there was no one to complain to. It was either suck it up and deal with it, or go back home.

anonmom May 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

Here is another way to ‘mistreat’ an au pair: As a HM my hosue has always been very welcome for both my au pairs, and their au pair friends. Many of whom would come vent in a ‘safe’ environment. SO, here are some things I was shocked to hear:
Labeling the food that the au pair could eat- in other words she could not eat any of hte other food not labelled; requiring the au pair to buy her own food with her own money (clearly a violation); telling an au pair they will have access to a car in an area where a car is a necessity, and once she was here never allowing her to drive, because “it’s too expensive”; lying to the au pair and telling her the cameras in the house are security cameras (yes, they were nanny cams); when one au pair was injured, her house mom immediately had her sent back home- less than one week! The best is having the family go out to a restaurant to eat, leaving the au pair at home- and it was her birthday. I could go on! You get the picture.

Mom23 May 5, 2010 at 11:08 am

Labeling food is one area I could see gets into a “gray” area. I have done this on occassion. I like to have diet coke in my cabinet for the few times a year I want to drink it. I don’ t want my kids to drink it and I think of it as my private junk food. I had one au pair who every time I bought some would drink it all up. So, I started labeling it. I would buy her a 12 pack of it every once in a while, but I wanted my stash left untouched.

PA AP mom May 5, 2010 at 11:24 am

One family in our cluster has a separate fridge for the au pair and only allows $25 per week to stock it. To me, that’s not enough to buy healthy foods.

If I have a specific ingredient that I am using for a specific occasion, then I just put on it, to be used for “birthday party” or whatever and then no one, including my kids eats it.

Some of the things host families do blow my mind.

Darthastewart May 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

OTOH, my last au-pair took things to extremes. She would buy her own food, and label it all as hers, taking over a significant chunk of my pantry. She also took the “It’s mine, don’t touch it” to extremes. I only have a couple of things that I don’t care to share (my husband’s best chocolates, or the small box of chocolates I got for Valentine’s day that I ration out slowly). Most everything is available to the au-pair and I offer to buy them anything they want- either take them to the store, or they can put it on the grocery list, and it’ll be bought. I don’t mind a few things that are for one person, but when there are 7 people in the house, I don’t want one person’s stuff taking over half of the pantry!
Of course, the same au-pair ate in her room against our rules, and we now have a massive ant, roach, and mouse infestation that we’ve been battling for months.

cv harquail May 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Wow. That’s something that I think an LCC should be called in to deal with. I could take the idea of having a separate fridge or place for food, if there were reasons related to religion, preference (e.g., vegan) or something to separate foods, but the idea of not providing enough money for groceries is really horrible.

Taking a computer lunch May 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm

One family in our former cluster charged her AP when she served ice cream to a friend. Another family sent her AP to wash her car floormats in our washer when the HM accidentally spilled oil on it – and then who got to clean the oil from the dryer — me! I can’t tell you how many au pair friends have come to AP dinner parties at our house late, complaining that their HM was late — again.

That being said, we do have separate shelves in the pantry for 3 people to keep their favorite stuff. The Camel cannot eat everything, so there is a shelf of foods she can safely eat without choking. My son has his shelf, with his favorite soups, and all the junk food former APs send to him (and he hoovers quickly – probably a learned behavior when an AP’s friend once ate some chocolate he had been saving), and our AP has a shelf. It’s a safe space to store food. If I want to hide something, I’ve found that no one ever looks behind the paper towels. Everything else is fair game.

I menu plan and DH shops for food every week. The more savvy APs learn to just write what they want on the list. The less savvy have to be asked every week (or make us guess if they’re not around). Food is meant to be eaten in my house, and the thing that makes me grumpy is having to throw food away.

Personally, I cannot imagine making an AP pay for dinner. Even if an AP’s friends accompany us – we pay. (We don’t eat out frequently, maybe we’d feel less generous if we did.) We often tell our APs to invite friends over for dinner, especially if I’m making a number of pizzas for neighbors and don’t want the AP to be bored by our conversation.

Gianna July 20, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Yes, I hear these kinds of stories too. But the longer I am around, the less naive I am. Sometimes, things are not what they appear. Sometimes aupairs spread malacious gossip and really take advantage of good people’s sympathies. Since I have been immersed in this subculture ( exchange programs ) , I look at politics differently, too. I used to root for the underdog no matter what. Now I am a little more thoughtful in that I realize that I do not know the whole story. I realized that when I became morally indignant , all full of hell fire and damnation, it was because those ” bad ” families gave me an opportunity to feel better about myself.
I also realize that even on this site, we are only hearing one side of the story. But I do find that reading this site makes me much least judgemental. The more information I have, the less I feel I ” know “.

JBLV July 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I have to agree with Gianna. It’s definitely the case in my cluster that au pairs tend to exaggerate how bad they have it. It’s almost a game, in fact. I found that my AP was complaining on Facebook about the use of our car. There is a car curfew (she is only 19, and the curfew is generous, and we make exceptions), and we don’t let her take the car to the more dangerous parts of town that also happen to be some of the most “party” parts of town. So she complained on Facebook, conveniently forgetting to mention that she once wrecked our car, we pay for all the gas, and she can easily go where she wants using other means.

Two sides. Two sides.

Host Mommy Dearest July 20, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Like. Yes. I agree too.

aria May 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm

That seems strange that she would be offended by having time off so you can spend quality time with the kids- I love it when my HF does that. Maybe she’s misunderstood and thinks it’s because she’s doing something wrong or you don’t approve of her?

Next time you do it, maybe you should try to emphasize what a great deal it is. Something like, “Whew, FINALLY done with all that work, now we can ALL have a break, just take the rest of the afternoon to rest and enjoy the great weather, I’ll take the kids to do such and such…”

Aupairgal May 5, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Huh, as an aupair I would definitely be thankful for the time. I would also completely understand. I also notice when my host children get a big chunk of time with their parents my job is easier afterwards. The kids are seriously in a better mood after spending some time with Mom and Dad. Both parents work quite a bit and since the children are still young they get limited time with their parents before the go to bed. Either your AP misunderstood you or is being a bit unreasonable.

A Host Mom May 5, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I’m just chuckling at this thread about “locking the refrigerator” because my husband just suggested doing that (jokingly, of course) or labeling his junk food. Background: On Monday night, my husband took the kids and the au pair to the supermarket where he bought a tub of ice cream for the kids and some ice cream bars for himself. Au pair bought herself a pint of ice cream. My husband just opened the freezer for one of the bars and discovered that the last two ice cream bars (and its box) are gone and the tub of ice cream is almost gone, yet au pair’s pint of ice cream is almost full. DH wanted to eat all of au pair’s ice cream, but I talked him out of it. LOL.

some Au Pair May 6, 2010 at 12:14 am

I am kinda sad about the gas-money-thing.

I drive my little baby boy to his kids-music-classes 3 times a week,
we go to the park, to the playground, to the mall (no I am NOT shopping during that time) and to playdates, I even do some of the family grocery shopping with him.
And the thing is: I PAY ALL THE GAS BY MYSELF.

Taking a computer lunch May 6, 2010 at 6:57 am

I would ask the HP to reimburse you. Keep a mileage log of activities that you are done with the child, and figure out what the gas mileage for the car is. Be polite when you ask for reimbursement and be sure to remind your HF how much you enjoy doing these activities.

We are fortunate enough to have 2 cars (we didn’t always when we’ve had APs). We keep the minivan for kid transport, and we pay for the gas. We have a subcompact that is primarily the “AP car” which DH and I gas up from time to time – if we’ve used it for a long trip or the AP has driven it a lot to pick up my son from after-school activities while I have The Camel in the minivan, taking it to her required college class, or going to cluster meetings. (Most of our APs have thanked us for topping off the tank.) Otherwise, the AP is completely responsible for putting gas into it. We pay for the maintenance on both vehicles, because at the end of the day, they are ours. DH and I commute to work using public transportation, so the AP ends up driving both vehicles more than we do!

some Au Pair May 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Thank your for your comment.
I think I just needed to let a bit of steam of. My hostfamily is really great and they treat me good.
I think I can live with paying for the gas. They are also doing a lot of nice things for me, like giving me presents at Christmas and Easter, letting friends stay over for a few days…

Darthastewart May 6, 2010 at 10:10 pm

IMO, they should be paying for gas money to drive their kids around. It’s basic common courtesy. I think that presents at Christmas and Easter are pretty common too.

Taking a computer lunch May 6, 2010 at 11:13 pm

I would second that. How about taking pictures of their kids on these outings – or having someone take a picture of you with their kids on these outings. That way you can start the conversation with “I want you to see how much fun both x and I are having together.” And then you can lead into, “You may not have thought about how much gas costs, but it is costs a lot for me. I’d really appreciate it if you would chip in for gas when I’m in charge of the children.”

(I’m always the one who suggests we should top off the tank when we take the AP car out on date night. DH is the “nice” one in the family, but I’m the one who thinks about the bottom line.)

NoCAMom May 6, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Oh my goodness, I think you should definitely bring up getting the gas reimbursed. It’s one thing to be using a car on your own time – but driving to kids to/from activities is work – and I get reimbursed when I drive somewhere for my own job!

We always have our AP use our minivan with the kids, and keeping it fueled is our responsibility. If our AP has to add fuel – we reimburse her.

With the spare car (the “AP car” on the weekends) – our request is that it returns for the Monday commute with the same gas level as it started the weekend. 99% of the time ( ok -maybe 80% lately due to my forgetfulness), we help her by giving her a full tank.

NannyKelly May 7, 2010 at 7:41 am

Please bring it up with the family. I never did and I’m still fuming about it nearly a year later.

some Au Pair May 7, 2010 at 2:07 pm

thank you for taking the time to write these comments!!

Its not like I am a quiet little mouse type of person. Its just that I can see how much my hostparents paid for the car, the repairs of the car and the insurance. In comparison, 15$ a week for the extra gas are nothing.

Hmm, but I think, I will bring the topic up during the next week.

EastCoastMom May 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm

some Au Pair, I’ve been a host mom to 3 au pairs so far, and I’m telling you that you should NOT be paying for that gas! The only gas you should pay for is to cover the mileage you use during your non-working hours (provided you’re not running all your personal errands and having lunch with friends during work hours). Period. I know it’s difficult to speak up about things, but you need to ask your host parents to provide you with money to fill the tank or ask them to fill the tank. Tell them that you will keep track of the miles you drive during your personal time and will refill the tank to cover that amount. That is their car that you are using for childcare-related activities, and they are 100% responsible for the cost. Check the tank on Sunday night, and if they haven’t filled the tank or given you money, tell them that the car needs gas in order to get the baby to class. If they ask you to use your money to fill it, tell them that you don’t have any cash available–lie if you have to. If you’re out with the baby and the tank is really, really low, use your money to put only enough in the tank to get you and the baby safely home. You don’t make enough money to be filling the tank and waiting to be reimbursed. If you are uncomfortable addressing the issue, call your local area coordinator and ask for help.

Zoe May 6, 2010 at 3:32 am

I’m loving this forum and wish I’d found it earlier. My year-abroad plans have been really not what I expected or wanted and it’s nice to read some others venting as much as I have been to friends!

I’m an au pair for 3 kids (5, 3, 10 months) and their parents basically try to keep them out of their hair as much as possible. Every activity they do is so “they’ll be tired and sleep earlier” according to the father. The mother will interact with them but get visibly bored and annoyed within about half an hour if left alone with them. They don’t talk to me unless they have to, and I always feel like I’m doing something wrong. I wish this had been a different experience, and am considering trying again maybe over next summer but I’m worried I’ll have the same type of situation. My mum at home was always very loving but taught me how to be independent. I can really take care of myself and have been on my own for 2 years, and everything, but living in this house where no one asks how I am or what my plans are, or even asks how the kids are doing makes me both upset and extremely frustrated. ksdvnasv !

beas July 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm

My au pair would initially come down and say hello to us when she was off the weekends.We always invited her to family meals when she was around.Then later she would just stay in her room and not come out until we left.After I while I stopped calling her down for lunch.Now in summer when she finishes at 6 p.m she leaves as soon as I get home .Sometimes she stays locked in her room and sometimes goes to the gym and comes at all times.After I while I was not even sure if she wanted to come down to dinner so I stopped calling her down and finally told her if she wanted to share the family meal to let me know or come down at 8 p.m.I feel bad when I dont invite her as I dont want her to go hungry.On the other hand I feel that she should let us know .She has no restrictions with food access and is allowed to eat anything she wants.Should I be calling her down or should she be making the effort to come downstairs.

some Au Pair July 19, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Talk with her!! Then you know for sure.
Maybe she has the feeling you want more time with your family and without the Au Pair and feels like she has to step back.

Please, talk with her!!

EUROaupair August 24, 2010 at 8:58 am

I do find myself retreating into my room MUCH more than I did at home. I come out for meals, though!

The parents have radically different discipline ideas to mine (screaming indoors=okay. falling over=punishable). So when the parents come home the kids get sooo naughty, or they do something accidentally and they get yelled at; I don’t want to see it. I can’t pipe up and defend the kids OR tell them off if they need it. It is sooo not my place. So I just stay in my room once the parents come home.

Is there a language barrier? My HM & HF speak little English. I speak English only with the kids but when the parents come home it is back to German. I just don’t understand a word, its just awkward. My language lessons start in a month, though! Yay!

NewAPMama July 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

You’re aupair is an adult, and can figure out when dinner is by now, I’m sure. I think she has made it clear by her actions that she doesn’t want to eat dinners with your family, so I would stop calling her down. I understand that my aupair (sometimes) works all day, and so I can understand that she would want her own time when she is off! So I just ask that she let me know by text or email, by 4pm, if she wants to eat with us. I am no way offended if she doesn’t, and she doesn’t feel obligated to. The only thing I ask if she is not eating dinner with us is not to bring in food from McD’s or wherever, or fix herself something seperate from what we are eating while the kids are eating their dinner with HD and myself. She is more than welcome to grab something and head to her room. I just don’t want her sitting there eating something different. So this works for us. :)

Silvia July 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

My host family is so nice with me, I always have been treated as a part of the family but there is just one problem. I do not have an schedule, and I have been asking for one but they always say oh, we are flexible! you can take your time whenever you feel like. But it is not happening, I mean, my host mom is a housewife and my host dad work every day all day long. My HM tells me, i am gonna go to the store I will be right back… but it takes forever… when she is here i am working, when dad arrives I am still working … i am working more than 10 hours per day from monday to friday and still working on saturdays until noon. It really pissed me off that last saturday afternoon I was taking a nap and my HD knocked on my door to wake me up to “keep an eye on the boys”… when I came out of my room, my host parents were facebooking and I had to take care of my 3 boys and their cousins !!!!
I love that they always include me and give super nice gifts but this situation is usually happening and my boys just think that I am available all the time

Anonamomma July 29, 2011 at 3:16 am

Basically there are two ways to deal with this situation:-

(1). You can sit your HP’s down and tell them that you love the family, etc, etc, but that you need a schedule and that their “flexibility” is not working for you; or

(2). You can tell them the hours that you will not be available for duties anymore, i.e. I was hoping to take this class – it’s on Mondays and Fridays (6-8) and on Wednesdays at 7pm all the AP’s are meeting in Starbucks.

You could roll out this strategy gradually or mix the two – tell them that other AP’s are starting to organise classes and weekends away and nights out and you need to have a schedule of when you will definitely be free so you can plan for yourself.

Either way – this is something that you will have to lead – they just sound laid back to me so you need them to see that this is not working for you but in a nice way

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