How much can an Au Pair influence the positive climate of your home?

by cv harquail on October 13, 2014

Add one negative person, and the whole ‘psychic weather system’ of a family can become depressed.

Having an au pair who is a grump, a complainer, a depressive, a wet noodle, or a ghost can really be a drag on the family’s energy.

evening in reykjavikBut is an au pair’s impact on the family climate as powerful the other way around? Can a positive au pair — someone who’s warm, friendly, smiling, attentive, welcoming, optimistic, and more — make a concretely positive difference?

I am a happy AP that lives with the family of four.

I have noticed that when my HD goes away for a day or two the family dynamic changes tremendously. He’s the one who spoils babies so usually they eat more junk with him, they misbehave more and generally they are much louder. When he is gone and HM is fully in charge there are no screams from the kids waking me up on weekends. The seem calmer and more laid back.  

After noticing the difference that’s cause by the Host Dad being here or not, I”m wondering if this is how is it with an Au Pair? I read here on the blog about depressed AP and their mood swings. Everybody is affected what automatically changes the dynamic. I read also about AP who eat healthy and gives a good example for the whole family. If things go well and an Ap does a great job HP are more relaxed and dont have to talk to each other about how s/he failed again and how much they wish s/he was already gone. I guess what I am trying to ask you is this:

Does having an Au Pair change the dynamic in the HFs households, especially to make it more happy??

What is the difference between your home before having an Au Pair and after s/he arrived? How about when s/he is home and when s/he leaves the house for the night out for example??

Sincerely, Wondering AP

What kind of au pairs have had a palpably positive impact on your family’s emotional climate?

What have these au pairs done, and how have you responded to them, to make their impact positive?


Image: Evening in Reykjavik, by Chris Zielecki, on Flickr


DarthaStewart October 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

We’ve noticed that the current au-pair has a huge impact on our household, the family, the kids, and even the host parents. Finding someone who is positive, and who can come in and take charge with the kids has been important to us. Unless an au-pair is confident in herself, my darling children will walk all over her/him.

WarmStateMomma October 14, 2014 at 8:51 am

We are hosting our second AP so my sample size is small. With both APs, we find ourselves eating healthier just because we feel obligated to serve regular dinners when I’d be content with a bowl of cereal after a long day.

AP#1 got pretty lonely and depressed, was a real pain her last 6 months, and I spent way too much energy managing her and counting the days until she left. There was a depressing air around her that friends, family and guests all noticed.

AP#2 helped us return to normal almost immediately after AP#1’s departure. I wouldn’t say things are different when she is home as opposed to when she goes out, but she has helped preserve cheerfulness when we really needed it. Earlier this summer, we received some horrible news. I was devastated and HD was in shock. AP#2 cheerfully engaged my little one (18mo at the time) so our emotions wouldn’t affect her much. I am profoundly grateful that our AP intuitively shielded our daughter from most of what was going on with us.

Should be working October 14, 2014 at 12:32 pm

A cheerful AP makes ME so much more relaxed, that is for sure. And when Mama’s happy, there’s a better chance that everyone will be happy. No guarantees though.

Of course a cheerful, energetic, constructive au pair makes the whole family happier for sure. There are still conflicts and the presence of another person does make for changed dynamics in unpredictable ways, but overall I love having another adult around who I can laugh with and who is supportive, and I guess who would not?

When the AP is away there is a somewhat different dynamic, esp. if she is one who spends a lot of her off time with the family. Things feel more intimate with the kids, which can bring out tensions or be really nice. DH actually sometimes has wished the AP were not around so much because she soaks up much of their “loving attention” and he feels like we parents get the dregs, the complaints, the negativity. But I’m all fine with it.

There is, I will say, a strange and unexpected side benefit when we have had a problematic au pair: DH and I have solidified more as a team in response. We also have enjoyed having someone to gossip about (outlandish outfits, makeup, et al.). But when things go on for a longer time with a problem I start to feel like ALL we talk about is the AP and then I resent it. Punctual drama makes for fun conversations with DH.

hostmominco October 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm

After having both positive and negative influences, I can say that a positive attitude and character can really uplift the entire household. Our au pair last year was marginal at best and added unneeded stress and hostility to our home. When our current au pair arrived, it was as if a black cloud had lifted and the sun was shining again! A household with several young kids is managed chaos at best-having a disruptive influence vs. someone who brings harmony can make the difference between a happy household and an agonizing year. That’s why I have resolved to rematch in the future rather than try to “make do” with an au pair who brings a negative outlook into our family.

Del Ray Host Mom October 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm

First of all, that you are interested in this question and this discussion shows a tremendous amount of openness, engagement, and maturity on your part. It is reassuring to know that there are au pairs out there who have this point of view!!!

So to your questions – here are my thoughts:
The attitude, character, energy and integrity of our au pairs have been very important and influential, at least for me. I think DH is less affected. We have 4.5 year old twins and a 2.5 year old. We have had 5 au pairs over the last 5 years, and some of them have been LIFESAVERS! Helping us with major consignment sales, getting kids potty trained, establishing time outs and disciplinary boundaries – the list is endless. Likewise, we have been there for them – helping and supportive when they came “out” to us, being a shoulder to cry on when their boyfriend was totally bad to them, helping to change the schedule to allow them to travel for a long weekends, helping to find the right education classes, helping them navigate online travel bookings or online purchases, etc…

When the relationship was good, the give and take was well balanced and appreciated. During those times there was no stress – it just felt normal. When the au pair was uncommunicative, sullen, not sharing, secretive, etc… there was a pall over our house and family. When the influence is gone, so is the cloud removed.

Momof2 October 14, 2014 at 1:36 pm

We have had the privilege of having had some really good au pairs over the years. Yet both my husband and I swear that one of them really did make us better people when she was around in a way that the others didn’t. She had such a positive and yet kind of cheeky in a playful way personality that you didn’t dare argue or be negative around her. She brightened the room when she walked in and if I came home from work stressed and tired, she always knew what to say and all the cares of the day seemed to disappear (at least temporarily). We consider ourselves very fortunate to have her as part of our extended family. I can’t even imagine what having to deal with a negative / sour personality on a daily basis would be like – I don’t think I could tolerate it.

Seattle Mom October 14, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I would say that our family’s tone has been affected by our AP.. both positively and negatively. Each AP has brought both positive and negative at different times, depending on their mood. Some bring more positive, some more negative, and some have less of an effect than others. Our current AP does not bring much, she is not really an emotional person and I feel like she’s just “half there” most of the time. But our last AP really brought a strong calming energy to our house. Our first AP, who we loved, brought both positive and negative. Sometimes it seemed to me that we were in a “feedback loop” where DH’s negativity would feed into AP’s negativity which would feed into the kids and all of us… and it took an “external shock” (new routine) to get us out of the slump.

Our one really awful AP brought so much negativity to everything that we just had to get her out. As soon as she was gone we felt such a burden off of our shoulders, and the mood really improved.

Each member of the family makes a difference in the collective mood, if they do not then they are not really a member of the family.

aupair October 14, 2014 at 4:10 pm

I agree. Everyone adds to the mood of the entire family. It sometimes is really hard for me to not get caught up in this to much. I can tell by the closing of the door in what mood ny HM is. Unfortunately she is stressed and upset a lot, which then goes over to the kids and eventually everyone is grumpy. It is crazy sometime, the kids and I could have a fun afternoon, no crying fighting etc. And as soon as my HM gets home it turns the other way! They are cranky moody and whatsoever. It is sad, because sometimes she leaves again after dinner for a meeting, and the kids go back to normal. Don’t get me wrong, I have bad days, but I really try hard to never let that affect the kids! Never! I find myself to be extra bubbly when I have a bad day, just because I don’t think the kids deserve my bad mood which I usually have for other reasons, not the kids. But I don’t know how to help my HM balance her mood…but its a real struggle sometimes…my little one who is 5 sometimes knocks on my door to ask if she can stay in here, because “mommy is really mad and slams the pans”. She does that, when she is mad, she drops them purposefully so its loud. I know she has a hard life, HD is almost never home..job is hard and so on. I talked to her several times (we have a really good relationship) I offered her to go on runs,walks after work if she needs some alone time, because I know she doesn’t get a lot of it! She does it sometimes, but feels bad to go over my hours, which I appreciate, but I have no problem with it. Even tho she is married, she’s like a single parent because my HD is almost never home…any other suggestions on what I could do? I really like her! She is great!!! She’s done so much for me, so i would like to return something. Thank you for any suggestions.

German Au-Pair October 16, 2014 at 11:44 am

I love that you care so much and I’m sure your HM loves that, too. I’m sure she appreciates you offering help and recognizing her issues and making sure to offer the kids a different option at times.
However, I think there comes a point within every relationship where you have to recognize the boundaries of what you canh do. At some point everyone is responsible for themselves and in this case for their children. Everyone takes out there mood on someone else at times and since kids do that, too, I personally don’t find it to be a big deal when it happens to them occaisionally. It’s actually a good way od modelling correct bahevior -it can happen but you should admit that and apologize. Great lessons.
But if you CONSTANTLY take out your mood on your children, it is your job to prevent that from happening.
You are a great person for caring and wanting to help but your HM is a grown woman who has been offered help and compassion and the rest is up to her.

HRHM October 16, 2014 at 3:21 pm

It is great that you care about your HM and the kids. However, her mood is not a pre-determined thing. Crappy day or not, she’s an adult who is choosing to deal with it the way she is. Maybe it was the way she was raised, maybe she is just generally a “glass half empty” kind of person. You can’t change that.

FWIW, I am a single parent (for 12 out of every 14 days) with a high stress job and two active kids. I have some really bad days (long ones, days when outcomes at work aren’t what they should be, days when I don’t feel well but have to perform at 100% anyway). I don’t slam pans, pour my bad day on the family, etc. All adults who live with another human being, especially those with kids, need to learn to leave their day at the door. On my bad days, yes, I’m tired and sometimes would love nothing more than to pour myself a glass (bottle) of wine, turn on the tub and lock the door. But I also know I can’t, and taking that out on my family helps no one. So instead, I turn to them to make me smile, laugh and forget about the other junk. That’s a learned behavior that she needs to learn, you can’t help her learn it.

4th time lucky?! October 16, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I agree with all said above but just wanted to add that kids acting up and being cranky when HM is home might not only be a result of them picking up on bad vibes but kids doing it because they can: trying to play adults out against each other, get mum’s attention, and just acting like kids looked after by different care givers…

We certainly try to leave any moods at the door as HRHM puts it but still get a lot of acting up and grumpy-child-syndrom when we are home with our AP, esp. at the time of change over. And it goes all ways: Some days, mum is the favourite and demanded to do and help with everything, sometimes it’s dad, sometimes AP. I think, consciously or not, they are trying to get one over on the parenting team and make us all feel guilty for ‘abandoning’ them, even if they are having a blast when they are along with one of us.

Skny October 14, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Yes, the right Au pair can Change a household. We were all miserable with former Au pair. The new one is more cheerful and I can see a great change on the kids. My 4yo is back to her calm tempered self (no more hitting, kicking episodes)… Even the dog seems happier.
The same way, when my favorite former Au pair returned (for the 3rd) time to assist when I was close to deliver my last baby, I could see an immediate change in the house. She arrived and suddenly all stress was lift. She just had that “magic” in her. She is the one who makes me wish there was a 4 year extension in the program. We are ALL happier with her in here

Taking a Computer Lunch October 14, 2014 at 10:45 pm

We just entered rematch for the first time in 13 1/2 years over a couple of reasons, the primary being that we called our AP “Debbie Downer” behind her back. Her dour mood affected her social life, her ability to interact positively with our children, and quite frankly, made our interactions with her socially stiff.

We have dealt with temporarily tearful APs (sometimes in the middle of their year as they reacted to events at home, but usually in the first days after their arrival), but having someone on the verge of clinical depression for over 8 weeks casts a pall on everyone.

AlwaysHopeful HM October 14, 2014 at 11:20 pm

We are currently on AP3. Our last au pair was cheerful, easy going, confident and funny. He looked for reasons to smile, and made us smile, too. He brought out the jokester in my son (admittedly, that didn’t take much), and started each day with a warm, friendly greeting for everyone, including the dog. I would say absolutely, he had a positive influence on the whole house. AP1 was lonely and homesick, and although she was a friendly person and worked hard, was smart, mature, etc., there was definitely an unhappy air in the home that lifted almost immediately when she left. Current au pair is friendly, but anxious, lacks confidence, and is so focused on “teaching” my son that he forgets to just enjoy him. Socially, he is a little stiff and awkward, and uncomfortable with our way of being. His discomfort and lack of confidence are irksome to both my son and me, and while the mood in the house is better than with AP1, the fun-filled, jokey days of AP2 have clearly ended. So, I would say YES, the AP’s personality very much affects the climate of the home!

Didis October 15, 2014 at 12:55 am

I would love to comment from au pairs perspective.
I believe everyone living in the same household has part on creating positive or negative energy on daily basis. But most of the au pairs are very young and their mood changes all the time, so it is hard to maintain balanced and causal daily routine.

Au Pairs situation from original post reminds me of something that I and some of my au pair friends had as well – uncomfortable feeling around host dad and feeling of relief when he is not around.

It might be for all the arrangements and household talks were always held with host mom, or the fact HD was traveling a lot, but every time he was gone on business trip or stayed working extra, it was just easier, smoother around the house.

Do you think that HD’s feel more awkward around au pairs / trying to be respectful and they always act little weird, stuck up (at least more than HM’s I met), or do you think that au pairs tend to be more uncomfortable with opposite sex in the same household?

WarmStateMomma October 15, 2014 at 2:45 am

I think it depends a lot on the individuals (and their cultures). My husband tries very hard to make sure the au pair never feels that he is being inappropriate with her. He’s much more relaxed around our female friends and relatives than our au pairs. He’d probably feel differently if our au pairs were from another Western culture.

exaupair October 15, 2014 at 5:41 am

Never felt awkward around HD, in fact with my second family I preferred host dads company.
The APs who feel uncomfortable around opposite sex in the household seem very immature to me.

WarmStateMomma October 15, 2014 at 10:17 am

It’s also a cultural issue. It can be difficult for an AP who has been raised to think it’s improper for men and women to be friends, to spend time unsupervised in a home, etc.

HRHM October 15, 2014 at 11:31 am

This is not necessarily a maturity issue but likely one of personalities. I know plenty of lovely couples where I just naturally “click” more with one member or the other. It’s not always the wife or always the husband, but rather the one who I have more in common with. I can easily see how an individual AP might “click” better with HM or HD depending on personalities.

AuPair Paris October 16, 2014 at 4:06 am

I don’t think I’d say this feeling is immature. I find it difficult with my host dad because he barely says a word to me – but in a strange way I really appreciate it, because I am certain he’s doing it to try and prevent me from feeling threatened. I don’t have a problem with men, and have plenty of male friends – but it’s definitely true that it would be easy to take advantage of a position of authority, while living in the same house. (And we’ve all heard the horror stories, right? Urban legends?! Or are they sometimes true?!) My host dad acts standoffish, I think to make it super-clear that he would never take advantage of his position of authority. There’ll never be any blurring of boundaries there.

I could wish for a friendlier relationship with my host parents (the Mum is away a lot), but honestly, getting that kind of consideration is rare and appreciated. It means he’s thought about my position as a young girl in a country where I don’t speak the language perfectly, living in a house with people who are “in charge”/have authority… And considered how I might feel about that, to try and mitigate any fears I might have.

TexasHM October 15, 2014 at 9:20 am

I don’t necessarily agree. HDs can create akwardness just like HMs can or anyone else, I wouldn’t wver assume that was APs immaturity (although yes, it is one possibility). My DH is a goofball and my poor APs get the crap scared out them, they get made fun of all the time and pranked because they are family members and they get to suffer with him just like me and the kids. :). Exception is when I travel for work the APs make fun of him because he won’t hardly speak to them when I’m not there (he’s very conservative and would never want an AP to take something the wrong way or risk rumor mill or any hint or suspicion of impropriety).

Seattle Mom October 15, 2014 at 12:15 pm

The au pair’s effect on the family dynamic could be analyzed from the perspective of family systems theory, which sees the family as an emotional unit made up of individual relationships. Each individual has a role in the unit, and the healthier the individuals’ sense of self the healthier the relationships and the unit. When the relationships are uncomfortable the people in them take on different postures- “triangling” (where two people take sides against one- this sometimes happens where the parents spend a lot of time worried about a child, but it could also be the host parents talking a lot about the au pair), “distancing” (people spend time apart from each other because their relationship is too intense when they are together, could also be lots of time spent on computers and phones) and conflict (this one is pretty obvious- the intense relationship where people do not back down from each other).

A family can get mired in its postures and the individual’s roles, but bringing in a new au pair every year would probably shake things up. It doesn’t mean that the unhealthy relationships would get better, but the postures and possibly the roles would change. If one individual in the family makes a concerted effort to take on more healthy boundaries then the whole family will change. At first things could look worse, because everyone is uncomfortable with this one person refusing to continue in their old role. But it could lift everyone up… or result in a lot more distancing to avoid the pain of dealing with the change.

Anyway that’s my understanding of the family systems theory, and it is interesting to me how the au pair fits into that. I haven’t done any reading on this in a while but maybe I’ll pull out my old books. I got into a few years ago when I started to realize how my parents were working against me and I couldn’t understand why they were reacting the way they were to my happiness & growth. Bowen Family Systems theory gave me a way to understand what was going on with my family, although it didn’t really help me to make it better. if anyone is interested here’s a web site with more info:

AuPair Paris October 16, 2014 at 4:15 am

Maybe it’s because I’m young, or because I’m self-obsessed (or both!), but it took until last week for me to realise how much an atmosphere could be changed by one person. I’m fairly cheerful I think (aside from when I’m ill – I have had clinical depression in the past, which cleared up with medication and talking therapy – but that hasn’t been an issue while away), but last week I felt SO low. Low and stuck, and just like a heavy blanket of melancholy had been chucked over me. It was driving me crazy – I thought I was going insane because, well, like I said, I’ve had therapy. I know how to figure out my moves, and change my responses – but I just couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Yesterday, my oldest host daughter sat down while her sisters were playing and started talking to me about something that had happened at school over the last week and how miserable she was about it, and I suddenly realised – it was that. She’d been miserable, and acting out, sulky, silent, disobedient, and I’d responded, idiotically, not by noticing that she was unhappy, but just by becoming confusedly miserable myself.

As someone in an actual position of responsibility (HPs have a huge responsibility for their au pairs, of course, but are not in the same position of care as a nanny employed to actually look after kids!), it’s definitely something I’ll be aware of in future. “I’m miserable for no reason… It’s not that I’m ill, or situational… Are the kids ok?!”

WarmStateMomma October 16, 2014 at 10:03 am

You sound so thoughtful and self-aware! My guess is that you are a fantastic au pair who is a great role model for your host kids.

AuPair Paris October 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Oh! Thank you, that’s really kind! Better some days than others, like most people, I think. But I was pleased that my HK talked to me. She has a tendency to bottle things up, until she turns it all into anger and explodes. I’d much rather she actually chats to me quietly about it so I can help her respond/come up with a plan. I should have noticed earlier, but I just thought that I was finding her behaviour more difficult because I was low, rather than that her behaviour was actually worse because she was.

AuPair Paris October 16, 2014 at 4:16 am

I know how to figure out my “moods”, I meant to say. I shouldn’t be commenting while also trying to do language work – it messes up both languages!

happyhostmom October 16, 2014 at 8:53 am

CV, is that photo of the actor from Revenge? Had to ask.

cv harquail October 16, 2014 at 4:01 pm

No, that’s funny though. I found this portrait on Flickr, searching for “ray of sunshine”. I hope the actor in Revenge was/ is a nice person….

Eastcoastmom October 18, 2014 at 8:42 am

My DH travels a lot too. I’ll be honest and say I get irritated when my AP never leaves the house, especially when he’s home. Sometimes we want family time without anyone else around, including the AP. Having another person around changes the vibe. My DH especially feels like he can’t be himself with APs around. I want my APs to have friends and a social life outside of our family.

Long Island Host Mom October 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm

If I had a depressed AP – I would rematch. I try to match with AP’s that are smiley – positive and will be a good example to DD to try to see the glass half full. Especially since mine is a tween and the world can all of a sudden become very gloomy !! We have been lucky and almost all our AP’s were like this. This isn’t to say there have been issues and periods of sadness along the way – but I hope I was able to help them thru that as well. One of my best AP’s used to have an expression she used to keep a positive spin on things and after 4 years since she has been with us…I still say it all the time when things get tough…”it could be worse”. It’s gotten me through alot. We are still in touch and she left her positve mark on us forever and I hope we did the same !! When it’s good it is good !!

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