Moms & Au Pairs: Can I hold us to different tv rules?

by cv harquail on February 4, 2010

I’m a believer that different members of a family have different privileges and responsibilities, depending on their roles and their ages. Parents have more privileges than do children, and employers have more privileges than do employees. The rules that we follow can be different, as long as they are fair.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, uses my chef’s knife. When I’m driving, I get to choose the music. And guess what– if I want to leave my lunch dishes in the sink until dinner, I do.

201002041921.jpgI also have different expectation for myself when the kids are with me than I’ve had for our au pairs when they are on duty with the kids. I’m usually doing many other things in addition to being with my kids (like, oh, cooking, cleaning, laundry, paying bills, stuff like that). I don’t ignore my kids, but I don’t spend all of my time engaging them in educational play.

However, when our au pair is on duty, I do expect her to focus her attention on the kids, since that’s her job.

And, yes, in can be awkward when I expect her to focus 95% on the kids, when some times I focus only 65% on the kids. I think it’s fair, but it is also awkward, precisely because the differences in privileges point out that parents, au pairs and children have different roles in a family.

Host Mom-with-The View sends in this question, hoping for some advice on how to work this out a specific situation, where she wants a   different set of privileges for herself vs. her au pair.

I am expecting my first au pair in 3 weeks. She is 22, German and speaks great English. I have a 21 month old son who is extremely active, and I am expecting a new baby in March. I work 3 days a week outside the home, full time, 12 hours days. As I know her now, I like my au pair very much. I am very eager to start with a positive, fair, respectful relationship.
I am writing out family handbook, and trying to decide if it is fair to tell the au pair that she may not watch TV while the children are awake. I almost always have the TV on when I’m home. I don’t watch shows I have to pay attention to, but I like to have the Today show, or the news on in the background while my son and I play or do other things.

Occasionally, when my son is occupied, I will watch a show I have recorded that does not require much attention, or I will just rewind if I miss a part because I’ve been paying attention to my son. My son rarely watches TV, just the occasional 20 minutes of Sesame Street if I need to remove him from my leg to cook dinner or iron clothes.
201002041924.jpgMy concern is that the au pair will half-ignore the kids if the TV is on and she really wants to pay attention to what is on TV. I know how I am with my son, and that he does not lack for attention or engagement while I have the TV on. I don’t know if this is something the au pair will be able to do.

I want to be fair, but I also think of this as her job, where she should follow the rules, but I’m afraid of the concequences of setting such an obvious double standard. I imagine this double standard will be very evident to her since I will be home for 12 weeks on maternity leave about 4 weeks after she arrives, in addition to the 2 weekdays days every week I’m home with her.

Can I ask her to do something I am not willing to do myself? Thank you for your help!

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Should be working February 4, 2010 at 8:36 pm

The double standard question–not only a matter of tv!

I struggle with this as well. I expect the au pair to give more undivided attention to kids than I do, because that’s her main job, whereas it is only one of mine (and I’m only counting the ones I do at home!)

Former French Au Pair February 7, 2010 at 11:26 am

I agree your au pair’s job is to provide her full attention to your kids, and not let herself be distracted by TV or radio.
I must say I didn’t always understand this as an au pair. Once I became really comfortable with the toddler triplets and mastered multi-tasking (watching them, putting in a load of laundry and getting their snacks and bottles ready all at the same time), I felt I could do a lot of the same things my host mom did (making a quick phone call, planning my calendar…).
Also, when we cared for the kids together, although I was the one mostly playing with them and giving them my full attention, as a mom she would be entitled to have the fun part, while I needed to get busy taking care of other things since I had her help!
So it is just a matter of clarifying with your au pair… As host moms, you are our role models and we learn your family routine from you. Just clarify expectations from the beginning and remind your au pair of what your “host mom priviledges” are when you are together…

Au Pair in CO February 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I don’t watch tv with the kids unless I have them on evenings, which rarely happens. My host family lets them watch more tv than I do, but I really don’t mind. You pay your au pair to watch the kids, not tv, and I think most au pairs understands that =)

EUROaupair August 27, 2010 at 9:52 am

I don’t watch TV when I am with the kids because I think it is bad form. I just don’t do it.
But if my HM had approached me before this job had started and basically said “I’m allowed to watch TV, you’re not” I would think it was extremely rude.
As for the whole different standards for different members of the family; employers and employees etc. Remember that the au pair is a (temporary) family member.

I think the problem lies in Au Pair selection; I wouldn’t select an au pair who wanted to watch tv while ‘watching’ the children.

Calif Mom February 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Seems to me that there are a couple tenets that run thru advice on this blog, and both apply here:

1) start with stricter standards — it’s easier to get lax than it is to get strict

2) explain the situation to your AP. Be honest. Have a dialogue about it.

(I’ve never been good at #1). Why not just spell it out? Say some version of what you’ve said above: that while you will probably have the TV on when you’re home (at least until your kids are more interested in it and ask questions about what they see, then I bet you’ll start to be okay with not having it on yourself!) and that you want her to not to turn it on while she’s in charge. Say that you can see how it might seem unfair, but “especially while she is getting to know Darling Son” you are counting on her to interact with Son. That’s her job, and explain that you wouldn’t expect her to be doing any of the other things that you have to multi-task, so your situations really are different.

And fwiw, the “no TV’ rule is not unusual at all.

PA au pair mom February 4, 2010 at 9:58 pm

It’s definitely a difficult situation. I ask the au pair not to watch tv when responsible for the kids. She has all day to watch while the kids are at school. She only watches music videos and the news or movies in the evenings in her room when she is off duty.

Our AP now is very good about interacting with the kids and playing with them instead of watching them play. With our last AP, I used to have to turn off our wireless network while I was at work so she wouldn’t completely ignore the kids and use her laptop all day. Sad, but true.

Sota Gal February 4, 2010 at 11:29 pm

We make some of these double standards clear right from the beginning. Even our letter talks about how we want an AP that will “actively engage” our children. During interviews I go further into what I mean – very little TV, and I only allow age appropriate shows for the kids, not grown up shows. I also discuss that cell phone/telephone and computer use is absolutely not allowed while the children are awake.

Nap times are different – so long as any additional chores are done, AP is free to do what ever she wants. TV, phones and computer are all fair game then. I also make sure that our AP understands how the DVR works so that she can record any favorite shows that she might want to watch at her leisure.

Do I use my cell and the computer while I’m with my kids? You bet I do. I don’t think of it as a double standard, I guess because I try to make it crystal clear that our primary care givers primary focus is our kids. That also pushes aside lots of other duties for her like laundry and cleaning. I don’t want to overwhelm her with so much other “stuff” that those things take on a more important role than interacting with my kids.

EUROaupair August 27, 2010 at 9:58 am

With my job, when my hours are over I don’t just stroll off to my room and do my own thing. I still spend a lot of time with the kids when I am off duty, often forfeiting other social occassions.

I feel like it is only fair that I get to check my emails once or twice while the children are playing. Also as I am responsible for meals etc. so sometimes I have making dinner, as opposed to being on-the-floor playing with them. However often I manage to get them involved in the meal, two birds with one stone!

I think if you want to be strict about them playing with the kids and not watching TV them you had better respect your APs free time, and make sure your children respect it. I don’t really get “free” time unless the kids are out, they spend all their time in my room, I don’t think its righ tto tell them to sod off, its my day off!

Mom of 3 February 4, 2010 at 11:29 pm

I think it is fine to have a strict rule of no TV watching while the au pair is on duty. That’s what we did. I’m like you – I may have the TV on to watch the weather or listen to the Today Show in the AM before she is on duty…then when she takes over, the kids are with her and no TV. You can explain that this is your rule and that sometimes you break it, but that is ok because you are the boss! It’s easier to just have a line drawn – no TV – than to develop a bunch of exceptions.

Sara Duke February 5, 2010 at 12:15 am

I’m fairly strict about television. My daughter, who is severely retarded, does not watch TV at all (she is developmentally young enough that she couldn’t care less, either). She is, however, easily distracted and can play for hours with her toys and on her piano. My typically developing son, however, is only permitted 1 hour of media time (computer, game system and TV) on school days and 2 hours Friday through Sunday. He loses media privileges for infractions like hitting. Our boy is active, and if he doesn’t stay moving (e.g. outdoors), he’s fairly climbing up the wall by dinnertime. I can tell when he’s had indoor recess at school. Our au pairs, albeit sometimes begrudgingly, have followed our directions on this. He takes most of his media time with them. We have TVs in the au pair bedroom, the basement playroom and our (parents) bedroom. There is no TV in the living room/dining room/kitchen area which is on the same floor as our daughter’s handicapped-accessible bedroom.

I do not require the au pairs to clean the house. They only have to do one load of laundry per week. They are supposed to spend 100% of their time with the kids, unless the kids are home all day on a snow day or home all day sick. Most have been excellent about this. (Because their workday is usually labor intensive in caring for my daughter – they don’t have much time to “cheat.”)

My current au pair, however, admitted on a recent snow day that she didn’t spend any time with my son and had spent the day — when she wasn’t feeding or diapering my daughter – studying. While her reading and writing are excellent, her receptive and spoken English remain pretty basic, even after 6 months. I think my son has given up on her, so she has given up on my son. He admitted that he was pretty lonely on the recent snow day. None of his friends were available to play, and our AP is not permitted to drive in the snow (having never done so, and having shown absolutely no inclination to learn until now, two months after the snow has started to fall).

I went ballistic, mainly because I don’t want this AP to set the stage for my son’s relationship with future APs — that the AP is for my daughter and not for him. He’s a pretty self-reliant kid, and reads for pleasure with gusto, and plays easily by himself. However, no child should have to do this for 8 hours (only to have his mother come home and say, “I have to feed your sister,” because the AP’s tour of duty ends just before my daughter’s dinner).

We have guidelines, and one of them is no TV, computer or homework during working hours, unless it is an unanticipated day with the kids, and then in moderation. I am going to make the guidelines more specific – APs will need to engage the children directly on snowdays.

Fortunately, my son is now 9 and can respond to probing questions quite explicitly (and he knows how to care for his sister, even if he cannot yet physically do it).

Melissa February 5, 2010 at 1:54 am

I have to say that I just realized this ‘double standard’ fairly recently. When we first started out with APs, I tried very hard to always come across as ‘fair’. However, as we’ve gained more experience after several APs, I’ve recently realized that yes, there are some areas where I have different expectations for my AP than I do for myself. Especially in regards to how she spends her time with the kids. I agree with other posters that, while I certainly don’t ‘ignore’ my children, I feel like I am always multi-tasking and trying to get something else done while we are at home (cooking, straightening, going through mail, making appts, etc). While my au pair does not have any of these responsibilities, aside from straightening up after the kids and washing a few dishes here and there. I think I will definitely be more clear about this at the beginning for future APs, because I think this is something that an AP could easily interpret from their perspective, without realizing all of the other jobs that we parents have.

maleaupairmommy February 5, 2010 at 3:04 am

I simple explain it on my handbook. Though I should state just got my fourth au pair and have learned many lessons along the way, some harder than others. I put this in the handbook because like all the other moms I want him to be creative and engaged with his time withthe kids. He is only here for a year maybe two. This is his chance to be the best the newest, etc. I explain in my handbook that even though I’m on the cell phone, computer while I watch the kids its because I have things I have to get done. Personally we turn t.v. by 10 a.m. that is when dad is off to work I like music for my background noise. We are not perfect we watch more when we are sick or bad weather days. They understand and it helps when it is explained in their handbook. Live and die by the handbook!!! I swear it’s true.

NC AP February 5, 2010 at 6:19 am

I think telling your au pair not to watch TV during her worktime is absolutely fine, even if you as parents do it when the kids are with you!
As far as I remember, not watching TV during my working time was not explicitly mentioned in the rules that my hostparents wrote for me, but for me it was always clear that during my working time my responsibility was taking care of the kids and not watching TV.
My host parents always had the TV on when they were home, but even if they had forbidden me to watch TV when with the kids, I wouldn’t have had a problem with this. An au pair is paid for watching the kids, so she should put all her efforts in doing her job well! Parents have all the right to decide how they want to spend their time, just as the au pair should have the right to decide how she wants to spend her free (!) time.

So in this case, I don’t have any problems with double standards. But there is one thing where I did have a problem with double standards in my hostfamilies (before and after rematch): They always stated very clearly that I should make sure that the kids do not watch more than 30 minutes of TV a day, that they should not eat sweets… I always followed these rules and sometimes had a hard time making the children understand why I had to be so strict, so it sometimes felt like a slap in the face to see that their parents themselves didn’t follow their own rules just because they found it too exhausting. I understand that most parents are tired when they come home from work and that they need some time off and sometimes just don’t want to argue with their kids, but it was really frustrating to see that the children watched hours of TV and ate lots of sweets when with their parents, while I had to fight and argue with them to make sure that the parents’ rules were followed.

But back to the point: I as an ex- au pair think that you can absolutely write the “no TV”-rule in your handbook without worrying that this will harm your relationship with your new au pair! Good luck :)

Anna February 5, 2010 at 8:42 am

Of course you can.
I told one of my not so good au pairs directly, that when I am with them, she should not use me as an example of her behavior with my kids.
I am the mother, and I have many jobs, I have to clean, cook, shop, pay bills, and be with kids at the same time in my “free time”, and that’s when I am done working at my 9-5 job.
Being with kids IS her 9-5 job so to speak, and after that in her free time she can do what she wants, but while she is “at work” she has to do what I ask and how I ask it, and give all her attention to the kids.

I don’t let my kids watch more than 30 min a day and a total of 1 hour a week of videos or any form of animated entertainment (when she is with them), but if I am with them on Sun and say not feeling well, I can rent an hour and a half kid movie on iTunes for them and let them watch all that in one shot.

Former au pair 2 February 5, 2010 at 9:12 am

I think the “no TV-rule” can be easily applied and I don’t think the au pair should be too upset. One of the reasons, besides “it’s her job to watch the kids, not the TV” is that many young girls from different countries barely have any interest in American TV. Most of them don’t speak good enough English, they are not familiar with all those popular shows, and watching American morning news is not so fun for them, trust me. I speak a good English, spent over 2 years in this country and still barely watch any TV and so do my friends. Movies are a different story, and most of young girls from any countries like them. But English language makes them complicated, they need to focus, “guess” what are those people talking about, so why bother?
I have another question, though. Do you mind if your au pair is listening to the radio or her ipod while on duty, including the music from her home country?

Hula Gal February 5, 2010 at 12:21 pm

No I-Pods. Whomever is responsible for the children must be able to hear them at all times and if they are little to see them at all times. I had to ask my excellent au pair not to listen to her i-pod when she took my daughter for a walk in the stroller. That is especially dangerous but it never occurred to her. Plus, she should be talking with my daughter and interacting with her, not tuning her out with headphones on. So even with really great au pairs sometimes these things need to be pointed out because they don’t have that mother’s paranoia thing that we do! But when my daughter is napping and if all the tasks for the day get done than my au pair can do whatever she wants during the nap times except leave the house of course.

'sota gal February 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I’m all for iPods, especially music from your home country so long as it is being played from a computer and the kids can hear the music as well. My only rule there is if there is any music in english that it is a clean version of a song, nothing with explicit language. Many of au pairs have brought music from their home countries with the sole intention of sharing it with our kids.

That’s also why we, as adults, don’t watch our shows when the kids are around. While I may love The Bachelor, its certainly not something my kids need to watch… I tend to be pretty strict as far as TV watching goes, paying attention to the ratings as well as screening shows on my own to listen to the language, tone and content but I don’t have a set time of how much the TV can be on; we all rely on it for background noise. As with all parents, there are things that I am OK with and other things that I am not. Language, disrespect and attitude are off limits while I can generally tolerate things like some cartoon violence for an older child. My son is almost 8 and he has learned long ago the channels that may be on when his 3 yo sisters are around.

PacificNW_mom February 5, 2010 at 2:19 pm

We now have a discussion with the au pair about appropriate music to listen to when the kids are around (after my 5 year old started singing “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick, disco stick” – thanks to Lady Gaga and our disaster au pair. I give them this example and they all seem to understand that music needs to be carefully chosen and some stuff out there needs to be “filtered” for the kids.

'sota gal February 5, 2010 at 5:41 pm

NW Mom, I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I can’t help it! That is one of the songs that I always quickly flip to a different radio station if it comes on when the kids are in the car. My 3 yo’s love to sing I’ve Got a Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas…pretty funny but they only know 2 lines of the song.

au pair February 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm

In fairness, a non-English speaker hearing the phrase ‘disco stick’ probably isn’t going to associate it with it’s actual meaning! :p

Anonymous February 11, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I had a similar issue with “BarbieGirl” I guess APs english is not developed enough to understand that “you can comb my hair, undress me anywhere” isn’t really what I want my 5 yo DD singing! She still doesn’t get it and we are at the point now of just outlawing anything but pre-approved CDs

franzi February 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm

my host family and i agreed on “clean” radio stations that could be played in the car when i was driving the kids. the music was always in the background though so that we could still have a conversation. occasionally, we would turn the music up and sing along if there was a song playing that the kids liked.

i agree that ipods should be banned during working hours and it is ok imho to not allow her tv/computer access during on-duty times. if she is off-duty but watching the tv when the kids are around the shows should be child appropriate. unless she watches tv in her room where i believe it should be ok for her to tell the kids to give her some quiet time for herself.

ExAP February 18, 2010 at 8:24 pm

A bit off topic, but something to make you laugh ;) :

I loved the movie “Mamma Mia!”. And so I got the CD with the soundtrack. As my host kids liked it too,we listened to it while in the car. One time, we had the song “I need a man after midnight” on… So the 6-year-old asks why the girl needs a an after midnight. Oh boy! I never thought about ABBA songs being “dangerous”… I told her that she wanted to stay up late and needed a drive home (lame, I know…), to which she answered “She wants a kissing boy, right?!”. Well, yes, you got it girl *g*
Good thing my HPs thought it was quite funny, too.
After that, I carefully listened to all the songs we heard on the radio or somewhere else.

Calif Mom February 5, 2010 at 10:11 am

My kids sing along with MANY songs in Portuguese, and there are Spanish presets on the radio in the car I share with our Au Pair. As long as the music isn’t misyogynistic, I encourage it.

I-pods are so isolating, though, that I think I prefer using the radio or the stereo in the living room to plugging herself in and “tuning out” while on duty at the house. I find them anti-social. Fine when you’re off duty, of course, but not while watching the kids.

Darthastewart February 5, 2010 at 12:03 pm

iPods on duty are not acceptable.

NC AP February 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I often listened to the radio while watching the kids, but would never use my iPod (or anything else with earplugs!) when responsible for kids, who knows what could happen just because I can’t hear the kids or am too distracted to pay attention to them for just a few minutes!

Former au pair 2 February 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm

When I asked a question, I meant playing ipod music on a device with speakers, ihome for instance. That makes it almost like a radio, just with no commercial breaks:)
Being au pair, I used to plug my ipod in the ihome, and nobody had any problems with that.

ex-AP February 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

All right, that makes a difference :) I think as long as it doesn’t distract you from taking good care of the kids, it should be fine (as long as the music/the lyrics are okay for the children!)

Darthastewart February 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

That is fine- no problems there! I meant, iPod with ear buds in. I DID have an AP do that while she was working. In fact there were times that she’d complain that she missed stuff (like the gong in the kitchen!, )but oh, yeah.. Had on her headphones, and couldn’t hear anything.

My 2 cents February 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Yes, you are the parent. There will be double standards. She can’t have the car out all night, she cannot have boys overnight, she may not talk on her cell phone and drive (my dh does this constantly), etc.

The way I’ve handled it is to mention at the outset that she will see us doing things that we have specifically told her she may not do. We recognize this may seem hypocritical at first, but we have MANY obligations as parents that she does not have and so we, as a practical matter, require more deviation. And, we are the parents, so that’s that. I try to approach the whole issue in a very friendly, humorous, but still direct way.

None of our au pairs have had an issue with the inconsistency and, frankly, nor should they. We permit plenty of flexibility for them if kids are sick, weather is really bad for days and everyone is stuck inside, etc., so they are free to solicit us if they need to bend the rules here and there which is of course understandable.

MommyMia February 5, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I’m with you. And as we tell our kids, “When you’re a parent, you get to make the rules for your family.” Our years of life experience have given us the right and lots of knowledge to be able to make decisions that you may not agree with, but that’s just the way life goes – get over it!

Sara Duke February 5, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Personally, I dislike television and rarely watch it myself. I consider it an enormous waste of time and brain power. My daughter never watches it with me (not that she’s interested) and my son never gets more than his hour (or on weekends and holidays – 2 hours) regardless.

I always tell pregnant moms that giving birth is the easy part – raising them to be people with whom you actually want to spend time is the hard part.

Today I was released from work early (anticipated snow), and modeled for my au pair behavior that I wish she was use with my son. I called out to him as soon as he came in from the bus and welcomed him. We chatted. Then, I cajoled him into going to the Library with me (it was work, it took effort on my part, but I didn’t give up as I think she often does when he shows disinterest in an activity), and then I made a batch of cookies with him. I did not watch TV or study in front of him (in fact, I closed my textbook as soon as he came home, to make it clear to him that I welcomed his presence).

While we as parents juggle more than we expect our au pairs to do, I do think it is important that we try to maintain the same standards. If I want my son to have an independent life as an adult, he has to start learning to do all of the things that go into maintaining a household — not all at once, but as he can handle them. He needs to learn to cook, to clean, to do laundry so that when he leaves the home he has skills for life. Encouraging him to participate in my activities, even though they slow me down, will serve both of us better in the long run. (Granted he’s 9, and it’s a lot easier than when he was 2 or 3, but I didn’t plug him into the TV when he was younger either.)

We do have a rule in our house that our children have to obey the rules of the person in charge, and we give guidelines to the au pair as to what the rules should be (no running in the road, no eating in the living room, being polite and respectful), but we tell the au pair if that she considers some of our rules too lenient and make her uncomfortable, she may be more strict. There are some to which are firm, and one of them is limiting exposure time to media.

I think if your rules vary too widely between parents and au pair that your children will be confused by them. You unwittingly set up the au pair to be the baddie and encourage their bad behavior to get what they want from you – more TV, more sugar, more whatever.

My 2 cents February 11, 2010 at 10:08 am

I agree that as a host parent there cannot be this great divide and exaggeration between what you do and the au pair is allowed to do. That being said, however, I don’t think we are talking about as host parents plugging our kids into TVs or bribing them with sugar cookies whenever we are home. I’m sure we all strive to limit the TV watching and other mind numbing activities, but the reality is that there are often times when these can be used as tools keep the kids safe while I’m occupied with another priority. I’m thinking more on a much grander scale — yardwork, snow shoveling, household repairs — stuff you simply cannot do effectively or safely with a child around (or at least a child under 5) and that an au pair, regardless of State Department regs, would ever be asked to do by any reasonable host parent.

It’s important to note in this regard that the double standard works both ways, as is mentioned below. Although au pairs are part of our families, there’s no question that stops when it comes down to the heavier household lifting. And, of course, our roles are totally different. My au pair’s time is not divided between mulitple priorities during her time with the kids. Mine often is.

Anonymous February 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm

If I don’t expect the au pair to have tv on when the kids are awake, and she is ‘on duty’, then I don’t do it either. I am not a big proponent of tv, and frankly, I don’t want my children to get into that habit. It becomes a double standard, or which many au pairs can become resentful. I have heard a few complain about things that they are not allowed to do (such as internet while on duty) that the host parent will do. When it comes to tv, there are too many adult subjects, commericals, etc that the children can be needlessly exposed to. Perhaps the new host mom needs to reconsider her own actions in light of hosting an au pair. With all the noise in the world that children will be exposed to- such as ipods, games, etc as they age, perhaps not always having the tv as background can be good. You will be surprised at how much you can get done without it.

Notimportant February 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I think you should understand that your Au Pair is also an adult. She/he is already compromised by the fact that she is living in your house and has limited decision making abilities. This issue of the television is something I feel you could give up in order to set a better impression and example for the Au Pair. As someone who once worked as an Au Pair I will say that observing the interaction between the parents and the children in the beginning was one of the most important tools that I got. Honestly, should you choose to insist that you deserve this privilege and she does not, don’t be surprised when your Au Pair thinks of you as illogical and unfair.

Anna February 9, 2010 at 5:10 pm

If you want privileges distributed equally, why not responsibilities too? After all my au pair is the third adult living in the household. Then let her do her share of cooking for the family, taking out the trash to the curb, grocery shopping and house and toilet cleaning. I don’t ask for that. I don’t share housework equally. So I don’t share privileges equally either, because I am doing housework if I let my kids watch a movie on the computer (and we don’t even have a TV in the house).

Notimportant February 15, 2010 at 5:42 pm

I just feel that if I were working for you and you couldn’t give up something as small as the tv even after forbidding me to watch it, I might think of you as illogical and inconsistent. Of course I can understand when it comes to inviting people over or using a car. But honestly, the tv?
The family I worked for held themselves, the children, as well as me to the same standards. If they did otherwise, they always gave a more legitimate explanation than “because I have more responsibility than you”. I also shared many of the responsibilities with the mother even when I was not working but there is a limit to what responsibilities I could take part in, such as taking the children to the doctor or paying the bills. But, yet I still had the same basic rights as every member of the family.
It is of course your house and you can make the rules.
Except for the fact that in the US you are not allowed to make the au pair do cleaning(probably because too many families abused this chore), you could probably ask her to cook some meals and do some grocery shopping.

Melissa February 9, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I second Anna’s post! I think that is a very true, but often overlooked point – that an au pair does not have anywhere near the amount of household responsibilities that the host parents have. I think that is fine and it makes sense (it is ‘our house’, after all), however, I think APs typically don’t have any awareness of this. APs can see these types of situations (double standards or different sets of rules) as “unfair”, without seeing the bigger picture. And it’s one of those things that is very hard for a host parent to point out to their AP without sounding like we’re complaining. It’s probably a tough concept for the AP to grasp though, until they actually experience life as a parent, or at least running their own household and everything that comes with it (grocery shopping, cleaning, paying bills, laundry, the list goes on…). I sometimes think , ‘if only I knew how much free time I used to have before we had kids!!’ :-)

aupair February 11, 2010 at 6:37 am

I think most au pairs do the kids’ laundry as part of their job. Also taking out trash, buying groceries, cleaning etc is something i would think most au pairs help their host families do!? i know i did and i know most of my au pair friends did as well.
that being said i think it’s only fair to tell the au pair not to have the tv on during working hours. my host family had a no-tv-rule during the day and that was fine by me.

Darthastewart February 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Not necessarily. I’ve had plenty of au-pairs that were slow to even put the kids’ laundry away after HD and I washed it. (Most of them, in fact). Most of them never do much in the way of cleaning either- kids’ toys just get thrown wherever, nevermind actually putting stuff where it should go. Garbage? I think of the 15 or so au-pairs I’ve had, 3 have actually taken out the garbage.

Honestly, I appreciate when they do that stuff. I praise them. I say thank-you, but most never get it.

Calif Mom February 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Kids’ laundry folded and put away — yes. all of them, pretty promptly.

picking up and putting toys away in right places — variable.

I have NEVER had an au pair either help me haul garbage and recycling to the curb, or take a full kitchen trash bag out to the can (even ones with stinking, rotten meat that hits you like a green cartoon cloud the minute you open the front door. Does one not smell stench in your 20’s?). I have had one of them who would occasionally pull the empty cans back behind the hedge after the trucks had come (could count on one hand how many times it happened, though).

(I don’t want my au pair taking my kids to doctor. That’s definitely a parent job.)

Anonymous February 11, 2010 at 12:19 pm

We have a triple-standard in our house! I hate TV and only use it during the day if DD2 is asleep and DD5 needs to be quietly occupied. AP is not allowed to use TV during the day at all. And HD apparently will die if the IV is not on at all times whilst he is present in the building! LOL or at least it seems that way because he can’t walk past it without turning it on. AP gets to see my displeasure with DH and his TV thing (he doesn’t even watch it!) and she knows what the rules are. There are lots of things in our life like this – I have strong opinions and fixed rules and he agrees in principle but breaks the rules constantly (he can’t stand to say no). Any AP who is going to survive with us has to realize that the rules are the rules and while I won’t divorce DH for making my life harder, I will rematch for an AP that does. Do as we say, not as we do.

Melissa February 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm

We have a similar set-up. I’m not that into TV, while my husband couldn’t survive in a house without one. To be honest, when I was a new mom with my first child, I had the best of intentions to limit tv time and make sure it is always 100% appropriate and educational. Well, real life and another child later, I admit we do have the tv on quite a bit. While I certainly don’t plug the kids into it so that I can ignore them (and expect our AP not to do that either), it is extremely helpful to have them watch Barney for 30 minutes while I cook dinner. Otherwise, I’d have my 3 yr old literally clinging to my leg while I’m putting a very hot pot on the stove. Sure, we could probably live with less tv time, but frankly it’s not at the top of my list of concerns.

Chev February 16, 2010 at 12:41 am

It’s definitely ok to have double standards about things like the telly being on, just not about the big rules that kids can pick up on. Like AP can’t give the kids sweets or must enforce certain amount of hours spent reading/doing activity books but the HP’s don’t enforce these things themselves when they’re home with the kids during the week.
My HF doesn’t have any rules about me having the telly on during the day and i like background noise so it’s almost always on one of the satellite radio channels.

Charlene March 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Hey, the aupair must do what they are getting paid to do. If the rule is no T.V. or IPOD or whatever during working hours, then that is it. The attention should be on the children anyway. My job does not allow me to watch T.V. or surf the internet while on duty. When I am off my job, then I take on the Mom role, which has different perks and obligations. No double standard. You have a job, they have a job. Every job comes with rules and expectations. Case closed.

Anon Nanny June 7, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Deff no TV. I admit that I sometimes will bend the rule because that’s what my host mum does… but that is only on the odd occasion where heaps of chores need to be done. I find it funny though, because my host parents often complain that I’m messy, but they love it because they can see the aftermath of what I do with the kids. They know I’m not watching TV with them because there is paint everywhere and I’m hurriedly making dinner. For Au pairs that are trying to multitask and pretend they are mums – just let them know straight. they’ll feel bad for a minute and then try to make it better. or if you’re a softy, suggest things or even say “we don’t mind if we come home to a mess, as long as our son has been engaged with something.” email them links to sites with ideas, there are a million out there and if you can’t be bothered finding them, just post here and I’ll link some. :) linky love!

Jennifer July 13, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Our situation is a little different. My kids are older so controlling TV is not that easy. They don’t have toys anymore (except for electronics which isn’t any better than TV). During the school year, they really don’t have time to watch TV with homework and extracurricular activities. If they watch TV now, I expect her to watch with them. Not turn on the TV so she can do her own thing – read, computer, etc. Our first AP would watch animal planet, food network, and other “learning” shows. I was much more okay with this than disney channel and cartoon network. But I still tell her after a couple of shows to turn it OFF and find something else to do.

First Time HP July 13, 2010 at 8:37 pm

I agree a double standard just looks bad, if you’re not willing to do it then its hard to tell the AP to do it. I also think you have to look at the situation. Our AP has 3 little kids for most of the day so I don’t expect her to plan activities for 45 hours a week, that’s just nuts. I have no problem with her having the tv on when she is feeding the baby or getting a little break by having the kids watch a show, otherwise my kids would never leave you alone to even go to the bathroom. Now if she only had them for a couple hours a day then yea I can see doing something active and not just watching tv.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 13, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I disagree. I don’t have a TV on my ground floor and never watched TV when I was home with my kids (I personally think TV is a waste of time, especially for the under 2 set, but my DH is a regular watcher). I had a great time cooking with my kids (my son figured out how to move a play chair to the kitchen in order to sneak cookies when he was under 18 months), going for walks, taking them to play groups, reading. I know my son watched MTV with my first AP (his singing “I’m too sexy for my shirt” gave that away), but by the time he was 2 his verbal skills were incredibly advanced, a sign that she spent plenty of time talking with him and engaging him. The Camel rarely pays attention to TV.

I’ve been fortunate, that for the most part, my APs have not had any trouble enforcing the TV rules, and my son doesn’t even ask for it when he loses it (that will probably change in a year or two). At the age of 9, he gets an hour of media (TV, computer, game system) on weekdays and 2 hours at the weekend (even in summer). The bonus to me – he willingly plays outside and reads a ton. He’s just completed 3rd grade and is reading on the 6-7 grade level. He can amuse himself endlessly (he fades into the great outdoors whenever he deigns to mention he’s bored and I give him a list of chores to do).

The next couple of years will be proof in the pudding. He loves computer games, his Wii, TV, and as he figures out how to ignore us, we’ll have to mount more pressure. But we wouldn’t ask our APs to be the baddies and us to be the goodies (the ones who relent). That’s not fair.

hOstCDmom July 13, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Completely disagree. I don’t think that expectation is nuts – it is our expectation/life. We have 5 young children and no TV. I fully expect AP to engage whichever of them she is minding (sometimes 2 or 3 kids, sometimes 4, sometimes only 1, sometimes all 5) for all hours she is on duty. Watching a show is not an option. She reads,plays, does crafts, reads, walks them places in town, bikes, hikes, sleds, swims, playgrounds and parks, and reads more. Our AP reads to our children ~2+ hrs daily ( in several stints, not all at once) The only TV we have in our house is in the AP’s room ( tv watching being one was to glean culture and improve English). So while HP and AP have the same standard (no TV), I don’t think expecting AP to plan/ engage in activities 45 hrs/week is nuts.

hOstCDmom July 13, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Also, no game systems, no Wii, no DS. Computer time is only with parental ( not AP) supervision, and only 3hrs/ WEEK for oldest, 1-2 hrs/WEEK for younger, none gor youngest. That’s in the summer too. The children over age 5 read to themselves several hours daily. AP takes them to the library 3-4 times/week.

We’ve had half a dozen APs and never has a problem with our lack of TV/lack of electronics.

Like TACL, we reap the benefits in kids who are years ahead in school and avid bibliophiles with very long attention spans.

Melissa July 14, 2010 at 1:29 am

We are a VERY media-focused household. We have a TV and laptop in practically every room, and while I could personally live with a little less tv time, my husband is a constant user (he has the tv on always, if only in the background, but needs to be constantly connected to work). At the beginning of my parenthood journey, I tried very much to follow the AAP position on tv viewing for children (and therefore, tried to limit tv time). I have loosened my views on that significantly since, particularly after Baby #2. I’ve spent quite a bit of time apologizing or justifying that, and quite frankly, I finally realized it’s unnecessary and I’m rather tired of it. For our family, it IS very helpful at times – feeding the baby while she is ‘hooked’ on Elmo and willing to accept any food I put into her mouth (which would absolutely not happen if there was not something to distract her), keeping my kids busy while I am cleaning, rinsing and breading raw chicken and there is really no way they can ‘help’ at that moment without contaminating themselves, etc. I certainly don’t use it as a ‘crutch’ and make it clear to my APs that they shouldn’t use it to waste time either. However, if my daughter has been to swim lessons, soccer practice, and then playing in the yard with my AP for awhile, I have no problem at all with allowing her to relax on the sofa (in front of TV! — god forbid!) for an hour or so.

I have to admit that this is one area that I’m a bit ‘sensitive’ about because I often feel the parent guilt factor regarding this issue – I think this is one of our current parent hot topics that is very irrationally polarized. For those parents who actively engage with their children 45 hours+ (or APs) a week – I admire you, but honestly, I realize my stengths and limitations (I’d like to think, anyway), and I just can’t, or don’t think it’s realistic in my family (or for my AP), to achieve that.

While tv watching was something I gave a fair amount of thought to with my first child (typically developing, healthy child), after my 2nd child came along (special needs, with some moderate health concerns)… frankly, I was much more concerned with whether her frequent illnesses were a symptom of her congenital heart defect of a precursor of something far worse, than worrying whether I let her go past her tv time limit for the day.

hOstCDmom July 14, 2010 at 7:28 am

Melissa – I ABSOLUTELY AGREE that TV rules/paramters should vary family by family, and each family should do what works for them and what is in line with their rules, values, philosphy and lifestyle. It is not for anyone else to judge what another family does.

My point was just that it is not crazy to have a no-TV rule and expect your AP to follow it/engage without TV for 45hrs/week — whatever the the family’s rules are on TV the AP should follow them – whether it is X hours/day, only certain shows, only on weekends, only TV after Xpm, or no TV (including no TV while with AP) or etc. The AP has a job description, and if a HF wants that description to include a “no TV” rule, I think that is absolutely fine, and it doesn’t have to exactly accord with what the HP do (although as I’ve said, we have the same rule for HP and AP in our house, and if there were a wide disparity in rules between AP and HP I could see issues (e.g. if HP let kids watch 8hrs TV/day and AP isn’t allowed to let them watch any))

First Time HP July 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I can only speak from my own experience. I have 3 kids under 5 with a baby less than 1 and entertaining them for 9 hours a day is exhausting to say the least. We plan lots of activities, sports, camps, reading, drawing, and so on but there’s also times where you need to get things done or take 30 minutes just to catch your breath and having them watch tv isn’t the worst sin you can commit. I do it, my wife does it and all I was saying was I don’t hold my AP to a higher standard and don’t mind if she does it. If it works in your family great, it just hasn’t been my experience. I know she does tons of stuff with them and they are advancing well, its all a matter of balance.

hOstCDmom July 14, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I guess I have a different persepctive in that I do think you can hold your AP to a “higher standard” — she “only” has them up to 9/10 hours a day, and it’s her job to be “fully on” during this time — parents have them all the other hours.

NewAPMama July 15, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I agree. Personally, I don’t ask an AP to do anything with my kids that is different from what I do. Yes, they are there to do a job, but they are also a member of my family. Or at least they are supposed to be. Do I mind if my kids watch a bit of tv during the day? Not at all. The aupair needs a break as well. If she were working a normal job (8-10 hours a day), she would get a break. Why should this situation be any different? She does a fantastic job of finding activities to engage and keep my kids busy, but my kids are young and demanding, and I fully support her having some down time. Kids can be exhausting. I allow my kids to watch tv during the days when she isn’t there.

hOstCDmom July 15, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I guess that is also a difference; I DO mind if *my* kids watch TV. I don’t want them to; and they don’t with other members of our family ( DH, my parents, his parents etc). But, I do make it clear in our application that we don’t watch TV ( or own any video games, or Wii, or DS etc) and that won’t be something she does with her kids. We let her know that we will have a TV in her room for her use during her off duty time only – so full disclosure.

I do, however believe the rules can be slightly different for HP and AP.

AP may not have TV breaks, but the normal ebb and flow of a day causes greater or lesser intensity.

I also think there are many jobs where one works 8-10 hours and doesn’t get any break (other than to use the bathroom)…. I feel like my AP gets her breaks when she’s not on duty – that is her down time.

NewAPMama July 15, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I personally do not think it is okay to ask someone to work 9-10 hours a day, straight, without a break. But I guess I lean more to the fair/compassionate side.

hOstCDmom July 15, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I presume you mean to not so subtly imply that asking someone to work 9 hr days w/o a break is somehow not compassionate… and I pointedly disagree on that. I believe that is a pretty typical demand at many jobs.

While I can’t speak for others, that precisely is *my* schedule (at my job) and my DH works 12 hour days, no breaks. Many employees have such hours, or longer.

AP may of course eat meals when her on duty hours fall at mealtimes; she of course may use the bathroom; she can do “mellow” activities with the kids and alternate more demanding with less demanding activities. Working a 9hr day without “down time” isn’t akin to forced servitude.

I think the 10hr/day State Dept limit is meant to be a fair maximum, and that anything up to that is reasonable and fair to expect an AP to be on duty – with everthing that “on” implies.

But, obviously APs and HPs “match” with each other — and if there is full disclosure about what the schedule will be, and what an AP may or may not do re breaks, TV, downtime when on duty, then I think that is an eminently fair, and “compassionate”, arrangement.

First Time HP July 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Yea I agree. For any hourly job in the US you have mandatory breaks, and not just a few minutes to go to the bathroom. I think you have to look at the whole picture and not focus on one specific detail. Reading between the lines here a bit, but it seems some of the HP are already disappointed with their APs and this is one additional issue to add to the mix.

Host Mommy Dearest July 15, 2010 at 11:44 pm

I think being an AP is hard work, but it is not the same thing as working on the assembly line for 10 hours, or standing at the retail register for 10 hours. While I am in the camp of moderate TV for the kids (typically a 1/2 hour show prior to brushing teeth and reading books at bed time) we (HPs) are usually the ones to bestow the TV show. If the AP is covering at bedtime, she does the show, teeth and book. If the kids are sick, we suggest the AP watch some TV with them that day to help keep them calm to rest a bit. I don’t think TV time is the only possible down time for the AP though. I don’t think OCD mom is at all unfair or not compassionate with her rules – as you implied when you mentioned your compassion and fairness.

NewAPMama July 16, 2010 at 8:41 am

Your right. Being an AP is not the same as working in an assembly line. I doubt they are in charge of another human beings safety and well-being. I don’t know about your AP’s, but mine is. Working with children is not like most jobs, unless you are in the medical field, so please don’t try to make that comparison. I am honest enough to recognize that my children are not perfect, and are capable of making life very hard for the aupair on a given day. The oldest does not nap, so my aupair is with her every moment she is on duty. So yes, I do feel a break (and not just to eat) is in order. But the rest of you can treat your aupair how you like.

Host Mommy Dearest July 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

Ugh NewAPMama. Do you see how your comment may come across as inflamatory or judgemental?

“But the rest of you can treat your aupair how you like.”

Taking a Computer Lunch July 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I don’t think of letting the kids watch TV is the same as “having a break.” If I were to go home and find my kids watching TV and my AP in her room and on the computer with the door closed I would hit the roof.

There are days when my AP works 9 hours, but neither HD or I are home while that happens. We both work outside the home and need to trust that the AP is doing her job while we are away. When my kids were babies, the schedule was fairly rigorous, but they both took naps, so the AP could take the baby monitor down to the computer room, nap, or watch TV. As they grew older, we encouraged independent play, so that the AP wasn’t their playmate for 9 hours straight. Our APs often arranged playdates with their friends, and the kids played together while the APs chatted. This was fine with me, because I liked the socialization for my kids.

Now that my kids are school age, the AP rarely works 9-hour days, but when she does, I expect a little bit of planning on her part – some activities outside the home, some inside. The Camel is capable of playing by herself for long stretches, but needs to be fed, diapered, and constantly monitored while she is in her swimming pool. She needs to bear weight on her legs to prevent fractures later. My son, at 9, is incredibly independent, but needs assistance in booking playdates, monitoring TV time (limited to 1 hour on weekdays – even in summer and 2 hours at weekends – only exception is a fever).

I am not going to go home so my au pair can have a break. And I do not want her to treat TV as a plug-in drug. I do expect, that just as on weekends when I am with the kids, that there will be ebb and flow in her day so that she’s not “on” every minute.

The working conditions for APs are not all that different from home health care workers (nurses, aides, attendants), so the AP/factory worker is a false analogy. Comparing your AP to a home health aide is probably the closest analogy, except I hope that she has developed a more loving relationship with your children (having had The Camel cared for by home nurses – they did their job well but none ever loved her half as much as any of my APs).

anonymous July 16, 2010 at 2:27 pm

NewAPMama –

You come across as very judgmental of others’ expectations for their APs, yet I’m pretty sure you wrote elsewhere on the site that you yourself have some requirements or expectations for your AP that are a bit out of the ordinary — i.e. that your AP must attend church services with you every Sunday. You said you disclose this unusual requirement to prospective APs, and that is your prerogative to require this. But, why would a no-TV rule be any less compassionate or fair than compulsory church service attendance?

Many HP come to this site to bounce ideas off other HP to get a sense of what is reasonable. I believe that OCD mom was trying to make the point that in her opinion a no TV rule is reasonable, and used her family’s situation to illustrate how it worked. You don’t have that rule – fine. OCD mom also shared an opinion that a 9 hour work day without a TV break is reasonable to expect. You don’t agree – again, fine.

It is possible to disagree without telling other HP their expectations are some kind of cruel and uncompassionate treatment.

annonamamma July 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Wow, NewAPMama, If you think no TV is demanding, have you considered that making your AP worship with you is pretty darn demanding!?

NewAPMama July 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Considering our aupair is the same religion as us (one of the reasons she matched with us and us with her), no, I don’t see it as odd.

Should be working July 14, 2010 at 1:38 pm

HOstCDMom, thanks for the addendum about no judgments on other families’ tv rules. I feel guilty about letting my kids watch some tv, and then I feel guilty when they don’t watch tv and are bored (on my time, not AP’s time), or I don’t organize fabulous activities. I would love a no-guilt button to wear–like “Guilt” with a red line through it.

In any case, AP doesn’t get to let kids watch tv during her work hours, but I do sometimes when I watch kids. Double standards are ok–as previous posters note, I’m multitasking, AP is only taking care of kids.

hOstCDmom July 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Guilt is a terrible burden, isn’t it?
My kids watch no TV, and *I* sometimes feel guilty that they are less pop culturally savvy :)

I shared our (perhaps far on one end of the TV (non) use spectrum) rules by way of example to underscore my opinion that 45/hours per week with a no TV rule isn’t “nuts”, is reasonable to expect of an AP, and that we’ve hosted half a dozen APs that have all been fine with it/managed without any TV time.

Lest you misunderstand, I don’t organize fabulous activites all the time….I just have a “suck it up” and go get a book/go ride your bike/go make something/go listen to an audiobook rule :)

First Time HP July 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm

First I’d like to say sorry if anyone felt I criticizing them by saying organizing 45 hours of activities is “nuts” (since a few have seemed to pick up on that word). Again, I’m just saying for my household I think it would do more harm than good by adding lots of stress, if it works for you that’s great. My philosophy has always been balance, watching a few hours of tv a week is ok watching a few hours a day is not. I have a colleague who’s wife tries for perfection, no tv, make every meal from scratch for her kid, activities to fill every minute, clean, and so on and is literally having a nervous breakdown trying to keep it all together and in my view it would be better for everyone, including their kid, to take a small step back.

Aupairgal July 16, 2010 at 2:56 am

Here is the problem with a no tv rule: eventually they will just go to their friends houses and watch tv non stop.

anna July 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm

not if their friends’ parents are like-minded!
And not if their parents don’t let them go there.

I have a no TV rule (my kids are allowed 30 min of video a day max, and not every day), and IMHO there is no problem with it. If I heard from my au pair that it is a “problem”, that would get me thinking… not about my rule, but about her.

anonymous July 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I completely agree!! :)

SotaGal July 16, 2010 at 12:17 am

TV is on at our house, my DH relies on it for background noise and also tunes in in his office as another way to stay connected with his job. Our most recent AP has been great about turning the TV off more often or not turning it on in the first place and I love that! We do allow the kids to watch tv – with AP and parents – but we watch kid friendly shows. So we don’t allow our AP to watch say Oprah or Regis and Kelly while she’s working but she’s welcome to use any of the DVR’s to record shows that are on while she’s working. We also hold ourselves to that rule, so no soaps or talk shows while I’m with the kids either.

newhostmom January 24, 2011 at 11:55 am

We have a TV in the basement, but it doesn’t get any channels – it’s just for movies. But that said, we have a no TV, no texting, no chatting with friends except to make quick plans, no being on the internet, no doing laundry rule while au pair is on duty. It’s in the handbook. I am paying our au pair to engage with the children for, at a maximum, ten hours a day. If they are both sleeping, then she is allowed to do whatever she wants, but as soon as one of them is awake, I expect her to be engaging with my children.

I think there can be a bit of a double-standard for AP versus HP behavior with the kids, but the HPs really do need to think about what they are modeling in terms of how they want au pair/host kid interactions to go during the day. Au pairs need to keep in mind though that they have (at a minimum!) 14 hours a day to do whatever they need to do and sometimes whole days and even whole weekends to be completely in charge of only themselves. They also generally have many fewer responsibilities than do HPs. As a full-time working mom, I get maybe an hour completely to myself every day if I’m lucky. And generally that hour is spent cleaning or paying bills or whatever else I need to get done. That means that any phone calls that need to be made or articles that need to be read or laundry or cleaning that needs to be done or whatever else is going to have to be done with the kids. I expect my au pair to use her 14+ hours a day of free time to do all those things.

- January 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Just because your comment seemed to me came out a bit too strong, I felt the need to say that out of those 14hours, at least 8 or so should go to sleep, so out of 14 there are only 6 left, so yep, her work does allow her some more spare time that yours of course, but then again, 8+hours a day with kids -only- is not a trip to the beach either, so….

Calif Mom January 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm


“Too strong” depends on your perspective. My au pair works somewhere around 6 hours a day. But when I walk in the door around 6 is when she “remembers” to ask the kids about homework and tidy up the kitchen from the after-school snack.

She’s the first to ask about TV on a day when the kids have no school. And the first to “sell” me on how innocent and funny the kids’ programming is.

I’m not amused.

We have a “no screen time during the school week” rule, with exceptions for emailing relatives and very rare research for homework for my 5th grader.

Of course it’s easier than engaging their brains! That’s why the au pairs like it, too. But moderation in all things.

And follow the host parents’ rules, even if they are not the same practices they follow themselves. They are not idiots.

Steff January 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I think the whole TV drama depends A LOT in how old the kids are. Have you ever try to “engage” a toddler with something in the TV? Well, I can’t be sure about American kiddies, but doing that with the ones here in my country is pretty much impossible. They get sooooo bored (so fast) and I can’t really hold that against them. The energy kiddies have at that age is SO much that simply stare at the TV is just not the thing for them.
But then again, as the kids grow older having a person “hovering” over them 24/7 is not that smart either. I think eventually the kids would even end up resenting the AP and everything. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think kids do need their “me” time, too. More so as they get older. I don’t think TV is the solution either, but having the AP trying above and beyond to get them to interact with her isn’t either. *At least*, when they don’t want to. If they DO want to play or talk or whatever and the AP rather put them in front of the TV, then that’ll be a problem!!

Still I guess what you guys were saying was when the AP let the kid watch TV instead of doing their HW? If that’s the case, then I would completely agree with the HMs, of course.

I somehow do like better taking care of smaller children. I know APs often look over for families with older kids (school-ages) but though I see the point (more free time??) I still don’t completely get it. Kids go to school from 8 to 2-3 (ish), so besides doing housework or internet/tv or if they are prompted enough going to school themselves, I don’t see how much that alleged free time can be used. Unless of course, I’m underestimating the American culture, but at least here, streets/malls, most places in weekdays (more so in school hours) are pretty much EMPTY! Hardly anyone is out because everyone is instead working or in school, so IMO, those free-hours are only there to help you get bored easily and miss home more.

I for one, would very much rather chasing around a two year old than keep myself lock in the house while the kids are in school. I guess it all is about how you see the situation and its perks…though sometimes ‘hidden’ perks. Why would I want/need a Gym membership when I’m taking care of a toddler 8+ hours a day?! ;)

All in all, I do not think TV is a good alternative, even though, sometimes, I DO turn it on for background-noise purposes.
If the AP doesn’t do as she’s supposed, I’d tell her that much and demand for her to do as told, after all, you ARE paying her! I know any day how the very least I’d like my own kid to pick up are “lazy” habits from their alleged caregiver ;)

newhostmom January 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I stand by my 14 hours a day entirely to herself comment and would like to repeat that she has at least an entire day or two or three off every single week. She can choose to spend those 14 hours (or entire days) in whatever way she wants and feel confident that no one will infringe upon them. Need to do laundry or catch up on TV shows or just catch up on sleep the entire time? There are (168 – 45) hours every week that she can do those things.

At my full-time job, I am not allowed to do chores or watch TV or chat on the phone. I am there to work. Similarly, my au pair is expected to do her work during work hours – care for my kids. During naptime or quiet time, she is more than welcome to do whatever she wants. But when they are awake, I expect her to be engaged with them, especially because they are so young. And of course, quick phone calls or texts are allowed – people need to handle business throughout the day.

As a parent, on the other hand, I am on full-time “duty” whenever I am home; yes, even when the kids are sleeping. What I mean by that is as soon as I get home from work, I’m still “on” – making dinner, cleaning up, playing with the kids, getting them in bed. My day essentially goes from 7am to 9pm – every single day (that is, I do not get 2-3 days entirely to myself per week). And since my kids are so little still (1 and 3), even your typical 10pm – 6am time period when everyone “should” be sleeping is punctuated by wake-ups most nights (and sometimes if the kids are sick or otherwise having a bad night – I am “on” the whole time those nights).

I’m not complaining about my day, I’m just saying that if my au pair sees me doing something – cleaning, reading, etc. – I would like her to realize why there may be different standards.

Steff January 25, 2011 at 2:05 pm

With your kids being *so* small I wouldn’t consider the no-TV rule on-duty crazy whatsoever, but mostly expected. On the one hand, she *should* be with them at all times keeping them safe and out of trouble. At that age they are oh-so likely to get into the weirdest places if you only stopped looking at them for a second, so in this particular case, I would totally expect for the AP to be engage and playing with the kiddies at all time, too :)

AFHostmom January 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I’m in this camp too. BTDT with the TV….when we had a full time non-live in nanny, while living in a Middle Eastern country where we could easily afford to pay her a fair wage, I lost my job but decided to keep her on for both our sakes. At the time we had one child, and when I stopped working, she stopped too. I’d come home to her sitting on the couch in a messy room with the lights off, and my toddler sitting beside her. It didn’t last long after that, and I know she felt a lack of motivation because she felt it was unfair–and it probably was, but that’s a question for a different day.
So we set the no tv while working rule with our AP, and it’s been fine. I don’t get to watch TV at work; no one is paying me to watch my kids when I’m at home so I am fine with the double standard. We missed the mark on the telephone rules, however; our family book says “no calls longer than 10 min during the day” or something to that effect, and explains that her focus should be on the kids. Our AP has interpreted this as “you can make as many calls as you see fit during the day as long as each is not over 10 min.” Yeah, not quite what we meant, but at this point she’s been with us almost half of her year, we’ve belabored the phone issue to death and almost rematched because of it, and my hands are in the air on this one.
/and to reference the original post, she used my chef’s knife last night, and cut through an aluminum pan, AFTER I told her not to use metal on metal since a plastic spatula would work better. Shudder.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm

I have found that the rules of engagement change as my children get older. Yes, when they were babies I wanted my AP interacting with them — and she did a great job. Now that they’re ‘tweens they don’t need or want someone in their face all the time. My AP prepares The Camel for school in the mornings (no mean feat for a child that has no self-help skills) and keeps my son on track. In the afternoon, depending on the weather, she might take The Camel for a walk or a swim before she feeds her dinner (and once The Camel is fed and clean the AP’s shift usually ends — unless I’m working late).

The problem became how to engage my son, who sees the AP merely for his sister (and in a couple of years that will be very true). This year Wii gave him a relationship with our AP. Our AP played Wii games with her family and has been a great competitor with our boy (we, his parents, are not). Recently, however, the two of them have been playing a game in which they must work together to defeat the enemy. As violent as it might be, it warms my heart to see them working together. My son is still limited to 1 hour of media time (TV, DS, Wii, computer) on school days and 2 hours on weekends and vacation days – but now he is likely to save that time to play with our AP one or two afternoons a week.

MommyMia January 24, 2011 at 11:48 pm

How true! Even with a wide age-span between children, it’s the rare au pair who can effectively keep them entertained (and simulataneouly, sometimes) with age-appropriate and often disparate activities. We’ve had a couple of excellent, creative, self-driven APs who have taught us a thing or two in this area, and a couple who have tried our patience a la Calif. Mom, above. You’re generous with the one hour of screen time (our term for it) on school days (maybe your son is better than my DD in finishing homework and other tasks) – I love that he saves up time in order to play with your AP!

Eurogirl January 25, 2011 at 8:22 am

I think having to be interacting with the kids for the full time of your au pair hours is not exactly practical…because the kids themselves do not want constant adult attention. I would often set them up with a game or drawing and then be cooking or doing laundry. I would also let them help with the cooking or laundry – which they and their mums always loved because who doesn’t want proud helpful children who want to be part of how the household works?

The TV question is different because it could mean two thing – having TV on whilst with the kids for yourself or having TV on for the kids. And I would never have the first, watching programmes of my own whilst the kids were there, but I was always allowed some (although minimal) TV with the kids eg. educational programmes, or as a treat maybe a Disney movie – actually I avoided using this as much as possible because I REALLY REALLY HATE DISNEY MOVIES!!!! But if one of the kids was sick or I was doing evening babysitting, I would let them come into my room and watch something with me – that was a big treat for them and only invoked if I was having extra hours due to the babysitting or minding them when they were off school/kindergarten sick.

newhostmom January 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I think everyone’s right that it probably does change depending on the ages of your children and also on your TV/internet/game system rules. My kids are 1 and 3, so they are young enough that we do need an au pair who is with them at all times. At those ages, kids don’t really play by themselves for long and can’t be left alone. So if they want to play in their playroom, I expect our au pair to be in the playroom with them, on the floor, and not sitting in the corner texting. The day is punctuated by classes for the kids, mealtimes and naptimes, so it’s not like I’m asking her to sit and play with blocks for 10 straight hours.

We are a no-TV family, so that eliminates that problem. The kids don’t watch TV, movies or video games, or go on the internet ever.

newhostmom January 26, 2011 at 11:53 am

I was thinking about this thread again last night and realized that one of the reasons I’ve found being a host mom to be stressful (We’re 10 months in with our first au pair who is AWESOME – and she is re-extending 6 months with us) is because I find myself modeling ideal parenting at all times when AP is around. This is probably good for my children, but is exhausting for me :) I’ve mentioned that we don’t have TV, but when AP is around but off-duty, I am sure to model exactly the way I would want her to be with my children – I am on the floor playing, I feed them healthy meals, I am patient and kind and discipline in a gentle, respectful manner. I never ignore them in favor of using my phone.

I think the modeling has served as a sort of long-term training for the AP. She gets to see the way in which I think my children should be treated in all kinds of different scenarios (both when they are good and when they are behaving poorly).

So I’ve said previously that I think there can be different standards and I stick by that – because as a parent I am “on duty” 24 hours a day and I still need to get everything done at the same time that I am “watching” the kids. However, I do think host parents need to be really really mindful of how they are treating the children when AP is around and not expect AP to be a drastically different, better parent than they are – I would expect any AP to get the impression, whether consciously or subconsciously, that it is ok to treat your kids the way you treat them.

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