Managing Your Au Pair When Someone in the Family is Sick

by cv harquail on May 7, 2015

from ShouldBeWorking:

Background: Anorexic teen daughter is in hospital. This is a relief, actually. We had some very bad weeks and now she is getting good care and nutrition. I have been beyond exhausted, anxious and miserable trying to re-feed her and seeing things just fall apart.

While she is inpatient I’m trying to rest up, come up with better strategies for when she is discharged, and spending time with DS.

 Needing flexibility from our au pair:

The other night when DD got admitted to hospital the AP had to stay late with DS and miss some plans while we were getting DD settled. AP was understanding and flexible. We gave her the entire next day off plus all mornings since then (getting DS off to school on his own is easy enough for me to do and it’s on the way to the hospital). She works about 35-hr weeks mostly.

Since then I have asked her to do things like go buy DD’s favorite jeans in a bigger size, she sent me some photos from the clothing store, etc. (I also stuffed as much of myself as I could into DD’s wet, favorite teeny-tiny jeans after washing them to try and stretch them out a bit so she wouldn’t get triggered by noticing they are tighter when she gets discharged from hospital.)

We aren’t sure when DD will be discharged, but we’ll need AP more around then. It might be this weekend. It might be later. AP has indicated flexibility but how bad should I feel about not being able to tell her precisely when we’ll need some extra help? Basically with a kid in the hospital it’s sort of a day-by-day thing and we might just want her help when we need it. We can reward her later with more time off, etc., although once DD is home things will likely get harder again so that might be postponed.

We’ve told all this to AP, she seems understanding but is it wrong to say “We might need you some time this weekend but we can’t be sure if or when”?

It’s not an emergency like a heart attack, but it is dealing with a kid in hospital.


IntellectualMom May 7, 2015 at 11:03 am

My heart goes out to you – what a hard thing to go through. I second the idea of a serious chat with the au pair about the family’s needs at this tough moment. Hopefully you have someone who is there for the good times and the difficult times. It could be an opportunity for them to really grow with the family. Best wishes through ti!

Seattle Mom May 7, 2015 at 12:32 pm

I’m so sorry that you’re going through this… anorexia is so tough. It’s something I fear as a parent. I have been close to a couple of anorexics when I was a teenager, and lost a friendship to anorexia- my old childhood friend became very distant and we didn’t reconnect until much later in adulthood, when she was recovered & healthy. It was really amazing and heart wrenching to hear her story, many years later. I’m so glad to know her again.

Anyway, I agree with all that has been said in the comments. I would just add to be as open and communicative as possible with your AP. Let her know when things are going to be unpredictable. Let her know that you understand it’s not really the way things are supposed to work, and that you will try to make it up to her later (but keep that part vague unless you are sure of what you will be able to do). Admit that things are going to be hard, and you are not sure for how long that will last, but that you trust her and rely on her help. Tell her how much you appreciate her flexibility and hard work, and that you know she cares about your children. Tell her she can let you know if anything is too hard on her- but only if you really want her to tell you. She could always go to her friends or her LCC, and not add to your plate.

I wish you the best through the difficult road ahead- good luck!

oranje_mama May 7, 2015 at 12:32 pm

What a hard time your are going through!

Have a heart to heart with your AP. If she’s worth her salt, she’ll be understanding and flexible (which sounds like she has been so far). Make sure to remember to appreciate her flexibility, but otherwise, don’t worry about it!

We had a wonderful AP who decided to extend with us. After the extension paperwork was in and done, I was diagnosed with cancer. So her extension became living in the houseshold with someone going through cancer treatment – surgery, chemo, radiation, the whole 9 yards. I was afraid she would back out. She. was. awesome. So grown up & mature. And this was an AP who was 18 years old when she came to us. Not only did she not back out, she totally stepped up! We’re still in contact and love her to pieces.

petitemariona May 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Oh my god, I am so sorry.

I had anorexia as a teenager and young adult (had it for well over 10 years..) and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I hope your daughter gets well very soon. Just remind her that she is a fighter and that she is beautiful.

ps: If you would like some tips on how to deal with some of the anorexic facts (i.e. the jeans that are about to become too small..) you can drop me an email anytime. (my nickname at Here in my country I mentor young girls suffering from eating disorders and I am always available for them to talk and get support whenever they need me. I know I am a zillion miles away but…

NJ Mama May 7, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Should Be Working — Just want to say how sorry I am that you are going through this.

As always TACL came through with practical advice, particularly about Child #2, who can often feel lost in situations such as these. and of course as moms we never take proper care of ourselves but it is important that we try.

I suppose the only thing I wanted to add was, when you sit down and talk to your au pair about how you will need her flexibility in the weeks and months ahead, you may want to also ask her if there is anything really special she has planned. And tell her you’ll do your best to see that she can make that (or if not, reiterate that you will make it up to you). I think that will make her feel that she is also not being “lost” in this. (I doubt she would, but just in case).

There have been a handful of times when I have given an au pair off and have had to ask her to work because of family emergencies. The best au pairs really do pitch in like family members during these times. They know there are things out of your control, and the best ones will do whatever it takes to help you and your family through it. What you are going through is so overwhelming on so many levels that it can be hard to sort it all out. I think if you are honest with her about that she will rise to the occasion.

I wish you strength, and I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

Didi May 7, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Sorry to hear that. This seems like situation in which you all need to be working together and being on top of the things.
You seem understanding and so does your au pair. Using the same words and expressions you did here, will show your au pair you are not taking her for granted, but that you trust her and need her. She knows your daughter is priority right now and she will want to be there for you, all of you.
We all want to feel needed and appreciated and I am sure she will be glad to do whatever necessary to help with your daughter.
If there happens several occasions and a lot of extra hours, getting her small gift or offering few extra days off during summer will show her you understand and respect her time.

WestMom May 7, 2015 at 7:31 pm

SBW, my heart goes out to you. I hope your family gets out of this dark period and that your daughter gets better soon.

I know how you feel. My eldest DD was hospitalized last month for chronic OCD and suicidal thoughts. It was a relief to have her in-patient for a while, but we knew the hard work would come when she would be discharged.

Personally, I have tried to shield AP as must as I possibly can from this situation. I know she would be willing to help (and she is, now that we have all this extra therapy to attend, her hours have increased), but the bulk is on DH and I. I took a leave from work, I have sacrificed my social life, my workouts, etc. As a matter of fact DH and I were supposed to be alone in Puerto Rico this week. Canceled, of course. Maybe I have my head in the sand and trying to keep it normal on the outside. Maybe it’s just that I feel a 20something is ill-equipped to deal with this kind of situation.

One thing I fully agree with is to not neglect your other children. My two other daughters are well aware of the pain my oldest is in, and the distress it is causing to DH and I. I feel like they are trying to make themselves smaller, less demanding, and causing the least amount of disruption possible. It’s great in one way because it allows us to focus on the child with the problem, but it’s easy to forget that they need love and attention too. That’s where I ask our AP to step in and really amp up the big sister role.

I am sorry I really don’t have any answers for you. As you can see, I am a bit in the same boat. Would love to hear what others have to recommend in this situation. Best of luck to you.

NJmama May 7, 2015 at 8:05 pm

I just want to say how grateful I am for this blog, and that people can talk so freely and be so understanding.

WestMom I think sometimes pretending things are normal is sometimes the only way to get through it. Do whatever works at that moment

Host Mom in Paradise May 8, 2015 at 12:36 pm

I’m so sorry you’re going through this, Should Be Working. It sounds like you are getting the help and support you need.

Your question is more about managing uncertainty than it is about managing illness. Uncertainty is one of those cultural things, and also individual to some extent. Some cultures are great at situations with uncertainty. People from those cultures are awesome at taking cues from the host parents and the environment and can adapt accordingly with little input. In this case it may help to set out general goals, like “I want both children to feel loved and supported.” Others are less comfortable with the uncertainty and would need a little more coaching, or rules, or guidelines. In this case, you may want to put down scenarios. If this happens, AP’s work will look like this. If this other thing happens, AP will be expected to do this. Or, be people focused: if I am with Child1, you are expected to do this activity with Child2.

So I’d say this is a situation that you need to tailor to your AP and her comfort with uncertainty (and yours!). In either case she will need to be perceptive and flexible. But you can really help her if you can meet her in her uncertainty comfort zone.

Thank you for giving us all insight into your difficult situation. I hope everyone emerges healthy, and soon!

Dorsi May 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm

We had a great Au Pair when one of my children was hospitalized (for 3 weeks and it wasn’t clear that she would survive). Surprisingly, the Au Pair didn’t really rise to the occasion. She was scared, guilty, and also detaching (it was a month before she was going home, and it wasn’t clear whose fault it was that my daughter was so sick). The Au Pair became very needy. She needed me to absolve her of guilt and mother her, which I had exactly zero interest in doing (I wasn’t angry with her – but I was overwhelmed with managing a child in the ICU). Reaching out to the LCC was actually a lifesaver here — she stepped in and called the AP daily and really made sure she felt supported. It was one less thing to manage.

Should be working May 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Thanks all. I’ve found an excellent forum for parents of eating disordered kids that has the same relatively-narrow-focus, supportive-community, advice-giving feel as this blog, it’s called “”. But I hope none of you ever need it.

Mimi May 8, 2015 at 4:47 pm

My thoughts are with you, SBW. My heart goes out to you and WestMom. I can only echo TACL’s advice to take care of yourself so that you can be at your best for all that lies ahead and to model the kind of balance that is important in life (and often eludes busy moms and stressed caregivers). Definitely important is the effect on other children as others have pointed out. I think the AP will be ok with the uncertainty of things and keeping communication frequent will help with expectations. If others offer to help, definitely take them up their offers and tell them the specific ways you need help. We all try to give back to our communities in trying times but can be reluctant to take support when we need it.

Former Au Pair May 12, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Hi OP – i’m so sorry about your daughter i’ll lift her up in my prayers and i really hope she feels better SOON. sending all my positive vibes.

In the other hand i also hope your au pair is understanding and mature enough to deal with the situation. When i was an au pair i met this amazing girl, one of her two host kids had cancer, she was working a lot, not because they wanted her to, but they truly needed her help, the family was in and out of the hospital almost every day and she was basically the youngest child’s mom. She used to stay weeks all by herself and the baby, even during the night – i know about the rules and everything but they also pay extra or more per hour to kinda make it up. Unfortunately, the little angel lost his battle against cancer (FU Cancer), but not even once i heard her complain about her long workdays or the abruptly change in plans or working during the weekends, because she was mature enough to understand the needs of her host family and of course one of the best human beings I’ve always met, selfless and pure at heart, they adore her and bring her to the US to visit every time they can. I really hope your au pair is just like her and helps you guys to endure these difficult times.

Anonamomma May 15, 2015 at 1:10 pm


I have only just read this post, my thoughts and prayer are with you and your daughter, and you family.


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