Mixing Grandparents and Au Pairs at the Holidays

by cv harquail on December 12, 2009

Who’d have thought this would be a topic?

As I neatened up the spare room to welcome my mother-in-law, I was remembering some of the well-intentioned tensions we had our first Christmas with our au pair and Grandparents together, and how we tried to manage them.


My parents-in-law, like most grandparents, were over the moon about their first granddaughter. They didn’t get to see her often enough, and when they did spend time with us, Grandma was barely able to let the baby sleep in the crib– she wanted to hold the baby as much as possible. And she wanted to change the diapers, and choose the outfits, and feed the baby, and rock her to sleep. Meanwhile, Grandpa wanted to take the baby all around the neighborhood in the stroller and show her off to anyone who’d look. (He was pretty naughty that way.)

Which would have been fine, but that was the work that our au pair usually did, and did so well.

I realized that I had to come up with some may to manage who did what, so that Grandma & Grandpa had their baby-time and our au pair still felt needed for some of the fun stuff.

200912120859.jpgI talked with our au pair privately and told her what I’d realized- that Grandma needed sometime to be in charge of the baby. I came up with a few sort-of fun ‘out of the house’ errands for our au pair to do so that grandma was sometimes “in charge”.

And, I asked our au pair to experiment with showing Grandma where everything was, how to do much of the baby stuff, what games the baby like to play, and so on. I ask our au pair to experiment with just hanging in the background, in case Grandma or Grandpa needed her. Our au pair was happy to try this.

Actually, our au pair was a good sport about it. I think that she could see how much it mean to Grandma to take care of what the baby needed, and to feel needed herself.

It helped, too, that I clarified with out au pair that for the time that the Grandparents were here, when she was ‘on duty’ she could hang out in the background, drink tea with Grandma, socialize with Grandma, wash up the baby food dishes while 200912120858.jpgGrandma got to play that game with the airplane spoon, and  to help Grandpa figure out the collapsible stroller.

I was really clear that all of this background stuff was considered ‘work’ by me (so it counted, and she wasn’t gooing off). I was also very clear to link it to a bigger goal, which was to promote Grandma’s confidence and relationship with her (at that point) only grandchild.

I was also careful to make sure that I had some time myself with my baby, and I did this by sneaking away with the baby to take a nap with her a few times.

Has anyone else had challenges like this when extra family has been in the house, and suddenly everyone wants to change the baby’s diaper play with the baby? Share your insights with us!


franzi December 12, 2009 at 3:32 pm

oh, the grandparents ;-) this can really cause some tensions between all parties involved so i can only support CV’s claim to discuss this special situation with your AP.

Mom, Esq. December 12, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Beware also the opposite:

Common home country culture (Grandparents + AP) = mutiny

Especially in the early phases of the year, an AP may connect either because of common language or culture with the Host Family’s Grandparents more than she does with the Host Family. Just saying, it can happen. Can be messy and stressful for all.

tatti December 13, 2009 at 3:53 am

why dont you just let the au pair off? leave her with some spare time during the day.

cv December 13, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Hi Tatti –

Sometimes we need to have the au pair be on duty, because the grandparent isn’t completely “trained”. The grandparent may need help with the kids’ routine, finding things, etc. Plus, there is still ‘work’ to do even if the grandparent is playing with the kids.

Not every grandparent is comfortable with or able to be completely “on duty”. Usually, they really mostly want to do the fun stuff and then go watch Oprah. So someone still needs to do the kids laundry, cook the mac n cheese, and so on. My m-i-l also needs someone to drive her around when she wants to take the kids for ice cream (new jersey drivers scare her) so we really do need the au pair to be on duty.

of course, if there is absolutely no need for the au pair to be on duty, she can hang out off duty or go off or whatever. but on our family we haven’t been able to assume that grandparents are able to do all the childcare, alone. And, quite frankly, Grandmom is there to have fun with the kids, not to be the childcare provider. It’s Grandmom’s vacation, after all.

Deb Schwarz December 13, 2009 at 8:38 am

Interesting topic! I always have a chat with our au pair before we head East to grandma’s for summer vacation. My mom is very opinionated (she was a child/school psychologist for 50 years (she’s now 85), so you can only imagine how that plays out…… So far no au pair has tangled with her (I tell them just to nod in agreement), and my mom has enjoyed getting to know our 15+ au pairs over the years, to the point that she is now tutoring au pairs in English in her hometown in PA. I think our au pair’s have, for the most part, enjoyed getting to know “feisty grandma”, who cooks wonderful meals (unlike me) and doles out grandmotherly advice about life in America when we visit.

Deb in CA
Host mom to 15 au pairs
Cultural Care LCC

Amelie December 13, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Tatti, I agree!

Luana (au pair) December 13, 2009 at 4:58 pm

In my hosthouse, when the Grandma is there, the kids, of course, wants to play with her. I usually use the time that the Grandma is with them to put the kids stuff away, laundry, tide up the kitchen and when the things are done and they`re still together, or I join them, or I go to my room to do my stuff, but I`m always in alert to help the Grandma or anything that the kids need. As I`m always telling the Grandma that she can leave as soon as she wants, if she`s tired, because I`m there. This Grandma is wonderful, I have her as a good friend… actually, sometimes she`s there and we talk a lot while the kids are playing with themselves… we get along pretty well, and she`s totally fine about me being in charge while I`m in duty, even if she`s in home playing with them, she usually tells the kids “Ask Luana first”.

Sara Duke December 14, 2009 at 8:06 am

My au pairs have generally bonded with my parents, who are curious, warm and inviting. They like to travel and share their memories of our au pair’s country. However, my mother cannot pick up my 11-year-old handicapped daughter any more. So while she loves playing with her and snuggling her, the au pair is the one who has to lug her around (and quite frankly, feed her). However, my parents in combination are perfectly fine caring for my daughter if needed (my Dad is still strong enough to pick her up and the one who usually gives the g-tube feeds). Because our au pair works in the mornings before school and in the afternoons after school, we make it clear that she is not expected to entertain my parents when they come to visit, that she may go about her daily activities. Some have chosen to join my parents, some have not.

My father-in-law, on the other hand, is useless when it comes to day-to-day activities. He’s older and quite frankly no one is sure if he’s ever changed a diaper in his life. Our au pairs are completely on duty when he’s around.

Typically, when we have family visiting we give the au pairs the evenings and weekends off. The grandparents want to spend time with the grandchildren — not us — and it’s fun to do things as a family. We welcome au pairs to join us, but understand if they want to escape.

We never ever book someone to stay in the au pair’s room, even if it means my husband and I give up our bed. We feel that our au pairs need sacred space that no one violates. On the other hand, when we are on the road we make it clear that private space is limited.

Anonymous December 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm

My parents love meeting all of our aupairs. The aupairs always love them , too ! My mom never had any domestic help so she
originally had a hard time understanding the work component of the aupair experience but eventually she just gave up and enjoyed the ride. My parents are a little older than the average grandparents of kids my age so when they come to visit , they really enjoy the help of an extra pair of hands when they go on little excursions with the kids. I ask my aupairs to humor my parents and I ask my parents to humor the aupair ; everyone has always cooperated and has a good time.

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