Managing Au Pair Transportation in the ‘Burbs: Ideas for this Host Mom?

by cv harquail on August 27, 2010

Our previous two posts,

Providing Your Au Pair With Safe, Affordable, Convenient Transportation , and
Don’t Abuse A Cluster Taxi

have been set-ups for this next question, from SanJoseMom.

SanJoseMom is a first-time host parent and trying to organize her expectations and establish a foundation for a successful au pair year.

Hi AuPairMom –

I live in CA, and We will be getting our new au pair in Mid September. She is from Scandinavia, and is 19 years old.

I live in a suburb, so there is public transportation but its not very good. Near our house there is only a bus line, and BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit which takes on to SF, is about a 20 minute drive from my house one way, there is a light rail near a mall which is about 10 minutes away by car.

I am wondering what do families do when they don’t let their au pair drive their cars.

Our 2 cars are brand new and very expensive cars, and not something that we would like an au pair to crash by accident, so we are hesitant to let her use either of our cars. Since its our first au pair, we don’t really want to invest the money buying a used car or to spend over $1000.00 per year to insure the au pair on the used car.

I am a stay at home mom, so we are only living on one income, so I don’t have a huge budget to cover a car expense for an au pair.

That said, how do other families handle when an au pair doesn’t have a car, if you don’t live near good public transportation?

Do you give the au pair a bike, and have they ride the bike to the nearest bus stop? Do I need to put my baby and my toddler in the car, and give her a ride to her class whenever she needs to go somewhere?

Please let me know if you guys have any ideas for me here? In a nutshell my questions, is how do you
1) keep an au pair who has a license and knows how to drive happy, without giving her a car,
2) how do you handle her getting to where she needs to go?
3) if there are very slow buses near our house and not much else, how does the au pair get to class?
4) meet up with her friends,
5) go to her au pair monthly meetings, etc.

Thanks in advance for any tips that you have. SanJoseMom

SanJoseMom,

I’m sure that there is lots of advice for you in the previous two posts. Readers will give you some specific suggestions, too, as they comment below.

And, there is one ‘big picture’ suggestion that I also want to offer you:

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective au pair.

Imagine yourself being 19 years old, and on a year-long work/play adventure in California. What would you need to be happy? What presents an appropriate level of challenge and what might be too much for you to bear?

Your ability to put yourself in the shoes of your incoming au pair, and empathize with how the experience might feel for her, will be critical in determining how well your relationship will unfold.

201008260829.jpgOkay readers– Ready for your ideas!

{ 65 comments }

Jess August 27, 2010 at 8:56 am

I know you’re hesitant to allow your aupair to use your new cars, which is completely understandable. But it sounds as though driving might be the only solution when no public transport is available, unless you’re willing to drive her every time she wants to go out.
Perhaps compromise, offer her a lift two – three times a week to either the mall, the movies or a friends place etc. Tell her that the other times she will need to catch the slow buses. I wouldn’t expect her to ride a bike, unless that is something you would happily do. It also depends on the weather. If it’s cold and rainy, who would want to ride a bike, or walk?
How about introducing a HF driving test that she will have to pass before being allowed to drive one of your cars? Have it cover all the conditions of the road that are different to where she comes from, as well as the basics. When she passes, let her drive short distances in her free time, and as you both begin to feel more confident with her driving, relax the rules a bit.

My 2 cents August 27, 2010 at 9:34 am

Hi San Jose Mom. I hope I’m not too candid, but here it goes:

You need to provide the transportation to and from classes and meetings. So yes, at a bare minimum, you will need to all get in the car and take her. This will get old very fast I assure you.

Also, she’s going to want to go out with friends. This will likely be at the precise time most inconvenient for your small children — like nap time and dinner time and night time. It is not fair to her to have her social life entirely worked around your life. She will resent it and you will pay the price. IMHO you are inviting disaster or are going to end up essentially telling your au pair to rely on others and to take advantage of their generosity and their host parents’ generosity. Not good.

Plus, especially as a SAHM, aren’t you going to want her to take at least one of your kids out while you are home at times? That’s the joy of the program — you get a break. You will all go crazy if she’s not permitted to take them out on short jaunts to the park, etc. without you.

You say you have two brand new luxury cars, you stay at home, and cannot really budget for the third car and the insurance. Can I make a suggestion? Sell one of those cars and buy something you can all feel comfortable driving. Cars are depreciable assets anyway ;) I know a number of families that got rid of the sport sedan and bought fully loaded minivans. I do understand this is your first au pair and you may not end up with au pairs for years to come, but it’s a smarter financial decision and if you get another private childcare situation it will serve you well.

OnceAnAuPair August 27, 2010 at 9:42 am

I agree with both posters above. IMHO, sell one of the luxury cars. I don’t mean to sound rude, but if you said can’t really budget a third for your au pair and your a SAHM, maybe you’re living outside your budget? Keep one luxury and get a second car that’s available for everyone. Yes, giving up your nice luxury is going to suck, but if you want an au pair who’s happy and happy with you and doesn’t want to rematch in the first month, this might be your only option.
I don’t think giving her a bike to ride is a very nice option, if it’s raining, far, etc etc, she isn’t going to want to ride a bike.

I know you said you don’t want to invest in a different car, but I think this is a set up for disaster. Your au pair might become part of the “cluster taxi” (previous post) if you don’t have a good solution for her.

Gianna August 27, 2010 at 9:46 am

Did you discuss this car situation with your new aupair when you interviewed her ?
She obviously understood the rules because she placed with you but she probably has no idea how big the US is and how our public transportation works. Maybe someone in your cluster will be interested in a carpooling arrangement whereby you alternate driving. As a mother who has carpooled with my own kids for many years, I agree with
MY2CENTS. You have no idea what you are setting yourself up for if you need to drive her everywhere. Why not bite the bullet and purchase a good used car for the aupair ?
It will save you unimagined aggravation. Perhaps you can think of it as an investment in your peace of mind.

Au Pair in CO August 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

As another Scandinavian girl, I really hope your new au pair already knows that she won’t have access to a car, because that’s a deal breaker for most of us. Of course there are Scandinavian girls who will be okay with this too, but if my host family had held back on this, or made it sound like not having a car wouldn’t be a problem in their area, that’s a problem..

NewAPMama August 27, 2010 at 10:09 am

This sounds like a disaster in the making. I do find it a bit hard to believe that you can afford two luxury cars and the ability to stay home and the fees for an AP, but cannot afford a cheap car for her to drive? If I were an AP, I am sure I would become resentful very soon, and would rematch to another family who was able to make sure I didn’t have to ride my bike in the rain/snow/cold, and who realistically understood how the program works. I don’t want to sound mean, but you seem very naive about how hard your AP is going to work, and how much she needs to have a life outside of your home.

(Aug 28th, note: I looked at this comment and did not interpret it as being either mean or rude. When a person explicitly says “I don’t want to sound mean” he or she is asking readers to take the comment more gently than it might seem if read ‘straight’. This is appropriate and fair, I think, since it is too easy to mis-read someone’s tone, especially if you already have a concern about the issue being discussed.

With comments about tough topics and with suggestions that are straightforward and maybe not what you were hoping to hear, the responsibility is on both the writer (65%) and the responder (35%). Since NAPM already asked for her comment to be read carefully, it is now the responsibility of other readers to respond carefully.

The difference between direct and rude is often simply kindness in delivery. I’m all for giving this particular comment the benefit of a positive interpretation. cv )

PA AP mom August 29, 2010 at 10:15 am

I think the above poster was just trying to be realistic. It’s difficult when you haven’t had an AP before. You learn as you go. I think she was giving honest advice.

Gianna August 29, 2010 at 11:02 am

I think that this thread has been an important and informative discussion. I would like to see it stay on track and I think we can all do it successfully. When I was a SAHM , I was very sensitive to judgements people made about my lifestyle. Now, I work from home and I wonder why I was so sensitive to what other people thought and said to and about me. It has been a real pleasure these past several weeks as new and experienced posters share ideas with coutesy and insight.

Host Mommy Dearest August 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I agree with San Jose Mom. The content of the comment is not really the the issue, it is more the tone and approach. I think we can be honest without being mean. There are 40 other comments that say something similar with a softer tone.

NewAPMama August 30, 2010 at 10:36 am

After re-reading my post, I still stand by it. There was nothing mean or malicious to it. And the tone was fine. San Jose Mom is unrealistic in her expectations, as agreed by most here.

Melissa August 30, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I don’t think your comments were mean or malicious. Sharing our opinions is, of course, the whole point of this blog. And your opinion that her expectations are unrealistic is part of that. However, my point in my post below was that I think it’s unproductive and uninformed to offer judgments on someone’s life choices and financial situation (questioning how someone can afford to be a SAHM and afford an AP, but choose not buy a car for the AP).

NewAPMama August 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I was not judging her. My point was that perhaps she had not thought through the whole situation. Pointing out that you can afford an AP, are a SAHM, and own two luxury cars, yet don’t want to provide transporation is a bit of an oxymoron. I’m sorry if it came across as judgmental. It certainly wasn’t meant to be that way. But I think it is wrong to expect an AP to have to constantly rely on other’s, which is exactly what she would have to do.

anonmom August 27, 2010 at 11:39 am

This does sound like a possible problem for the au pair, unless you aer aware of other au pairs that live nearby with access to a car. Part of the problem au pairs have when they live in areas without easy public transportation, is the difficulty in having a social life, attending classes, or just getting moments alone- away from the host family house. I know one family that MADE their au pair BUY her OWN CAR!!! unbelievable!! Then they told her that she was limited to drive her car only in certain areas. I had to tell her that it was her car, and she could take it wherever she wanted.

Anyway, I realize it may not be practical to sell your car and get a used one, etc. However, is it possible to buy a cheap used car for the AP’s use? maybe $2-3k? And, as fas as insurance is concerned, we have never put our au pair on our insurance policy- nor have we required a state license- especially from scandinavian countries- their licensing requirements are much better and more stringent than ours. As far as car insurance is concerned- it is our car that is insured! Just as if my mother borrows my car- the accident is covered. Otherwise there would be no way we could afford the insurance for the au pair to drive. We have always made sure that the au pair can drive well enough here before sending her on her way.

good luck!

MommyMia August 28, 2010 at 5:52 pm

anonmom, just curious, but do you let other au pairs drive your car, using the reasoning that they are covered under your insurance, too? I’m not totally clear on all the auto insurance ins and outs (and I sure know that the au pairs are mostly clueless on this issue) but I’ve got to assume that your mother has auto insurance (and hopefully sufficient medical coverage) in case of personal injury, and I’d bet quite a lot that the majority of au pairs aren’t (which is why some agencies require a certain minimum of coverage as part of their contracts). We have a rule that our au pair is the ONLY person allowed to drive any of our vehicles. I know situations have come up with the “cluster taxi” issue when a group goes out clubbing and feels (rightly so) that it’s not fair for the one who always has to drive because the other HFs won’t allow theirs to, to always be the designated driver. So they decide to rotate the DD responsibility to be fair, and someone else ends up driving a vehicle without permission. Has anyone else experienced this, and if so, how did you handle it?

New SoCal Host Mom August 28, 2010 at 7:02 pm

MommyMia- Check with your insurance company. I use AAA and when I called them, they stated that if I have a person of legal driving age living in my household, she’d either need to be covered by my policy by getting her license or be excluded from her policy. If she were living in my home and got in a wreck without being named in the policy, we’d be out of luck. Stating that she’s just a visitor would be considered insurance fraud, which is bad, bad, bad.

In your situation where a friend would drive your au pair home from a club, my guess is that it would be covered by insurance, since it’s a one time use of the car and she’s not living in your home.

I can’t really speak to experience on the cluster taxi thing, though, since my AP’s so new that she doesn’t have any AP friends she’s gone out with yet (poor thing).

MommyMia August 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Thanks, NewSoCal. To clarify, we absolutely have our au pair on our policy – always have with all of them, which is now why we exclusively match only with older, more experienced drivers – the rates are too high for teens, so we’ll save up for when our own kids are old enough to drive! Although we’ve explicitly stated that she’s not to ever drive after drinking, and that no one but her is allowed to drive our vehicle, I guess we have no choice but to trust that she will follow the rules and either get a ride with someone she can stay over with closer to where they are (there aren’t many entertainment options too near us!) or pray that the other “emergency” driver is a good, safe driver. Although that begs the question “why won’t her own host parents let her drive their car sometimes?” which I think was the whole point of the OP.

Host Mommy Dearest August 28, 2010 at 10:18 pm

anonmom – I was going to comment something similar to what New SoCal HM posted. Since your AP lives with you, an accident is not covered the same way that a visiting driver’s accident would be covered….that is why everyone on this board is shelling out big bucks to put their AP on their insurance policy.

ILHP August 27, 2010 at 12:38 pm

As an new HM for an 23 yo AP from Germany, we had a similar situation. Two luxury SUVs and while older, they are still “ours” and we don’t share our cars particularly well – even with eachother. Even though we both work, I really didn’t want to shell out a ton of money on top of the yearly AP fee just paid, the braces for the 10 year old and the summer camp fees. We live very close to the main train line to the city and have good bus access, but that wouldn’t make it easy or helpful to her when she wanted to get to school or see her friends and I sure wasn’t wanting to drive her after working all day. So I started doing a whole lot of research….

There are tons of cars available on http://www.cars.com for as little as two thousand dollars. IMO, if you are not going to have the AP drive the kids, the quality of the car is a lot less important. Who cares if it has 100K miles or that it doesn’t start when it rains. The way I see it you have two options for AP cars – an old car or a newer car. An old car without collision (in other words, if she totals the car, it is totalled) or a newer car with all the standard insurance requirements. Option 1 might run $3000 for the purchase and $50 per month for a teen driver. My friends did this for their 16 yo and bought her an old Honda Civic with 120K miles. That is their exact price and insurance quote. It seems like $4000 is a pretty low price to keep from rematching especially if you can be a SAHM, have two luxury cars and afford an AP.

In our case, we had to have a reliable car for her, so we went with Option 2 and bought a brand new stripped down Suburu Impreza (yes, I know it will be dented and dinged) for 16K and our insurance only went up $53/month. And of the $53 the AP cost only $10. The rest was for the car itself. I know there is a big debate as to add your AP to your car or not, but my husband required it.

I think if you read the blogs from the APs on this site, you will see that so many complaints are about not having freedom to get away from the house. I’d strongly consider that you either sell one of the luxury vehicles, or find a way to shell out a few thousand dollars. If you don’t have an AP next year, you just sell the car (probably for about what you paid for it!)

Btw, I think the State of CA does require a state license to drive – I have seen references to it on this website from another CA HM. Make sure you check it out before she arrives as it takes some time to get. I did check for my state (no requirement) but did find out she needed a German DL to drive here, not an international DL.

Good luck!

EC August 28, 2010 at 5:14 am

Just a note on driving in CA on a foreign license. I have worked and lived in CA for a year and you do not have to get a CA license. It does make insuracne a little cheaper if you do, but you can drive on a foreign license for up to one year. Some insurers will not insure a person with a foreign license however.

CrazyLady August 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm

We found the same thing about CA, and our last AP actually ended up not getting a state license. If I remember correctly, CA was fine with her German driver’s license, but the int’l one wasn’t worth anything. The same thing went for our insurance (we have USAA). They have no problem with her German license (they just told us that if/ when she gets an American one, they want the license #), but they couldn’t care less about the int’l one. We actually now live in VA, so our new AP definitely has to get a state license, but VA recognizes their German one, so she just needs her SSN and a bank statement showing her address and after paying a small fee, she will get a VA license.

OB Mom August 27, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I agree that saying “our cars are too fancy for you” sounds a bit snobbish. But that said, all of our AP’s have put dents in the cars they drive (nothing major, just small dents here and there).

We bought a very un-fancy (but safe) car for our AP to drive our kids around in (1999 Mercury Sable). It initially had 65K miles and after 5 years we just sold it with 105K miles on it (bought for $4500, sold for $2000). (DH bought himself a new car, so handed down his 2000 Audi Station Wagon). Yes, we did allow the AP to have free reign with the car after hours and on the weekends. That is not necessary, you can follow the guidelines outlined in many of these posts here on AP mom and say only a few nights a week, only to AP outings, etc.

I agree that you should either suck it up and let her drive your luxury vehicle knowing that it will likely get a dent or 2 over the year or sell it and get 1 or 2 less precious vehicles to allow her to get around. You can (and should) set limits on the distances, time, etc. But you are required to transport her to her AP meetings and classes at a minimum.

D.

Given that you are a SAHM, I suspect that your home will start to feel awfully crowded if the AP is never allowed to go anywhere and you are both in the space with your kids all the time.

NorCaMom August 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Hi there – we are also in the Bay Area and found it absolutely essential that our AP have the ability to get herself around. (and yes – she needs a valid driver’s license from her country until she gets the CA license – Int’l DL will NOT cut it).

We bought a $3K cruddy little Saturn from a lot on the weekend that’s all “for sale by owner” – it was a great solution, as I use it for commuting so that our safest car, the minivan, is for our AP use with the kids – and in the evenings & weekends, the Saturn is all hers. If it gets crashed, we aren’t out a ton and insurance is low on it.

Also, if you are worried about her crashing the car – take an earlier suggestion I saw on here and spend the $$ to enroll her in a driving course so that you feel comfortable she is getting decent training on US driving.

I truly believe and echo what others are saying – this could be a huge red flag and deal-breaker for both of you guys (HF and AP). It’s not fair to put her in a situation where she can’t get around, and riding a bike during CA winters (read: rain rain rain) is not fair at all. Isolating her and making her completely dependent upon your rides will not end well for either of you, I think.

Having an AP is a commitment – and one that I hope you and your husband can see is worth the risk & inconvenience of a) risking one of your nice cars, or b) taking on the expense of adding a 3rd car, or c) getting rid of a nicer car in order to get something that can help the situation work.

Good luck – and please stay open to figuring out how to make this a winning situation for all of you. It can be a wonderful experience for you!

NorCaMom August 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Whoops – let me try answering the questions you summarized as well:

How do you…
1) keep an au pair who has a license and knows how to drive happy, without giving her a car, — I am not sure on this one. Why not demonstrate faith in her abilities and let her drive?

2) how do you handle her getting to where she needs to go? — you are going to have to be her taxi, in that case – especially when expecting her to trek 10-20 minutes to another option is not feasible and/or safe (such as late at night). I guess you could give her a taxi allowance??

3) if there are very slow buses near our house and not much else, how does the au pair get to class? — you take her

4) meet up with her friends — she will have to constantly mooch off her friends/HF’s cars

5) go to her au pair monthly meetings, etc. — you take her

NY Hostmom August 27, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I think that the au pair really needs a car to use for her time off. Most of the USA is not set up for easy transportation without a car. You will have a very unhappy au pair and subsequently a very unhappy household if she cannot drive places independently. It will also upset the other host families in the cluster if their car(s) end up being the cluster taxi service for your au pair while you drive around in your luxury vehicles. A cheap used car will solve this for you. For what it’s worth we are hosting our fourth au pair and we have not had any au pair induced damage to our vehicles. Someone else backed into our correctly parked car and caused some damage and then tried to drive away (unsuccessfuly thanks to our assertive German au pair!). I was nervous about this too in the beginning, but it hasn’t been an issue for us.

PA AP mom August 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm

If you aren’t willing to let her use your “fancy” cars, then I strongly suggest following the advice of the other posters and buying a used car. We spent $9K for a used Toyota Corolla and it was money well spent. It’s reliable but nothing “fancy”. It gets great gas mileage and she can come and go as she pleases, within reason.

IMHO, you are going to get VERY resentful of having to haul her around. You are setting yourself up for a failure, and most likely a rematch, with your current plan.

NOVAFormer Host Mum August 27, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I agree with above PP. Sounds like a bad match.
Au Pair cannot be expected to be trapped in the house on her evenings/days off and you have to provide transport to meetings and classes. Being her taxi service is going to get really tiring for her and you very quickly.
I would sell one of the expensive new cars and buy an older car that you and her can share, or buy 2 cheaper cars instead so she can use one.
I think expecting her to have no access to public transport is going to be a disaster.
Do you really expect her to bike in the rain, at night etc?

Should be working August 28, 2010 at 1:30 am

NoVa mom, are you finished hosting?? Update please? (Or perhaps because I’ve been traveling I missed this?)

NOVAFormer Host Mum August 30, 2010 at 11:20 am

I am a diffent NOVA Host Mum (note different spelling), I am English. Got out of the Au Pair program this year after last 2 Au Pairs were a disaster.

CA Twin Mom August 27, 2010 at 2:57 pm

We bought a car for our au pair. She comes from a country known for bad drivers (I know, I’m from there), so we wanted something super safe if when we allow her to drive our kids. For $3000, we bought a used Volvo. It is a tank! After she got her CA license and drove for a couple of months, we felt confident letting her drive our kids locally.

For insurance, our premium went up $600/year. We feel like she’s much happier being able to get out during her off time and we don’t have to take her places because both HD and I work. The added cost was worth it. Plus, she can help with grocery shopping too!

I would suggest reconsidering getting a car. I know it’s an expense, but my feeling is a happy au pair = happy caretaker = happy kids = good family relationship!

Au Pair in D.C. August 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Hey SanJoseMum,

the way I see it, the best solution for both sides is that the Au Pair takes some driving lessons! to prove herself aple to drive one of your cars.
The most problems come into existence for the Au Pair because the traffic rules and the appearance of the streets are different (in relation to european Au Pairs!).
-> i took lessons and now I’m allowed and able to drive a new Mercedes in the States.

Ask yourself, what is more important for YOU and YOUR FAMILY! 2 luxury cars or a good childcare?

JJ Host Mom August 27, 2010 at 3:20 pm

San Jose Mom, I live in San Jose too so I know the public transportation system here. I will tell you that our first au pair couldn’t drive. We have 3-4 bus lines within a ten minute walk where we live, and are walking distance to a downtown, and still, our first match ended with an au pair who was very depressed, in part, I’m sure, because she couldn’t drive. In the end she put my children at risk because of her depression. There are a lot of au pairs here and some could come pick your au pair up, but it’s not fair to ask other au pair families to shoulder the cost of an extra car when you’re not willing to do so. I really think you’d be better off buying a third car for the au pair. I know it’s expensive, but it’s part of the deal of getting an au pair. She’s here to see the American culture, but how can she do that if she’s stuck at home?

Westchester Mom August 27, 2010 at 6:46 pm

If buying or trading cars is not an option, I like norCalMom’s suggestion of a cab allowance. I am not sure how much it is in your area, but I would think that 4x $15 cab rides per week (2 round trips) might be a possible option for her social outings. As for classes and cluster meetings, the expectation would likely be that you chauffeur her around.

To get back to the original post, the best advice is to put yourself in her situation. How would you feel as a 19yr old driver in a new country w/o the ability to move yourself around? Personally, it would be a deal breaker for me. It might also be difficult for her to understand why you cannot ‘afford’ for her to drive with the situation your described above. Lastly, as a stay-at-home mom, don’t underestimate YOUR need to have your au pair go out every once in a while. It’s nice to have a little privacy at dinner, or during the evening. Without transportation, you may have someone in your hair 24hrs/day. Not good.

3gr8kids August 27, 2010 at 7:56 pm

We also live in the suburbs of the Bay Area. If we trust someone enough to watch our children they can drive our cars. Our cars are replaceable. Our children are not. My husband has a luxury sports car and I drive a newer minivan with all the options. Both of our cars of GPS which is a huge help for her to get to places without getting lost. We set limits — no freeway driving and no parking garages. We ask her to tell us where / what she is doing in the beginning. We are clear that using the cell phone or texting while driving would be cause for instant dismissal. We pay for her phone so we are able to monitor use and are upfront that we will do it. Also, we review alcohol policies. In the US you must be over 21 to drink. If she is underage, she should not drink (even off duty) as it clouds judgment. Au pairs are so much happier when they have freedom to go places on their own during their free time. Hopefully, she will make some nice friends and they will take turns driving and carpooling. Your year will be so much better if you are able to trust your au pair. You can have a million rules but the key is your au pair has good judgment both when watching your children and making choices of what to do their free time. Having a car is a big key to happiness – yours and theirs.

Host Mommy Dearest August 27, 2010 at 10:07 pm

All the comments so far have covered so much – there’s almost nothing left to say! I agree with the others who have questioned whether an AP can be happy in that situation….. and in my opinion an unhappy AP will do her best to spread her misery and your match will likely fail. $60 / week in cab fare is a band aid that might work, but if you are not going to let your AP drive, you should match with an AP who can not / does not drive. Cab money would likely be appreciated by a non driver instead of viewed as a substitute for full freedom (access to a car).

Taking a Computer Lunch August 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm

3gr8kids, I like your attitude – the kids come first.

SanJoseMom, if you matched and made it clear to your AP that you live isolated from public transportation and that she wouldn’t be driving, then you have a case. If you weren’t perfectly clear about the situation, then you need to figure out how to make the situation work. If you don’t want to become the chauffeur, then what is your budget for making her required attendance at classes and cluster meetings possible (I figure your time is worth some money, especially if you have to get kids into the car). If you are free to drive her in a timely manner, then you need to factor in how much a taxi and tip are going to cost for each trip. Then, you need to figure out how much she needs to have her friends schlep her everywhere for social events. My guess, is that before the year is out, you will have contributed more in time, effort and taxi fees than it would have cost to buy a cheap car and pay for cheap insurance, given that public transportation is not an option.

Then, take into consideration your need to have your AP and children out of the house from time to time. Is there a playground in walking distance – does the route have sidewalks to make it safe for young children? If it doesn’t, then is it worth it not to let her drive?

My first AP came when I had two young children, and I enrolled them in classes to get them all out of the house, she took them on playdates to the homes of AP friends with equally young children, and more importantly to me, she transported The Camel to and from a multitude of doctors’ appointments. However, I work outside the home in an area rich in public transportation (it’s not NYC, but it’s ok). My time to provide transportation is worth serious money, because when I’m home I want to be with my kids.

Personally, I don’t think a bicycle is going to cut it. No one wants to bike over to a friend’s house in a little black dress (or with the little black dress in a backpack). Your 19-year-old AP is not a pre-teen, she’s an adult (because, honestly, you’re not paying a child to look after your children, right?)

I’ve only had 1 AP have an accident, and she was the one who was clueless about vehicle space and maneuvering – she scraped a car while backing out of a pull-in parking space. And that earned her a lot of driving lessons (and she had been warned in advance of her arrival that she needed to practice driving because it was a requirement in our house).

My advice – if you’re concerned about your AP driving, then ask your LCC for advice on driving schools (in my community, off-duty police officers work with beginning drivers – it’s not cheap, but the student driver learns the laws, not just common practice). Have her driving assessed. It’s okay to ask your AP to split the costs, as long as you decide that a positive assessment will equal some access to a vehicle.

My bottom line – my cars are not worth much, except I need them to get me where I want to go (and The Camel is capable of tanking and needing to go to the hospital in the middle of the night). If my AP wrecked my minivan, I would have to wait for an ambulance, which would make me extremely nervous. So even though my van is this side of a rent-a-wreck, I need it to start just as much as you want your luxury vehicles to start. (My APs drive it more than I do, because I use public transportation to get to work.)

Pa mama August 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Buying a third car does not have to be an expensive option. We knew we had to buy one because we can not and are not willing to share our own cars. In our area we have a public auto auction. My husband is handy enough with cars and was able to pick out a suitable old, heavy, full size car for $700. Its not pretty, but just like when we were in high school, it only had to have wheels and go.

There are many unwritten costs in having an au pair. Sure you have to feed them, house them, educate them, get them to meetings. For all this, they provide you with good consistent childcare. However, like at any job, attitude is important. Happy employees make good employees. Do not underestimate how an otherwise good au pair, or any relationship for that matter, can become down and depressed because they are isolated and alone, all while you are perceivably well off enough to stay at home and have luxury cars. Unfortunately, you can not send your unhappy employee home at the end of the workday and be rid of her–she is at home. She will be with you, always, if she can not get out and about freely. And so will the unhappy attitude. 24 hours a day. Don’t think that your home life will be peaceful and carefree. IMO you should find a way to provide transportation for her, for her happiness and yours. This is part of the hidden cost of having an au pair.

HRHM August 28, 2010 at 3:21 am

The only thing I have to add here is this:

It is not enough to tell your licensed AP that she won’t be able to drive. Even though she agrees to this in advance, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it becomes a bone of contention. Your best bet, if you’re really adamant about not having her drive, is to choose an AP without a license. That way, you are both clear as to why she can’t drive 3 months into it when she starts having cabin fever.

Having said that, I think it’s a terrible idea to match with a non-driver unless you are living in a place like NYC or DC, or similar places where there are plenty of great transport options.

EC August 28, 2010 at 5:26 am

As a young adult who has lived and worked in the Bay area I can definitely say that if I arrived with a license and was told that I would have no access to a car whatsoever I would probably not be very happy. I would not expect to have a car for my exclusive use, but I would want to be able to use one sometimes in the evenings to go out or at the weekend occassionally.
I think that the important thing with au pair driving is to make sure that you know what her driving ability is like. I am leaving to start my year with a family in Austin in a few weeks time. it has been made clear that they will need to go driving with me before I am allowed to use the car with the children or for my own use. That is obviously completely fine with me. I have driven on San Francisco and LA highways, as well as in both cities, so after that I am not really fazed by driving anywhere. I would still expect my driving ability to be checked by my host family though.
I would say that you are going to need to come up with some way to provide her with at least a little access to a car, even if she has a mile radius limit and no highway driving. Plus, as others have said it is going to make it harder for her to do her job well if she cannot take your children anywhere out of walking distance.
A lot of this is also going to depend on what you told her at match. If she is aware that she is not going to have any car access then she may not be happy but has agreed to it. If she is not aware of this then I think you could be in for a bumpy ride.

PA mama of 3 August 28, 2010 at 11:36 am

Wow, I didn’t realize how lucky I am to have had two wonderful *happy!* au pairs who don’t drive and don’t want to! Of course we do live in the Philadelphia suburbs within a 10-15 minute walk to 2 trains and several buses. The preschool, library, pool, shops, cafes/restaurants are all 5-20 minutes away by foot as well. Perhaps we do have a better infrastructure than you do in San Jose, but we are living proof that it really is possible to have a successful au pair host family relationship without offering a car.

Although public transport (and certainly walking in inclement weather) is not the most convenient method of getting around, we were very upfront about this while matching and found two lovely au pairs who were not interested in taking on the responsibility of driving and didn’t mind walking, in fact *preferred* it. So far, so good! No resentments, no isolation, no complaints about no car.

So to answer your questions without suggesting you get another car as PP above:

How do you
1) keep an au pair *who has a license and knows how to drive* happy, without giving her a car –> You really must match with an au pair who doesn’t drive or doesn’t want to drive. This is key. Have you clearly laid out the expectations with your future au pair? If she is expecting to drive, you may consider changing au pairs now, before she even gets here.

2) how do you handle her getting to where she needs to go? –> This is part of your responsibility as host parent. If she needs to get somewhere and there’s really no way other than driving, then you drive her. Sure, it can be a pain to load my 3 small children into the car to give rides, but I’m happy to do it. Why? Because I genuinely *like* my au pairs and want to help them because they’re such a help to me and it’s worth it for the peace of mind of not having to hand over the keys to my car to a relatively inexperienced driver. Most times, they are able to work out a ride with friends, but I always offer. I just think if it were my daughter living in a foreign country, I would hope that her host parents would do what they could to help her get around.

3) if there are very slow buses near our house and not much else, how does the au pair get to class? –> Perhaps she could pair up with a driving au pair and attend class together. You offer to pay for gas of course. Alternatively, ask your LCC if there are any weekend-long classes nearby that fulfill the credit requirement in just one weekend. I know there are a couple in NY, but I don’t know about the west coast.

4) meet up with her friends, –> See answer 2

5) go to her au pair monthly meetings, etc. –> Talk to your LCC. Ours lives very close to us and doesn’t mind picking up our au pair for meetings. She offered, we gratefully accepted! Your LCC is the best source for local practical information and support so she can recommend carpooling options as well. Just remember to offer to pay for gas so it isn’t completely one-sided.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Calif Mom September 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm

San Jose is a lot like the San Fernando Valley without the starlets (remember Fast Times at Ridgemont High? That’s what it’s like, without surfers.) Public transit really isn’t viable. There’s too much traffic for bikes, and it’s not really a bike culture unless you’re a super-green person. A taxi, if you can even find a reliable company to call, would be more like $15 one way to get to a transit hub, I would think.

The OP really does have to decide whether to suck it up and get good with someone driving one of the nice cars or buy a beater, or paying a transportation allowance. And you DO have to explain this all very clearly, before your AP gets here. That’s the only way I see this relationship not blowing up after 1 month.

As for putting APs on insurance, this really does vary with company. In one of the examples above, if a friend of our AP was driving my car and she “had my permission”, the friend would indeed be covered on our policy. It’s not true that every host family has to put the AP on their policy by name and pay extra to an insurer in order to have an AP drive the family car and be covered.

I would hope the LCC would have discussed this whole issue of “how is the AP going to get around” with the new family before helping them match with someone! That’s a little scary that they didn’t ask more questions, because that’s an easy rematch situation to spot–and avoid by approaching it appropriately and finding just the right type of AP for the family.

I do wish the agencies would have to share their rematch rates! Let the transparency begin!

Best of luck to the OP!

Gianna August 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I appreciated this last post and think there are some great ideas. I think this post beautifully illustrates the huge differences in life in the US. If you live in the city the whole issue of driving is moot. A wonderful experience can be had in the city without a car – without the hassle of a car. I do have one point of differing opinion. I can tell you for a fact that in my cluster there would be tremendous resentment if the LCC starting picking one or two aupairs and driving them to and from meetings. If the LCC is willing to do that for one or two families who do not own or extend use of a car, why should any other parent extend the use of their car for meetings ? I think that brings us right back to the issue of the cluster taxi. I also wonder how ethical it would be for an LCC to accept gas money from a host family. That just doesn’t sit right with me. But another thought comes to mind : maybe you could offer to host some meetings at your house and spring for pizza. If you offered to throw a Halloween party , say , at your house, or a Christmas party, I would bet that everyone , including the LCC would be very appreciative and a good time would be has by all. It would be wonderful if there were a demographic trend back to the cities. I wonder how many host families live in the city versus the burbs.

MarinMom2Twins August 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Hi San Jose mom! So I’m in the same boat, living near a downtown stretch of a very tiny Marin town, but still only 15 minutes outside of San Francisco by car. We don’t have BART, so I’d consider that a silver lining for you, because our buses are terrible and our ferries really only cater to commuters (not 21 year old Norwegians who like to dance, such as our au pair!).

We made it very clear in our Host Letter to Prospective Au Pair, and in our personal interviews with her, that she would not be able to rely on us for transportation. I am also a SAHM, my husband and I also drive very expensive and powerful SUV’s, and we are unwilling to allow someone we do not know to drive our cars. In fact, we specifically sought out an au pair that didn’t know how to drive. During our research, we looked for a girl who was physically fit and enjoyed riding a bicycle, as well as had been proficient taking public transportation in her hometown.

The au pair we ended up with doesn’t drive (it’s incredibly expensive to get your driver’s license in Norway), has taken Spin Instructing classes (which suggested to us she might enjoy riding a bike), and lives in a college town where she regularly rode a bus one hour each way to work, and walked a mile home at night, uphill…in Norway. Yes, we think she could withstand living in Marin.

So we gave her a bike and I spent a couple of weeks showing her all the bike paths, and how to get around to all the shopping centers, parks, her gym, etc. In fact, she’s been here for 5 months, and I just showed her the route to another shopping center nearby that has her bank, a CVS, Ben & Jerry’s, cafe’s, etc. It’s a never ending process, sometimes, but for the most part, she’s figured out how to get wherever she wants to go during her time off. We also just live one flat mile to her college, so that’s great too.

But we do drive her around a bit, too. We’ll drive her to the ferry, or I will pick her up at the mall if I’m nearby anyway. Once, I drove her into the city to get her hair extensions replaced, but I told her then that I wouldn’t do it again unless I was already going to the city. I offer to take her with me if I’m going to the mall, the city, etc if it’s her day off. Typically, she wants to sleep or see her friends that live nearby. It’s not nearly as bad as I expected.

The harder part is being a SAHM with an Au Pair, because the AP doesn’t want to intrude on your bonding time, or is afraid of doing something in a way you wouldn’t approve, like loading the dishwasher or folding the laundry. I’ve found that it’s way harder to manage when I’m around, then it is to leave a list of To-Do’s for when I’m not around.

You might be worrying a little too much about her prior to her arrival. I know I did in the weeks before Mari arrived. I couldn’t sleep wondering how she’d get around. I think we did a very good job of managing her expectations prior to deciding to come to us. No one twisted her arm to move to Marin. And it’s a great place to live, which she realizes. Mari has made lots of friends, many of whom drive and pick her up to go out.

One friend in particular just signed on for another 6 months with her host family. As a bonus to her, the host family has started letting her drive their BMW X5. I guess it took them a year before they trusted her with their car, understandably. Before that, they gave her a bicycle, which she used all the time if she didn’t walk places.

If she has a driver’s license, you might want to consider getting her a scooter if the insurance isn’t too high; it could also be something you build up to if she turns out to be a good fit after 3 months or so. Or if you live within a mile or so of a business center, a bike with a sturdy lock and a night light. Our au pair wouldn’t wear a helmet, and I’ve had to talk to her about wearing her headphones while riding, but she’s an adult (21) and I can’t force her. I also have to remember that when she’s walking home from the town pub at 2am; she’s an adult, and this is what she chose to do. Of course, I worry, and I have talked to her about safety walking home in the dark, but she doesn’t seem worried.

Good luck!

igelwelch August 28, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I think 3gr8kids said it best–if you let a person take care of your children, they should be able to drive your cars, maybe not exclusively, but that’s part of going with an au pair. We have an audi and a range rover (and 2 older cars) and I wouldn’t hesitate to let our au pair drive. Treat her like a member of your family. Would you tell your sister that you didn’t trust her enough to drive because the cars were too expensive? I’m a part-time working mom, but as a SAHM mom, you really have to evaluate your relationship with your au pair. If it’s not positive, it’s going to be a tough year. And I think you’ll both be happiest if she can make friends and get out of the house when not working.

should be working August 29, 2010 at 4:35 am

I agree that ‘part of the family’ for an AP who can drive means letting her drive–sometimes, with curfews, etc. And while MarinMom has had success, I think a lot of situations would be less successful for a number of reasons, mainly that Europeans (don’t know about others) might not understand during matching just what “no driving” means here, because public transport in Europe is often so much better than it is in the USA.

But I must disagree with the logic that trusting someone to take care of kids means trusting them to drive. Driving is a completely different skill set than caretaking. One does not necessarily translate to the other. The kinds of judgments that need to be made are so utterly different–for this reason the equation is not reversible, i.e. most people would not say, “If you trust someone to drive your car, you trust them to care for your children.”

Taking a Computer Lunch August 29, 2010 at 11:15 pm

No, I don’t really think that’s what we were saying. Because I’ve had some APs for whom I’ve gone great lengths to teach them to drive. Personally, I was saying that my children and their safety are always more important than a car – they cannot be replaced. However, I would never for minute put an AP who could drive behind the wheel with my kids (and in my family, driving The Camel to endless doctor’s appointments is more important than driving for personal pleasure). However, for APs whose drive is more than acceptable, I think permitting them to drive not only enhances the AP year, but also enhances the quality of time they spend with the kids – it allows them flexibility in venue (which in my 8 1/2 years of hosting, has proven to be a good thing).

I think the bottom line is trust, and it is a difficult issue with which to wrestle. If you’ve never hosted an AP before, trusting them with your kids, to be in your house, and to drive is a difficult issue. It’s not a blind leap of faith, however. You’ve got your agency’s ability to vet candidates (for better or worse), the AP’s letters of recommendation (and believe me, there’s a lot to be read between the lines), your own telephone interview, and then your face-to-face encounters.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying “No driving,” as long as you’re absolutely clear about it in advance. And, if you live in an area where public transportation is all but inaccessible, that you’re clear to the AP about it. Don’t tell her that she may take the bus if it’s 10 miles from your house. Finally, as a HP, you need to be certain that you have the time and energy to provide transportation, if that’s your intention. As the mother of a special needs child and an active typical child, I have absolutely no time to act as chauffeur. I’m either schlepping to a doctor’s appointment, to soccer practice, to karate, or therapy sessions. Fortunately for my APs, I live 60 feet from excellent public transportation (unless the goal is to go clubbing late at night and then I don’t). Because I don’t use a private vehicle to commute to work, I’m willing to permit APs who pass HD’s driving test to drive my cars, and rarely is there a conflict. The AP car is intact despite being 4 years old. The minivan, however, HD wrapped around a stanchion protecting a gasoline pump. Go figure.

5kids=AP August 28, 2010 at 9:19 pm

We were lucky enough to have an extra old car for our AP to drive when we got our first AP 5+ years ago. Since we have 5 kids, we outgrew the usefulness of our small AP car and traded it in for a used Mazda5. It was cheap enough for a 3rd vehicle, jet large enough to hold 4 car seats so it was versitale for our family. We only had one AP w/poor driving skills – I didn’t let her drive the kids around until about her 10th month. She never had an accident. The thing to remember is that cars are cars and can be fixed or replaced. Our best driver is the only one who had an accident and she backed one of our cars into another of our cars in the driveway causing a lot of damage, so you never know!! Our motto is a happy AP makes a happy family. What goes around comes around, iykwim.

Darthastewart August 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Hmm.. The new, expensive car thing doesn’t fly with me too much- I have a sequoia, highlander, corvette, and a beater car that’s the au-pair’s off duty. Mostly they use the highlander to drive kids, but have driven both the ‘vette and the sequoia at one time or another.

I think that having an AP with a driver’s license, and not being able to drive, is just going to be a difficult combination.

Deb Schwarz August 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Hello all,

We also live in Marin in CA, not far from San Jose (not the best public transportation options here, but not the booneies) and I have been an LCC for 7 years. I have seen au pairs be happy without driving (or having limited access). Of course, most would prefer access if they can drive. I have found the key to a successful year without car access is: 1) setting expectatations ahead of time, and/or 2) getting an au pair that can’t or doesn’t want to drive much. When there is a will, there is a way, so between navigating the public transportation options available, and finding friends that can drive them occasionally (and not abusing them), and getting rides from the host family – it can work. I have found that if an au pair had a dedicated car in their home country, then it likely won’t work, as it’s hard to go from having complete access to none at all. If they shared a car in their home country, or didn’t drive often, then it’s an easier transition. And if an au pair is told they will have some car access, and then the host family changes their mind (it happens more times than you might think) – then that’s a recipe for a rematch.

I have a few families that don’t currently allow car access (it’s becoming more and more common with the current economic climate) – and one came up with the idea of an electric bike (apparently they have those at Costco now). Sounds like a good idea to get to the bus. At my own au pair meetings, I ask what classes everyone is taking so car pools can be arranged. Families are usually more than happy to share in the driving for their au pairs if it’s not every class – or every meeting.

I certainly understand that new host families don’t want to plop down a lot of money for a car (even a beater) if they are new to the program. What I have found is that those who have a good au pair experience for a year or two, and as their children get older and they value the more mature and independent au pairs – then they typically bite the bullet and buy a beater car, and find insurance companies that don’t charge an arm and a leg. I also had one host family (very affluent) who swore that their insurance agent told them that they didn’t need to put their au pair on the insurance as they were “occasional drivers”. Since they had a lot to lose if there was an accident and they were astute, I assumed that they knew what they were talking about – but every insurance company is different. When I did a poll of my host families, I found that the average cost of adding an au pair to their policies was $80 a month – but it depends on how long the au pair has been driving (apparently if they’ve been a licensed driver for 3 or more years, the rate drops).

Another option: many very capable and lovely au pairs, usually from South America and Thailand, say that they can drive – and then when they arrive, we discover that they really aren’t that experienced with driving on highways. These au pairs many times go into rematch and are a great bet for those host families that don’t need/want a driver – so be sure to open up your search to these gems.

Deb
http://www.dschwarz.aupairnews.com
As a mom to four children (including triplets), market researcher, realtor, and host mom to 16 au pairs, Deb has a passion for helping families navigate the au pair process and find the right fit for their family.

Melissa August 29, 2010 at 1:58 am

There’s obviously been a lot said on this already, and it is good to see that while not having access to a car can be challenging, it can work in the right circumstances (e.g., Deb’s post above). We live in a suburb in Southern Cal and have a similar situation – you can walk to a bus stop in 5-10 mins, and there are several shops/restaurants/etc to walk to, but the bus system is very slow (takes 1 hr to get somewhere you can drive to in 15 mins) and So Cal is extremely auto-oriented. There are 2 other APs about 20 mins drive away, the rest are a 40 mins drive, at least. When our 1st AP arrived we didn’t have an extra car, since we thought at the time we’d see how it goes. We bought the AP car within the next few weeks. It has been a headache when we had an AP who abused the car usage and also added expense, but worth it for us. I’m a PT work at home mom and so the AP and I see each other A LOT – I do like that my AP can go when she wants (and give me some space) and my husband and I LOVE that we don’t have to feel responsible for her independence, social life, and enjoyment of her time in the US, or guilty because she can’t get anywhere on her own.

We also have two other cars that we don’t allow our APs to drive: HD’s is a work car which no one is allowed to drive except him and I (due to insurance) and mine is a large high-end SUV (which, even if we let them, all our APs have said they’d be too scared to drive such a ‘huge’ car, given that they’re used to driving sub-compacts at home). I disagree with the comments that align trusting the AP with your kids to trusting them with your car. To me, that’s apples and oranges. I could have the best, most loving and trustworthy AP in the world but may not want the risk and added hassle factor of her damaging our car – has nothing to do with how good of a caregiver she is for my kids.

Lastly, I have to throw my two cents out there about one other thing. I think the couple of comments that are judging the OP’s life choices/financial status are unproductive, to say this least – (i.e., those that find it hard to believe that she is a SAHM with an AP and nice cars, but chooses not to have a 3rd AP car). Too judgmental, IMHO.

San Jose Mom August 29, 2010 at 2:58 am

Thank You to all the helpful supportive responses! I will ignore the rude and not so helpful ones.

Thanks again.

NOVAFormer Host Mum August 30, 2010 at 11:37 am

I don’t think any posters were trying to be rude or unhelpful. You asked for advice and you received some from experienced Host Parents. I, for one, am not judging you for having expensive cars and being a SAHM, if you can afford that, good for you!
Just trying to point out that getting 2 cheaper cars instead of 1 of the expensive ones may make your life a lot easier once the Au Pair arrives.

Gianna August 29, 2010 at 9:47 am

I am pleased that someone pointed out the falsity of the analogy between trusting your children to someone’s car and trusting that person with your car. My brother is a case in point. He is just great with kids, gets along with everyone and I love him to death. He has never been in a serious car accident but I consider that to be by the grace of God because he is a crazy driver with a lead foot. When we were younger, he often borrowed my car – he would turn on the charm and I would give in. Now that I am older and wiser ( and he is an adult with a family and his own car ) there is no chance that I would ever let him use my car. It is not just the car . I will not let him drive my kids either. At one point, I had to be honest and tell him this outright. It was painful but my responsibility is to my children.

Jeana August 29, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Our first aupair drove, and our second, third, fourth, and fifth aupairs did not. We live in the suburbs of Chicago, and do not have public transportation. I was aware that driving was a big issue, and in time, learned how to make sure our aupairs absolutely understood that I didn’t have a car for them to drive.

I am a teacher, and adopted my daughters as a single parent. Our first year with our aupair was planned, financially. Our need for an aupair again, several years later, was not planned, and came about when my younger daughter was adopted at age three. It wasn’t possible to put her into a more traditional childcare situation, when I returned to work, for many reasons. There was no way to provide a car for an aupair.

When I am considering an aupair, I e-mail them a copy of our family book, so they’ll know everything possible about our family. Then, before we match, I send a final summary letter of the issues that I’ve come to know are most important for aupairs to understand. I indicated in the letters that most aupairs in our cluster will have a vehicle, but our aupair will not. I make sure that I am available to drive our aupairs to their college classes, and activities with their cluster and friends. I’ve paid another family gas money, to help with transporting our aupair, when we had a time conflict.

Our awesome aupairs have been wonderful and mature, understanding that if I know their needs in advance, I can work miracles with a schedule, and get them darn near anywhere. With two children, last minute requests don’t work so well. We do have a train station about 30 minutes away, so I could take our aupairs there and pick them up, when they went into Chicago for the day. I only had one aupair that pouted for a few days, and was very upset that I was unwilling to drag my sick children out of bed (one recovering from pneumonia) when we had a horrendous cold spell for a few days. She wanted to go shopping. It was 35 degrees below zero, my kids were sick and sleeping, and our poor car was about ready to go to “car heaven”. It was so cold that when I absolutely had to take my kids out, I was putting blankets in the dryer, to warm them up, before I would put the kids in the car.

We had a conversation a few days later, when she told me she was so mad I wouldn’t take her to the mall. I told her that I would hope that if she is a mother in the future, that she would say, “No”, if someone wanted her to take her sick children out of bed, put them into a car that was near death, and drive in -35 degree weather for a last minute shopping trip!!! This aupair didn’t last too long with us.

Our aupairs have been surprised by the lack of public transportation in our area, and because many aupairs come from areas with great public transportation, I think that this is a topic to address prior to matching. There is a great aupair for every family, and I think that communicating what we can offer, and what we can not, before there is a match, is the most important thing. I am well aware that our family couldn’t offer a lot of the “perks” that other families could, but we loved our aupairs, supported them, enjoyed our time with them, included them and their friends with family activities, and I always want our girls to look back on their time as an aupair and be very happy that they chose our family. At various times, all of our aupairs have communicated that they knew we had their back, and truly care about their life goals, and embraced them as part of our family. Just let them know the facts, and make sure they understand the facts, before a match.

OnceAnAuPair August 30, 2010 at 1:29 am

I don’t think any of the posters (me included) were being mean or too rude. They were just giving you straight facts, from their personal opinions.

I was an au pair that was told with my first family that I could occasionally use the car, that never happened and I had to rely on public transport (it was good public transport, but unbelievably expensive). The second family, I was told I would have car access and the gas spent on the children would be paid for (this never happened, and I could barely afford to drive the car anywhere else, so I was trapped at the house most of the days–in the rural countryside, no public transport). I was incredibly angry and upset with my situation and the family never offered once to pay for gas or take me anywhere, even to the airport at 5 am when I had to return home (the the US- transatlantic flight) unexpectantly because my grandfather died. I had to pay 50 Euro for one way cab fare, because they didn’t want to get up early and they didn’t offer to pay for the cab. Now I can say, I never want to contact them and all stayed the whole year (incredibly angry) because of the boyfriend (now husband) I had.

If your au pair knows before she gets the situation and is a mature, responsible girl then you should have no problems. But you also need to make an effort by knowing that sometimes you will have to drive her to the bus station, the mall, the movies, dinner with friends, her english courses and her meetings. A bike could be a solution, for a warm day when she has a short trip, but it’s not the overall solution.

Good luck!

Southern Host Mom August 30, 2010 at 10:25 am

With six Au Pairs we have had three car accidents. After the last one, my husband said, “Well, if we are going to have Au Pairs, we are going to have Au Pair car accidents.” While each accident was frustrating for all involved (and thankfully, no one has been seriously injured), it has also been an opportunity for us to demonstrate our humanity as host parents.

Au Pairs are people. People are not perfect. People make mistakes. Au Pairs make mistakes. Car accidents happen even when the driver is not at fault. Car accidents happen to (or because of) host parents also. This is why we have car insurance.

(We also have a “car curfew”, arrange driving lessons for our Au Pairs, and limit where the car can go.) We have learned that as host parents, we cannot control every element of our relationship with our Au Pairs, and usually that is a good thing. That is one reason this blog is so helpful! We cannot control everything related to our Au Pair relationships, but we can be kind and understanding, while limiting the disruption to our lives (and long-term increase of our car insurance rates!).

cv harquail August 30, 2010 at 11:23 am

I love this interpretation, and think it is great advice for so many situations:

While each accident was frustrating for all involved… it has also been an opportunity for us to demonstrate our humanity as host parents.

Calif Mom September 3, 2010 at 3:42 pm

We now budget $1500 per year for mending the dents, and factor it into the cost/benefit analysis of having an AP. Much easier to look at that as a “bonus” at the end of the year if no damage has been done than to cringe and be upset when there are the inevitable door dings from parking.

We do let them all know that if they damage someone else’s care they MUST leave a note and take resopnsibility for it or we will get in trouble!

StephinBoston August 30, 2010 at 8:57 pm

My new AP is coming this week and all this talk about AP driving is making me nervous! This, I will admit, is the part I dread the most about having a new AP. How will she drive? it’s probably because of AP #1 totaling our AP car on her first time out by herself, now I never know what to expect. Funny enough, AP#2 and #3 have been fabulous drivers so it hasn’t been an issue since but I still freak out before the next one comes.

I say the only option you have is to purchase another car. We have a dedicated AP car and we only let her drive that one. If the insurance let me, I would completely exclude my APs from even being listed as drivers of the other cars. Our deductibles are higher on the other cars to make up for the $1000 extra it costs to insure the AP on our AP car, here in MA, you need 6 YEARS of driving to not be considered an inexperienced driver, and the cost is high even on a 8 year old safe, simple mini-suv.

Pa Host mom of Two Au-pairs September 2, 2010 at 2:43 am

Just trying to jump back in after not blogging for a short period of time, I agree with many of the comments above if you are not located close to public transportation she needs to be able to drive. Your AP will be miserable in just a few short weeks.
( see below)
How do you handle an au-pair that stated that she can drive, but two weeks before her arrival we get an email stating that she was not able to get the international license prior to her departure! We live in a rural area with little to no public transportation. I expressed that it would take time to study for a state license. She is now homesick, depressed and only comes out of her room to work. This depression is affecting my children. In the short 3 ½ weeks she has been out with other AP several times. I called another host family AP to pick her up, but she leaves messages on Facebook complaining of her unhappiness. HD and I are ready to throw in the towel; the second AP has been here 6 weeks and will venture out in the AM by himself for the first time without me being in the car practicing driving. I thought if I can get one going in the right direction to drive they can venture out together.
We are very nervous to have them drive, since we have had two cars totaled in 4 months by the previous APs.

darthastewart September 2, 2010 at 8:30 am

It may be she needs a conversation – either buck up or buck out. Perhaps have it go along the lines of acknowledging that she’s unhappy, and you understand this, but that she is in control, and needs to work on it.- or rematch.

Ugh what a patch of bad luck! We always seem to get stretches of it too- then after a bit, just when we think we’re going to scream, it gets better- I hope it gets better for you sooner than that.

Mumsy September 2, 2010 at 9:52 am

I suggest you make the LCC aware of the AP’s apparent depressed state. She should have more experience in dealing with APs who are homesick, sad, slipping into depression, etc.

First Time HP September 2, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Just wondering, does the AP have a license from their home country? I did a lot of research on international drivers license, both when I lived abroad and prior to our AP coming, and found they are virtually worthless and not recognized by most countries. If they have a valid drivers license from their country they are ok to drive here while they pursue getting a US license.
I’m assuming you live in the US, but also know that when I lived/drove and rented cars throughout Europe (from the UK to Russia and most places in between) with only my US license.

Mumsy September 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm

I have 3 driving licenses from the 3 different countries I have lived in. With each of them, when I traveled abroad and needed an international license, I had to take my local driving license with me to the the local equivalent of the AAA to get the international license. The international license should be carried with the local license and serves as a translation of the local license for the country that is being visited (even if the local country is English speaking and the license is in English). This is my experience so it may differ from that of people from other countries.

theGermanGirl-FutureAP September 13, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I, as an aspiring au-pair would WANT to be “tested” or better “taught” for the car use.
I would want my HM or HD show me on one or two occasions how the car works, what the differences to German traffic and what the bermuda triangles of the neighbourhood are. And then, when they got a picture of my abilities, let me drive the car alone for a bit and then expand my privileges when I feel content and safe driving longer distances.
I would ask for this. And I would thank them greatly for a little advise.
But also for a little TRUST.

I couldn’t live in a house where I couldn’t get out and had to be with HM & Kids all day long, even if she was the greatest person ever and I couldn’t spent enough time with the little munchkins, sometimes I’d just have to get out and if not for my sake (because I’m relatively stoic) then for hers, because -if I were a SAHM- I would want and need to have some times solely to me and the children and no AP around.
That is healthier for all, I strongly believe.

And I also think none of the comments where rude, I think they were thoughtful, upfront and honest and I felt very happy to see all these great HostMoms put themselves so swiftly into APs shoes and spoke for us, the way we would’ve spoken.
Because that’s what the majority of us, who can drive, would say to the topic, that’s a fact and not a way to be impolite.

The car thing is your own business of course and I wouldn’t dare to try and give advise on that but…well, an au pair that can drive and is used to driving won’t accept that situation for long, she’ll just see the cars in the drive way every day and get more and more angry and alienated from you. Because she will think that you find her incapable, clumsy or even stupid. And that isn’t a nice way to feel even if you never intended her to do so.
But she eventually will and it will poison your relationship.

Better to get an AP who has no interest whatsoever in driving.
That might actually work.

MommyMia September 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Thanks, GG-Future AP, for your thoughtful perspective. I agree totally that everyone needs some “me” time and is much happier and healthier for it. Host families should encourage APs to get out and do things and experience their community! One of our former APs had absolutely no interest in doing anything, seeing any sights–just stayed in her room watching TV during her off-duty time. What a sad way to spend a year abroad, IMHO.

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