“Mama Needs Her Space”

by cv harquail on September 22, 2010

BLJHostMom needs to vent–

“Space” has been a pretty hot topic with us (here on AuPairMom) these last few weeks, and I’d love some advice.

With our first AP, our biggest worry was that she would be around and it would be awkward when we just wanted to relax and watch TV in the evenings. But it wasn’t an issue. AT. ALL. Right from the beginning, she needed her space and we needed ours and she retreated to her room just enough but not too much and it was just great.

201009211636.jpgOur second AP started off much the same. She has been with us now for 2+ months. We really like the way she has been with the kids, and we genuinely like her as a person. But she is giving us no space. AT. ALL. And so, while we haven’t been worried about this because we saw how last time we worried needlessly, this AP wants to do everything with us.

I’m afraid it’s going to start creating resentment with me, because I am so overwhelmed all the time and I NEED some personal space with my husband. Or by myself, at this point I’d take either. We are retreating to our bedroom more than we ever had, which is fine, but I find myself dreading to go down to the kitchen for fear of being trapped by her “one more question”.

When I go out for a run, she “joins” me, and I see myself sneaking out to jog, because if she sees me in my workout gear after the kids are in bed, she’s waiting at the bottom of the stairs with hers on also.

It’s not fair of me to say this, and

I promise I am a nice loving host mom.

Our au pair has no idea that I’m feeling this way, but I’m helping her out all the time, I really love how she is with the kids, but I cannot get a minute to myself with my husband unless I am IN my room with the door closed. Sometimes when we are sitting in the living room having a conversation, she’ll just come sit on the couch and watch us. She doesn’t contribute or add to (her English isn’t so good), but she just looks at us. I stop, smile, and then continue talking. But I feel weird, watched, in a way I never did with AP#1, and seriously we are usually discussing my parents, or his job, or to do for the weekend lists, nothing of interest to anyone, practically even US!

The need for some space for myself is doing that thing where it starts to make more things annoying than should be annoying.

I’m starting to feel myself knit-picking, and that, my friends, is a very very slippery slope.

Rematch is NOT even on my radar. She is a seriously GREAT AP. All the bedrooms are together, so there isn’t much space, even to walk into the hall way to get a towel out of the closet, and she never ever has her bedroom door closed, even to sleep! So it just feels like there is no privacy unless we are in our room. She has liberal use of the car, and lots of time off, but she likes to BE WITH US during that time off. She even talked to my mom about how much she loves being with me. We always invited our last AP on the weekends to do stuff with us and she sometimes went but often said no. This AP comes to every school function, every trip to the store, every soccer practice, eats every meal with us, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is there for every family event we have.

After 8 weeks, I think her social circle should have started growing but she seems like kind of a home body who complains about most of the people she’s met so far. Lots of APs have been on vacation with the end of the summer, etc, so her cluster meetings have been small. Two of the girls she’s liked have rematched and left for another state. I hope that she gets a little more of a life, or I’m worried that she is going to start picking up on my annoyance. School starts for her in 2 weeks, so that should help also. I’ve also decided that for the next few weekends, I won’t invite her to come to the park or the soccer game with us. I’m just worried that if she asks or comes anyway, that will fuel my frustration that she is now tagging along uninvited. Mama needs some space.

I would appreciate any advice on a kind thing to say to her, that would not discourage her from coming to me when she does need help, and that does not discourage her from *sometimes* watching TV or hanging with us.

With our old AP we had a car curfew. Last weekend when she went out, Hubs said, did you tell her the car needs to be home by 12? I said, NO, I was so thrilled she was out and about, I didn’t dare tell her to be home by a certain time. Of course, she was home way, way before curfew. ?

201009211635.jpgIf I’m in the wrong here, please set me straight. I have a wonderful, sweet, young lady looking after my children, handling them beautifully. She has great morals and is a good driver.

So what’s wrong with me that I want to pull my hair out anytime she sits next to me on the couch? My last AP said I was the best host mom ever, I care for these girls, I really do, but I’m concerned that this “this lack of space” issue might develop into something more.

Can I change my thinking not to be so annoyed with her? Do I honestly just need a little more space and I’ll be okay with her?

After I get the kids to bed, that is my sanctuary time, or quiet and aloneness. Time to connect with hubs and exercise or veg, when I don’t get those things, I really feel myself unraveling.

WOW! I knew I was feeling annoyed, but that was a whole lot more “dumping” than I realized I needed to do. I’ve almost considered not even posting this brain dump. But I will. As always, ladies, thanks for listening, and for any words of wisdom! ?

Taking A Computer Lunch was the first to reply, with this:

I think that if you were to tell your AP how you feel, especially since you’ve said her English isn’t great, that her feelings would be truly hurt and would have a huge impact on the 9+ months ahead.

Instead, encourage friendships. Ask her to invite a friend or two to your next sit-down family dinner. Encourage her to have a “ladies-night-in” and invite other au pairs to watch a movie. If you encourage relationships with her peers, then maybe she will develop some friendships that take her out of the house. In the meantime, as much as you hate it, acknowledge her need to have a relationship with you and your husband.
In my experience, even the shyest of APs develop peer relationships that take them out of the house.

(It’s crazy– and real– to discover that even an au pair you ADORE can smother you a bit. cv)

See also:

Feeling Squished by Our Au Pair
Someone Else in Your House: Getting comfortable with the idea of an Au Pair

A Good Au Pair Relationship Requires Your Emotional Investment
Au Pairs and Your Privacy: My Au Pair’s kind of nosy!

Images from Flickr:
Momma Bear from
sleep
M
omma bear from Indiewench

{ 28 comments }

CCDC Mom September 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

We had a very similar experience last year, and though it wasn’t easy, we managed to work it out and we learned a lesson. AP13 really threw us for a loop when she started hanging out with us all the time, joining us for every event in and out of the house, and calling us to find out what our plans were. She also expected us to cook meals for her and for the 3 of us to eat together (without the kids–she cooked for them before we returned home from work).

There was a very different dynamic with AP1-12, who, while they spent some of their off time with us (and we all enjoyed being together during these times), generally preferred to eat with the kids and make social plans with friends their own age (which is what I also preferred to do when I was young and living abroad). This had become the norm for us.

DH and I decided to speak frankly with AP13 because, if we didn’t, we were in for a miserable year. We liked AP13, she was good with the kids, her behavior wasn’t “wrong” or “bad”, but it was unexpected and we needed more space to ourselves. The conversation involved LOTS of crying on her part, as she said she wanted to be a full member of the family and not an employee. We stressed to her that we cared about her and liked her very much personally, but that we were hoping she would spend some of her time with friends and not rely on us entirely to schedule her social life. We told her we would support her decision if she decided that she wanted to rematch, but hoped that she would stay and try to build her own friendships (this is not difficult where we live–there are a TON of au pairs).

She did stay, things did get much better, and she made many friends. When it came time to match this year, I revised our family letter to explain clearly the type of relationship we were looking to have with our au pair. In part, it reads “We need someone to take care of our kids when we are at work or running errands and doing chores—having 2 kids is a challenge! Sometimes, too, we just need some adult time to ourselves. We hope that you will become comfortable in our house and with us.

In general, our au pairs usually set their own social schedules, but also spend time with us seeing movies, having dinner or going on a family outing. We have traditionally viewed our au pairs as young adults who will pursue their own interests independently, but who will also enjoy talking with us and doing things with us as a family sometimes. You would not just be an employee to us—we care about your well-being and want to get to know you and enjoy your company, but we recognize that young people have social lives of their own, and respect your independence. Of course we’ll do all we can to help you find ways to enjoy yourself here, and we are always available to listen and help. We look forward to meeting you in person!”

MommyMia September 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Brilliantly put, CCDC Mom! I think that sets it out very clearly, so there shouldn’t be any misunderstandings.

PA AP mom September 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Not sure what her interests are, but could you “help” her sign up for an exercise class, a church youth group, a craft class, etc? Anything that might get her out of the house and help her meet people while still being something she would enjoy.

Maybe you could help plan a small party for some other au pairs in your cluster. Carry in dinner where everyone brings something. Very laid back and low key. Encourage her to meet people with whom she could spend some of her time.

Good luck.

Used to be an AP September 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I agree with TaCL. If you tell her directly she probably will be hurt and feel bad. Maybe you should suggest fun things for her to do that she can either do with friends or by herself. She seems to like to exercise, so could you get her membership (or one of those 10 visits cards) for a local YMCA-style gym? That would take her out of the house (I know that this is not cheap). I like the ladies night suggestion as well. You could present it to her as a “gift” for all the great work she is doing for you. Invite a couple of other APs (preferably those she doesn’t talk badly about ;)), rent one or two movies and maybe provide a few snacks. You could also tell her that you are worried about her because she doesn’t have that many friends that you are araid that she is bored spending so much time with people who are not her own age. If you have good LCC you could aks her if there is another AP that your AP might get along with, buy two move tickets and send the two of them on their way. I know that all of this includes at least some financial input from your side but I couldn’t really think of possibilities that are for free.

Soon To Be AP Mom? September 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I also agree with TACL. However if gentle encouragement doesn’t work, you may need to talk to her as best you can. That would require choosing your words and the message you want to convey very carefully. While I don’t have experience hosting an AP yet, I do have experience with my DH on this issue. There have been times where I feel I haven’t gotten to have alone time and my frustration manifests itself in not so pleasant ways and I end up saying somthing or behaving in a way I didn’t intend to, which probably leads to more hurt feelings than tackling it head on.

CCDC Mom September 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm

While I really understand and sympathize with not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, I don’t think that’s a reason not to have an open conversation with an au pair on this subject (or any subject that truly concerns you for that matter). A year is a very long time to feel uncomfortable in one’s home and I do not think it’s fair to the host parents. I agree that it makes sense to help her find social outlets and make some friends, but I also think having an honest conversation is the best way to come to a meeting of the minds. Adults must be prepared to have difficult conversations at times, particularly in the context of work and relationships. If the topic is broached with thoughtfulness and sensitivity by the host parents then the au pair may learn something positive about how to handle tough personal situations and take it with her down the road. In my opinion, that’s a lesson worth learning.

MilitaryHM September 22, 2010 at 10:13 pm

I completely and totally understand your situation. I wish I had some super advice to offer but instead, all I can say is that you are not alone. And I know how awkward it feels to complain when everyone around you thinks it’s absolutely wonderful that your AP is so involved. In more than a year, my AP has not made a single friend and isn’t interested in trying to get to know any girls her own age. She’s not interested in boys either. I’ve given her plenty of info about groups that seem to share her interests and she hasn’t followed up on any of it.

Since my children are attached to her and she is very reliable (and we were transferred to a new place and I was worried about quickly finding child care), we’re now going into our second year. I tried to make some changes and although her English is excellent, she doesn’t seem to really understand when she is encroaching into our family space. Here’s what I’m doing now and it’s helping somewhat:

–I use a family calender and when we are “All” invited, I put “All: Activity X”. If I want it to be just our family, I put “A, B, C & D: Activity Y”. Yes, it’s sort of passive but the direct approach wasn’t working.
–You don’t say how old your kids are, but when she is supposed to be off-duty, I remind my kids that she is supposed to be off duty and they should leave her alone. I had to explain to her that her constant attention was turning my kids into children that didn’t know how to entertain themselves any more.
–I’ve been inviting my kids to watch TV with me in my room on weekend evenings instead of movie night in our family room.
–I’ve had to talk to teachers or parents of my kids’ friends (who would see her with us at every school fundraiser or function) and request that they not pass messages through her and ask them to email me instead. She would frequently wait until “it was a good time” and thus, I wouldn’t get the message in a timely manner or she would agree to things that I might not have wanted my children to do with people I didn’t know.

To be honest, I’ve already told my husband that I don’t know if we will make it through the year because no matter what I say, nothing changes although she nods and tears up. In our case, it’s turned from too much togetherness into her crossing boundaries because she thinks she knows how I want to handle things. While that may be true, I still want to be the person who is handling it. She even told my kids when I took our dog in to be tested for cancer! Ok, so now I’m venting, but your issue really resonated with me. Best of luck with your situation.

April Maddox September 23, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I’m not sure how much advice I can offer but here it goes. Our first AP was very clingy and constantly hanging out with us the first 9 months but finally started to hang out with another au pair the last 3 months. It drove me crazy!!! Our second AP was the exact opposite, made tons of friends and was always out of the house during her off-time. Our third AP is much more clingy, which is a challenge, but we told her in the interview about our prior experiences with APs and how we were looking for someone who would give us our space so she understands what we’re looking for. The good (and bad) thing about APs is that they’re only here for a year so you can always “start over” with the next one and try to make sure not to make the same mistake twice. So, I guess my advice is to either confront the situation now by gently explaining that you need more space or (if you don’t have the guts to do that like me) wait til the next AP comes along and be upfront with her about your expectations going forward.

momto2 September 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Our earlier AP’s (1&2) were pretty good about balancing time spent with the family and time spent away from the job with friends. If we did a family activity, they were invited, and usually joined us-(dinner out, a kid’s soccer game, overnight trips, etc), but sometimes chose to go out with friends instead, which was fine. If they didn’t have plans in the evenings after work and they wanted to just hang out with the family and watch a show or play a game, this was fine. When the kids went to bed, the AP’s usually went to their rooms to Skype/email, or watch a show, which gave us time to decompress and to spend a little bit of alone time as a couple.

Our recent AP lasted 4 months, and left for reasons not related to this issue, but it’s interesting to reflect on the problem we had with privacy and boundaries. She didn’t spend any family time with us and the children outside of scheduled work, aside from meals (mind you, she NEVER missed a meal), which was fine with us. We have no requirement that the AP spends time with us, and we leave this up to them. But, this AP wouldn’t speak to anyone while eating….she just ate, washed her plate, cup and fork, and departed, which made us scratch our heads for a while. Oddly, after the kids went to bed and the hubby and I were trying to enjoy some of that 1-on-1 time, maybe even with a glass of wine, snuggling in front of the fireplace…….in walked the AP, without fail, every night! She would just plop down on the sofa across from us, pick up a magazine or a book and start reading. We tried to wait her out, but she wouldn’t budge until we got up to go to bed (sometimes 1-2 hours!). Never mind the soft music playing in the background, and the awkward stares from us as we tried to figure out exactly what about the situation appeared inviting to her. This AP was very defensive about the slightest suggestion that anything she was doing was wrong, incorrect, imperfect, etc., so we decided not to confront her about respecting our couple’s time. Instead, we found a great bargain on a small sofa that fit nicely in our master suite, and upgraded to a nicer t.v., and we just retired to our room after tucking in the kids. Obviously it didn’t fix all of the problems we were having with her, since we ended up in rematch anyway, but it saved our sanity for the 4 months she was with us.

Shana Medah September 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Hi, BLJHostmom-

First of all, kudos to you for recognizing that the space issue is starting to rub off on other areas of your relationship. I recommend addressing this with you au pair as soon as possible so that things don’t start to accumulate – that’s almost always a recipe for rematch!

The question of how to bring it up is, as you have expressed, a tricky one. There are a lot of smaller issues wrapped up in the larger space issue. It seems clear that you and your au pair are operating under different assumptions of what being “part of the family” means. In many parts of the world, the notion of personal privacy or wanting/needing to be alone to recharge, especially among family members, just doesn’t exist.

I would start by talking with your au pair about how she spends time with her own family at home. Before you start the conversation, try to think of how you would describe your need for private time in the context of a cultural difference, as objectively and factually as possible. Imagine you were writing a textbook for newcomers to the US (assuming you are a US American). Describe how Americans view privacy and why. This will help keep the conversation focused on differences in perspective and hopefully keep it from sounding like a criticism of her personally.

When you are ready, open the conversation by saying something like, “I notice that you like to spend lots of time with our family. Is that common for people your age in your country? What kinds of things do families do together in your country? Do family members ever feel like they need time alone? If so, what do they do to be alone?” This will open up the conversation so that you can get a feeling for what she expects family relationships to be like, and how they differ from your vision of family time and privacy. The fact that you’re asking may prompt her to ask the same questions about families here, giving you an opportunity to insert your “textbook” explanation of how people in the US view private time and private space, and the kinds of things they do to enjoy their private time. Talk about how Americans feel when they don’t get enough private time. At this point, she may begin to understand that she’s been crowding you, but if she doesn’t, you can offer examples from your recent experience. Again, keep the conversation aimed at how “Americans” see this (with the caveat that there are lots of variations in “American” culture – but for your purpose here, generalizations are OK in order to make the point). Hopefully, you will be able to make comparisons between her culture and US culture so that she can see that this isn’t a personal problem about her. Of course, let her know how happy you are with the way she cares for your kids and emphasize the fact that this in an opportunity for both of you to learn something new.

One more thing I wanted to add – about her sitting and just watching you and your husband talk – without contributing. I remember when I was learning foreign languages, I would eavesdrop on people talking about just about anything. Now matter how banal it was, it was fascinating to me because I was hearing it in my new language. Of course I tried to be discreet, but then again, discretion is also culturally defined. Your au pair probably doesn’t realize that she’s making you uncomfortable, and she probably also doesn’t realilze the significance of your smiling and continuing.

Best of luck – I hope your conversation goes well.

Shana Medah
Co-founder/Director of Training
Jamana Intercultural
smedah@jamanaintercultural.com

BLJ Host Mom September 23, 2010 at 8:46 pm

For 2 days I’ve wanted to jump back on here to answer questions and every time I started, 2 things stopped me. One, dread. I have to deal with this. Two, I want to give more details but am a little worried (as always) about the possibility that she might be on here and recognize this situation. However, it seems like many of you have had similar issues.

So thank you. Thank you for making me feel understood and not alone. There is a nagging voice in my head that keeps saying, “what is wrong with you!” “how ungrateful” so to feel less alone in all this, it’s drowning out some of my guilt!

Here are the things I’ve done:
1. I’ve gotten her involved with my church’s youth group program for college aged kids, she loves it.
2. I bought her a few things that she has mentioned as her hobbies, like roller blades (however she’s already mentioned that it will be boring to do it alone!)
3. I’ve got her all registered for 2 classes (she won’t take English even though she needs it because she is fresh out of High School and didn’t enjoy it there, so doesn’t want it here, she’d rather learn by listening.)
4. I’ve set her up with a few friends and encouraged them to do a party at our house this weekend, pizza, movies, etc.
5. Twice, when she was waiting at the bottom of the stairs with running clothes on and said, “Will you run tonight?”. I’ve said, “Yes, but I would like to go alone”. After, I’ve asked her if she ran too, if she got a good one in, and thanked her for letting me go so I could clear my head after a hard day of work. I’m careful not to apologize (something I do too freely).
6. I helped her make plans to go out of town in a few weekends (but they fell through).
7. I’m being very accommodating to help her with a vacation in December, that would be with 3 other girls to NYC.

The thing about sitting down with her and having a discussion about my specific issues is that I am afraid that it will make things awkward going forward. It’s not that I want her to wonder every time she needs to come talk to us if we’d rather she wasn’t there. I don’t want her to think, hmmm, let’s see I went with them the last 3 times, this time I shouldn’t go. What I want, is for her to have what my last AP had and that is some desire to be alone too! :) I have asked her about her relationship with her family. She is close to her dad and her sister, but not her mom or her 2 brothers. She was busy all the time in her home country, never at home.

While I really agree and appreciate the life lessons that could come out of a talk like this executed correctly. Thank you CCDC. And I appreciate such specific tips Shana – what great information you’ve laid out. At this point I feel like pointing out specifics will just hurt her feelings.

And you know, what do I want from her specifically? I’m not sure I know the answer to that yet. Honestly it depends on the day, it depends on my mood. In such an over-scheduled life, I want to not have to PLAN OUT my downtime! Letting someone else know when I might or not feel like talking or hanging out with them. So having a discussion before I can give more clear instructions about what I want from her and boundaries I want to set, doesn’t seem like a good idea when feelings could be hurt. At this point, other than all the plans I’m making, or helping her make, I am also going to be direct in the moment. I think for me, that is better than a sit down. So just saying, “Hey, you know we haven’t seen each other all week, and we really need some time together”. Or just simply “I don’t have energy to talk right now, I’d like to be alone”. Those kinds of things. Since part of my annoyance is really based on how I feel, I’d rather blame it on that in the moment. So she doesn’t have to guess how to apply our ‘big talk’ – when and what I was talking about, misinterpreting, and left feeling unappreciated.

In all this a few other things have crept up. I’m still trying to identify what is a legit concern and what is because I’m annoyed about the space issues. Military HM hit the nail on the head. She is kind of trying to overstep bounds a bit, I can’t tell if it’s being proactive or assertive or not. Instructing me when and where my Kindergartner should be doing homework, or when and how my baby should go down for a nap. I think she’s a little eager, so she finishes my sentences for me, but her English is so bad, she’s always finishing with the wrong thing, I have to say, no, say what I was going to say and then usually one more time because she doesn’t understand because were both talking at the same time. This makes giving directions much more time consuming and there are always a lot of directions to give, and she always has a lot of questions about those directions. Some other nit picks -She could stand to wear a little bit more or better deodorant. I wish she didn’t put Hershey’s syrup on her cereal in the morning, I’d love it if she’d talk nicer about her mother, and not complain about silly things regarding our LCC. I wish she would know the word “cracker” already! I think she is very young at heart, even though she is the middle child in her family. I honestly think she likes us and hangs around because she is bored. If our own teenage child was “bored” and hanging around as a mother we’d say, “well if you are bored, I’ll find you something to do”. But we can’t do that with our APs because they already worked the whole day! Would all of this bother me if I wouldn’t have had her attached at the hip as soon as I walk in the door for eight weeks? I don’t know, but I really don’t think so. Not as much.

Momto2 – L.O.L. Seriously with the wine and the fireplace! That’s kind of how I feel sometimes, but we aren’t nearly that obviously trying to be romantic. I know she sits and listens to try and translate our conversation, to learn English, but that doesn’t make it feel very comfortable or less invasive.

Lastly, at the end of the day, I’m going to make sure that I take stock of all the things I am grateful for about her. I hear stories on this blog that make my skin crawl. You’ve all helped me in my decision to chose this AP, and I know she is the right AP for my family because of well she handles my 3 kids – ages 5 year to 4 months. I’m learning more about myself too, and how is she supposed to know what I need when sometimes I can’t figure it out for myself. I know I don’t want to go through rematch when I have a great AP. My children are worth me getting over my own space issues and they LOVE her. I have to be more direct when things bother me, but when they aren’t that big of a deal, I need to not get so annoyed. I believe that with all her new activities I will see her a lot less. All in all, I need to remember to summarize the GOOD list, and not only the “bad” one. Because there is more good than bad. And that’s good.

cv harquail September 24, 2010 at 11:57 am

BLJ,
Thanks for sharing how you’ve reflected on everyone’s thoughts and what you’ve been learning. It’s proof positive that supporting each other makes such a difference.
Also, I appreciate the reminder to ‘count your blessings’… it sound like there is much to be grateful for with this Au Pair, enough that makes the difficulties and challenges worth it. cv

Taking a Computer Lunch September 24, 2010 at 12:50 pm

One thing on which I have been reflecting lately, is that 2/3 of my APs made the transition from being a child in their parent’s house to an adult in my house in one airplane trip and a 3-day orientation. Those APs often need to sit with us in the evening because that’s what they did with their own parents only a few days or weeks ago.

I try, when I get home, to find time to ask my AP how her day went, did she do anything special, and to listen to her questions and concerns. The first few weeks are the hardest a) because the outgoing AP had her own life and didn’t need me to entertain her and I need to adjust to the newness of the new AP and b) the new AP herself is going through a tremendous developmental shift (not to mention living in a new country on top of it).

My handbook reminds APs that they are adults in my house (which includes assigning limitations and punishments to my son that I must enforce, as well as my no curfew policy). I also find myself verbally reminding them, because for those who finished high school and came to me a few weeks or months later, it can be very hard. The payoff in helping them through the transition time, is having an AP that does want to be a family member, even as she develops relationships that get her out of the house more and more.

honeywhite September 24, 2010 at 11:50 pm

It makes me feel so much better to read these posts, as well as some of the previous related posts. We are on au pair #9. While there are host families who probably relish spending lots of time with their au pairs, and want constant interaction, we are not really that family. My husband and I work insane hours, and when we get home, we really want to first spend time with our daughter, and then, after she goes to bed, hanging out and relaxing with each other. We have had warm and close relationships with most of au pairs (still in touch with nearly all of them), but ALL of them had active and healthy lives outside of the house–lots of friends and lots of activities, from going to the gym, to class, to Starbucks, to the bars, to the mall, to the movies etc etc; they seemed to not only intuitively understand our need to space and alone time, but also seemed to relish the amount of freedom that we provided to them, and for the most part, once we got home, they went out–which has always been 100% fine (and in fact, may have spoiled us for what we are dealing with now). All of them, I should say, but #9. She has been with us over two months, and has made nary a friend, rarely leaves the house, and has a tendency to hover around us, silently, because it turns out her English is very poor and she can’t contribute to any conversation (also turns out there is a boyfriend back home, which we think contributes to her lack of social life). Our previous au pairs all displayed a great deal of independence and initiative, and this one has neither–can’t do anything on her own or alone (including simple tasks like going to the grocery store), and has made no effort to expand or create a social life here; her lack of interaction with others has meant that her English has not improved. She’s a decent au pair–our daughter likes her, though she herself feels smothered at times–she’s a decent driver, and is dependable. But she’s driving us crazy, and we find ourselves nitpicking, getting irritated and avoiding her (she has a tendency to silently sneak up behind us when we’re on the couch and just stand there, smiling–it kind of creeps us out). I’m at the point where I think it is ridiculous that we hide in our bedroom to avoid her–after all, this is our house–but despite encouragement from us and the LCC to get out of the house, join a gym, sign up for classes, reach out to other au pairs etc etc, nothing has changed. She hasn’t committed any fireable offenses, but I’m not sure I can last a year. However, reading everyone’s comments here makes me feel much better about my frustration!

Taking a Computer Lunch September 26, 2010 at 8:22 am

You don’t say where your AP is from, but I had one AP who behaved like that from China. My strategy, when she stood and stared, was to turn to her and ask if there was anything she needed. Sometimes, I would verbally dismiss her. “Well, if you don’t have any questions or need anything, good night.” Sometimes I would engage her in conversation. Her receptive English was weak and speaking in English was a real struggle for her. She never stayed around long if it was clear to her that she wasn’t going to be a fly on the wall.

My other strategy, was to make it clear to her that she needed to work on her English to effectively communicate if there was an emergency with my kids. Because we rarely needed her to work more than 25 hours a week, I had no problem telling her that she had to speak in English for at least one hour a day and that she could choose to volunteer, take a free conversation class, or call an AP who didn’t share her language and do something together. I made it part of her schedule. When I came home every day, we talked about what she had done. Her English improved to the point that communication was no longer a struggle (she chose to volunteer and to take free conversation classes at local libraries) – but more importantly it got her out of the house during the day.

Sandra September 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm

You have an interesting problem. I am an au pair too, and I’ll tell you how I see the things. It took me a few years and a few families to realise that when they say after dinner, at 9pm ‘you can come and join us in the living if you want’, is always better not to. They are just being polite.
I can’t understant why your AP is like a shadow to you. I am really looking forward to the weekends, to be away of the fam and kids ( even though i love them all). I can’t even stay with my mum for more then 3h in a day, without driving me nuts. Not to mention a stranger/ your employer.
She seems to have a different idea about what means an au pair and she really believed in the ‘part of the family’ point. The difference here is that you are not really family, so she can be more free, that’s why she likes you more.
Telling her you feel you’ve left without air is hurtful. Have you thought maybe you gave her the wrong impresion? In your way of trying to be polite and smile you’ve built the confidence and comfort zone for her,showing that it’s safe and alright to be near you.
When I was ap in another country, for 2 months,i swear i’ve never had a meal with my hostparents and I was able to see them only 5 min in the morning, for the rest for the day, each week. They didn’t even know my surname and I honestly didn’t know my hostmum’s name.
I think you should find a way to make her befriend other girls/fill her time/ and also you have to make yourself less available for her, even though that might mean that she will like you less.
i think it might be flattering to have somebody following you around.

Host Mommy Dearest September 25, 2010 at 9:25 pm

While these HMs would like a little more space, I doubt they would like their AP to not even know their name. This would only happen if they skipped reading the post “…Beware of the Contrast Effect.”

honeywhite September 26, 2010 at 9:30 pm

She is Czech, and we have definitely tried the same strategy you describe–after hanging around for a few minutes, with us returning our attention to whatever we were doing, she generally gets the message and goes upstairs. We’ve tried encouragement to do something, ANYTHING to get her out of the house (she also doesn’t know her way around the town very well, since she never goes anywhere) and working on her English, but to no avail. She actually has it very cushy–she has a very nice car for her exclusive and nearly unlimited use, and she barely works 25 hours a week, but unlike every other au pair we’ve ever had, she has done nothing to take advantage of the town, the situation, the freedom etc, and her lack of independence and initiative is what we can’t deal with–we just don’t have the time to do everything for her (she is dragging her heels on signing up for classes and getting her driver’s license, because she simply can’t or won’t do it on her own–and we’re not going to do it for her), and we don’t have the desire to have another “daughter” in the house (complete with attitude when asked, for example, to wash her dishes rather than leave them in the sink because the dishwasher happens to be full).

My husband found out today from our previous au pair, that this one friended over Facebook, that while she likes our daughter, she doesn’t care for us. Well, for me, this is pretty much the last straw, and I think its time to start the whole re-match rigamarole. My main fear, of course, is that though she is a bad fit with our family dynamic, she is a reasonably decent au pair, and that we won’t find anyone who at least fits the “decent au pair” bit in rematch.

Our previous au pair, ironically, returned home after her year was up because she thought her job was waiting for her–which it turns out it’s not. She’s now unemployed and she’d love to return–and we’d love to have her (though she was on the lazy side, she had a great personality, and she and our daughter really loved each other and had a special bond), but we’re not sure whether that’s feasible. If anyone knows the options for a previous au pair to return, I’d love to hear about it!

calif mom September 26, 2010 at 10:41 pm

You can find a decent au pair in rematch! Absolutely. Been there, hit the jackpot twice.

As for your old AP coming back, it would all depend on whether she could get a visa, I think. Might be a tough sell. {aside: the fact that even though she wasn’t a barn burner you’d still prefer to have her back enough that you’re exploring that idea is more evidence that you really are done with the one you now have!}

I hear you on the “extra daughter” problem. I’ve literally said to our newish au pair “I can’t answer that question right now, I’m in the middle of making dinner and thinking about 3 other things and my brain physically cannot multitask. Remind me after dinner,” only to have her continue right on trying to persuade me of whatever it is or make an instant decision about schedule. Or, worse yet, re-telling heated debates from college, discussing things like death penalty techniques for murderers–in front of my young kids who aren’t so young that they don’t know what murder is! And when I clear my throat and change the subject, she goes right back to it! I don’t need to deal with an additional high schooler. I have too much on my plate, and I resent having to Mommy my au pair, too. It’s pretty clear that she left home to get away from her overbearing mom, but now that she is here, she wants me to fill that role. Forget it! From what I’ve heard, her mom would *hate* how I handle things. I didn’t match with her mom, but boy do I feel her hovering over every conversation.

{Hmmm. Off to go search for that post from the HM who didn’t have specific problems with her AP but just didn’t like her…..}

Taking a Computer Lunch September 26, 2010 at 10:47 pm

APIA encourages it, and has a program for APs who here previously. We’ve never taken advantage of it, because all of our previous APs have moved on to the next stage of their lives.

We, too, did not go into rematch last year – even when I was ready to explode, because it was unlikely that we were going to find someone better in country. We require a special needs willing AP, so our pool, even in APIA, can be extremely small at any given time.

Last year’s AP was a homebody who needed to be told what to do (I think the culture shock was incredibly overwhelming to her), and so we started establishing some benchmarks not to go into rematch – working on driving skills, improving her English, (because otherwise we might have gone back to Medicaid-subsidized nurses if we were going to drive The Camel to every doctor appointment). We pushed. I’m sure she hated it, but she really did seem to relish participation in the free English conversation classes she attended. She did the minimum to remain in our home for the rest of the year.

Personally, I would talk to your LCC. Mine was great last year – she was willing to pose questions to my AP about how things were going. I also was able to tell my AP to ask the LCC questions (and then email the LCC to warn her). It was my LCC, when after 6 months my AP had done nothing to take the required class before she could even go to motor vehicles with her paperwork, who said. “Stop asking her. If she doesn’t bother to get the license, don’t extend.” She didn’t bother and we didn’t extend.

LisaExAuPair September 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

I have looked into the au pair repeat program, because I was thinking about doing it. If you successfully completed your program the first time you can do the repeat au pair program, BUT you have to live outside the US for at least 2 years. So if you last au pair just went home, she has to wait 2 years before she can return as an au pair.

Marie Therese September 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I think we are all grown ups. Or should be. And I think there should be no problem at all talking to the au pair about the space issue. I am sure she can understand it. And will try her best.. just make sure, she does not missunderstand..

A Host Mom July 18, 2011 at 9:01 am

I need some advice here. We recently welcomed our 4th au pair. We were very friendly with all of our prior au pairs, but honestly, they spent dinnertime and a little while longer with us each day but the remainder of the time they spent in their room skyping, emailing, etc. However, our new au par spends every waking moment with us and we feel like we are suffocating. For example, my husband was watching tv at 1 a.m. last night, which is what he does to wind down when he can’t sleep, and she joined him watching tv at that time (mind you, she has a tv with cable in her room). Although she is new, she appears to be very good with the kids so far and they like her, but I can’t spend all of my free time at home with her. Any advice on how to diplomatically explain boundaries to her and our need for family time?

Taking a Computer Lunch July 18, 2011 at 10:49 pm

We’ve already had a series on this very topic. Look under Part of the Family.

If she’s a recent arrival, could you arrange to have some of your outgoing AP’s friends take her to coffee, shopping or to the movies? If she was an AP who honestly answered that she liked to stay home in the evenings, then you may have matched with exactly what you thought you wanted. If she’s on the shy side, encourage your LCC to help her meet other APs from your cluster.

A Host Mom July 19, 2011 at 10:43 am

It is quite the opposite, as she is extremely outgoing. She has started reaching out to the other au pairs in the neighborhood, so hopefully she’ll branch out soon. During the matching process, we told her it was OK to join us watching TV every once in awhile, but she’ll sit on the couch reading her book while we are running around trying to get ready for the next day, putting the kids to bed, etc. I re-read the earlier postings here and will definitely look at the other thread for some ideas. Thank you!!!

Taking a Computer Lunch July 19, 2011 at 11:40 am

My guess she is adapting from being a child her own family to figuring out her relationship with yours. If she’s outgoing, then she’s accustomed to being with people. My guess is that you, like many of us, are chafing at the shift in your own family’s cycle in AP hosting. Most of us have APs who are barely at home during their last weeks – saying goodbye to friends, seeing places at the last minute, and busy with the rhythm of their own lives (going to class, going to the gym, hanging out with friends), that when we find a new AP sticking to us like glue, it’s hard. Don’t be rude to her, but if she’s been with you for less than a month, then quietly say things like “Now is the time to be out with friends, it’s only going to get darker and colder” as you’re scurrying around. (Although I tried that with one new AP from a warm country and she just didn’t get it until it happened.) Remember that new APs whose English isn’t great tend to be exhausted from hearing English all day long, so if she hasn’t created a network of friends that speak her language, she may be too tired to socialize.

On the other hand, if I were your husband, I would gently ask an AP that came and sat down next to me at 1:00, “What are you doing still up? I was trying to watch TV quietly because I’m suffering from insomnia. I’ll need you to be rested and refreshed because I won’t have a lot of energy to deal with the kids tomorrow.” If she doesn’t pick up on the cue, then you, as the other parent could kindly explain to her that your husband really needs to be left alone when he can’t sleep.

southern host mom July 19, 2011 at 9:12 am

good advice regarding involvement with other APs… However, an AP sitting down with your husband at 1am to watch TV when she has one in her room would make me (and DH) pretty uncomfortable. She might require more direct feedback regarding boundaries/privacy.

Gianna July 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I really like the idea of the ” other ” host parent telling the aupair gently that
” my husband sometimes has a hard time sleeping and needs to be alone ” . I suspect that the other explanation might be a little to subtle. I think that LCCs should bring this up in a non-threatening way with aupairs because I suspect that some aupairs might not realize that watching tv together is an activity that many married people like to do together without company. For grown up shows, anyway. If everyone is eating popcorn and watching a family movie, that’s one thing. But if you see a married couple watching tv together, don’t plop down unless you are explicitly invited to do so.

Comments on this entry are closed.